I wrote an article almost 3 years ago about my mission. I’m re-posting it here.

The roadThe last couple of weeks I’ve fallen asleep each night in memories of my mission to Taiwan. My thoughts are in Chinese, and I find myself wondering what ever happened to a certain person or what’s new in a certain city. Most of my place marks on Google Earth are in northern Taiwan, making it seem I know Taipei city better than I know the United States.

It’s because I mark the most unusual things there. Here’s the place with the attack dogs. Here’s the place they dedicated Taiwan. Here’s the temple. Here was my house. Here’s where I saw monkeys. Here’s brother so-and-so’s house. Here’s my favorite fried rice shop.

I think it’s because America is always here for me. But when I see that view of the Taiwanese streets from 850 feet or so I worry I’ll forget something. I’ll forget that road between the apartment and the church in Banqiao that I took every single morning for 3 months. The one that led right through the morning market. I think I’m afraid I’ll forget even the incidentals of the most valued experience of my life so far.

The mission is a chance to see what you are truly capable of. To let you find out what happens when you focus all of your energy all of the time on one thing. You never love as deeply and as powerfully as you do while on your mission. If you do it right, eventually you can’t really help it. You see somebody and you feel love for him or her.

My mission is full of memories and experiences that are so intense in emotion – particularly love – that I can’t adequately express it to anybody. Even those who have gone on missions can’t really explain it to others who have gone. All we can do is smile at each other and say “Yeah.” It’s like saying “I was there. I know.” Some compare it to being brothers in a war having returned from fighting the greatest battle.

And it makes me sad, too. Because what I would like to do more than anything else is pull the feelings from my chest and place them into the hearts of those who haven’t experienced such depth of experience. But perhaps part of what makes the emotions so strong is the fight to earn them.

From beginning to end, the mission was greater than the part I played in it. I was changed far more than I changed anything or anybody. From day one there was never any doubt that there is a God, and that this is the work He wanted me to do. And looking back from the end of the mission it was clear in the same way that the sky is blue that this God is good, that He is in control, and that He loves me, and that He loves every person on the planet. That He knows our names and our thoughts. That He moves with power on this earth even today.

The words represent feelings and knowledge that are so much more profound than the words are capable of describing. I use sentences like that and it just sounds religious – but it’s so much more than what we think of as religion. I imagine climbing a mountain only to find you’ve conquered a foothill.

I can’t and don’t feel like describing the events of my mission right now, but I feel it important to mark now how I feel almost 5 months after being back. To those who read this and are members of my same church – serve, if you are able, and be prepared to learn far more than you ever imagined you didn’t know. For those who are not members of my same church I say: seek miracles and be prepared to accept them in places you didn’t expect to.

I know that God lives and is with us.

-Greg

General Conference

April 3, 2007

This weekend was the 177th annual conference of the LDS church.  Blaine pointed out that it’s pretty much the only 10 hour religious experience he can stand.  I had never realized that it was actually 10 hours of meetings.

This conference I was not struck by any powerful revelation, though it has happened in the past.  What I did get was a great outpouring of the good feelings that accompany the holy spirit.  It was like being told that “Everything is going to be just fine,” by somebody who knows for sure.  And it was nice to compare the feelings that filled the house while we watched conference with the feelings that had been there recently.  It’s not like there were bad feelings there, just a general coating of pop-culture and worldly attitude.  Conference really washed it away for me.

It was a strong testimony building experience for me.  It reminds me that it’s so easy to get caught up in the arguments about doctrines and debates about policy, when it’s really not important.  What’s important is seeking out the Lord and learning his will and his way. Conference became a lodestone of sorts – reminding me of what’s really important and blowing away the chaff.

Good experience.  One to remember.

-Greg

The niceness of spirit

February 1, 2007

Today I did what I always hoped I would do, but on accident. 

I began with reading my scriptures.  I couldn’t go for more than a few verses before I felt that I was carried away into them.  I could almost see myself in them, imagining what it would be like to see the day and night and day with no darkness.  I felt happy.  In fact, I felt so good that I went and wrote my thoughts about it in the place where I store those kinds of thoughts. 

While there, I noticed that I had a link to some BYU speeches there as well.  I spent the next hour reading talks by prophets.  I feel that fullness of the spirit that I haven’t really experienced since my mission.  It’s that feeling of the spirit that is full of power – practically overwhelming as it blankets me in a strange combination of peace for the now and excitement for things to come.

It’s great to really immerse yourself into the spiritual and ignore the world for a while.

-Greg

Object lessons

January 25, 2007

I learned a great lesson today.  The lesson was this:  When teaching, the principle must determine the lesson, not the other way around.  

There’s been a lot of times when I’ve taught, especially in church, and I think of a great way to teach the lesson or an object lesson that I think would be really cool – and then I let that define the course of the message.  I don’t know why.  I guess that it has something with that desire for the student to feel entertained and feel the lesson was memorable. 

Brother Eastmond shared about how he and many other seminary teachers have encountered students who say “I still remember that lesson where we…” and they talk about the object lesson.  The teacher then asks, “Do you remember what the lesson was on?” 

“Well, no… But it was really cool!”

Even object lessons that fit really well the story in scripture and the principles revealed in them, it may be hard for the students to remember what the principle was. 

As for me,  I have a hard time thinking of oringinal object lessons.  But I suppose it’s a skill that comes with time.

CactusWell, it’s the end of the first day of 2007.  I want to go back and look at all the things that have happened to me during the past year or so.  I think this has been one for my personal record books.

In January I was living with Elder Liu, a native missionary, in Wanhua.  Wanhua is one of the oldest parts of Taipei and pretty run-down and slummy.  It hadn’t baptized in about a year.  When I arrived there I was plagued with the question of “What do I do with the 12 weeks remaining to me?”

The things accomplished in the last 2 months I spent in taiwan seemed to fill a whole year of life for me.  The move into Wanhua marked the final change into the missionary I always wanted to be but didn’t know how to be.  I learned how to enjoy life all the time no matter what we were doing.  I learned how to have vision.  I made goals based on my work and faith in the lord and saw them come to pass in astounding detail.  My prayers became more powerful than ever – It was rare to not receive an immediate answer to prayer.  My heart felt so full every day that I finally understood what Alma meant when he wished to be an angel – not focusing on what he wished he could be, but focusing on how badly he wished he could do more!  I embraced and rejoiced in the sappy missionary mentality – praising god and acting happy all the time.  It was amazing.  I learned what it is that makes heaven so wonderful and desirable.  I learned how to love more deeply than I ever believed possible.  I received answers to questions very distinctly.  I received blessings I didn’t think I deserved.

3 stories of blessings:

1.  Got a letter with bad news in it.  I offered up a silent but heartfelt prayer as how to act – should I spend the remaining time that day writing back?  Should I fight?  Should I give up?  The answer came immediately and clearly:  Ignore it.

All worked out better than I could have hoped.

2.  It looked like our only chance for baptism in the Wanhua area was going to fall through.  Once again, standing in a crowd looking to me for an answer I prayed silently and quickly for aid with these words:  “What would you have me do?”  The answer came instantly and unmistakably.  A miracle occurred and our friend was baptized my last day on the island of Taiwan.   (Note:  Also my last day on taiwan I read a report of all the baptisms from that weekend and found that one of my very first investigators from my very first areas finally got baptized.)

3.  Elder Holland, an ordained apostle, visited several missions while passing through asia.  The weeks before he arrived in our mission I decided to pray for an answer to a question or problem to come through his preaching to us or through inspiration to me while he spoke.  But I didn’t know what to ask for.  Finally I went to the Lord, somewhat ashamed at being so selfish but unable to think of anything else and asked “Please let him speak about what to do to prepare to go home or what a missionary ought to do once he’s home.”  When Elder Holland spoke to our mission he went on for 20 minutes right at the beginning about going home from the mission.  My mission president later revealed to me that Elder Holland hadn’t talked on that subject at all at any of the other missions he visited.   The subjects and revelations of that talk have been with me and influenced me the whole year since.

The last 2 months of my mission were so overwhelmingly good that I can’t think back on that time without excitement and wonder.  I wonder what happened with the area and the investigators.  I am amazed and overwhelmed with memories of the experiences and feelings and people.

Enough.  I gush.

I returned home at the beginning of March.  I met my new brother-in-law and immediately felt comfortable with him.  I spent some time at home but after just a week or so felt pretty ansy and ready to be active in doing something.  I applied to SUU and BYU, determined to move as soon as I got an answer.

I was soon rejected from BYU and by my ex girlfriend.  I returned to Cedar City to work and to attend school.  A great confidence boost came as I returned to my old workplace, Applebees, and found that they remembered me and that the general manager was willing to hire me “in an instant.”  I had been feeling a little less than confident.

Some old relationships were re-forged.  Some were cut off entirely.  I found myself mostly alone most of the time, but okay with it.

I soon managed to convince my old girlfriend that she needed to date me.  It wasn’t long after that that I convinced her she needed to marry me.  The decision was made to stay in town so that I could graduate from college (hopefully to come), thus putting her graduate school on hold.

In July we got married in the St. George temple.  It was life altering but in a surreal kind of way.  We fell into the habits and lifestyle of marriage so easily that we wondered if we might be doing something wrong.  The marriage feels as if it’s been going on for a long time and yet it’s hard to believe it’s been 6 months already.

Neither of us were inclined to wait for children, but we were both pretty surprised at how fast Kayeleen got pregnant.  In a strange twist of math, the baby’s due date is 2 days before our 9 month anniversary.  Watching the baby (and my wife) grow has been an exciting and, again, surreal experience.

In the mean time I was back in school with a new major – communication.  The summer semester went great, then the fall semester seemed like a horrible dragging weight by comparison.  I still managed to get A’s and B’s out of all of my classes, gradually pulling up my GPA.

I also found and sold an expensive microphone, giving us some financial padding and tempting me to try the ol’ “buy and sell on ebay” trick – but I found I was the recipient of a one-time blessing and have since been the target of scams and lowball offers on anything else I try to sell.

I think it should be noted that the most influential event so far has been the mission.  It has impacted every aspect of my life since – decision to marry, choices in friends, work ethic, school decisions, career decisions, and daily habits.   My sincere recommendation to anybody who hasn’t gone is to go and go now.

I’m sure there’s more to tell about the year, but what it is I can’t remember at the moment.

-Greg

Patience

October 6, 2006

In general conference one of the speakers suggested a careful study of patience.  He suggested a good way to do it would include going to the topical guide in the scriptures and look up every scripture under patience. 

As a side note, I think it’s important to say that when I was a teenager, and even in my early twenties, the thought of looking up every scripture under a certain topic was absolutely repulsive.  Who would want to do that much work?

Anyway, I have had these kind of invitations before from my mission president.  And, since it is one of my goals to always follow the council of my ecclesiastical leaders, I felt it important to do this little project.  

I’m not even half way through what amounts to about 45 minutes effort, but my attitude is already changing.   For one thing, I’ve suddenly noticed that I have a problem with looking to the future in a very impatient way.  It’s funny because at the beginning of the week, when Kayeleen and I decided to work on our patience, I pridefully thought I’m a pretty patient guy already.  I doubt there will be much for me to learn from this week’s goal.  While having that kind of attitude I was constantly surfing the web, looking for potential jobs, speculating about future finances, wondering about where I would be in 2 years, 5 years, and beyond.  I had a very anxious feeling most of the time.

It was reading through the writings of the apostle Paul that really started to get me thinking.  It took several verses before I started to actually try to apply the advice to myself and look for ways in which I could improve.  I asked myself “what is Paul saying here?  What is he trying to communicate?”  I also was thinking about a few verses I had read earlier, where Jesus told his apostles that some of them will be killed, and then says that not even a hair shall perish.  

Obviously this seems impossible at first glance, but it also seems clear to me that Christ had a larger perspective than just our temporal existance.  He knew that, although we will all die, we will all live again.  Christ was more aware than any of them of just how carefully their paths were being laid out.  He knew that, because they had given thier lives to the Lord, He was directing thier paths and they need only trust in him and be patient.

It all ended up clicking in my head.  It came together in my mind as a kind of idea and principle:  Anxiety is not patience.  We must remember that if we 1) have faith to obey the Lord, and 2) be patient – life will work itself out.  It may not be exactly what we expect, but it will be for the best.  We obviously need patience to be able to “wait to inherit the promise” and we need to have faith enough to trust that even if death is the future, it’s not the end. 

Kinda gloomy on the ending there.  But the point is that if we’re going to trust in God, we need to just trust in God then be patient.  He’ll take care of it while you do your best.

Well, I feel better.

-Greg 

Trust in the Lord

August 12, 2006

Sunset

The theme for the month is humility, and we were told we could talk about whatever we wanted. So I figured there was no need to stick to the theme. Joking. I decided to speak on Trusting in the Lord. Because to me, that’s the alter-ego of true humility – to recognize that the Lord’s ways are infinitely superior to my own. And, having recognized, acting on that knowledge by trusting in Him.
I don’t have a lot of time, so I’ll have to be quick.

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths…. For the Lord giveth wisdom: Out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding… And whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he. (Proverbs)

Humility, Happiness, The Holy Ghost, Comfort, Trust, These words are all connected. I won’t take the time to try to talk about how or why except to say that the more you are humble and trust in the Lord, the more the Spirit will be with you and the Happier you will be.

I will talk about 3 ways we can trust in the Lord.

1. We can Trust in His Promptings.
Those who have served missions probably know about this, but the truth is that we ALL ought to know about this. We ALL should have and should continue to experience this gift of the Sprit. Sometimes it comes as gifts of knowledge, or warning. Sometimes promptings come to help us make decisions.
I will share an experience. One day about a month or two before the end of my mission I got a very thin letter from a certain girlfriend whom I hadn’t heard from in a few months. As soon as I saw it and how thin it was, I knew what it would say.
I was right.
And right there outside of the mission office, I thought to myself “How am I supposed to take this?” I had started a letter to her that morning with my usual mushiness, saying something like “It’s okay that you haven’t written, I’m sure you’re busy with graduation and post graduation stuff…” But I didn’t know what to do, having recieved that letter. It was a “Now what?” kind of moment. What could I do? I prayed.
Almost immediately came an answer, distinct and clear to one even as spiritually insensitive as myself. “Ignore it.”
So off went the letter, mushiness and all. It was followed by a few more mushy letters from me – and not another word from her. I felt a little insane ignoring such an obvious shut-down.
Long story short – things worked out. Given more time, I could tell you how more specificially. But if I had given up, things would not have been as good as they are right now.
We can trust in His promptings.

2. We can trust in His Promises.
For example, we can trust that as we obey the Word of Wisdom we will run and walk without weariness and faintness, that we will find treasures, even hidden treasures. We can trust that overwhelming message of the Book of Mormon – that obedience brings Happiness, and that wickedness never was, nor ever will be happiness. We can trust in the promises delivered by our modern prophets, who encourage us to marry and have children.
My mission president went to a prestigious business school where he got his masters of business administration. It was an environment in which he was in the minority and an example of LDS beliefs to his classmates. He told me once of a friend who discovered not only that Elder Perkins was married, but had 2 children. All before he had graduated from his masters program and well before the age of 30. This friend, intelligent and talented, said to him “And I used to think you were smart.”
Elder Perkins was keeping the proverb “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” He trusted in the Promises of the Lord.
Years passed by and as he crossed paths with his classmates, they would say to him “You were right. We all thought you were crazy, but you had it right.” They found themselves humbled.
We can trust in His Promises.

3. We can trust in His Plan.

His is the Plan of Happiness. He is the Lord of the Universe. He loves us. We can trust Him. To a great extent, our success depends on how much we do trust Him and His plan. We need to trust that He can not fail, and when we place our hands in His we will be led to Eternal Life which is the greatest of blessings. But if we don’t trust Him, He can’t make us happy. He can’t force us along the path.
We can trust Him. He lives. He has suffered so that we don’t have to. He has told us that the path will be difficult. We all know how hard it can be at times to remember His promise of eventual happiness – especially when the present seems so painful. But that experience is for a reason. Someday we will look with gladness on His face, and we will finally understand. We will understand and know why we had to endure what we had to endure… and why He endured what He did.
Every branch that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. He loves us so much, it hurts him to see us suffer, but it is always for a reason which will one day give us joy greater than we now know. And He is Always there, with us. He has been with me. And in suffering and overcoming by His wisdom and strength we become joint-heirs with Him.
It takes faith to trust that the trial is more precious than gold, though it seems you are tried with fire.
During those trials and afterward, you must have faith and trust enough to keep the commandments. To those who do He has said “Ye are my friends… I will not leave you comfortless. I will come to you.” I know he will. He has always come to me in my hardest times – directing me, comforting me, leading me, and loving me. I know He lives, for He has been at my side in suffering and in rejoicing. Jesus Christ lives and reigns in the Heavens. He shall not fail at any thing he has set his heart to do – and his only work and all his glory is you, and your eternal success and happiness. You can trust Him. Ask Him.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.