Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why I'm Serving a Mission


I tend to be a person of extremes.  I love something or I hate it.  I am really good at something or I’m downright awful at it.  I work very hard or am very lazy.  There are very few middle of the road areas in my life.  My ability to talk about and share my emotions falls into this category as well.  If I’m over the moon about something frivolous, you’ll know about it through multiple mediums.  If I have a strong political opinion, you’ll probably hear it.  If I detest a product or celebrity there will be a very public blog post about it.  On the other hand if I’m upset about something close to my heart, you’ll likely never know.  If I’m upset at a close friend or family member I’ll cover it up.  In this same respect, I haven’t shared with many people the long list of events that lead to me deciding to serve a mission.  I believe now is as good a time as any to tell the whole story.

In September of 2011 I had just started my junior year of college and was 20 years old.  I was living with two of my closest friends and was loving everything about my life.  I made a goal to attend the temple twice a month and started in mid-September.  While I was there I felt the urge to pray without knowing what to say.  This isn’t normal for me; I usually know what I want to converse with Heavenly Father about before I start.  I began my prayer and skirted through my mind unsure of what topic to land on.  I never really settled on anything and decided to end my prayer and read from the Pearl of Great Price.  I was reading from the book of Abraham about The Creation when I had the strongest impression that I should serve a mission.  This struck me as odd for two reasons; first, nothing about the scriptural passage I was reading had anything directly to do with missionary work; second, I never ever ever wanted to serve a mission (as badly as T-Swift never ever ever wants to get back together with whoever the other half of her we is).

There was a long line for baptisms that day so I had plenty of time to ponder on my recent spiritual prompting.  Having a topic to discuss with Heavenly Father, I decided to pray again.  We went around and around, He and I.  I reminded him that I didn’t want to serve a mission and that you should never serve a mission if you don’t want to.  He countered by whispering that sometimes we don’t know what we want. I also pointed out that I would be a terrible missionary—I hate talking about feelings and don’t like approaching strangers.  He gently reminded me that we are qualified to do any task we’re asked to do.  I rounded out my logical offense by letting him know that I had student loan debt and therefore I couldn’t afford a mission or a break from school.  He quietly spoke peace to my financial worries. 

I left the temple and called my mom in tears and relayed my experience.  Naturally she was excited because she, “always knew I would serve a mission!”  I was discouraged, exhausted, and confused after this experience and unsure what to do.  After all, I was only 20.  I was still seven months too young to serve a mission as girls still had to be 21 at this point in time to go forth and serve.  I continued to read my scriptures, attend my church meetings, go to the temple regularly, and really ponder what I was supposed to do with my life.  I started to warm up to the idea of a mission as 2012 rolled around and started to tell people I was planning on going on one. 

Shortly after my 21st birthday I met with the bishop in my home ward, as I was home from college for the summer, and began the missionary application process.  Throughout this entire endeavor I had severe anxiety, doubts, and depression at the idea of going on a mission.  I never would have chosen to do this on my own.  I tried very hard to convince myself that The Lord knew what was best and that I had to do this, if only because my parents were so proud of me for making the decision.  I completed everything for my application and was awaiting my call when my stake president phoned me to let me know he had some news about my mission call.  My assignment hadn’t been made, and wouldn’t be until I lost 15 pounds, bringing me to a healthier weight to serve a physically demanding mission at. Having battled with my weight since childhood I quickly became discouraged and started to doubt again why I was trying so hard to do something that I never wanted to do in the first place.

A few weeks after this phone call I broke down on my way home from camp for a weekend long break and called my friend/former roommate.  During the two hour car ride, she calmed me down and told me that I needed to do what was right for me and if I felt that going on a mission wasn’t right anymore then I shouldn’t do it.  I got home and didn’t get two sentences into a conversation with my mom about my week at camp before I started sobbing and told her I didn’t want to go on a mission.  My parents still loved me despite my disappointing news and I excitedly started to plan my return to BYU at the end of August for my senior year of college.  For the first time in almost a year I felt at peace, though it was short lived.

I constantly battled feelings of inadequacy and guilt throughout fall semester 2012.  I felt that I wasn’t worthy of any blessings because I should have gone on a mission.  I felt alone and unloved and like a disappointment to everyone who had been excited for me to go on a mission.  These feelings subsided slightly when in October the lower mission age was announced and I felt that I definitely wasn’t needed in the mission field because zealous young men and women were submitting mission paperwork left and right.  By the end of Christmas break in January of 2013 I was starting to believe that I was forgiven for not serving a mission.  I went on to have the most fun and fulfilling semester I had ever had in college and really began to believe that it was in The Lord’s plan for me to be at BYU at that point in time, and not on a mission.  I did well in my classes, interned at a law firm, got closer to a recently acquired best friend, and was getting really good at baking new things. Again I was at peace.

The semester ended and I got a new job and was working 50-60 hours a week to save money for the upcoming semester’s tuition and a June trip to Disneyland.  I was so busy I never had time to think, but I randomly decided to set a goal to study Preach My Gospel every day for half an hour.  In the back of my mind I knew I was preparing for a mission, but I really didn’t want to admit it to myself. 

The end of June rolled around and I set out on a vacation to California with some friends of mine from college and a few friends of theirs’ from high school.  For the first time in months I had time to think.  I still don’t know how it happened, but on one of the last rides we rode at Disneyland of the night I realized I wasn’t living my life according to Heavenly Father’s plan.  While floating through the fake Pirate’s of the Caribbean village I suppressed tears and frustration.  My friend miraculously sensed that my attitude had abruptly changed, though I didn’t vocalize anything, leaned over and quietly asked if I was doing okay.  In true Amanda fashion, I plastered on an authentic looking smile and said, “Of course!  I’m just tired—it’s been a long day.”  And it had been a long day, we arrived at Disneyland before the gates opened and the park was about to close at this point in time.  He let it go and I mustered enough energy to act happy long enough to get me to my hotel room. 

I ignored the prompting I received at Disneyland and went about my trip for a few more days.  As I got into bed after a day in the exhausting heat at Seven Flags I decided I needed to pray about a mission.  I waited until my friend fell asleep and then quietly wept as I told Heavenly Father in defeat that I was tossing in my towel.  He was in charge now and I wasn’t going to try to change His mind anymore.  Despite the fact that our Inglewood neighbors were blaring mariachi music outside of my hotel window, I felt the quiet, but clear voice speak to my heart; it was finally time for me to serve a mission.  As my weary legs throbbed from my whirlwind day of tourism, my heart throbbed with them to the Mexican music's beat because I realized how much faith it would require for me to actually go on a mission this time around.

I woke up the next morning and instead of watching television and resting like the others were doing, I snuck into the hallway to call my mom.  For half an hour I sobbed as I told my mom about my revelation to serve a mission.  How could Heavenly Father expect me to do something I didn’t want to do?  How could he expect me to do something I was going to be so bad at?  How could he ask me to give up the life I had grown to love—the friends, the new job at the rec center, the school?  I got more than one awkward stare as hotel patrons passed my hot mess of a self with my knees pressed to my chest on the telephone with my mother.  After comforting me for a few minutes she finally told me to buck up; Heavenly Father doesn’t ask us to do things we can’t do and he definitely doesn’t punish us for following His will (one of my main arguments against serving a mission was that by the time I got home I would be 24 and old by Mormon standards and clearly would never be married.  I truly felt like I was being punished for something, but I wasn’t sure what).  

Again I mustered enough strength to act like I was happy and embarked on a day trip to the beach with my co-vacationers.  This time I couldn’t control all the tears and had to artfully hide them behind sunglasses in the very back row of my friend’s mother’s car.  As everyone argued about which beach to go to, I tried to keep the tears rolling down my cheeks to a minimum.  We stopped at a mall and I trailed behind the group a bit and sat down on a bench by myself as one of our party stopped for a Jamba Juice.  The same friend who questioned me at Disneyland about my feelings asked again if I was doing okay.  I actually responded truthfully and said I wasn’t.  I briefly mentioned that I had decided to graduate in December of 2013 instead of April of 2014 and put in mission papers with an availability date of January 1, 2014.  I told him doing the right thing doesn’t always come easily and that for the first time in my life I was having a hard time accepting that The Lord’s idea of right differed greatly from my own.  At this our friends were ready to go and we headed back to the car and set off for the beach.  He smiled and said things would work out and that a mission was exciting and then we both acted like our exchange hadn’t just happened.  The second we got to Huntington Beach I separated from the group and called my younger brother and cried openly among the strangers strewn on beach towels and the horrid seagulls as I told him my news.

After this conversation I decided to quietly lie on the sand for a moment and gather myself so I could convincingly appear happy the rest of the day.  I went on to have a really great time at the beach and successfully distracted myself the last 24 hours of our trip.  Somewhere along the line my plan to graduate in December leaked and I was met with questions that I successfully avoided.  I wasn’t ready to talk openly about my new plan so I just always changed the subject.

I got back to Provo the first week of July and waited a few weeks before I met with my bishop to start my mission papers.  To help with the flurry of feelings I was experiencing, a good friend gave me a blessing and I was promised a lot of beautiful things if I heeded The Lord's prompting.  I had started coming around to the idea, though I still had an emotional few weeks as I accepted what I needed to do.  Around the end of August, amidst other trials, I finally felt good about serving a mission.  I was excited and finally turned the most important corner I’ve ever turned.  I realized that The Lord has given me everything in life; the least I could do was give him 18 months AND be happy about it at the same time.  I changed my perspective and shared the most sincere testimony I have ever shared during my bishop’s interview a few weeks later.  I honestly told him that I wanted to serve a mission because I had felt the power of Christ’s merciful saving grace in my life and wanted to share that with others.  His atonement had picked me up when I was at my absolute lowest and everyone deserved the knowledge that He would do the same for them.  I went on to tell him that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is perfect, even though it is administered by imperfect beings—myself being one of them—and that if someone was looking for it, it was my duty to share it with them.  Tears streamed down my face as I told my bishop that Christ has the power to soothe a broken heart, as he recently had started to do with mine, lend understanding, offer peace and love, and be the only person when no one else seems to be around.  I shared that I don't understand The Lord's plan, but I know there is one and I knew I had to submit mission papers in accordance with this plan.  I told him I believed in Jesus Christ, every living prophet we’ve had on this Earth past and present, and in the power of the eternal family.  And I believed every word I said and knew that that was why I had to serve a mission.

By the end of September I had once again completed all of my paperwork, medical and dental visits, and interviews and was awaiting my call.  Having had a stressful second semester of college that year I had actually lost about 20 pounds since the first time I submitted my mission papers the year before and my weight wasn’t a deterrent in me getting a call this time around.  My attitude had also changed by October 9th, the day I received my call to the Arizona Mesa Mission—literally the last place on Earth I thought I would be called to.

At this point it had been over two years since I had first been prompted to serve a mission.  I grew exponentially during that time and finally reached a point of clarity.  I was never intended to serve a mission in 2012 when I first submitted my paperwork.  All along the plan was for me to serve the people of Mesa, Arizona from January 29th, 2014 until approximately July of 2015.  Heavenly Father, being the wise creator that he is, knew it would take two years to soften my very hard heart and thus planted the seed long before the harvest was required.  In my lack of wisdom I automatically assumed I had to go right after I turned 21 instead of when The Lord needed me to enter the field.


Despite getting my assignment to Mesa, Arizona, of all places, I was excited when I opened my call envelope and it all felt right.  I went on to have a few doubts throughout the semester and at times I still worry that I won’t make it to the MTC on January 29th, but I have the assurance of understanding The Lord’s plan better now.  I also still find myself worrying that every eligible bachelor will magically find himself wedded by the time I return home at the ever-ancient age of 24, but I remind myself that if I am to be single forever that is all a part of the plan, not a bi-product of my mission’s timing.