The very first thing I want to share with you that I am beyond grateful for this week is that one of my greatest friends here entered the waters of baptism on Saturday! Remember Gwenael from Annemasse? He has followed the Savior's example and has made his very first covenant with God. I am so excited for all of the doors that this will open up for him to a much happier life. I'm beyond proud of him. Mon âme chante en te louant Seigneur!
Alright, now I'm going to let you all in on something very personal that's been going on in the head of Soeur Shields lately. As my life as a returned missionary quickly approaches, I've had some fears. As a missionary, I feel as if I'm in a safe little bubble. I have the impression that there is an extra sturdy shield around me at all times, protecting me from the darts of the adversary. Much of this is in part to the way we live our lives as missionaries. We completely disconnect ourselves from anything that could be spiritually-harmful. So, I have this fear that once this calling is gone, my protective bubble will go with it. I'm not sure if you've noticed lately, but the world is getting more and more difficult to live in as a Latter-day Saint.
But this week, probably due to my endless prayers concerning this matter, God calmed my fears. He did this by giving me experience after experience to show me that even as times get harder, my ability to stay true to Him can still grow stronger. In the words of Elder Stevenson, "Heavenly Father’s generous compensation for living in perilous times is that we also live in the fulness of times." Oh what comfort this brought my soul! I have no reason to fear whatever darkness may lay ahead. Why? Because I have the brightest light in my life! One that can never be dimmed! Our Savior, Jesus Christ, is that endlessly burning light for me, and for many. He can be that for you too!
If you want His light in your life, you must put in effort. If you were trying to build a fire to last an entire long, cold winter's night, would you ever stop tending to it? No. You'd certainly keep monitoring it, adding more tinder, blowing on it, adjusting pieces, etc. It takes constant effort to keep the flames alive. To keep the flame of the gospel in our lives ever-burning, we must consistently nourish our testimony. And yes, this is done through the primary answers: Study your scriptures, pray, trust in and follow God and His prophets, go to church and deeply ponder the Savior's sacrifice, keep the commandments, and share this message with others. Do all that you can to never let your flame die!
But as important as it is to keep the fire burning by adding to it, you would also be careful as to not let anything get near the fire that could extinguish it. You would take extra caution if winds started to blow, or if water got too close that could drown it. You can not simply add to the fire to keep it burning, you have to protect it as well from the inevitable elements that will come to try and put it out. This is a law of nature--for every positive force, there is an opposing force as well.
If I had to pick the most poignant and re-occurring lesson I've seen over and over these past 18 months, it would be this: Each and every time a soul has found the light of the gospel, the forces of the adversary begin to attack even harder to destroy that light. I saw that this week several times. With Michelle, (whose son told her he would never see her again if she keeps coming to church), we saw a true example of not giving into the adversary's tempting ploys to bring us down. Instead of buckling under this pressure, she has decided to only study her scriptures more, pray with even more fervor, fast much more frequently, and work to obtain blessings and direction with even more vigor. She just received her interview yesterday to obtain her patriarchal blessing. What better comfort and guidance could she ask for in this difficult time! I know she will find more comfort and joy in doing these things than anything else. God will surely bless her for turning to Him in these times, and her son's heart will soften.
On a less-happy note, we've also seen this lately with the recent convert Alexia that we've been working with. Ever since her baptism last month, Satan has worked ever-harder to bring her down. He knows how much potential she has for good, and he will do all he can to stop her influence from spreading. She has been pressured by the doubting opinion's of her friends and family, to a point where her testimony has been so shaken that she's stopped coming to church. I know for a fact that Alexia is not as happy now as she was when she was living in harmony with the gospel. It's evident plainly enough by the look in her eyes. But I also have no doubt that God can help change her heart and lead her back to the right path.
I've seen this clearly as well in the life of another recent convert that we work with often, also named Michelle. Ever since her baptism 8 months ago, there has been a lack of attention given to her and her needs, and she's really slipped under the radar. She tried to keep her flame burning, but as a brand new member of the Church, it was very difficult to do on her own. Recent converts are so fragile and need much help in getting their fire started and staying lit. Fortunately, the Spirit has guided us in learning her needs, which range from not even knowing how to pay tithing, to still drinking coffee. We're working with her on applying these gospel principles in her life so that she may soon go to the temple and partake of the greatest blessings imaginable. From the first time we visited her until now, I have seen her joy increase so much, and a very visible light has come over her as the image of the Lord is in her countenance.
One thing that I've really learned on my mission is to have a joy-ometer. What that means is that I can detect and really measure the joy that someone is experiencing in their life, just by looking at them and listening to them. And after speaking with thousands of people from every walk of life, one thing I will never, ever be able to deny is that those who stay true to God and live the gospel at all times, are those who illuminate and radiate true joy. I know for myself personally that working on fortifying my testimony every single day, and not allowing the darts of the adversary to attack it, has brought me the greatest peace and joy I've ever experienced. I am forever grateful for this opportunity I've had to learn how to build a testimony that will grow stronger as the world grows weaker. I know that I have no need to fear, because the Lord is my light.
P.S. If ever you feel like your light is diminishing, try singing one of my favorite hymns:
"The Lord is my light; then why should I fear? By day and by night his presence is near. He is my salvation from sorrow and sin; This blessed assurance the Spirit doth bring.
The Lord is my light; tho clouds may arise, Faith, stronger than sight, looks up thru the skies, Where Jesus forever in glory doth reign. Then how can I ever in darkness remain?
The Lord is my light; the Lord is my strength. I know in his might I’ll conquer at length.
My weakness in mercy he covers with pow’r, And, walking by faith, I am blest ev’ry hour.
The Lord is my light, my all and in all. There is in his sight no darkness at all. He is my Redeemer, my Savior, and King. With Saints and with angels his praises I’ll sing.
The Lord is my light; He is my joy and my song. By day and by night, He leads, he leads me along."