Sunday, August 3, 2014

Return With Honor - My Last Letter

Dear Family and Friends.

Well, I think it's time to accept the fact that this is my last sermon. ... If you want to call it that.

First things first, my friends, I want you to know how much I have loved telling you stories throughout my mission. It has given me so much joy and helped me in recognizing just how good life is. Just how good my mission was. Just how good the Lord is.

Ew. Using past tense about my mission is going to be hard. Bear with me.

The Bible tells us that life has times and seasons (my 5th grade choir solo would also suggest the same, but in a falsetto that still rings in that elementary school's walls today.)

Ecclesiastes 3:
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:"

Let's talk about this chapter a little in relevance to finishing a mission.

 "A time to be born, and a time to die;" - There is a time to start your mission, and inevitably... as missionary slang would say, "a time to die".
"A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;" - This could be related to two things: 1. Transfers - You settle and you unsettle or 2. Harvesting from the white field. Whether or not we know it, we are planting seeds all the time. The time of the harvest, or the time to pluck up, is now.

 "A time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time of war, and a time of peace. " Missionary life. All the time. Roller-coastering.

" A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;" - Finding investigators, dropping investigators..

"A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;" With missionaries in retrospect, that one is kind of funny. Arms length, people.

But something interesting is what comes after all these "times and seasons" -- it's this line right here:

"What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth?"

...Why? Why do we have all these up's and down's and back and forth's and changes and switches and transfers and opposites?

The answer lies a few verses down:
"And also that every man should enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God."

We work and we play and we live so that we may one day rest in the peace of knowing we did all we could.

I suppose you could say that I am feeling a mixture of all of these "times" and actually don't know where to categorize "a time to go home".

I feel peace in knowing that I gave it my all. I fought the good fight. My poor body could barely keep up with my spirit sometimes. ... Almost all the time. I feel like I've been camping for a year and a half, and as I said to my sweet mother: "Prepare some shampoo-- I may be taking the longest shower of my young life!"

Somehow there's something in me that is having a hard time understanding that I really don't get to buy sticky rice off the street anymore. Or get away with all the cultural rules I break. The "see you soon's" are a little surreal. It's all just a little.... bittersweet.

"In light of what we know about our eternal destiny, is it any wonder that whenever we face the bitter endings of life, they seem unacceptable to us? There seems to be something inside of us that resists endings.

Why is this? Because we are made of the stuff of eternity. We are eternal beings, children of the Almighty God, whose name is Endless and who promises eternal blessings without number. Endings are not our destiny."

The same applies to missionary work. Regardless of a release, when you are once a missionary, you are always a missionary. The change that happened in me is indefinite and unending. Why? Because I have seen too much and felt too much to ever reject the fact that a life of member missionary work is essential.

If I were to write a book about my mission, it would include various chapters of life with different lessons learned. These would be some of the titles.
Prologue: "I am Ready Now"
1. Faith into Miracles
2. Reality of the Name Badge
3. Joseph Smith's Own Words
4. Charity Never Faileth: Church Organization
5. Wrong Roads
6. Rise
7. Above and Below the Water
8. Remember Lot's Wife
9. God's 4-Dimensional Chess
10. Choose to be Happy
11. Envision Optimism   
12."Led to a Better Land"
13. The Higher Law vs. the Law of Moses
14. Because of Him
15. The Rescue
16. Lost and Found: Cornelius
Epilogue: Moroni's Weakness in Writing

I want you to know that everything I have ever written home has been true. It's all been real. It really did happen to me.

And more than that, it really did change me. My mission changed everything. Down to the most minute habits.

So as my last sermon requires-- I better tell you my last story. We will call it "the Rescue". Or better yet, the "Dress-cue".

The story begins with a photo.

My companion Sister Jackson came on her mission with a picture of three thai members that were baptized by her friend in France. She came with the request to find them and make sure they were still okay. Two of those people, we came to learn, were living in Asoke-- a place we never dreamed we would land in.

I moved to Asoke for my last three weeks of my mission... for seemingly no reason. But when Sis Jackson pulled out this picture and told me the story, I knew we had one more big job.

We were going to find a lost Branch President.

On my mission, there have been several things I have come to learn, as you have seen from my book of life up there. But one that stands out among the rest is the one that I will be nurturing for the rest of my life: the Rescue.

We made plans to find this man, and when we brought the idea to our mission leader in our branch, he looked at us in total surprise. "You want to go find him?" As if nobody had ever wanted to take the task up.

Well, we did.

We got directions. We came to his wife's shop.... empty. Moved. Gone. We ask an old man passing if we know who we're looking for. Oddly enough, and with perfect timing, he does! We are led to a smaller tent, and there she was.

"Sisters! You're here!"

His wife let us in. She sat us down. It was slow warming but that evening charity did not fail. Before we knew it, she was telling us everything. Things people had tried to pry in the past unsuccessfully. She trusted us because we loved her, because the spirit said her comments were safe.

We simply listened. "If any man have an ear, let him hear." She said that all this man had needed was warmth from people who cared to come find him.

By the end of that visit, she was in tears. Determination was set. We were going to help each other to help her husband. Faith was once more built.

We left her that night and began our walk back. We both got the distinct prompting not 5 feet from the tent entrance as we left that we needed to return immediately and buy two of her dresses she was selling.

....But neither of us had ANY money.

We followed it just as immediately as the inspiration came and we ran to an ATM as fast as we could. As luck would have it, the month's money had just come in only hours before.

We ran back. It hadn't been more than 4 minutes, and almost all of her merchandise was being packed up. We saw the dresses-- the very last items to be taken off her rack on the wall.

"Wait! Excuse me---" we said.

The man taking down the dresses turned. It was the Branch President, having just arrived, not 2 minutes before.

His smile was glowing despite his confusion. His wife said, "See! They were just here!"

Sister Jackson and I introduced ourselves. It was all very warm. We were instant friends.

And then Sister Jackson brought out the picture. She said, "This is you."

He took the picture and his eyes began to well up with tears as he turned it over to see the message written on the back from the missionary who had baptized him 7 years before:

It had their names, the date, ending with: "Please find them. I love these people." - Elder Edwards.

Sister Jackson said, "I want you to have it."

He looked up with the most gratitude. "B-but, it's yours. ... Are you sure? Can I? Please?"

That night I learned what it meant to immediately follow promptings. That night I knew how precious each minute was in preparation for us to be there when we were. But most of all-- I learned how much God values his children and will do whatever He can, however loudly or subtlely to get there, to bring those children back to the follow.

To bring them back home. That is, afterall, our destination in the end.


I love you all. I will see you there.

Sister Painter

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