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In Which Elder Jacobson’s Full-time Missionary Adventures Come to an End, Part One (of a two-part finale, á la every film from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows until the Hobbit trilogy)

It’s been a while since I have written for the blog. The problem is, I get carried away and try to write a novel about all the things that have happened, and it takes far too long and quite a lot of mental energy.

More than anything, I want to stay away from the sappy kind of end-of-an-era discourses that abound among the general public (though, sorry to say, I’ve done it before…) I usually prefer to avoid drama unless I know it’s going to make a good story.

But missions tend to make fine stories, so we’ll get what we get from this.

Firstly, the departure of a missionary at the termination of full-time service is referred to in missionary lingo as “death.” An elder or sister nearing the end of his/her final transfer is said to be “dying.” It’s quite silly, I know, but I suspect this terminology has been in missionary vernacular since the 1960s at the earliest. It’s basically tradition now, nearly as unbreakable as Pharisaic law. This epithet has been applied to me a number of times by a variety of people over the past week.

In other words, where I am now is basically Bilbo’s 111th birthday. This week I shall age and shrivel at an accelerated rate until I look like the villain at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Happily, I can rest with a perfect knowledge that I “chose wisely.” It’s more like Obi-Wan becoming one with the Force than the guy from Blade Runner simply ceasing to exist, “like tears in rain.”

Movie references aside, I will speak candidly: My mission has been a winding and treacherous path strewn with thorns and thistles, noxious weeds, terribly sharp rocks, and (not least of all) plenty of maniacs jabbering about the Apocrypha, chakra healing, homoousian views of the Godhead, and whether or not the Incan peoples used Triceratops as beasts of burden. No singular or chronic trial I have yet experienced has ever compared. I would probably need ten or twelve extra digits to count all the times I seriously contemplated going home, but chose not to—and even then, that decision wasn’t always guided by the right reasoning.

But you know what? There is not a single experience, person, place, or possession I would ever, in my wildest imagination, trade this mission for. It is irreplaceable. And the craziest thing is that only now am I starting to realize the full effect of it. I suspect  I won’t ever know it’s full extent until the day God reveals all things. When people talk about “the Refiner’s fire,” I now relate much more acutely than ever before.

I wrote a long, rambling extension to the above paragraphs, but this doesn’t seem the right place for it. Maybe it will make its way into my homecoming talk.

Stay tuned!


In Which Elder Jacobson Tries to Get his Footing in a New Area

It’s odd to be in my second-to-last transfer… I just got moved to Flowery Branch Ward, which will probably my final destination on the mission. It’s like Suwanee in a lot of ways, but it doesn’t have all the park space. And it’s a little bigger. I’m also companions with Elder Leavitt, who was in Suwanee for some of the same time I was. He finishes his mission at the end of this transfer. In crackpot missionary lingo, that’s called “dying.” So perhaps that makes me an executioner? Anyway…

Flowery Branch has been interesting so far. There are some amazing recent converts here who love the gospel, one of whom even teaches Gospel Principles, and does very well at it. They are a fine example of doing what they know is right in spite of opposition and the many lies that are circulated about Mormons around here. We are also teaching a guy from the Philippines who has been a member of the Church for a long time, but grew up largely outside of the gospel. It has been a great experience, because he feels a sense of responsibility to his family, and wants to be sealed to them for eternity.

We are also now in the spring/summer months, which means the “Hotlanta” epithet has returned. Quite frankly, if you can handle a Georgia summer, you could probably handle sitting in an oven, wrapped in a sopping wet blanket. Haha

Well, it’s only been a few days, so I guess that’s it for now. Tune in next time.

In Which Elder Jacobson Feels a Bit Sad, Shares Some Missionary Lingo, and Discourses about Bravery

In two days, I will have hit my 20-month mark. By missionary reckoning, that means only three more transfers. Odds are I will have one more experience with a new area before I depart home. Out here in the field, such a departure is termed “death.” Such a harsh term was likely selected as a sort of mental safeguard against “trunkiness”—a word which here means “feelings of homesickness and distraction thereof.” I’ve felt stir-crazy before, but actually preparing to move on with life is another thing entirely. It is at once exhilarating and terrifying.

The real trick here is remembering just how much work there is left to do. One can’t afford to slow down; this work is far too important, and it doesn’t stop with just one person. There are future missionaries who will need an area that was stronger than it was before.

Unfortunately, I’ve felt myself slowing down, and I reckon it has something to do with lack of courage. Early on in my mission, I think I pushed myself a lot harder according to where I was at that time. Perhaps to the average new missionary it would not have been quite as big a deal, but by my personal standard, I was often near the breaking point. I did grow, but there were times I felt I was standing too close to the edge, and I came to fear it somewhat.

There’s a point in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit that illustrates the sort of thing that I think must happen. It’s the story of Bilbo, a neurotic, anxiety-prone halfling who decides to undertake an adventure to a strange land with a bunch of people he doesn’t know, in order to help reclaim that which was lost. He was not noted for his strength, or guts, or willpower, or even wits (with a couple of exceptions). Nonetheless, he trusted that he must have something to contribute, or else he would not have been “called to the work.” (D&C 4) Sound like a mission yet?

Over the course of many months, Bilbo is tested and tried both mentally and physically, finding himself in unwanted battles, discomforting encounters, and frightful situations. Time and time again he is forced to be decisive, and to learn to function without his leaders constantly present. He grows a lot during that time, mostly without noticing it.

At length he and his companions make it to their destination, only to find their long-sought kingdom and treasure guarded by a fearsome and deadly dragon. And here’s where we get to what I mentioned earlier—Bilbo, despite his lackluster constitution, is selected to slip into the dragon’s cavern, alone, and risk his life against an ancient beast who could turn him into a pile of ash in about a second.

Tolkien describes this experience as being the most difficult of Bilbo’s life—not the event as a whole, but the long steps Bilbo is forced to make to approach the dragon. The real opponent here is not the building-sized monster up ahead, but Bilbo himself. Will he advance into the treasure room, or will he turn tail and head home? Then he realizes that he hadn’t come that far just to stop trying. And soon, having overcome his personal fears and inhibitions, he returns, having successfully carried out his mission.

The one part of this story that I hope doesn’t carry over to real life is when Bilbo returns home and discovers that everyone thought he was dead… But that comes later. Point is, missions are like stepping toward that dragon every single day. For me, at least, that’s still every single door, and I’ve been out here for 20 months.

Regardless of personal challenges, I think the principle is generally the same. Now understand, going overboard—recklessly charging into the dragon’s cavern unarmed and shouting reptilian slurs—that’s not a good idea. At all. But if we are to truly lose ourselves in the service of others, it will certainly take facing up to some of our fears.

“And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.

“For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?”

(Luke 9:23-25)

Elder D. Todd Christofferson talked a lot about “saving your life” during a YSA devotional a few years ago. I’m still struggling to understand it myself, but I think that more often than not, it means a desire to put God’s will ahead of your own.

Well, I’m tired of writing now, so I think I’ll cut it off there. Everyone have a great day!

In Which the Elders Witness a Wedding, Go to the Hospital, and Teach About the Temple

This was a very interesting week. It started off fairly normal, but then went bonkers. We taught some awesome young investigators this week; they’re the niece and nephew of a fairly recent convert in the ward. They didn’t quite make it to church, but their uncle did, which was awesome because he hasn’t been in a long time. Lesson learned: The ward has an important responsibility to make sure that those without transportation to church can get it. It can be difficult with such large ward boundaries, but luckily his usual ride is back in town.
One of my companions was ET-ed (emergency-transferred) to another area this week because an elder had to go home for medical reasons. He should be back in the field relatively soon, but now we’re back down to two elders covering the whole Commerce Ward.
We also got a call a few days ago from a member that witnesses were needed for a wedding being held at the church. It was very small and low-key, just two adults and a couple of kids besides the bride and groom. It was a surprisingly spiritual experience, which I was grateful for, because only one of them is a member.
Later that day, we went to a less-active member’s house and learned from her husband that she was in the hospital. Luckily, she was okay. We were able to give her a blessing, which made her very happy.
Lastly, we went to the home of some recent converts and started talking to the husband (the only one home) about the temple. The Spirit was very strong, and this brother, who is normally laid-back and wisecracking, became more thoughtful than I’ve ever seen him. Then he told us, “I’ve already got a name picked out I want to get baptized for.” So now he has the temple as a goal!

Now I Can Tell People I Served In Athens

(But I won’t say if it was in Georgia or Greece)

This week was pretty exciting. At zone meeting, we were given training on the letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law. Apparently this is meant to prepare us for some kind of big change that is coming to missions everywhere, so we’re all fairly anxious to find out what it is!

All of us were wondering why the meeting was being held at the Athens Institute building rather than the stake center, as usual. We soon found out that instead of practicing teaching in groups like in most meetings, we were going out as a zone to contact people on UGA campus! Nearly 18 months in, I still find contacting terrifying and awkward, but it turned out to be a great day. I’ve heard some crazy things about that place, but most of the students we talked to were surprisingly open-minded and courteous. We even got to ride the campus bus!
Things are still fairly slow in our area, but things are looking up. I feel like there are a lot of people in this area who would get baptized if they just pushed themselves a little bit. If you ever feel spiritually weak, just open your scriptures and raid them for something awesome. No excuses! It will give you a better attitude, which is more important than ever with the kinds of things going on today. Give somebody a compliment. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice[.]” (Ephesians 4:31) One thing that I have noticed lately is that focusing on positive things results in a brighter day (go figure).
Everybody have a great January!

Keep Calm and Go to Chick-fil-A

We had some fairly new people in the ward speak in sacrament meeting yesterday. They’re a young couple who moved here after basically throwing a dart at a map, and suddenly everything worked out for them. Now they’re expecting a baby and the husband landed his dream job at one of the top-rated companies to work for in Georgia, which just HAPPENS to be headquartered out here in the middle of nowhere (and he started job hunting only after they got here). They both come from amazing backgrounds, and foreign countries, and they have such impressive testimonies. They are definitely an example of what I want to be like after I finish my mission. You can tell how they are led by the Lord.
It’s been hard not to think about home and post-mission life, lately, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way. One of my companions is finishing his mission in a couple of weeks, so I’ve watched him make his “plan for the next life” on the Missionary Portal this transfer. One of my good friends finishes next month. A lot of the people we’ve taught lately are YSA-aged. To top it all off, this is a college town… It leads one to some introspection, and it has led me to ponder the phrase, “Forget yourself, and go to work,” that famous adage from Gordon B. Hinckley’s father.
I used to feel like that meant something a little more harsh, like “stuff all your feelings deep inside of you, become stoic, and work tirelessly like a robot until you collapse.” Fortunately, I have now concluded that it means something much less ridiculous.
There are two ways to over-focus on ourselves:
1) Pridefully exalting ourselves above others because of our talents or their shortcomings. This is tempting to do as a means for gratifying the “natural man.” It’s a temporary thrill, but ultimately leads to unhappiness.
2) Mistaking self-destruction and deprecation for humility. Heavenly Father wants us to believe in ourselves. Being too hard on ourselves can easily be just as harmful as pride.
In the words of President Uchtdorf— “Some suppose that humility is about beating ourselves up. Humility does not mean convincing ourselves that we are worthless, meaningless, or of little value. Nor does it mean denying or withholding the talents God has given us. We don’t discover humility by thinking less of ourselves; we discover humility by thinking less about ourselves. It comes as we go about our work with an attitude of serving God and our fellowman.
        “Humility directs our attention and love toward others and to Heavenly Father’s purposes. Pride does the opposite. Pride draws its energy and strength from the deep wells of selfishness. The moment we stop obsessing with ourselves and lose ourselves in service, our pride diminishes and begins to die.”
So go and find some way to serve others this week!
On another note, working in this large area forces you to eat out for lunch too often… Luckily, Chick-fil-A is good.
Painting service project

Fall Festival Fun

We had two festivals in the ward, the past couple of weekends. First
was Gold Rush, and then was the Moonshine Festival. Gold Rush was
pretty standard; there was a parade, a bit of live music, and a bunch
of stalls selling overpriced wares from . People really care about
their Confederate flags in these parts. There was some nice-smelling
barbecue there, as well. The most amusing part was probably the
raucous evangelical preachers who were standing on the corner, yelling
about being “saved.” Some members who ran a stall gave us some nice
fresh lemonade. Moonshine Festival was kind of the same thing, only
with a huge car show by the Dawsonville Racing Hall of Fame. There was
some cool stuff there; a few Dukes of Hazzard cars, some old mustangs,
shiny corvettes, and a white Johnson Phantom, among other things. It’s
actually kind of tough to contact at festivals, despite all the people
milling about. Most people were rushing around and wouldn’t stop to
talk, but we met a bunch of less-active members, and gave out a lot of
cards. We also talked to some Catholic missionaries (basically youth
counselors at their church), who were pretty nice.

Overall, it’s been pretty crazy here. I barely remember what it’s like
to do missionary work in the city, and it’s only been about three
months. Time is flying by. I hope everyone is doing their best to stay
happy and spiritually sound!