Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Spiritual Transformation: Thoughts on My Daughter Being Born Again While Serving a Mission

Ever since my daughter has been a baby I have taught her that it was a question of when she served a mission not if she would serve a mission. When she was barely three years old I began singing to her and her sister Gianina I hope they call me on a mission when I have grown a foot or two. I remember carrying her on my back and her sister in a baby carrier walking on the streets of Provo. At night I would sit by the side of their beds and talk to them about the gospel and Heavenly Father. Every now and then my wife and I would talk about how we joined the Church and went on missions a year after we were baptized. Then we would kneel down and pray for the missionaries and that one day they would be missionaries.

My daughter and her sister were very intelligent. By the time she was three and her sister two my wife and I began teaching them to memorize scriptures and poems. We waded through the Book of Mormon. She knew about fifty seminary scriptures. We recited the Road Not Taken by Robert Frost for weeks until they could say it perfectly. It was amazing to see her at eighteen months toddle up the podium during a testimony meeting and bear her testimony without any help. I had her stand on a table and practiced bearing her testimony for several weeks. I told my wife we would not be like parents who stood by the side of their kid and spoke in their ear.

As she grew older she had one or two spiritual experiences. When she was about five I asked by a man in Hawaii for a special priesthood blessing. I had him sit on a plastic step stool we used to let my four daughters use to climb up to the bathroom sink and brush their teeth. During the prayer I felt the Holy Ghost enter the room and felt a strong presence as I blessed him to receive the desire of his heart. She said she opened her eyes and saw a heavenly being standing next to me. She said she recognized him as being Jesus Christ. My daughter always had a sensitivity to the Holy Ghost.

As she grew to her teenage years our family grew to eight children. We moved around quite a bit about eleven times in her life. Despite the fact there was a lot of stress in our home she never wavered about going on a mission. She would constantly say when some of the younger ones questioned whether they should serve a mission that she was going one day. She told them all you are all going on a mission despite the fact that one or two of her seven sisters would say no I'm not I'm getting married that is what the Church teaches. I would remind them that Sister Flora Benson and their mother served missions and that any guy who wanted to marry one of my daughters could wait like Ezra Taft Benson for them. In the grand scheme what was a year and a half. Then I would remind them that the divorce rate dropped by half for Mormon women at the age of twenty-four and sisters came home at twenty-three and a half and need six months to get married.

In her teenage years she rebelled not against going on a mission but against the prescriptive standards of the Church. Having suffered a brief bout of promiscuity for three months when I was seventeen I warned my children of the dangers of immorality and the hell I suffered when my girlfriend carried on with three boys at the same time and had an abortion. She knew the story and yet she told me one day she didn't care she was going to live her life the way she wanted. I told her she was on the road to hell and she would regret it unless she repented. I was disappointed because I never wanted to see my children suffer as I did the overwhelming power of almost being destroy spiritually for a moments lapse. I remembered the darkness I felt over the loss of what could have been my first child and the suffering and loss I felt as I cried out to the Lord for forgiveness. She made a few mistakes but straightened out her life.

Finally she became twenty-one and she didn't put in her papers. She became serious with a Hispanic boy who wasn't a member and spent an excessive amount of time with him. He joined the Church for her. I didn't feel right about him not because he was a bad boy but because I knew she needed to go on a mission and he disrespected her. They were so serious they even had a joint bank account which I told her was a huge mistake. I had a rule that no one could be in their bedrooms on a few occasions I caught him there and told him that I had a rule that said no one can be in my daughters' room and that they had to have two feet on the floor at all times. They assured me nothing was happening but having respect in the Spanish culture was something culturally that I knew was practiced as many of my friends talked to me of respectivo. It was part of the Texas culture where we lived.

Despite all that she decided that since a mission meant so much to me she would go and that her boyfriend would help support her and that they had eight thousand dollars between them. They were still too young to get married since he was actually a year younger than her. I knew because the Spirit had told me that her boyfriend had been involved with other girls when he went for diesel training in Illinois. I told her he wasn't going to be there when she got home. She didn't believe me.

A few months dragged on and she didn't put in her papers right at twenty-one. Her sister moved down to Houston to work the summer mostly to get her to go on a mission. In July they both came up to Utah on a greyhound bus. She put in her papers and was called in September 2006 to the Daejeon Korea Mission.

She was very excited and had me bring home all the books at the public library that I directed. She began learning Korean using the Rosetta Stone Software we provided patrons at the library.

Soon the day of her mission came and we went to the MTC. We meet up with her sister who was a business major. We stood in front of the MTC and had people take a few pictures of us standing in front of the sign. We then went inside and a sweet elderly lady pinned her name tag on her. My wife and I stood with her in front of the picture of Christ. We then went with the other parents on one of the sessions for incoming missionaries. We listened to the talks by the mission training center president and his wife and watched the brief video by President Gordon B. Hinckley. The program ended then we were asked to leave through one door as our missionary went through another door. She clung to her mother and didn't want to leave her. I actually shed one tear which for me is unusual since I am not overly sentimental.

I was amazed at her progress she quickly picked up all the lessons and the language came miraculously to her. I had struggled when I tried to learn Italian and it was a great chore for me yet my daughter was talking Korean within days. I had been a junior companion my whole mission but my daughter was made the coordinating sister while in the MTC.

I spoke to her once before she left and she was excited and told how she ran the call center and worked with prospective people that the Asian missionaries ran parts of the MTC since they stayed for three months. Soon she was off to Korea.

She hit her mission on the run but she ran in to a few companions that had difficulties. A couple of them suffered from low self-esteem and wanted to go home early from their missions. I knew the feeling having suffered on my mission also. Her mission president Nemrow told her unless one of her companions straightened up she would be sent home. I told her even if her companion kept them from converting people that she needed to make sure she was not the cause of sending her home. Under no circumstances was she to encourage her mission president to send the companion home. I told her that the companions salvation was as important as any new converts.

I remembered one time on my mission when M. Russell Ballard told me to pack my bags he was sending me home. I remembered the injustice I felt since I had done nothing to be sent home. I was struggling having been transferred for no real reason from one mission to another for a matter that should have been washed clean in the waters of baptism when I joined the church. The other missionaries in my new field treated me as a sinner instead of a saint. I knew how those elders and sisters felt who were rejected by those who should have loved them the most. One sister she served with finished and another went home early. The one girl said that my daughter's love for her made it possible for her stay and now she is living a happy life. The other girl is being fellowshipped by the Korean return sisters who won't give up on her.

My daughter spent eight months in the same area and grew to love the people of Korea. She baptized a complete family and several other people over the course of her longevity in her area. I on the other hand never stayed in any one area more than two months and sometimes lasted only two weeks. I went through companions like revolving doors many who fought with me within minutes of picking me up telling me things like we heard all about you.

I didn't hear much from my daughter during her mission. I had to get her emails from my wife and children. I was disappointed that she wouldn't share with me even though I spent years walking on shoes with holes in them and doing without lunches so she could have music lessons and finally her mission. Her boyfriend it turned out dumped her within two months. She never got a dime from him as he kept her money and personal goods which included a 42in Plasma screen and her personal diaries. She learned on her mission when she called his mother on mother's day that he had married three months after her mission another girl and didn't tell his parents for four months. I had told my daughter's bishop that it was worth the money to not have him in her life anymore.

Last Saturday she came home from her mission. She had to return to the U.S. without any parents since we have been living and working in the Middle East. She was released by a former companion's stake president. She was blessed by the Lord for serving a mission as she was readmitted to BYU despite dropping out. When she was sixteen I sent her there after she graduated from high school to try to reform her. She didn't do well being so young and had a low grade point average.

She called me on Skype and wanted to do a father's interview much like a mission president's interview. I asked her to report her mission. She thanked me for supporting her on a mission and told me she didn't email much because she was instructed as a missionary not to discuss negative things. She said that she thought when she went on a mission she was doing it as a form of repentance for herself but came to understand that she was there for a greater reason to help her companions and others know of the love God feels for them. She told us of her desires to do everything she could but that the Lord would bring to pass his will with or without her help. I saw a different person than the one who entered the mission home eighteen months ago.

I asked her if she regretted losing her boyfriend and if the sacrifice was worth it. Instead of being sad she said I know it was the Lord's will that I should serve otherwise I wouldn't have known the real love he had for me.

Along the way I also learned a lesson I was hard on my daughter when she slipped as a teenager. It took her telling me over and over that the atonement of Christ could cover all sins. I have let it go and see the transformation of a spiritually vibrant person dedicated to the building the kingdom of God here on this earth. I have learned many spiritual lessons from my daughter who has a superior intellect in which I am well pleased.


Happily Ignorant said...

Just because children dont always tell their parents of their apprciation may only be because they were never aware of the sacrifices they made for them.

AJ said...