“…for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet.”

D&C 29:39

This week was difficult it many ways, but also such a blessing. That is one of my favorite scriptures because it describes why we have trials, challenges, and heartache.I wouldn’t necessarily say the majority of our week was bad. We had a lot of success in our finding efforts for service as well as opportunities to meet with new friends! But throughout this week, I think we had a grand total of one full lesson this week. Not including an improvised lesson in the car that lasted ~10 minutes due to lack of good connection on both ends. We had several lessons set up, and all of them fell through for one reason or another. We invited several people to church this week, and 5 told us they could make it and had a plan to attend. Two of them reached out to us Sunday morning letting us know they couldn’t attend, and we never hear back from the other three.

Now, I don’t bring this up because our friends attending church is going to define my mission efforts. I don’t believe in numbers solely identifying how much effort you put into something that requires people to make a choice. But it was disheartening to have no friends sitting with us. Our friends we are teaching seem to be in some of the lowest points of their lives, and unfortunately many of them have not been responding to texts, and meeting fall through. It’s hard to know about something that will give them comfort and strength to endure their challenges, that they have been studying to understand, and you don’t have an opportunity to continue to help them.

But as that scripture in the beginning states, if we did not have trails, afflictions, heartache, challenges, etc., we could not experience true joy and happiness.

A wonderful sister shared a thought in Relief Society yesterday during church. She shared her experience of moving away from people she knew and was comfortable around, to a foreign place with people she didn’t know. She shared how it was scary at first, but how over time she has been able to see where she is turning to-where she is focused, by being away from distractions or influences that could otherwise keep her from learning and growing. She was more focused on the Savior because of where she was now. Her thoughts sparked two questions in my mind.

First, where is God taking us that is turning our focus more towards him?

I never thought of trails and challenges, or even just different directions as a tool for turning our focus more to God. I remember sitting with my Dad in the car when I was finishing up my first semester of 8th grade. We were having a PPI (Personal Priesthood Interview). We discussed what goals I had and where I wanted to go. After talking about school for a while, my Dad posed the idea of homeschooling and graduating early. I loved this idea! I liked the idea of graduating early and getting an early start to my advanced education. My schedule could be more flexible, I could work hard and have free time to work on my art and develop something I thoroughly enjoyed. But I was even more excited about the idea of removing myself from what I found to be a increasingly toxic environment at school. My classmates were starting to swear, have serious boyfriends and girlfriends, cuss each other out, and school felt so judgmental. I was growing tired of this environment and wanted to get out of there!

Fast forward to my “senior” year. By leaving school over a weekend without communicating this decision to my tightly knit group of friends, I hurt some of the people I cared about the most. Over the next two years, I was able to mend some of my relationships, but not all of them. I lost a lot of good friends. After one semester at our local high-school during my Sophomore year, I had tried courses at the local college, and due to moving and some communication issues, I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) sign up for additional courses to study. The following two years had been me “studying” for my GED. I felt I wasted opportunities to further my education and stay in touch with good friends. I had a lot of regret and wished I could turn back time. The day my class graduated from high school, I took and passed my GED. There was still a lot I regretted, but I felt I was making the most of the situation I was in.

Some of you may be wondering, that’s a nice story, but what does it have to do with the question? As I reflected on the last four or so years of my life when I “graduated,” I thought about things that I had learned because of my experience. After leaving my school, I started to see others. I realized I had spent most of my public school years being oblivious of people and their thoughts and feelings. I was able to change that because I had to make my own decisions. Friends stopped talking to me and I had wondered why. One friend was kind to me and eventually addressed that they had been upset for months. I had consistently reached out to them, and we talked about how I hadn’t seen that they had been upset, but because of that reaching out, we were able to both understand a little better where we were coming from and start a new friendship.

After leaving my school, I had more time to focus on my spiritual growth. I had no classes to attend in the five minutes after seminary ended, so I wasn’t stressed and it was easier for me to pay attention. I was able to come early or stay late and ask my teacher questions. I took my studies at my own pace, and developed a personal testimony of the Gospel.

Some thoughts that entered my mind at the time were,”that could’ve happened without you leaving school,” or,”you missed out on so much because you left.” But what I realized, more importantly than anything else, was that I was being directed to the Savior. To people around me. After watching the schools I attended from afar for ~3 years, I don’t know what environment I would’ve grown up in, what decisions I would have made, and where I would be in my spiritual growth. Would I have a testimony? Would I be more aware of others? Would I have ultimately chosen to serve a mission? I honestly have no idea what the answer to these questions are, but I know where I am now, and because of some of those experiences, I have been led to where I am now, and I don’t know if I would be the same person without those decisions. God took me on a journey that brought me closer to Him and the people He loves.

Second, is where we are somewhere we are turning more to Him?

That was a really long story about where God had directed me in the past. But I have a choice now. Have I put myself in a place that is allowing me to turn more to Him? I believe so. I could be doing a variety of activities at this moment. But I felt I needed to come on a mission to grow, to serve the Lord, Heavenly Father, and His children, and prepare for the next stage of my life. I have seen many blessings from serving a mission. I am continuing to learn, I am being given an opportunity to become a disciple but by bit, I am finding more love for the people around me as well as complete strangers, and I am learning more about who I am, who I want to become, who Heavenly Father knows I can become, and the bright future that lies ahead for putting Him first in my life.

These are things people who have not served a mission have an ability to experience. But this is how I needed to experience them. I don’t think I could be making the changes I have been making without being here, surrounded by wonderful people. Without my mission, I don’t know where I would be. Probably at home working 12 hours a week, spending spare time reading, drawing, crafting, and spending time with friends. But not doing too much with my life overall. I have found more direction, and I am striving to change the bad habits I had prior to my mission. I want to be more diligent, more productive and efficient, and surrender more of my will to the Lord.

So I’ve written probably way too much at this point, but I was told that I need to stop apologizing for my lengthy emails. 😅 I’ll finish off with one more thought from this week.

As I’ve written about in a couple emails now, I’ve been really hard on myself, setting high expectations of who I should be and how quickly I should get there. I’ve been studying grace as I’ve been reading the Book of Mormon. The two things that have stuck out to me the most so far are humility and faith. I suppose a third would be trust, but that’s part of faith, so I’ll put that into faith. We talked about grace and forgiveness yesterday during Relief Society, and one thing we discussed while reading through Elder Uchtdorf’s talk from the April 2021 General Conference,”God Among Us,” was forgiveness for ourselves when we make mistakes. I wrote this question in my journal last night:

Isn’t it so easy to learn something, believe it, and then not practice it? Sometimes the roadblock to forgiveness is us. Are we being as forgiving to ourselves as Heavenly Father is to us? Are you keeping yourself from feeling joy because you are punishing yourself for the mistakes you’ve made? Forgive yourself. Love yourself. See what God sees in you. It’s not pride. It’s potential. It’s not ignoring your mistakes. It’s looking at them and saying, how can I be better?

Some weeks are hard. Some days are hard. Some months are hard. Is it more important to focus on what our mistakes, flaws and trials are? Or is it more important to focus on how we can take small steps to improve and focus on where God is leading us?

Our friend Michelle just had her husband pass away last night after months of Hospice care. They had a special relationship you don’t see often in this world. This time has been so hard for her. She has not only endured so much, but has done so while having a smile on her face the majority of the time. (Tears have their purpose) She was baptized late September, and has had so much trust and faith in the Lord and his timing. She has been nothing but an inspiration to me and our ward. She is known as,”the lady who always has a big smile on her face” (and poofy hair) by our ward members. It makes me think about the perspective she has gained and the joy that she has truly found by giving everything she has to the Lord.

I know Heavenly Father is leading us to a better place. He is leading us to be better people. And throughout it, we can focus on the sweet we have seen and be grateful for the bitter that makes the good so sweet.

Sometimes life is like a dark tunnel. You can’t always see the light at the end of tunnel… but if you keep moving you will come to a better place.

Unle Iroh, Avatar: the Last Airbender

Love you all! Have an amazing week! I won’t be reminding you again because next Monday will be November, so one last time: Don’t talk to strangers…unless they have candy. Accept candy from strangers. 🎃🍭

Sister (Katie) Malan

Published by Katie Malan

Sister Malan is currently a full-time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serving in the Michigan Lansing Mission (United States).

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