Today is my 5th birthday.
Not “birth” birthday, of course–I’m 23, not 5.
No, five years ago today I left the old Kayla behind and became someone different. Someone trying to be a little better.
I became a Latter-day-Saint.
A few weeks leading up to today I told my husband we should have cake to celebrate (kind of a silly tradition). He made cookies instead–and I sure don’t mind since sugar is sugar *and his cookies rock*. I also spent some time flipping though my old journal, remembering entries I wrote while I was being taught by my missionaries and looking over pictures from the day I was baptized alongside my family.
And now that I’m settled down from a sugar rush that I managed to get before lunchtime and my husband is off running an errand, I got the desire to write to you–the 18, 19, 20-something-year-old young person who might be reaching a point in his or her life where a mission is in the cards and the desire is there, but you’re just–scared. Or nervous. Or sad. Or maybe you just decided you shouldn’t go at all. Whatever the stage you may be in, I wanted to write this for you.
(Pic from hipsterrm.wordpress.com)
I don’t have brothers, or sons–although my husband is often my little boy *don’t tell him I said that*
So I don’t know the complete psyche of the young men in this matter.
But I have enough guy friends and enough girlfriends who have served to know how it may feel when your toes are to the edge of the cliff–ready to jump into midair–and ready to serve a mission somewhere you’ve never been. But, I also know why you should jump.
Growing up, the first memories I have of missionaries are interesting, to say the least. They were people I only knew from their white shirts and black slacks or skirts. I never really knew about the black badges because I only saw the backs of them as my Dad would hustle them up the driveway, shooing them from our front porch. We were church hoppers–the last religion I claimed was Pentecostal. *AMAZING people, by the way*. But my particular church happened to not like Mormons very much–and so the missionaries scared me. And yes, you’ll face that. A lot. You’ll face people like us who slam the door in your face when you’re already tired and hungry and just want to sit down on a couch somewhere. You’ll hear a million “No’s” and have a hundred fingers pointed in your face and Bible verses read to you in angry voices. You’ll have dads chase you up their front lawns and you’ll see children peak through curtains, yelling, “We’re not home!”
You’ll face people like me–people who wanted nothing to do with any of it.
But then, there’s my next memory. Two missionaries helping a woman in her front yard. I was a teenager in high school, driving in my little car, when I noticed two badged elders busy raking and planting pink ruffles of flowers in a small little yard down the street. The old woman watched from her porch, smiling. You’ll do that too. You’ll spend so much time serving, Brother and Sister. You’ll plant flowers and paint walls and move furniture ten times your body weight. You’ll hurt your back and your feet while doing it–and you’ll love it. And there will be someone like me–someone you don’t even know about–who drives past or walks by, and notices your smile as you serve. Someone like me will decide you’re not so bad.
A memory of a missionary that comes to me after that is when I finally decided to go to church with one of my Mormon friends. The spirit touched me–and in that moment I realized I’d never felt the spirit quite like that before. I searched my eyes for someone to tell–someone who would believe that all this time, all my life, I’d been searching and I felt like I found it! And that’s when I found those young men with the black tags and matching backpacks. “I want to know more” I had said. And their eyes grew wide as they exchanged glances. That will be you, Brother and Sister. You’re going to be the beacons of light that people will find–like moths to a flame, people will know you carry truth. And to those who don’t know right away–they’ll come to find out.
A sweet memory that follows that one is of sitting at the feet of the missionaries as they taught my family. Like an infant, I’d never heard any of it before. Sure, I knew who Jesus was. And I knew God was there. But while listening to the missionaries as they spoke softly about the plan of salvation, about living prophets, about forever families and the sweetness of repentance through the atonement–I was set free. All of my past, like dark shadows that had haunted me, slowly shriveled back in the light of these two missionaries who held the word of God in their hands and proclaimed his truth. I was in awe. You’ll do that for someone someday, too. You’ll be the first words they’ve ever heard about the gospel. You’ll be the only scriptures they’ve ever read. You’ll remind them who they are. And in turn, you’ll learn who you are again.
Then comes the memory of my missionary as he brought me up from the water. He was smiling. And so was my heart. One by one my family went down into the water and came back up, renewed and relieved that we no longer carry a heavy sack of “I wish I hadn’t”. And you will most likely step into those waters too. And if you don’t, you’ll lead someone close to the water all the same. And you’ll see the smiles. The imprint of the gospel on their faces.
And that leads us to my most recent memory of missionaries: My wedding. My first missionary was right there in the temple–the same missionary who showed me my first picture of a temple. He no longer wore a tag, but he wore the same spirit he had right when I saw him last. As he hugged me that day he told me he was proud of me and that it was one of the happiest days of his life so far. Brother and Sister, you’ll feel that too. Someday down the road you’ll look back on your mission with fondness. Yes, it will be hard. Yes, you’ll have days where you want to give up. Yes, you’ll wonder if anyone will ever just want to listen. And then, it will all make sense. You’ll see lives blessed. Children from families you taught singing primary songs. Teenagers you played basketball with turning away from drugs. Or maybe even impoverished families walking miles to attend church on Sunday–because they’re dedicated to the cause.
You will help in the work.
Missionary work isn’t easy. *Heaven knows I wasn’t the easiest to teach*
But it’s worth it, friends. It always is.
I know there is someone like me out there. Someone like my family. They’re searching for truth, even if they don’t know it yet–they want light. And you can be God’s hands and bring that to them.
**I wish to write a disclaimer to this post. I know there are circumstances that sometimes arise (illness, disabilities, personal choice). I don’t intend to sound as if everyone is meant for a mission no matter what. I just want to encourage those who have even the smallest desire to serve.