Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Final Days...then HOME

There seemed to be too many goodbyes. The first picture is Sister Hardy and I out knocking in the rain on my last night as a missionary. I can't describe how I felt during those final moments, a sense of urgency but also heartache..I never thought I'd actually miss the doorsteps but I do. The members made sure I ended with some Nova Scotia Lobster and a personalized ice cream cake. I AM SO LUCKY.

This was a special moment. Elder Holland happened to be at the airport when we arrived. Elder Erickson and I shook his hand. He was in a rush but said this before he left, "Welcome home, thank you for serving."

 THEN I GOT TO SEE MY FAMILY. I hadn't cried that hard for 18 months. It was such a surreal moment. I sure love them.

It was nice to have my homecoming over with..I was nervous, my mouth was so dry I could hardly talk! But then I got to see some of my favorite people. Sister Lewis, Sister Renda, and the Hendricksons. 

 Sister Gochnour’s Homecoming Talk - Humility and Diligence (July 26, 2015)

Good morning Brothers and Sisters. I am so happy and grateful for this opportunity to speak to you today. As I pondered and prayed about what I might say I had a million thoughts run through my mind. How do you sum up who you became, what you learned, felt and experienced over an 18 month period in a short 20 minute talk - it’s challenging!! However one of my favorite things about the Book of Mormon is the amount of times the Lord says “REMEMBER.” It appears in the Book of Mormon 136 times - so I would like to talk about two attributes that I know Heavenly Father wants me to always remember because they keep coming up. That of HUMILITY and DILIGENCE. In Doctrine and Covenants section 4 which we recited every morning as missionaries - verse 6 says “Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence.” I love that humility and diligence come at the end of the verse - the last two attributes. I think that they are the crowning characteristics of ENDURING TO THE END. Which is the most important, and sometimes overlooked, principle of the Gospel.

I’ll begin with humility --

In a talk called “The Empowerment of Humility” Richard Edgley teaches this...”Humbly submitting our will to the Father brings us the empowerment of God—the power of humility. It is the power to meet life’s adversities, the power of peace, the power of hope, the power of a heart throbbing with a love for and testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ, even the power of redemption.”

I learned over and over again on my mission that ONLY if we submit our will to God’s will can we find happiness and success. There are times when it is awkward or uncomfortable to talk to people, but the Lord’s will is that we declare the gospel to every living creature. One sunny day my companion and I were knocking on doors. At the last minute we felt prompted to knock the street right next to the street we had originally planned to knock. No one was interested. Finally we approached a house where loud music was coming from the back porch. There was a large unleashed German Shepherd and three people outside. In order to get to them we had to walk around their house and into their yard..that was a little uncomfortable. We were about to pass them by thinking “we can come back later” but thankfully we humbled ourselves and remembered our calling. I thought of that quote from “We Bought A Zoo” -- “You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” so our 20 seconds began. They turned out to be amazing people. The mother of the family was going through a very difficult time with her mother being terminally ill and she was angry at God and wanted us to explain why that was happening. The Lord is able to do amazing things through His servants if we humble ourselves and listen to His voice. We ended up sharing with them a passage from the Book of Mormon - the account in Alma chapter 14 of Alma and Amulek watching the innocent people who had believed in their words suffer death by fire. Amulek wondered why they couldn’t use the power of God which they possessed to save those people, his friends and family members, from the fire. Alma told him that it was not God’s will that they should save them but that those people would be taken up to dwell with God in glory. The spirit and those verses completely softened her heart. Tears streamed down her face as she hugged us and thanked us again and again. She turned down the page of the Book of Mormon that we had read from and promised us that she would read it, all of it. It was a miracle and had we done what WE wanted to do..we would have failed Him(Heavenly Father).

Humility is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of spiritual strength and confidence in the Lord. Think of our Savior. He was the perfect example of complete humility and submissiveness to the will of His Father. He did not die to bring glory and honor to himself. He died to be obedient to His Father, to do HIS WILL and to save each of us from our sometimes prideful and self-centered selves. I had a companion who taught me the importance of humility in a simple yet profound way. At first I struggled with her, she worked at a slower pace and I found myself getting easily frustrated. She was so kind and sweet and patient with me. I don’t think she really even noticed that I was getting tough with her but I knew it and I knew that God knew it. However no matter how the day went, whether I had been upset with her or whether the work was frustrating that day, even if I was in bed after she was, she humbled herself and said GOOD NIGHT, I LOVE YOU. Every single night. That may seem like a small thing but it changed me. I’m sure each of you have been angry at times, or annoyed with those that you love but I think that being able to say I LOVE YOU. Even when it’s hard is a sign of humility. It is a sign of becoming like a little child and I feel it is so important for each of us to remember that. I’m so grateful for that companion. I truly learned to love her and see her as Christ does.

Now I’m home and I realize that I still have so many weakness. I still need to rely HEAVILY on the Lord every single day in order to overcome the natural man and do what is pleasing in His sight. I love the quote in “Meet The Mormons” by the man from Nepal, he says “I’m not perfect, but I am prefect in one thing, I’m perfect in trying.” I love that. None of us are perfect but as we are humble we can keep trying, keep going despite setbacks and trials. Humility is trusting in God and His timing. He has a perfect plan for each of us. The Atonement can make us SO much better than we could ever be on our own but we have to USE it. That is where humility comes in..accepting the Atonement and applying it to our lives. Pray for humility. Learn of Christ and follow His example. That is how we can be truly happy.

And diligence -

In Preach My Gospel it describes diligence as “...a steady, consistent, earnest, and energetic effort in doing the Lord’s work.”

And Ezra Taft Benson teaches, “I have often said one of the greatest secrets of missionary work is work! If a missionary works, he will get the Spirit; if he gets the Spirit, he will teach by the Spirit; and if he teaches by the Spirit, he will touch the hearts of the people and he will be happy. There will be no homesickness, no worrying about families, for all time and talents and interests are centered on the work of the ministry. Work, work, work—there is no satisfactory substitute, especially in missionary work.”

A few days ago my mom asked “When your were outside knocking on doors in a freezing cold ice storm how did you keep going, day after day??” I liked that question. I’ll tell you first that it wasn’t always easy. Luckily mom you always said “WE CAN DO HARD THINGS.” And also I feel that diligence is why and how. When you remember your purpose and try to be where the Lord needs you to matter the weather. You can be certain that He is proud of you and pleased with your efforts, whatever the outcome. In a letter I wrote home in my first few weeks in the mission field (it was January and very cold) I said, “Just want you to know that when times are tough I remember that I am not alone. My Savior needs me here and he is blessing me for my efforts. So many people are working together to build up his kingdom and I am thankful that he is allowing me to be part of his army. With him - we cannot fail. Reach out and be an example to everyone you see. AND ALWAYS SMILE EVEN WHEN YOUR FACE IS FROZEN. I love you all. Love, Sister G”

I still feel that way. It is a privilege to stand as a representative of Jesus Christ, despite the freezing rain and endless amounts of snow - we must diligently move day at a step at a time because that is what we are called to do. One of my favorite scriptures in the Book of Mormon is found in Mosiah 28:3. This is after the conversion of the sos of Mosiah, they are pleading with their father, King Mosiah, to allow them to go and preach to the Lamanites. The scripture reads, “Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.” The sons of Mosiah had felt the power of the Atonement in their own lives and so badly wanted to share that with their brothers and sisters. They had charity and as you know, their mission was not easy. They were spit upon, they got beat up and thrown into prison, they served in cities where NO ONE wanted to listen yet they never gave up. They were diligent and faithful. And oh how the Lord did bless and prosper them.

As we have just celebrated “Pioneer Day” I thought I would tell you of the diligent “Pioneers” who I met while serving in Atlantic Canada. In September I was transferred to the small Summerside Branch on Prince Edward Island. I soon met Gerda Waugh. She told us the incredible story of how she and her husband Ralph, who had recently passed away, were the first members of the church on the Island. I found this article about them in the church news archives..

“The Waugh’s were among the first members to meet on the island in the 20th century. Brother Waugh had moved in the 1940s to New York, where he married Gerda Wood in 1951.

"We joined the Church in New York and then a year later moved here in 1964," Brother Waugh explained. "There were no missionaries here, but we made contact with a woman who was a member of the Church and began meeting together for Sunday School.

"I can see now that we were supposed to move here," he continued. "I think the Lord wanted us to help establish the Church. It was almost two years before we had missionaries again on the island."

Elder Boyd K. Packer, then an Assistant to the Twelve, was president of the New England Mission at the time, which included Prince Edward Island. Elder Packer visited the Waugh home with missionaries in July 1966. About two weeks later full-time missionaries were transferred to the island and missionaries have been here since then.

Brother Waugh was called as the first branch president of the Summerside Branch on Dec. 21, 1969.

"Our children were quite young when we came, but I think the experience here has been good for them," Brother Waugh noted. "We were very few in numbers and our children knew that they were a little bit different in their beliefs than a lot of people. It made us a stronger family unit. Family home evening did a lot for us as a family. At first about all we had was each other."

Sister Waugh continues to attend church faithfully, she has a sweet, strong spirit and love for the Lord. It is amazing to notice the difference that just two people can have on the lives of so many who follow. I know she is anxious to see her Ralph again on the other side. Like the article described, the church is not very big in Eastern Canada. Almost all of the members are converts to the church. In most of the areas I served the youth (and there were only two or three of them) were the only members of the church in their entire school. Each member has many responsibilities and callings to fulfill, they don’t simply come to church because that’s what everyone else does. They each have powerful, undeniable testimonies of the Restoration. They know that Christ’s church is here upon the earth and they are so grateful to be members. Another letter home reads, “I think that my whole life I have taken for granted the fact that church is only a few streets from our house and the fact that all of my friends attend with me. Here it is much different, their testimonies have to be strong because their situations are much more difficult than mine was. 

One member (convert) told Sister Lewis (my companion), "There comes a point of no return..when it doesn't matter how hard it is to make it to church, no matter if everyone hates me or is mad at me, no matter what is going on in my life - i will go to church, I will follow the teachings of the gospel because I am past the point of no return. I will not turn my back on what I know for any reason."

I am so grateful for their examples.

In closing I would simply like to invite each of you to think about where you are on the path of endurance. What can you do to develop greater humility or to be more diligent and valiant in your testimonies? We must remember that our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love us. They are anxious to help us and to be involved in our lives. We just have to let them in! I will be grateful every day for the rest of my life that Heavenly Father loves me enough to have allowed me to serve.

My testimony -
My mission helped me gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon. When I was attending Utah State for a semester right before I left on my mission I didn’t do much besides homework and reading the Book of Mormon. I believe it is there that I gained my testimony. There is so much power in the Book of Mormon. I have seen it change people. I know that the Book of Mormon is true because every time I read it I am filled with unspeakable joy, everything in my life seems to improve.

I can not deny that it is a divine Book and that Joseph Smith was indeed a Prophet of God. Called to do a marvelous work. I am so grateful for the Restoration. That God loves us so much that He provided a way, a plan, to help us make it safely home to Him.  And I know that our church is lead today by a living Prophet, Thomas S Monson. I know that especially in the tumultuous times we are living in - The prophet is our anchor. If we listen to and liv His teaching, we do not need to fear. He will protect us.

I know that prayer is essential in becoming who God wants us to be. I know He hears and answers our prayers.

I am so grateful to have a better understanding of the nature of God and Christ. That God is our LOVING Heavenly Father. That He has a body of flesh and bone. I know that the love of God changes people. It is the greatest power to heal and save in the world. We had an investigator once who was skeptical. He didn’t really know who God was. There was one lesson where he asked so many questions that we could hardly even teach anything. Finally at the end of the lesson we asked him to do one simple thing. We said, “tonight we want you to pray and ask God one very simple question - DO you love me? - we told him not to say anything else, no ifs ands or buts. Just to listen. When we went back the next day his entire countenance had changed. He was smiling. I’ll never forget the moment when he told me that he got an answer, that he knew God loved him - I almost screamed. From that day on he was a different person.

I know that true joy comes from living the gospel, every day, every aspect of it. I know that the commandments really are what set us free. Free from temptation and evil influences. God loves us and that is why He has asked us to obey.

I learned for myself that the little things are the big things. Little things like daily prayer and scriptures study, family prayer and family home evening - those are what keep us safe in the world of shifting values that we live in.

I learned that we can choose to be happy..I’ve had to be reminded of this since I’ve been home.

I know that my mission was meant to change me forever. And I hope that I can show through my actions that I have been truly converted. Because I do know that the greatest convert a missionary can have is himself or herself.

I am thankful above all for my Savior Jesus Christ. For the power of His Atonement. I am grateful for answered prayers and that God has a plan. I am grateful for my family and friends who love me for ME and who are my greatest support. I’m thankful that through humility and diligence THE LORD CAN MAKE WEAK THINGS BECOME STRONG UNTO US. I know that to be true.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

I'm happy to be home, with the people who loved and supported me through every day of my mission. They are my best friends and biggest fans. I feel so blessed to have them in my life.
God is good. I can't wait for the adventures to come.
Love, Grace