Do you remember that? Julie Beck talked about it in conference a few years back. She talked about a group of youth who had taken this on as their motto, and the thing is, that group of youth was from a ward in Minnesota, and it included my little sister. Who just put her mission papers in. And during that process she asked "People just tell me a mission is hard, but its worth it. ...So what is it you people aren't telling me about a mission?? I don't know what to expect!! Its driving me crazy"
Well little sis, none of us really want to send you out there unprepared, and we want even less for you to go crazy (especially know the genetic predisposition for crazy that runs in the human family) So here's a bit of what we aren't telling you.
Remember when we were trying to climb that tree in my front yard? You know, the one that looks perfect for climbing right up until you stand next to it and try to put your arms around one of those first branches, and suddenly you realize its just a little bit too high and the branch is just a little too big to get a good grip on and we never really had the upper body strength to pull ourselves up anyways? Plus who knows if you'll get splinters or fall down and break an arm. except we kept trying to climb it anyways, because there is nothing quite like the feeling of sitting in the branches of a tree. Yeah. Remember that.
Remember what its like to have a dear friend, someone that you can talk to about the most important things in your life and that you have sacrificed for and prayed for and really just loved. Now remember what its like when that friend suddenly abandons you and the things that you love, and not only do you wonder if you'll ever get to have that same connection again, you wonder if you'll even see them again and you worry about the part of you they took away with them, what they will do with it. And remember what its like when that friend chooses not to abandon you, and they stay close and make wonderful decisions, and the only reason you ever grow apart is because you have both grown and made good choices and taken good paths, and while you might not ever be close again, you know that they are taking good care of the part of you that you gave them.
Once or twice or millions of "upon a times" there was an MTC district that was super close. Normal people don't spend 10 weeks in a 14x14 room with 12 people and end up hating them all. You may clash with one or two of them, but by the second week you will suddenly find yourself with all new best friends. In my district there was an Elder that put up with me particularly well. You see, I have a tendency to make what he called "smart ass" comments during classes and discussions. If you've ever sat with me during Relief Society you'll know exactly what he means. But we sat next to each other for 10 weeks, 14 hours a day, meals and meetings and phone center times included. My companion was on my left and Elder Corey on my right and he not only endured the running commentary, he enjoyed it. And he commented back. We tried very hard to not be disruptive. We even made the comments in French when we could. But those of you who have spent time in the MTC know about disruption and reverence. By the end of those 10 weeks we had a pretty solid friendship. And then we went to different areas of the mission and we never served together again. We ran into each other in a train station once, and he told me that his left ear felt empty with out a constant stream of sarcasm, scriptures, and generally apocryphal stories. And we laughed over it and shared a great moment and went back to being missionaries. And we never really saw each other again. Until a couple weeks ago. 12 years later. When I missed my ward because of choir and so I attended the ward that meets right after mine, and while hiding in the back of the chapel, this bald guy with a beard approached me in a sort of formal manner and addressed me as "Sister Pratt". I seriously thought I was in trouble. I mean, he came from the direction of the bishops office and he carried himself like a ward clerk of some sort. Imagine my shock when, after I replied "Yes" he said "I was sure you would have some sort of a comeback for me". And he identified himself as Elder Corey (and he pointed out that he had changed his hair) and I just couldn't even contain myself and I jumped up and hugged him (how often do I do that?) and then we talked for a few minutes on the highlights of the last ten years. I showed him my MoTab nametag and he showed me his wife and daughter and pointed out that they were expecting again sometime in the next week and we discovered that he literally lives two blocks from me. And then that was it. The only real distance was the 12 years. Our circumstances had changed and with them we had a bit as well. But the really important parts of us, the parts that we knew best and loved and respected best, those are still there, and there wasn't anything else to say. I sat behind him at stake conference and made faces at his daughter, but I have gotten better at keeping the commentary to myself. I met his wife and chatted with her for a moment. I'm not sure that she would really get it if I told her how much I love her husband, so I was tactful and told her that he was awesome. The world that we live in tries to pervert the whole friendship thing into something inappropriate, and so you have to be oh so careful. I hate that we aren't really allowed to be friends with people on a deep and spiritual level without someone questioning what else is there. Look at what they have done to David and Jonathan. They are a scriptural standard for friendship and yet activist groups have attempted to place sexual overtones into their story in order to justify certain behaviors. It kind of makes me sick. So rather than standing there expounding on my love for the kid I sat next to for 10 weeks, I stepped back, expressed a socially appropriate level of admiration, and wished her all the best. And I really felt that whole Dr Seuss quote, where you don't cry because its over, you smile because it happened. And I'm pretty sure that Elder Corey felt that too, because he just smiled and walked away at the same time as I did.
The thing is, as a missionary, you are blessed with an ability to love people pretty unconditionally. That closeness comes from sharing the gospel, whether or not you share anything else at all. But its not socially acceptable to only ever talk about the gospel, and so it seems like distance grows when the important things have never changed. Like my love for a wrestler and a filmmaker, two elders that I have absolutely nothing in common with except for a few months and a French family and one chemically altered blueberry pie. And you feel that love for people that reject you and your message outright as well. There was a woman that we were teaching for weeks and months on end who, due to cultural and familial circumstances one day about a week before her baptism stopped me in the hall at church and tore me and the message to pieces. She accused me of lying to her, of attempting to draw her into a satanic cult, and of only wanting money and control. Her face and name are burned into my mind, and I still tear up a little when I think of all that she gave up because she didn't trust that love. I don't hate her for the things she said to me and about me. I ache for her and I hope that at her final judgement I will have the opportunity to be a witness and defense and even an advocate for all that she must have gone through. I don't want to roast her, I want her to have another chance. Hatred would be an easier thing to feel than sorrow for friendship lost.
There are a whole lot of people that I love like that now. CS Lewis talks about friendship (in his book "The Four Loves") and he points out that friendship is perhaps the love which distinguishes us most from and above animals and plants. It is natural to love your maker, and instinctive to feel a sexual love, and familial love is born of survival and commandment. But friendship does not have to be commanded or inspired by hormone and evolution. True friendship is the frosting on the cake. It is born out of sharing something, a common interest or frustration, and it becomes a kind of acceptance that is effortlesss because there is an understanding. And we still have choices to make when offenses are perceived, but in a great friendship there is understanding which reaches beyond those offenses. Sometimes distances crop up, but in friendship those distances don't diminish the love that is felt. Truman Madsen described them once as fires, that burn brightly and keep us warm for a time, and yet we continue moving forward, and sometimes the fires stay with us a while, and sometimes they are just distant lights on the horizon, but they each serve a function. They show us where we have been and where we are going and they serve as light and warmth and comfort as they go. The love that is there does not change as we travel. It may grow brighter or more dim, but its very nature is good and eternal. And each light is an offering and each friend chooses whether to make an offering and whether to accept yours. As a regular person it is easy to choose to stop offering once your has been rejected. But as a missionary you don't make that choice. As a missionary you continue to offer love and light despite the rejection. So you either connect on a powerful and spiritual level, or you feel that pain of rejection, and the spirit that you feel as a missionary won't allow you to hate someone that you have come to love and value, so rather than replacing the friendship with resentment, you feel a measure of the emptiness and sorrow that Father in Heaven feels when the children that He loves reject Him. But, when that light and love is accepted, you feel a measure of the love and joy that Heavenly Father feels when one of His children comes home.
So be prepared to do hard things. Climb a tree. Love people whether or not they love you back. Enjoy the blessings that come from true friendship and treasure the tears that are spilled over your ability to love unbound by whether or not the love is returned. After all, that is the definition of true charity. It is not conditioned on anything that this world values, not on loyalty or sex or security. There is no return policy. And there is no expiration date.
Oh yeah, and just because we didn't manage to climb the tree in my front yard doesn't mean you won't manage this one. After all, this one is more important, and so you get extra help. Besides, maybe by the time you get back, I'll have nailed a couple of boards to the trunk to help us out.
School's out, I have returned to full time work, and I successfully completed the 4 months of MoTab training school. All this means that I have returned to a less frantic existence. There was about a month in there when it seemed like I was booked solid every day from 6 am through 11 pm. Between writing papers for school and doing homework for choir school and trying to be nice to people at work in between and desperately attempting to make healthy food rather than resorting to burger kings dollar menu every day, I not only haven't had time to write, I haven't had any desire to. Now that I have been recovering for a month I have things to write about again and intend to return to this. I make no promises though, because it seems like its taking me a while even to get this short update posted. Ah well, time will tell. In the meanwhile, please enjoy this poem by John Donne that has become my favorite thing lately.
A HYMN TO CHRIST, AT THE AUTHOR'S LAST GOING INTO GERMANY.
IN what torn ship so ever I embark, That ship shall be my emblem of Thy ark ; What sea soever swallow me, that flood Shall be to me an emblem of Thy blood ; Though Thou with clouds of anger do disguise Thy face, yet through that mask I know those eyes, Which, though they turn away sometimes, They never will despise.
I sacrifice this island unto Thee, And all whom I love there, and who loved me ; When I have put our seas 'twixt them and me, Put thou Thy seas betwixt my sins and Thee. As the tree's sap doth seek the root below In winter, in my winter now I go, Where none but Thee, the eternal root Of true love, I may know.
Nor Thou nor Thy religion dost control The amorousness of an harmonious soul ; But Thou wouldst have that love Thyself ; as Thou Art jealous, Lord, so I am jealous now ; Thou lovest not, till from loving more Thou free My soul ; Who ever gives, takes liberty ; Oh, if Thou carest not whom I love, Alas ! Thou lovest not me.
Seal then this bill of my divorce to all, On whom those fainter beams of love did fall ; Marry those loves, which in youth scatter'd be On fame, wit, hopes—false mistresses—to Thee. Churches are best for prayer, that have least light ; To see God only, I go out of sight ; And to escape stormy days, I choose An everlasting night.