WOW! What a whirlwind of a week! Yesterday (Sunday) I was sitting in a church meeting trying to remember what had happened to the last week. The first few days in the MTC felt so long and overwhelming - each day felt like it was MONTHS long. They were all so great though! We learn SO much great stuff! I wish I could just take the time to write about everything I've been learning, but alas, I cannot. This last week FLEW by! Seriously. I couldn't remember what had happened on any individual day, except that it had been a lot of learning and a lot of growing.
One statement that we heard on the first day is, "There is no growth in a comfort zone, and no comfort in a growth zone." It's true - it IS uncomfortable at times, but it's so so so worth it!
So today I'm leaving the MTC. I was actually really sad about this. The kids - the MISSIONARIES - in my district are so great. We spend about 14 hours a day together studying, and we're all about to go forth with new companions and new areas and we won't have that time together anymore. I love my teachers, I love what I've been learning. I just love it here. I could stay forever. These people are going to be lifelong friends though. For sure.
I was thinking about this the other night - how we're leaving soon and how I don't really feel ready. I was thinking about this as I was trying to go to sleep when all of a sudden this very forceful thought entered my head. It said, "Sister Tipton, you are NOT the same person you were 12 days ago."
Twelve days ago I was terrified. I was nervous as I put on my name badge for the first time. I didn't want to go up to random people to talk to them. Twelve days ago I had been in a "spiritual slump." I hadn't prayed consistently in quite awhile, and I've never gotten into the habit of studying my scriptures every single day. I have to say, THESE THINGS HAVE MADE ME SO HAPPY. Seriously. Opening up and truly communicating with my Father in Heaven. Trusting in Him and studying the scriptures to see what He has to say. Twelve days ago, I wasn't sure if I wanted to serve a mission anymore, but today I am READY. I'm still nervous. But I'm ready. I am bold. I am feeling completely capable of standing as a witness of God, and of doing my best to draw others to Christ. That is my whole purpose in life right now, and it is bringing me incredible joy. I have made new goals in my life so that I can continue to progress. It is SO FUN to grow! It's so fun to realize that you're a little better today than you were yesterday, and to make that goal to be a little better tomorrow than you were today.
On Saturday in class we had a few moments to walk the halls and appreciate all of the artwork that depicts Christ's life and ministry. We were told to ponder and pray about what Christ means to each of us. I noticed particularly a picture that depicted Peter's denial of Christ the night before His crucifixion. Peter denied Christ three times. In our safe homes when we are separated from this story by 2000 years it is easy to judge Peter... but in that moment I realized that I too have denied Christ many times. Even from just being too shy to share how much He has changed my life. My life has been changed by Christ's atonement. Through Christ I can become a better person. I can have hope and joy and I can be freed from the guilt of sin, as well as the anguish of trials.
I'll share two more things that I learned.
One was about the natural man. In the Book of Mormon there is a scripture that states "the natural man is an enemy to God." This basically means that it is in our natures to sometimes rebel against things that are good. One of the leaders of our Church, Elder Bednar, described the 'natural man' as the cookie monster when he exclaims, "I want cookie NOW!" The natural man is selfish and self-centered. Our goal is to shake off, gradually day-by-day, that selfishness and become more Christ-like. Even in Christ's worst moments He was thinking about others. Elder Bednar also explained that the natural man is prideful and boastful. When something goes right, we generally say "Wow! Look how awesome I am! I did that!" But when something goes wrong, what do we say? *pointing to the side* "The woman thou gavest me!"
It was a hilarious moment. Elder Bednar said that he was only quoting Adam (as in Adam and Eve) Which is true. But we tend to do that too.
The other thought I want to share can be applied to spiritual growth, but also to any other type of growth. We were preparing to enter the field and had a chance to hear from a Mormon 'celebrity.' There was a missionary reality show filmed a few years ago that is used for training and to help people understand more of what it is like to be a missionary. It is called "The District" and is on BYU.tv (I think so - you can find it online if you're really interested in seeing what I'm doing now.) One of the missionaries on the District - Elder Christensen - taught us last Thursday. He spoke to us about setting goals, and really helped a lot. He spoke about a time a few months ago when he was getting ready to be married. To the best of my memory this is what he said:
"It was about 2 weeks before the wedding, and I decided that I'd like to get in better shape. So I went to the gym one day, and I saw the bench press, and I said, "Bench press, I'm going to press you so good!" And I put about 10 pounds on it, and I was feeling great! So I went home that night, and my arms were a little sore, but I thought 'man, I'm never going to get ready for the wedding at this rate.' So I went back the next day and I thought, 'Well yesterday went so well, I think I'm just going to push myself a bit today.' So I put about 300 pounds on the bench press and I said, "Bench press, I'm going to press you SO GOOD." And I sat down, and I couldn't move the bar.... and it's a GOOD thing that I couldn't move the bar, because I would have been decapitated!"
It was pretty hilarious, but illustrates the point perfectly. Too often we see where we want to be, or what we want to accomplish, and forget to do that little bit of growth everyday and try to lift 300 pounds in one go.
So I am not the same person I was twelve days ago. Last night I stood up in front of about 300 missionaries that are leaving for their missions all over the world this week and quoted Joseph Smith's first vision from memory. I've learned. I've grown. I'm ready to go forth and serve!
SLC, here I come! Two hours and counting.