WBMW

New Missionary Age Requirement: It's NOT about you!

I suppose that I'm as guilty as the next Mormon in finding myself curious to know what other members thought about the new LDS Church policy, lowering age requirements for missionary service -- for both young men and young women. I think Elder Holland's enthusiasm for President Monson's  announcement, expressed as "bordering on giddy," is shared by the majority of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who see this as both inspired and positive -- and perhaps as personal revelation! 

However, in my quest to connect with other excited members I came across a disturbing narrative, that I suppose shouldn't surprise me, but did: progressive Mormon women making it about themselves -- and even advocating the policy change as another incremental move toward women's equality in the Church --  motivated by outside advocacy

I'll be the first to admit that in my learning about this new option for LDS young women to serve a mission as young as age 19, I briefly reflected on myself at that young age -- and also on my own three daughters, now mothers -- one whom I feel may very well have served if that option had been available then.  So I do understand this momentary pause, by probably most women in the Church, to personally reflect on what might have been, and how, for those who did not serve a mission, it could have potentially changed their lives. 

And yet, the thought never once occurred to me to feel either sadness or anger for what I perceived to be a missed opportunity, that I felt should have been mine. And no, it never once crossed my mind that making the choice to be sealed to my eternal companion, at age 18, should be viewed as settling for my only option as a young woman in the Church at the time. And certainly the idea that withholding the opportunity to be a sister missionary until age 21, by the Church, was ever intended to be an issue of gender inequality within my Mormon faith. 

Such reflections, intended to cast a negative light on past missionary service age policies, and Church leaders, is in my opinion, a complete disregard to much of what both Elders' Russell M. Nelson and  Jeffrey R. Holland, Apostles of the Lord, explained during a live press conference, intended to clarify the new policy and answer questions -- and certainly to that which President Monson conveyed in the initial announcement.

I don't think anyone would argue the positive, personal impact that serving a full-time mission for the Church has on a person of either gender. I also, with gratitude, acknowledge the great blessings that have come to my own family due to my husband's two years of missionary service. And I certainly recognize that such dedicated service, early in one's adult life, can add greatly to one's testimony and the service capacity of many upon their return -- and throughout their lives. 

For the women of the Church, however, we cannot forget, nor disregard, important clarifications, and the re-emphasis, about sister missionary service well stated in regard to this new policy change, of which none have any allusion of trying to level the playing field for women in the Church -- in relation to issues of gender equality. 

During the LDS Church Press Conference following President Thomas S. Monson’s stunning announcement at the Saturday morning session of the October 2012 General Conference 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.” And also that, “able worthy young women, who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19 instead of age 21,” Elder Russell M. Nelson said, “this matter has been studied prayerfully over many, many months. This is an option that will allow more young men and women to enjoy the blessings of missionary service.” 

It is interesting to note that when presenting the new policy for young women, the application is to those who "have a desire to serve" versus how it was given to the young men -- "all worthy and able". This is a very important distinction that cannot, and should not, be overlooked. 

Elder Nelson then referred to the Savior’s Biblical mandate that He extended to the Twelve Apostles to, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature”. He noted that “from the earliest days of the Church that mandate has been followed”.  With significant emphasis Elder Nelson said that with President Monson’s announcement, “we are accelerating our efforts to fulfill that mandate and give more young men and women an opportunity to participate in that divine commission”.

Elder Nelson went on to express a hope that “many will seize this opportunity” by allowing greater flexibility to the youth of the Church – many who are anxious to begin service.  He stated that, “the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are united in our decision to make these important adjustments”.

Elder Nelson in speaking specifically about the young women of the Church: “Neither are we suggesting that young women are expected to serve, or that they do so at age 19. Many will still prefer to serve at an older age or not at all. Their voluntary service is valuable and most welcome. These age adjustments are new options, now available to bishops’ in evaluating what is best for each of his youth.  Young men or women should not begin their service before they are ready spiritually and temporally."  

Following Elder Nelson's remarks, Jeffrey R. Holland gave some very pertinent instruction that I feel make it quite difficult for any of us to make this policy change about us, and our reactions to it -- in fact, he went so far as to say so...

To the prospective missionary, male or female: “What does this mean for you? First of all it means that God is hastening His work and He needs more and more willing and worthy missionaries to spread the light and the truth and the hope of salvation of the gospel of Jesus Christ to an often dark and fearful world. In the vernacular of the day, this announcement, I say to these young people, isn’t about you. (Emphasis added.) It is about the sweet and pure message you are being asked to bear and the ever-greater numbers God needs to bear it.  You must prepare by personal worthiness and more cleanliness and you must study diligently to know the gospel you will teach. We want you teaching effectively from the first day onward, and that will require preparation which starts long before you get your call to serve. 

We ask parents to take a strong hand in this preparation and not expect that it is somehow the responsibility of local Church leaders or the missionary department of the Church, or MTC, to provide and direct all of that.”

So, to those who question why this change was made, Elder Holland is very specific in answering the question: "God is hastening His work and He needs more missionaries..." In other words, this policy change is about His work, timing, and what He needs to teach His children -- and not about what any of us might feel we needed, or perhaps believe His servants have caused women to miss out on in the past. 

One might even feel he was speaking to those (now parents) who feel that they did miss out in the past, with his admonition to take part in the preparation of their children who have been given this new opportunity for earlier service. Missionary service can and should be a family affair. Preparation and support of a missionary, by family members, I feel, is part of the sacrifice of missionary service in the Church. And in fact, its importance too frequently overlooked.

Said Elder Holland, “Missionary service remains a priesthood duty for young men. That has been said emphatically, and was said by President Monson. We put great emphasis on this for our Aaronic priesthood bearers through their years as a deacon, a teacher, and a priest. We hope all who are physically and emotionally able to serve will do so following their ordination to the Melchizedek priesthood. 

We do not express that same expectation for young women in exactly the way we do for our young men. There are some places in the world where sister missionaries cannot serve, but those who do serve are stunningly successful and we enthusiastically welcome your service. Personally I am absolutely delighted if this change of policy allows many, many more of our young women to serve – a prospect that thrills me. But always this is an option and is not to be seen as an obligation.”

This tells me that although parents and leaders are responsible to help prepare young people to serve missions, this will not be an over-emphasis, nor should it be, in the young women's program of the Church. 

While not wanting to lessen this beautiful invitation to the young women of the Church, who desire to serve at a younger age a full-time mission -- and probably many will -- for just a moment let's ask ourselves this question: what do missionaries do? Answer: they teach the saving truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ and administer the saving ordinance of baptism to God's children, thus putting them on the path to salvation. 

And now this question: Is the young woman who chooses eternal marriage and motherhood instead of first taking the option to serve a full-time mission any less serviceable in the kingdom of God?

The LDS young woman who chooses to focus her personal, spiritual preparation on a temple marriage and motherhood, not including a full-time mission, should never be made to feel that she is making a lesser choice, or is less valiant. The choice to serve a full-time mission, although an important service and option, should never take the place as the number one priority and/or responsibility of the daughters of God. 

These realities bring us back to the most important reason that young women are not obligated to serve full-time missions, nor are they missing out if they choose not to -- as are the young men: the mandate for such service is required of those who bear the priesthood. 

I see, as one of the greatest blessings of lowering the age requirement for young women, support for encouraging all of our young people to find their eternal companions, as soon as possible in life. With young women, who desire to serve a mission, now able to serve relatively at the same time as the young men, instead of having to wait, meeting this goal may very well prove even more successful for both sexes.

The measure of a faithful Mormon woman, over another, will never be because one has chosen to first serve a full-time mission. First and foremost in importance to God, is that each of us prepares to make and keep sacred covenants enabling us to build eternal families. For a few progressive Mormon women to suggest otherwise is simply a misguided understanding of our Heavenly Father's plan for all of His children.

As a woman in the Church, do you feel that not serving a full-time mission as a young woman, in any way, kept you from developing your full potential to serve in the Church -- or has in some way suppressed your personal growth as a woman? 

UPDATE: Explosive Confirmation of Increased Numbers Applying for Missionary Service


tMDg
Kathryn Skaggs 


WBMW: 
Highlights 2012 General Relief Society Broadcast: Challenges of Mortality

Deseret News: LDS Church lowers age requirement for missionary service

LDS Newsroom:  Mormon Women in the Church


Photo Credit: LDS Newsroom

65 comments :

  1. I read some "woe is me" reactions by women to the announcement and I was like "what planet am I living on?!" My main beef with that kind of thinking is this...You control your own destiny, ladies! I personally never had a desire to "join the ranks" of missionaries...not in an official capacity anyway! I was always, always a missionary though...and that's where the choice we made differs. Some people lament. Some people need a name-tag and an official title...and some people just do it!! I didn't marry until the ripe old age of 26 :) but somehow...somehow, I managed the share the gospel with many people (from janitors to heads of state!) I didn't need the MTC to enlist myself in helping the Lord where ever and whenever he needed me...I know that serving a mission, while might be some women's destiny...it's actually a function of the Priesthood. And I'm ok with that. It doesn't mean that I don't play an important role in that effort every day of my life!

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    1. Well said, Jocelyn! And I love the passion with which you say it! Each of us can literally enlist ourselves in the work, if we have the desire to do so. I also see such an enlistment, in individual ways, a sign of true personal conversion. Seriously, I love my agency and how God has enable me to use it in ways that are most fitting to my life's decisions!

      You are a great example of this process! Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Kathryn, so perfectly explained as usual. I just had a conversation with some of my YW last night and I worried that many had similar ideas and thoughts. Certainly I could see one or two of them struggling with the idea that just because all the other girls were planning on going they felt they should be feeling the same way. I could see in their faces they just didn't feel the same way tho’. So I used words that would assist them to understand...many of the words you used here. It is only for those who 'have a desire to serve', who feel 'ready spiritually and temporally’; determine 'what it means for you' (what part do I have to play?). Finally, as you say, 'It isn't about them', it is about the message that is to be shared throughout the world and the need for the Lord's children to be prepared in every way to do that.

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    1. I can only imagine many of the conversations, and counsel, that YW leaders will be having/giving with their girls, with this new policy -- depending upon their own perceptions. Your girls are very blessed to have a leader who understands, well, God's plan for them and the 'options' that He has made available to them.

      I too, share a concern that young women may be made to feel that serving a mission is now the most valiant choice, even though they do not feel to do so. Parent and leader guidance/teaching is going to be very important in shaping how this all plays out over the next few years.

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    2. missionarymums - welcome to how men feel and have felt ever since "every young man should serve a full-time mission". there is a huge amount of pressure from peers, family, and church leaders to serve. there's no problem with some young women - not fully confident or ready to serve - having some wise parents or leaders encouraging them on and pushing them out of the nest a bit.

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  4. J. Max Wilson wrote a great post about why the 1978 revelation on the priesthood was not a hammer for the anyone's liberal wedge issue - so true for so many issues. It is so human to think that God moves his kingdom because we squawk. There's a difference between a God who hears the cries of the humble and a God who puts his tail between his legs when the proud rage.

    I will admit that I felt a twinge of wistfulness at the change in policy when thinking about it later, but my first thought was, "look out world, here come the women!" I didn't get to go. My life has served God in other ways. The advantage of some age is that we move on from wistfulness. Life is too big and too short to have every experience.

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    1. Beautiful thoughts, Bonnie. Your faithfulness and trust in the Lord always inspire me! I think many women will relate to your "twinge", while at the same time be excited for this upcoming generation of sister missionaries -- I sure do, and am!

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  5. Wow. I know I shouldn't be, but I continue to be surprised at some people, women in particular, get their panties in a bunch over.

    I was raised in a family of all girls and I'm the oldest of the four. From a very young age my parents encouraged us to prepare for a mission in the future, both spiritually and financially. We knew it was optional.

    When 21 rolled around I had an immense internal struggle as I tried to determine what I should do. I waffled back and forth. Ultimately, I decided not to go.

    Do I regret that decision? Yes and no. I knew more than anything in the world I wanted to be a Mom and I didn't want to delay that, even by a few years. I didn't end up getting married until I was 23 so technically I could have still served a mission and also found my EC. But, the experience I received as I worked and lived life those 2 years cannot be replaced.

    So, now I try to be an online missionary and participate in social media where possible. Am I trying to make up for the guilt I feel for not serving at the age of 21? Absolutely. :D

    Do I feel like not serving has made me less valuable to the church? No way, Jose. (Sorry for the novella. The whole gender equality thing really bugs me. I have witnessed the attitude that "men are superior to women," so I know it's out there. I just don't think it's as widely-held of an idea as some women make it out to be.)

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Jessica! I know many women share your same experience as they prayerfully determined whether they should or should not serve a mission. I remember my own daughter going through the same thing, and then finally reaching that feeling of peace to not go. I so admire the many women in the Church who have educated themselves during that pre-marriage/early marriage time period -- and for me, that's where I have "twinges of wistful" thoughts. But of course, these things are all about personal choices, of which we all have.

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  6. It's strange to me that any daughter of God would feel that God discriminates against them. I think the change is a great opportunity for young women, but I don't feel I missed out by marrying at 18. As a wife and mother I had ample opportunities to study the scriptures, bear testimony and teach the gospel. I also was able to live a life of service. I learnt so much in that time.

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    1. I so relate to your thoughts and testimony, Kris. Thanks for sharing. I, too, have had a life filled with opportunities to grow and serve in the Church.

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  7. Well said, as usual Kathryn.

    I did serve a full time mission, but I had never considered it before I received my patriarhal blessing. I was counseled to consider it, so I did and I knew it was what I wanted to do, but it did take me time to come around to it. If I had been allowed to go at 19, I don't think I would have. I still think I would have gone at 22.

    That being said, it saddens me to no end that people persist in this notion that because LDS men and women have different roles and jobs that somehow the Lord loves the ladies less. He does not. Elder Holland also said in the press conference that they have found that missionary service works best when the girls are older. Why is that so hard to accept? Having served a mission, I know that, this is true. It works best to have an age difference.

    I know that this change is the right change for this time. It will be exciting to see how missionary work moves forward. I know two of my neices have already expressed an interest in going and that my youngest cousin now wants to graduate high school early and go asap. I think it's great.

    In the end, I guess there will always be those that complain about everything the church does, because it will never be what "they" think it should be. If that's how a person wants to be, fine, but it will be a miserable existience. Might as well trust in the leadership of the church and that the Lord's ways are not our ways.

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    1. I love that you took to heart the counsel in your patriarchal blessing. That takes a lot of faith to have such counsel immediately affect one's decision making process. It's also interesting that you feel you may not have gone, if you had had the earlier option, when younger.

      I think it's also interesting that Elder Holland said that nothing in the future is off the table, but that for now this is how they see doing things, from experience, best. And your personal experience supports that. As you mentioned, these changes in policy are for now.

      Yes, there will always be those who refuse to exercise faith in the inspired decisions of our leaders -- unwilling to accept it as the will of the Lord.

      Thanks for your thoughts.

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  8. Thanks for this post. I like the quote, "This isn't about you." And while Elder Holland was talking specifically to the youth, I appreciate that you remind the Sisters who are past missionary age that it isn't about them either. Turning this whole issue into "what does this mean for me?" (or what could it have done for me) is a crazy notion. Missionary service has always been about service, so this weird reaction of selfishness and 'how my life would have been different/better' is just screwy. It completely turns the gospel on it's head. I appreciate Jocelyn's attitude, that missionary service is always an option for a faithful follower of Christ, with or without the priesthood, with or without a formal call.

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    1. jendoop,

      That quote really jumped out at me while I was actually sitting only 30 feet away from Elder Holland, when he said it -- and stuck with me. So when I started coming across this sad narrative, from some progressive Mormon women, it immediately came to mind and caused me to reflect on what these apostles actually said -- and more important, the message they wanted to convey -- particularly for women.

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  9. I am one who probably would have served if this change had come in my time. However, I was married at 19 years old, and I know very well that serving a mission was not in God's plan for me. I'm thrilled that my girls will have this choice, however!

    I am also appalled at the outcry. I have heard things like, "well, this is almost the way we want it" --expressing concern that women "only" serve for 18 months and not a full 2 years, as if it means women are valued less? I've also heard the arrogance that it was a grass-roots effort that illicted the change; liberal feminists are finally being heard! Wha?! Since when do liberal feminists who hate the way their religion treats women have any say in how the Church runs things? I just. Don't. Get. It. Or where they are gathering their information.

    Honestly, I'm grateful the Apostles are not outwardly bothered by the things that are said about how they change policies. I think it takes true integrity and strength to follow the Lord's will, in spite of it seeming to come from other sources. And I feel sorry for those who feel that they are the reason the Church makes decisions. Perhaps they are indirectly (love for our members, eh?), but the arrogance of it really makes me cringe.

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    1. Cheryl,

      It is the most exciting thing when our daughters have opportunities that we know will be a blessing in their lives, if it is right for them -- be it education, a mission, etc... that perhaps we did not have, or take. And as you touched upon, knowing and accepting God's plan for us -- this is very comforting and leaves no regrets.

      I sat on the thoughts I decided to write in this post for quite a few days. It's not my intent to be negative or exact judgment of these few, loud voices who have these feeling. But rather I felt it important to make clear that this is just not about them, in anyway. This was made very clear in the press conference by these apostles who were very direct on this topic.

      I, too, am grateful that these men, called of God, are able to stay focused on the work and not allow the negative spin that the few, loudly, apply to their counsel and direction.

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  10. I got married at 19 and I now have four darling little converts running around my house. :)

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    1. ha ha! "little converts"...that's cute!

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    2. Tristi,

      I love that! I,too, have always known that my greatest missionary efforts are within my own, immediate family -- and now my growing posterity. Everything I do, related to my family, is with this missionary effort in mind -- that they develop personal testimonies and receive the ordinances of the gospel. When we consider temple work, our focus is on our own -- and this is no different for the living.

      So, YES, mothers are about the work of saving the souls of their own family!

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    3. I, too, have four converts in different stages of development. One of whom is serving a mission right now, two with whom I am working tirelessly so they are prepared to serve and one more whom I'm trying to teach that motherhood is a divine role so she can stand steadfastly against the opposing voice of the world. Hurray for teaching the gospel, both in our own homes and out in the world.

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  11. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I didn't serve as a young woman, and don't regret it a bit. I've had many opportunities for missionary work in my life. I've been frustrated the last few years at the attitudes of those around me who assume that my husband and I should be serving a mission since my husband is retired. He is 12 years older than I am and has been retired six years. When he first retired, it wasn't even POSSIBLE for us to serve a mission because we still had a minor child in high school -- the church won't allow it. Then she decided she wanted to serve a mission. Financially, we could not support her mission and ours as well. The will be home from Brazil in March. Yes, we'd like to serve a mission -- but there's also a little matter of helping her finish college. My husband is 70 years old. He is in relatively good health. There is a chance we might still be able to serve at some point. BUT that is our decision after prayerful consideration -- and ours alone. It is not MANDATORY for senior couples to serve any more than it is MANDATORY for young women to serve. Sorry for the diatribe here -- just a bit frustrated with the attitude displayed by friends (and even family).
    Tudie Rose

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    1. You're welcome!!!

      You bring up a point that I didn't bring out in this post, but definitely came to my mind -- the expense of serving a mission. I'm sure many young women, just hearing the new policy, will want to serve at age 19 but either don't have the immediate funds to do so, and/or their families have prioritize their missionary funds for their sons -- who are mandated to serve. There is more to take into account when desiring to serve a full-time mission that simply desire -- as you so well point out.

      However, I do believe that for those who truly desire to serve a full-time mission, and if it is according to God's will, He will open the way. Bottom line, these decisions are always personal.

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    2. YES! If the decisions were not personal, we would not grow as we struggle to make them!! That is part of the plan, too!

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  12. Before I turned 21 I was diligently preparing to go on a mission, but whenever I prayed about it, I felt, first of all, that Heavenly Father was pleased with my desire, but I felt the distinct impression to "Wait and see." I could not figure out what that meant until a few weeks later when I met my husband-to-be. When I prayed about marrying him, I knew I would be serving a different sort of mission. Do I regret not going on a mission? Not one little bit. The mission I have been on (for 23 years and counting)has been a wonderful adventure. I am very grateful for my husband's missionary service, as I think it shaped him into the kind of man who could be the great husband and father he is. All the preparation I put into serving a mission has also been invaluable as I teach my children, and others in my life. Whenever I have had any doubts about how the Lord feels about his daughters, I have gone straight to the source- studying scriptures, praying, and receiving blessings- and all my doubts have been replaced by faith and love. I wish everyone could know of their worth and God's love. This is one of the most important things I have striven to teach my children.

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    1. What a beautiful testimony of the importance of our individual worth! Thank you so much for taking the time to share it here.

      It's such a confirmation that when we follow the Spirit in making life's important decisions, we never have regrets. And this is exactly what President Uchtdorf was also testifying of in his General Conference address.

      You also bring out a very important point about preparation for life -- whether for a mission, marriage, etc... our spiritual preparation should be equal.

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  13. I love that quote by Elder Holland "It is not about you" if only we could remember that more often in so many aspects of the gospel!

    I will freely admit that for the first little while that I heard the announcement I had some pangs of sadness and even jealously of the younger girls. I wouldn't trade the journey that I have been on or family I now have for ANYTHING but at 19 I really wanted to go on a mission. I was ready and eager to serve the Lord in that way. There is a part of me that wishes I could have had both experiences-- and I don't think that is a bad thing. I think it is possible to be excited and supportive and a bit nostalgic about what could have been. In my case I feel that the desire I have to go on a mission-- thus the jealously-- has been a beautiful way for me to remind myself that God has a MISSION for me here and now and that I don't need a name tag or a formal call to open to serve.

    I have purposely avoided any MOrmon feminist forum the last few weeks (okay, I NEVER read them) so that i didn't have to see what they were saying about it all... I can really imagine :)

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    1. Amen, Heather!

      I don't see your initial response, "pangs", as a negative at all. I see it as an acknowledgement of the importance of this option for some young women, now. Of course there are LDS women, like yourself, who would have loved to have had this same option. However, most don't perceive it as a negative in their overall experience as a women in the Church, or a test of faith -- a huge difference, IMHO.

      I love that you've taken that deep desire to serve and applied that to your life in general. I really believe this is what is most important to our Heavenly Father.

      And good for you for choosing to not listen to the negative that is always about us. : )

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  14. Well done! I appreciate your reasoning as well as your testimony - beautifully written and shared! Thank you!

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  15. I never felt "less than" because I did not serve a mission. I still took it upon me to become as much of a Gospel scholar as I wanted. I didn't see that a "RM" would necessarily know more than me, either. There are definitely some things that my RM husband knows better than I, but I am not restricted from having that same knowledge if I take the time to learn it. Interestingly, too, we've both been gospel doctrine teachers.

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    1. Nor have I, Emily. And I did the same as you -- became a student of the gospel. For me, teaching the gospel, whether in the home, as a seminary teacher, or even as a Mormon blogger, has always brought me such joy.

      BTW, it sounds like you and your husband may have a similar, competitive, relationship that my husband and I share -- we love discussing the gospel and sharing insights. ; )

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  16. Marriage and missions have always been an issue of choice. I have a male friend who chose to get his AA before serving, and left at 20. He served faithfully and has been blessed with a wife who is also a returned missionary. President Benson served, then waited for his future wife to serve before they married. I suspect that those who feel like their spiritual/personal growth was hindered because they CHOSE to marry are, in essence, questioning not their growth, but their choice-Did they pray about getting married? Did the Holy Ghost confirm their answer? What are they questioning: their growth or their inspiration or their choice? NO one has EVER stated that marriage was a Relief Society responsibility. Marriage is a Priesthood responsibility. But even then, it is a CHOICE as to whom the calling is extended, when the calling is extended, and the time of engagement until the calling is fulfilled by a marriage certificate. Marriage and motherhood are far more important callings than missions and I would question the logic of ANYone who states otherwise; therefore, personal and spiritual growth are FAR more compatible with marriage and motherhood than they EVER were with missionary service. (I am a divorced-Temple marriage-mother returned missionary who looks forward to serving another mission after retirement-preferably with an eternal companion.)

    I think I should add that I'm not undermining missionary service-it IS a great opportunity to grow; but then again, we don't serve for selfish reasons; we serve to serve. The women who think that the purpose of serving a mission is personal growth would have been disillusioned by missionary service, because personal growth ONLY comes through service to OTHERS, not to oneself. I suspect they are questioning their choices to marry-as we ALL do-when we get into the thick of it. It's understandable. But, for those of us who feel that the mission changed us for the better, usually come to that conclusion AFTER we come home. I LOVED my mission. It changed my life forever-for the better, and that is because I was a dedicated, obedient, hard-working and super focused and goal-oriented missionary. But, I would exchange a successful marriage & family ANY DAY over my missionary service. How I wish that I could say the same about my service as a wife and mother. “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” David O McKay. We often think of this quote in relation to men and their successful careers, but who are failures in the home; but as a woman I know very well that this applies just as well to us as it does to men.

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    1. Thank you for bringing this comment over from the WBMW Facebook page -- as you make some excellent points that I wanted to be a part of the conversation here.

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  17. When I was nineteen, I served a stake mission. It wasn't done in our stake, which used couples only, but my bishop and I felt strongly about it and he found girls my age serving stake missions. He brought a few of them to a high council meeting to convince the stake and I was called. When they split the stake, they decided I would be the first set apart, being the youngest. It was a tremendous experience for me. I worked with two older women in my own ward whose husbands weren't members and was loaned half-time to sister missionaries for the deaf since I knew sign language. Some days I got them up in the morning and didn't leave until bedtime, so I got a taste of missionary life. Any woman can do that from age 18 on.

    I married before 21, so I never served the full-time mission, but like others here, I don't think that hurt me in any way. I've always served one way or another and the point is to serve the Savior, not to do what I want to do.

    I liked that during the press conference, when asked about the 18 months, the reporter was told we deal with one miracle at a time. This is already going to increase missionary numbers. I can see that they need to not overwhelm the system too much at once.

    Since they said they prayed about it, being offended means to be offended at God--and that means anyone who is needs to pray herself for a personal testimony of the decision. We all have that right and need to take advantage of it when we don't understand the Lord's thinking. It isn't saying anything negative about the person who doubts. It's just a reminder that we have the privilege of asking God personally. I think you brought out the most important point, though--it's not about us.

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    1. What a wonderful opportunity at such a young age. And what an inspired bishop you were blessed to have had. But you're right, any young woman can serve in such a capacity in her local ward/branch/stake -- without needing to serve a fulltime mission. Which makes the point that when there is a personal desire to serve the opportunities in the Church are limitless -- regardless of gender and/or age.

      "Since they said they prayed about it, being offended means to be offended at God--and that means anyone who is needs to pray herself for a personal testimony of the decision."

      I agree.

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  18. I love this! You just put exactly what I was feeling into words. We need to remember that the Lord looks on the heart and the world looks on the outward appearance. The world says we have to do the exact things in order to be equal. The Lord has told us that we were born equal -- on the inside. We have different roles to play on earth. Different does not mean unequal.

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  19. Well said. Thanks for posting. I didn't serve a mission, married my husband when I was twenty, no regrets. I feel it a blessing to have found the love of my life at a young age and be given the opportunity to be together twenty (and still counting) wonderful years together. Has my personal growth been suppressed? No. Unrepentant sin prevents growth. Lack of faith hinders growth. Making temple covenants and enjoying marriage and family does not suppress growth! Just my two cents :)

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    1. "Unrepentant sin prevents growth."

      I love that! So true!

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  20. I was suprised with this revelation. I know so many other sisters that have served missions and loved it, I was just a Stake Missionary and got married by 21. I understand it is such a blessing. I just wonder if this will place additional pressure on young sister's to "do it all" be "Molly Mormon"; squeeze a mission in between University, jobs, marriage, being a mom etc, etc. By not going until 21 we had a better change to pace this out.

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    1. I think your concerns are quite valid. With greater opportunities come a greater need for the Spirit in our lives to make good, personal choices. I suspect that the rising generation, with proper guidance, will avoid this pitfall. But no doubt, some will fall prey.

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  21. I was 23-years-old when I first heard about the church. I knew it was true immediately. I was single but engaged at the time and contemplated going on a mission. I chose to get married and have children instead.
    Now that I'm in my "golden years" (60) and my husband is now a member, WE can serve a mission when he retires.
    I have sons and one is inactive but the other served a mission. We were truly blessed. I could feel the blessings pour out upon our lives as he served.
    I think that his revelation by the General Authorities should gladden the hearts of women because by gender, they have the attributes of Godliness.
    If I had daughter I would stress that she could CHOOSE to go on a mission @ 19 or CHOOSE to start a family.
    Either way she would be blessed.
    I don't understand what all the grumbling is about.
    If one has a problem with the General Authorities, take action and sincerely pray about what they have revealed.
    Kathryn, you make a good point. "With greater opportunities come a greater need for the spirit in our lives to make good personal choices."

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    1. Hi Sandy,

      Sounds to me that your decision to marry your husband, and have children, created your own personal mission field -- and you've done great service within your personal sphere of influence! What a blessing that your husband joined the Church -- to you and all of your posterity!

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  22. I have learned that whatever the General Authorities reveal, there are no surprises.
    I joined the church in 1980 and contemplated serving a mission. I was engaged and chose marriage instead. I think the Lord was pleased with my decision because I brought two special spirits into the world. (only one served a mission).
    Now that I'm in my "golden years" (60) and when my husband retires, I will have the privilege of serving a mission.
    I don't understand what all the grumbling is all about. When I take issue with what the General Authorities reveal, I sincerely pray about it and know that they are the voice of Christ.
    Jesus was the greatest champion of women and by nature we do not need to second guess our worth in the church.
    I hope many benefit from this revelation and pray that some do not leave this wonderful, true church because of it.

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  23. I will admit, I did weep because the announcement meant I could have served a mission and been back before getting married. I wanted to serve a mission SO badly- had my papers filled out and ready to turn in when my now husband proposed. My desire to serve a mission did not die, but after fasting and prayer I knew I should get married and I would be foolish to pass up this amazing, worthy priesthood holder! I am grateful that I can still serve in later years, but the announcement hit me in a tender spot and I spent a long time trying to stop the water works. 8 years and 3 kids later, of course I do not regret my decision and I absolutely agree- I have not been hindered at all by not serving a mission. The Lord uses our experiences to turn us into the best we can be. As long as we are trying to do our best, no matter our circumstances, our experiences are sanctified.

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    1. Jen,

      I know, after speaking with many LDS women now, that we all had very personal responses to this announcement -- many of which included tears -- for multiple reasons. That just tells me how very much the Lord knows the desires of His daughters' hearts to do His will.

      I love that about Mormon women: we follow inspired counsel and personal revelation that we receive, to make the right choice at the time, for us, concerning what He would have us do. And this is not always easy when our personal desires are pulling us in other good ways.

      BTW, when the time is right, for you, you will be an awesome fulltime sister missionary and have the very best companion the whole way through your mission! I look forward to the same!

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  24. The thought I had the week after it was announced was that, even though many, many youth have decided now to serve earlier and change all of their plans (particularly the YW) they will still learn that a mission call is just that -- a call. Their bishops will be deciding if they are ready and worthy. I think there will also be some disappointments to come for some who will be told to wait a bit longer. Lots of growth coming for these wonderful youth.

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    1. You bring out a point that I haven't heard discussed yet, but stood out to me as well. Elder Nelson said,

      "These age adjustments are new options, now available to bishops’ in evaluating what is best for each of his youth. Young men or women should not begin their service before they are ready spiritually and temporally."

      Bishops will ultimately determine/judge the readiness of each prospective missionary (male or female) to know if and when mission service is appropriate and right for each individual. The lower age requirement is an "option" a bishop can consider when recommending a young person for fulltime service.

      Thanks for extracting this important aspect of the new policy change.

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  25. Thank you for this beautifully written article. I can't help but think that we read the same blog. I was so saddened by it's content and you so eloquently and directly addressed every issue. Yes, this is to hasten the Lord's work, and help us all on our journeys to make and keep covenants. This just brightened my day!

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    1. Lisa,

      More than one blog, and conversations, I ran across online included these misguided responses as their narrative. But sadly, it is likely that such negativity sprung from a few main sources out there. :(

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  26. As a man, I really don't agree with the premise of the article. I think the announced change has huge repercussions for gender issues in the church. Even if the sole motivation for the policy change was to "hasten" the work (i.e. increase the number of missionaries in total), the ripple effect from the policy changes are what, I think, Mormon Feminists are so excited about.

    First, it removes the stigma that sister missionaries are just the girls who weren't pretty enough or popular enough to get married before they turned 21. Serving a mission becomes an opportunity for a young woman to serve others and strengthen their own testimony, coming home stronger and more ready to be equally yoked with a young man who has had a similar experience.

    Second, it will allow more women a chance to learn how the church really works. This has long-been one of the hallmarks of a mission - to learn how the church is run in small local units which makes you appreciate large, fully-staffed wards. It also teaches people how to wear many hats in the church, to be a contributor, and to be resourceful. In the recent Worldwide Training broadcast, the Brethren are constantly reinforcing to the Bishops the importance of counseling with the women on the ward council, but this is a moot point if the Bishop doesn't have a cadre of women who have an experience within the organizational structure of the church. While a mission isn't required to gain such courage, it is definitely a spring board that helps some people leap frog others in the depth of their testimony, commitment, and leadership skills.

    Missionary service is awesome. And it's not for everyone. But I'm really grateful that because of this policy change more women will choose to experience the sweet adventure and growing experience that is a full-time mission.

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  27. I served a mission when I was just turning 22. I was raised in the church in south Georgia and never once thought about it. I was living with my sister in Florida, blessed with everything a young girl thinks will make her happy...a cute boyfriend, a great fun job making good money, my sisters sports car and the beach! But I was feeling this restlessness that was making me sad. One Sunday I left to drive to church on my own and lost my way so I returned to my sisters house to figure out where I might have turned wrong. She gave me the instructions and I headed out again. Alas, I still could not figure it out. ( I had only lived there for a few weeks and always rode with her so I hadn't memorized the way.) I got this horrible feeling that maybe the Lord did not want me there. I was heartbroken and returned home. My sister seeing me break down comforted me and asked if I thought I should go on mission after talking about this restlessness plaguing me. I said no and moved on. The rest of the day until late at night I cried, slept, read scriptures and prayed. I was reading in Doctrine and Covenants 122:7 "and all these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good." then Alma37:37.. Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.
    I fell asleep and as I woke the next morning I felt this assurance of what I needed to do. I called my Bishop back in Georgia and woke him up. I said, "bishop let's get those mission papers ready. Im going on a mission." He was shocked to tell you the truth. As I hung up the phone a cured to me what I had just done! lol I thought OH NO I have told the bishop and now I HAVE to go! but immediately my heart calmed and peace flooded me. I began that day to prepare for a mission and served 18 months in ...PROVO, Utah Mission ! lol funny But I have often said that it was the best thing that I have ever done. We all have a journey that leads us down different experiences but I know for me the mission was something I had to do. I am a mother of four beautiful children and one resides in heaven and I know that much of my enduring has been due to the strength I gained on my mission. But point in a long way around is that for a Sister this is a decision that is personal and only with the Lord's companionship in the choice is how we should make a decision. The Lord loves his daughters so much and knows each of us better than we know ourselves. He will not lead us astray. Thank you Sisters for such wonderful comments. I am glad I came across this blog tonight. Thanks Kathryn for your missionary work!

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  28. Great post! The announcement certainly brought tears to my eyes and has since as I reflect on that time in my life when I was more than willing and prepared to go, but couldn't. I don't feel any of the "what-if" thoughts though. I'm excited for the young women in my life who now have that option sooner in life because I know quite a few who have expressed a desire, but 21 seems so far away when you're 18.
    In answer to your question, no I don't feel that not serving a full time mission hindered me in any area of developing my full potential to serve in the Church. I've had many awesome experiences in church callings that confirm to me that my life experience and my taking advantage of things like seminary and institute really paid off. I was called to be a Sunday School Teacher in a Student ward when I was 21/22(seriously dating my now husband)and the High Priests that were assigned to our ward had the option of attending my class or the "other class", almost all of them attended my class every week, most of the young adults attended the "other class" taught by an attractive RM. On more than one occasion any one of those high priests would shake my hand and/or pull me aside after class and ask me if I had served a mission, and would be shocked when I answered "no". To me that was always the biggest compliment and always left me feeling so good about the choices I had made, and the people who instilled a love for gospel learning in me. I didn't need to serve a mission to develop the skills that are needed to help move the work forward, but I really would have loved the opportunity to teach the gospel in a more intimate way, to people who had never heard it. That's the great thing about being a mom though, I now have that opportunity every day.

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  29. I've always felt immense guilt about being too scared at 21. This announcement sent me into a bad depression once again bringing up that guilt, and wondering if someone had just pushed me a little bit, and let me a little bit, and told me what to do, and told me what the deal was with finances, what might have been. Super horrendous depression. :(((

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    1. My Dear, it's between you and the Lord only! Of course the Lord uses people to help us along the way... but there's no need to feel sad or depressed about something that could've happened. Just learn from it and go forward. The adversary uses that guilt to bring us down and not progress. From here on out, you can do the work that you would've done on your mission. You can help the missionaries, you can fellowship! There's so much that we as members of the church can do for the building of the kingdom! Some people serve missions and then never do missionary work again after that. It's so sad! But then there's those of us that didn't serve missions but will do missionary work for the rest of their life! The missionaries don't convert, the spirit does, or even keep the people coming. They initially teach the investigators but then they get transferred and they're gone from their lives and it's the members in the ward that help the new members along the way. So members are really the key!! If you have any questions on how to help the missionaries and the program in your ward, just email me... jbmacsta@gmail.com

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  30. I've enjoyed reading this blog and the comments and your comments to the comments. My only concern is there seems to be a pervasive underlying belief that if a young woman chooses to not serve a mission the only real acceptable reason would be due to a choice to marry instead. From what I can tell, optional still means it's an option, not an either/or. Young women should be encouraged to learn that true happiness results from being obedient to personal revelation. This may or may not include marriage or a mission, or even advanced education. Once again, it's not about us, it's about the Lord and His plan for ushering in His return to us in this final dispensation which includes enabling more missionaries to spread and share truth. Our duty is to respond to whatever call He issues to us.

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  31. Brilliant Post! Thank you! I am a 32 year old wife and mother of 5 almost 6. Since the age of 14, I have been very involved and active in missionary work! I was so determined to serve a mission and was not about to let anything or any dumb boy stop me! Seriously! At the age of 19, I got endometriosis and was told I couldn't have children, which devastated me, but was still determined to serve a mission. At 20, I started dating my now husband, and was still determined to serve a mission! Since I was so sick, I was encouraged not to serve a mission and focus on my health and resolving that issue. I thought it was absurd because I wanted to serve the Lord sooooo much! I didn't even pray about it because I thought it was a worthy thing to do, so why do I even need to pray about it. When my Bishop advised me to pray about it, I did. My answer from Heavenly Father was no, it's not part of your journey on earth. But, I was still determined to go on one! Yes, I'm stubborn. I loved the work so much! But I started realizing with my sickness that if I did, I more than likely would not be able to have children. I found a Dr. that told me that after my surgery, within the next year, I should be ok and have children. Which I wanted very badly as well. So after much prayer and humbling myself, I finally asked Heavenly Father one more time, and the answer was not to serve, but to marry my boyfriend and start my family. Sooo.... finally, I listened to Heavenly Father. We got married, got pregnant a few months later and are soooo happy with our almost 6 kids! I don't regret not serving a mission one bit. If there is anything to regret, it was my stubborness and unwillingness to listening to Heavenly Father. Serving a full time mission at that time in my life was not what I was supposed to do. The interesting thing is, a lot of the women in my ward that served missions are either less active now or they aren't even involved in missionary work... when I, the girl that never served, is always going out with the missionaries and fellow shipping. Not all of the Sisters, but a large number of them. Yes, I'm not scripture savy... but it's all good! I have other strengths and am working on that weakness. I sometimes feel I was hit with the endo to keep me from going, because I was really supposed to start my family. Yes, Heavenly Father definitely knows me and knew nothing but get sick could really stop me from going on one. I'm so thankful that we are able to pray to our Heavenly Father and ask Him which path and direction we should take! HE KNOWS BEST! I encourage all of my young friends not to just jump on the band wagon and go, just because the age has dropped, but to pray about whether or not you should go. You never know if the Lord has something else for you in store. And nothing is wrong with those that don't serve if the Lord has let them know not too. And for the Sisters that do serve and don't even pray about it, hopefully you will learn on your mission the importance of personal prayer and revelation! I give props to my sister, that was going to serve a mission and then prayed about it and received an answer that she wasn't supposed too. We all thought that meant she was going to get married, but she's 24 now and not married and hasn't even had a boyfriend. We have no clue exactly why the Lord's answer was no, but think she's amazing for trusting Him and following Him... ya, she's not as hard headed as I am, thank goodness! :-)

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  32. I just have to shake my head at women who think they are second class citizens in the gospel. It is only from other women in the church that I have ever felt my experiences in life weren't valid enough. Some of the questions asked by female members of the press at the press conference really made me roll my eyes, and I don't do that often.

    I submitted my papers for my mission shortly after President Hinckley reaffirmed in General Conference that missionary service was a priesthood responsibility and sisters were not under a similar obligation to serve. I had a lot of people ask me about serving since they had wrongly assumed President Hinckley had said young women shouldn't serve. A lot of people asked where my mom had served, assuming I was because she had. My mom did not serve a mission because she knew beyond a doubt that she was not supposed to at that time. A lot of people kept asking my younger sister when she was going to serve because I had, and my sister knew that was not in the plan for her life. There are a lot of misconceptions about sister missionaries out there.

    But I will never discourage a young woman from preparing to serve a mission. By preparing to serve she is preparing to enter the temple. She is preparing to teach the gospel by learning it and writing it in her heart. Preparation for a mission can only benefit your life. Because we all have a mission to fulfill, some of those missions include a black name tag and some do not. But mission preparation will always be the right choice.

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  33. I don't use blogger alot and I need some help. I want to share your article here about Sister Missionaries with some friends and family, but I don't quite know how to do that. Do they have to be members of Blogger to read it, or can anyone with a google g-mail account get in. Is there any way to post it to facebook? Thanks for tolerating my ignorance. And thank you for the well written article and all the thoughtful comments.

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    1. Hi Jeanie,

      There a few ways you can share this post: you can copy the link address from the browser bar and paste it into an email, or to your Facebook wall, or you can use either the top/bottom share buttons right here on the post -- you will see them under the title and at the bottom off the post. And no, people don't have to have any specific account to read this post. It is public and anyone can see it. Thanks for visiting. I'm really glad you the like post enough to share it. :)

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  34. Since the missionary announcement I have felt unsettled. And you just put words to my feelings. Thank you. Now I understand them better.

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  35. Serving a mission was the foundational experience of my adult life, and I wouldn't trade it for the world. I was able to share the gospel and become rooted in the gospel that I couldn't have in any other way.

    That said, I'm the girl who actually set a goal to NOT serve a mission. I was stunned when at 21 I started to feel a desire to go. After praying about it I realized that the better choice was to stay home and wait for the missionary I was writing. Fast forward another year and half, after things with the apostate RM didn't work out, and it became VERY clear to me that I was to serve a mission. And so I left at 22 and came home the week of my 24th birthday.

    To any young woman, contemplating full-time missionary service I would counsel that it will be the hardest yet most rewarding thing you could ever do. IF it is the right choice for YOU. I served with a few companions who probably shouldn't have been there, and it was tough on them and tough on me.

    I'm excited that many more young women will be able to serve. And I'm excited that the prophet and apostles have made it very clear that for each of them it will be a very personal decision.

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  36. I know this is quite awhile after you originally posted this on your blog, but I just found it tonight! I think most of what you have written is great, but I wanted to just add hopefully a slightly different perspective. I very much hope that it comes across in a welcoming tone since it is so hard to tell online, and I am definitely not trying to be antagonistic!

    I agree, some reactions were kind of intense and extreme, since there are always people on both sides of the spectrum. I was one of those who was very excited for the future generations, and yet still saddened at what could have been. No, I haven't been wallowing because it, but I did have to go through a period of processing it. I agree missionary work is for the good of the church and others- it's full time service. But it is also what was mentioned in the same conference- it's meant to change the missionary as well. It's a very personal experience.

    I agree with what's been said, every woman has their free agency to choose what to do. I knew I wanted to go on a mission, and so I did. I went into the MTC just a month after my 21st birthday, and was married at 24. I was able to experience the wonderful experience that is a mission and still manage to get married. :)

    However, I just wanted to emphasize the fact that every person has an individual experience in the church, and I think it's important to validate that. Everything we do in the church is a service to others, but it's also very personal. We all have personal relationships with Christ and with the gospel, and therefore things that happen in the church affect everyone in a very personal manner. When I was 19, I was at a very different place in my life and with the gospel, and I know I would have had a different outcome if I could have gone that. That doesn't mean it wasn't what was best for me at the time, I just am trying to show that even if I know it was best for me, the pain was still real that I could not go.

    I also read an article on this topic, maybe the same one as you. As I said earlier, it was sad for me to read some of the more extreme responses, but it also was an incredible moment of healing for me. I was emotional reading many of the comments, because it was the first time I even saw that someone else had experienced the same thing as me. Hopefully most of us have been able to feel the comfort and healing that comes from a feeling of sisterhood and not being alone. Knowing someone else has been there. I had never felt that before in this particular struggle in my life. It was therapeutic in that it helped me move a little bit further along in my progression of letting go of past issues.

    I believe that the church definitely believes men and women are equal, but it still hurt when the imperfect people in the church made you feel otherwise. I hope that this makes sense, and again, is taken in a tone of sharing and not in an aggressive tone.

    All I know, is that everyone has their own experience that probably no one else can understand. I am so happy that many of you did not have these feelings and pains, and honestly wish sometimes I could have had that experience too. (Of course, again, I'm sure it was what was best for me in the long run. :)) I just hope that even if you didn't have those feelings, that women in the church can still empathize with the very real pain that other women felt. The gospel is true, but it doesn't mean it's always easy. Everyone has their own personal struggles to overcome, and we all can help one another bear those burdens, even if we haven't experienced it first hand. Thanks for sharing, because even if I may have a different viewpoint, I very much appreciate that we can even have these kind of discussions to help see all sides of every point!

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