Five years = Half a decade. That's how long it has been since October 10, 2007 when I began full-time service as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The story of how I decided to serve a mission is a story for another time. But the decision to serve a mission is -- hands-down -- the best decision I've ever made and is one that has truly changed my life.
As we listened to the historic announcement on Saturday morning about the new age requirements for missionary service, my mind was BLOWN first by the fact that young men can now serve at age 18 , and THEN, as if that weren't enough, the fact that YOUNG WOMEN CAN NOW SERVE AT AGE 19 (effective immediately!)!! NINETEEN!!! My heart skipped a beat, and I wanted to leap for joy! How I wished in that moment that I were 19 again and could leave on a mission right then. The joy I felt was inexplicable, and my state of shock grew as I reflected on HOW SIGNIFICANT this announcement would be for young women today, but especially, for my daughters.
I didn't grow up wanting to serve a mission. In fact, I grew up firmly set on the fact that I would NOT serve. I would surely be getting married at 21 (or around that age) and maybe even have a baby (or seven). Where I grew up, it seemed the stereotype was that the girls who served missions were the ones who... couldn't get married. (I know this sounds harsh, but seriously. That's the idea of "sister missionaries" that I grew up with. I should also note that I'm not a fan of the term "sister missionaries." You never hear people say "elder missionaries," right? Either say sisters, or just say missionaries.) When I was 10, I had a Primary teacher who was 18 or 19, fresh out of high school. She was incredible, and she made the gospel and Achievement Days so much fun for our group of 10-year old girls. I remember that year, we were even able to get a lot of the girls who weren't active to come to church and to activities with us. She had a great and positive experience on all of us. When I was a Beehive, Annette went on a mission. She was the first girl I knew personally who had served a mission.
As I was trying to decide whether I should serve a mission, I remember being sooo worried about getting back at age 24 (I left when I was 22), being older than all the guys, not being able to find someone to marry, etc. And well, I'm obviously not married yet, but I hope that my daughters won't feel the same cultural pressure to get married that I grew up with. The LDS Church is a wonderful church and a beautiful religion. I know it truly IS the Lord's Church restored to the earth through a latter-day Prophet. But sometimes, the culture can be a little off. Maybe now that girls can serve at age 19, when they're nearly the same age as the boys with whom they'll be serving, they won't feel that going on a mission is the "consolation prize" for those who couldn't snag a man. That is NOT what my mission was for me, and I will do everything I can to make sure my children how important and how sacred my mission was for me.
Before serving a mission, I had a testimony of the gospel. I knew that I was a daughter of a loving Heavenly Father, and I knew that Jesus Christ was my Savior. I knew the Book of Mormon and the Bible both contained the words of God, and I knew that because God loved us, he had once again called prophets in our day to teach us and guide us. (I mean, really. God has always called prophets. Seriously, even from the days of Adam. It just makes sense that He would call prophets today, too.) And perhaps most importantly, I knew that living the gospel made me feel happy and good inside.
Teaching these truths to others for a year and a half solidified this testimony forever in my heart. My testimony of the gospel is at the core of who I am and how I strive to live my life. Teaching as a missionary helped me understand how very basic and how very instinctual and easy it is to live the gospel. It also made me realize how difficult it can be to live the gospel. But the experiences I had on my mission helped reinforce to me that living the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way I want to live.
As a missionary, I learned to work hard -- harder than I had ever worked before -- even when I didn't feel like working. I learned how to set goals and how to plan. I learned how to LOVE beyond any capacity I had ever experienced. I remember relating to Nephi as my tears literally watered my pillow on behalf of those over whom I had stewardship. Sometimes, they were tears of joy as I saw them come unto Christ and align their lives with His teachings. Other times, they were tears of sorrow as I saw with my mind's eye the potential of each of them... and then saw them reject that potential for the things of the world. I learned to love my companions, even when they drove me nuts (bless them all!), and I even learned practical skills like how to speak in public, how to translate in real-time (English to Spanish, Spanish to English, over a microphone/headset system, live at the pulpit, you name it, I did it), how to budget money, how to approach strangers to share a message, and how to cook just about anything in a microwave. :)
For nearly eighteen months (technically, my mission was 17 1/2 months due to transfer dates and such. So lame!), I had a sense of purpose. I knew who I was (a disciple of Jesus Christ) and what I was to do (invite others to come unto Christ). I wore His name proudly on my nametag, and I tried so very hard to represent Him in all that I did. I can't possibly name all the ways in which my mission has blessed my life, but I feel the influence of this sacred experience every day of my life (No, really. I thought it was cheesy when people would say that they think of their missions every day of their lives, but it's true! I do!).
Since coming home, my purpose has changed, but I am still a disciple of Jesus Christ. I try to share the gospel with those around me, even if sometimes, it's only through example. (It's definitely a different experience to try to share the gospel when you're no longer a full-time missionary! It's so much harder!) And I try to live in a way that allows me to discern the voice of God over the tumult of the world and to understand what He wants me to be doing. I don't always succeed, but I try my best. I know that a mission is not for every girl, it was definitely for me. I am forever grateful for the opportunity I had from October 10, 2007 to March 25, 2009 to be set apart as a full-time missionary and representative of Jesus Christ.
PS To see a whole lotta other photos from my mission, see this previous blog post.