How wonderful of an opportunity that you had to be able to go to the Nauvoo temple! It really is a wonderful thing to be able to go to the temple. It is something that I think about a lot now that I am unable to go due to the distance and boundary restrictions of my mission. How fun for all of you to be able to have that opportunity though to go somewhere connected to the history of our church! I remember going to Palmyra when I was 16 and I was amazed at the realness of the lives that I had heard about all growing up. I cried when I went and saw Alvin Smith's grave for the first time. I felt peace every time I went to the Sacred Grove. I felt the enormity of Heavenly Father's love for me, His daughter sitting underneath a tree at the Palmyra temple grounds. I remember being disappointed the first time I went to the Sacred Grove, because I expected to feel a little bit closer to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ when I walked where they stood, and began the Restoration, and then I had an epiphany--I didn't feel any different from normal because I already had them with me all the time! I had been given the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and promised, that as long as I was doing what I was supposed to do, it would remain with me always. So of course it wasn't any different, because it was already there. Once I realized that, and I continued to go to the Sacred Grove every morning to study my scriptures, I realized that the Spirit began to be with me a little bit more every day. Eventually, during one of the last times I was there, and I realized exactly how much Heavenly Father loved me, a 16 year old girl from California, thats when I felt the Spirit the strongest. It wasn't a super crazy experience where I suddenly burned inside from the Holy Ghost confirming to me the truth of the conclusions I made, but more of a contentment that yes this was right, and yes, the Lord needs me where I am when I am there. That has honestly been a huge part of my mission as well. I don't feel any different from when I was home, even though I know that I am surrounded by His Spirit more often, as well as guided by His hand on a daily basis, so sometimes it is hard for me to think that anything has changed since I left, or that I am growing at all, or that anyone is getting something from what I teach and share. I get disappointed a lot with the progress that I personally am making on my trek back to Heavenly Father, but then I remember that I wont see much of the progress I made until I get home and someone else points it out to me.
The other day I was contemplating the personal progress I will have made by the time I get home, and I was remembering my brothers returning from home on their missions, and how much they had changed. I have always loved my brothers, and they have always loved me, and I knew that they always knew that they were sons of God. I do remember though when Ben came home from his mission, and how much more loving he was to me. I remember that before his mission, he didn't like hugs or kisses because it made him uncomfortable, and how Alex and I would tease him all the time and try to give him a hug or a kiss anyway. I remember before Ben had the strangest sense of humor (as really all of us do) and he made it a point to not smile in any of the pictures we took (still not sure why-stubbornness maybe?) But even through all of that, he was the best oldest brother ever, and he was so kind to each of us, and tried to make sure that we stayed on the straight and narrow especially when we might have strayed a bit. And then he left on his mission, and that was a hard time for me because of all the friends and family that died right before he left. His farewell was a bitter-sweet day because we heard of 3 people who had passed away, and then we had to listen to Ben give his farewell talk in church. I was scared he would leave and never come back. The morning he left he was set apart as a missionary, and I was praying for him, and Heavenly Father spoke to me and promised me that he would come home safe. I didn't think much about it after that, and then it was more or less a waiting game for him to come home. Josh and I grew really close in the few years following that before he left on his mission. We would go to Seminary every morning together, and we would laugh about a lot of different things. Josh was so kind and loving and hard working. I even remember that the Mormon Prom was a week before my 16th Birthday, and even though I technically wasn't allowed to go, I really wanted to go so that I could go with my brother to a dance. When he finally left for his mission as well, it wasn't as hard, because I still had that same promise from Heavenly Father for Josh as I did for Ben, but this time it was just unspoken. I would occasionally read the emails they sent home, and I watched from a distance to see the things that they grew to love in their various areas. I remember getting a picture for the first time of Ben smiling really big, and I remember you and I teasingly asking who he was because we didn't recognize the smiling handsome young man in the pictures:) And then Ben came home. I remember us going over to the Modesto airport to get him at night, and we had Sara with us because her parents were out of town. I remember the smile he had on his face, and then the confusion when the airport doors wouldn't open. haha.. I remember that over the next few weeks while he was home I saw a different side of him then I had seen before my mission. He told me he loved me more, he gave me hugs, he even took me to my winter formal! That was the only time I ever went to one of my school dances and he took me to it, even though he hates dances. :) He listened to me gripe about my life, and then gave me a hug and told me everything would be ok. He theorized with me. And then I went off to college and he went off to college, and I lived 15 mins away from Josh while he was on his mission. That awesome moment that I got to go to General Conference with my missionary brother and his companion, and their investigator, as well as my RM brother and his roommate from Japan. How wonderful of a reunion it was for them, because it had been 3 years since they had seen each other. (They even cried! and it made me cry too:)) And then I got to spend a few hours with Josh in the airport at the end of his mission because he and I got to fly home for Christmas together (I had just finished my semester). And then Dad joined us at the airport and there were so many tears! Since then, I have noticed how much more Josh loves each member of his family, and even the people who are random strangers. I see that he is so much more comfortable with who he is, because he knows that he is a son of God! He has divine heritage, just like the rest of us. Ben takes the time every week since near the beginning of my mission to write me a letter. Josh takes time out of every Monday to email me while I am online. I have watched them all my life, because they are my older brothers, and I love and admire them a lot. When I was thinking about all this the other day, I realized a couple of different things. One, although I can't necessarily see the change that has happened to me since I left on my mission, it will be fun to go home and hear what people notice that have changed (hopefully for the better. haha). I even asked the other missionaries in my ward what they thought had changed the most about themselves since the beginning of their mission, and when they asked me, I thought a lot about it. I think for me is that I will be a lot better at listening to people. I will have a lot more empathy for their trials. I will understand the depth of people's feelings goes a lot further then what I can sometimes see. I realize that my life is a lot better than I thought, and I have been blessed so greatly to have the family that I have. I will work so much harder when I get home to keep our family strong, because I don't want it to fall apart ever. We are going to be an eternal family, and I want to have the best relationships ever!
The other thing I learned is about our Savior. I have watched and learned from my older brothers all my life, and I continue to do so, and probably will for the rest of my life. My Savior is the Eldest of all of us. He is the epic version of the best older brother ever! He sets the example for me everyday. He gives me advice when I need it. He cries with me when I am sad. He tells me everyday that He loves me. He set the way, carved my path with His Hands. He made it so easy for me, because now all I have to do is follow the example that He gave. I don't have to question if I'm carving my life the way it is supposed to be carved, because I'm not the carver. He is. I just follow. My life changes because I know Him. Like my older brothers, when they came home from their missions, I have no doubt that I will be different, if only because I am trying to be more like my Savior everyday!
One of my MTC friends sent me an email today about something that helps her going when things get hard. She says her brother always tells her that "God only gives His hardest battles to His strongest warriors." Life is hard. No one can ever honestly tell you otherwise. However, God knows that we can get through it. These trials and hard time will be but a moment. If we endure it well, we will be blessed! And how awesome of a brother that He would tell us how we can get through anything. We just have to listen to Him.
I could go on and on about my family, and the influence that they have had on me, and the love that I have grown for them, even thousands of miles away, but alas, my time is up. Remember that I love you so much!! And you are a wonderful awesome mom to all of your kids! (Even if I am your favorite..)
Sending you all my love!
Sister Monica Walker
PS Alex and Robert I promise I love you as much as Ben and Josh, they just got highlighted this week.. I will probably talk about y'all in some future email too:) Maybe next week!