Look at that face. No not me, sillies, the beautiful toothless grin on that grandmother on my left. Her thin skin bearing witness of a well lived life, smile wrinkles testifying to a happy one.
The face says it all. I love this country and I love these people.
I suppose now it is a good time for me to write what them churchy people like to call a "testimony".
It's hard to say where my testimony began. I was lucky to be raised by two of the most devoted disciples of Christ who emulated his example in their every endeavor, so it was pretty easy to rely on their big anchor of faith. I, like Nephi, was raised by "goodly parents", who lived the gospel and enjoyed the peace and joy that comes from doing so. It's hard to forget those things we heard repeatedly from dad growing up, "Never say die", "remember who you are", "I can't believe it's not butter"... "Pile drive into the sand...":) just to name a few.
But I remember Dad, a convert to the church, always telling us that "everyone has a conversion story".
I think mine began a long time ago, long before I can remember. High school hit and I realized that I was surrounded by spiritual powerhouses, but I still felt like I was just tossing wished up into the sky, hoping someone, somewhere might swipe them up. For a long time it felt to me like a testimony was one of those things only the perfectly righteous could obtain. But I saw young people, my age and younger, certain of what I was still unsure of and I began to think, "Well if they know it, why can't I?"
You'd think that would be the trigger jump starting me into some stalwart journey of spiritual development, but you'd be wrong. Instead I got caught up in the whirlwind of adolescence. It's a wonderful time, that time they so appropriately term the "terrible teens", filled with awkward moments, lessons learned and relearned after mistakes made and remade, and a whole lot of self discovery.
It was then that President Monson announced the change in mission age, spurring a ripple of excitement, anticipation, and uncertainty. After the initial excitement wore off, the reality of leaving everything and really not knowing what missionary work entailed, settled in.
The summer after graduation, I spent nearly every Sunday hopping from farewell to farewell listening to testimony after testimony. Some powerful, some simple, but all honest. How could I get that? Part of me felt like I needed to come to some sort of perfect knowledge before I could join the some 80,000 youth.
Sometime between buying textbooks, moving into a dormitory, getting oriented into the college student life and taking my final tests, I felt the pull and knew there was no way I was not going to serve. The question, "Well, why did you choose to serve a mission?" is no fill in the bubble question. There's a myriad of answers, one being, "Ya know, I'm not too sure my sure myself!"
But I did. I signed out and stepped onto the biggest roller coaster I've ever been on in my life (and we all know that's saying something-- I mean have you seen the size of those big boys at Busch Gardens??) and it has been the best decision I've ever made.
As much as I'd like to, I can't put all I have learned or gained these past eighteen months here in this little email. But I suppose I'll put just one. And that is that this gospel, the same gospel taught by Christ himself and then restored through Joseph Smith; the same gospel being put into music form for kids and adults alike to sing; the same gospel being preached around the world by those bearing the black name tags... that gospel, guys. It's true. All of it. God's real. He's our father in Heaven. And He loves us enough to send his son so we can return to live with Him. How cool is He, huh?
I love this work. This church. And this country. And am sad to say that this is my last email, yesterday was our last baptism (yes, Mina got baptized and it was a beautiful thing), and this is my last week wearing the name tag preaching the gospel i have come to a surety is true here in this country to a people I have come to love.
This is it. I suppose. Love you guys.
See you... on the other side.
(it's like I'm turning from a llama into a human, if you get what I mean)