Friday, March 13, 2015

This Last Chapter

Well, here it is:

My last post as a full-time missionary.

Yea, it makes my heart flop too.  It doesn’t feel real. This is my life. Being a missionary is who I’ve become, and I’m about to have to leave it all behind. It nearly breaks my heart to think of taking the tag off. It’s become the best accessory I’ve ever invested in. And….call it cheesy….but the names on that tag--Jesus Christ, and Sister Parker--aren’t just written there….they’re written on my heart now.

Despite having to take that name tag off, I’d like to think that deep down, I’ll always be Sister Parker. Though, I’ll never be called that again as a full-time missionary, I hope to forever be called a disciple of Christ….and that automatically makes me a missionary….FOR LIFE.

And that’s fine by me:)

I can’t even begin to describe what my mission has taught me. I'm finding it impossible to even begin. How can I describe, summarize, or whatever you want to call it...the past most influential, difficult, worthwhile, and miraculous 18 months of my life. How will I ever be able to fully express what my mission has taught me, how it has shaped me and formed me into the person I am today, and how it has opened my eyes, brought me closer to my Savior than I have ever been before?

My mind is SO filled with thoughts, memories, and experiences that I've had over the last year and a half, and I don't even know where to start. Describe my mission? I honestly don't think that's possible. I feel like I've been on a journey with my Savior that only He and I will ever fully understand.

So here's what I hope to do. I hope to put down at least some of all the thoughts going through my mind the closer and closer my return home comes. I hope to say, in some part, what is in my heart and mind, and to adequately describe how I feel now that this journey and chapter of my life comes to a close.

So what have I learned??

1. The Atonement is real. It is oh, SO real. It has been the ONLY thing that has carried me through these most difficult 18 months of my life. Ultimately, there was no one and nothing that could consistently help me and lift me through the times of depression, discouragement, homesickness, illness, pain, sorrow, confusion, and darkness....than my Savior, Jesus Christ, and His Atonement. It heals ALL pain. ALL pain. I have come to know my Savior on a COMPLETELY new and different level than I've ever known before. I knew the Atonement was real and powerful before my mission, but like Elder Holland said, "How could we possibly bear any moving lasting testimony of the Atonement, if we’ve never known or felt anything of such an experience? As must be prepared to walk something of the path He walked. To feel something a little of the pain he felt. To at least occasionally sometime during your mission shed one of the tears of sorrow that He shed."

While I did not appreciate or even realize it in the moment, I am now fully aware and in fact, I am grateful that I shed those tears of sorrow. I DID shed them. Many of them, in fact. But I can honestly say now, that I'm grateful that my mission was not easy. I still sometimes look at other missionaries who are "loving every minute" of their missions and who say that it has been the "best two years" of their life, and I wonder, "Why me? Why has my mission been so hard? Why did I have to experience trials like this that pushed me to my very breaking point again and again? Why did this have to be so hard for me, when others seem to have it so easy?"

Now, however, as I look back on my mission, I have realized that that was my token. That was the price I had to pay to be who I am today. That was the price I paid to know my Savior the way that I do now. And NO price will ever be too high to know Him. It has been worth it. I don't know that I could ever do it again, but if He were to require it in order to help me become the person I am meant to become....then I would do it again. In His strength, and with the power of the Atonement (which I now know in part the infinite magnitude of)....I would do it.

I see the difficulty of my mission, sometimes, like a workout (yea, no surprises there that that’s where my mind goes:). If  it's easy, it doesn't bring change. If it doesn't push you, you don't become stronger. If it doesn't require all of you, you won't get all you want out of it. So while others' missions may not be a trial in their life, because mine has been, it has made me stronger--it has made me better, more like Him, more like the person I want to be.

This journey I took, was a journey I took with Him. It was a walk with my Savior.

"You let [the missionaries] know that when they struggle, when they are rejected, when they are spit upon and cast out and made a hiss and a byword. They are standing shoulder to shoulder with the best life this world has ever known. The only pure and perfect missionary that ever lived. They have every reason to stand tall and to be grateful that the Savior and Redeemer of the world knows all about their sorrows and their afflictions. And that for a moment or two in their lives, they will understand what He went through for them" (Elder Jeffery R Holland).

I understand. I understand it now. My mission has opened my eyes in more ways than I will ever be able to count. But most importantly, it has opened my eyes to my Savior. I see Him now clearer than I ever have before.

I know Him.

And I know He knows me. I have stood shoulder to shoulder with Him. I have worn His name over my heart, literally, for 18 months. I have been His witness. And He has been my constant companion through it all. He has never left me unaided. He has strengthened, comforted, guided, sustained, nurtured, blessed, and loved me. He was ALWAYS there for me. And I am FILLED with gratitude that He chose ME to represent Him for this time of my life.

2. His grace is sufficient. As a missionary, I now more fully understand how "His grace is sufficient" as I look back on my mission and wonder if I did enough, if I was as perfect as I should have been, if I worked as hard as I could have, if I made enough of a difference.

It is SO easy to doubt yourself as a missionary, to be frustrated with your weaknesses, to compare yourself to others and feel like you'll never measure up, and to become discouraged because it never seems to be enough. However, I have come to realize the power of grace, in addition to my own shortcomings and weaknesses.....and it all comes out even in the end...because of Christ's Atonement.

It's true, my efforts have never been and will never be enough. I'll be totally honest: my mission has not been perfect. I could have talked to more people. I could have been more exactly obedient. I could have done more. I could have improved more. I could have been more....everything. But I tried. And what I've learned about grace is this: my efforts will never be enough, but with the Savior and His power and love.....all of my efforts will be magnified and He accepts EVERY effort that I make. Yes, I have not been perfect on my mission, but because I tried, I have become more perfect--more like Him.

I also learned that I had to let go and ALLOW grace into my life. It's not just there to fill the gap--it IS the gap. It is the gap that I will never be able to fill. I'm not left alone to do my part, and then hope that He'll make up for the rest. No, rather, He's already done His part, and mine. All He asks is that I show appreciation for that gift, and live my life "grace by grace," doing my best, but realizing that I will never be enough.

And that's ok!

He knows that, he knows that perfectly. But all He wants for me is to TRY, so that I can become like Him. And it's not intended to be a painful and depressing process. Becoming like the Savior should be a glorious experience, as long as we rely FULLY on His grace to make more of us than we can without it!

It has transformed me. It makes my sacrifice acceptable before Him, not because of my own efforts or strength, but because of my own change of heart and mind, THROUGH Him. Grace magnifies me. It has magnified what small difference I have tried to make.

A professor once told me, "Mercy is NOT receiving what we DO deserve. Grace is receiving what we DON'T deserve." I didn't deserve to be as personally rewarded and blessed for my efforts on my mission. I didn't deserve to see the miracles I've seen. I didn't deserve to have the power and gifts given to me that He gave. I didn't deserve to be forgiven and made new again. I didn't deserve to receive his constant help and love. Honestly, none of us deserve anything in return. But yet, He gives, and He gives freely. His grace is there to fill the entire gap.

Grace has made me who I am today. It has made my offering of this mission acceptable to Him. I have come to know the power of grace to make up for my weaknesses and shortcomings, my imperfections and my sins. And I am filled with awe and gratitude at the fact that I was able to show appreciation for His Atonement and love by laboring in His vineyard. I am SO blessed!

3. Let Him change you. People told me before I came out on my mission, "You'll change so much on the mission" and I remember thinking, "I sure hope not." I was comfortable with who I was. I didn't want to change for anything or anyone.

I had that textbook image of sister missionaries flash through my mind when they said "change"……y'know, the long dark skirts to the floor, nun buns, arms folded around the scriptures, and barely talking above a whisper, breaking into emotional tears when speaking about anything remotely spiritual.......yea, not my thing.

I came out, determined not to change like that. But God had a different idea. He wanted me to change in a much more important way. And honestly, if all the success of my mission were to be taken away, my mission would still be worth it because of the person I've become---how I've changed--through my mission experience. That change--that blessing--is truly what fills me with gratitude, now that I come to the close of my mission.

It wasn't always easy. There were times when I thought, "Why are you doing this to me??" At times, I questioned, I pled, I begged, and doubted, and I suffered. I learned that I had to LET Him change me. And it was the kind of change that was much more important than how I looked or what I wore.

I had to put myself into His hands, knowing that He would mold and shape me into a more beautiful and perfect person than I could make of myself. And when I did, He did.

At first, I thought He was trying to break me.
No, He was enhancing me.
I thought He was trying to tame me.
No, He was trying to liberate me.
I thought He was trying to burden me.
No, He was empowering me.

It took time for me to realize. But now, as I reach the end of my mission, I realize that He has not only endowed me with new life and new capacities, but those capacities were not meant just to bless others on my mission--they will continue to bless me throughout my ENTIRE life and beyond into the eternities.  

>>>>>>>>> <<<<<<<<<<<

{Ok….so if you’ve actually made it to this point… deserve MAJOR brownie points, because…that was a lot:) Welcome to my life.....}

>>>>>>>>>>>>> <<<<<<<<<<<<<<< to wrap up...

 AH!!! I can't even describe how full my heart is! I am overwhelmed with gratitude to my Savior for choosing me--little insignificant ME--to walk with Him for these past 18 months. He chose me to have this experience, to learn these priceless truths, to develop these talents and abilities, to learn these significant lessons, and to do these incredible things!

I am SO blessed!!

 And I am FILLED with gratitude to my Heavenly Father and Savior for this mission of mine. It has been MINE!! He has allowed ME to serve Him full-time for a year and a half and He has been there with me, the entire time! How am I so blessed?! I don't even want to know where I would be now, or in 10 years, or in 50 years, or in a lifetime from now without my mission! I have learned and gained SO much from these past 18 months.....and I wouldn't trade that for the world!

All I can think of is Ammon's words, "Let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice, for OUR JOY IS FULL; yea, we will praise our God forever. Behold, I say unto you, I cannot say the smallest part which I feel!" (Alma 26:16)

(Yea, I just went there….quoting scripture…haha oh well…what can I say:)

Really, though I can’t fully describe everything that’s in my heart, I hope something here….something I’ve said along the way….has helped YOU. You specifically. Wherever you may be, and whatever circumstance you’re in.

That’s what I hoped to accomplish through this blog…through sharing my experiences the whole way through it all. So, thank YOU!! Thank you for following along with me in this adventure!

It HAS been an adventure and I’m pretty confident that there will be more to come:)!!

And last, but not least….

I KNOW that this gospel is TRUE. I know it with ALL. MY. HEART.
I have lived it, and it has been worth it. 
I KNOW my Savior lives.
I know He knows me, and He knows YOU.
He is there to love, to lift, and to heal.
His atonement is REAL.
The Book of Mormon is SO TRUE.
 I KNOW there are messages within that book that are meant just for you.
Prophets are called of God today.
Miracles happen.
This is His work.
We are His glory.
Living this gospel is HAPPINESS.
It is peace, and it is HOPE.

I’m proud to say I am a member of this church.
I’m proud to say I am a full-time missionary for HIM.
I am proud to say that HE is MY SAVIOR.

I love Him with all my heart. For this past year and a half, I’ve testified of that, and
 I will continue to do so for the rest of my life!


Sister Anna Parker

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

You're Gonna Miss This

"There's a country song for that" could adequately describe just about every aspect of my life. Even on the mission, after 18 months of being country music-less I still get those feel-good songs running through my head. This week was no exception. 

"You're Gonna Miss This" has been playing in my mind over and over again as  I am coming to grips with the fact that this chapter of my life is about to close. 
AM going to miss this. That fact was made even more apparent to me as we sat in a mission-wide conference this week with Elder Zwick of the 70 and were taught by him and other leaders for almost 5 hours. 

Sitting there, soaking up every ounce of spiritual sunlight from that inspired man, I realized just how precious this experience is. The love, power, wisdom, and inspiration that he shared with us, left me feeling so overwhelmed with gratitude for this gospel, for the Spirit, for this work, and for my chance to be a part of it. I'm going to miss this.

And as I realize that this mission of mine is about to all be over, I wonder sometimes if I have done enough. I was wrestling with that thought during the meeting with Elder Zwick and felt like I wasn't receiving much of an answer. However, in his closing remarks, after hours of previous instruction, he said, almost out of the blue, "If you do your best and then get on your knees, every night, sincerely asking, "Lord, wilt thou accept the best that we gave today?" then it will be enough." 

The Lord answers prayers.

President promised us that if we came to that meeting with questions of our souls, actively seeking for answers, that we would find them. I found mine. As my mission comes to a close, I realize that it is enough, not because of my own efforts, but because HE makes it enough. He fills in where I can't. He magnifies me when I'm weak. He accepts all of my offering and appreciates every sacrifice I make for Him. It is enough. And I am SO grateful for priesthood leaders and the Spirit that bring answers from the Lord to each of us!

The rest of our week was kind of a blur. My poor companion was sick for 3 days with a head cold and we were cooped up indoors for most of that time so she could recover. Despite getting a bit stir crazy, it did offer me some much-needed time to think about and process my life and how it's all about to change....and to clean the apartment:). #tendermercies

We also closed out the week with yet another blood drive and this time around it was a huge success! We had multiple non-members and investigators come, some with member friends, and a lot of ward members turned out to support us. One ward member commented, "It's just so good to see the missionaries doing all kinds of things to help out in the community and give us members opportunities to serve as well. This is the kind of thing that makes me realize that missionary work can be fun and creative and well....easy!"

Mission Accomplished:)

I also had the opportunity yesterday to bear my testimony one last time as a full-time missionary during Fast and Testimony Meeting. It's kind of no, I didn't make it through without crying, in case you're wondering:). 

As a missionary, you get to bear testimony so often yet somehow it never gets old. It still gives me a rush every time, because every time I testify, I rediscover just how true, and powerful, and glorious this gospel is! I only have one more week of being a missionary, but that testimony--that conviction--I know, will go with me beyond the paths of this life as a full-time representative of Him, because it has become who I am. 

I KNOW that this gospel and the church is espouses is true. That, in my mind, is undeniable, because I have LIVED it. I have witnessed it, preached it, sacrificed for it, embraced it, acted upon it, and learned to LOVE it. That is the gift given to each of us from Him, who's church this is, if we will but act in faith. He promises that He will manifest the truth of this gospel to us, if we will but ask, and then live according to the knowledge that we receive.

I plan to do that and much more for this last week of my mission, and beyond!!!

Onward and upward,

Sis Anna Parker
guess who I saw at mission conference?!?!? #besties

What I do when my companion is sick and I get stir crazy cooped up in the apartment for three days...... :)

What we do in Chicago when the weather gets up to 45 degrees!!! #balmy #doorswideopen

What Hispanic investigators feed us.....after we've already had dinner at another members' home. #getonourlevel #nowthatsatorta:) #SOfull