Thursday, August 6, 2015

Damaged Good

In recent months, I've come to realize that I'm not alone on the path that I've thought the Lord set
forth for me. A few months ago, a close friend of mine named Ben returned home from his mission in Texas due to a serious lung infection. He spent some time in the hospital being pumped full of some cocktail of drugs, hoping that things would finally be cleared up. After spending a decent amount of time at home,  he returned to his mission in Texas only to be sent home another few months later with the same infection (sound a little familiar?).

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend Ben's homecoming. While he and his mother shared their testimonies, my mind continually reflected on one thought, "He stands where I stood one year ago." My heart began to ache knowing what he and so many others are going through at this difficult stage. Rememberance of all the feelings of doubt and shame and worthlesness filled my mind and I wanted nothing more than to shake Ben and say, "It will all be ok!" But in all reality, it won't be ok, it will be even better! 

Returning home earlier literally installed in my mind the thoughts that I was "damaged goods" or worth less to God than I used to. I put on my blinders and focused on my seemingly now apparent imperfections. 

In a talk by Brad Wilcox, he describes a piece of marble he kept in his office. It was a beautiful polished egg or something of the like. He said it wasn't beautiful because of the shape of the stone or the smoothness of the finish; it was beautiful because of the streaks in the stone. The imperfections didn't ruin the stone, but instead made it unique and valuable.
While is seemed so hard for me to see my new "imperfection" as a blessing that is creating the  Priesthood holder I'm meant to be, I have come to understand the reasoning behind why the Lord called me home early. He truly has a plan for me.

Looking back at the year I've had, I now stand amazed at all that the Lord has blessed me with! Because I was sent home, through a crazy series events, I now have a job as an audio technician which has led to other amazing opportunities such as Vocal Point and private gigs! I'm involved with the presidency of the neuroscience club along with other service organizations. I was led into research, allowing me to design and create a study and lab to treat a condition affecting 20 million people! I have met many individuals I'm sure will be life long friends that I wouldn't have met in any other situation. I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of amazing youth as an EFY counselor and see their lives changed by the Atonement; something I couldn't have done if I didn't come home early.

My life is nothing like I planned, but more than I could have hoped for! Through what appeared to be tragedy in my eyes, the Lord has created many tremendous miracles. In the words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, "Don't give up, boy. Don't you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead--a lot of it--30 years of it now, and still counting. You keep your chin up. It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come." I testify, that that is true. There are good things to come. God will never leave us hanging. In the times that we feel utterly alone and completely helpless, He will be there.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Welcome Home Elder!

Matt's home-coming
June 11, 2015. The day that Elder Adam Millett was scheduled to come home. If all had gone as planned, I would be arriving in the airport to all of my family. There would be balloons and banners and plenty of tears. I would come home and have my favorite food, most likely my mom's Apricot Salsa Chicken. (That stuff is to die for!) I would be playing with my nephews--one of whom I wouldn't have met yet--and meeting my new brother-in-law. I would head over to the Stake President's Office and be released from my service as a full time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This coming Sunday, I would be reporting to the Stake High Council then giving a home-coming talk in my family ward.

Courtney's home-coming
Instead, here I sit living a life I didn't imagine. Instead of celebrating with my family tonight, I'm working as a sound tech at BYU. Instead of being released from being a full time missionary, I was just released from serving in the Elder's Quorum. Instead of getting my way, I've been thrown down the Lord's Way. There weren't balloons; There wasn't any party; I couldn't even eat my mom's chicken when I got home. There isn't a picture of me coming down the escalators at the airport like every other missionary. I didn't give a home-coming talk. But you know what? I wouldn't change that for the world!

I would have loved to stay in So Flo and teach the gospel! I prayed very fervently to stay and I couldn't imagine doing anything else during that time. However, the experiences I have had being home is something I never could have gained in the field. I wouldn't be the person I am today if I
didn't come home.

Recently, I was speaking with a friend of mine that was undergoing some very tough times battling depression and anxiety. We sat together as he shed tears of pain, not knowing how he could go on. He expressed his feelings of loneliness and describing the many times that he had prayed for help but didn't feel like the Lord ever answered his prayers. He didn't feel like he had the faith to receive an answer to his prayers. At that time I felt like I needed to put my arm around him and tell him that God did care. In my mind came a very distinct impression. "Sometimes we don't need the faith to receive an answer, but the faith to see how God has answered our prayers."

A very real feeling that I and many other missions who return home early due to illness experience is that we didn't have the faith to be healed. I mentioned in an earlier post how it wasn't faith to be healed that I needed, but the faith not to be healed. I needed the faith to be able to continue forward, doing the will of the Lord no matter what happened. Having that faith is what helped me come home. Now, my view is a little different. While I strive to "have the faith not to be healed," I also now seek to have the faith to see how God has answered my prayers. There were three things that I specifically prayed for over and over on my mission. I always thought that those prayers went unanswered. Now, as I continue to strive to have that faith, I understand how he has answered those prayers.

1. Please bless me to be whole. -- Well it's safe to say that I'm not infected anymore! While my body still has a hard time every now and then, I'm still able to get up and go! I'm even training for a half marathon on Halloween. (I guess now that it's public, I can't back out right???)

2. Let me be able to work -- Oh I'm working, probably too much! I'm involved with campus service groups, research projects, sound engineering, volunteering at the hospital, callings, musical groups! I wouldn't mind a little break now!

3. Let me stay and serve -- Well, I didn't get to stay, but at least He let me keep serving. This past semester, I was able to serve as the Elder's Quorum President. I can honestly say that some of my most amazing experiences this year have been as a result of that calling. Because of that calling, I have learned things I couldn't have learned in the field.

Nearly 25 years ago, Elder Richard G. Scott said, "If you feel that God has not answered your prayers...carefully look for evidence in your own life of His having already answered you." (Learning to Recognize Answers to Prayers). I now understand that truly, God does answer our prayers, just in ways different than that which we imagined. As we open our eyes in faith to the miracles that surround us, we will recognize the responses to our private pleas; we will come to recognize just how present God's hand is in our life.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Failure of a Missionary

     I was speaking with a friend of mine recently about why it was hard to come home. There are such feelings of failure from letting others down. There are also greater feelings of personal failure; of not being the person we believe we are supposed to be. I felt a great personal failure myself because I felt my faith was too weak. I believed that if I had just a little more faith, I would have been healed and wouldn't have come home early. I failed because I lacked sufficient faith.

     The night before I flew home, I was in tears believing that I was a failure, that I was a screw-up, that I was hopeless. I believed that it took all 24 months for a missionary to become the spiritual giant that we all believe all RMs are. I remember listening at homecoming talks and hearing how much so-and-so changed and how much Elder Someone really grew up on his mission. I remember hearing people say that boys needed to serve missions to really mature and become responsible husbands and fathers. I came home without any hope of being one of those grown up and mature men.

     I came home and pretty much felt the exact same as when I left! I can honestly say that I have a much stronger testimony; that I now know and not just believe! However, I'm not really that different of a person. I wish I was more charitable, more humble, more patient, but I'm not. Just like any missionary, I planned on being better, but in my eyes, I again failed.

     As I was studying one day, I came across Mosiah 5:2. King Benjamin was concluding his great discourse at the temple and the people spoke saying, "...Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our heart...". Once I read this verse, everything clicked.

     In my mind, the mission changes people. The mission causes one to develop a stronger testimony, better faith, more charity. I didn't know how, I just thought it did. I realized my entire thought process was wrong. It isn't the mission that changes someone, it's the Spirit. It's the spirit that enters your heart and helps you develop charity and strengthen your faith. It's all about the spirit. That's why so many do change on their mission. It's a time that you are constantly and consistently trying to draw closer to God. Because of the spirit that's present on a mission, a missionary will change.

     Becoming the spiritual giant that one would hope to become on their mission is possible at any stage of life as long as we involve the spirit. Whether we weren't able to serve, came home early, or served a full 18 or 24 months, we can still end up at the same place because of the merciful gift of the Holy Ghost. By drawing closer to the spirit, we will cause our hearts to be changed and we will become the sons and daughters of God. (Mosiah 5:7)

     A good friend of mine from the Florida Fort Lauderdale Mission once explained how. He described us all as imperfect molds that characterize who we are. The mold of Jesus Christ is quite perfect and it just so happens that the Holy Ghost fits into that mold. As we invite the spirit into our lives, He will try to fit into the mold that we are and will shave off all the uneven bumpy edges that we have until He fits perfectly; until we are just like Christ.

     We must always be trying to invite the Spirit. Through the basic truths that we were taught in Primary, He will come and change our hearts. As we attend the temple and our other church meetings, pray fervently, study the scriptures and serve others, He will come. Our hearts will change, and we will become a new person. We will become sons and daughters of God.