Monday, April 6, 2015

What I learned from "Cutting Vegetables"

Entitling this email: "What I learned from My Mission" seemed like an overwhelming subject, so I decided to start instead with a very small (very, very small) part of my mission that I learned a lot from. 

I have learned more than I even realize now from the things that I did Every. Single. Day. Of my mission - things that don't hit the spotlight when mission stories are told about the golden investigator that was found in a dark apartment building right before curfew, when we were about to give up and go home - and we saw the Lord work a miracle in the life of another human being. Granted, I learned a lot from experiences like that on my mission too. But, most of what I learned on my mission was things that I learned from my companions - people that I spent 24 hours a day with anywhere from 6 weeks to 4 1/2 months. 

Lesson Number 1: 
One of the most valuable lessons I learned I call "cutting vegetables." You may not realize that every person in the world seems to cut their vegetables differently. Everyone likes their vegetables in certain shapes and sizes, and everyone cuts their vegetables in a way that makes sense to them.
Maybe I started my mission out with a really weird way to cut vegetables. 
But, all of my companions seemed to have a new (and maybe better) way to cut vegetables, and they felt that it was vital that I learned this new way. At the beginning of my mission this left me very confused. "Why on earth does anyone else care about the way I cut my vegetables? Don't vegetables taste the same no matter what way they are cut?" Sometimes, I was even silly enough to get a little irritated after being told by a loving companion, who was probably just trying to help me NOT cut my fingers, yet another way to cut my vegetables.

And then transfers would happen, and I would learn yet another way to cut vegetables. 

So from this, I have learned some very valuable lessons.

1. Lots and lots of different ways to cut vegetables. And, also ways to cut vegetables where my fingers are safe from the blade of the knife. I wouldn't consider myself a vegetable cutting pro, but maybe I am getting pretty close. (I might still be on the slow end though when it comes to cutting vegetables). 

2. I learned that I might have maybeee had a pride problem if someone helping me cut my vegetables was bothering me at all. 

3. I learned how to listen. Small things like listening to a companion's new way to cut vegetables can actually help strengthen a companionship - plus, in the end I just benefit by learning a new way to cut vegetables. 

4. I learned how to not sweat the small stuff. At some point in my mission I became an old missionary. And I started having companions straight from America. Who had never really cut vegetables before, nor did they know how to cook. I will never forget one time asking my companion to cut some vegetables.  Then turning around after I had finished cooking most of the soup to see a very disfigured pile of vegetables on the table and her beaming face asking if she had cut them right. I looked at her pile of cabbage that was supposed to become a salad, and I looked back at her smiling face...and I smiled and said: "Ya, that is great!". And we ate the weirdest cabbage salad full of very large chunks of pretty hard cabbage that I have maybe ever eaten. (That companion is now quite brilliant at cooking.) The next time we cut cabbage I said: "Hey, lets do this together!" And we both learned how to cut cabbage. 
The point of this lesson - cutting cabbage is very, very tiny in the fabric of eternity. The salad might have been a little hard to chew, but ultimately it tasted the same, and my companion was oh so proud of her first cabbage salad. That joy meant a lot more than the fact that I never would have cut cabbage in the same way. Because, in reality, cabbage is the small stuff. 

5. I learned how to be wrong. I know this one also sounds really silly, but I really hate being wrong. And I really like being right. Even about the really small stuff. This is the pride in my heart. But, I had to face the fact that maybe the way I cut my vegetables was actually not the best - but, my companions might actually all be gourmet cookers and I had a great opportunity to learn how to cut vegetables from the best of the best. So, I learned how to be humble and let someone teach me how to not be right about cutting vegetables. 

Mostly, this is not about vegetables at all.

But the small lessons that I learned on my mission are the things that I have taken and applied to my companionship's in much bigger ways. Like, maybe when I ACTUALLY do something wrong, not just cut the carrots weird, and I needed to learn to stop and accept my mistakes. That is one way that I grew on my mission.

Lesson Number 2: 
Ichikawa Shimai and Grundvig Shimai

I learned this one largely from Ichikawa Shimai, because she is the one that actually voiced it. But, all of my companions were brilliant at this one also, it just took me a while to catch on.
Ichikawa Shimai always says: 

"It is easy to love your companions strengths, but it is loving their weaknesses too that make or break the companionship." 

I think that this might just be the key to any successful relationship throughout the history of the world. 

I have a million and one weaknesses, we all do, that is part of the reason that we are human beings. We have weak points so that we can rely on the Lord. But, my companions loved my weaknesses...they loved me despite my weaknesses and maybe the things that I did 24 hours a day that drove them crazy, and because they loved me, I grew. 
It is easy to love the things that people do perfectly and that they do well...but learning how to really love the things that are irritating is a completely different story. Learning to love the hard things about people can really only be done through the atonement of Jesus Christ. 

Lesson Number 3:

What I learned from tissues.
In case you have never been to Japan, I will inform you that if you go during the winter you will probably receive a lot of tissues. Most likely these tissues will be packaged up in tiny little packs that are homemade out of cute fabric and prepared to be given on an occasion when a quick gift is needed. 
Japanese people love to give gifts. They love to show that they love people through little tiny things. I have received a lot of packages of tissue wrapped in home-made tissue covers on my mission. This lesson is actually entirely not about tissues, but is entirely about love.

On my mission, I learned how to love people. I mean, I REALLY learned how to love people. When I left on my mission I thought that I understood what it meant to love people. 
I had no clue. 

In my first area I thought that I knew how to love people. I had no clue. 

I really learned how to love in Tokushima. I attribute that mostly to Payne Shimai and Palmer Shimai. And when I figured out how to LOVE these people in Japan a lot of miracles started happening - not only in the lives of the people that I was teaching, but also for me.
Suddenly, I started learning the language much, much, muchhh faster. I started understanding the people. Missionary work became SO FULL OF JOY and I finally understood why this was the happiest work on earth. 

Love is the Motive. 

I will tell a story from this weekend that emphasizes the way to love. We started teaching a lady last transfer. She is amazing.  People had never really loved her before. She had a really hard life. She came to the church building one day after sacrament meeting. We were packing up and gave her a quick tour. At the end of the tour I gave her a hug and a smile and said that I hoped we could meet her again. The next day we received a call saying she wanted to be baptized. So we started teaching her the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I watched over the next few months as this lady changed. Her heart was completely transformed. She started to overcome the hard things that had happened in her life because of the atonement, and she felt loved for maybe the first time in a while. Her birthday was last week. The members made her a cake and gave her a few presents and she cried. I don't know if she had experienced anything like that before. This weekend I said goodbye to her. She walked up to me with one of the members, and then turned around and walked away, and then came back, gave me a hug and just said: "Arigatou." (Thank you). And then she started to cry. And I started to cry. I really love this woman. I love her because she is a daughter of God and He feels every pain she has felt in her life. He knows what she has experienced more than I do. And, I am so happy because now she knows the joy of the gospel. 

I grew from the love of these people. I grew from every single package of tissues that I received from them, because it was a symbol of their love. 
Slash, maybe I am coming home with a lot of tissues. 

I have a million more stories that I would like to write, but I can't because I have no time. 

Lesson Number 4: 

The Savior Lives.
He loves me.
He knows you.
He loves you.
He knew every single time I was out biking in the rain. He heard me testify about Him on the streets of Japan. He saw all of the lessons that I taught. He felt every "kekko desu" just as deeply as I did - even more. The Savior lives today. And, because of Him, anything is possible. Because of the Savior of the world we will all live again. We can all overcome anything that life might throw at us, and we can grow. We can change from who we once were to the person that the Savior knows that we can be. 

I like the words to one of my favorite hymns in the whole entire world:

Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives:
"I know that my Redeemer lives!"
He lives! All glory to his name!
He lives, my Savior, still the same.
Oh, sweet the joy this sentence gives:
"I know that my Redeemer lives!"

I felt that more than anything as I walked the streets of Japan. As I taught people about the Savior and as I testified of Him. 

D&C 76:22-24

Grundvig Shimai