As I pulled back into traffic, President Monson continued talking about missionary work and talked about the value of women who serve missions, about their success. And then the words: "Able worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19 instead of age 21."
Tears streamed down my face as I drove. On the freeway, with construction cones, there was nowhere to pull over so I did my best to drive safely while wiping my eyes. The tears slowed by the time I pulled into my garage.
During that short drive, and throughout the weekend, I thought about what this all means: for me, for the girls I teach at church, and, of course, for my own kids.
This announcement is not simply a change in policy, it's a shift in dynamics of so many aspects of life for many people in regards to college (and scholarship), career, dating, marriage, family, personal instruction.
I can only speak from my own experience, so that's what I'll share. From a young age, I knew I wanted to get married and have a family. I've always prioritized being a stay-at-home mom, even with all else I've wanted to be. When I was a teenager I felt supported in those desires from the lessons I was taught at church, with the occasional reminder that should I be unmarried at age 21, I had the option of being a missionary.
jamestown, new york, young women, early 1990s
To me, the idea of being a missionary was very exciting and inviting, but I saw it as a conflict with being a wife. Again, this is my own experience, I have many friends who are girls who served missions and are now married, but for myself I just couldn't see myself going on a mission because I thought I'd get married first, and I was right. Engaged at 19, married at 20. Happy to get married? Certainly. Secondarily, the resignation that I wouldn't be going on a mission.
And so I consider, if this policy would have been in place in 'my time,' what would have been? Would I have pursued going on a mission at 19? The ramifications from even the speculation branch out too far for me to address simply. The answer lies in so much more than who I was at age 19.
at age 19, with my friend skye
For these reasons I turn my thoughts to my role as teacher. On Sundays at church, I have the pleasure of teaching 14 & 15 year old girls. I've taught in the Young Women organization for years, and though I thoughtfully take liberty with the given curriculum, I've consistently encouraged those I teach to search out their own talents and strengths to be the best at what they choose to do; to get as much education as they can; and when it comes to the topic of the possibility of them serving missions, it has seemed as distant to me as it probably has to them: 21 years old? They can't even remember what they're supposed to do on Thursday (I keed) (sort of). The idea of a mission is so far from their minds because for them 21 is OLD. But now? After this weekend's announcement? They can go at age 19. Like, the age of their older brother or whatever. Still a teenager (technically). 5 years away which, though they don't know exactly how quickly it goes, they know it's coming up quickly. They'll take the idea more seriously, give it more consideration; this translates to things such as their personal scripture study and how they spend their personal time. And for myself and other teachers like me? We've basically just been asked to teach mission prep which is WAY more worthwhile than some of the lessons I've come across in my time.
All of this comes down to what's most pressing for me about this: the reality is now that more of my own children are likely to serve missions. This has implications for my family (beyond financial - yowza!) which are in effect immediately. Scripture study has become even more important than it has been. Teaching my kids independence with things like cooking and laundry and the like have been re-prioritized. Darin and I (and other parents around the world) have had a stark reminder of just how little time we have left before our birdies take flight.
three of my kids totally preparing for their missions during general conference
More of General Conference, much more, made a long-lasting impact on me, but for now:
What are your thoughts on this announcement?
For further details, I invite you to see the press conference.