My decision to serve was interesting, to say the least. At the time, I was enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Rochester. I was not enjoying my program and was looking for a way to get out of it. As soon as I became close to my year-mark as a member of the church, I started considering a mission and praying if I could go and have that be my exit strategy from school. However, I never felt it was the right thing to do. About 6 months later, in an email to a friend, Elder Morrill, (who gave me my first Book of Mormon), I said, ” I’m seriously thinking of leaving [school] soon. I just don’t feel like I’m making enough of a contribution to the world by being in school right now. I’m thinking of trying to find a job doing work for a non-profit environmental organization. Who knows where that would take me!? I really don’t have too much of a preference as to where I live.”

About a month later, I sent the following email to my Institute instructor, Brother Molinari. He had always been quite an influence in my life and I frequently went to him for advice.

I am yet again at a stage where I need to utilize your excellent advice-giving skills. I guess it is a bit of the same old – same old of what I was struggling with before.  

First, a brief background – About a month ago, I almost quit school in order to find a job. School just wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore. Even though I was still thinking of hanging around until the end of the year and getting a Master’s Degree, I applied for a few jobs but they didn’t turn out. Then, classes started and I realized that I really liked what I was doing and that as soon as I got some direction in my research, all would be great. Well, that direction is now finding its way into place and I’ve been thinking that I could easily hang in there and get my Ph.D.  Then, Tuesday I was giving Sr. Larsen a ride from her area in Penn Yan up here to pick up a new Sister and she was asking me about why I always feel awkward when the Sisters call me “Sister Anne”.  She said that since I don’t seem comfortable with the idea of not going on a mission, maybe I need to think about it a bit more. So. Tuesday night I prayed that I would be shown within the next few days what it is that I should do – and then I kind of forgot about it. Sure enough. yesterday I was reading a paper for school and all of a sudden it seemed that there was nothing greater in the world for me to do than to go on a mission. I emailed Kristina to ask if there was an upper age limit for females and she wrote back to tell me that there wasn’t and kind of reiterated what Sr. Larsen said about needing to try the other direction. Here are her exact words, “If it keeps coming back then you’re not a peace with your decision – so choose the other and start preparing – if it isn’t right, you’ll feel it and it’s not like once you decide you leave. It takes a while. Ya know?” Following is my response which expands a bit on my thoughts about it. “Ugh…I don’t know. I just can’t imagine anything else that I could do that would be better time spent at this stage of my life – you know? Just so I have the information…what is the way to get the ball rolling? Talk to Pres. D.? ‘It seems like I had to wait for this realization until after I had decided I wanted to stay in school – you know…so it wasn’t an ‘excuse’ to quit but that it was something I truly wanted to do. ‘I don’t really see myself being able to do it – to be that brave – but I would LIKE to be able to and that’s what being set apart is all about!  Plus.getting to study the scriptures for as much time as they do – could you get much greater time spent?! At the same time, I know that there will be difficult times but I’m one of those people who strives for obstacles to work my way through.  Also, I think if I decided to do this that it would be a further testimony to my family of how important this church is to me and maybe, just maybe they would take some more interest in it. However, I doubt they would offer much financial support, etc. although I’m sure they would be proud of the idea of the fact that I wanted to serve people in such a capacity. I had forgotten that I once had a dream about getting HOME from a mission and my family welcoming me and being so excited about all that I had done! ‘BUT…it would definitely be the end of my grad. school career (which I was just getting used to the idea of finishing) since I wouldn’t be able to take a break that long after I did my master’s and expect for the research still to be there (it would be done by some other lab somewhere). However, a master’s isn’t all that bad as for advanced education. Odd that after all my struggles about quitting school I NOW realize that a I don’t really need a Ph.D. and I am fine with that – just another reason for me to have to deal with that struggle before getting a good feeling about going on a mission.
‘Oye. but getting the papers and all that is a HUGE step. It is scary. Plus.when I came back I would have NOTHING. I would have an absolutely gigantic pile of loans, no job and no entry-level experience even though I had been out of school for quite some time. Of course, I have faith that everything would somehow work itself out but still – it is quite scary.”
I know that I am the one who needs to figure out whether or not I am supposed to go. So.I don’t really know why I’m sending you this. I guess so that you can reinforce the fact that as illogical as it is, if I feel I need to go then I must do it despite the irrationality of the situation.

He responded by saying, “Dearest Anne:  It sounds to me like you have already decided what to do. Perhaps some details need to be worked out, but it sounds like the direction is set. I do not think you would think that once the decision is made it will be smooth sailing afterwards. Be prepared for a few bumps and challenges.  These will not mean it is not the correct thing to do. “There must needs be opposition in all things.”  There are many positive reasons for serving a mission. Most of these could be presented from two perspectives. I think they can be summed up as this: it will change your life and will provide the opportunity to change other’s lives, neither of which will ever be the same.  A mission and its preparation are a lot of hard work, but then most things that are worth it are not easy. Or is it just that they mean more to us when the cost has been higher?  My suggestions: Don’t drop out of school immediately. If you can meet requirements for a Master’s degree before you depart (to work for The Master), do so. You will have plenty of opportunities to work or continue school or marry or whatever when you return. You will be a different person then, with different desires and priorities. You know that the Lord takes care of His own.  I agree with and like your observation about timing and desire to quit school. I think it is very good that at this point in time, mission is not an escape route.  You are a wise and insightful person. A mission will enhance both of these attributes while increasing your ability to love – unconditionally.  Once you have committed to the decision, I believe you will feel differently. Perhaps you do already.  Let me know when your farewell address will be given. I love hearing you speak in church. You do such a great job.  Thank you for thinking of me and asking for my input. I am flattered and always willing to add my $.02.  I will include you in my prayers.”

Earlier that morning, I had emailed my friend Kristina and said, “Is there any way that choosing to go on a mission could be wrong? It just doesn’t seem like it to me…Maybe I should head over to the Sacred Grove.   Is there any good “help with decision making” scriptures that you know?” She responded with the following, “choosing a mission is never wrong, however, I do believe the Lord will let you know if he has other plans for you. But at the same time, when it comes to missions and women, I think the Lord says – If ye desire to serve me, then you are called to the work. It’s in the D&C somewhere. It’s all about your desire. If it is truly what you want to do, then you have to put your faith and trust in him to manage the rest of the details of life –
school, work, marriage, etc. It seems to me you have your answer, it just may seem “impossible”, else you wouldn’t keep coming back to the question.  That’s how I was. As soon as I’d decided not to go, it came back a few weeks later. Remember that you aren’t going to get a straight “yes” or “no”. I just don’t think He does that normally. Do what your heart most desires and then he will bless you for that desire. The Spirit will guide you to know the proper timing of things. Help with decision making? D&C – anything in the D&C – open it up and read.  The entire book are answers to Joseph’s prayers, thus how better to know how to get answers and make choices.  Be at peace. Why do you keep searching for something? You weren’t happy
this summer, you thought you were happy for a few weeks since school started, so why do you keep looking??? What are you seeking? The mission?”

I went to the Sacred Grove that day and sat next to my favorite tree.  (It was fall in Upstate, NY so it was beautiful…the picture really doesn’t do it justice in the least.)  

In an email to my friend Kim, I said of my experience, “I want to put in my papers right now.  I want to go NOW…like today now! I went to the grove this morning for some clarification and got it.  I read the  having desire calls you to the work’ thing in D&C 4. Also, I went to D&C 7:7-9 (you know…the stupor of thought thing) and it was kind of the opposite for me. I couldn’t have a stupor of thought or forget about ‘the thing that is wrong’ because IT ISN’T WRONG…it is right! The first 2 verses of section 88 were speaking to me pretty strongly as well.  Also…the feeling is almost exactly like when I had decided to be baptized. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but was something I needed to do.”

Kim responded with, “I think you would be a fabulous missionary, and of course there’s nothing greater you could do with your time, and the Lord’s timing is often mysterious, so maybe now is the right time… like you said, only you can decide what your feelings are telling you. It sounds like the Lord has been guiding you along to want to serve for the right reasons (i.e. not to escape), so . . . sounds promising. 🙂  As far as the logistics–it sounds irrational to anyone w/o faith, but i wouldn’t even consider that as part of your decision-making process. secular work is irrelevant to the Lord’s work, and when you put Him first, He helps you take care of both!”

On my way home from the Sacred Grove, I had met my friend Carrie for lunch.  I distinctly remember sitting across from her and telling her my experience and my struggles.  I remember her telling me that she felt the spirit with force as I said, “I want to serve a mission.”  That really helped me to open up even more to the idea.

The next morning, I emailed my Branch President and said, “Pres. D., I made an appt. to meet with you on Sunday but I just can’t wait that long!  I want to serve a mission. I NEED to serve a mission!  I am going to serve a mission.  What all do I need to do in order to do that? Is there anyway I could get the papers before Sunday?  Don’t worry…I’m planning to finish up my Master’s degree before I leave.  Sorry not to tell you in person – I just couldn’t wait ANY LONGER!!!”

In retrospect, it is amazing the ways in which the promises were fulfilled that all would be taken care of when I got home.  Sitting here today in my office, listening to the Primary hymns coming from LJ’s room while he and The Lion nap, I just am baffled that I have this life.  I would have never imagined this much of heaven on earth for me.
I will save the stories of telling my parents, (which was my next obstacle), and receiving my mission call for another post.