Today my best friend gave her farewell talk. And honestly, best friend feels like a pretty thin term to use when talking about someone with whom I have shared so much love, lived so much life, and weathered so much change. Marissa Anderson is my sister. And something that brings me so much joy is that in ten days, she’s going to be in the MTC and on her way to change all kinds of lives in Taichung, Taiwan, and errrrybody’s going to be calling her sister then, too.
I wanted to sum up my feelings on her message… but I can’t. I can’t say it any better than she said it. So, if you missed it, here it is. And if you don’t know her… I feel bad for you. :/ But you’re welcome just the same. Stranger danger doesn’t even apply when the spiritual feast is this good. Thanks for creepin’ on the LOW.
BY SISTER MARISSA ANDERSON
“My call to serve came from the Lord as soon as we heard the announcement while on vacation in Hainan (frequently referred to as China’s Hawaii). I knew immediately in both my heart and mind that God needed me as His messenger to bring the gospel to His children. I’d never been so sure of anything in my entire life until I watched Miles open my call over Skype and announce that I’d be serving in the exact same mission as my older sister, and the exact same mission that I had known I’d be serving in weeks before my call was even opened.
Even so, it is difficult not to fear the inevitable trials that accompany missionary work. I pray every day that I will have courage to withstand Satan’s whisperings and to be obedient.
There are many different kinds of courage. Courage to act, courage to accept, courage to change, and courage to try again.
It is a great sifter. It divides those who have faith and those who have fear. It is a catalyst for change. Courage is found the moment before you take a baby step or a giant leap. It is the ability to conquer fear, or strength in the face of pain or grief. As Seneca once said, “sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”
And it is. I don’t think we understand how interwoven courage is with our daily decisions. Heavenly Father gave us agency, that we may choose right and wrong, but He also gave us courage that we may have added strength and hope in choosing the right. Conversely, Satan infects our hearts with fear, that we will choose wrong even when we know it is wrong.
We all have that one thing that we struggle with. We doubt. We fail keeping our goals. We’re lazy. We’re unhappy with ourselves. What is it? What do you struggle with? What have you tried to change, repeatedly, without success? Have you ever felt the pierce of regret and the sting of shame? It’s at this point, at the depth of your failure, that Satan has the power to grab hold of us without a fight. The struggle we have dealt with repeatedly becomes no struggle at all, and we succumb to feelings of inadequacy, to a loss of the knowledge of our divine nature, to a fear of all things good.
We have all experienced that. You know those feelings. Satan is careful and stealthy as he picks at us where it hurts the most.
But I testify to you, my friends, my family, my brothers and sisters in the gospel, that it can end. Our prophet has said this: “There will be times when you will be frightened and discouraged. You may feel that you are defeated. The odds of obtaining victory may appear overwhelming. At times you may feel like David trying to fight Goliath. But remember—David did win! Courage is required to make an initial thrust toward one’s coveted goal, but even greater courage is called for when one stumbles and must make a second effort to achieve.”
I am a dance education major at BYU, so I’ve had many, many years of ballet and contemporary training. When I was in eighth grade, we were wearing our pointe shoes and doing a thing where you jump and turn while landing on one leg. I jumped and flipped my body around, but unfortunately the box of my pointe shoe tipped the ground before I had a chance to soften my foot for a landing. Consequently, my ankle twisted the wrong way and I sprained it pretty badly. It was a month before our recital. Though the doctor said it would be fine to dance on in a few weeks, that doesn’t account for the fear I now had of dancing in pointe shoes on that leg. For the next year, I battled this insecurity in my dance classes.
My pirouettes, or turns, on that leg became half-hearted and weak. My ankle was strong enough, but my resolve and courage weren’t. Dance is 90% mental. In my head, I couldn’t do fouette turns on that leg on my point shoes, therefore, my body couldn’t. By the time I was a sophomore, I was sick of falling out of my turns. I worked hard every day to strengthen that ankle. It didn’t come easily, and even now I experience resonances of that mental block, but I’ve come so far. It’s menial, perhaps, but it meant a lot.
I am thankful that my prayers to have courage were answered, that I kept giving myself second chances.
As I said before, I knew immediately that I would be serving a mission. Why, though? Why take a break from school, work, and dating and spend all my money to teach people on the other side of the world in one of the hardest languages to learn? Why do I want to give my all to the Lord? Because the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of second chances. I want the people of Taiwan to know, as I tell you now, that this gospel gives you the courage to try a second time, a third, time, a million times. The scriptures tell us that “it is by grace that we are saved, after all that we can do.” President Monson, speaking again about courage, said that “Courage is the word we need to hear and hold near our hearts—courage to turn our backs on temptation, courage to lift up our voices in testimony to all whom we meet, remembering that everyone must have an opportunity to hear the message.” I urge you all to take this second chance. Have the courage to try again. As you do so, and as you trust in the Lord and sincerely pray for help, you find the courage that has evaded you.
I have found that my courage comes primarily from the Atonement. The Atonement does more than provide a safeguard for where you stumble into sin, it does more than give you scriptures and allow you to communicate with God. It allows Christ to wrap His arms around you and help you where you need it most. There’s no logical way to describe the deepest part of the Atonement. The most raw and real essence of the Atonement comes to your aid when your heart is irreparably broken and you make a choice to rely wholly on the Savior. Intangible and indescribable power will whisper peace and happiness into your heart and mind, and angels will minister to you in the form of family, friends, church leaders, and even strangers.
During my last week in China, I was having a difficult time with my eighth graders. My seventh graders the week before had been tender and loving, but for some reason my eighth graders wouldn’t cooperate. I asked them to write letters to me, as a sum up of their English they’ve learned, and I went around and autographed their textbooks because they have this bizarre fascination with autographs. There’s anywhere between 60-120 students in each class, so in this particular class, I finished writing my name as the 40 minute class period expired. I asked them to hand in their work, and five people had written letters. I felt embarrassed as a teacher and disappointed as an older sister or friend to these students. As I walked to my next class, I debated whether or not I just wanted to be done. Done teaching, done with China. The rest of my students would just have to suffer through a boring class where I simply didn’t care. Almost in tears, emotionally exhausted, I opened my next class by asking them what they wanted from me. Did they want me to teach them English? Did they want me to leave? What did they want? I explained what happened in the last class. One student piped up and in broken English said that they were afraid to write because they didn’t want to write bad English. I assured them that Chinese was okay, then again asked what they wanted.
A diminutive girl in the back said, “Want write letters, teacher.” Do you want that? They all said yes. So I let them.
This is what I wrote in my journal about the ordeal:
“ I was worried, honestly, how it would turn out. But then beautiful treasures began to appear. Gorgeous notes written in Chinese, little folded gifts, various worn out pens or keychains. At the end of the class, I gave the spiel I’d been giving to each of my final classes, how they were each clever, kind, and important. Full of gratitude, I meant it with all my heart and my eyes began to pool with water. I held in my tears until this sweet girl in the second row pulled me in and said, ‘Teacher, you must remember that you are important too.’ I lost it. Through my tears, all I could say was, ‘There is SO much good here and everywhere. So much good.’ Five students leapt out of their chairs, hesitated for a moment, then proceeded forth with breakneck speed toward me. All it took was opening my heart to them, and I was smothered by sixty eighth-graders all crying in a soggy group hug telling me they love me. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for giving me 60 sweet angels today to minister to me.”
I am so, so thankful that Heavenly Father gave me a nudge back in the right direction, that I didn’t give up. I’m thankful that the sweet girl was brave enough to open her heart to me, that those five who stood seized an opportunity to show love and compassion to a discouraged teacher. Tender mercies from our Father in Heaven reassure us that heaven is near. We must recognize the Lord’s tender mercies in our lives and have the courage to BE a tender mercy for someone else.
In one of my favorite movies, The Hobbit, Gandalf says this: “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.”
In a different Tolkien novel, it says, “Courage is found in unlikely places.”
Have the courage to get back up again. Be open to the promptings of the Spirit. It takes courage to close a door and open a new one. It takes courage to step back and listen to counsel and criticism. It is in this type of courage that humility and meekness are achieved. Do not lose your struggle. Continue to try, and the Lord will lift you where you fall.
One of other my favorite movies, We Bought a Zoo, says, “all you need is twenty seconds of courage. Just literally twenty seconds of insane bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”
There is so much truth in that. All you need is twenty seconds of courage to change your heart. Twenty seconds to open your mouth to ask for forgiveness. Twenty seconds to kneel down and pray to your Father in Heaven. Twenty seconds to dedicate the next 18 months of your life to the Lord. Twenty seconds to recommit to choosing the right.
I want to leave you with my favorite scripture over the years. Joshua 1:9. ‘Have not I commanded thee? Be strong, and of a good courage. Be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed for the Lord thy God is with thee, whithersoever thou goest.'”
And then she bore her beautiful testimony. And my face hurt from smiling. And there was a collective exhale as everyone tried to wrap their brain around how lucky the people of Taiwan really are to be getting this sister – this girl who, through years of schooling, performing, traveling, laughing and crying, has truly become my sister.
Sister Anderson, you’re gonna tear it up. 🙂 Thank you for everything. I am forever changed and so, so lucky.