Wednesday, January 25, 2012

It feels so good

"I know of no experience more sweet or feeling more precious than to heed a prompting only to discover that the Lord has answered another person’s prayer through you." (Thomas S. Monson)

I wish I could say that what President Monson describes above is a regular occurrence in my life. However, for me these types of experiences are few and far between--in fact, perhaps there's only one instance that I can say fits this description exactly. But I can now testify that his statement is true.

Tonight I attended an event that was so wonderful that it made me feel like I had to get out of my non-blogging slump and write about it: I went over to Nathaniel's home to celebrate his mission call. Nathaniel is my neighbor, my 3rd cousin once removed, and my friend. He is a brave young man who believes deeply in the things that he values. He is a man who knows what he wants and knows where he is going in life. He is a man who has, and is, and will make a difference in many others' lives.

But not too long ago, Nathaniel was a little bit lost--wondering where he was going and how to channel his tremendous energy and potential and how to best serve his fellow men. Never short on good will or desire to help others, he only lacked direction.

I had come to know and care about Nathaniel's family over the last few years, and in my capacity as a lay leader in our Latter-day Saint congregation with responsibility for him, I had found excuses to enjoy occasional visits with Nathaniel. I knew he was a talented young man and I admired his service to our country in the military. I could tell that he was looking for direction in his life, and I had prayed for him to find it from time to time. But as is often the case with young adults, he was always on the move and with our sporadic visits I didn't anticipate ever having much influence on him.

Then, one night as I was praying for Nathaniel to receive whatever help he needed, an unusually distinct thought came into my mind: Go and talk to him about serving a mission.

The impression came so strongly, and stuck with me so consistently over the following days as I continued to pray for him, that I could not rest--I knew I had to act on it. I didn't know exactly how to approach him, or how he would react, but I knew that I had to go. So I went.

I didn't go empty-handed--I had my scriptures and a plate of cookies, figuring that no one ever resents a visit when cookies are involved. I showed up at Nathaniel's home rather late at night, and standing there on the porch in the dark, wondered what I would say to him. He was home, which was somewhat unusual in and of itself, but he seemed--what's the word--not really happy, not suspicious--maybe intrigued--that I was standing there. He let me in.

I didn't know what to say, so I handed him the cookies and asked if we could sit down for a few minutes. He invited me into the kitchen, where we sat at the table. I wasn't sure how to start, so I awkwardly sort of blurted out, "Nate, I'll just get right to the point. I'm here because I was praying about you and had a really strong feeling that I need to come talk to you about serving a mission."

I knew full well that he had military commitments and didn't know whether he had ever considered serving a mission. I didn't have any idea how he would react, and half expected him to resist--at best, I hoped he would listen long enough for me to try to persuade him regarding the benefits of serving a mission and how it would change his life, and maybe he'd think about it and perhaps act on it, someday.

To my surprise, he had kind of an astonished look on his face, like he had a swarm of thoughts buzzing in his head, and then slowly told me that he had been thinking about serving a mission for several weeks, and really just needed to know how to get started.

This totally took me aback, and sent my head swimming. But one thought bubbled to the top, which was simply this: the Lord loves Nathaniel and cares deeply about his welfare. I happened to be a person who could reach out to him at that time and give him the small nudge he needed in the right direction. He would take care of the rest.

I realized that for the first time in a long time, the Lord had sent me on an errand and I had actually responded to the call. Here was a great young man, full of potential, who simply needed the smallest nudge to get out the door. We talked for a good while, with Nate patiently listening to each thought or scripture I shared, and I promised to help however I could. Nate asked for a priesthood blessing, a rite in our church wherein we can receive healing, comfort, or counsel through the laying on of hands and the power of the priesthood. I went home and told our bishop about my conversation with Nate, and we returned that night together, to give him a blessing.

I went home that night on a high that I have seldom experienced since the days of my full time missionary service in Dallas, Texas. The scriptural promise I came to love as a missionary was renewed for me that night, vividly illustrated by wonderful events that I felt so grateful to have played just a small part in:

10 Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;
15 And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!
(D&C 18:10,15)

Tonight, after months of preparation, Nathaniel received his mission call from a prophet of God. He will be going to Anchorage, Alaska for two years, and leaving soon.

How loved must be the people of Anchorage to be receiving the ministration of a servant so loved of the Lord! I wish you the very best, Elder.

I'll be praying for you.

Nathaniel's heart-felt account of his decision to serve a mission is posted on Facebook.