My cute friend, Miss Shelby, has been requesting a blog post for quite some time about “why I went on a mission.” I have been neglecting her request, partially due to lack of time, and partially because it is such a deep, large, personally enveloping story that it is a little bit hard to know how in depth to go with it on a public, available for all to see, site. The nature of personal spiritual experiences is sacred, and just that — personal. But today I received some news that has shaken me and caused my heart to ache for that mission I hold so dear.. because of the people I grew to love.
It’s something I think about and miss to some degree every single day of my life. It changed my everything. It solidified my testimony of my Heavenly Father and my Savior, Jesus Christ, and the fact that they have restored their church and their Gospel to this earth again today. It helped me understand the big picture.. an understanding that all too often slips away from me now, having been home almost 2 years (in December. weird.) I didn’t know it before I went, but I was going for so many reasons.. I was going for the people, I was going to build the kingdom, I was going to acquire new skills, I was going for my family and friends, I was going to learn about the world, I was going to prepare for the future, but most of all I think I was going to change. And a huge part of that change came about due to the amazing people I met throughout that 19 month period. These are people I will never allow to leave my heart. I hold them so dear. One of them emailed me tonight with some incredibly hard news. One of the young teenage daughters of one of my favorite member families has been diagnosed with cancer. When I heard the news tonight at work, I broke down in silent tears, and they kept flowing on the drive home. My heart is heavy for this wonderful family. They are rock solid examples of faith and generosity and optimism in the face of adversity. I hope you, my readers, will keep them in your prayers as they go through what may be some of the hardest experiences they ever face.
And this grave news has caused me some reflection, as situations like this often do. I think that’s part of the reason God puts them in front of us.. because it humbles us, and it forces us to remember. I feel sheepish every time it reoccurs.
And so in honor of this wonderful family and the way I came to know them, here you go, Shelb:
It was October 19, 2006 when I got the answer that changed my life foreva eva. Oh my goodness. That was 4 years ago today. Now it’s 1:30am on the 20th, but I didn’t even realize that correlation until now. Coincidence?
My brother had just left on his mission to Brazil on October 10th and I had met with the bishop the Sunday prior to get some counsel regarding my life. I graduated from the U the following spring and I had recently been feeling I was coming to a crossroads in my life. I basically figured I had 3 options: Go to grad school, go on a mission, or work and travel and play. The bishop told me I needed to figure out if a mission was logistically plausible and suggested I have my dad give me a blessing of counsel. I asked him for one that day, but we were busy. The following day my brother was being set apart since he was flying out Tuesday to go to the Missionary Training Center in Brazil. The stake presidency came to our house that night and my brother received a beautiful blessing that brought tears to everybody’s eyes. When they left, my family and my grandparents sat around the kitchen table discussing my brother and missions. My brother read his patriarchal blessing aloud and then each of us ended up reading ours as well. As I started to read mine, answers from long sessions of prayer and scripture study began to wash over me.. feelings of peace and love overwhelmed me and I had to choke back tears to hide it from everyone else. As I progressed further into the blessing it discussed spreading the Gospel and that I would take part in spreading it in ways that the Lord would make known to me. (that’s a small paraphrase of the basic idea) my grandma’s immediate reaction was, *gasp* “a mission!” I thought that was interesting considering that she didn’t know my recent thoughts, coupled with her consistent example of faith and being in tune with the spirit. Later that night, my dad gave Clarke (my brother) a father’s blessing. It was also incredible and a little more personal to him and it brought me to tears again because, up to that point, I’d been having a really hard time with him leaving. We are very close and I felt like I was losing a best friend. During that blessing I was filled with comfort, and after that I just felt excitement and happiness for him for this grand adventure he was about to have. The next day when we took him to the airport, I watched him walk away and felt excited about and almost a little jealous of what lay ahead of him.
But back to Monday night.. then came my turn. My dad gave me the blessing I’d asked for, and it was the most powerful blessing I have ever had. The Spirit was so strong it was almost tangible. Every word that came out of his mouth was an answer to my personal prayers — things my dad could never have known were weighing heavy on my mind and heart. Again he talked about Heavenly Father’s enormous love for me and I felt surrounded by love and peace, but also very exposed and humble. Heavenly Father knows me inside and out. He knows every nook and cranny; every subtlety. I became very aware that He is completely mindful of me, despite my insignificance and my headstrong rebellion. My dad went on to talk about the direction my life should take. Up until this time, I had thought it might be one of those situations where I had several good options before me and Heavenly Father would be fine with whatever I decided to do. However, my dad said in the blessing that there is one specific thing I was supposed to be doing and that God had a specific purpose and plan for me at that time. This, in and of itself, was a tremendous help and comfort. My dad said he wished he could tell me at that time what it was, but that Heavenly Father wanted me to study it out in my mind like it says in the Doctrine and Covenants, and to go to Him in humble prayer.
Just then I had the distinct impression and image of Heavenly Father as my father — not just God. I’ve never felt that so strongly before, and I felt even more humbled at the time, getting a glimpse of just how glorious He is and just how lowly and small I am. My dad told me the answer would be coming quickly and that I would not have to wait long for it, as time was of the essence. Immediately following the blessing, my dad said that he had the distinct impression that it was really only one of two choices: mission or grad school.
Boom. I probably would have opted to stay and work and travel to Europe and explore life if it was up to me.. but the Lord knows me better than I do.
For the next week, I prayed and thought and talked it out and prayed and thought some more. I felt mixed feelings when I thought about a mission because I knew what a sacrifice it would be to leave everything behind and go to some random place to work my butt off. I was under no illusion that it would be easy. I also considered the financial and emotional strain on my parents. I didn’t want to leave normal music and clothes and friends and dating and all of my mundane little me-world things behind.. but I also thought that not being willing to give that up for awhile to serve the Lord would be selfish of me, and despite all the hesitations, I felt like the lifelong blessings that would result from it would far outweigh the drawbacks, and make it all worth it. I loved the idea of attaining that higher level of spirituality, and how could I not want to go out and share this beautiful Gospel with others who don’t have it in their lives?
Conversely, when I thought about grad school, I had zero positive feelings. That could have been because the prospect of more school sounded about as appealing as gnawing my arms off at that point, or it could have been guidance from the Spirit. Maybe both.
I continued to wrestle with the idea, coming back multiple times to a feeling I had had maybe a year prior that I should serve a mission, though at that point it wasn’t the right time yet. I thought about the scripture in D&C 6:22-23 that says, “cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart… did I not speak peace to your mind concerning this matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” I wondered if God had already given me my answer, so I decided after much prayer and deliberation that I would move forward in the direction of a mission and let the Lord either confirm it or say no.
October 19th rolled around and I went to my institute class with Brother Keaton, a dear family friend. He had us sit on the floor with our eyes closed. He turned off the lights and turned on a piano arrangement of “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” while he read the account in the Book of Mormon from 3 Nephi 11 of Christ coming to the Americas after his Resurrection. It was powerful. Suddenly I felt a tingly feeling in my chest that manifested to me that the Lord loves me more than I can comprehend and that I was supposed to serve a mission. It slapped me in the face.
(I should also mention that I have been sitting here listening to a mix of music from my mission throughout the composition of this post and “ironically” “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” started playing as I wrote this section of the story. This just gets better.)
I went home and told my mom I was going on a mission. That night, I went to my home stake institute class. I know it’s a lot of institute in one day, but I needed spiritual guidance. Guess what the lesson was on?
Yeah. Missionary work. I felt like I was being kicked in the face at this point.. like, “Hello. Can I make this any more clear? You are supposed to go.” One scripture in particular was poignant, D&C 31:3 “Life up your heart and rejoice, for the hour of your mission is come: and your tongue shall be loosed, and you shall declare glad tidings of great joy to this generation.”
Got it. I can take a hint.
From there it all fell into place. I entered the MTC to prepare for service in the Florida Tampa Mission on May 23 of 2007 and never looked back.
I don’t know if anyone will even care to read this post, since it’s turned out to be so long.. but if it helps someone, then I’m happy. I know I needed to talk about it tonight. I can never doubt the reality of the answer I got that I needed to serve a mission, and the multiple confirmations throughout that year and a half that I was in the right place, learning the right language, with the right people.
If you are unfamiliar with many of the terms/phraseology I’ve used in this post (because it’s definitely weird if you haven’t been Mormon culture-ified), check out http://www.mormon.org or ask me. I’ll explain.
The church is true, folks.
It really is true.