We have but six months to go on our mission here in Jacksonville, Florida. After that our lives will abruptly change once again as we make our way first to South Carolina to say farewell to our dear friends, and then to California to spend some time with my amazing sister who has sacrificed so much so Larre and I can serve this mission. Then it is on to our new life in Mexico. I am already starting to feel the tide shifting in my soul, pulling me toward a Mayan shore.
We have come to love those we’ve been serving here so profoundly that even as I write these words I feel the tears well up at the thought of leaving these good people, our sons and daughters in every way save natural birth. We’ve enjoyed a ring-side seat at many miracles, witnessed a mighty sea change in many lives, and benefited everyday from the Lord’s tender mercies. We truly are our brother’s keeper in these last days.
I’ve heard it said that “a mission is more for the missionary”. And that is absolutely true. My testimony has grown stronger, drilling down into the solid bedrock of the Lord’s love, cementing the doctrines of Christ into my bones. I’ve witnessed the divine paradox in action many times here: When you lose yourself in the service of others, you find yourself. A new normal has changed my default setting to “service”, service among the people with whom I live and work. This mission has changed my life and I would never have known this transformation had I not come here. Larre feels the same way.
Over the course of this mission the threads of our lives have become tightly woven into the tapestries of these military “sons and daughters”. Our marching orders from military relations handlers at church headquarters were to “use your skills and talents to bless the lives of the military servicemen and women.” Even when we are doing things not related to serving “our kids” we are preoccupied with and vividly mindful of their welfare. Does so-and-so need a friend right now? Would that brother like a blessing? How can we help this sister while her husband is deployed?
These kids seldom hesitate to call us for assistance when they need a hand, a ride somewhere, help with grocery shopping, or for us to bring in dinner, a gallon of milk, or Gatorade when the family is ill and can’t get out of the house. Navy wives are so self-reliant that it is sometimes difficult for them to ask for help. But they’ve grown to trust us enough to know we will drop everything and come cheerfully and gratefully when they call, as any devoted parent would.
|"You got this, Sister Draper!" |
Brother Zayas and I finishing strong.
We also simply have a lot of just plain fun fulfilling this mission. We take these kids shooting, diving, snorkeling with manatees, rock climbing, kayaking, biking, swimming, shopping, and even run half-marathons with them. Brother Zayas, an active duty Marine (hooyah!) and one of my scuba students, is a Cross Fit trainer and a human machine. He was also my running partner throughout the Marine Corps Half-Marathon race last week. It was my third half-marathon and his first, and he made it look so easy. I doubt he even broke a sweat. As my running partner, Brother Zayas pushed me to excel the entire 13.1 miles to finish strong in under two and a half hours. That bright, warm Saturday morning saw the gospel in action; bearing one another's burdens by helping each other along life's journey, and doing it with gusto through beautiful downtown Jacksonville.
Like women after childbirth, runners who finish a long race, or mariners who come through a storm, the pain and anxiety of the moment soon fade after the ordeal. All that remains bright in memory is the success of the accomplishment, the triumph of survival. The intense pain of childbirth, the runner’s aching muscles, and the battered boat are soon forgotten in the thrill of having come out on the other side victorious.
Something else happens to those who have been through such crucibles. Fundamental, indelible change also occurs deep within the soul. The new mother finds a reservoir of love she did not know existed before that soft, angelic life was placed in her arms. The runner wears an invisible mantle of pride and confidence. The mariner gains new respect for the sea and his skill as a seaman. None of them will ever be the same. Each has undergone a sea change, a transformation which has left them forever altered, forever lifted above where they were before. An ordeal that once appeared daunting, a course that seemed hopelessly long, waves that towered impossibly high have each been faced and conquered, resulting in a miraculous metamorphosis.
The sea of our souls is changing because of this mission experience. We are undergoing that strange metamorphosis we hope will alter and shape us forever to be more the daughter and son a wise and tender Heavenly Father wants us to be.