Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Missionary Opportunity

Like any believing Christian, I seek to follow the admonition of The Savior to Peter when He told him to "Feed my Sheep". Missionary work has always been a pleasure to me and I have found that when I sincerely pray for opportunities to bear testimony of His Grace they always come. I'm not saying that I'm always successful in convincing people that Christ lives or that His church has been restored or to repent but I am always uplifted and better off for having the experience even in the face of total rejection. This was a lesson driven home many times during the years I served as a full time missionary in France back in the day. I was statistically more successful than most of the other missionaries I served with but in France that isn't saying much. That just means I was able to see some people I taught choose baptism. More often than not we were either flat out rejected or else knew that our message had hit home but the person was unwilling to act according to what the spirit was telling them. I went on my mission totally convinced that it was all about spreading the word. After all, there are many who are "kept from the truth because they don't know where to find it." right? I felt like I had been so lucky to have been born right into the faith and I just wanted to sound the alarm. Besides I was a natural salesman and I loved talking people into things. I was the number one sales girl at The Gap for like a year straight. If I could talk people into sandblasted easy-fit jeans and wool sweaters in April in Phoenix and grass scented unisex fragrance (do they still have that? I freaking loved that stuff) Then how hard would it be to close the deal on something they actually needed? Truth! Salvation! The Gift of the Holy Ghost! Eternal Families! This was going to be a slam dunk. Every green missionary secretly fantasizes about marching into the mission field like Alma and telling everyone where to line up to be dunked. We imagine making eye-contact with someone on a bus and we instantly have an electric connection that draws us to one another and what do you know? That person just prayed that morning to find the True Church and if you both think about it enough you are sure that you recognize them from the pre-mortal existence. Then you picture them and their family in white at the baptism..no, wait, at the TEMPLE. Making eternal covenants and thanking you for being on the bus that day even though you may have preferred to have been sleeping in or a thousand miles away making out with some guy after a church dance. It sounds a lot like falling In True Love but I'd be willing to bet that every missionary of every faith has had some version of this fantasy. Then you get out there and figure out that they speak an entirely different language in this crazy place and even with the occasional brush with the Gift of Tounges you are pretty much as articulate as a three year old caveman. Once you get over that little obstacle you can get to work convincing French people to not drink wine, smoke cigarettes, engage in premarital sex, have affairs after marriage and to give ten percent of their income to the church and spend three hours of every single Sunday in church. Also, all of your friends and family might disown you, you'll need an entirely different wardrobe and all of your dating options will immediately disappear, and you will be given a volunteer job that is just slightly less time consuming than an American work week with no vacance. Your Father owns a winery? sorry. You pay your rent working as an underwear model? sorry. You are a chainsmoker? sorry. You spent 50 years of your life as a Catholic nun? sorry. You are Muslim and your family might have you killed just for listening to me? sorry. You live with your boyfriend and he pays all the bills but doesn't want to get married? sorry. You are clearly insane with an IQ that hovers just above retarded and you require money, food, friends and regular government imposed psychiatric treatment? PERFECT. Lets set a date for your baptism. To say the least, the culture and the experience and product I was pitching turned out to be totally different than I had expected. After one particularly devastating rejection I cried for days. The thing that freaked me out was that we had taught this girl, Faouzia, and she was golden. She understood every point of doctrine and the spirit bore witness to her heart. She knew that the message we taught was true and she was totally ready to follow. We set a date for her baptism and continued with the scheduled lessons. She was on fire. She was so interested and it all made sense. She happened to be our age so we bonded with her on many levels and developed such a close authentic friendship which was of course magnified by our shared spiritual experiences. Nothing seals a friendship like the Holy Ghost. Of course days before her baptism she realized that she could not demand these new caste standards for their relationship and she was unwilling to choose the church over him. She know the church was true at that point, she just didn’t care that it was true quite enough. I realized that that is exactly the same challenge of all believers. Its pretty simple to decide if you believe or not but giving a crap about it to the point that you will rearrange your life to live it is a whole different ballgame. I felt like we had spent all of this energy converting her and when she was ultimately unable or unwilling to step up and make covenants to seal her testimony, we had done her no favors. Good news is the Church is true. Bad news is now you know. Faouzia tearfully backed away from her baptismal commitment knowing full well what she was turning down and we all grieved for days. It was a major eye opener for me. I knew the church was true but how much did I really care about that fact? Would I pack up and leave a hot sugar daddy with whom I had a fabulous relationship in order to follow found spiritual truth? The days following Faouzia I did a lot of crying and a lot of soul searching. I wanted to be a follower of Christ for the right reasons not because it had been convenient. I also felt guilty for imparting this testimony on Faouzia who would be forever responsible for her choice to follow or not. I felt like maybe she would have been better off in ignorance. I couldn’t bear the thought of damnation. I had to put my faith in the fact that life is long and Faouzia’s story was just beginning. I had done what I had been called to do and that’s all I could do. From that moment on I began assessing my own motivations for keeping the commandments. Was I doing it because It was the thing to do? It pleased my family? It made great stories? Or because I had an honest love of the gospel and wanted to share it with my fellow man. It was a turning point in my life . One day I will write a book about all the ways serving a mission prepares you for the future. Life, Marriage, work, Parentling, Church service, dealing with people…etc. There is no better training ground for life in general.

At one point I had a trainee who was struggling with her mission because of these unmet expectations. She wanted to go home. The problem was that she was just a wee bit umm..how do I say this?…. Crazy. She had heard somewhere that the church would send a sister home from a full time mission no-questions-asked with an "honorable discharge" if the purpose for going home was to get married. Instead of just facing her disappointment she began a letter campaign to every male she had ever known. The letters were full of things like "My mission has filled me with the Spirit and now things that were confusing before are totally clear to me now. I know that we never went on a date but I need to tell you that I love you." These letters went out to the Idaho State Fencing Club, the Pocotello Medieval Reenactment society, The Central Idaho Dungeons and Dragons Fan Club and every dude at the Ricks College Institute. You get the idea. She just needed one taker and she was ready to reveal her true destiny to our Mission President and be on the next plane home. First of all, I have no idea where she got this ridiculous notion of chicks bailing on a very serious commitment without recourse but It started to get old in a hurry. Especially when she started sleeping in and refusing to work and throwing huge tantrums over just about everything. I've lived long enough to know now that she was clearly bi-polar and definitely narcissistic but at the time I just wanted to get the work done instead of constantly trick my comp into working. This is a sample of one of our morning companion prayers. "Heavenly Father. We come to you with confused hearts and seek thy wisdom. We want to be thy servants but how best to do that is unclear. Soeur X feels like she has received direct communication from the Holy Ghost instructing her to have us not get up early but to sleep till our regular time and then go down town because someone there needs our message. As much as I want to help Soeur X to become a missionary leader and eventually a senior companion who could make this kind of decision on behalf of the companionship, I feel confused about weather we should go ahead with the plan that we wrote down and prayed about and felt good about or if we should go with this new plan of Soeur x's. Help us to make a wise decision based on what is thy will and not just what we personally want. I know that I was looking forward to attending the Ward Pic-Nic in the French Countryside where we would be able to introduce Christine to all of the ward members before her upcoming baptism and perhaps create a social foundation for her within the community of members in the area. I was also looking forward to touring medieval castles and seeing renaissance era relics. It is very selfish of me but I wanted to get great pictures of myself clapped in irons in a real dungeon. Also, many of our ward members are bringing non member friends and I would be lying if I said that it wouldn't be personally satisfying to reach all of our goals in one morning hike. Nevertheless, not our will be done, but thine. If someone downtown needs us in a few hours on some random bus or tram, then we will go ahead and flake out on our commitment to attend the Ward Pic-Nic and we will be happy to serve wherever we are needed most. We will do thy will even if we have to miss out on awesome suits of armor and castles with drawbridges and moats. Its not about us, its about the work. And if we miss out on a golden contact on the bus, please put that person in our path another day. Amen"

You get the idea. She hadn't realized the location of the Pic-Nic (its amazing how much French you miss when you insist to everyone that you already speak it fluently because you are a language prodigy and by the way you don't need a "trainer" either because you are already trained.) I wasn't too surprised when she "received revelation" that Plan A was a-okay. She was constantly contacting people on busses (or more likely taking credit for a contact of mine) and then stepping off and bursting into happy tears because she Is just sure that that was the ONE person that she was sent to France to meet and now her work is done. Usually there were tears again when that person would blow us off or hide when we rang the doorbell. Thats the thing with missionary work. It is not about having a series of mind-boggling spiritual experiences and re-uniting with souls you met before this life and promised to find Saturday's Warrior's Style. It is about work. Actual work. They don’t call it missionary work to be poetic. You have to actually work. To be more accurate, it is about working your ass off. every. single. freaking. day. You just work and work and work and if you can get good enough at plugging away at an almost impossible task, unexpected miracles start to happen. Like one day realizing that you care about God's Kingdom more than your own ego. Your clothes get thread-bare, your scalp produces relentless dandruff, your pantyhose get runs, your white garments are closer to charcoal, you have used your last squirt of grass perfume and you wake up with the sound of the alarm every single day and you eventually forget that snooze bar technology even exists because you just want to get your day started and there’s no way you would sacrifice any of your prayer time. Almost without noticing, you become a different person. The huge miracles you had hoped for happen but they are not the dramatic friend-from-the-preexistence kind. And then if you can keep your shoulder to the wheel and keep on keeping on, you will get to look back at the end of the whole thing and realize that you did after all meet dozens of pre-mortal BFFs and you did keep your dramatic Saturday's Warrior style promises. They don't happen until you stop looking for them, and even then, you will not know what it was until you are long done because it will just have felt like work. Missionary Work.

By the way, this "hindsight miracle" system describes Motherhood exactly too. If you want to have amazing family experiences? Do the laundry. Mop the floor. Put your kids in time out when they are sassy. Force them to sit still in Sacrament and throw together FHE at the last minute. Get the groceries, shampoo the carpet, bounce a check, bring cookies to the elderly neighbors, throw a towel over the peed on sheets at 3am, pack those lunches, open that mail, change those diapers, burn the Pancakes, do your calling, fill the dishwasher, go to Chuck E Cheese, scrub the baseboards, clip the coupons, just get to work. The miracles will be obvious later.

I firmly believe that there are seasons of life and we can't do everything at once. Sometimes I miss the days of experiencing missionary work on a daily basis and I know that I could be incorporating more of that into my daily life if I just gave it a little more thought and secreting. but I have also accepted that my main calling at the moment is going to keep me from doing splits with the full time missionaries every week. I am teaching the Gospel every day and bearing testimony but it happens to be to the two little men who used to reside in my womb and not to randoms on the street anymore (although I am not opposed to that kind of thing on occasion) If I can successfully feed these two little lambs I know Christ will accept my offering.

I would stop this little missionary post right here but John and I had a kindof unusual experience this week that is worth writing about. Luckily this person doesn't follow my blog or even know it exists (not unlike the rest of humankind) So I will just tell it how it went.

There is a dispatcher at John's work that John has been friends with since his first day at Gilbert. John knows that a cop's quality of life is totally dependent on how good his relationship is with the women in dispatch and he is no fool. This particular Dispatcher is extremely good at what she does. Thats a job that takes a really quick mind and an even temper and the ability to multi-task to a superhuman degree. The officer's lives' are often in their hands so we always appreciate sharp dispatchers. Plus that whole office upstairs is populated with Alpha Women which leads to lots of cattiness and territorialness and gossip but this particular gal is smart enough to stay above the fray. She invited John and I on a double date with her and her husband years ago when John first started with Gilbert and they have kids that are similar ages to ours so I usually see her at kids birthday parties and things like that. She and John hit it off as friends and because he is so chivalrous he goes out of his way to include me in their friendship. If they are taking luchbreak together, he calls me and invites me, if she calls him at home for some reason he puts it on speaker. John is such a rule keeper. Its cute. Because of this, I have gotten to know her more than any other colleagues’ of John. I like her a lot. She is very different from me. She is kindof a tomboy and she doesn’t often show a lot of emotion. She has a dry sarcastic sense of humor and she is very straight forward. I feel like a giggly flamboyant girly loud mouth around her but I am glad that I have had the chance to really get to know her because she has a beautiful multi-faceted soft feminism about her but she keeps that guarded until she is comfortable. I had no idea of what her religious beliefs were but she seemed to gravitate to all of the LDS cops and in a lot of ways she seems like a Mormon. She is from Gilbert and very family oriented with a very tame lifestyle. Apparently people assume she's LDS a lot. I like her and I always tell John to say hi to her for me. I vaguely knew of some personal struggles she has been facing lately so I have been asking John for reports on how she is coping more regularly.

Then John got a call from her a few weeks ago asking if he would go to lunch with her to discuss the Mormon Church. She has a lot of questions so she decided she would just go to the source and pick the brain of a Mormon she trusts. I think she also selected John because she knows that he whole-heartedly converted to the religion in adulthood and so she felt he may have some insight that others might not. They went to lunch and she was full of questions. The adversity she has been facing in her personal life has caused her to search for deeper meaning in life and her search keeps leading back to the same place. Not an unfamiliar pattern. The issues she was hung up on were actually pretty simple things and John had the chance to tell his story and bear his testimony to her and offer insight. John said that the Spirit was definitely present and there were many points where she teared up when talking about certain things. She was definitely emotional and touched. Also of her questions relate to the treatment of the role of women in the church and while John knew how to answer her he felt like it would be better if she heard it from me, an actual Mormon Woman. That and the fact that John loves to defer to me on just about every topic known to man religious or otherwise. And understandably, he didn't want to make it a habit to start regularly having one on one lunch rendezvous between two people who are married to other people. I have no worries of impropriety but John is the ultimate Gentleman and Insisted that they continue the conversation with me present. In the day leading up to the dinner we had planned she got antsy and started reading anti-mormon websites to find answers to her questions. That is frustrating but totally surmountable. They can make up all the lies they want about us but will get trumped by the truth every time. At least it gave her topics from which to springboard into good gospel centered discussions. There is really no topic that I shy away from. I say bring it all on. Thats the best part of the fullness of Christ's Gospel.. all the answers are there. Plus she is doing the asking so I am just doing the answering and inviting not trying to talk her into being interested the first place. I have been to this rodeo enough times to know that at the very worst, it would be an interesting spiritual discussion and at best it could be life altering. We farmed our kids out to family and went to dinner. On the way over she was texting all of her questions because she was just convinced that she was going to offend me beyond what our friendship could withstand. That amused me. I have had Muslims spit in my mouth and slap me when I declined an offer of marriage and then gracefully thanked him for his interest and encouraged him to read and pray about the Book of Mormon before walking away and puking. It would take more than a little anti-Mormon rhetoric to piss me off.

Her thing is that she is a raging liberal Women's rights activist. Equal Pay for Equal Work, No Glass Ceiling, We can bring home the bacon AND fry it up in a pan etc etc type. Equal treatment for women is a big deal to her. She becomes physically angry at the thought of a woman being treated in any way inferior to a man and she wants to throw punches on behalf of oppressed women everywhere. Women can have it all weather they want it or not, damnit!

The Church has long had a very erroneous reputation among the uninformed about some mythical occurrences of oppressing women. I assume that this comes from the fact that The Priesthood, or authority to lead in the church is reserved for worthy males. Women do not hold the priesthood in the LDS Church and this fact had our friend's hackle's up well before we sat down for dinner. The funny thing is anyone who claims that LDS women are oppressed has clearly never met a real life Mormon Woman. I grew up in this church and the ONLY message I have ever received from the leadership of the church or my fellow members is that womanhood is the highest most noble calling in the universe.

So we got to talking about the whole issue of Women's Right's and I asked " Do you feel like you experience some form of discrimination because you are female? "

"Well not me personally, no. But I know it happens all the time.

"Okay, so you think that some people don't believe that women are capable of doing what a man does? They can't make a living, or own a business, or hold office or whatever? Because they aren't smart enough or good enough or whatever? Or is it that the things that come most naturally to a woman; bearing and nurturing children, teaching, homemaking, comforting, encouraging, making things beautiful, feeding, caring, sheltering etc. are just valued less by our society than traditionally male offerings like providing income?

"Well I never thought about it." So she is a die hard feminist soldier who didn't even know what she was fighting for

"I don't think there is anyone left who really believes that Women are mentally inferior or incapable of anything they want. Its been proven. I'm sure there are dark places in the world where women are treated as property and their opinions don't count and all of those horrible unenlightened things, but here in the free world I have yet to meet someone who questions weather I could do a man's job if I wanted to. Men can be stay at home moms and nurses and teachers and women can be astronauts and lawmakers and CEOs and mechanics. It really isn't up for debate anymore."

"Then why can't a Mormon mother baptize her own child?"

"Do you want to baptize your child?"

"Well, no. I personally don't but if there was a woman who wanted to she should be allowed to."

"Do you know any woman who has wanted to baptize her child?"

"Well, No. But it is possible."

Okay, so I'm totally willing to talk about this but before we move on, lets be clear that we are looking for a solution to a problem that does not exist. It may exist somewhere sometime, but it has never existed in our own experience. Right?" I wasn't condescending or rude but I felt like we should at least identify the scope of the issue

In my opinion it is FAR more offensive to suggest that a woman needs to behave like a man or produce what a man produces in order to be equal to a man. As if it is a given that men are inherently superior and the only way we can reach equality is to prove that we can do what they can do. How bout we back this truck up and look at it a whole different way. How about we value the feminine contribution for what it is: totally different from the male contribution but just as valuable or even more so. The Mormon Church I know puts women on a pedestal so far beyond what the Feminazis ever thought to want. I have always been taught that during the Creation God created man and then as His crowning most glorious cherry on top, he created Woman. Then he commanded Man to till the earth and work his ass off so that Woman could be freed up to do the work that actually matters. The Priesthood is not some kind of self serving prestigious title, it it a tool. and like all tools it is used to accomplish something bigger. Everyone has their role in the Kingdom of God and the job of leading the earthly church fell on the men. I don't need the priesthood to make me feel valid in the work of the Lord, because I already know that the work I produce with my feminine nature is of far greater value. I can create life in partnership with man and God. I can nurture and teach and comfort and care. My role makes this life worth living and every priesthood duty performed is done so that the way is clear for me and my fellow righteous sisters to get down to business. Do I want to baptize my child? No. I want to raise it and teach it and nurture it and instill righteous desires within it and then I want to print the programs and make cheesy potatoes and fruit salad for the post baptism party and then I want to see my studly righteous husband serving our family by performing the baptism and then I want to speak at the program and make a scrapbook page about the big day. I'm not worried about getting left out of the process because we all know that kid wouldn't exist, let alone be there choosing to covenant with God if it weren't for his diligent unwavering righteous mom. Let the men have the priesthood. Here’s a newsflash: Most of them wouldn’t show up if they weren’t in charge or if someone wasn’t counting on them to do something. Faith comes more easily to the feminine mind just as football or hunting come more easily to the male mind. The bottom line is, Women don’t need to be in charge in order to participate. The priesthood is nothing but a means to serve or support others. A man certainly can’t baptize himself. The priesthood gives men the power to lead and serve and heal and ordain so that Women can get down to business with the really important stuff. The argument comes down to how you value the innate nature of each gender. True feminism would glorify my work as a mother. A true feminist should be offended by the suggestion that she should use her talent for something as common as money. You will not attend an LDS meeting that doesn’t involve women teaching or speaking or leading in some way. You will find no other church on earth Christian or otherwise that shows such respect for the divine role of womanhood and enobles its female members. If your issue is outrage over women being treated as inferiors, you have come to the Mecca of Girl Power. People make a lot of lame accusations about Mormons but this is one that I can’t tolerate for even a second. It is pure ignorance and sexism at its very ugliest.

So after I have gone off on this long monolog about how I have attended literally THOUSANDS of LDS meetings including 5 days a week in the early morning all through high school and a 19 month full time mission and watched 68 three day sessions of general conference and read the standard works multiple times and the Book of Mormon dozens of times and been anointed, endowed and sealed in the Temple and held every calling from hymn book gatherer to Relief Society President and have known tens of thousands of Mormons on a very personal level and probably hundreds of thousands on an indirect surface level, if there was a culture of putting women down going on somewhere I probably would have come across it at some point. It just isn’t there. The Church does not oppress women or even tolerate some members oppressing women. I’m not saying that every social group doesn’t have their share of bad apples and I have definitely met some serious losers who claim membership in this church, but even then, you are far less likely to come across them than in any similar group. Yes, the church teaches that women are to be treated not only as equals but with nobility and reverence. If you come across a Mormon man who behaves superior to his female countrpart, it has nothing to do with what he has been taught in church and everything to do with him being an asshole. The church is full of imperfect people trying their best and as with any scenario that involves imperfect human beings, there will be a share of idiots and Satan will be all over that situation blaming one man’s sin on God’s Church. I consider the LDS church to be light years ahead of the rest of the world on this topic. Why don’t they go harass the Muslims or the Catholics or the Hillary Clintons who will put up with any degrading treatment without batting a lash.

The funny thing after this whole discussion which I felt was so well delivered and directy directed the entire issue complete with statements from modern day Prophets and scriptures that back up my point exactly, Her response was not what I expected. Condecending is the only word that I can really think of that comes close. Maybe patronizing or even slightly amused. She expressed to me how nice it must be for me to be so sheltered from reality and didn’t I probably have the nicest parents ever to raise such a positive girl who is so able to stick my head in the sand and ignore injustice and have a positive attitude no matter what. Good for you and your manufactured life experience. I hope that never comes crumbling down on ya. Aren’t you cute.So it turns out that I’m not quite as unoffend-able as I once claimed. I don’t take too kindly to being called naïve or sheltered. In reality, I think she knew that what I was saying was right but for right now she wants to indulge in the feeling of injustice, reality be damned. Oh well, It was still a fun dinner and I do adore her. I think she just has some journeying to do before she is ready to really hear without getting tripped up by all of this prejudice and rhetoric. I respect her for thinking about it in the first place. It will be interesting to see how her spiritual quest goes. I wish her the best. I am actuakly honored to be apart of her contact with the church, Church statisticians have estimated that the common convert has eight positive contacts with members before they are ready for baptism. I am happy to be contact number two or contact number eight as long as she knows what a blessing Jesus and His restored church has meant to me and my family. I know it is true. I know that it is His original church restored in our modern day through a living prophet and through it we can find all of the answers we seek. I know he is mindful of us down to every disappointment and joy. He is the way the truth and the life. The only way back to live eternally in the presence of the Father and have Eternal Progression. Count me in. I want to be with my sweet family through all of eternity. Not just till death separates us. I am so thankful for the plan of happiness and the chance it gives us to be forever families.

2 comments:

Diane V. said...

I didn't know Soeur X was that crazy.. I am facebook friends with her now and she seems pretty ok to me, but I guess I haven't lived with her :) Anyways, I just want everyone to know what a wonderful missionnarie you were. It is not because people don't get baptized that you failed. Sometimes it just takes time for someone to go through his own spiritual journey. I guess I am the perfect example of it. It took me a lot of time to grow up and accept myself, and love myself. So imagine, accepting that other people could love me to was just unbelievable. Once I am married I will eventually get baptized..It is just a question of beeing ready at the right time. Je t'aime Soeur Haws, merci d'être toi!

Sinéad & Guillaume said...

You're so eloquent. I'm very glad you're using your super powers for good rather than evil. You're powerful. Souer x... WOW. I was really very lucky with my companions, there really were a couple of nutjobs floating around La Mission Belge de Bruxelles

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