I am here, utterly and sublimely happy, with some beautiful news:
I have been called to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. I'll leave in February and will serve for 18 months. (You can read about what a mission is here.)
and I'm going to France...Southern France to be precise. (!!!!!!!!!!!) Southern France to learn French, and to eat crepes, and to serve the God I love.
This thing is so beautiful to me that I can hardly think about it.
This mission may come as a shock to a lot of people. I'm 26 ("old" for girl-missionary standards), I am just finishing my graduate degree, and I'm dating like a million guys (joke. I'm not.). In seriousness though, I've kept it pretty quiet, this decision to go. But it's actually been in the works for quite some time now--"officially" since March, but secretly (meaning heaven only knew about it, not even me) for quite some years. So when I finally decided to go, I kept these things close, and thought about them, and prayed about them, and felt the kind of peace that only comes when you are making the best decision you have ever made in your life.
So I want to share some of the thoughts I've had in this process. Maybe it will help someone who is making a similar decision. Mostly I share this, though, because it is beautiful to me, and I want you people that I love to know about it.
....................How I Decided to Go....................I resisted going on a mission for a really long time. It wasn't in my life plan for myself. I'd never had any desire to serve. In fact, I'd go as far as to say I had anti-desire to serve a mission. Growing up, I remember some of my friends would talk about how much they wanted to be missionaries, and I remember thinking, "Please don't let that be what happens in my life." (This may or may not have everything to do with the fact that I have control-issues when it comes to my life plan. This also has to do with a mean little thing we call pride.)
I recognize that this aversion is a bit strange. I love the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I love studying my religion and talking about it with others and teaching it. All the sweetest moments and truths in my life have come because of this gospel, because of my faith. It is who I am. So naturally you'd think I'd be readyreadyready to apply to serve a mission as soon as I turned 21.
And yet I had no desire to. I just felt like it wasn't something I wanted or needed to do.
But again and again the feeling would come, almost naggingly, that I needed to be open to serving a mission. And again and again, I'd smother it with thoughts that I didn't need to, that it was my choice, that what I really wanted to do was get married, etc., etc., etc.
But I felt that there was something out of place in my life, that there was a greater happiness that was eluding me because I was holding back parts of myself, that there was some purpose that I wasn't yet filling. So I decided to face it.
I knew that because I'd already decided that I wasn't going to go, my prayers inquiring what God wanted me to do were getting me nowhere. I knew that I would only be able to get clear direction from God once I could honestly say in my heart that I was willing to go if that's the answer I got.
And then came one of the biggest battles thus far in the inner-life of Carolyn: getting my stubborn little heart to a place where I was willing to be open to possibilities that weren't what I'd mapped out for myself. In the Book of Mormon, there's a story of a man named Enos who goes into the woods to pray to God. He says he wrestled before God, before he was able to receive forgiveness for his sins, before he was able to really communicate with God. I wrestled a lot. I cried a lot. The closest metaphor I can think of is a metalsmith hammering out a piece of steel.
But here's what I finally realized: me having thoughts to serve a mission was only because that choice would open me up to greater happiness. God directs us in paths towards happiness, so so gently. Those thoughts I kept having weren't demands from a God intent on controlling my life and forcing me to do things I don't want to do. Instead, they were promptings, nudgings, from an infinitely kind and infinitely patient God, who was trying to show me a higher path for my life than the one I would have chosen to go down.
When I realized this and was able to hand my will over, not just in my head but in my heart, that's when things began to take shape.
I won't go into the details of the myriad (seriously. myriad) of tender kindnesses that were poured over me in this decision process. In the time I was making the decision, there were lots of moments when the anxiety and fear would bubble up in my throat and nearly choke me, and I'd have to force myself to not think about it. But in every one of those moments, there was someone or something (even if it was just a thought or a prayer) there to give me a hand up, to encourage me, to quiet my fears.
And eventually all that fear passed. Thank heavens it passed. And it has been replaced with the sweetest of peace, about my life, about my decision, and best of all, about myself.
And you know all that stuff about not wanting to go? Let me tell you how I feel now: 180 degree turn. Now it’s all I want. A year ago, it would have been literally impossible for me to imagine myself saying that and meaning it. But I do. And isn't that the miracle of it all? That our hearts can change?
Another story (my favorite, actually) from the Book of Mormon, in one of the most beautiful metaphors I have ever known, talks about how hearts change. A man named Jared and his family are driven from their homeland. God directs them that there is a land "choice above all the lands of the earth" that He wants to carry them to. To get there though, they have to cross the ocean. So they build boats that are water-tight, top and bottom. They make airholes so when they "suffer for air" they can unstop the holes and breathe for a while. But they have a problem--no light in the vessels.
So Jared's brother (who's spearheading this whole project) cries to the Lord and says, "I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behond there is no light in them. Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?"
And the Lord responds, "What will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?"
So the brother of Jared goes up to the mountain and makes 16 small, white, clear stones. And the scripture says, "he did carry them in his hands upon the top of the mount, and cried again unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. ...Behold these things which I have molten out of the rock. And I know, O Lord, that thou hast all power, and can do whatsoever thou wilt for the benefit of man; therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea."
So there the brother of Jared is, praying, with these 16 little stones in his hands, asking for God to touch them and make them shine with light.
And the Lord stretches out his hand and touches the stones one by one, and they shine. And Jared and his family make it across the ocean and reach the land of their inheritance, the land "choice above all other lands."
I guess what I'm saying is that we are all each of us on a journey to a new land, to becoming the people we were meant to be. And that journey sometimes takes us right through the heart of great and terrible tempests, of fierce and furious winds, of mountain waves, even to the very depths of the ocean. And we start this journey by bringing 16 roughhewn stones to the mountaintop and praying that they will be made light and holy, that they will carry us across this ocean to our "promised land."
I guess what I'm saying is that I know that Jesus Christ can do that. I know He can change hearts. I know He can bring light to questions and doubts and fears that previously darkened our lives.
And that's why serving a mission for Him is the best decision I have ever made--because I will get to teach that message of hope to those who are looking for light in their journeys.
.....And Now a Word on What I've Learned and What I Believe.....I've learned (yet again) that God is patient. I am slow to come around sometimes, slow to realize what the best paths for my life are, and then slow to get the guts to actually do them. But God is patient. He blesses all our attempts at goodness. He makes our tiny efforts overflow in benevolence and plenty.
There are no obstacles--on land, sea, or heart--that we cannot overcome through the divine and tender kindnesses of God.
I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I believe the record that he translated, the Book of Mormon, is a true account, another witness of the divinity of the Savior, of his love for all people. I believe that it is through Jesus Christ that all wounds are healed. I believe that it is through Him that we become like Heavenly Father--pure as He is pure.
Learning of Jesus Christ fills me with love for others, with joy, and with solid peace in who I am and in who I am becoming.
I want to serve a mission because there are questions of the soul--the kind that keep you up at night, the kind that gnaw at who you are and call into question everything about this whole “life” thing. I have had these questions, and I have found answers to them through learning and living the gospel of Jesus Christ. And as I grow up, I realize how many people have these kinds of questions. I realize that these questions only grow deeper with age. I want to find those people who are looking for answers but don't know where to find them. I want to share what I know, in the hope that it will resonate with them and help them, as it has me.
For instance, these are some questions that the gospel of Jesus Christ has helped me answer:
- Why should I get out of bed today?
- How do I get over incapacitating heartbreak?
- How do I forgive someone?
- How do I forgive myself?
- How do I get over xyz bad habit?
- How come on some days I feel good about myself and on others I feel the opposite? How can I feel good about myself more consistently?
- In this crazy over-scheduled world, what would be the best thing(s) for me to invest my time and energy in?
- How do I know which messages (from media, friends, authority figures, and myself) I can trust and which I shouldn’t?
- How will I measure success?
- What lifestyle will bring me the deepest, longest-lasting joy?
- What’s going to happen to all these beautiful relationships I have once we all die?
- What kind of a person do I want to be?
- How do I renew hope when all darkness gathers in around me?
- What is the purpose of all my striving?
- What is most important to teach my (someday) children?
- How can I repair broken relationships?
- Is there a God?
- Who is He?
And now as I write this, I realize how many of you I’ve been friends with for so many years and yet have never “officially” invited to learn about these incredible things. I guess I figured if you were curious, you’d ask. So here’s my official invitation. I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe this gospel was restored to the earth, for us to learn and live and love and prepare to meet Him again.
Yep. Best decision I've ever made.