I don't really have words to describe what I'm feeling at this moment at the end of my service as a full-time missionary. But I don't really like to think of it as an end. So instead I'll start from the beginning.
I've never formally described the story behind my decision to go on a mission, for many reasons. I won't include all of the details, as it is sacred and special to me and those who played a part in it. But I'd like to briefly describe to you how this all came to be. I hope you can find in this story a testimony of the reality that God knows the potential of His children perfectly. I hope you can see that He will, in a very literal sense, guide your life with His hand to help you reach that potential.
Growing up, I was a headstrong person who believed that I knew what was best for my life and didn't need other's direction. I had everything all planned out for how I wanted my life to go, and this plan certainly did not include a mission. As a senior in high school, I decided around Christmas that it was an appropriate time to receive my patriarchal blessing. So I did, and it was just wonderful. To keep a long story short, 7 months passed and I still had yet to receive my blessing back in the mail. In the midst of these 7 months, unexpected changes came into my life that were very difficult for me to accept. The entire course of the plan I had made was disrupted, and I felt like I had the rug pulled out from under me. I was at a very low point in my life, and didn't understand why I seemed to be suffering the trials that were being thrown my way. What I couldn't see at the time was the humbling process that was taking place in my heart. I was brought down so low into the darkness, so that I could recognize the light much more easily. I deeply yearned to see this light, and any way to escape the darkness. My Heavenly Father knew this. He knew I wouldn't have been receptive to the path of light that He wanted to lead me to, if He didn't humble me to the point where I'd go looking for it.
The moment came when the Lord saw that my stubborn head and heart had been sufficiently humbled to the point where I'd accept His will for me. As Ether says, I was ready to receive the witness after the trial of my faith. It is then that I was informed that my patriarchal blessing had essentially disappeared from the data base, with no explanation as to how that was possible. So, I received a second patriarchal blessing. It is then that the Lord clearly directed me to serve Him on a full-time mission. The light at the end of the dark tunnel illuminated everything. Immediately, I knew it was right. It just took clearing the dark clouds before my eyes to allow me to clearly see the right path and desire to follow it.
And oh, how grateful I am that I did.
Brothers and sisters, something that I have learned is that if we wait until we're ready, we'll never begin. That is why I am so grateful to my Heavenly Father who knew that I would have never turned onto this correct path if it had just been left up to me. I am so grateful He loves me enough to have worked miracle after miracle to get me here, even if that process took a lot of tears. In the following months, I completed the paperwork for my missionary application. However, as the time came closer and closer for me to help build up the Kingdom of God, Satan attacked even harder and harder to prevent me from doing so. Fear overtook me, and I decided to put my mission papers on hold and resume them again in a few months, when I felt more ready. But my wonderful Father in Heaven knew better. Once again, His hand guided the actions that would lead to yet another miracle to lead me on the correct path.
In February 2014, a large white envelope from the Church showed up in my mailbox. I can assure you this came as a complete and utter shock. I didn't understand how a mission call had come to me when I hadn't submitted my papers. Disbelieving and doubting, and mostly just filled with fear, I opened the call. I read these words:
"You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
I skimmed these words with a feeling of complete frustration and confusion.
I then read these words:
"You are assigned to labor in the France Lyon mission."
Never before in my life have I had a feeling of complete peace rush through every fiber of my being as I did in that moment. It was an all-encompassing, undeniable conviction from the Holy Ghost that this was indeed the path that God needed me to take. And with that assurance, I reported to the mission field in May of 2014.
To try to describe why the Lord moved mountains in my life to get me here would take an eternity to explain, mostly because I'm sure I'll still be finding more reasons even after this life. But let me just tell you what I do know about why I needed to be here these past 18 months. Because they have been the best 18 months for my life.
I believe Elder Renlund accurately describes the main reason why when he says that missions are about "the Lord, His work, and Heavenly Father's children." The Lord didn't require me to serve because He needed me, but because of what He could do through me. I needed to be here for these people. A mission is all about the people you serve. It is about bringing the Lord's love to them. That is what this work is--a labor of love. I know that each and every soul that I was an instrument in bringing to feel of God's love for them was a friend that I've known long before this life. My heart is overfilled with joy when I think of every friend that I found again. I had a family here in France all along, and I never would have found them if God hadn't led me to them. It is improving the lives of these precious souls that make this work the most gratifying and fulfilling thing I have ever done. Part of my heart will forever be left with each one of these dear friends. I will always have a home and family here.
Being a vessel of God to bring His love to His children gives God an opportunity to work on refining the vessel itself as well. That is another reason why I know God needed me to take this path. Sœur Shields' vessel really needed to go through a scolding hot refiners fire! It scares me to think that I would have continued on as the person that I once was had I not come on a mission. The lessons I have learned and the testimony I have gained are so crucially vital to helping mold me into the person I need to become.
As Elder Keetch says, "God can make more of us than we can ever make of ourselves." I testify to you that this is true. God knew that the path of this mission would give me the necessary experiences to teach me for the rest of my life how to become the person I'm destined to become. A mission is in no way your attainment of perfection. Rather, it's the training ground to learn how to become perfect one day. (And news flash, that's not going to be reached in this life). As Elder Waddel says, "What you have obtained through faithful service is meant to provide a gospel-centered foundation that will last throughout mortality and into the eternities." I have learned on my mission the potential God sees in me and what it takes to attain that.
This immense learning process has led to so much change. I've seen this within every soul I've met here--members, investigators, less-actives, companions, my family, and especially within myself. The most wonderful, sweet, fulfilling, joyous blessing of a mission is getting to be a witness of change. To have a change of heart is essentially the plan of salvation. It is the plan God has for each of us to be tested, tried, grow, mess up, learn, and try again. Thanks to the atoning sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, these many attempts to improve ourselves eventually lead to change. As the Lord told Ether, He gives us weaknesses that we may be humble, and His grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before Him. If we do this, He will make weak things become strong unto us. I am so grateful for this eternal truth. This is what makes what we have the best news we could ever share with others.
I especially realized this as I read the story of Legion in the New Testament recently. Thanks to Christ's grace and enabling power, Legion was healed, or as I like to say, changed. After this wonderful experience, Legion felt much like how I do now. Love and gratitude superseded all other feelings, and so he wanted to stay a little longer side by side with the Savior, to continue feeling His abundant influence. But Christ told him this: "Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee."
I know that my Father in Heaven wanted me to have these experiences so that I can now go and share them for the rest of my life. He has taught me what it takes to find true happiness, and the importance of sharing that with others. That is why I do not look at the end of my mission as an end at all. It is only the beginning of a new life of devoted Christ-like service.
I would just like to end by sharing a scripture that is dear to my heart. It perfectly describes what this past year and a half has been for me. I feel it no coincidence that this is the scripture I chose 18 months ago to be engraved on my mission plaque. It is found in Alma 36:12.
"Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever."
I know my Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ love each and every one of us more than we can imagine. All they want is for us all to be back together again as a big, happy family. That is why they lead and guide us each and every day, so that we may follow the path that leads to this most supreme blessing of all. I am eternally grateful for this service in which I have learned this truth and I will now work for the rest of my life to obtain it, and help others to as well. It has been the greatest privilege and honor to wear the name of my Savior, Jesus Christ, every single day. Now I will forever wear it engraved on my heart.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support and many prayers these last 18 months. I have felt strengthened by every single one. Que Dieu vous bénisse.