Sunday, February 12, 2012

Farewell Talk

It has been requested that I post my farewell talk. Please keep in mind that this is only what I wrote, not what I said.

Good morning, brothers and sisters. I am so excited to be here today, to be able to share my thoughts with you before Tuesday when I will be blessed and set apart as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And since Tuesday is also Valentine’s day, I decided to chose love as my topic. Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays because it isn’t a real holiday and because the history of St. Valentine is actually a bit gruesome. I love it because suddenly pink, red, and purple don’t look so weird together. I love the unspoken rule about wearing pink and red on February 14th. I love candy and Love Potion #31 ice cream from Baskin Robbins. I love it because it gives everyone a reason to express love. As I was preparing this talk on love, I couldn’t help but think of the great love that Christ has for everyone and the love that we experience on a daily basis. There are moments in our lives when we get a little glimpse of how God feels about us. I got to experience the world through God’s eyes back in December.

There is an interesting phenomenon that occurs when opening a mission call. Suddenly you know and care about a whole group of people without having any knowledge of them other than their locality. I remember reading the letter from the First Presidency, not knowing what to expect but, for the first time, being truly frustrated that the full name of the Church is so long because it took that much longer to get to the good stuff. “Dear Sister Benning: You are hereby called to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the North Carolina Raleigh Mission.” Suddenly everything felt right. The anxiety of the previous weeks seemed silly. Of course I would be called to serve in North Carolina I love the North Carolinians – seriously, those were my thoughts, never been there, but duh I love them because God loves them. No matter where I am serving the Lord, I want the people I meet to know of God’s love for them, the love that I glimpsed and can barely comprehend.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The people I go to serve – and all of us for that matter – are loved and important enough for God to send his only begotten son to earth, to suffer for our sins so that we can return to live with him in heaven. I am not Christ, not even close, but God is sending me to serve these people: to remind them how much God loves them and of his desire for them to accept the atonement and the plan of salvation so that they can live with him again. How hard it must have been to send us all off to Earth, to learn and grow and then to sit in heaven, anxiously waiting our return, knowing that some wouldn’t make it all the way back.

Whether or not you have any religious background, everyone needs the reminder that they are important and that there is someone watching out for them. It is easy to forget this when bad things happen to good people and in those moments when life makes no sense. But it’s true! God lives! And because He lives, we have the potential to be made clean and live with God. The way is perfect in its simplicity, not ease, but simplicity. This always makes me think of the Israelites and the serpent of brass. It was the easiest thing, God commanded Moses to make a serpent of brass and hang it on a pole, the people then only had to look at the serpent and be healed. But many of them did not even look. So simple, but yet so hard to overcome pride or to allow ourselves to have the faith required to turn our heads (Numbers 21). All we must do is recognize that we have sinned, that we are not perfect, but that through the atonement of Christ, the price of our imperfections is paid and we can be made clean to return to Heavenly Father. Isaiah quotes the Lord saying that “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). We make mistakes, but we are not forever condemned for them. God has perfect love and can forgive perfectly if we but ask him for it.

It is hard to comprehend this kind of love because it makes no sense in our little human brains that any one person can love and know every human that has ever or will ever live, or that he created everything. President Uchtdorf, in his talk during last General Conference, remarked that “we may look at the vast expanse of the universe and say, ‘What is man in comparison to the glory of creation?’ God Himself said we are the reason He created the universe! … the vast expanse of eternity, the glories and mysteries of infinite space and time are all built for the benefit of ordinary mortals like you and me. Our Heavenly Father created the universe that we might reach our potential as His sons and daughters. This is a paradox of man: compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God.” I have seen the hand of God in my life and in the lives of others. There is a story about a young man throwing pearls into the ocean.

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work. One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."

"I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "I made a difference to that one!"

Alone, we cannot accomplish everything, we cannot throw every single starfish into the ocean, but we can make a difference to the ones around us. We can be God’s hands and show His love for each of his starfish."
It is for this purpose that I have chosen to serve a mission. Too many people do not feel the great love that God has for them. I often wonder what life would be like without the great blessing of the atonement, that ultimate example of love, as an active part of my life. What would it feel like not to understand that the pains of human life are only a short blip in an eternal perspective and that I can live with my family forever in the presence of our Heavenly Father? It would be hard, that’s what it would be like. The death of loved ones would cripple me if I didn’t know that I would see them again. I would feel so worthless compared to the amazingly talented people around me. When life seems to be too hard to handle, there would be no eternal perspective to get me through it all.

But I am not just the one throwing the starfish back, I am also a starfish. Growing up in this Church, we are taught of our diving nature as sons and daughters of God. This knowledge has shaped my life. I have participated in countless lessons on my worth as the spirit daughter of a King and how that makes me a princess. I really took it to heart for those of you who remember me coming to Church in tiaras. But on one lesson, Sister Waldman took a different spin on this important lesson. She emphasized the ‘daughters’ part and not the ‘God’ or ‘King’ part saying that just how my own father is ready and willing to help me with whatever I need, my Heavenly Father is there in the same way. Whenever I turn to him, he is there, ready to reply. God is great in our sight, but Doctrine and Covenants Chapter 18 emphasizes the reciprocal idea that “the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” He looks as us and is proud of our accomplishments and wants the very best for us. I cannot say it enough, but God knows us individually. He knows and cares about the things that matter to us, he understands our trials and pains and rejoices with us in our successes. If there is one thing that I know, it that God loves each and every one of us. He guides our leaders so that they can keep throwing starfish back in the ocean – it is a constant process, but it is a work of love. Perhaps we should take the time to send Him a valentine this season. A simple thank you for the wonderful and countless blessings he bestows on us every second of every day.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf. "You Matter to Him."October 2011 General Conference

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Laura won't be able to read these until she returns in 2013, but you are welcome to leave comments.