Sunday, August 25, 2013

My Farewell Talk

{Note: It looks like a real doozy. I was asked to fill 15 minutes, and this much material did just that, so it is a little long. But that's why. Haha.}

Good morning, brothers and sisters. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Emily McPeek, and I’ve been called to serve in the Italy, Milan mission. I report to the Provo Missionary Training Center on September 4th.

Bishop asked me if there was anything I wanted to speak on, and it took me a while to decide, but I chose to speak on the doctrine that God is our loving Heavenly Father. I chose this because for one thing, it is the very first principle in the first lesson from the manual Preach My Gospel, but also because I think that if we have a firm understanding of God, his nature as a father, and all that that entails, we have a much clearer understanding of every other principle and doctrine of the gospel.

All growing up, I have always been dazzled by the idea that I am a child of God. I liked the idea that God was the King of Heaven and Earth, and if I am is daughter, that that makes me a princess. And I don’t think I’m the only one who got excited about that. Sheri Dew once said in her book No Doubt About It, “Our spirits long for us to remember the truth about who we are, because the way we see ourselves, our sense of identity, affects everything we do. It affects the way we behave, the way we respond to uncertainty, the way we see others, the way we handle pressure and disappointment, the way we feel about ourselves, and the way we make choices. In short, it determines how we live our lives.” I can testify that when I remember who I and everyone around me are as children of God, it instills in me a sense of duty to better represent my Father in Heaven, and also to help others realize their divine identity and potential.
I wanted, in this talk, to try to make sure I focused on the loving and kind attributes of our Heavenly Father, and as there are so many to talk about, I hope that the ones that I have felt prompted to talk about will be what somebody may have needed to hear today.

 Jeffrey R. Holland once said in a general conference talk in 2003, “I make my own heartfelt declaration of God our Eternal Father this morning because some in the contemporary world suffer from a distressing misconception of Him. Among these there is a tendency to feel distant from the Father, even estranged from Him, if they believe in Him at all. And if they do believe, many moderns say they might feel comfortable in the arms of Jesus, but they are uneasy contemplating the stern encounter of God. Through a misreading of the Bible, these see God the Father and Jesus Christ His Son as operating very differently, this in spite of the fact that in both the Old Testament and the New, the Son of God is one and the same, acting as He always does under the direction of the Father, who is Himself the same “yesterday, today, and forever.”

Elder Holland later goes on to tell a story from The Pearl of Great Price, referring to the prophet Enoch’s vision that we was given after being lifted up to heaven. Elder Holland says, “There, in the midst of a grand vision of humankind which heaven opened to his view, Enoch, observing both the blessings and challenges of mortality, turns his gaze toward the Father and is stunned to see Him weeping. He says in wonder and amazement to this most powerful Being in the universe: “How is it that thou canst weep? … Thou art just [and] merciful and kind forever; … Peace … is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep?” Looking out on the events of almost any day, God replies: “Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands. … I gave unto them … [a] commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood. … Wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?” That single, riveting scene does more to teach the true nature of God than any theological treatise could ever convey. It also helps us understand much more emphatically that vivid moment in the Book of Mormon allegory of the olive tree, when after digging and dunging, watering and weeding, trimming, pruning, transplanting, and grafting, the great Lord of the vineyard throws down his spade and his pruning shears and weeps, crying out to any who would listen, “What could I have done more for my vineyard?” What an indelible image of God’s engagement in our lives! What anguish in a parent when His children do not choose Him nor “the gospel of God” He sent! How easy to love someone who so singularly loves us!”

Our Heavenly Father is a sensitive and emotional God. He empathizes with us because he loves us. He weeps with us when we suffer, and rejoices when we do what is right, because he knows that that is the way to true happiness in this life and in the life to come. He gives us experiences on earth, both pleasant and unpleasant, to help us learn and grow.

C.S. Lewis used a parable in his book, Mere Christianity, that illustrates God’s plan of happiness for us quite beautifully. He says, “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” Through our trials and struggles, God is molding us into the people He needs us to be. He knows the potential that is in each of us, and chances are, we don’t know or understand what we are capable of. We each have a duty to perform on this earth, one that our loving Heavenly Father has set for us, all we need to do is follow the counsel set at the end of the Book of Mormon in Moroni 10:32, which says, “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.” In the months preparing for my mission, I have started to make a habit of asking God in my prayers to “help me today to become the daughter he needs me to be”. I know that I can find the greatest happiness in following God’s will and gaining experiences that will bring me closer to being that woman that he needs to help build his kingdom on the earth.

If God is our father, and he loves us as he does, then naturally, he wants to hear from us. This is why prayer was instituted. So that we could in a sense, “call” our father, tell him how we are doing, thank him for our countless blessings, and ask for help and guidance. Of course, being the omnipotent God that he is, he knows exactly how our day went, what we did well, what we did wrong, what we need help with. But he wants to hear it from us. It is easy to get into a mindless routine and say the same prayers every day, but I have found that when I kneel beside my bed at night and really talk through my day with Heavenly Father, the spirit comes upon me, confirms the love that God has for me, and comforts me. President Hugh B. Brown shared a story at a BYU fireside in 1967 that has really come close to my heart in the weeks and months leading up to my mission. He says, “I think that one of the first things that every young person should do is get acquainted with God. I mean that in a very personal, literal sense. I mean that in the sense that we are able to go to Him and obtain the kind of help we need. I remember when I was quite a lad… I remember my mother said to me when I went to go on a mission in 1904, she said, ‘My boy, you are going a long ways away from home now. Do you remember that when you were a little lad you used to have bad dreams and get frightened? Your bedroom was just off mine, and frequently you would cry out loud in the night and say, “Mother, are you there?” And I would answer, “Yes, my boy, I’m here. Everything is all right. Turn over, and go to sleep.” You always did. Knowing that I was there gave you courage. Now,’ she said, ‘you will be about 6,000 miles away and though you may cry out for me, I cannot answer.’ She added this, ‘There is one who can, and if you call to Him, he’ll hear you when you call. He will respond to your appeal. You just say, “Father, are you there?” and there will come into your heart the comfort and solace such as you knew as a boy when I answered you.’” President Brown goes on to say, “I want to say to you young people that many times since then in many varying conditions I have cried out, ‘Father, are you there?’ I made that plea when in the mission field we were mobbed almost every night, driven from place to place. We were beaten, expelled from cities, and our lives were threatened. Every time before I went out to those meetings, I would say, ‘Father, are you there?’ And though I didn’t hear a voice and I didn’t see His person, I want to tell you young people that He replied to me with the comfort and assurance and testimony of His presence.”

Now, unlike President Brown’s mission experience, I don’t expect to be mobbed or beaten, or driven out of the cities of Italy. The people there are pretty hospitable, and the area is about as safe, if not safer than, here where we live now. So don’t worry, Mom! But I can expect to come home at the end of a long day, maybe discouraged by investigators, or having a hard time learning the language, or just missing home, and I can expect to fall on my knees beside my bed and like Hugh B. Brown, call out, “Father, are there?” And I know that he will give me the same assurance and warmth that he does even now when I pray to him.

The scripture I chose to be my “mission scripture” comes from Romans 8:38-39. It reads, “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” These verses are so very special to me, because they testify of the unconditional love that our Heavenly Father has for us, and it also states that that love is made possible through his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. As flawed as we are in this earth life, it would be impossible for us to return to our just, perfect Father in Heaven without someone to atone for our sins. Helaman 5:9 reads, “O remember, remember, my sons, the words which king Benjamin spake unto his people; yea, remember that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come; yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world.” I can never express enough thanks for the selfless and loving Atonement of Jesus Christ. He loved us as his brothers and sisters infinitely. Enough to feel every sorrow, every pain of this world that any of us has ever felt, pay for our sins, and then to die for us on Calvary’s Hill, that we might live again eternally with Him if we come unto him. However, I think that we don’t always remember to acknowledge how selfless and loving the atonement was of our Heavenly Father as well. Christ said in John 3:16, “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.” God is our loving father, but he is also the father of the Prince of Peace, even Jesus Christ. Jeffrey R. Holland spoke on this in a 1999 general conference. He said, “I am a father, inadequate to be sure, but I cannot comprehend the burden that it must have been for God in His heaven to witness the deep suffering and Crucifixion of His Beloved Son in such a manner. His every impulse must have been to stop it, to send angels to intervene—but He did not intervene. He endured what He saw because it was the only way that a saving, vicarious payment could be made for the sins of all his other children from Adam and Eve to the end of the world. I am eternally grateful for a perfect Father and His perfect Son, neither of whom shrank from the bitter cup nor forsook the rest of us who are imperfect, who fall short and stumble, who too often miss the mark.” I too am thankful for a loving Father, who was willing to sacrifice his only perfect son for all of his other imperfect children. I think of the verses of a dear hymn, that reads, “And when I think that God, his Son not sparing, sent him to die, I scarce can take it in, that on the cross my burden gladly bearing, he bled and died to take away my sin. Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee! How great thou art! How great thou art! Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee! How great thou art! How great thou art!"

I'd like to finish by bearing my testimony. I know that this church is the true church of Christ. I am so thankful for the wonderful opportunity I have to serve him and share his gospel with his children in Italy. In preparing for my mission, there has been a hymn that has really been special to me that I'd like to share. It's hymn 128 and it reads, "I will not doubt, I will not fear; God's love and strength are always near. His promised gifts help me to find an inner strength and peace of mind. I give my father willingly my trust, my prayers, humility. His spirit guides, his love assures, that fear departs when faith endures." My favorite part is right at the end, where it says that fear departs when faith endures. I know that I will be scared on my mission. But I know that if I have faith in the Lord and his plans, I can leave it up to him and he will give me comfort and help. I am thankful for the scriptures that we have, the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I know that they were written by prophets of God to help us in our day. I know that because I have read them and felt the spirit that accompanies them. I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for my father who shows me love and support. I am thankful for my little sister, Annika. She is the best sister in the whole wide world. Through the process of getting ready for my mission and packing and whatnot, whenever I have anxiety, which happens a lot, Annie always comes in my room, puts her hand on my back, and tries to be as comforting and helpful as she possible can. I have been really blessed with an awesome sister. Mason and Keaton always make me laugh, and I don't know what I'll do without their witty commentary for a year and a half. I suppose they'll have to clue me in on their jokes in their letters. My mother is nothing less than the most amazing woman I know. She is strong, resourceful, faithful, and incredibly patient with me and my infirmities. I know that Heavenly Father is proud of her and her quiet valiance in fulfilling her calling as a mother. I thought of her when Elaine S. Dalton, in this last general conference, referred to the saying, "What e'er thou art, act well thy part." My mother does not have an easy part, but she does her best and leaves the rest to the Lord. I know that I will miss and yearn for her guidance and example while I am serving the Lord in Italy. I cannot wait to share the truths of eternal families, as well as all the other truths and blessings with the sweet Italian people. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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