Amazing GraceI always wondered what I was going to say and do when it came time for me to say goodbye to Sister B.
How do you sum up all that you've felt and done for the last 18 months in a few short paragraphs? How do you possibly express all that you've come to feel about the people you have served? How do you talk about the culture, the homes, the food, the companions, the weather, the experiences, without getting lost in the glory of your missionary lifetime?
Like the blind man healed by Christ, washed by the waters of the pool of Siloam, I can only say: "one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see" (St. John 9: 25, KJV).
I can't tell you why God loves His children. We are stubbornly imperfect, impotent little creatures. We pretend we know what's going on and that we are in control of our own lives, but really we don't and we aren't. We're always about two steps away from spiraling out of control, and it is only by reaching out to His higher power that we can stay on the right track.
I have met the most incredible people on my mission. I've made friends that I didn't expect and probably didn't deserve. I've witnessed the sealing of a family for time and all eternity; I've seen people emerge from the waters of baptism, clean and full of light; I've seen lost sheep return to the fold and countless lives change because of it. Because God loves me, imperfect, impotent, stubborn little me, He allowed me to be a part of these things. He knew that if I could begin to see His children as He sees them, that I would grow and become a vessel for His unending joy and love.
I was so blind to that before my mission. I didn't see beyond the backs of my own eyelids. I told myself that I loved others because I occasionally did something kind for someone else or I occasionally forgave when someone hurt my feelings.
The truth is, my love for myself was empty. I loved my own skin merely because I was in it, not because I saw myself as a daughter of God with the ability to do good in this world. I kept myself contained within my own little world because I felt like reaching out would do more harm than good.
The amazing thing about Sister Broadbent is that she is completely different now than she was 18 months ago. Looking back now, I can see it. Every single human being that I came in contact with stretched me and helped to shape me into who I am now. Every friend I gained forced me to love myself a little bit more, and in return hold more love for others.
I struggled a lot. There are so many stories that I might tell you some day about how much I struggled. I fought this change tooth and nail. Growing pains, you could say.
And yet God forgave me! Not just "sometimes," not just when He felt like I had suffered enough to earn it. Every day, every sin, He forgave as readily as I brought them to Him. That love stretched me the most. As I saw myself stumbling, falling, and getting back up over and over again, my instinct was to do what I had always done: turn inward on the pain, resent myself, and hurt.
As a missionary, you can't. You simply cannot fulfill your calling as an ambassador of Jesus Christ and hate yourself because of your shortcomings and imperfections. The minute you turn inward and turn bitter, the lights go off and you no longer carry the Spirit. You may be wearing a name-tag, but you are certainly not a missionary.
As you learn to be okay with the fact that you are imperfect, you are more willing to allow that same thing for others. In fact, you want it more than anything else. You want your brothers and sisters to experience the same freedom that you do from feeling like a failure. You want them to know that there is a plan for this life, and that the center of it is the price that Christ paid for each of those daily sins, so that we wouldn't have to be trapped with them. You want them to know that God still loves His children, so he reestablished His Son's church upon the earth, with a prophet at the helm to give constant guidance and direction.
This is why I am still striving to be a missionary, one year and six months later. This is why I am not the Sister Broadbent I used to be. This is what I barely glimpsed, vaguely and briefly, when I decided to pursue a mission experience under the title "One Year, Six Months, Forever".
Missions are not just 18 or 24 months of time spent being a good neighbor and teaching others about Jesus. Being a missionary is not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Being a missionary once changes your life forever. Performing one act of service enlarges your soul, giving room for more love and desire to serve. In our Heavenly Father's great attention and love to each of us, He calls us to serve because He knows that we can become more like Him, full of confidence and light and love, as we do it.
I hope you don't take all of this prose to mean that I think I will be perfect from now on. Being a missionary has changed the eternal course of my life. I am so much better at showing and giving love than I used to be. I am so much closer to my Savior and have gained great knowledge about His gospel.
But I will still make mistakes. I will still let opportunities to share the Gospel slip by me sometimes. I will still try to beat myself up about it. Sometimes, Satan will win for a little season. To quote the words to my favorite hymn,
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here's my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.
I want you all to know that you can count on me to be a friend. I may not be perfect (I will always be a little ornery and stubborn in this life) but I know how it feels to wander and come back. I do it every day. I know how it feels to find something good and cling to it.
Please, please, use me. Talk to me. Stretch me. Every friend that I gain, every single one of God's beloved children I come into contact with, helps me to be a better person. We all have that effect on each other.
I love you! I loved you as a missionary and I love you now, on my way home. I will always hold this space of 18 months in sunny California dear. I have loved this journey of becoming the Sister Broadbent that God knew I could be.