Sunday, December 25, 2005

My Christmas Message to Friends

So it has been a year now since my return home from Canada and I have thought a lot about you and my mission.  When I really stop to think about my mission it still brings back so many feelings. 
This last year has been an eventful one for me.  When I returned home last year, I arrived just in time to spend Christmas with my family, catch a breath of relaxation (and a little of Utah’s world famous skiing—my favorite pastime), and then it was right back to school. 
I returned to BYU where I had begun before my mission.  I enrolled in business courses but they didn’t quit hold my interest.  One of the classes I had to take for the business program was Introductory Economics.  I loved it and switched my major to Economics.  It is there I have spent my schooling since, training to become an economist.  I love it.  I love the way economists think and view the world, and I have felt very confident that it is part of the road that the Lord has laid out for me to walk. 
I arrived home to a new niece, Elaina Layton, my older sister’s first child.  That was fun, for about twenty seconds before she decided she didn’t like this new stranger.  I committed I would win her little heart.  It took me a few months to win over even an ounce of her affection.  Just about the time I convinced her she didn’t have to scream because we were in the same room my sister and her husband moved their family to Switzerland for a new job. 
In the meantime, I thought I would see if I had any better luck winning the hearts of girls a little closer to my own age.  I seemed to have about the same luck with the ladies--lots of screaming, hiding, and tears.  I returned home to the girlfriend I had dated before I had left on my mission.  Two years had changed us both, but we again became quick friends, however, we did not date. 
As I began dating, I met many fantastic girls and enjoyed myself quite immensely, but nothing ever even began to feel like love.  I wanted to meet that person I would spend the rest of my life with, and the person I could love forever, but dating at BYU is like trying to find a your needle in pile of 15,000 needles.  I dated a lot of great girls but found the search to be quite frustrating.
Summer came and my family decided to use the excuse of my sister living in Switzerland to go visit Europe.  We first visited France to see the Louvre, Paris, and the Normandy beaches.  We then flew to Switzerland and met up with my sister’s family.  From there we road tripped it through Switzerland, Germany, and Austria sampling some bratwursts and just checking to see if the hills really are alive with the sound of music.  From there my family parted ways, my sister back to Switzerland, the rest of my family home to the states, while my younger brother and I made one last stop to London, England.
Having had way too much fun in Europe, I decided I best do something extremely boring with the rest of my summer to make up for it—so I got my first desk job.  I went to work at a locally headquartered software company, Altiris, as an analyst.  It gave me some great experience while reinforcing my decision away from business and towards economics. 
School started again this fall.  The first day back to class I took quick notice of a beautiful girl, Mikel, which was in two of my courses.  But the rest of the class took notice as well, and she quickly received a lot of attention from the other gentlemen in class.  So I devised a plan and waited patiently for the perfect moment to strike.  Patience paid off.  I executed my plan and officially swept her off her feet—only to find out that she was awaiting her mission call. 
But, I committed to win her heart.  She, like my niece, was resilient to my best efforts.  She kept her sights on serving a mission despite my best efforts of kindness, patience, and love.  So I switched up my strategy to chocolate and roses.  Worked like charm.  We are now planning on being married the end of next semester (April ish). 
It being a year now since I have returned home from my mission, it has given me the chance to really reflect on my testimony.  I love God—with all that I am, I love my God.  Even in saying that I feel the depth of all he has done for me.  It has been in those moments, the moments where God’s love feels so tangible and moving, that have instilled in me a desire to do whatever it takes to return to him, to be the best me, to do everything for Him. 
It is that love that made this gospel real to me.  Elder Groberg, having felt that connection created by feeling God’s love, describes the feelings as thus:

“Only as we feel God’s love and fill our hearts with His love can we be truly happy.
“Trying to find lasting love without obeying God is like trying to quench thirst by drinking from an empty cup—you can go through the motions, but the thirst remains.           
“Similarly, trying to find love without helping and sacrificing for others is like trying to live without eating—it is against the laws of nature and cannot succeed. We cannot fake love. It must become part of us.
When we get the tiniest glimpse of these truths, our concern over worldly things vanishes.
“I [know] that our joy now and forever is inextricably tied to our capacity to love.
Being filled with God’s love is the most joyous of all things and is worth every cost.
“Never underestimate the power of true love, for it knows no barriers.
“When filled with God’s love, we can do and see and understand things that we could not otherwise do or see or understand. Filled with His love, we can endure pain, quell fear, forgive freely, avoid contention, renew strength, and bless and help others in ways surprising even to us.”

I know that God loves us.  I know that he is our Father and that he has conquered and reigns in perfect righteousness.  He is all—always there, ever loving, perfectly knowing.
I am trying to be like Jesus.  My heart reflects on the words of Nephi when he says:

“…Notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous work, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am...
“And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in who I have trusted.”
                                                                                    2 Nephi 4: 17,19

My testimony is that “I know in whom I have trusted.”  I know that Jesus Christ died for our sins and infirmities.  I know that even in my weakness, this work is real, the gospel is true, and that Christ’s atonement can carry us. 
I know the atonement is real.  I have felt its power in the refreshment of repentance.  I have felt its power to lift me through trial and sin.  I have felt of Christ’s empathy and his guiding hand in my life.  
I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the organization and church established by Christ on this earth to administer the ordinances that allow us access to the great gift of the atonement.  It has been one of the great strides in my testimony to gain a clear vision of how that fits together.  God’s plan & love and Christ’s mission & atonement are the rock of my testimony.  My testimony is no longer of the church, but of Christ and how the church fits in the plan.
Joseph Smith was prepared by God to restore the church.  I know that Joseph Smith saw what he said he saw.  I love Joseph Smith too for the man he was and his discipleship.  Joseph Smith loved people—true love—at the cost of his life, he loved. 
I cherish the priesthood that was restored.  I cherish it for the significance it had in ending the apostasy and restoring the authority to perform saving ordinances, but I also cherish it for the personal force it has come to play in my life.  I know that it is real.  I have seen miracles in faith.  I have seen people healed and words spoken of God. 
I know that faith is real, that it is a power in our lives.  I know that every blessing in this life comes of obedience.  I know that the worth of every soul is great in the sight of God. 
I believe in Gordon B. Hinckley as the living prophet.  The work continues.  Shall we not go on in so great a cause?  I know that there is work for us to do.  We must each build this Kingdom.  I want us to be brave and courageous in sharing this gospel.  God has enough work to fill each of our lives, and we must weary ourselves in this work.
I have found the greatest joys of my life in this Gospel.  I know it is true.  I would do anything for this church.  I have tried every day to live my life true to that motto. 
I miss Canada and each of you who made that time in my life so special.  I hope that your holidays were a special time to reflect upon Christ, this year past, and your endeavors of the year to come.  I pray that God has kept you.