Last Sunday, I gave the first of two farewell talks. This one was in my ward, the Maplewood Ward in Maplewood, NJ. I thought I'd share it here, since I wrote the entire thing out.
Can't wait to enter the MTC ONE WEEK from today!!
In September of 2014, Elder D. Todd Christofferson spoke at a CES devotional, entitling his address “Saving Your Life.” I remembered watching this at the time, and feeling the spirit. But in preparing for this talk, I stumbled upon it again – or, rather, the Lord threw it in my face because it was on the front page of LDS.org. I’d like to share some of his remarks with you as I try to put into words the thoughts and feelings I have regarding my choice to serve a mission, particularly at this time in my life.
He begins by bringing up this oft quoted verse of scripture: Matthew 10:39, which reads, “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”
I’ve heard this saying my entire life, but never really fully understood it. But Elder Christofferson shared a quote that helped clarify the meaning of this scripture for me, and one that really resonated with my personal experience: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, God’s work in your life is bigger than the story you’d like that life to tell. His life is bigger than your plans, goals, or fears. To save your life, you’ll have to lay down your stories and, minute by minute, day by day, give your life back to him.”
I’ve always been kind of obsessed with my “story.” My parents will tell you that of all their kids, I’m probably (or definitely) the most dramatic, and I will admit that there have been times in my life when I have invented drama to make the world around me more interesting, even if I wasn’t entirely aware that that was what I was doing at the time. I watched so much TV, read so many books, and obsessed over so many plays that I expected my life to play out like one of them, and would emulate my favorite characters in my actions. I saw my own life as a story that had only been partially written, and I expected some loud, brilliant, awe-inspiring climax to be reached any day that would touch and inspire others on a large scale. So, basically I was your typical teenage girl who thought the world revolved around her, or one day would.
And I had ambitions. A lot of them. I was going to be the youngest American Idol (until Jordan Sparks won). I was going to be a world-famous actress who’d star in the hottest movies and travel to the most exotic places. When I was a Junior in high school, I also discovered this passion for writing, and then, between my world tours as a singer and my billion dollar movie deals and my stints on Broadway, I would be a best-selling author with fantasy books flying off the shelf as fast as Harry Potter. I’d win grammys, Oscars, emmys, tonys, and so much more. Oh, and even with all of that going on, I’d be a loving wife and devoted mother of a large family.
It sounds like a great story, doesn’t it? It was the story that I wrote for myself, the future that I saw moving forward. But then, practicality hit me in the face, and I realized that the chances of actually achieving this life were slim to none. So I came up with a back-up plan – I would be a theatre teacher. And then, during the summer, I’d pursue these other ambitions and dreams, ultimately achieving them.
I didn’t expect that teaching would become one of those ambitions in and of itself. But my senior year of high school, I was given a lot of responsibility over the extensive theatre program my teacher ran, and as I worked with my fellow students in that leadership role I found that I had never felt so fulfilled. And as I prayed about my future, I felt the spirit warm my heart at the thought of becoming a teacher. I knew it was what I was supposed to do with my life, and I was excited about it. My story for myself started to shift away from the glitz and glam and towards a more humble and yet still noble pursuit.
But even though I’d already felt the Lord give me direction – felt him help me write my story – I wasn’t thinking in terms of Him being in charge of the story. It was still my story, just with direction from the Lord to help give me clarity and confidence.
But that clarity and confidence was shattered when I wasn’t accepted into the Theatre Education program at BYU. I couldn’t understand it. I’d felt the spirit tell me to pursue this career, so I’d assumed that door would automatically be opened for me. It wasn’t.
I asked Heavenly Father if I should change majors – pursue a different field. He said no. I asked Heavenly Father if I should change schools. He said no. And it seemed like every time I tried to take control of “my” story, I would hit some sort of road block, keeping me from moving forward.
And then, something amazing happened – I experienced first hand a small taste of that quote from earlier, which I’ll repeat now: “God’s work in your life is bigger than the story you’d like that life to tell. His life is bigger than your plans, goals, or fears.” As I said, I’d had a lot of plans. I’d had a lot of goals. And I’d definitely had a lot of fears – particularly when the option to go to NYU for a graduate degree presented itself.
I’d never foreseen myself getting a masters degree, and from NYU no less. That simply wasn’t a part of “my” story. It was so much bigger than the story I’d written for myself – and it was the story that the Lord wrote for me.
He knew that, if I’d been accepted to the BYU Theatre Education program, I would have become certified immediately upon graduating and almost definitely wouldn’t have pursued further education. But as I’ve opened my mind and heart to the Lord’s story – and not my own – I’ve seen in my patriarchal blessing and the learning experiences I’ve had throughout my life that this path was always a part of the story that I am now living. But that story is definitely not “my” story.
So, why is this all on my mind just as I’m about to leave on my mission? Well, it’s the last part of that quote, really, the essence of what the scripture really means: “To save your life, you’ll have to lay down your stories and, minute by minute, day by day, give your life back to him.”
The Lord has taught me – the hard way, at times – that I needed to put aside my own stories in order to move forward. And not just for my personal advancement, but for those around me, and to strengthen my relationship with Him. He’s taught me trust, love, patience, forgiveness, and diligence, among many other things and many more that I am sure will come. And He’s taught me that, however hectic, busy, and stressful life becomes, somehow everything that needs to get done gets done when you put the Lord first.
One way that I’ve learned to put the Lord first is through my day-to-day interactions with those around me. Elder Christofferson also said in his talk: “Our lives should be a confession of Christ and, together with our words, testify of our faith in and devotion to Him.” Everything we do, everything we say, whether or not we are serving a full time mission, should reflect the name of Christ, which name we took upon ourselves when we entered the waters of baptism. And every step we take in our lives should be taken with His story in mind for our lives.
We’re told, when we’re making decisions and seeking for answers, to study things out in our minds, to exercise our agency. I am not suggesting that this is contrary to what Elder Christofferson was talking about here. The Lord won’t force His story upon us. But if our hearts are open, He will make it possible for us to achieve things much greater than any story we could have written for ourselves.
The next step in the story of my life is my mission to Arizona Gilbert, Spanish Speaking. It’s a big step. It’s a daunting step. And it’s a step that many of my colleagues and peers do not quite understand. I just finished my graduate degree, will very soon be officially certified to teach, and it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense for me to disappear from the workforce for eighteen months immediately after finishing school.
Most people view it as a sacrifice, and while there are things that I am sacrificing – such as the opportunity to go to my sister’s wedding – it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. It feels like an opportunity. A scary opportunity in a lot of ways, but a sacred opportunity, and an exciting opportunity. I am grateful that I was able to listen to the spirit – to listen to the Lord’s story for me – and not listen to my fears telling me it wasn’t a sensible decision. And I’m grateful that I have supportive parents who had the faith and patience with me to support that decision, and to trust that I was following the Lord’s story for me and not just the story that I wanted my life to tell. And I know that this “sacrifice” of the next eighteen months will only strengthen my skills and abilities as I enter the field of education after my mission is over.
When Elder Christofferson talked about putting God before worldly desires and pursuits, he clarified that: “This is not to say that we should not seek to succeed, even excel, in worthy endeavors, including education and honorable work. Certainly, worthwhile achievements are laudable. But if we are to save our lives, we must always remember that such attainments are not ends in themselves but means to a higher end. With our faith in Christ, we must see political, business, academic, and similar forms of success not as defining us but as making possible our service to God and fellow man – beginning at home and extending as far as possible in the world. Personal development has value as it contributes to development of a Christlike character. In measuring success, we recognize the profound truth underlying all else – that our lives belong to God, our Heavenly Father; and to Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Success means living in harmony with Their will.”
I’m still dramatic. I’m still ambitious. I still have dreams and goals that I am chasing. But what I have come to realize is that while chasing these dreams can be a virtue, it becomes a vice when those dreams become more important than what the Lord has in store for you. And I promise you that what the Lord has in store for you is greater than anything you could imagine for yourself. He has given me life, love, happiness, confidence, success, knowledge, and faith, and I know He will give me so much more. The least I can do is give eighteen months of my life to Him – and the truth is that I know I will receive so much more than I am able to give as a missionary, because the Lord blesses those who serve Him with blessings that overflow.
If I leave you with nothing else, I want you to know that I know. I know with all my heart that this church is true. I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet. I know that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, died for us on the cross, and that he rose again that we may all have immortality and eternal life. There is not a doubt in my entire being - I know He lives.