Tuesday, October 09, 2012

A Dynamic Shift

General Conference was this weekend. Saturday morning, after Zumba class, I turned on the radio in the van to listen to the broadcast, which had just begun, as I drove home. I heard the voice of Thomas Monson (the prophet), and he was getting ready to announce two new locations for a temple. (At the last General Conference, six months ago, no new temples were announced.) Tucson, Arizona, and Arequipa, Peru, will be the locations of those new temples. Then President Monson started talking about missionary work, the continuous need for strong missionary work. I pulled over to the side of the road as he explained that in some countries throughout the world, and at the right time, the age for young men to begin their missions has been 18 rather than 19. This all lead to the announcement that, "All worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at age 18 instead of 19." When I heard that, I audibly yelped in my van. To myself. And then I tweeted the information.

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.


Gerb said...

Elle's entire life is now centered on that announcement. What she said was, "I always hoped I'd go on a mission. Now it's a sure thing!" This means I will have 2 missionaries serving concurrently by late next year. Wow.

I am overwhelmed by how awesome this is.

~j. said...

Wow, Gerb! You know, yesterday I saw Elle running (PE class) right in front of the MTC and she looked so beautiful and strong (like she is,) and since it was in front of the MTC I thought about her being a missionary and how wonderful she'd be in that capacity.

Lyle said...

The announcement was awesome. My two oldest (16-girl and 14-boy) are excited by this. It also means that I wouldn't have two kids out on their missions at the same time.

Kazzy said...

I may be the only person around who has sons who were a little shaken up, and even scared by the announcement. My youngest 2 are 14 and 16, and my 16 yr old was not thrilled. He will serve a mission. He has always talked about it. His 2 older brothers have both gone. However, he is now very concerned about peer pressure to go at 18. Of course we talked to him about the spirit of this new vision, but his response was, "Mom, teenage boys already feel a lot of pressure to be out by 19, and now if they wait until 19 people are going to think they are in some serious repentance mode." We all think it is a great thing, I just think it may have thrown some kids.

~j. said...

Lyle - how do you feel about them going at separate times rather than at the same time? How do they feel about it?

~j. said...

Kazzy - Thank you for sharing that. I'm glad to hear the honesty. In my post I mainly talked about the angle of girls going, but I neglected to mention that, since he was a newborn, I've had a difficult time with the idea of my son leaving (he'll turn 6 tomorrow). I know this is silly, but it really does bother me, and now even moreso that he'll be gone a year earlier. I can only guess that my fears come from the fact that I don't like being without my kids (for lack of a better phrase).

I'm eager to hear the chatter among teens: excitement, anxiety, pressure (good and bad) as this all plays out.

Emily said...

I loved this: "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." I'm kind of excited by the announcement, but then again, my oldest is a girl age 15--that means she could go in 4 years.

I'd rather not think about that...

Lyle said...

Not knowing what our finances (and my children's finances will be like in another 3-5 years) it brings a certain level of reduced stress. My kids are both excited. I know they are and will be better prepared spiritually than I was 20+ years ago. Both my wife and her younger sister likely would have served missions had they been able to go at 19. My wife was 19 and some change when I came around and her sister was just getting ready to go on a mission at 21 when her husband came knocking.

Jen said...

I think the change is awesome and scary at the same time. I think of my twins and this means Jason could leave in 3 1/2 years!! It also means if Emily decides to go their service will overlap by a year. It makes me glad we started saving for them a long time ago. I do worry that they will be ready to go that early. It would mean for a lot of boys that they could go immediately after graduation. Which will give them less time to make poor choices, but will also give them less time to mature and prepare. I guess we, as parents and teachers of youth are really going to have to step up our game to make sure they are ready. I LOVE that girls can go earlier. I think many more girls will go now. I totally would have gone when I was 19, but by 21 I was married with kids.