Monday, January 30, 2017

Still Chilly in the 60's

Hey Everybody!

It's been a little while since I've been able to write home, because as you might have guessed, life has been pretty crazy! And this week doesn't seem like it's going to be slowing down at all! We have 3 exchanges and another crazy thing I'll talk about later.

Mom, I promise I'm trying my best to not run myself ragged! I'm actually doing pretty well! There are definitely a lot of things to do, to worry about, and a lot of things that don't get done anymore, but I'm healthy and happy! I'm also ready for spring! I never thought it would happen, but I'm actually excited for it to start getting back into the 90's! Even the few times it's gotten up into the 60's, I'm still a little chilly and need a sweater!

I’ve been excited to tell you about our investigator, Allan. We met him about two weeks ago. He was a referral from another set of YSA missionaries. His girlfriend got baptized at the first of the year, and that's what got him started! Until recently, he was atheist, but because of some things that have happened to him in the last few months, he now believes in God! It was a pretty rough start for him though, because he's really hard on himself, and even though he believed God was there, he didn't feel like God liked him very much. He would take the littlest things as a sign of Gods displeasure. He was progressing well, and wanted to be baptized, but he needed to come to church this last Sunday, and he was really struggling. He was really down and discouraged because he felt like he'd been trying so hard to keep the commandments and had been praying to feel Gods love the last few weeks, but hadn't felt it yet. He was planning on not coming to church, but we spent 45 minutes on the phone with him Sunday morning reading scriptures with him and trying to help him see how much God loved him. It honestly felt like a battle for a soul! We finally convinced him about 20 minutes before church, and one of our awesome members went to go pick him up! Then all of the lessons and talks in church were practically written just for him! By the end of the meeting, he just kept talking about how much he could feel Gods love! I love experiences like this so much! Opportunities to change someone's entire outlook on life! Heck, their entire eternity even! He should be getting baptized this weekend if all goes well. 

Also, as you may have heard by now, there has been a change to the missionary schedule as well as the key indicators (certain things that missionaries keep track of such as lessons taught and new investigators found). None of the changes are very major, but to missionaries whose whole life revolves around these things, it's a big deal!!! A lot of missionaries are kind of flipping out about it, so Elder Wightman and I, and the MSTL's will being making a little road trip around the mission to visit all of the zone leadership teams and discuss some of the changes and how it will affect the mission, as well as have a council about some of the things that were discussed in the recent worldwide mission broadcast. That, plus 3 other exchanges this week, is going to make for a crazy week! Our mission tour day will probably be a really long day, haha. 

That's about all the time that I have. I love you all! 

Elder Excell 

Q&A – 1/30/17
1.) We'd love to hear more about Miley. When, in February, will she be baptized? -- It's actually kind of sad. She was so solid, and then the next day, she dropped off the face of the earth. We tried and tried to get in touch with her, but she's gone, :( On the bright side, we have someone who's supposed to get baptized this weekend! His name is Allan. I'll tell you more about him in the other email.

2.) Did you go on splits this week with other missionaries? -- Yep! We usually go on at least one exchange per week, sometimes as many as three.

3.) What is the furthest away you traveled this week? -- We went down to Lake Havasu City for exchanges this week. It's a cool little town!

Monday, January 16, 2017

We Don't Have To Be Perfect, But We Do Have To Be Clean

Hey everybody!

This last week has been amazing! I'll try to tell you as much as I can in the short amount of time that I have! 

First off, as many of you know, President Russell M Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visited our mission this last week, along with Lynn G Robbins of the Presidency of the Seventy. It was an amazing spiritual experience. I think some of the biggest things I remember about it are how much they talked about repentance. They talked about how important it is for each of us to understand personal repentance in order to share it with others. I heard a quote later in the day from a talk by Elder Bednar that I think summed up the thoughts perfectly. He was talking about how missionaries need to be worthy vessels for the spirit, and the phrase he used was, "we don't have to be perfect, but we do have to be clean."  I love that! As a missionary, the spirit is so key to everything we do! I'll share a story later about that. Sometimes, Elder Wightman and I get in the mindset that we need to be perfect, but the Lord knows we make mistakes. He only expects us to do our best. I'm so grateful for the gift of repentance! 

We also received some really cool revelation in church this week! Elder Wightman and I have both realized that in some ways we get really impatient or stressed out throughout the week. We realized yesterday, that a big reason for it is that we don't really get time to have daily scripture study a lot of times in the office. We realized that that was one of the things that was contributing to our stress. A lack of the spirit, due to a lack of reading the scriptures. I forced myself later that day to find 20 minutes to study from the Book of Mormon, and the difference was so noticeable! I now have a huge testimony of the power of scripture study! The spirit was so present for the rest of the day. And it led us to find an amazing new investigator named Miley! She's so prepared for the gospel, and the lesson we had with her was amazing. She's already super excited to be baptized in February!

I love all of you!
Elder Excell

1.) I've been curious to know if you and Elder Wightman got to pick Elder Nelson up at the airport?  --  No, it was mostly one of the stakes that did all of the stuff with President Nelson. We just showed up early enough to corral all of the missionaries into place.

2.) When was the last time you cooked for yourself and what did you make? Just wondering if you still get a lot of meal appointments. --  I guess that depends on what you count as cooking, haha. I've made myself a couple of pb&j sandwiches, but haven't gotten too much fancier than that lately. The other night Elder Wightman made some cornbread from a box mix! I made pancakes about a month ago, haha. We just don't have too much time to cook.

3.) How are you? Are you healthy? Are you happy?  --  Doing great and loving the scriptures! I love you all!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Busy Transfer Week Ahead

Hey everybody!

As I'm sure you know, it's transfer week! Elder Wightman and I will both be staying in the office together! We're excited! This will likely be Elder Wightman's last transfer in the office.

I don't have much time to write today, but I wanted to let you know what was going on! This last Friday was super cool because I got to be a part of my first transfer meeting, where we helped President Snow with arranging transfers. He already has the process mostly finished when we come in, and we just talk through everything, and make a few changes. I've always had a huge testimony that the Lord puts missionaries in the area they're supposed to be in, and it was super cool to be a part of that process!

I'm super excited for President Nelson to visit this Saturday! I'm not sure if I've mentioned it or not yet, but President Nelson, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is visiting the mission! We're super lucky to have him, especially so recently after Elder Holland visited the mission! He could very likely be the next prophet soon, so we're really looking forward to it!

That's about all I have time for this week. I love you all!
Elder Excell

Q&A – 1/9/2018
1.) Did your pants fit that we sent you for Christmas? -- They do! They're one size bigger than I needed, but they fit just fine with a belt. And I like that you're planning ahead for when I get a little fatter than I already have, haha.

2.) Do you attend church every week in your YSA ward or do you go to other wards with other missionaries sometimes? -- We always go to our ward.

3.) Have you revealed your 2017 Mission Vision to the rest of the mission? I'd like to hear about it. -- Not yet! President Snow has been trying to set up a meeting with the Area Seventy, Elder Stoddard, to review it, but Elder Stoddard has been super busy because of some other things going on.

4.) I've been thinking about your awesome, unrestricted, hearty laugh. I love your laugh! Tell me about something that made you really laugh this past week. -- The crazy card that you sent me for my birthday with the dancing hamster that you glued our family’s funny faces on absolutely made me laugh out loud.  I loved it!  And, I really get to laugh a lot around here every week. It’s a fun place to be. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy Birthday

Hey Everybody!

Happy 2017!!!  I'm not going to lie, it’s super weird that it's already 2017. I remember starting my mission in 2015, and 2017 seemed a long ways away then.  And now it's here already! It's also pretty weird to think about the fact that the missionaries who come in a week from now won't go home until 2019! Anyways, that's enough observation about the new year, haha.

I've only got a minute or two, but I wanted to let you guys know some exciting news! We have another apostle visiting the mission!!! Any guesses who? It's President Russell M Nelson! It's super exciting! He'll be coming on January 14, which means he'll be here in the midst of all the craziness of week 1 of next transfer. It's going to be a hectic week! On top of that, there's a chance that I'll be the one conducting the meeting! Talk about nerve wracking!

I also wanted to share a BYU speech with you that's been on my mind a lot lately. I'll just include a short excerpt, but I would definitely encourage everyone to listen to the whole thing! The last couple of weeks, I've been getting pretty down on myself about a couple of things. As an AP, you're basically supposed to have a model area that the rest of the mission can look at and see what they should be striving for. This also extends to you as a missionary. Sometimes it starts to feel like I need to be perfect in order to set the right example for everyone, and it's generally pretty apparent that I'm not perfect, haha. I make so many mistakes and fall short in so many ways that I was starting to doubt myself. Then this talk, and a few other tender mercies I'll tell y'all about later came along and helped me put things in perspective. 

A young woman once came to me and asked if we could talk. I said, “Of course. How can I help you?”

She said, “I just don’t get grace.”

I responded, “What is it that you don’t understand?”

She said, “I know I need to do my best, and then Jesus does the rest, but I can’t even do my best.”

I said, “The truth is, Jesus paid our debt in full. He didn’t pay it all except for a few coins. He paid it all. It is finished.”

She said, “Right! Like I don’t have to do anything?”

“Oh, no,” I said, “you have plenty to do, but it is not to pay that debt. We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God’s presence to be judged. What is left to be determined by our obedience is how comfortable we plan to be in God’s presence and what degree of glory we plan on receiving.”

Christ asks us to show faith in Him, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. By complying, we are not paying the demands of justice--not even the smallest part. Instead, we are showing appreciation for what Jesus Christ did by using it to live a life like His. Justice requires immediate perfection or a punishment when we fall short. Because Jesus took that punishment, He can offer us the chance for ultimate perfection (see Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 12:48) and help us reach that goal. He can forgive what justice never could, and He can turn to us now with His own set of requirements (see 3 Nephi 28:35).

Grace Transforms Us

Christ’s arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child’s practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child’s practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom’s incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom’s joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used--seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.

If the child sees Mom’s requirement of practice as being too overbearing (“Gosh, Mom, why do I need to practice? None of the other kids have to practice! I’m just going to be a professional baseball player anyway!”), perhaps it is because he doesn’t yet see with Mom’s eyes. He doesn’t see how much better his life could be if he would choose to live on a higher plane.

In the same way, because Jesus has paid justice, He can now turn to us and say: “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19); “Keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we see His requirements as being way too much to ask, maybe it is because we do not yet see through Christ’s eyes. We have not yet comprehended what He is trying to make of us.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said, “The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change” (The Lord’s Way [1991], 223; emphasis in original). Let’s put that in terms of the child pianist: The child must practice the piano, but this practice has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change.

The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can live after we die but that we can live more abundantly (see John 10:10). The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can be cleansed and consoled but that we can be transformed (see Romans 8). Scriptures make it clear that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see Alma 40:26), but no unchanged thing will even want to.

The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that--miraculously--we can feel at home there. If Heavenly Father and His Son did not require faith and repentance, then there would be no desire to change. Think of your friends and family members who have chosen to live without faith and without repentance. They don’t want to change. They are not trying to abandon sin and become comfortable with God. Rather, they are trying to abandon God and become comfortable with sin. If the Father and the Son did not require covenants and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, then there would be no way to change. We would be left forever with only willpower, with no access to His power. If Heavenly Father and His Son did not require endurance to the end, then there would be no internalization of those changes over time. They would forever be surface and cosmetic rather than sinking inside us and becoming part of us--part of who we are. Put simply, if Jesus didn’t require practice, then we would never become Saints.

Grace Helps Us

“But don’t you realize how hard it is to practice? I’m just not very good at the piano. I hit a lot of wrong notes. It takes me forever to get it right.” Now wait. Isn’t that all part of the learning process? When a young pianist hits a wrong note, we don’t say he is not worthy to keep practicing. We don’t expect him to be flawless. We just expect him to keep trying. Perfection may be his ultimate goal, but for now we can be content with progress in the right direction. Why is this perspective so easy to see in the context of learning piano but so hard to see in the context of learning heaven?

Too many are giving up on the Church because they are tired of constantly feeling like they are falling short. They have tried in the past, but they continually feel like they are just not good enough. They don’t understand grace.

There should never be just two options: perfection or giving up. When learning the piano, are the only options performing at Carnegie Hall or quitting? No. Growth and development take time. Learning takes time. When we understand grace, we understand that God is long-suffering, that change is a process, and that repentance is a pattern in our lives. When we understand grace, we understand that the blessings of Christ’s Atonement are continuous and His strength is perfect in our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). When we understand grace, we can, as it says in the Doctrine and Covenants, “continue in patience until [we] are perfected” (D&C 67:13).

Grace is not a booster engine that kicks in once our fuel supply is exhausted. Rather, it is our constant energy source. It is not the light at the end of the tunnel but the light that moves us through the tunnel. Grace is not achieved somewhere down the road. It is received right here and right now.

Grace Is Sufficient

The grace of Christ is sufficient (see Ether 12:27; D&C 17:8)--sufficient to cover our debt, sufficient to transform us, and sufficient to help us for as long as that transformation process takes. The Book of Mormon teaches us to rely solely on “the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8). As we do, we do not discover--as some Christians believe--that Christ requires nothing of us. Rather, we discover the reason He requires so much and find the strength to do all He asks (see Philippians 4:13). Grace is not the absence of God’s high expectations. Grace is the presence of God’s power (see Luke 1:37).

God’s grace is sufficient. Jesus’s grace is sufficient. It is enough. It is all we need. Don’t quit. Keep trying. Don’t look for escapes and excuses. Look for the Lord and His perfect strength. Don’t search for someone to blame. Search for someone to help you. Seek Christ, and, as you do, you will feel the enabling power and divine help we call His amazing grace.

I really love this talk and it's helped me a ton to realize that through Jesus Christ, although I may fall short a lot, I can still keep going, keep learning, and keep progressing. 

Another tender mercy came through one of our members. His name is Preston Jenkins. He recently returned home from his mission, is about to leave for Provo, and is a spiritual giant. He's so awesome about following the prompting of the spirit. He was with us for some teaching appointments the other day, and before he left, he asked if we could have a prayer. He said a really sweet prayer for us, and then we left. After we left, we got a call from him saying that he'd had a spiritual impression that he needed to tell us something. He went on to say that during the prayer, he had been overwhelmed by a sense of fatherly pride, as though he could feel that Heavenly Father was proud of the two of us for the work we were doing. He called just to give us the message from Heavenly Father. It really touched my heart, and I knew exactly where the message had come from. I'm so grateful to a loving Heavenly Father who reached out through someone to tell me something I really needed to hear, and also to Preston for being in tune with the spirit enough to deliver the message. 

Well, that's about all I have time for today. I love you all!  
Elder Excell 
Happy Birthday, Elder Excell! from Traci Excell on Vimeo.