The hard questions

Hello. This is slightly awkward, like saying hello to a friend you recognized in the frozen food section of Albertson’s, but haven’t seen since high school and well, where do you really start?

I honestly don’t feel that sorry for not writing, because well, I was getting married.

It’s great. He’s great. We’re great.

But today, it was time to write again.

I was sitting at my desk this morning combing through status updates and wedding pictures, looking for something trending.

And I found this blog.

How many times have I heard, “Sister are blisters,” and “you only went on a mission because you couldn’t get married,” or countless other diatribes directed at faithful women who decide to put their life on a shelf for 18 months, dress like a grandma and walk the dusty streets of Montana. Or Uruguay. Or Provo.

You brush them off.

How surprised I was to read this post from a former sister missionary. While I read, I found myself getting more and more upset.

Now, I’ve never been a great debater. I’ve never been particularly eloquent when confrontation rears its ugly head. But her words left me slightly unsettled. And rather than attack what she did say I’ve spent most of my day thinking about what she didn’t say.

Before I continue, let me first say this: she had some good points. But then again, so does Obama. #republican

But this isn’t about politics. It’s about religion. Hashtag, pick your controversy.

Let’s go back to my first few anxiety-ridden days of the MTC.

It was wonderful and terrible as every out-of-your-comfort zone experience should be.

I struggled with self-confidence. I calloused my knees pleading with God to help me become a mouthpiece for him, to let go of my insecurities and do what I had been called to do.

I struggled. I grew. One step forward, three steps back. Humility will have its way.

One night near the end of my stay, our branch president asked us the question we had gotten countless times.

“Why did you decide to serve a mission?”

My answer was something along the lines of this:

“I’ve seen the joy the gospel has brought to my family, and I want to share it with other people.”

The other missionaries in the room with me offered similar explanations.

President Roach looked at us long and hard.

“No,” he said. “It’s because you love God. And if you don’t realize that yet, you’d better figure it out quick.”

I went back to sitting on that rickety stage in a stake center in Florida, listening to Elder Holland. A tithe on your life, he told us. God expects you to give everything back to him. Those words penetrated me.

I went back to  an unpaved road in Ferndale, California. As I looked into a blinding sunset, my mind swimming in a torrent of potentials, the overwhelming truth came: a mission was in my future.

I went back to my knees aching against the wooden floors in my favorite house. Help thou my unbelief, I asked.

And suddenly, I was back in the MTC. The journey to decide to serve a mission was a challenge. Just like a mission is a challenge. But since when has God himself asked us to steer away from something because it’s difficult?

My fellow blogger is right. Elders and Sisters should choose to serve a mission for the right reasons.

But I will make this bold statement: a mission is for anyone. Anyone who is willing to find the right motivation to serve.

If you’re dating someone, it doesn’t mean you have to stay and marry them. I didn’t. And thank goodness. Though I loved the man I left behind, he was not what I needed. A mission wasn’t an out, it was my next step.

Spiritually, I was at a stand still. All the promptings in my life pointed toward a mission. God needed me among his children in Montana.  God and Emmilie needed me to grow. A mission wasn’t a solution, it was a step in my eternal progression.

I was bored with school. I am a person in need of constant distraction. A mission wasn’t a diversion from the monotony of living, it came when I needed to serve, allowing me to meet Georgie, Gayle, the Callisons, Jan, Jeremie and Jason.

No matter what the life circumstance you leave behind (which, there’s no right or wrong one) make sure it’s for the right reasons.

Anyone can serve a mission. So you struggle with anxiety, fear, pride, timidity, introversion, insecurities, the list goes on and on. I spent 18 months preaching that the is NOTHING that can’t be fixed through the atonement of Christ.

YOU can serve a mission.

But let me be clear. During my many month long process of deciding to serve, I examined my motives.

Maybe I’ll go somewhere exciting.

All the RM’s I’ve met have been so awesome. I want to be like that.

I want to know the gospel better.

Selfish. Selfish. Selfish.

A mission is not about you. God will work through you, using your talents, experience and testimony, but it is NOT. ABOUT. YOU.

As I got more serious about serving, and prayed more diligently, my motives began to change.

I want people to feel like I felt when Elder Meldrum and Elder Nyland taught my family.

I want everyone who struggles to know how incredible the atonement feels.

I want my brothers and sisters to have the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

And sitting in the MTC, with President Roach staring into the souls of six missionaries, my motives changed again.

Love. Love of God.

Love for the One who has carried me these past 25 years. Love for the one who has stood by me when I thought I would surely fall into pieces. Love for the one who has fixed my broken heart and comforted my sorrowing spirit.  Love for the one who loves me infinitely. Who loves me perfectly.

I’ll make one final point. True, women are not commanded to serve a mission. True, with the surge of sister missionaries going out right now, it would be easy to feel “pressured” into going.

Don’t. Be brutally, painfully honest with your soul. Why are you going? If you’re unsure, figure it out. The Lord, through a prophet of God has called for more missionaries. He’ll help you discover the right reasons to go.

Sisters be brave. Be brave to go. Be brave to not go.

Some of my dearest friends, who I go to for spiritual guidance and strength, didn’t serve a mission. In fact, it was because of valiant members that I met on my mission that helped me decide the kind of member I wanted to be when I returned. You don’t have to serve a mission in order to build the kingdom of God.

I did so that God could teach me about Emmilie. And love. And service. And the beautiful miraculous majesty of the atoning sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus Christ. A mission was always in the cards for me. But it happened because I chose it.

By the end of my mission, my answer to the question I heard 1,763 times was solid.

Why did you serve a mission, Sister Buchanan?

Love.

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40 thoughts on “The hard questions

  1. The other day I actually read the post you are referencing and I thought, “Is this even real?” I am so glad to see another perspective (: Thank you! I love the Lord and I can’t wait to go on my mission!

  2. I read the other blog post too and I think that you both had good points. I grew up thinking I would serve a mission, determined that I would serve a mission but when it came down to it a mission was not in my cards. I think there are many paths that lead to spiritual growth and for me the answer wasn’t a mission and that came as a deep loss to me because I wanted to serve (and for the right reasons as well). So I appreciate that you mentioned that sometimes you have to be brave enough not to go, because for me that was a difficult answer to get and listen to.

  3. I too read that post mentioned and was discouraged about why I was serving. I also commented on that post disagreeing with the author, (I was strangely one of the few who did.) But here’s the thing, honestly no one in the world can know my motives for serving a mission but me. I’m going because the spirit has told me numerous times to go. I’m going because of what you mentioned, I want to serve others, and bring the joy of the gospel to their lives. And also like you mentioned, I love God, I know he loves me and he wouldn’t ask me to do this if I couldn’t do it. I’m not stupid, or ignorant about how hard a mission is. I don’t need anyone telling me why sister missionaries are the worst. I want to love my companions, not think badly of them. No one is perfect. Only Christ was. And if someone thinks I’m the worst, then so be it, I only want them to be happy. Thank you for sharing your post.

  4. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
    After reading that other blog post I was kind of in shock, a little discouraged even. Though I’m sure her intentions were good, it’s one thing to try and inform and prepare future missionaries that a mission is not going to be an 18 month long EFY experience; it is going to be hard WORK. But it’s entirely another thing to pretty much outright tell girls that their services and efforts would be better spent elsewhere. After reading I felt as though my hard decision to serve a mission had somehow been cheapened, like I was doing the wrong thing; I even felt a little guilty. And then I took the blogger’s advice and I did with her opinion what I would: I threw (most of it) out the window. I knew my decision was good in the sight of God and that serving a mission is part of His plan for me. After all, serving God and making bad decisions just don’t go hand in hand. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s impossible.

    You said so yourself, most missionaries don’t understand right away the REAL reason they chose to serve. And that’s okay. Because, luckily, our loving Heavenly Father has a way of teaching us what we need to know. I’m glad I know He wants me serve a mission and so despite the warnings, despite the homesickness, the disappointment, and the aching feet that are sure to ensue, I will go, I will do the things the Lord commands, and I will make it the best 18 months of my life. 🙂

    • I am in the same boat as you! I have my call and I am preparing to leave in a little over two months.

      I felt the same way as I read the original blog post. I have prayed long and hard over the past year to know what the right decision is for me, and i just KNOW that I am supposed to serve a mission. I know that it is no accident that I am going to the place where I have been called, and I know that God has a plan for me there. I also know that it’s going to be hard! But life is never easy. It takes a lot of faith. Heavenly Father should be the first person we turn to when times are hard. Just as Emmilie said, we serve missions because we love God. And how lucky are we to know that he loves us, too? More than we can even comprehend! I hope I can help others understand how much He loves them. I honestly think that anyone who has a desire to serve God, should! It also isn’t something that we should ever feel forced to do. That decision is between you and Heavenly Father. There is nobody else who can determine whether or not you should be on a mission. As people have learned about my call, I have had very mixed responses. I have had people roll their eyes as if it’s just “something everyone does now.” I have had people tell me flat out that it is a waste of time. But I love my Heavenly Father. He has given me everything, he has brought peace to my soul when nothing else could. That is why I am going!

      Reading Emmilie’s post today brought tears to my eyes and reaffirmed that this is what I am supposed to be doing. And now I know why.

      • I Love Heavenly Father too, and I love your post. He will continue to bless you and your mission. I can tell you will be an awesome and faithful servant. thanks for sharing..

  5. Thank you so much for this post. Having read the blogpost yours is in response to, I completely agree. Thanks for your wit, your willingness to share experiences you’ve had, and your ability to inspire and make sense of the world. Keep on! (also, thanks for being an excellent example to a girl who is headed put to the MTC in T-14 days)

  6. Thanks so much for this! I read that other blog post this morning and it’s been in the back of my mind all day. I just don’t understand how she could have such a negative outlook on it! I’m in the papers stage of the missionary process and I know that it’s not going to be an easy 18 months but I KNOW that this is what He wants me to do for the next year and a half.

  7. Ahh it is awesome to see other’s perspective on this matter 🙂 I am with you here about LOVE being the very reason why we all serve. This applies to anyone who wants to serve in the Church. To some though, the real “why” comes later which I think is awesome too. You see some goes on a mission and think that the mission needs him/her but the truth is it is him/her/us who needs the mission. This is one big lesson I have learned because I went and serve.

  8. Whenever I read about your past, I feel as if I am reading about my present. It’s almost scary and it is most definitely incredible. I needed these words, every one of them. I only hope I turn out half as great as you when I am 25 🙂 Thanks Emmilie!

  9. I’m leaving in two weeks, and Oh! Did I need this right now. I have been questioning why I’m going, and now I know I need to dig deep into my soul and discover motives, and align them if needed. I’ve been struggling because one person will say, “Your mission will make you a MUCH better wife, student, mother”, and others tell me that it’s not about improving myself AT ALL – I’ve been so confused on which path to take. But, reading what you wrote here, I feel the Spirit confirm the truth: my mission’s entire focus will be about those I’m called to serve. Thank you again, you’ve definitely changed me.

    • Maddy, I just wanted to let you know that I have been feeling that same way lately. I am preparing to leave too, and I feel like Satan is working pretty hard to make me feel confused and inadequate. This post has helped me remember why I am going and that it is the right thing for me, because it’s not about me. It’s about Heavenly Father and his children. He knows better than any of us where we are supposed to be.

      It makes me feel better to know that I’m not the only one who has felt this way, so thank you for sharing! Good luck to you!!

  10. I read the original post and while understanding where her points were coming from, found myself getting angry and feeling sad for her. Thank you for highlighting all the small moments that make a mission, and ultimately learning about yourself in relationship to God, great. I can’t imagine my life without the experiences and people I gained from my mission. And I can’t fathom discouraging ANYONE, regardless of their initial motives to serve, from having those similar experiences.

  11. WOW what an awesome perspective. I always feel like Sister Missionaries are in this club of AMAZZZZING women! With that said, the other blog you referenced brought one sole thought to my mind.. The statement was “I loved my mission”. For me, that’s exactly what ends up being wrong for most people, it’s not MY MISSION, it’s the Lord’s.. By having that in the forefront of MY mind, I was able to serve almost 30 years ago, and still have contact with people that I met, baptized and still love. For me, the mission has never ended, because it wasn’t mine to start with. One doesn’t need a nametag to be a disciple of Christ !

  12. Thank u so much for this. Thank u for your faith, for your testimony and for sharing your experience with us. It helped me a lot. I’ll be submitting my missionary application this Sunday. Way to go!

  13. Thank you very much for this post. I first started reading it and clicked in the part that says this blog. I was terrified with what I read. I am preparing to go serve a mission, and I can say with all my heart that this is the right decision I took, Not because of others, but because I know my Heavenly Father wants me to do it. And I’ve always got in contact with sister missionaries, and I can say with no doubts, they were some of the best missionaries that have served here in my country. I’m not expecting it to be easy, but I know it will be worth it. I could already be married, but I choosed to go serve the Lord. And I don’t regret of the decision I took. I will have hard times, I know. Probably there will be days I will want to come back home, but I know that it is what I need to do right now. And if Heavenly Father called me, He’ll help e prepare to do His work. Once again, thank you for this post. It is great.

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  16. I’m leaving on a mission soon, needless to say I’ve had doubts and worries and such. After reading this, all I can say is thank you. So again, thank you.

  17. We are to be a missionary not just for the sake of compliance. That’s the word, LOVE [for Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ]. We have to do the right things for the right reasons. Becoming a missionary is one of the most challenging yet rewarding sacrifices we can offer to Him. Great post Sis! Thanks 🙂

  18. Yeah I thought it was a little strange that she made it seem like some girls didn’t receive promptings/revelation from God that He wanted a sister to serve a mission. The choice to serve was an answer to my prayers of what I was supposed to do with my life. I had absolutely no idea what direction to take, because I wasn’t looking at the right path! As I prepare to start my papers, I get more and more anxious to get out there and teach the gospel. Not because I want to escape (I’ve tried that and I know changing locations will not solve all your problems), but because I have a strong desire to help people.

  19. Emmilie! When you told me about this blog last night, I didn’t realize it was YOURS. Silly me. 🙂 I am SO glad I looked it up! Thank you for writing. So many sisters need your words – especially me! I’m excited to keep reading as I prepare to serve. Whenever I start to feel discouraged, I’ll be coming here! Thanks again 🙂

    • Thanks, McKenzie. So glad to meet you and so glad you found the blog! Thanks for what you had to say. I think there is so much we can all learn from each other. Like, for real. I am so impressed with all the young sisters who are so willing to serve. The gospel is seriously the greatest. P.S. you and my sister have the same name and same spelling. That is neat.

  20. Hey. I just wanted to let you know that I liked this post and I appreciate your own perspective on the matter. I felt like there was something a little off with the post mentioned above, and I think you addressed it excellently.
    Also, for the record, you sound like a great debater to me. You’re a great writer, anyway. 🙂 Hope you’re doing well.

  21. Thank you for this! I just got home from my mission to Georgia about a month ago. It was AMAZING!!! It was hard of course, with long days and mean people and frustration and companions that tested my faith and patience at times. But I wouldn’t take back one second of it! Maybe I’m weird, but I honestly feel that serving a mission 100% re-routed my life and was the best thing I could have ever done. I cannot even begin to describe some of the events that occurred. I had no idea how real the Spirit was, how hard people were truly searching for the Restoration of the gospel, and how many people would be touched by the Spirit. Seriously, I’m one of those missionaries that just loved my mission. It completely blew me away how much I learned, how difficult it was to face up to the realities of life in the Bible Belt and people who were bent on our destruction, and how intimately I would come to know my Savior. I also couldn’t have predicted how hard I would cry when I left those sweet people that we taught, the hole I felt in my heart when I had to get on the airplane, and the opportunities I have had since I got home to testify of the truthfulness of the gospel. That being said, I understand that a mission isn’t a possibility or a necessity for everyone, and a mission doesn’t guarantee spiritual knowledge. But it can be amazing, if you let it (your mission and the Atonement) change your heart and shape you, and then watch as it does the same for the people around you. So basically I’m an extremely biased, completely unobjective supporter of sister missionaries…if they serve in the right spirit. My advice to any potential sister would be to listen to the Spirit, take a good, long, hard look at your life, and figure out what would be your best option. But don’t rule out a mission immediately. It could be one of the best choices you could ever make 🙂

  22. I read both your blog post and the one you referenced and I have to say that I truly felt uplifted while reading yours. Heavy and bogged down with the other. Love truly is the reason to serve – this is such a truth! We are filled with light and love and when we share that light and love, everyone is edified and uplifted. It has been 17 years(!) since I left on my mission and this morning I felt a reassuring happiness that I did the right thing. You are an incredible writer and an inspiration to many. Thanks for your words!

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