Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wonders of His Love -- An Answer to a Prayer

This post is for everyone and anyone... But especially for those who may be struggling emotionally or spiritually right now.

I've decided and felt strongly that I need to be very honest and open about what I've been going through lately and I hope someone will benefit from my sharing these very personal experiences.

During the past transfer I've really been struggling with depression.

I can't exactly say when it all started... but it became apparent that I just wasn't myself anymore.
I was struggling to feel happy when I had no obvious reason to be sad or discouraged. I was confused by my own emotions, "Get a grip! There's nothing wrong, you've dealt with much more difficult things before... and with a whole lot more grace than this. You shouldn't feel this way. What's wrong with you, Tara?" I would ask myself. I could NOT figure out what was causing this discouragement... Homesickness? Sadness? Anxiety? Loneliness? I still to this day can't really pick an existing word to describe what I was feeling.
It was the day after Thanksgiving and I had just about anything but missionary work on my mind. All I wanted was to go home. And I felt pretty darn guilty about it, "Why are you homesick? You have no reason to feel homesick. Some people don't even have families on thanksgiving AT ALL. Ever. And look at you, ONE big holiday away from home and you're a wreck. One tough transfer and you have thoughts of going home. Pathetic."
Where were these thoughts coming from? Were they really my own thoughts? Why couldn't I seem to remove thoughts like this from my head?
I knew I needed help, and I needed it fast. But I was struggling to know where to find it. I didn't want to tell anyone about it because frankly I had too much pride (super woman complex). All the "basics" seemed too obvious and I was wandering in circles searching for a solution to my problem.

Quick explanation: The church came out with an "Adjusting to Missionary Life" booklet written by psychologists and doctors for the purpose of, well... just that, helping missionaries adjust to this lifestyle. It contains information about feelings you might experience when adjusting to the lifestyle of a missionary and ideas about dealing issues you commonly run into as a new missionary.

As I have been out for (coming up on) 10 months now, I'll admit that book just takes up space in my crate of books and study materials. I always thought that I was passed the "struggle stages"... That I was "over that". So, I rarely looked at this book. But on that Black, gloomy Friday I felt like I should read it.
So I did.
I dusted it off and read it cover to cover looking for a good explanation for why I was feeling so down.
I was disappointed in my lack of a "light bulb" moment. Nothing really stuck out to me.
Well... except one thing.
Just one, and that was a suggestion for dealing with depression.
The suggestion was Prayer.
"Yep, one of those 'basics'. How dumb is that?" I thought. "DUH. What missionary doesn't pray? I pray about 47,000 times a day if not more! And I still feel depressed. I'm praying and no answers are coming."
I just wasn't satisfied with that.
I read it again and again to make sure that I wasn't missing something.
..... Oh.

There it was. 

"...pray out loud...".

Hmm... out loud? Wow, how long had it been...? Since I have a companion with me at ALL times ALL of my personal prayers are said in my heart/mind. I couldn't even think of the last time I had said a PERSONAL prayer out loud. I've always been in tiny studio apartments where even the quietest whisper in the bathroom with the door shut can be heard from any corner of the one-room living space. So, therefore, I kept all my prayers in my head.
This idea stayed on my mind for the whole day.
Oddly though, in the following hours where all I wanted to do have a moment alone there wasn't a single opportunity to even ask my companion for a moment. We had SO much to do and so little time to get it done. I continued saying silent prayers throughout the day asking for the help and strength necessary to keep the fake smile on my face, "just one more day. Help me make it through just one more day."
Finally... the day was over. We came home exhausted, planned for the next day and retired to bed.

At about 2am, I was still awake. Couldn't sleep... as usual.

But I knew what I needed to do. I got up and climbed out the window onto our fire escape. It was cold, but still. There was no wind and it was oddly quiet for a New York City night.
I knelt down, took a deep breath and said the most desperate prayer I've ever said in my life.
I spoke out loud as if I was talking to a friend... to a parent.
It was the most REAL prayer I'd ever said.
I plead for relief from these thoughts of hopelessness, distraction and darkness.

When I felt I had said all I wanted to say, I felt better. Still lost. But at least I had told somebody about it. I felt like I had gotten all the words out of my head that had been eating me alive for weeks.
I received no immediate solution... no answer. But I knew someone had heard me.
And that was enough.
Finally I went to sleep.

The next morning I woke up feeling, well, alright. I was tired, obviously, I'd only slept about 12 hours in 3 days. Regardless, I got up and went about my normal Wednesday schedule.
6:30, wake up. 8:00, studies till 10:30, then leave to Prospect Park for weekly service.

While raking leaves, our phone alerted me that we had a text message. I pulled it out of my pocket. The text I saw was from an unidentified number, but a number that I knew very well.
It read, "I received a prompting from a prayer and wrote you an email that you need to read as soon as possible."

Not everyday you receive a text from your mom as a missionary telling you to check your email. As soon as I could get internet connection, I opened my email and found this...

"My Dear Tara,
As I prayed for you this morning, I had an overwhelming feeling that you are struggling.  Your email yesterday didn't seem quite on -- not like all of your others. And no blog posts for 2 weeks.  At first I just thought you were probably just really busy, like you said.  But I am quite sure this morning that it is more than that.  

I don't know why you are struggling or with what, but I want to send you a message from your mother.  Hear me -- YOU ARE ENOUGH!!  You are loved by many and most of all by a Heavenly Father that knows you -- everything about you.  Your greatest champion -- though I would like to believe is me-- is Jesus Christ.  Take courage and carry on.  Do what you are supposed to do.  You tell Satan -- "Get thee hence! There are more that be with me than with you, even Angels from heaven by my side." Say it out loud -- loud and proud -- Maybe in the shower everyday and then in your head any time you feel him working on you.   

Don't let your struggle become your identity!  You are of divine origin and though you have mortal challenges you are no less divine -- a holy daughter of the most high God.  So I want you lift your chin a little higher today, walk a little straighter and REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE!!

I know that missions are HARD!!  Don't discount how hard it is and think that you are somehow not measuring up.  Just do your best and know that most missionaries if not all go through moments of doubt, homesickness and trouble.  You are not unique in this.  Read 2 Nephi 4:15-35. Even Nephi, one of the Greatest Book of Mormon Prophets, struggled with self-doubt, but he knew on whom to rely.

I love you Tara -- wish I could just wrap my arms around you this morning, but we both know that if that was possible, you would probably come home and I would probably bring you home --  and neither of us really want that. So you and I need to just buck up and get to work today.  --Love, Mom"

I felt all the loneliness, all the anger, all the discouragement drain from my soul as I read these words. AGAIN, the Lord had answered.
Though these were the words of my dear mom, I knew they were His words.

Directly after reading this email, I could hear the song Joy to the World playing in the distance. I just listened. I didn't move. I closed my eyes, and allowed the music to be the only thing in the room with me.

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

My urgent, desperate prayer had been answered.

Its a funny thing. There really isn't a way to describe how it works. In fact, we really don't know. How is it that God can have billions upon billions of children and HEAR and ANSWER every single one of their prayers. Day and night, rain or shine... He answers. 

How can that be? 
How can it be that we have a Heavenly Father who loves and knows us all perfectly, so much that he knows exactly how to answer each of our prayers?
It truly is a WONDER.

It is one of the many wonders of God's love for us.

It's a wonder that a baby was born to a virgin in Bethlehem so long ago. It's a wonder that the baby who once lay in a manger grew into a sinless man. It's a wonder that He bled from every pore so that we could be free from suffering. It's a wonder that He endured the cross on Calvary and gave Himself a sacrifice for all mankind. It's a wonder that in three days He came forth, triumphant over death, as a resurrected, perfected being.

It's a wonder that one day, if I can but rely on the ultimate gift of His atonement, I can be like Him.

During this Christmas season, I'm focusing my thoughts on the many wonders of His love. The world would have us believe that Christmas is about gifts, glittery lights, mystery and magic... But I testify that there is no greater gift, no brighter light, no greater mystery, no greater magic than His love... and the way he reveals that love to us.

Tonight when you pray, speak out loud and remember that He, YOUR father and creator of all, IS LISTENING.