Sunday, May 25, 2014

Agency and Choosing the Right

Adapted from the talk I gave today in Sacrament meeting:

One of the clearest, simplest explanations of the Plan of Salvation is in the pamphlets distributed by missionaries to investigators of the Church.  The doctrine is taught so directly that it is just about impossible to misunderstand what the Church teaches. This is especially true when we read about the doctrine of agency.  This booklet teaches that agency is the power each of us has to make choices.  Furthermore we read: “An important part of God’s plan was for you to come to earth to receive a physical body and to learn to make correct choices. You would not remember living in Heavenly Father’s presence, but He would give you the ability to know right from wrong. You would be able to recognize His love and truth. Through your experiences and trials, you could learn to make right choices consistently. With the help of Jesus Christ, you would be able to return to live with Heavenly Father when your life on earth was over.” (Plan of Salvation Pamphlet pg.3)

There is a sentence in that paragraph that sticks out to me every time I read it: “Through your experiences and trials, you could learn to make right choices consistently.”  One of our main purposes in this life was to learn not just how to make choices, but how to make the right choices.

So here is the question: how do we make sure we are making the right choice?  Because just like actions bring reactions, choices bring consequences, and we are looking for eternally happy consequences.   How do we properly exercise our free agency, and bring ourselves closer to Heavenly Father?

An incredible example of inspired decision-making is Nephi.  It is no mistake that the Book of Mormon starts with Nephi’s compelling and powerful testimony.  From the very beginning we know that all of Nephi’s decisions, or at least the ones he felt were important enough to engrave on metal, were influenced by what he had been taught about God by his father and spiritual leader, the prophet Lehi.  In 1 Nephi 3:7 he tells his father “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”  The first rule in choosing happy eternal consequences is to keep the commandments.  Nephi knew that.  Even when his brothers were conspiring to kill him because of his righteousness in the face of their wickedness, he knew that.  In the end, he was blessed for his faithfulness.  His family reached the Promised Land and flourished.

Nephi teaches us another important principle concerning correct use of agency when he decides to learn the truth about what his father taught him.  In 1 Nephi 11 we read about his encounter with the Spirit of the Lord.  In verse one, he says: “after I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord [...].”  Now, Nephi obviously makes many decisions in this process, but I want to point out a couple of the really important ones.  First, he seeks out truth.  He decides that he wants to know what is true, what is not, and what he should do as a result.  Then what he does is remarkable: Nephi’s first action as a result of this decision is to ponder and study the words of the prophets.  He thinks on the words of his father as he prays to the Lord for an answer.  The result of Nephi’s thoughtful study and prayer is one of the most remarkable and beautiful visions recorded in scripture.  Rule two of choosing happy eternal consequences is to study and pray, allowing the Spirit to help you learn and make choices.

Another remarkable thing we learn from this encounter is just how much Nephi trusts the Lord to steer him in the right direction.  The Spirit inquires as to Nephi’s desire and to his belief – when Nephi explains that he believes and wants to better understand the words of his father, he does not tell the Spirit how he wants to learn about these things.  Instead, he trusts that the Lord will help him understand.  There are even some parts of the vision where Nephi seems a bit confused as to what he is seeing.  He is asked questions he doesn’t understand, and he is okay with replying that he does not know the answers to everything.   This leads to rule three of choosing happy eternal consequences: trust that the Lord knows what He is doing, even if you don’t right away.

These three rules, keep the commandments, study and pray, and trust the Lord, will help us as we exercise our agency and make the most important decisions of our lives. 

This is not to say that every decision we make will be easy.  Sometimes the Lord lets us make choices without clear guidance.  This is normal! Just because you don’t feel like you are receiving clear revelation on what to do, don’t worry!  This is okay!  In many cases, this is a sign that the Lord trusts you to make the right choice, or that there is more than one right decision to be made, and really you just have to pick something to get the ball rolling.  As long as your decision will lead you closer to Him, it is hard to go wrong.

My last thought I want to share with you is what happens when our decisions lead us away from Heavenly Father.  It happens.  It is a part of life that we sin and make mistakes.  The Lord knew that from the beginning – it is why from the foundation of the world He provided a Savior for us to atone for our sins, giving us a way to return to Him.  We shouted for joy when we found out we had the chance to come to Earth and have a body of our very own – I can’t help but think a part of that joy was related to the fact that we would also have a chance to return to Heavenly Father and live in a perfect version of that body forever.  If you have done something that will prevent you from having that happy consequence, remember that you still have a choice, even now.  Use your incredible gift of free agency and choose to repent.  Alma teaches us that there is nothing quite so wonderful as repentance.  In Alma 36:21 he says: “Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.”  What a difference a choice can make.

Agency is an incredible gift.  Use it for good.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Reflections of a Returned Chinatown Missionary

I wrote this yesterday, but lacked the internet signal to post. :)

Dear Readers, 

Sitting in the Chinatown chapel with an afternoon ahead of me, it seems only appropriate for me to write a blog entry.

It’s been four months and seven days since I returned home from my mission in the New York New York North mission.  My mission was a time of immense growth and spiritual development, and the last four months have been a crash course in real-life application of what I learned there.  Going back to real life, even real life at a school run by my church, has been somewhat surreal.  There have been nights I have cried myself to sleep right alongside the days I have been so grateful to be home I could explode.  I have thrown myself back into my creative love, theatre, and been a part of incredible productions, using much of what I learned as a missionary to fuel my actions and my art.

I have become the return missionary I swore I would never be, one that jumps at an opportunity to swap mission stories, or to just tell them to (mostly) willing audiences.  I realize now why return missionaries tell the stories.  It isn’t to draw attention or to brag about what we have done, it is so we will never forget the lessons we learned and the Spirit we felt while serving.

As a return missionary, it is harder to find specific times to study my scriptures and have good conversations with my Heavenly Father.  There isn’t a little white handbook telling me what I have to do every day, defining success so I cannot misunderstand.  What there is, though, is satisfaction at doing what I know God wants me to, joy in temple attendance, and a whole slew of wonderful experiences that are helping grow my testimony even more.

Coming home from my mission was hard.  I wasn’t sure how I could be as happy as I was when serving.  Looking at my life now, though, I am happy.  I still see miracles every day.  I am inspired by the incredible people who surround me, and I am so grateful for their influence. 

So thank you, people that I love.  You make my life a better place.  Thanks for supporting me both on and off the mission, and helping me to be the person I want to be.

Much love,


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Hello, World. It's been a while.

A month ago, I walked the streets of New York City, teaching people about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and His love for His children.

And just like that, I am back in Utah going to school.

Transitions are weird.  Sometimes they are incredibly natural, and easy to understand, like seasons changing.  Sometimes, they are not natural, like being abducted by aliens.  My transition has been somewhere between the two.  On the one hand school is great, and I still love theatre (in case anyone was wondering), but on the other hand, the change is pretty huge.  Civilian life is not like missionary life.  It just isn't.

And that's okay.

As much as I love New York and Chinatown, I know that this is the place that I have to be right now.  That's always been how it is - we do as much as we can in one place, and, when He knows we are ready, He takes us to the next one.  My mission was awesome.  Exactly what I needed.  And now I'm ready for the next one.

So, hello BYU, hello theatre, and hello social life.  Hello, World.  It's good to see you again.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Each Life That Touches Ours For Good

This is my last mission entry.

I apologize for my lack of blog posts recently.  As some of you (or all of you, depending on what my mother has shared from her letters) might know, we have had a mission Christmas devotional that I have been preparing for, and this last week we performed.

It was incredible.

I don't think I have ever participated in a more spiritual devotional where people testified so clearly through the music they performed. Every song seemed to build upon the last, until we reached Elder Murray's incredible arrangement of Joy to the World which was performed by all the participants in the program. (That includes three violins, two flutes, a viola, a cello, an organ, and four-part choir, by the way. It was a LOT of fun to conduct.) Four measures in, I could feel the Spirit so strong, pushing us forward in the performance. The song built and the choir hit every entrance just right - it was incredible.  At the end of the song, the choir sang out their final "joy!" followed a measure later by the instruments to fill out an incredible chord, and then there was silence.  During the closing prayer, I could hear sniffles throughout the entire congregation.  I was probably the worst offender, though, sobbing on the stand.  I don't think I was too loud.   No one said anything, at least.

The entire performance was so moving, so inspired, and so exactly what our mission (and I) needed.  I was caught between grinning and crying for the rest of the day as I said my goodbyes and reflected on what had happened.  Elder Hurst did wonderfully singing "O Holy Night" (and singing two A4s to boot), "In the Bleak Midwinter" bore incredible testimony of giving ourselves, consecrating ourselves, to the Savior, and every piece in general just brought the Spirit so strongly.  Especially Joy to the World.  I was so happy.

The next night we took all the small groups to the Olmstead chapel in the Bronx to perform at their Christmas open house.  It was a humble evening.  There were about as many missionaries there as members (they have a lot of missionaries there, like Chinatown), and the numbers performed by the ward were not necessarily in tune, but they were honest.  The people were bearing their testimonies through song, which was incredible.  I was especially touched by a man who was not even a member of our church, but wanted to participate in some way.  He asked if he could play his trumpet and sing for us.  I don't remember the song, or even the tune, but I do remember the Spirit that entered the room as that man bore his testimony of Christ to us.  The entire night was so sweet, so wonderful, all because the only thing any of the performers or listeners were there for was to bear testimony of the Savior.  I hope I will see many more Christmas programs like that in the future.

Along with the Christmas program, we have been fitting in as much missionary work as we can.  I love being a missionary so much, and I have learned so much in the past year and a half.  I am incredibly grateful to my Heavenly Father for giving me this chance to serve in Chinatown, NYC.  This place, these people, and this work are where I have had many of my most cherished memories and experiences.

At the end of one's service in our mission, the elders and sisters commemorate the returning missionaries' service by singing "Each Life That Touches Ours for Good."  I have grown to love this song, and I think one verse in particular applies to the friends I have made here in New York:

What greater gift dost thou bestow,
What greater goodness can we know
Than Christlike friends, 
Whose gentle ways
Strengthen our faith, enrich our days.

To the many people I have met, and to all who have supported me over my last year and a half, I love you.  I love my mission.  I love the closeness I feel with the Lord.  I am grateful for the chance I have had to grow closer to my Savior and to know of His love for each of his children.  I know He lives, and that His work and His glory really is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39).  Thank you, all of you, for helping me to have this experience through your actions and prayers.

With love,
Sister Beer

Friday, November 15, 2013

Transfers! And the verdict is...

I am staying in Chinatown!  Yes, dear readers, this means I have been a Chinatown missionary my entire mission.  Not many missionaries can say that they have stayed in the same apartment building for 14 months.  I have served in the three sisters' areas in Chinatown, and will finish in my current area with Sister Chan and Astle.

In other news, Elder Murray has returned to 唐人街.  (That means Chinatown in Chinese.)  Good thing, too.  I have been needing another music brain to help me handle this Christmas program. :) I am super happy he's back.  He's probably one of my favorite people.

Today is the first day of my last cycle on the mission.  It is going to be a crazy one.  With normal missionary work and the addition of a Christmas program, my companionship is going to have to stay on it's toes!  (I had a nightmare last night that consisted of a mission choir with no tenors. I was quite distressed.)  

That's all for today.  The rest of P-day awaits!

Love you!

Sister Beer

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Happy (belated) Halloween from the Chinatown YSA!

The highlight of this week was definitely the super awesome Chinatown YSA Halloween activity we had yesterday night!  So it was a few days late...that's okay, it's not like most Chinese people celebrate Halloween, anyway.

But really, it was SUPER COOL.  We had a dinner, then pumpkin carving, followed by "traditional American" Halloween games.  These games included "Guess the Body Part" (with the occasional real hand... Sister Palmer surprised a LOT of people, and I almost died laughing),

 a doughnut eating contest, 

decorating caramel apples, mummy wrapping (the Blairs are definitely the best dressed at the party....), and much, much more.  

Well, not that much, but there was a photo booth.  I haven't had this much fun at a church activity in a LONG time, and I think that people will actually want to come to YSA activities from here on out.

Missionary work continues to be missionary work, and I am excited at the progress we are seeing in some of our investigators.  It is always so exciting to see people start to use the gospel in their lives.  The change in how they act, and even in their appearance, is noticeable and uplifting.  I am ever-grateful to be able to serve here in Chinatown.  I can't think of anywhere else I would rather be.

It is a little strange to think that next week starts my last transfer in the mission.  It has been nice to have my companions so focused on doing the work so there is little to no chance that I will be distracted from it.  My dad keeps writing and telling me that I should run across the finish line, not jog, and that is exactly what I plan to do. :)

Until next week,
Sister Beer

Friday, November 1, 2013

What does consecration mean to you?

This week we had a great zone conference.  It was cool for me to see how the call to consecration in our mission has affected so many people, missionary and non-missionary.  It made me realize  however, how sterile my approach to sharing about our mission goals has been in the past.  It's like I had this mental block between your life and mine because I'm a missionary, and I apologize for that.

I am going to invite you to join in on the growth I have been experiencing in the past three months.  There is a talk by Tad R. Callister called "Becoming a Consecrated Missionary" which has been the catalyst for the progression we have had in this mission.  In it, Elder Callister talks about what it means to consecrate ourselves to the Lord.  While it is directed at missionaries, I think there are many ways that members, who also have a charge to do missionary work, can apply these principles in their lives.  I would encourage you to read the talk and see what you can do to become a more consecrated member.  I know that this principle has brought my companionship and our mission incredible blessings, and that it will bring them to you and to your family as well as you start (and continue) to live the law of consecration in ways that you may not have thought of before.

After you do that, tell me about it!  I want to hear what you are doing to be a more consecrated missionary.  Feel free to write me an email, comment on the facebook link or blog post, write a letter, or even just post it on your own facebook page.  Consecration and missionary work are inseparable in my mind, and both bring incredible blessings that we can't even imagine.  So try it out!  Let me know how it goes.  I am excited to hear all about it. :)

Just in case you were wondering, New York continues to be the best place ever, and the trees are more and more beautiful every day.  Thank you, East Coast autumn, for making my life better.

Sister Beer