It’s late on a Sunday night. I should be reading my scriptures and getting ready for bed, but I feel like I’m finally ready to tell this story.
I’m at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, a place I never imagined nor wished to be, and I’m still wondering what I’m even doing here, but I do know how it ended up happening.
And here’s for all those people who wondered what happened about me serving a mission.
This is the story.
October 6th, 2012. It’s a freaking historic day for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On this day, it was announced that young men could now serve missions at 18, and young women could go at 19. CUE THE MASSIVE FREAK OUT AND FLOODING OF THE MTC.
But on another note, October 6th, 2012, was also my 18th birthday.
I was happy about the announcement, of course. I thought it was one of the coolest things to happen this decade, but I didn’t find it personally applicable. I didn’t intend to serve a mission, but I was delighted about this change.
Three months later I began my Freshman year at BYU-Idaho. It was hard. The struggle was realer than real. I developed multiple psychological disorders (or became aware of ones that I already had), and on top of this, a thought occurred to me, amongst all of the other things that were swarming my life: “You need to ask the Lord about serving a mission.”
What? Ha-ha. No way.
But it persisted, so I did.
I received a peculiarly clear impression that I needed to complete two years of school at BYU-Idaho, and then prepare to go on a mission. Um. Okay. That left plenty of time for the revelation to change and for my life to go in another, more hopeful direction, because like I said, life was really rough right then.
One year down. Second year in progress. Halfway through my third semester, I began to feel the desire to serve a mission. I was ready. I was pumped! This was going to happen! Whoot! I was ready to drop out of school right then, head home, get a job, and start saving up my money!
I asked the Lord about it, and He said…
“No. We agreed on two years, and two years it’s going to be.”
Again, What? All right, I was devastated. CRUSHED. But I did it. I stayed for the rest of the semester and then the one after that. And you know what happened, and happened fast?
That desire to go died. And I don’t mean it faded. It was snuffed out like the flame of a candle. Gone. And when the end of that second year came, I wasn’t ready to go on a mission. I didn’t want to do it. I was still suffering mental illnesses, I was in debt from those two years of college, and had no money to a) make payments on my loans while I was on a mission, b) pay for a mission, and c) pay for the things I needed to go on a mission (mostly medical).
But I went home. I got a job. I started saving up my money, and it went real slow. The time came when I would ordinarily be buying a plane ticket to Salt Lake City, and I let it pass. I let my enrollment at BYU-I drop, and I’d tried so hard, as a 16 and 17 year old, to get my life together so I could get into that university. And I had to let it go. Oh, believe me: I asked the Lord about going back. Of course, the answer was no. Hard as it was, I had to sacrifice my pride, my former ambitions, and my life plan, to do something that I didn’t want to do.
The way didn’t open up, either. There was no, “I can see you’re really trying so I’m going to bless you with this freebie.” I don’t get freebies in life.
It seemed, month after month, that the Lord was putting me on an obstacle course leading to a goal I didn’t want, but which He insisted was His plan for me, and asking: “How much do you want to do what I want you to do?”
“Lord, with all my heart.”
The finances didn’t line up. My mental issues weren’t resolved. My family wasn’t blessed–in fact, my Dad lost his job, twice, the second time being the day before I spent everything I’d earned thus far to get my wisdom teeth removed. I was feeling the pain, and by that point (September 2015) I’d been out of school a whole year, trying to save up money, trying to fix my brain, trying to find the desire I’d lost.
And it didn’t help that from at least April that year, I’d been receiving spiritual messages, both subtle and not so much, informing me that I wasn’t going to go. It wasn’t going to happen. The Spirit would say “By the way, you’re going to […]and not go.” I’d say “Whaaat? Does that mean I can…(go back to school, stop preparing)?”
“No, we’re not talking about that right now. You need to focus on serving a mission.
“But at the same time, Rachel: You’re not going to go.
“But keep preparing.”
…For a mission I didn’t want to serve, that the Spirit was hinting I never would.
But keep trudging on.
I prayed for the desire to serve. What I got in return was one of the most awful feelings I can ever remember having, a terrible, forbidding: “YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO ASK FOR THAT.”
How else was I supposed to gain the desire to serve? I was trying! I took mission preparation classes, I saved up my money…I was trying! But it wasn’t working out, and I didn’t want to go.
Then the Lord threw me another curve ball, not a subtle hint about something that would happen in the future, but a very direct, “This is something that could happen.”
And it wasn’t about a mission, and it wasn’t about school, and if it was true, it meant that I wouldn’t be serving a mission. It was the promise of a possibility.
I had to make a decision. The Lord had been saying “prepare for a mission,” for almost a year and a half by this point, but now He was saying, “This other thing could be a possibility.” I didn’t want to serve a mission. I did want to try for the thing. But after preparing for this long, would it be right to give up on a mission?
I rethought how I’d been asking about serving a mission. I rethought a lot. I came to a conclusion, and maybe it was just time. I told myself: “I have decided not to serve a mission,” and it felt RIGHT. Not a little right, but FLAMING, IN YOUR FACE, YOU FINALLY GOT THE POINT, right.
If I was Abraham, a mission was my Isaac. I had to sacrifice my university enrollment, my pride, and my life plan, to do something I felt was absolutely wrong for my life. But I went for it because the Lord asked me to. But, like Abraham, I was never meant to kill Isaac. I wasn’t meant to go on a mission. But I had followed the will of the Lord.
All right. No more mission. I went for the “possibility,” and for a while, it seemed like it was going to develop into what the Lord had said it could be. A friend suggested that I apply to BYU, here in Provo, and since that would definitely help with the thing (sorry for being so vague), I did it.
But a few weeks before I got my answer from the school, the possibility failed and failed hard. It hurt, but I accepted it. I wasn’t in control and it wasn’t my fault. It would be okay.
I got my acceptance letter to BYU. For some inexplicable reason, I accepted it, instead of returning to my old BYU-I which I had always, always, always intended to attend and graduate from. I had reasoned through it logically, and made my choice…but why? Why BYU?
So. No mission. And not BYU-Idaho. BYU.
What is happening to my life?! This was absolutely not the plan. Never. Never was any of this part of the equation.
And I wasn’t certain of my decision not to go on a mission. It bothered me that for so long I’d been prompted to prepare, only to have it suddenly turn around: “You don’t have to anymore.”
What was the point?
I did a lot of soul searching. I did a lot of praying. And crying. I became friends with Jesus. I learned to call God my Father. I learned to feel Their presence in the very center of my heart through the companionship of the Holy Ghost. This was at the beginning of the year. The possibility crashed: My Heavenly Father was there. Different horrible experience? The Holy Spirit is right next to you. Can you feel it?
And I learned, after a lot of crying–on my knees, in the bedroom, in the bathroom in the middle of the night, after church, after institute, in the car, in the cold backroom, and even at work–that it was okay that I wasn’t going on a mission. Because you can only spend so much time trying to do God’s will before you really want to do His will. And I reached that point. It came to me one night that by this point, I was going to do whatever the Lord wanted me to do. Mission? On it. BYU? Going. I’ll go and be and do what you want, Lord. Here am I.
But it wasn’t a mission that He asked of me. It was just to go to Brigham Young University, where I had never planned to go, where I never would have applied if I hadn’t dropped out of BYU-I almost two years previously, where I wouldn’t have been able to afford if I hadn’t gotten that job and continued saving up after I got my wisdom teeth pulled.
If my life had gone according to my plan, I would be graduating from BYU-Idaho in July. Instead, I’m restarting at BYU with major credits that didn’t transfer, looking at four more years of college. I was apprehensive about coming up here. The anxiety was overpowering at times. But I’ve felt, since I’ve arrived, this small, light feeling: “You’re exactly where I need you to be.”
Life. It didn’t work out as I planned. Since the very day I became an adult it has been this terrifying, enlightening, challenging, heartbreaking, faith-strengthening ride. I’ve done everything I’ve been asked, though. I know that. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was trying my best.
What have I learned in the last three and a half years?
First and foremost, that my Heavenly Father has a plan for me, and it probably looks nothing like the one I had in mind. But I also know that it’s the best plan. Eventually, I learned to cope with most of the issues I’d developed my freshman year. I had an average job, but it was with amazing people. I was in an itty-bitty Single’s Branch, but the members were exactly the people I needed in my life right then. I lived at home with my parents when they were having a tough time, and then I lived with my brother and his wife, rooming with his wife’s sister, who became a solid pal. Now, somehow, I’m at BYU.
I remembered what was at my center. The shield around the core of my character is built of my hope in and for myself, and when hell breaks that shield, it unleashes the power of my core, the depth of my character, and that is my faith in Christ, my Elder Brother, my Savior, who will and has raised me from any hell into which I fall.
I learned to submit my will to my loving Heavenly Father’s, sacrificing my pride and what I thought was best for my life.
I was able to focus on strengthening my spirituality–again. Life is full of spiritual highs and lows. When the possibility crashed, I learned a lot about the nature of Christ, and how I wasn’t living up to my aspiration of being like Him.
I learned that there is absolutely nothing I want more than to return to the presence of my Heavenly Father and my Savior. And I mean that. I cannot wait. I have felt Their presence in my life through the Spirit. I have felt Them like beings standing beside me, giving me the strength to live when I knew I’d lost all my power to sustain myself; an arm around my shoulder in the dark of the night; an unmistakable presence in my heart when the world crashed around me. THEY’VE BEEN THERE. They have stood beside me. I just haven’t seen Them yet.
Now, I know some of this won’t entirely make sense to a lot of the people who read it. But it’s okay. It wasn’t your journey. It was mine. I hope maybe someone can learn from it, or be enlightened as they go through something similar. But in the end, it was all for me. This is my personalized test, challenging me in all of my weakest areas, turning them into strengths, creating in me the woman Heavenly Father can guide to do the greatest good in the world.
Through mental illness, through preparing for a mission I didn’t want to serve and then coming to grips with not going after all, through losing hope, and moving to a new place, and adopting a new plan, there’s always been this promise:
“If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils by land or by sea…if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my [daughter], that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:5 & 7)