Come Follow Me: How does the priesthood bless women and mothers?

In my current ward, my time has been focused primarily in serving among the youth. My first calling was to teach the 14-15 year old young men and women in Sunday School. My current calling is as the Beehive Adviser, a youth leader to the 12 and 13 year old girls of my congregation.

Today, we had a lesson on the Holy Ghost. After discussing the difference between the Light of Christ and the gift of the Holy Ghost, we had a lengthy discussion about spiritual gifts. It was a discussion made all the more meaningful after the confirmation of a laurel we had in our ward earlier this morning.

As part of this conversation, I wanted to address a particular point that was inspired by a question from the Come Follow Me curriculum. As I sat down to prepare a lesson in April answering the question How was the priesthood restored?, one particular question in the Learn Together section struck me as one I wanted to address in detail with the class:

How does the priesthood bless women and mothers?

I ultimately ended up creating an entire lesson that addresses this question instead. It was important to me to differentiate between the authority of the priesthood, and the power of the priesthood. Because while men alone are ordained to the authority of the priesthood, hold keys, and officiate in the offices, there is no gender restriction on the power of the priesthood in any way. The power of the priesthood, in its most fundamental sense, is the power of God. And women of faith access and exercise the power of God every day in their lives.

As an example of this point, I wanted to specifically outline how women exercise spiritual gifts. These gifts are not limited by type, gender, or priesthood ordination, and are instead a manifestation of the gift of the Holy Ghost in our lives. I could think of no better way to illustrate this than via the scriptures, which is how I came up with this chart.

By outlining the spiritual gifts listed in Moroni 10: 9-16, and challenging the young women to think of examples of each that deal either primarily or solely with women, we were able to think of examples for each of the gifts without much difficulty. Not only that, but it became abundantly clear that many of the accounts involving women are manifestations of more than one gift.

While I came prepared with my own examples, the young women did not need my assistance to think of them. They were able to complete the chart on their own, faster than I was able to write in the names or descriptions of these women. They also came up with other examples that hadn't come to mind as I was preparing my chart, including when Mary (mother of Jesus) spoke with the angel Gabriel.

In fact, I've already decided that I want to expand this chart to include a more thorough survey of women in the scriptures. And because I know it will be a blessing to the young women to read the experiences of women in the scriptures, I think it would be a great Personal Progress project in which to have them participate.

Verse from
Moroni 10
Spiritual Gift
Example of Woman from the Scriptures
V: 9
Spirit of  God to teach
the word of wisdom
Emma Smith: D&C 25: 7-8
V: 10
Teach the word of knowledge
Eve: Moses 5: 11-12
V: 11
Exceedingly great faith
Esther 4: 14, 16; 5: 1-2
V: 11
Healing/being healed
Woman with issue: Mark 5: 27-29, 33-34
Daughter of Jairus: Mark 5: 41-42
V: 12
To work mighty miracles
Stripling Mothers: Alma 56: 46-48
V: 13
To prophesy
Deborah: Judges 4: 6-7
Mary and Women at Pentecost: Acts 2: 17-18
V: 14
Beholding of Angels and Ministering Spirits
Mary Magdalene and Women at the Tomb: Matthew 28: 5-6
V: 15
Gift of Tongues
Mary (Mother of Jesus) and Women at Pentecost: Acts 2: 4
V: 16
Interpretation of Tongues
Queen of Lamanites: Alma 19: 29-30

As we conversed about the women of the scriptures, it became obvious that they weren't just women of faith, but also women of great power. Or perhaps I should say, that to be a woman of great faith means inherently to be a woman of great power. You simply cannot have one without the other.

It was a wonderful lesson, one that I felt privileged to give. And it was an enriching change of perspective not only for me, but for the counselor in the Young Women presidency who sits in with us every week. She was so excited, she copied my references and scriptures right from my notes. 

Next time, I should just come prepared with a handout!

I know that Heavenly Father loves, treasures, and empowers his daughters. He has done so in the past, does so in the present, and will continue to do so throughout the endless reaches of the future. While the methods of access to the priesthood are different for men and women, the end result for women who cultivate the access they are given is equal, in every respect, to men in the Church.

I know that Jesus is the Christ. He is my Savior and Redeemer. I rejoice at the thought of spending the rest of my life as his disciple. There is no part of that future to which I do not look forward with great anticipation. I know that he calls prophets and presidents--including women of great power and influence--to lead his restored church. He sustains them, and we are all blessed and empowered together. In the name of Jesus Christ, AMEN.

Did Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ literally appear to Joseph Smith in Person?

My husband and I have some pretty amazing gospel discussions. One that we recently had was inspired by someone he met during his time in the Nevada Las Vegas mission. He has told me stories about his conversations with Dr. Jerry Ainsworth many times, and his book is one we enjoy having in our collection.

So imagine our surprise when we saw that Brother Ainsworth has a YouTube channel. I got to see for myself what some of the conversations my husband had with him were like.

One video in particular caught my attention, and has stuck with me since my husband showed it to me several days ago.

I had never before considered the question of whether the First Vision of Joseph Smith was anything other than a literal, physical appearance on the part of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. In fact, the very idea that this experience was a vision alone, to me, sounded patently false and I refused to believe it. And because I've been in the Church long enough to know I should fact check weird things that other Mormons tell me, that's what I set about to do.

Initially, I started with the account of the First Vision in the Pearl of Great Price, and followed up with a quick check of the dictionary. And not just any dictionary. We have a copy of Webster's 1828 dictionary, which is what we use when analyzing anything written by the Prophet Joseph Smith, since it tends to provide the contextual meanings of words he would have understood in his day. And since the crux of Brother Ainsworth's argument is that the event is called the First "Vision," not the First "Visitation," I wanted to see if there was merit in splitting hairs with respect to this language.

What I found was that the word Vision has several different layers of meaning:

VI'SIONnoun s as z. [Latin visio, from video, visus.]
1. The act of seeing external objects; actual sight.
Faith here is turned into vision there.
2. The faculty of seeing; sight. vision is far more perfect and acute in some animals than in man.
3. Something imagined to be seen, though not real; a phantom; a specter.
No dreams, but visions strange.
4. In Scripture, a revelation from God; an appearance or exhibition of something supernaturally presented to the minds of the prophets, by which they were informed of future events. Such were the visions of Isaiah, of Amos, of Ezekiel, etc.
5. Something imaginary; the production of fancy.
6. Any thing which is the object of sight.

While Brother Ainsworth seems to have interpreted the First Vision via definition #4, there is no solid basis for doing this, based purely on the semantics of the word itself. There are five other equally valid definitions for the word Vision. To attribute one at the expense of the others requires evidence, and thorough examination of Joseph's words, as well as statements given by past and present Church leaders, and published Church materials.

So I began my examination of the multiple accounts of the First Vision, as published by the Church. The language Joseph used provides no direct statement as to how he interpreted the physical reality of his vision. To state that any lack of clarity on the matter is somehow evidence that that vision was not a literal interaction with the Divine is illogical. But I needed more information before I could make a case for anything else.

I turned to our private library of Church books and manuals. And I started digging. I checked multiple Pearl of Great Price commentaries. I checked every book I have on the writings and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I checked Seminary and Institute manuals. I checked the Missionary Library. I checked all the books we own by James E. Talmadge and LeGrand Richards. I even checked Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie. Not my favorite reference to use, but it was the closest I came to a categorical statement by a Church leader that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared in person during the First Vision.

With all due respect to Elder McConkie, I needed to see some additional witnesses before I could let the matter drop.

That was when my husband came in. He saw me sitting on a stool, thumbing through yet another book, when he asked me a question that perplexed me more than my research question did.

"Even if Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ only appeared to Joseph in vision, it wouldn't take away from the truth of what Joseph gained from the experience. So why does it matter?"

"Because I want to know," I responded. I didn't know that curiosity existed for any other reason. "I'll ask someone at Church tomorrow. Maybe they'll have read something I haven't."

Fast forward to the end of Church. A member of the Stake Presidency is on the stand, and I approach him with my question. I spent the better part of the closing him trying to decide how to phrase it so they wouldn't think I was having some sort of faith crisis. The newest member of our bishopric was also there.

They couldn't think of anything that addresses my specific question, but they gave me some great search ideas to try and find the answer. The bishopric member even gave me some great ideas of pondering to do in the temple once it re-opens.

Before I turned to go, I ran into the same question my husband had asked me.

"Joseph could have seen Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ in a vision, and it wouldn't have diminished the reality of what he saw, and what they called him to do. So why does it matter?"

"Because I want to know," I responded. And having given this answer twice in less than 24 hours, my answer morphed in a way I hadn't anticipated at the outset.

I didn't just want to know anymore. Now I needed to know. I needed to know that if there was an answer to the be found, Heavenly Father would give it to me. I could sense I was close, and it was much too soon to give up.

I believe in the Priesthood. More importantly, I know that God sustains his priesthood holders. He inspires them in the counsel they give. And even when a piece of counsel seems patently obvious, I've seen in my life that when a priesthood leader makes a suggestion, I always learn something I need to know when I act on it. It may not be what I intended to learn, but it's always important.

This time was no different. I plugged away at Google for more than an hour before I remembered what the stake presidency member had told me to do. So I opened Google Advanced search, used the wording he suggested, restricted the search to, and within a few minutes I had my answer multiple times over.

From President Gordon B. Hinckley, The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith, given during the October 2002 General Conference:

We declare without equivocation that God the Father and His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, appeared in person to the boy Joseph Smith. 
When I was interviewed by Mike Wallace on the 60 Minutes program, he asked me if I actually believed that. I replied, “Yes, sir. That’s the miracle of it.” 
That is the way I feel about it. Our whole strength rests on the validity of that vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud. If it did, then it is the most important and wonderful work under the heavens.

From Elder Joseph F. Merrill, Joseph Smith Did See God (from a talk given in April 1947 General Conference, originally titled Did Joseph Smith See God?) Republishd in the Ensign, which links to the original in the LDS Scripture Citation Index, published by BYU.

Thus, according to his story, Joseph Smith, the fourteen-year-old lad, saw the Father and the Son and heard their voices. So far as the records indicate, this was the most glorious vision ever given to mortal man. Never before had both Father and Son appeared simultaneously to any mortal man. I have called your attention to Joseph's story because of its extreme importance to our faith—to Mormonism, which we testify is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. So I ask again, did Joseph Smith really and in fact see God? I believe all of us can profit by asking ourselves this question, occasionally at least. The correct answer can be stimulating and satisfying to us.
Elder Merrill spends the rest of his talk answering this question in detail. I highly recommend it.

And perhaps the most appropriate of all, I found this doctrine stated clearly and concisely in Lesson 1 of the Primary 5 manual. At this point, I could tell the Lord never intended this to be a question for anyone--especially not members of his restored Church.

Help the children understand that the First Vision is the foundation of a testimony of the true church of Jesus Christ. Once we believe that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ actually appeared and talked to Joseph Smith, then we can be sure that everything else the Prophet taught or restored to us is also the truth.

The problem with some of us is we get tangled up in our own sophistry, without allowing the simple truths to which the Spirit has born testimony to speak for themselves.

Did Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appear physically, in person, as a personal visitation to Joseph Smith?


Have the Church and its leaders taught that point consistently throughout history, in multiple settings, and to every age group?


And to respond again to that question, "Why does it matter?"

Because now, as a result of my study, the Spirit can testify to me of the First Vision in a more profound way than he could before. I'd never considered this question so directly, and without that openness he could not deepen my testimony. 

I see how directly the First Vision is connected to so many truths I've come to believe about the nature of God the Father and his Son. Through the process of asking a question, one that caused me to admit something I didn't know about a fundamental truth I take for granted, I was able to receive personal revelation to deepen my faith.

I know that Heavenly Father answers prayers. I know that through the power of the Holy Ghost and the leaders he calls in his stead, he also answers questions. Heavenly Father has answered more of my questions than I could ever count. And I know that when you trust him with your questions in sincere prayer, with a willingness to study it out in your mind and heart, with diligent study and a willingness to ask for help, you will receive an answer.

I leave my witness with your in the name of Jesus Christ. AMEN

New Sister Missionary Dress Standards--and Why they Won't Work

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cares deeply about its missionaries. This was my experience when I was a missionary for my church, and I know it continues to be the case as they consider ways to protect missionaries serving throughout the world.

One recent change they've made includes some pretty unprecedented clothing policy changes for sister missionaries, including the option to wear dress pants. The Church has made clear that the purpose of these changes is to address the risk of mosquito-borne illnesses in several missions throughout tropical and sub-tropic areas.

The Brazil Sao Paulo Interlagos mission, where I served from 2011 to 2012, is included on this list. And as I reviewed the changes, it was apparent to me that their purpose is out of a desire to address the very real concerns about missionary health and safety in missions like mine. And they will certainly be effective deterrents for reducing mosquito bites during daytime proselytizing efforts.

But these proposed solutions are incomplete, without some careful considerations to other risk factors as well.

Example 1: The Dangers of Standing Water

I'll be the first one to say that as an American serving in a foreign country, I didn't understand how my irresponsible behavior could create a public health problem. Most of us don't look at leaving dishes in the sink, clothes in the wash, or water in the bathroom after a shower as a risk to public health. But in places like Brazil, that's exactly what they are. Anywhere that you leave standing water, you attract mosquitoes. And where you attract mosquitoes, you increase the risk to yourself and everyone around you to get a mosquito-borne illness. And in most of these instances, these are things you can control simply by basic habits of tidiness and responsibility.

But non-natives who will serve in Brazil as missionaries need to be familiar with a particular body of standing water that is largely beyond their control. They need to know and understand what this blue container is. From your earliest mission pictures, you will see them everywhere. It's a giant drum that sits on the roof of almost every house in Brazil, including on most of the apartments in which the missionaries will live.

It's called a Caixa de Agua, "water box" or "water tank." And if you have a child that is serving in Brazil, you need to ask them immediately:
  1. If they know what it is and the last time it was cleaned
  2. If they're drinking the tap water

Why? Because Caixas de Agua need to be cleaned every six months. They need to be checked to make sure they're clean, undamaged, and that the lid on them is secure. If not, caixas de agua are some of the leading places where mosquitoes and mosquito-born illness will spread. Which, by the way, I found out from a public official who was sent to inspect all of the caixas de agua on our block. She was pretty irritated that ours was the only house she hadn't been able to reach, because we were never home during the day. Everything about the missionary lifestyle seems to work against making this important maintenance the priority that it should be.

And when I say they get dirty, you need to understand the nature of what I'm talking about. Because your well-intentioned, but naive child could be showering, washing clothes, and drinking water that came from a caixa de agua that looks like this:

Or this:

Or this:

I didn't find out about what a caixa de agua was, and that it has to be cleaned, until the beginning of my final transfer. This was after I'd spent almost my entire mission drinking tap water, because my Brazilian companions were doing it. I assumed anything they were doing was safe to do. And this simply was not the case.

It took me a couple of weeks of begging, but we finally got someone from the ward to come and clean the caixa de agua. My companion and I were down in the kitchen, because part of the process was turning on the tap to rinse the cleaning chemicals from the water tank.

As we watched the water drain from the tank, my companion and I were horrified as we saw dirt and debris, squirming organisms, leaves, bugs, and all kinds of crazy things come through the tap. We'd been drinking this water!

And as I thought about the other areas I'd served in, and how unlikely it was the caixa de agua had been cleaned in several years, it made me sick to my stomach.

To be fair, my mission president and his wife were Brazilian and may have told us to take care of this, and I simply didn't understand it. And I shudder to think how bad this problem could become with American mission presidents serving in Brazil who don't know to expect this. But when I did ask them about it, they told us to seek out help from the ward to have it cleaned, since this is standard house maintenance that most families do themselves. But it was incredibly difficult to find someone who would do the job. And because of the condition of some of the houses and rooms that we lived in, it would have been a liability to ask someone from our ward to go on some of those roofs to take take care of this kind of maintenance. Sometimes it's a job that a professional should be doing.

By having clearly defined policies and procedures, communicated to mission and ward leadership, the primary source of contaminated water to which missionaries are continually exposed would be handled promptly and consistently. Missionaries themselves should be managing this risk to their own health--one that many of them do not understand. And based on my experience serving in one of the at-risk missions for mosquito-borne illnesses as outlined by the Church, you cannot appropriately address these illness risks without addressing the lapses taking place with water sanitation in Brazilian missionary apartments.

Example 2: Day Time VS Night Time Risk

As a matter of relevance, and because I get emails about this quite a bit, let me take you through my missionary wardrobe. In Brazil, I primarily wore colorful, short sleeved, women's button down shirts. They were generally made of cotton. My skirts were durable, mid-calf length, and made of suiting fabrics, or they were ankle-length skirts in solid colors made of polyester, or cotton-poly blends--usually jersey knits. When it got colder, I wore light sweaters or cardigans. I had a coat, but I probably only wore it 3 times the entire time I was in Brazil. Layering up is better in that climate than wearing a heavy coat because of the humidity. And as always, bring 3 pairs of excellent shoes.

I didn't buy the ankle length skirts to make some sort of modesty or chastity statement. And in hindsight, I wonder if my frump queen chic wasn't actually a bit of hidden inspiration in terms of health. Because when I wore longer skirts, I was bitten less by mosquitoes than my companions who didn't. And because of the rogue few mosquitoes that did manage to make it up my longer skirt, I bet you'd see even more improvement with dress slacks.

When I was out working though, I'd usually only be bitten at most about once or twice a day. Sometimes it would be more, depending on where we were working, but it was rare. But the number of times I was bitten when I was working doesn't begin to compare to the number of times I was bitten in my sleep.

Every morning when I woke up, I had no less than half a dozen new mosquito bites. On bad nights, I could have as many as a dozen new bites when I woke up in the morning. I easily had hundreds of mosquito bites during my time in Brazil, most of which were on my legs and feet while I was sleeping. If you want to prevent mosquito-borne illness, and are looking to do so by decreasing the bites a person sustains, the time a missionary spends at home when it's dark is when they're most likely to be bitten.

Brazilians prevent this from happening by sleeping with a fan pointed on themselves all night long. It can be uncomfortable when the temperature drops at night, especially for someone like me who has to sleep with my feet uncovered. But it works. Any part of your body exposed to the fan has zero bites. Any parts of your body that didn't fall within the oscillation range of the fan--usually your legs and feet--were eaten alive.

The problem was, in a country where the masses have no air conditioning and inch wide gaps between the front door and the floor, fans were treated by the office elders as a kind of luxury. You could go entire transfers with a small army of cheap, broken fans in your apartment, one that was slowly dying propped up on a chair between you and your companion at night, knowing that when it broke it would be at least two transfers before it was replaced. If it was ever replaced at all. And the primary purpose of that fan was not temperature control--it was to prevent mosquito bites.

There's a lot to be said for this approach. While repellents are made with toxic chemicals that are unpleasant to inhale and questionable to wear every hour of every day, fans dissipate the carbon monoxide, sweat, and odors that attract mosquitoes. And based on my experience, no amount of bug spray will deter mosquitoes half as well as a working fan.

If you had given me the choice as a missionary between pants, bug spray, and the box fan, I would have taken the box fan every single day of the week.

Change is Good

I'm glad that these changes to mission policy are being shared with the public. And while the consequence of that will be a lot of opinion sharing on the novelty of sister missionaries wearing pants, I hope instead the conversation can be a useful one about how to help the missionaries to be safe and healthy. Their work is so important, and they simply cannot do it if they're sick.

If you are preparing to serve a mission in Brazil, make clean water and a knowledge of how to recognize and prevent common mosquito-borne illnesses for where you'll be serving a part of your preparation.

Trying on some Brazilian pumps on my last day in the mission.
We lived in a third floor apartment, so not as many mosquitoes!
(Note the scars on my shins from mosquito bites)

The legs you save might just be your own!

"When I was on my mission": The Secret Shame of RMs

Because the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has had more missionaries serving than ever before, we also have more returned missionaries (RM's) in our congregations than at any other time in our history. As the massive influx of new missionaries from the era of the age change are coming home, and dealing with the post-mission adjustment, that struggle has never been more visible.

So why is it that there is still such a cultural stigma against RM's talking about their missionary service?

To give you some examples of what I mean...

 Or any of these...

It's obvious to me that anyone who rails against RM's like this has either never served a mission, has forgotten what it was like when they came home, or simply doesn't understand the problem they're perpetuating by shaming RM's into silence like this. And every time I see it happen, I desperately want to say something because of what my experience was like.

My Experience as an RM

My mission was not unique, as far as missions go. I was called to serve in the Brazil São Paulo Interlagos mission. I waited for a visa, like a lot of others who went to Brazil. I had companions I loved, and companions I learned to love. I struggled with unfamiliar language, customs, culture, and food. The stories I could tell would be familiar on the surface, similar to others told before and since.

But my mission was not ordinary to me. The lessons I learned are precious to me, beyond anything of earthly value that I own. I paid for the experiences I gained in drops of blood, sweat, and tears--each of which were numbered to the Lord. I learned  about effective leadership, goal setting, time management, and how miracles happen when these three things come together. I learned about the love of God for all of his children, and the way he shows that love to perfect strangers. I saw the power that came into my life when I consistently applied the Atonement of Jesus Christ into my ministry, and focused on developing Christ-like attributes. I gained a lifetime's worth of church service experience in eighteen short months.

I can't see this picture and not think of my mission scripture, Isaiah 62: 1. Nothing makes me a better wife, visiting teacher, friend, neighbor, beehive advisor, or human being than when I'm thinking about my mission.

Nothing I could have ever done, and have done since in the Church, has pushed me so completely beyond my limit--day after day--as my mission did. And the few things that do are merely continuations of the work I began on my mission. The exact line in my experience where my mission ends and my RM life begins is integrated so completely, I can't see it anymore. Because of that, I don't see my mission experiences as some sort of off-limits section of my life, to be filed away under "M" for Mission. I just see my life, to be learned from in hindsight like any other season of my life. But I maintain that there is no better teacher over a lifetime than a mission.

I had no comprehension of how much I would miss my mission once it ended. I vividly remember sitting in front of an international market my first week in the States, crying my eyes out because I felt so disconnected from everything around me. Speaking in English was hard. Reading food labels in Spanish trying to find Brazilian ingredients was hard. Moving back in with my family, who'd practically disowned me because of my mission, was hard. Entering a singles branch I hardly recognized because all my friends had moved on was hard. Trying to pick up my relationship with my fiance, a recently returned missionary, when our relationship had existed only in letters and emails up to that point, was hard.

And the realization settled over me that no matter what I did or said, I could never show anyone how much I was hurting, because I could never make them understand how much I loved so many things they would never see.

All I wanted was some beans and rice, and for life to make sense again. In Portuguese, the word for that kind of bone-deep longing is saudades. And I would carry that longing inside of me, incomprehensible as a foreign language to everyone around me, for years to come.

"When I was on My Mission..."

The lonelier I felt, the more I tried to make someone--anyone--understand what I was feeling. But the more I talked about my mission, the more people shut me down. "When I was on my mission," was a magic phrase that could end any conversation, and make me completely invisible at any Church function.

I was unprepared to run face first into the cultural stigmas of being an RM who talked about her mission. The ridiculous assumption that if someone mentions any aspect of their missionary service, it's because they think they're better than anyone and everyone else. To have my intentions misinterpreted so completely, and thrown back in my face. To be told, "Your mission is over, and it's time to come home"--as if I had somehow missed the plane, or was still living out of a suitcase on the floor.

How could the same community that had been so enthusiastic to see me go on a mission, be so indifferent to who I had become now that I was home? How does a mission go from being "the best two years" while I'm putting in my papers, to a collective eye-roll the day after I give my homecoming talk?

If talking about or continuing to learn from the mission experience, including in Church settings, is going to be culturally forbidden, why bother sending missionaries at all? Because as someone who has been an RM longer than the eighteen months I served, I can attest that the experience is designed to stay with you for much longer than that. It's not an experience that can easily be compartmentalized, especially at the behest of peers who honestly should know better than to ask it of someone.

Maybe it's the convert in me, the one who wasn't taught or baptized by full-time missionaries because there weren't any in my stake at the time I joined the Church. I love mission stories. I love being around missionaries. And I never feel more alive and engaged in the Church than when I'm talking about or participating in missionary work. So the idea that RM's have some sort of obligation to shove their light under a bushel for the sake of members who don't share that zeal is truly baffling to me. It becomes even more baffling when you understand that such an attitude isn't limited to the twenty-something crowd in the Church.

I'm sorry, but that second sentiment is pure foolishness. Remembering and internalizing my missionary service, drawing strength from those roots publicly and privately, that is a spiritual experience. And just like any plant, I have to continue to stretch those roots deeper into the soil. This can only happen as I learn from the experiences I had on my mission, and grow into what's going on around me now that my mission is over. And as I take in spiritual nourishment, inevitably every ounce of that nourishment is going to pass through every portion of my roots, including the experiences that came before. Everything I do in the Church, every way in which I build up my testimony, ultimately goes through my experiences as a missionary.

That reflection is part of my current spiritual journey, a reflection of the very real and active spiritual life I enjoy to this day.

To ask, expect, or even shame me into not talking about my mission would effectively kill my testimony. It would turn back the flow of revelation, such as I experience it, and quench the Spirit. And as leaders across the Church struggle to understand how RM's could ever fall away from what they once treasured so deeply--don't wonder. While the answer to this question is individual and multi-faceted, I can shed some light on at least one critical place where RM's are stumbling.

Anyone who really treasures their mission, who gave their entire heart and soul to that experience, how can they ever stop talking about it completely? Granted, every person should seek to have great spiritual experiences after their missions. But you show me a person who outright refuses to talk about his or her mission, who belittles others for the joy they found in their missionary service, and I'll show you a member who is in need of rescuing. Those are the Church members who are in the throes of an unresolved conflict, possibly even a crisis of faith.

They're the ones who need to check themselves, not the ones rejoicing and trying to share their light with others. The only people I've ever met who resent the light are those who are too embarrassed to admit that they're perishing in the dark. And yes, that too is something I learned on my mission. Incidentally, during the curious visits I made to an excommunicated stake president.

But that's another story.

Missions are Forever

Two weeks ago, in gospel doctrine class, I talked about my mission. We were studying King Benjamin's speech, where he admonishes members of the Church not to neglect the petitions of the poor. Because we live in an area with a great deal of panhandling, I questioned how it would be possible to give to every person who ever asked for money. And I remembered when I'd once asked the Lord the same question, after reading the same set of verses as a missionary.

São Paulo has an interesting panhandling culture because of the sheer number of people who live there. Many of them gather around metro stations. On a single trip to the mission office, depending upon the distance, it was possible to see as many as 20 different people begging for money or food. In situations like that one, where the money that is provided to me really isn't my own, how do I view the imperative from King Benjamin to "not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain"? (See Mosiah 4: 16-18)

It was only as I told the story to our Sunday School class that I remembered how the Lord answered me all those years ago.

On one particular trip on the metro, a man came into the rail car we were riding in and began to ask for money. I didn't understand much of what he said, but I remember the prompting I got as I thought about the question I'd asked earlier regarding King Benjamin's counsel.

Look at his shoes.

As the man continued petitioning all of the passengers for money, I noticed he was wearing brand new, shiny, black work boots. And the incongruity between his story, the shoes on his feet, and his overall clean appearance was readily apparent to me, especially in comparison to the more obvious want I saw in so many others he was asking for money. I couldn't know exactly what that man's circumstances were. But as he got increasingly aggressive in his approach to get money from people, I couldn't take my eyes off of his shoes.

And I realized, as I recounted this story in Sunday School, that you could tell a lot about a person's real poverty (or lack thereof) by the shoes he has on his feet. When King Benjamin said to provide for the poor, he didn't necessarily mean in terms of money alone, nor was he speaking to the imperative to help anyone else but the genuinely impoverished. King Benjamin and the Lord both intend for us to gauge the petitions we receive from others, and our ability to give, with wisdom and inspiration.

When I was on my mission, I learned the answer to this question. Now that I'm home, I'm continually taught by the Spirit, using hundreds of experiences just like these--whose true import I didn't understand at the time I had these experiences. And while many said they appreciated my story, nothing made me happier than when the octogenarian RM who served in Brazil many decades ago, and still greets me in Portuguese every Sunday, told me he'd had similar experiences on his mission. And for a rare moment, I knew he understood me perfectly.

I felt the love we shared for a place and a people that many in that room would never see.

I love this brother. He has served in every leadership capacity you can imagine, and is a well-respected member in whom you could truly invest any sacred trust. He has given a lifetime of service in the Church--including as a bishop. If that sweet, adorable great grandfather continues to learn from his mission, and is still talking about it deep into his eighties, I think it's safe for the rest of us to do so without getting the lecture to "come home already."

Maybe what isn't needed is for more RM's to "come home" from their missions, but for today's RM's to bring more of their mission home with them--enough to share, and space to share it in, to last a lifetime and beyond.

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