Monday, October 27, 2014

"I have never felt something like this before..." - Anna Joly

I'm home.

Everything is the same, but completely different at the same time.  I'm wearing my old clothes, sleeping in my same kind of feels like the mission was just a dream...  I'm going around doing the same things I did 18 months ago...but inside, I feel so different.

I have this urge to say "bonjour" to everyone I cross at the grocery store, and I get this weird anxious feeling before I talk to anyone...I realized it was because I was trying to think of what to say to them in FRENCH.  Haha...yeah, I can just speak in english now... strange.  Also, everything is so convenient here and HUGE. #supersized

But it has been just magical being back.  My homecoming was yesterday and it was stressful/wonderful!!  It was really good to see my family, friends, ward members, and mission friends...I love them so much... I felt like my heart just might explode.

But at the same time, I had a nagging feeling like something was missing... let's face it...I miss my mission!  I'm irrevocably in love with the land, the language, and most of all... the people.

Well, today I wanted to thank everyone that supported me throughout my mission, and followed my blog... I felt your prayers, and they meant the world to me.  Serving a mission was THE BEST decision I ever made, hands down.  Sure things are weird and different, and I missed out on a lot of things here at home...but it was more than worth it.  I have never felt so blessed in my life.  I have been armed with power and knowledge from my loving Father, and things will never be the way they used to, but I wouldn't want them to.  It's onward and upward from here.  Every chapter can be better than the one before it...  This is basically how I feel (thank you David should all see this movie by the way):

So I just wanted to include my homecoming talk (reader beware, it's a little long...but if you want to understand the title of this post, you need to read the whole thing), and the Liege waffle recipe that I made for the open house afterwards.  So, even if you weren't able to come, you can still have the experience!

Homecoming Talk: "I have never felt something like this before..." - Anna Joly

Good morning brothers and sisters, it’s been so long!
I’d really just like to thank all of my family and friends that came out to support me today, as well as for supporting me throughout my mission.  And I don’t think I can thank this ward enough, you are all amazing.  I couldn’t have done it without you…

So, about 18 months ago, I stood at this podium for my farewell talk and haven’t seen most of you since. Many of you probably wondered what happened next.  Well, I packed up my bags, put on a dress and headed down to the MTC with my family.  I kissed them goodbye, and then just as I was about to wave goodbye they handed me a baguette…haha so I tried to juggle it as well as all my luggage, as I took the first steps into my new life.  It was a…unique experience…walking down the hallway, seeing brand-new missionaries dissolve into tears, getting a shiny black name tag, being ushered into a classroom, and hearing only French from my instructor.  The MTC was a great experience, I met some of my best friends there, and I felt the Spirit stronger than ever before.  I really felt like I was part of a royal army.  It was exciting to be surrounded by so many great young people that were about to embark to missions all over the globe,.  Naturally, however, there was a great feeling of apprehension among the missionaries, myself included.  Were we going to be successful?  Was I going to be a good missionary?  Would I be able to learn a new language, a new culture, and help bring others unto Christ? 

One day, as I was pondering these questions during personal study, and feeling kind of stressed out, I read in Moroni 7:46, which reads,

 46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth.  Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—

Because I was thinking a lot about success vs failure, that scripture hit me pretty hard.  Charity never failethIn that moment, at least I took it to mean, that it didn’t matter what I achieved on my mission, like the number of baptisms, or if I had leadership positions, or if I was the best of the best, or whatever else could possibly be defined as “success,”  but rather that if I had charity, there was no way I could be a failure.

I thought “great!”  All I have to do is go over there and have charity, I just need to love everybody and then I’ll be a success…It seemed pretty do-able.  So I decided then and there that that was my mission goal.  I didn’t realize that I had just placed my feet on the most important path I’d ever walk.  I didn’t know how far and deep this would all go, the things I would learn, the revelation I would receive, the places I’d go, and the people I’d meet.  In the process I came to know myself, who I really am, understand more clearly God’s amazing plan, and begin to comprehend the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

So yeah, today I’d like to focus on charity and love.

What is charity?

Well, I began to realize over the course of my mission that charity is way more than simply giving service, or donating to charities, or even loving other people.  So what is it then?

Let’s go back to Moroni 7.  In verse 45 it says, 
“And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”

continuing in verse 47, it says simply that,

“But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.”

Charity is the love of Christ, pure, perfect and powerful.

There is nothing more powerful than the love of God.  It is the driving force behind every good thing, behind every miracle.  I’d like to share a few examples that I saw on my mission.

First of all, I’d like to tell you about Sophie…

I met Sophie with my trainer, Soeur Kohlert, on my second day in the mission field.  A bright, beautiful young student from China, Sophie immediately stole our hearts.  We met her on the bus, invited her to a ward activity that night (which she came to, and loved), and then we set up a rendez-vous to eat crepes for the next week.  During the rendez-vous, we taught her about God and prayer.  It was the first time in her life she’d ever participated in a prayer.  

What followed in the next few months was incredible.  Her faith increased rapidly.  She abandoned partying, quit her job, which she sorely needed, to attend church on Sundays, she read the Book of Mormon for hours at a time, and said that when she had children, they’d all be missionaries.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be there for her baptism, but she sent me an email right after.  She said, “I’m mormon now!! life is like magic, our first crepe, it was like yesterday, and do still remember that first time that we met?…life is so gorgeous!

What inspired all of this?  How did a young Chinese atheist, who had never prayed in her life, and who thought Christians were “jerks” (haha, that’s what she told Soeur Kohlert and I the first time we met), in just a few short months, completely change her life and be able to say boldly, “When people ask me why I am so happy all the time, I used to tell them that it was because my named means “sunshine,” and now I tell them it’s because I believe in Jesus Christ.”

Well, the answer is simple.  At the end of my mission, my parents and sisters came to pick me up and we were able to go to Rennes and spend an evening with Sophie.  She was ecstatic to see me!  She even changed into a new dress for the occasion.  She explained that when she met Soeur Kohlert and I, we were so nice, and just ‘like friends,” that she was very curious and wanted to hear what we had to say.  She said that she was particularly touched when I asked her politely if we could say a prayer with her at the end of our first rendez-vous.  She was intrigued…that night she prayed by herself and felt something more powerful and peaceful than she’d ever felt before.  It was simply, the love of God.  Little by little she came to realize that she had a Father in Heaven who understood her perfectly, and loved her unconditionally.  Sophie became unstoppable, and her life became gorgeous.

The second story I’d like to share is about my friend Murielle.  I had been in Arras for about a month before I met Murielle, but I had heard about her a little bit. One of the newest converts in the ward in Arras, named Dimitri, was her 19 year-old son.  I was shocked to learn that he hadn’t been a member for even a year.  To me he seemed like he’d grown up in the church, or had even served a mission.  He had asuch a strong testimony… He and my companion talked to me a little about his mother.  Apparently she put up with Dimitri’s religious choices, but thought they were weird and definitely didn’t want to get involved herself.

I finally got to meet her the week of Easter for a family home evening.  Murielle was a short, blond, northerner, and smelled heavily of cigarette.  We invited her to come to church, and Dimitri really insisted.  She said she’d think about it… we were so pleased to see her walking up the steps to the church Easter morning.  The first words out of her mouth were, “I’m only here because you and Dimitri asked me to come.”  Said with a I’m-here-but-I-don’t-have to-be-happy-about-it, look on her face.

But, she must have felt something, because she never missed a sunday after that… as the months went on, however, she made very little progress.  She never seemed to make time for prayer, or even take a minute to crack open the Book of Mormon.  She looked at the members in wonder…how can they believe in someone they can’t see?  Why are they so happy?

One day, when we were over at her house, again we talked about the importance of prayer.  I testified that God loved her, that even if she had been the only person on earth, Christ would have suffered the atonement just for her.  She broke down…she couldn’t believe that anyone loved her…she said that there were barriers, walls, around her heart, she couldn’t let God in.

Then my companion Soeur Liabeuf suggested that for the next week Murielle tried counting her blessings.  What blessings?  She asked.  I have nothing!  We told her to just try.

What happened next was absolutely incredible, I’m still in shock over it.

She began, as she searched for small and simple blessings in her life, to see the hand of God in her life clearer and clearer.  It all happened so fast.  She began to pray personally and in Sunday school.  She started to read, and fall in love with the scriptures.  She bought new clothes, did her hair, her face even looked brighter,… Only a week or two later she agreed wholeheartedly to baptism, even though she was terrified of water. She even quit smoking.  She went from smoking 40 cigarettes a day to 0 in under three weeks.  Every step towards baptism, and each new thing she learned afterwards she accepted faithfully and enthusiastically.  Her life completely changed.  She was a completely different person.  It was astounding to watch it all unfold.

That is the power of charity, the love of God.  For, as it says in John 4, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out all fear.”  When we understand and feel our Father in Heaven’s unconditional love for us, we become unstoppable.  Broken families can be put back together, addictions, temptations, and weakness can be overcome, and any trial lived through.  When we understand God’s plan of happiness was inspired by His pure love for each of us, life becomes not only do-able, but beautiful, inspiring, and full of promise.

Now I’d like to tell you about Gigh.  I met Gigh in Liege with Soeur Johns.  She is a 23 year-old from Rwanda.  She is so cool, she’s got this great british accent, and she won Belgium’s next top model like a week after I met her, also she’s brilliant, I recently learned that she was in her first movie like a month ago.  But, on the other hand, she has had perhaps one of the most difficult lives I’ve ever heard of.  At the age of 3 or 4 she saw her mom murdered right in front of her during the Rwandan genocide… it was a miracle that she herself was able to escape.  Life as an orphan was extremely difficult and dangerous.  She told me that what got her through, what still gets her through, is her relationship with God.  She remembers, not long after the death of her mother, somebody telling her about God.  That he was someone who she could pray to for help.  She developed an extremely strong bond with Heavenly Father, ‘He’s my dad’ she would say.

When Soeur John’s and I met her, she was struggling to “exist” (as she put it).  When we taught her the Plan of Salvation, it was like a giant light bulb went off in her head.  She said, “I lived before this life? I chose to come down to earth?  This changes everything!  I just know that I signed up for all these challenges, I;m just the adventurous sort…I’m sure I said, ‘Yeah, bring it on!’’  This knowledge gave her the strength to continue.  I got to see her with my family at the end of my mission.  She said that things are still really hard, but that ever since her baptism, she has been filled with just this incredible sense of peace.  She said, “My great daddy God helped me take that one hard step darling, right now he is growing and helping me the 99 steps left.  Nothing is easy but I wish I could tell you how much satisfied and peaceful I am inside… nothing can beat it!”

God’s love is truly amazing.  I saw it work many, many other miracles throughout my mission.  I saw it change so many lives.  And it changed me as well.

I came to realize that my role as a missionary was to simply be an instrument in the Lord’s hand to help reflect His light.  My goal became that, through me, others would be able to feel His love and learn to trust Him, developing the faith necessary let Him help them change their lives.

I took me awhile to figure this out, and it wasn’t an easy thing to do.  I learned eventually that having charity is not something that you can do half-way. Charity isn’t giving of our money, time, talents, or even our love…it is the gift of ourselves…our whole self…just like our perfect example.  Christ right before performing the greatest act of charity that ever took place, humbly said, even though he wished there was another way, “not my will,  but thine, be done.”  He gave himself completely over to the Father.  It was complete consecration of self.  This is charity.  “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  The hallmark virtue of discipleship is charity.  Christ said, “By this shall men know, that ye are my disciples, if ye have love, one to another.”  Charity is all about discipleship…it means following in the footsteps of the savior, by giving over our whole selves.  It is only then that Christ can begin to mold us in His image, and we can truly be instruments in His hands.

What I didn’t expect was what I would get in return.  It all began to be so much easier.  As I focused on others, and, as Moroni encourages, as I “prayed unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that [I] may be filled with this love…”  wonderful things began to happen.  Things got so much clearer.  I saw people, at least in part, the way our Heavenly Father sees them… Everything became so beautiful, even the hard times.  My trust in God and His timing gave me this incredible peace that everything would work out.  I began to see miracles everyday.  When I tried to have charity and be an instrument, I felt unstoppable, like nothing was impossible.  I have never felt so blessed in my entire life.  I would say that “I feel like I just get up every morning, head out the door, and I have the privilege of watching God work.”  Doctrine and Covenants 123: 17 became one of my favorite scriptures, which reads, 

 17 Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.

There is no better feeling than being an instrument in the hands of God.  It’s amazing.  I had moments of just profound joy.  There were times that I felt so surrounded by His love, it hurt, like there wasn’t enough room in my heart to hold it all. 

I felt like Ammon, when he said to his brethren in Alma 26: 

“And now, I ask, what great blessings has he bestowed upon us? Can ye tell?
 3 Behold, I answer for you; for our brethren, the Lamanites, were in darkness, yea, even in the darkest abyss, but behold, how many of them are brought to behold the marvelous light of God! And this is the blessing which hath been bestowed upon us, that we have been made instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work.”
“15 Yea, they were encircled about with everlasting darkness and destruction; but behold, he has brought them into his everlasting light, yea, into everlasting salvation; and they are encircled about with the matchless bounty of his love; yea, and we have been instruments in his hands of doing this great and marvelous work.”

There is nothing more powerful than the love of God.  And it is all around us, all we have to do is look.  This very earth we live on is a product of it.  Every flower, tree, everything witnesses to it.  And the greatest proof of His love is the gift of His son, through which we can not only overcome any obstacle life throws at us, but we will one day overcome death itself, and we can return and live with our Heavenly Father, surrounded by our loved ones.

I don’t know how many of you were here at my farewell… but in my talk I talked about one of my friends Anna who lives in France.  A lot of you know her because she lived with my family here summer 2012.  In my farewell talk I recounted the experiences that we had together and how she had felt the Spirit at our family reunion.  I had even read the little “testimony” that she had shared the next day describing how she had felt and the experience she had while staying with us.  Well, two days before flying home, my family and I went out to eat with her family.  My family had prepared a gift for her.  It was a picture book of her “great American adventure.”  She loved it!  I’ve never seen anyone so happy about a present.  She read it with awe as the memories and feelings from her trip began to flood back.  Then she came to the last page, where her testimony was written… it said,
“As you maybe know i’m sort of an atheist so i’m not believing in God…but i could feel something (at the testimony meeting)…I don’t know how I should call it…I think you call it the Spirit… I felt love…soo much love in one place… I never felt something like this before.

I watched as Anna read those words over again…she lingered on the page and said to me, “I remember this so clearly…I have never felt anything like that before…never.”  And then she closed the book and held it close.  Anna was right, there is nothing like that feeling.  I saw the power of that feeling over and over again on my mission.  We have all felt it before.  The prophet Alma calls it the “song of redeeming love.”

In a CES devotional, I Will Give Myself to Him, Russell Osguthorphe said, “I know that we can accept Christ’s invitation to come and be strengthened, to come and be forgiven, to come and feel His infinite love. Then, with a smiling heart, we will want to sing the song of redeeming love. Not just once in a while—we will want to sing this song always. When we feel strength to do something difficult, we will sing the song in our heart. When we allow truth to find us and enlarge our soul, we will sing the song. When we feel forgiven, we will sing the song. And when we feel His love, we will sing the song.

Each time we sing it, we will be giving our will to Him, the only gift we have to give Him. He will not only accept this gift, He will expand it and deepen it. He will cause us to feel more capable. He will help increase our capacity to love and be loved. He will lead us out of darkness into light. He will heal and help us in ways that permit us to forgive and be forgiven.”

And so I would ask you all, as Alma questioned, “If ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?”  I hope that you can all feel it.  It is 100% free and is always, always available. just as our dear prophet said in General Relief Society meeting, speaking of God’s love, “It is simply there. It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you deserve love. It is simply always there.” just as I learned in the MTC.. it never fails.

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