Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I Know He Lives.

I sincerely hope that all of my blog posts come across as little bits and pieces of my testimony, but I wanted to make one post that is dedicated solely to the things I believe, the things I know, and the things that bring me indescribable joy and peace.

I know that there is a God. His power and love are beyond description. Somehow, he loves every single person with perfect, unconditional love. He wants us to return to him. He wants the very best for us - and sometimes that means we have to go through very hard things so that we can learn, grow, and become more like him. 
Mistakes are inevitable. Sin is inevitable. Pain is inevitable. It's all part of being human. It's all part of the process. God, in his infinite knowledge and love, made a way for us to overcome all of it. He sent his son. Jesus Christ gave up his throne on high to come to earth and dwell with sinners like us. To die for sinners like us. He paid the price for our sins and mistakes and imperfections. He was the only one that could pay the price because he was the only one who didn't have his own sins to pay for. He suffered every single pain that you have endured. He knows you perfectly and he knows perfectly what you are going through. He is your most loyal, most understanding, most dependable friend. He conquered death, and now we can too. Because of him, we have eternal hope and we can return to live with him if we have faith in him. I know that following Christ, coming to know him, and keeping his commandments is the path to true happiness. 

The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ. It goes hand in hand with the Bible in testifying of him. It is true. Studying it can bring great peace and understanding of God's plan for us and his love for all of his children. God still speaks to us. We can be guided by the Spirit and receive answers to our prayers through personal revelation. Our loving Heavenly Father still reveals his will to his prophets, just as he did in ancient times. He has not abandoned us. 

I wouldn't be giving up 18 months of my life to teach people these things if I didn't believe them with every fiber of my being. Everything happens for a reason. If we place our lives in the hands of God, he will make more out of our lives than we could have ever imagined. I know that God lives and loves us, I know that Jesus Christ died for us, and I want to shout it from the rooftops!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Big White Envelope

My papers were in. It was out of my hands now. I just prayed that wherever I was sent, I would know it was right. Guesses were pinned on a world map, and I was checking the mailbox compulsively. Let me tell you - it is a weird feeling knowing that your fate has been decided and you don't know what it is yet. Especially when the only thing standing between you and finding out your fate is the speed of the postal service.

Then, on Friday February 27 at about 4 in the afternoon, I could barely believe my eyes when I opened the mailbox to see that big white envelope. I might have done a happy dance and let out a little scream. Okay, a big scream. 

In front of lots of friends and family, I opened my long-awaited mission call, fumbling a lot of words.
Dear Sister Lanning,
You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the Louisiana Baton Rouge Mission. It is anticipated that you will serve for a period of 18 months. You should report to the Provo Missionary Training Center on Wednesday, May 27, 2015. You will prepare to preach the gospel in the English language.
(This is a lot more to the letter, but that seems to be the paragraph people care about.)

Louisiana. A year ago, I would have frowned at that call. 
English speaking? Boring. Stateside? Boring. 

But not anymore. 

I am so excited to teach people that I can relate to, although their culture will still be different and exciting compared to what I'm used to! I am so excited to teach in my own language so that I can express my testimony exactly as I feel it. 

Here's a fun way to think about stateside missions:
Jesus - the greatest teacher of all - only taught Jews. His ministry and mission was teaching his own people in his own land in his own language. Having that similarity with the Savior is pretty cool.

It was so cool to read where I'll be spending the next year and a half of my life, knowing that it is exactly where God wants me to be. I felt a tidal wave of unconditional love for the people of Louisiana crash over me.

This call is exactly right. It is inspired. It is for me. 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

If ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work

In this sense of the phrase "serve God," I never had desires to do so - I don't remember any time growing up that I had an actual desire to serve a mission. 

Here were some of my thoughts about it:
- I'm not 100% sure this is all true, and now I'm going to tell others to believe it - wouldn't that be hypocritical of me?
- Women pretty much only choose to go on missions if they haven't found a husband yet.
- I can't serve a mission with my personality type - I could never be pushy!
- I'm just not selfless enough - 18 months is a lot of time to give up.
- If I decided to go and then got called somewhere lame, I'd be furious. (And in my mind, lame meant anywhere in the US.)

In fact, when the mission age was changed so that girls could serve starting at age 19 instead of 21, I had some mixed feelings about it. First, I was glad that girls could serve at a less awkward time - I knew this opened up the door for so many people who wanted to serve. Second, I was scared. Scared that I'd be expected to go on a mission now - scared that I was supposed to. I didn't want the pressure. 

I needed some humbling. 

Over the span of about a year, God was working on me - shaping me, humbling me - to be willing to place my will and my life in his capable hands. 

In my home ward, we've had some amazing sister missionaries who have been great examples to me. Here's a journal entry from May 25, 2014 - during the end of my senior year of high school.

"Today the sister missionaries, Sister Powell and Yu, answered our questions in Laurels. What really struck me was when Sister Powell talked about how she went on a mission because she wanted to learn how to love. Something clicked when she said that. I want to learn how to love. I want to serve people. I want to look back at my life and know I did something good, something hard, something selfless. I want to love others, myself, and Christ. I want to know Him. KNOW Him. For one of the first times ever, I feel like a mission might be part of my story. I'm not saying this because I feel like I'm expected to. I'm saying this, because as much as I thought it would never happen, I kind of want to go. I never wanted to give up a year and a half of my life. But I think God has more in store for me than I ever did for myself. I don't know what the future has in store for me, but I know that if I keep Him close, God will help me figure it out as I go. If the spirit tells me that I need to go, I'm prepared to obey. God knows me, and I trust Him to guide me in the direction that I need. Right now I have an overwhelming feeling of the Spirit. I feel it like a blanket over my whole body and soul. The veil feels thin. As I write, I feel an undeniable power. A year and a half is a long time, but if God asked me to do it, I wouldn't hesitate. More than ever, I feel like He's asking me. Right now I make a commitment to obey. I will prepare and live worthy to serve. When the time comes, I will be ready to answer if God calls me. I've opened up my heart to serve. I'm more scared than ever, but I am more ready than ever. Even if I don't end up serving, I needed today. The spirit is undeniable and my testimony is stronger than ever before. I love this gospel with everything in me."

So I guess that's where it began. 

I started to seriously consider the possibility that I was meant to serve a mission. I didn't tell anyone - I wanted to make sure there were no outside influences impacting my decision. Then, on September 21, 2014 during my first semester at BYU, I wrote:

"Today, instead of church, we went to a broadcast at the Marriott center of the Ogden Temple rededication. The spirit was so strong, but I barely remember what was said. The spirit was all that really mattered to me. I felt like, during that ceremony, that my prayers were answered and going on a mission felt so right. It was so overwhelming. I'm so grateful that I've been blessed with some of these moments of clarity when I feel the spirit. I'm trying to live my life now in preparation for the temple and a mission. I want to stop being afraid, stop putting my faith in my plan for myself, and start letting God direct my life."

Even with these two experiences, I still had some doubts. I needed lots of assurance before I made my final decision. On December 7, 2014 I went to the Lord again, fasting and praying all day for an answer. I even had some friends fast with me. I read over my patriarchal blessing. God has been very patient with me. I needed him to answer my prayers not once - not twice - but three separate times - and he did, because I needed it. And I am so grateful for that. I knew. There was no doubt in my mind. My Heavenly Father spoke to my soul in a way that was indescribable but undeniable. The decision was finally made! I was going - no matter what. This time, I would take the leap of faith and not look back.

Like I said, I definitely needed some humbling. And the journey to making this decision was one of the most humbling experiences I've had thus far. I truly felt myself submit to the will of the Lord - and I was excited about it! It wasn't about lost time or serving somewhere exciting anymore - it was about serving the Lord. I trusted that wherever he sent me, it was where I needed to be, and I wouldn't question it. I would love the people I served no matter where they were. I dropped my ego. I am not entitled to an "interesting" mission somewhere exotic. I am not doing this for me. I am doing it for the Lord. This is not my time. It is his. 

For anyone who might be considering a mission, these scriptures had a huge impact on my decision process: 

Helaman 10:4-5 How amazing would it be to have the Lord say this to you? This was powerful motivation for me!

D&C 4 If you want to serve God, you are called to the work!

D&C 9:8 You will feel if it is right. A mission isn't in the Lord's plan for everyone. For others, it is. But you need to pray about it. And it may take a while to get an answer - be ready for that.

D&C 58:26-27 I think that sometimes it's harder for women to decide whether they should serve a mission or not because we don't have the priesthood responsibility to do so like men do. That made a mission feel like more of a sacrifice to me. This scripture helped me see that just because I'm not compelled by duty to serve a mission, doesn't mean I shouldn't do it. It gave me courage to take that leap of faith and do something above and beyond.