Saturday, September 28, 2013

From September 16, 2013: Too Many Nitrates

An Arizona Dust Storm
Dear All,
My companion, Elder B., is a super-great guy, and we are on the same page with getting everything to move forward in this area of Arizona.  More sweat is the answer to most of the problems we encounter.  Work harder, longer, faster, smarter, more efficiently, more boldly, and just BETTER.  And so that is what we are trying to do.  Justin's mobile area book idea was inspired, and I have taken that to heart.  You may never believe this, but I color code things now.  I raise other missionary's eyebrows with my dedication to color coding.  And as I am getting more sleep than ever before in my life, guess what is happening?!  I'm finding I remember names, addresses, locations, and happenings. Turns out I have a memory after all.

We went to the Mesa temple.  That was cool, seeing as how the temple is the best place ever.  You all gotta go.  Because I can't because I'm doing other things right now and I'd just spend all day every day there.  But you gotta go.  
Today let's talk about perspective.  Everyone take a deep breath and then let it out and examine your life this week with the filter of how God sees your life.  How does God see the bills and the paperwork and the distractions and the stresses and you running around trying to figure out how to get everything done?  Probably not with the frantic and frenetic eyes in which we see such things.  Probably with an eye to the gospel and how most of what consumes our time is distraction instead of significance.  So with a perspective of the gospel, go through your life and sift all your stresses into categories of distraction and significance.  Or all your activities, if you have the nerve for it.  You may be surprised to find that mostly everything is a distraction instead of a thing of eternal significance.

That's something I learned this week.  Our lives as missionaries revolve around these people who we meet and teach and talk to and bear testimony to.  That's who we are and what we do.  Their world does not revolve around us but ours revolves around them.  And there's an interesting concept: who we are and what we do.  What's the difference?  Well, who we are is children of God.  And what we do should be influenced by that divine identity and not vice versa.  As we UNDERSTAND that identity, we come to put what we do to match who we are and not define ourselves by what we do.  There's a big difference.  Perspective, perspective.
This week we witnessed some serious miracles.  Saturday was basically Christmas.  There was a lesson, a new investigator, a less-active who wanted to be taught, or a cool conversation around every corner.   We were talking to a guy on the street and another man walks up and says "Hi, are you the missionaries?"  And we said "Yeahhhhhhhhh" and he says, "Great, I'm looking for spiritual guidance and I thought the Mormons might be able to help me.  When can we meet?"  Then seriously around the next corner we met a woman who asked where the church is.  She thinks she is Mormon but has never been baptized. We knocked on the doors of less-active members and they let us in and we taught and invited and all the rest. Like not even fair.  It was that good.  There was another day this week where we were going to the doors of all less-actives in one of our quadrants, and we walk up to one and the man is outside and he inquires, "Are you looking for us?"  and we reply, "Yes..." and he says, "Good, we've been praying for you to come; we want to get back to church."  My companion and I just look at each other like "YOU'RE DREAMING HE JUST SAID THAT TOO?"  And then we proceeded to meet a part-member family who I've already grown to love.

So some very cool happenings this week.  Some disappointments and flaking and sweat and a neck injury for my companion and his healing and some slammed doors and asking people if they had time for Jesus Christ and them saying "No" and getting cussed at and thinking we had found a dead guy at the side of the road (he was fine just passed out drunk) and baptisms postponed and me inviting someone to be baptized and him completely ignoring it.  I have serious tan lines (think watch) and there's just like so much stuff and everything is a blur and gosh, your mail is awesome and I ramble in my letters but you say they are coherent so like there's that.

And now for the lesson, I guess.  First off, people focus on baptism way too much.  Focus on covenants because it's not like baptism is THE covenant, it's just the FIRST covenant.  Second, Preach my Gospel is the second most correct of any book on earth and a missionary can get closer to God and His purpose by reading it than by any other book.  Also, let us turn to 1 Nephi 12:18 -- What divides the righteous and the wicked?  A gulf, which is the justice of God.  It also references the Messiah (mercy) and the Holy Ghost (truth).  These three principles (justice, mercy, and truth) are the three components of the law.  So the law separates the righteous from the wicked.  This is logical, because as the Bible Dictionary tells us that "sin is lawlessness." 
But let's get back to my favorite point, which I beat to death, which is that in this war there is NO MIDDLE GROUND.  In this vision, there is literally no middle ground between the righteous and wicked, it's a gulf. An expanse without ground.  Quite literally, there is no middle ground.  There is the side of those who acknowledge the law and the side of those who do not.  And any who are seeking that middle ground find a rupture in the Earth because there literally is no ground there.  And this rupture is a gulf.  And what words are almost always associated with "gulf" in the scriptures?  Misery and endless woe.  See 1 Nephi 15:28-31.
You are either on the side of the Messiah or the world, and the law (think commandments, ALL OF THEM), divides the two.  Whether you believe in the law divides the two.  Because even those who have wandered from the straight and narrow path know there is law, they just choose not to follow it.  And who stays on the right side AND the right path?  Those who CLING to the word of God, which is what sets forth the law.  So the ones in the great and spacious building, without foundations, deny the very existence of the law (see relative morality).    Those on the other side know and recognize that there is a law.  Now, if after reading all these letters and the Book of Mormon, you still deny there is a law, I simply do not understand you.  But let's focus on being on the correct side of this gulf.  Those who seek middle ground from this side first let go of the law (stop studying scriptures, praying, going to church), and then they fall into forbidden paths (sin).

Seeking middle ground will NEVER bring happiness.  Study out the implications of what divides the righteous and wicked and what seeking middle ground leads to.  You might be enlightened by what you find.
Well my friends, I now leave you.    I am well and getting even happier every day.  Depending on how you look at things (see above musings on "paths and gulfs"), I'm either out here doing the best or most evil work in the world.  So for goodness sakes pick a side.  Amen.
Paz Fora,
Elder Molinaro

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Elder Molinaro's MTC District

Elder Molinaro's district while he was still in the MTC

From September 9, 2013: Priori-tease

I love that there's no such thing as a normal day as a missionary.  And I love talking to people on the streets of Phoenix and seeing what real life is to some of these people.  I love riding 22 miles in 115 degree sun.  Late on Friday night, riding my bike home after talking to homeless men at bus stops for a while, I realized that there is seriously nothing I would rather be doing on a Friday night than convincing a homeless man not to give up and to start over with Christ and not alcohol as the foundation of his life.  There's something beautiful about it.  Something wonderful about the simplicity of having nothing to do 24/7 than think about how to best bring other people to or back to Christ. 
I woke up this morning and realized I had been dreaming about reorganizing the area and how best to accomplish that, and also how best to coordinate with the senior couple in our ward.  Made my day and it was only 6:30 in the morning.  And I'm not being sarcastic.  I'm actually starting to love all of these things.  I live for it.  For the sweat that comes from hitting those 20 something miles in the heat, for the drenched and smiling mess I am in sacrament meeting after spending a half hour taking umbrellas to people in the parking lot in a monsoon, for the fearlessness with which we face down a guy who insists that we give him money instead of the Book of Mormon we maintain is way more valuable, for the bus stops we stop at and testify to.  I ate peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast and lunch the other day, and then we went to a member's house for dinner and they thought it would be fun to have a picnic with peanut butter sandwiches as the main course.  And I sincerely loved it.  It was a blast.  There's nothing better than being put in a newish area with a companion who has been out two transfers, basically a in-some-ways-clean slate and being told,"You're it.  Go."
With that setting in mind, let me once more give it up for the Preach My Gospel book.  It's almost like they knew what questions missionaries had and then decided to answer them in the simplest and most clear and straightforward terms possible.. OH WAIT, THEY DID DO THAT!  Great book.  Read it if you want your mind blown with things you should really know.  Because, you know, it's kind of important.
Ah, importance.  Isn't it great how I arrive at a point by rambling?  Let us study importance, purpose, and priorities today.
But first:  Bonus points to anyone who reads my thoughts by seeing what part sticks out to them about the "temples" entry in the Bible Dictionary.  Think homes.  Okay cool, it might change your life and the way you think about where you live and entering other people's homes.  And now I gave it all away, but really check it out 'cause I don't want to misquote.  Ok onward, and with luck, forward.
So you know I've been stuck on Lehi (Book of Mormon prophet) for a while.  Because Lehi is in a lot of ways the most normal person ever.  He's a guy who's bopping around trying to figure out how to keep his family together.  He's got a standout son (Nephi) and another son who kind of just tags along with Nephi and does ok, then he's got these grumbling and whining kids who don't really EVER get it despite his best efforts.  And Lehi has his own ups and downs and he's over there at the tree calling "Look, look I found it!  Come here, come here!!!" Right?  Right. 
But let us turn to 1 Nephi 11:17&22 and get some Nephi action going here.  Nephi bears the most humble and simple testimony in 17 and it's so cool.  He's been asked if he knows the condescension of God.  And what does he answer with?  In essence "Well, I know that God loves His children, but I don't know everything."  How simple is that testimony?  And yet after that testimony, look at all the knowledge and understanding he comes to receive - just off of that. 
 I know that God loves His children.  Think about what you can build off of that knowledge alone.  God loves His children.  Therefore creation.  Therefore atonement.  Therefore prophets and truth.  Therefore restoration.  Therefore evidence of a restoration = the Book of Mormon.  Therefore prayer.  Therefore personal revelation.  Therefore plan of salvation. Therefore commandments. Therefore EVERYTHING.  Based on what?  God loving His children. 
And then to verse 22, where Nephi calls the love of God THE MOST DESIRABLE OF ALL THINGS.  Now there is a man with his priorities in order.  As a missionary, it seems like the major problem I ride into time and again is a misplacement or disorganization of people's priorities.  If your priorities are out of order and the gospel isn't your list, or if it isn't even ON your list, I just must say I don't get it.  I don't see why not.  I've been trying to understand why people stop coming to church, why some people go astray, why some people DO come to church and just all of it.  And I think it all comes back to whether or not we fall into the trap of having the gospel be something you DO rather than what you ARE and what you try to BE.  And there is a huge difference there. 
So your essential question of the week is: Who are you trying to be and why?
As Thoreau said, "In the long run, men hit only what they aim at."  So at what are you aiming?   Who is it that you are trying to be?  Because if you don't know where exactly you are aiming and where exactly you are trying to get, you:
1. won't get where you want to be
2. will get somewhere and realize that isn't actually where you want to be and 
3. won't know how to live such that you get there

 If we hit only what we aim at, we first have to decide what it is we want to aim for.  Then aim there.  Then throw.  
It seems to me that what we do is determined by what is important to us.  And it seems that most people simply do not think about who they are trying to be and why, why they are doing what they are doing, and what they hope to accomplish in life.  What their purpose in life is.
We know that our purpose in life is to grow and progress and return to live with our Father in Heaven again, and inviting those around us to do the same.  But how are we actually striving to accomplish that?  
We have to keep our purpose front of mind always, for when we understand it and are genuinely committed to it, we come to understand what we are doing and why and our priorities fall into place accordingly.  

So, this week, write down your purpose.  Whatever you think it is.  Your vision for your life, who and what you want to be.  For some it is, "To make some money and have some fun until I die." But if it is truly, "To go and progress and live with my Father in Heaven for eternity," you may need to shift your life to match that.  Think, "What do I need to do today to be closer to that goal?"  And then work towards that every day.

Assignment:  Write down your priorities.  Your top ten.  Write your purpose at the top.  And then pray about what you can do today and every day to accomplish that purpose. 

I love you all.  You are all so special and so good.  Decide now to never fall away and to aim at what you truly want.  

Have a fantastic week.  I will too. 


Much love,

Elder Molinaro

From September 4, 2013: From the Ashes

Well hello my loves.
I must apologize for my letter last week.  First off, pretty sure it was short.  Second, it was pretty weak.  I just wasn't exactly in a place to lift others or write anything because of how shot I was.  A lot was going on that just made for chaos and stress and so I apologize for that. Last week was probably the hardest week of my life.  Lots of growth through trials.  That's what I get for praying for opportunities to be patient a few nights before leaving the MTC.  Prayers are answered. Haha, but really.

Well, it's 120 here.  So like there's that.  But you know what, I love it.  Biking in it and sweating 'til your white shirt is brown is somehow excessively satisfying.  It makes you feel that you're getting things done, even when people aren't answering their doors. 
We had transfers yesterday and I got a new companion named Elder B.  He's ready to work hard and I think we can get a lot done and I can learn a lot from him.  And they left me in the same area, which means after a full week of being in the mission field, I get to take over an area!  Yeah!  Right?!  Just as I start to learn my way around, too.  Well, that's a lie, we are still gonna get lost a lot.  But wait, it gets better.  Elder B. finished his training... drum roll... yesterday!  Which means we have someone who's been out a week and someone who has been out two transfers basically whitewashing (palewashing) an area.  That's a lot of faith the Lord has put in us and we aren't going to let Him down.  I figure they put us together and put us here because we are both young enough to not know any better than to succeed.  And succeed we will.
Tambem, I have decided that the best measure of a missionary is commitment.  Everything else follows.  Everything.
I have seen miracles this week.  And I've learned so much about how a ward is supposed to function.  So I may be violating copyright by echoing Sister (Tess) Huntington's (another missionary from our ward) letter from a couple weeks ago, but I return to the point because of how vital it is.  The ward is a machine and you are each its cogs.  If you are not moving forward and thereby furthering the work, you are hindering or breaking the machine.  This is not acceptable.  The missionaries need people.  They need people to host lessons, go to lessons, and set up lessons.  Prophets, men we esteem as the closest to God on this earth, CALLED of God, have been telling us for decades to do our part by inviting our friends and families to come unto Christ.  But somehow it still doesn't sink in.  The importance of it really sinks in when you're on the other side looking at the members.  We have a great ward.  Super solid leaders and really willing to help.  But I'm looking back at myself and saying "Why did I never help the missionaries?"  It's truly a team effort.  So let's get down to that. 
Turn to 1 Nephi 8 (Book of Mormon) my friends, for we are going to work today.  That's right you scriptorians, we are on Lehi's (a prophet from the Book of Mormon) dream today, skewed and brought to you by the wonderful land of Elder Molinaro's mind and perspective filter.  Free of charge.  Translation: we are looking at Lehi's dream focusing on Lehi as the main character.  Read the first bit and then let's go to verse 12.  Once Lehi partakes of the fruit and is like "WOW!", what's the first thing he wants?  His family to partake.  And what's his family doing?  See verse 14; they're standing around, not knowing which way is up, standing as if they knew not whither they should go.  For all we know, they weren't even aware there WAS a tree.  They are at a crossroads and they are waiting for... something.  They aren't quite sure what.  These are what we call potential investigators.  Meaning EVERYONE. 
So they aren't sure what to do.  What changed that?  Someone beckons to them.  But then again, it's not just someone and he's not just beckoning.  It's their father and friend who calls to them with a LOUD VOICE to come to him and to the tree and to partake.  Now look here.  As members of the church, we have hopefully partaken of this fruit.  We've had it.  And once we have it, we better be calling out to others.  Are you looking at your family and friends and saying "WHOOOOOAAAAAAAHHHHH.  Hey.  This is the most important, most amazing, most delicious thing in the world, and actually it's the reason you are here.  Come partake of it WITH me!" ?
Now picture, along with me, Lehi eating the fruit.  He bites.  Eyes widen.  Lips quiver.  Eyebrows raise.  He looks around.  Chews.  Swallows.  Sees the people he loves.  And now, let us pause.  Does he look at these people he loves and he knows God loves and has sent here to receive the message he just received and say, "Hey like so fruit and like I don't know and like if you have time, and like um I go church will you please go with?"  No!
I picture him waving his arms and going, "Over here, over here, I found it, I found it!!  Guys this is it, you have to try this!!"  And then what happens?  Well, they come and partake?  Not all of them, because Laman and Lemuel (two of Lehi's sons who are disobedient) are comfortable not knowing which way is up, but still. 
Now let's put this back into practical application.  Which of the following is more effective in getting someone interested in the gospel? 

Me, in all of my zeal, pedaling up to someone and spouting off about prophets and scripture and prophets and them thinking "Whoa I think he said something about Ezekiel and whaaaaaa?"
You saying to your friend, neighbor or family member "Hey, I know you're having a hard time.  This is what has helped me through my hard times."  Saying, "Hey, you've got a great family.  My family means everything to me and I know we can be together forever.  I want you to know that, too."  Some variation of the normality that flows from friendship.  And then you invite them over to your house to talk about it.  "Bring your family," you say.  And then you call the unsuspecting missionaries and say, "Well hello.  I have a nonmember family coming over this Tuesday at 7:00 to talk about the gospel.  Care to join?"  And then you wipe away their tears of joy and begin the process of reclaiming one of God's children for Him. 
I tend to think the latter of those options is most effective. 
And so I ask you, in this war of eternal proportions, what kind of soldier are you being?  Are you thumb-twiddling?  Or are you being all you can in the fight?  This is something you can know.  This is something you can KNOW you're right about.  And if you know that, how dare you keep it to yourself.  How selfish to let our friends and families perish in unbelief while we partake of the REASON WE ARE HERE. 
And so I leave you with this.  Who do you love enough to bring them to the best thing that exists on this earth?  If the answer truly is no one, that's really sad.  But I don't think it is. 
Study Lehi's dream and ask yourself who you are in that dream and why?  I want to be Lehi.  And I want you to be, too. 
Your assignment:  I don't care who you are or what you're doing now.  Get involved and get more involved.  Make time.  Every one of you has a  name in mind of someone, anyone, you can save.  Talk to them and set up an appointment.  Refer them to the missionaries.  If you don't know the missionaries number, refer them through 
Nothing changes unless we change it.  So change it. 
I, for one, am glad Lehi didn't eat the fruit and then just sit down and say "MAN that is good stuff."  Because if he and all those like him did, where would we all be?  Likely boppin' around, not knowing which way is up, waiting for SOMETHING that we can't quite put our finger on, a purpose, a reason, a way.   That's what we have to offer.  That's what YOU have to offer.  So don't be a lazy Lehi.  Go and do, for the Lord truly HAS commanded it. 

Also go out and teach with the missionaries.  You know, 'cause you love us. 

But now I must go.  Coolest experience of the week:  When we found this referral who was super-prepared and AWESOME in all ways -- and then were locked in an apartment complex.  I look down and there is a key on the sidewalk.  I pick it up and it opens the gate to the outside world.  Miracles happen.  Pray for them. 
I love you all.  Make it a great week and do that which the prophets have instructed you to and what I have reminded you of.  The work is hastening.  Get with it.
Elder Molinaro