Friday, March 11, 2016

To my Nieces and Nephews: My Choice about a Full-Time Mission

To my Nieces: Arianna Christine, Grace, Janessa, Brynna, Bree, Kaitlyn, Halle, Danielle, Samantha, Olive, Petra, Poppy and any future additions

And to my Nephews: Timothy, Sam, Derek, Zachary, Thomas, Preston, Parker, Elliot, Bodhi, Archer, Hamish, and any future additions

And to any other Youth of the Church who reads this:




I had the opportunity to listen to Face2Face for Young Single Adults with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland this past Tuesday evening.  A question was posed that I once had to face and they evoked many strong and emotional memories.  As I listened to the answer, I felt an overwhelming desire and urge to share my story with you.



The question was asked by 2 young sisters of the church (40:52):
"How can we help girls who haven't gone on missions remember that they are not any less than those that did serve?" 
"I know it is not my duty to serve a full-time mission and I feel at peace with the Lord about my decision.  But, the social rejection is sometimes unbearable.  What am I to do?"
I will first share Elder Holland's answer that I have typed out:
 "Those are great questions and we have strong feelings about this. By we, I mean, the Presiding Officers of the Church.  I was in the Missionary Executive Council with President Russell Nelson when we wrestled through this issue to lower the age to 18 for young men and 19 for Young Women.  And, indelibly imprinted on my soul forever was President Thomas Spencer Monson thumping the table, pointing a finger, declaring what we would and would not do on this.  He was very supportive.  You remember the announcement in that electric moment when he announced that in general Conference. But more privately, he had said, and of course, he said it publicly, too, but this was in the formative period of the policy.  He was adamant that we were not going to create a second-class citizenship for young women who did not serve a mission.  We lean on the young men to go as much as we can.  We are pretty straight forward about that.  We do an arm twist and a knee pull and a, you know, go for the jugular on the men.  But even there, even there, let me be serious and say even there, if a young man doesn't go that does not preclude him from our association and admiration and his priesthood service and his loyalty and love of the Lord and future in the church.  That ought to be true for young men, as well as young women, but adamantly for young women. President Monson never intended for all of the young women in the church to go on missions by dropping that age.  We're very grateful for those who go.  It's changed the face of the church.  It's going to continue to change the face of the church.  We went from some something like, I don't know Don, 8 or 10 or 12% to 30 or 35% of the missionary force of the church being young women.  And, everyone knows that a sister is twice as effective as three elders.  But, we do not want anyone feeling inadequate or left out or undignified or tarnished because she did not choose to serve a mission. And we're a little irritated with young men who say, well, I'm not going to date you because you didn't serve a mission.  That seems to me just almost unconscionable.  What we're dealing with here is the worth and merit and wonder and beauty of human beings and choices to be made and agency that exists.  And we really feel strongly about this.  If you can't tell this, I'll lean a little more forward that we do not want that kind of climate over dating or marriages or who is really faithful in the church or who isn't.  Those are all decisions we make and some of us don't ever know about our neighbor.  We don't know the reason why somebody didn't go.  We don't know all the backstory on sometime's even our closest friends about circumstances that exist or conditions at home or of financial anxieties or health conditions that may have played a part in that kind of decision.  But, it isn't our place to pass a judgement or to in anyway offend one of God's little ones.  And, you are all God's little ones."
In the summer before I turned 21, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with my life.  I had always been told and believed that I would get married early, have babies, and that I only needed to get a degree for my own self development and as a back up should something happen to my husband and I had to work.  I was good with that since all I, myself, have wanted to be was a stay-at-home mom.  It is still my #1 dream even though I may not get it in this life.


Well, there I was.  Almost 21.  Facing the latter end of my college years still single.  I did not want to go on a mission and it was not something I was contemplating.  But, the voices of others were still there.  Even when the age was 21 for young women to go on missions, I still had some young men tell me that they would not date me if I didn't serve.  Many men, in friendly confidences, expressed an unyielding desire to only marry a returned missionary.


I was sitting in a sacrament meeting one Sunday, with an ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend a few rows behind me, and I was contemplating with the Lord what I should do with my life. I recieved a very powerful and strange prompting that led me to see my Bishop to figure out how to follow through with it.  (It was not to go on a mission.)  When he asked me if I had ever thought of serving a mission, I laughed and reminded him of my health status (my usual quick response that almost always got people off my back).  His wife had the same health condition and he said, "I know the struggles it poses, as you are well aware, and I can tell you that if you choose to serve a mission, it will all work out."  He also added, much to my eternal gratitude in hindsight, that if for whatever reason and at whatever time decided that I didn't want to serve a full-time mission, even halfway through my mission, that as a sister, I had that right and that ability to receive a genuine honorable release.

I went home that afternoon, shut myself up in my room, and stared at a wall while I sorted through my thoughts and emotions.  I acknowledged the prompting I was given, told the Lord that the only way I knew how to fulfill that prompting was to serve a mission, and please, God --- if there was another way, I would LOVE to hear it.

Silence.

I had studied it out in my mind, I had asked, and knew the next step was to move forward with a choice and God would either confirm it or correct it.



I agreed to serve a mission.  Just as Marianne from Sense and Sensibility written by Jane Austen could do nothing without her whole heart, I, too, once the decision was made, went all in with serving a mission.  I was excited, terrified, and ready to serve the Lord.  And most importantly, I had peace from the Lord that I was moving in a good direction.



In the course of preparations for my mission, I was able to fulfill the prompting I had been given.  And that is when things changed.  A little while afterwards, I went to a soccer game with Xan.  We began to spend a lot of time together, date, and fall in love.  He admitted to me that he didn't feel we had been together long enough to justify asking me to stay and fully supported my decision to go on a mission.



The last couple weeks preparing for the MTC were a bit of a hazy blur that the only thing I remember was constantly waiting and wanting someone in a leadership/authority position to tell me I could stay home.  No one did.  Not trusting in my own ability, I interpreted this silence from others as the Lord's way of telling me I made a commitment and I need to fulfill it.



I entered the MTC.  I loved it!  I love the scriptures, I love learning languages, and for the first time in my life, I was ahead in class.  I knew the scriptures. I had elementary knowledge in Spanish.  I loved being committed to the Gospel in large groups 24/7.

I also loved the letters I received from Xan everyday!  I was conflicted...

After a week in the MTC, I realized I needed to own my choices and choose once and for all what I should do.  I battled for days.  My poor missionary companion had to suffer from my bipolar emotions of one moment being so sure I was supposed to stay and the next, being so sure I was going to go home.

I learned 3 important things during this experience.

  1. The Lord answers the question that I ask.
  2. Equally good choices exist and sometimes the right choice is simply the choice I choose.
  3. It is my responsibility to own my choice despite what others say.  I cannot change others, only myself.

It wasn't until I asked the Lord the first of two right questions that I was able to make my decision.  It was one of only three occurrences in my life, so far, that I have received revelation in the form of words/sentences instead of peace/impressions/one word answers.  The first was the prompting I had in that sacrament room mentioned above.  The second is as follows, paraphrasing as I never actually wrote it down until now, but it has stayed written in my heart:
"You can choose to stay on your mission and I will heal you.  I will support you.  You will experience great joy .  But, Xan will not be there for you when you get back.  There will be other choices and other opportunities for you.  It is a good choice.
Or you can choose to return home and I will heal you.  I will support you.  You will experience great joy.  You may experience opposition from your choice.  It may not work out with Xan.  But you can make the choice to find out.  It is a good choice.
This decision is your choice as both options are equally good."
I was dumbfounded.  It had never occurred to me that this choice even existed for such an important decision.  It dawned on my that the Lord was answering my prayers all along because He was answering the question that I asked, "Is staying on my mission a good choice/the right choice?"  "Is going home a good choice/the right choice?"  Well, yes to both, right?

I squared my shoulders and made one of the bravest choices I have ever made and I made a choice based upon what I wanted and knowing that the Lord truly honored my choice.  I left the MTC 2 weeks after entering.


It was awkward.  A lot of people said some pretty unkindly things. But I clung to the answer.  I told people I came home for health reasons (not a lie as that was a big part of the decision) and that deflected a lot of probing questions at a time I was not ready to share such a personal experience with just anyone.

My family, many friends, and Xan were very supportive.  I pursued treatment for my health and I received a blessing the night before surgery that I would be healed.  God's promise was fulfilled.  I truly can say, to this day, I have never regretted that decision.  I have owned that choice and do not let myself ponder which was more or less righteous.  I hold to the answer I received and know that if it was right for me then, it is right for me now.

My nieces and nephews:
You will face a time when that decision will loom before you.  Arianna - you are facing that option now.  Tim will soon follow.  My prayer and my hope for all of you - niece or nephew - is that you will trust in making the right choice for you about whether to serve, when to serve, and how to serve, as well as respecting the choice made by others for themselves.  The overall message that I felt from that devotional last Tuesday was to learn to discern how the spirit speaks to you, trust in the Lord to guide you, keep him as the core foundation as you seek out what your own and personal life mission on this earth is.  I promise that you will find peace along the journey despite the push and pull of voices around you.



When I listened to President Monson's announcement to lower the age to 19 for women to serve missions, I felt conflicted.  My heart rejoiced for those who would now be able to choose to serve a mission as many of my female friends sincerely always wanted to serve a full-time mission but many got married well before they were 21.  But I was also filled with dread at the social pressure that it would put on young women.  My thoughts immediately went to my beautiful nieces and I fervently prayed for all of you, including those to come, that you would have the strength to make your own choice.

Whether to serve a mission is just one of many, many choices you will face in life.  We all make decisions on a daily basis that others are quick to judge.  Our choice of media, clothes, occupation, friends, leisure time, how to spend the Sabbath Day, and on and on and on.



Sometimes in your life, you will experience clear answers to questions.  It will say, "Do this."  In my experience, those do not come very often.  Most of the time, we will be faced with equally good decisions.  The choice of going on a mission may or may not be answered with a clear and distinct, "yes!"  Even you, nephews, who unlike your sisters and female-cousins, have been called by the duties of your Priesthood office to serve a full-time mission, may for whatever reason as discussed by Elder Holland above not serve or delay a while to serve.

You cannot control how other people will respond to your actions but you can choose how you respond to them.  By developing the Gift of Discernment promised to all of us, I promise that you, too, will be able to stand tall and proud by any decision you make and know you are following the footsteps of Christ to lead you back to our Father in Heaven.



I love the story You Are Special by Max Lucado and frequently refer to it in my mind when I am asking myself how I measure up to other people.  I am reminded, as I want to remind you, that the only person who's opinion eternally matters is that of God, our Father.  Others will try to tell you what to do and how to live the gospel "more righteously."  Heed the words of the prophets and do not get so caught up in the culture of how other people live and the choices they make that you ignore how God wants you to live out his commandments and your personal mission here on Earth.

Even though I am so far from all of you and haven't even met some of you yet, I pray for you, I love you, and I am always here for you.

Love,
Aunt Ashley

2 comments:

  1. This is fantastic. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. This is so well written. I remember after they announced the age change, I was happy of course, but I also went through a bit of a mourning period because I felt like there was a good chance I would have gone at 19. I want wasn't aware boys were picky about girls having gone on missions, I thought that was just a girl thing. Interesting. I especially like how you articulated the lessons you learned. #2 took me awhile to understand but I have found it to be very true in my life. Thanks for sharing.

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