Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How Alyssa Decided She Wanted To Become Sister Pickering

I have been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for my entire life.  I have been incredibly blessed to have grown up in a very faithful family, and I made the super important decision to be baptized when I was 8 years old.
I was baptized and confirmed on December 4, 2004 with one of my best friends Makayla
My daddy and I on my baptism day
When I was 12 years old I entered the temple for the first time, and fell in love with it.
I absolutely love the temple.  SO MUCH.
The gospel was something I loved and had a very strong testimony of, but in all honesty, I never really had a burning desire to serve a mission.
I come from a family where the circumstances are rare where almost every female in the family before me served a full time mission at the age of 21.  Because of this and because of my faith and devotion to the gospel, it kind of just became assumed that I would serve a mission someday as well.  I am the oldest grandchild on both sides of my families, and so people just figured as the oldest I would make the decision to serve and blaze the trail for all the younger kids to follow. 
Just a small portion of my large, LDS, mission-serving family

Another family temple trip

However, I wasn't really sure I wanted to do this.  It seemed like a nice concept and all, but it didn't really seem to fit into my plans very well.  It would require me leaving my college education when I was one year away from graduating which seemed awkward and inconvenient, and for some absurd reason (I was a young child, forgive my ignorance) I thought 21 was really old and if you weren't married by then, then there was probably something wrong with you. 
But, everyone wanted me to serve so desperately and I didn't want to let anybody down, so I just kind of went along with their plan, not really vocalizing my opposition to serving a mission.  I just didn't see myself going, but I didn't know how to break the news yet.
Flash forward to May 2011.  I was fourteen years old, just finishing up eighth grade, and I received numerous impressions that it was time for me to receive my patriarchal blessing.  I just had the feeling that it would be incredibly beneficial for me to have before I start high school, and so I followed the spirit and started the process.  On a Sunday a few weeks later after a long day of fasting, my parents and I arrived at the home of the patriarch so I could receive my blessing, and the experience was sacred and beautiful.
The patriarch was emotional throughout the entire blessing, but at one particular point, he stopped speaking entirely.  He started to sob, and fourteen year old me started to get incredibly nervous.  What did he know about me?  Had I done something wrong?  What was happening?  However, as he proceeded, he spoke with a power and with emotion that I have never felt in my life again.
He began to speak to me very directly and specifically about serving a mission.  I was overwhelmed with the Spirit and also began to cry, because the feelings the Spirit had washed over me were undeniable in every sense. 
After my blessing ended and I had returned home, I spoke with my parents.  "Well" I said hesitantly.  "I guess I am serving a mission."  They both beamed with pride and hugged me.  The truth of the matter though was that despite the incredible instruction I had received about my mission, I still wasn't wanting too.  I knew it was practically imminent at that point and denying the promptings would be bordering on blasphemy, but I still wasn't convinced.  I have to confess that I moved forward with this revelation somewhat begrudgingly, thinking maybe Heavenly Father had been mistaken about me.
Flash forward again to October 2012.  It was the Saturday morning of general conference, and my mother had dragged me sleepy eyed out of bed to come watch the session.  I remember very distinctly sitting in her bed and listening to the hymns and the prayer and the usual welcoming that happens with conference.  However, I remembered as President Monson began talking about missionaries, something changed.
When the historic announcement was made that boys could now serve at 18, my thoughts immediately turned to my best friend Spencer, who would now be leaving in 3 years instead of 4.  I barely had time to think of anything else before President Monson began to speak specifically to the sisters. 
When he announced that sisters would now be eligible for missionary service beginning at age 19 instead of 21, I literally gasped.  That shock was coupled with the very specific feeling and thought that popped into my head, which was very much an "I told you so" sort of feeling.  And the Spirit was right.  I had been told I would be serving a mission before, but I then felt an overwhelming confirmation that it was right.  Not only that, I wasn't just filled with confirmation to go serve, but a DESIRE.  I WANTED to serve a mission.
Ever since that day in October 2012, I have planned on serving a full time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  I haven't just been planning on it, I have been excited beyond belief to go and do it.  I had been filled with confirmation so many times of the divinity of missionary work, and I knew that I had to be a part of it. 
The decision to serve a mission shaped the entirety of my teenage years.  Whenever temptation or a difficult choice came about, I had already made my decision about my standards, because I wanted desperately to live close to the Spirit and be worthy to serve.  It gave me a marvelous goal to work towards, and it also was an incredible motivation to study the gospel further and prepare to teach.
Holding to my decision hasn't always been easy though, especially as I have come closer to my actual departure.  Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed with fears of inadequacy and failure, sometimes I can't bear the thought of leaving my family and loved ones behind for 18 months with minimal contact.  However, I have always received comfort in the following ways.
First, when it comes to inadequacy and perfection, I have to keep reminding myself that the Lord did not put us on this Earth to fail.  Likewise, if He gave me the instructions and promptings that He wanted me to serve a mission, He isn't going to let me fail as long as I am obedient and striving to do my best.  No missionary called is perfect, and so nobody is going to expect me to get out there and be flawless all the time.  We are also blessed with the knowledge that the Lord can make more out of us that we could ever hope to make out of ourselves, and I know that He will help refine me to be the missionary that He would have me be. 
Secondly, in this gospel we are blessed with the knowledge that families are forever.  That being said, allow me to quote the incredibly clich√© missionary saying that can be found so frequently on various Pinterest boards:
"A missionary is someone who leaves their family for 18 months so that others can be with their family for eternity."
And as completely cheesy as that may sound, it is SO true.  I was blessed with the amazing privilege to be born into this gospel to a wonderful and loving family, and I have grown up with these truths that I think we all so often tend to take for granted sometimes.  However, despite the fact that we are all children of our Heavenly Father, not everybody is automatically blessed with the truths and beauty of the gospel.  And because I have been given much, I too must give.  It is my responsibility to go and share the good news with my brothers and sisters, because I know that is exactly what the Savior would have me do.
So, I will be changing my name for 18 months from simply Alyssa to Sister Pickering.  I will trade in my soccer sweats, hoodies, and fuzzy socks for skirts, blouses, and a name tag.  I will give up my schooling, my hobbies, and my pastimes to teach the gospel and serve the Lord.  Most importantly, I will surrender my will to Him as I try and become the missionary the Lord would have me be. 
I have such a strong testimony of this gospel, and I know with certainty that it is true.  Jesus Christ is my Savior and my redeemer, and I can do anything through His enabling atonement.  There is a Heavenly Father who loves each of us personally and intimately, and He cannot wait to bless us and bring us home to be with Him someday.  The Book of Mormon is an inspired book, and we will get closer to God by abiding its precepts than any other book on earth.
I know all this and more, and this is why I am choosing to serve a mission.  I am so excited and humbled for the chance I will have to serve, and I am looking forward to it as the best 18 months of my life thus far.
I am clearly super pumped to be a missionary!

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