I learned a lot about fleas while I was serving an LDS mission in Cincinnati and the rural areas of Kentucky. A little-known fact about fleas is that they are one of the best jumpers in all of the animal kingdom. I once heard a story that if a flea is placed in a box in the beginning of its life, it learns to jump only as high as the box restricts it to. Then, if taken out of the box during the latter part of its life, the flea, having great potential for jumping much higher, will jump only as high as it was restricted to while inside of the box. What heights can we jump to? What heights do we never reach because we are too afraid to try?
While serving a mission, my eyes were opened to what my purpose in this life was, but I wasn’t exactly sure how I would be able to accomplish it.
About a year into the mission, on one particular evening while serving in Ashland, Kentucky, a family’s name kept surfacing in my mind. We had other lessons and appointments planned that day, so I tried to convince myself that we would go and stop in to see them the next morning. The thought persisted, though, and I knew the source that this impression was coming from was a higher source of inspiration.
As my companion and I walked up to the trailer where the family lived, the mother was sitting on the front steps with her hands covering her face, weeping. We sat with our arms around her, and we learned that she had just cooked the last piece of food in their fridge, a pork chop, that was split between her two children for dinner. She was fearful and anxious about what the immediate future held, knowing that her government assistance money for the month had already been spent and they had no means to provide for themselves for the next couple of weeks. We left their home with the promise that we would be back with food, and after going immediately to talk with the bishop, a food order to the bishops’ storehouse was put in so their temporal needs would be met.
This experience was not a solitary event that I witnessed on my mission but was a reoccurring stress in the lives of many with whom I became acquainted. Something stirred inside of me as I came across these situations—it was the sadness I felt knowing that this pattern of living and stress was not easy to beat and that many people I loved with all of my heart did not have the tools or resources they needed to overcome poverty on their own.
As I worked and poured my soul into helping these special people, and then would come home at night and hit my knees to the floor in tears, pleading for knowledge on what I could do to help, my path became clear on what it was I was supposed to do. After graduating, I was not to pursue a full-time job somewhere, but rather I was to create a company that would help provide the resources that inner-city youth needed to be able to pursue a higher education and to help them acquire new skills so they could be self-sufficient when they graduated from college. As a young college student myself, graduating with a major that had nothing to do with business and having almost no money to my name, this task was incredibly overwhelming, but I knew two things:
My faith in the direction that God gave me and in the strengthening power of Jesus Christ has led to a company that is now in its fourth year and that has helped tens of thousands of individuals across the world. I have learned that there is nothing greater that we can teach others than the principle of self-reliance. When those we love and serve are able to provide for themselves both spiritually and temporally, God's work is able to roll out powerfully and quickly across the face of the earth, and His children are able to experience joy.
Living a life of self-reliance is hard. It means that we’re willing to work and solve problems in the Lord’s way. It means that the money we earn is managed with God’s purposes in mind and that we commit ourselves to persevere even through the most difficult of times. If we sell ourselves short and don’t grow and educate ourselves in the way God intended us to, our talents and our contributions to those around us are diminished and we miss opportunities that have temporal and eternal significance.
I have a strong conviction that although living out our earthly purposes is hard and often overwhelming, the guidance and power that comes from trusting the Lord and having faith in Jesus Christ is stronger than any fear or challenge that will come our way. As we do all we can to accomplish the work that God guides us to do, we’re able to then have our faith strengthened as we see the hand of the Lord in our lives, fulfilling His promises to us and providing miracles as we do His work. With God on our side, the heights He is capable of helping us reach are far greater than what we could jump to on our own.
Check out the lives changed by The Shine Project at theshineproject.com.