Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Georgia on my Mind

Did you know that the song Georgia on my Mind was actually written about a lady named Georgia? I was listening to it once, and I realized that it was vague enough to really talk about either one. Then I read about it on wikipedia. So yeah, her name was Georgia Carmichael.
Anyway, this particular post was inspired by the responses to another random blog I happened across. I don't actually know who all has read any of these. All I know is a few people have opened the page. That doesn't tell me much. So if you're not religious, or you don't want to hear about it, I promise I'm not offended if you skip out on this particular post. But I do want to explain a little bit, both to LDS church members, and to others, about the mission I served in Georgia, and about the decision making process. I give you fair warning, though, I don't tend to sugar coat things. I may vehemently tell some people off, just like I frequently do on other topics.
Maybe some people don't understand why I'd take almost 19 months of my life and go to a strange place, with all new people, and follow such strict rules, all in the name of preaching the gospel. And I'd really like to give you a satisfactory answer. But it's one of those things that no matter how well I spell it out, and no matter how eloquent I get, you won't understand it to the full extent unless you've done it yourself. I can try, though.
It's like when you eat at a really good restaurant. You don't just keep it all to yourself, and go off sneakily there to eat. When you really like a place, you normally tell all your friends about it. Like "Wow, I ate at this awesome restaurant last night. You totally have to go there and try this thing I got." That's an entirely normal human response. And this isn't any different. When you have something that makes such a huge difference in life, and only gets even better when more people are involved, it would be stupid NOT to tell everyone about it.
It isn't about being against people who believe different than you. It isn't about brainwashing, or trying to rack up brownie points in heaven. It isn't about feeling like you're better than other people. It's about trying to help other people find the amazingness in life that you have. It's about wanting everyone to taste the amazing food at that favorite restaurant. And that's why mormons make such a huge deal out of it. It's not because we try to find more and more ways to discriminate, or because we try to inflict discomfort. It's because we really do care about other people out there in the world, and we just want them to be as happy as we are.
Now, I'm gonna digress a little. As most of you probably know, when it comes to the typical LDS girl's decision of mission or marriage at 21, I'm clearly biased. Obviously I'm gonna tell anyone out there to go for a mission. Marriage can happen after a mission, but missions can't happen after a marriage. Not until you're like 70. And lets face it, as AMAZING as senior couples are, and as much as I adore them and think they're the best people ever, serving as an older couple will never be the same as a full time mission at 19 or 21.
But I also freely admit that this isn't the path for everyone. What some people fail to realize is that this decision is a highly individual one. There is no one talk or quote or piece of advice that is going to give you a 100% all the time answer on this, because everyone's choices are different. That being said, I introduce you to a girl who had this same question. She sent in her mission papers, got a call, and THEN met a guy and decided to marry him 4 days later. Understandably, her parents weren't too thrilled with this decision. She posted the question about marriage vs. mission, and asked for talks and quotes to back up her decision. There were like 80 responses, and mine was just one of many. This is what I said to her.
"I agree with most of the people on here. Getting married vs mission is an entirely personal thing. There aren't going to be any talks on it that are 100% applicable, because everyone's situation is unique.
That said, I do personally feel a little bit biased on the side of your parents. It's one thing to choose marriage over a mission in general, and it's a totally different thing to turn in the papers, get a call, accept the call, promising in the letter you write to go where you've been asked to go, and THEN saying "oh, nevermind, I like this boy now." To me that feels less like a question of marriage over mission, and more like a question of being wishy washy on your promises and trustworthiness.
But please don't take that as a condemnation. Like I said, every situation is different. But please consider that as a possibility before jumping straight into something.
Along with that, a mission is never going to be a bad choice. God is never ever going to condemn you for going out and giving him 100% of your life for so many months. I'm going to comment on this in a sec, but I have to say that making a decision to serve a mission is never a bad idea. Getting married can turn out badly if you aren't careful about it. Just like many were saying, being an RM in and of itself has little or no bearing on what kind of husband some guy will make. It has everything to do with WHAT KIND of RM he is. How he served. What he learned and how close he came to God.
I don't at all look down on girls who didn't serve missions. That would be just as closed minded as blindly thinking that every male who did go is automatically translatable. But what I do look down upon is girls who don't use their brain cells. It does happen to correspond that sisters who serve have a chance to get a wider range of experience, and therefore have an increased ability to make intelligent decisions when they get back. But that doesn't mean non RM's can't. It just means you have to do extra work on your own to make sure that not only is the guy right, but that you are worthy of what he deserves as well, and that you work intelligently."
So that is what I wrote specifically to her. And I stand by it. It's true that things in these situations are not just black and white. It's not just RM or not. It's not like you pass up the chance to get married at all if you serve a mission. So untrue. However, serving for the sole reason that you are still unmarried at 21 is not good enough either. That's almost as bad as guys who went on their missions only because their parents promised them a car, or college money, or something else completely shallow.
But some people do go for those reasons. And to them I repeat the words of one of our district leaders who had a particularly wise thing to say on this topic. Maybe you went out into the field because of that. Maybe that's why you came out in the first place. But as you look at yourself every day, it doesn't one bit matter why you came out. It matters why you're still out. If you are still out because you want to honorably serve the Lord, then the car doesn't matter anymore. It's in the past. But if you're still out because you're still hoping for that car, that's when you have a problem. That's when you really have to re-assess yourself and decide where your loyalties lie... With God or with a set of wheels. So it doesn't matter anymore why you went out. It matters why you stay out.
Missions do change people, but only if you let them. That brings me to the second half of my response earlier. I wasn't talking to the girl anymore, but to the people who commented right before me. Someone said something about their mission being the worst experience of their entire life. That they completely regretted ever going. This is where I rip into some people a little bit. Here is what I said:
"I have one thing to say, and I've said it since day one of my mission, which was NOT an easy day 1. Let me tell you. There is no such thing as a bad mission. They don't exist. If you had a "bad" mission, or "hated" your mission, or "it's the worst time of your whole life" it is ENTIRELY YOUR OWN FAULT. God calls you to missions. Whether you're ready for it or not, He's the one that issues the assignments. He absolutely does not send you a situation to serve Him wholey for 18-24 months in which you can't have a great experience. The facts are that He doesn't work that way.
You don't have to have baptised a single person to have happiness. You don't have to have had all awesome companions. You don't have to have gone somewhere exotic. I went to some place that was so close to my house that I could have driven there and back twice from my first area, and still been within our miles allotment. I didn't go to a place like in South America where people practically dive into the font as soon as they meet you. I didn't even get to learn a different accent, let alone a different language. At first I was disappointed. But I prayed to have the right attitude about it, and now I wouldn't have gone anywhere else in the world. It was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.
Happiness in a mission is in no way whatsoever related to how hard it is. Sometimes things get really tough. You want to give up. But it's irreplaceable experience, and when you get through the tough times, the blessings are uncountable. If you went on a mission and had a "bad time" and feel like you "wasted your time", sucks to be you, because you brought it on yourself. Hard is not the same as bad. I'm not gonna sugar coat that. It's 100% your own fault. There is no argument in the world that can refute that, because if you try, you're basically saying that God set you up to fail. And He doesn't."
I stand by these words too. I know people personally who had really hard missions. Whether it be health problems, or companion trouble, or social issues with other missionaries. I mean, compared to them, I breezed right on through, and I had some crazy stuff happen. But I could talk to every one of those people and ask them if they regretting going on a mission, and not a one of them would say yes. Not a one of them wished they had never done it. And do you know why? Because even though it was hard, it wasn't about them. It was about helping other people and doing what God asked. When your life is about that, and not about you, even hard stuff isn't as hard, and the blessings you get afterwards are like it says in Malachi... He will open up the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
I had some hard times in GA. There was one particular week where I cried myself to sleep every night. But it passed, just like things always do. And like I said earlier, I wouldn't pass up anything that happened there. I would do all of it over again to be where I am now personally. There's no way I'd ever be able to say that it wasn't worth it.
So, if you're planning to go on a mission, keep this in mind. It's not about you. As long as you remember that, and do your best to keep all the rules (yes, even the ones that seem unnecessary) you will have the best time of your life so far. Guaranteed.
If you're planning to get married, keep this in mind. It's not about you. (see the connections here?) First of all, don't marry someone JUST cuz he/she is an RM. Make sure you know that they were a worthy, honorable, self-less RM. That's when you can't go wrong. Second of all, it isn't about you. For you, it's about them. And for them it's about you. And for both, it's about God. If those things are in place, you'll never go wrong.
Now, just one last note applying to those within the LDS culture: Some people will take all this to mean that any guy who does not go on a mission is automatically second class. This is untrue as well. But, just like with everything else I talked about, it's entirely personal and unique for every situation. Some people couldn't serve because of health, or because they didn't even get baptized until they were a little older. Some people, believe it or not, get a letter back saying it wasn't necessary for them to serve at that time. So there are many, many totally good guys and girls who never served missions. But you have to be careful there too. Because it does depend on why. For example, maybe they didn't serve because they didn't want to wear a suit or a dress all the time. Honestly, if such a shallow reason as that is the reason they didn't go, you don't want a person like that anyway. Because obviously clothes are more important to them than God. And if clothes are more important than God, imagine where you'll be in that hierarchy. The same goes with any other selfish reason for not going. So, just like with everything else, take each thing individually, and don't forget to use your brain cells.
I'm sorry if you're either offended or disagree with anything I said. Feel free to discuss it if so. But just out of respect for me as a human, and for the people who are reading it, keep it civil. Use logical argument, and grown up words, and don't get into any shouting matches or name calling. Things like that only do two things. Make everyone mad for no reason, and show that you have no better argument than a 3 year old. Now I feel like I'm getting into the way too long for a blog post range, so ciao for now. I'll be back again later.

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