Farewell Talk 15 September 2019
Look back on your life. Can you remember times when you were in the right place at the right time? Hopefully that happens every now and again! Our lives are like tapestries that intertwine with those around us. We often get so caught up in the here and now that we don’t realize what the bigger picture is.
Sometimes it’s good to stop, sit still and look back to see where you’ve been in relation to where you are today. Maybe even list a few of the things –events, people, experiences–that brought you here, right where you are, right now.
I believe that as you look back on your life, you’ll notice things that led you to be in certain places, or to just BE a certain person that allowed Heavenly Father to work through you to bless others. I hope you are recording those paths in your journals!
I’ve been involved with work in Africa off and on for almost 40 years. I went there first as a young missionary in South Africa. I returned to live in Nigeria for 3 years after my mission. John and I have been involved with work in Mali for many years now. We have waited a long time for this opportunity to go serve there as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
When we received a phone call more than a year ago, asking if we’d consider serving in Mali we said Absolutely! This mission call has been in the works for a long time now. It’s given us time to look back at our lives and see the interesting ways we’ve been prepared to go to this particular place in West Africa.
Just three days ago, the church announced our legal recognition in Mali. Things have been unfolding there for a long long time. It’s been an interesting process to watch.
This last month we’ve been meeting with a church historian who is in charge of collecting and recording the history of the Church in West Africa. I talked with him this week about his interesting job, watching history unfold as he gathers stories and histories. Often at the time things are happening, those involved have no idea what the outcome will be.
Our conversations reminded me of a talk David McCullough gave in a forum at BYU in 2005. He was talking about the Founding Fathers and how at the time they had no idea what the outcome of their actions would be. He started his masterful discourse by saying:
One of the hardest, and I think the most important, realities of history to convey to students or readers of books or viewers of television documentaries is that nothing ever had to happen the way it happened. Any great past event could have gone off in any number of different directions for any number of different reasons. We should understand that history was never on a track. It was never preordained that it would turn out as it did.
Very often we are taught history as if it were predetermined, and if that way of teaching begins early enough and is sustained through our education, we begin to think that it had to have happened as it did. We think that there had to have been a Revolutionary War, that there had to have been a Declaration of Independence, that there had to have been a Constitution, but never was that so. In history, chance plays a part again and again. Character counts over and over. Personality is often the determining factor in why things turn out the way they do. . . . And just as we don’t know how things are going to turn out, they didn’t either.
I believe there is a Grand Plan, but I also believe that Heavenly Father uses whoever shows up to help that plan unfold.
How interesting that this great historian believes that personality is often the determining factor in why things turn out the way they do.
SO, what’s in our personalities? How can we make ourselves more available? More service-minded? More aware of those around us? More willing to help? Do we find a need and fill it? Or do we just sit and watch? How can we change our mind set from “what can I get out of this?” to “what can I give to this?” My father used to say “there are 3 kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened.”
Sometimes we stay put or we don’t act because we fear we might miss out on something. That’s called FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out. If we go on a mission we might miss our kids or our grandkids. We might miss a recital or soccer game. But what do we gain and what do our kids (or our missionaries) gain by our going?
When we left for Yakima 4 years ago, Pres Eyring told John and me, “Your children will be more blessed by your going than by your staying.” Now I know he was right. That makes it easier to leave again.
The things we do don’t have to be big or grand. They just have to be Something. Alma teaches by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.
Elder Maxwell (April 2000) said:
Yearning for expanded opportunities while failing to use those at hand is bad form spiritually.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of showing up! Be a warm body. Be present. Sometimes just being there for someone else is enough. We are all little cogs in a great big wheel. Be a helpful, useful cog!
If someone you need doesn’t show up, perhaps they’re a cog in someone else’s wheel. Be patient. Focus on where you need to be, not where others need to be.
Oprah Winfrey said, speaking to this year’s Graduating class at Colorado College:
“The truth is, you cannot fix everything. But what you can do, here and now, is make a decision, because life is about decisions. And the decision is that you will use your life in service; you will be in service to life. You will speak up. You will show up. You will stand up. You will sit in. You will volunteer. You will vote. You will shout out. You will help. You will lend a hand. You will offer your talent and your kindness however you can, and you will radically transform whatever moment you’re in . . . . — which leads to bigger moments.”
Be that person who tries, who shows up, who steps out of a comfort zone. Be an answer to the prayer someone else offers. Be available. Let your personality take you places.
Sister Bonnie D. Parkin, former General Relief Society President said:
“We are all required to make journeys of faith. That is the gospel plan. [Y]our path may not be crossing an ocean or walking alone from an empty train station. But whatever it is, it will demand faith in every footstep. Years from now your grandchildren will tell with amazement stories of your choices which changed their lives. You will be called their pioneers. Have you ever thought that as you step into the unknown you are showing others the way?”
I pray we will all be brave enough to embark, to show up, to serve.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.