Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Blogging from North-West Cheeto Land

There I was, last October, reading 2 Nephi over my morning Crunchy Corn Bran and Mountain Dew, and suddenly I thought, I think I'll go on a mission. Yes, that's a lovely idea. I'll go convert those people who think they need no more Bible. Glad that’s settled. Are we out of skim milk?

Of course I was melting down an hour later, but the interim was a nice breath of irrational certainty. As bad of an idea as this looks from the practical perspective, it has a sanguine air of inevitability to it; I’m simply convinced that I’m going to go. It’s also a solid 180 retroversion from my previous position. I'm twenty-four, and in the last three years of eligibility, I’ve been fiercely opposed to the idea. Part of the reason is that there's so much about the Church that makes me crazy, and on irritable days I get this horrible vision of me in a denim jumper and nametag half-heartedly telling people to come join our church so they can be ostracized for drinking diet Coke and watching The Simpsons and also find out that their gender role involves being the adornment of humanity. Part of the reason is that although I’m committed to the LDS Church and call myself a devout Mormon, I’ve always struggled with the “one true church” rhetoric. I can’t imagine looking a committed Christian of another faith in the eye and saying “You’re wrong. I’m right.” As Eve has pointed out to me, though, committed Christians of other faiths don’t usually let the damn-mar-mans past the doorframe, so that’s an unlikely scenario.

And part of the reason is, for good or ill, selfishness. It’s inconvenient. I’m in the first year of my MA/PhD program and taking time out now means letting the Latin and Old English I’ve been struggling to bring up to par atrophy away back toward oblivion; coming back will be like starting over. I just took out 23K in school loans, and I certainly don’t have the resources to pay that back before I leave. I’ve uprooted my life and moved across the country once in the last six months, and I’m only just beginning to settle into my new home and find friends among my new acquaintances. I don’t want to deal with the social hardship of the mission, and I don’t want to deal with the social hardship of coming back. And given this detour, I’ll probably be into my thirties before I leave Bloomington, Indiana permanently. I know that doesn’t quite read as catastrophic, but I sort of had Bloomington filed away in my brain as a rest-stop on the highway of my life, somewhere I’m going just so I can get to somewhere else, and the prospect of turning thirty here makes me think it’s probably got more to it than picnic tables and a gas station. Going on a mission now seems like it’s going to leave me stuck later. It takes time out of a life that I never feel is large enough to do everything I want to anyhow.

On the other hand, my life invariably goes better when I do what I suspect God wants me to. I’ve made too many bad decisions while ignoring that persistent vibration in the back of my mind that falls somewhere between better judgment and revelation, which I associate with God making suggestions. And I remember my favorite professor at BYU suggesting that some people might need to hear the gospel from a girl with purple hair and a nose-ring, and even though I can’t take either to the MTC, I’ll still have them on the inside, if that makes any sense. If God and Christ and the Atonement really are at the center of my life, and I’d like them to be, then it seems like I should be willing to endure the inconvenience and the nineteen-year-olds to go to Russia or Finland or North-West Cheeto Land (as Ziff has kindly predicted) or even (heaven forbid) Iowa (I’ve actually had nightmares about getting called to Iowa) and tell people about these things that are so important to me.

So look for me this time next year, illicitly blogging from the MTC. Eve and that same BYU professor have both warned me that although I'll probably do fine in the field, the MTC will be a very grim trial indeed, and I'll need my Bloggernacle fix. Ten points to the best idea for how to smuggle in a laptop.


Blogger Seraphine said...

Thanks for this story--I really enjoyed reading it. I'm not sure how I would have responded if I had felt like God suggested I go on a mission (rather than the suggestion I got of going to graduate school). I definitely think it would have been difficult for me.

1/25/2006 11:53:00 AM  
Blogger Katya said...

1. I was under the impression there was no upper age limit for single sisters to serve missions, just for single elders. (Are we forgetting our Divine Gender Role, again?)

2. Whilst lamenting your own sad state as a missionary, you have completely neglected my end of the matter, namely, that I shall be without my best friend at easy reach for a good 18 months.

3. In spite of this mote, I will cheer you up by reminding you that wherever you serve, I will be sure to knit you lots of bright orange winter accessories to cheer your day. Even if you end up in Tahiti. (Nay, especially if you are called to Tahiti.)

1/25/2006 08:48:00 PM  
Blogger Lynnette said...

Melyngoch, I have to admit that upon hearing this news, I was only slightly less surprised than I might have been on hearing--oh, say, that you were now pursuing an MBA, or perhaps headed to a military academy.

The comment about converting people so that they can learn that their divine role is to be an adornment made me laugh. When people at school mention that they'd like to come to my church to see what it's like, I always feel the need to warn them in advance that yes, we are a bit . . . umm, patriarchal.

But, I suppose that like Jonah, you can only say "no" to God for so long. (Just maybe try not to sit down in despair if people actually listen to what you say, and you are therefore denied the privilege of watching God zap them and their cattle. ;) I'm most reassured to hear that Katya will be sending you orange winter accessories to keep your spirits up.

1/25/2006 09:01:00 PM  
Blogger Eve said...

Melyngoch, congratulations! I too am relieved to her that Katya will keep you in orange as you trip around Tahiti, or wherever, with your nametag.

I turned 22 in the MTC, so I was a little older than the other sisters, but not a whole lot. I'd be really interested to hear the perspectives of others who went on missions at, say, 25, as Melyngoch is planning to.

Missions are so individual that it's hard to make any sweeping generalizations, but personally, my sense that God had called me definitely sustained me through the hardest times. And hard as it often was, and much as there are things about mission culture I really disagreed with, I've never regretted going. For me, anyway, it truly was a life-transforming experience.

Katya asks a good question. I didn't think there was an upper age limit for sisters, either. They seem to be much stricter about single men. One of the elders in my mission had a widowed father who really wanted to serve a mission again, but the church wouldn't let him, so he joined the Peace Corps instead, went to Hungary, and stopped in to visit his son at Christmas, as I recall.

1/26/2006 06:35:00 AM  
Blogger Ziff said...

Melyngoch, I'm so happy to hear that you truly expect to be called to Cheeto Land. It must be inspired. If so, you must tell us what fresh Cheetos taste like when you pluck them right off the tree and eat them. I'm sure they lose so much in the packaging and shipping.

I find it fascinating that both you and Eve felt truly called to serve a mission. I never did, and if it weren't the norm, the expectation, for Mormon males of my age, I doubt I would have gone. I can see how really feeling that you were called by God would sustain you, as you said, Eve.

Tangentially, isn't there anecdotal evidence (or maybe even statistical evidence--my favorite kind) that sister missionaries are, on average, more successful than elders? I wonder if it isn't because of the selection issue. Elders go because they're male. Sure, some of them feel particularly called, but their numbers are swamped by those who go because they're supposed to. But sisters who go generally do because they want to, and so there are fewer who feel obligated to pull their general performance down.

I have often wondered if the Church wouldn't be better off dropping the mission age to 19 for sisters to encourage more of them to serve rather than discouraging it. Now I wonder if a better policy for making the missionary force better wouldn't be to drop the requirement that elders serve.

I wonder how the US military changed after Vietnam when it moved from being draft-based to being all volunteer. I'm sure that event would be instructive in planning for such a Church change.

1/26/2006 08:22:00 AM  
Blogger Eve said...

Lynnette, I fear that Melyngoch is headed to a military academy--the spiritual boot camp that is the MTC. I remember sitting in my dorm there trying to wrap my head around its existence less than 50 miles from the University of Utah and wondering why the entire state hadn't exploded from the contradiction.

1/26/2006 09:10:00 AM  
Blogger Ziff said...

Regarding blogging from the MTC, I know that there are cell phones that will let you get on the web, and smuggling a cell phone in should be much easier than a laptop. You would just need to be sure to always have it set to vibrate instead of ring.

I'm only sorry that you would have to suffer through trying to type out messages using a tiny keypad. Perhaps you could learn to blog in Reformed Egyptian so that you could say a lot with only a few characters. For example, a single character could represent a phrase like "The MTC is a loony place."

1/26/2006 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger Eve said...

Melyngoch, the real question is,
Who is going to take Latin with me while you're gone???

1/27/2006 07:16:00 AM  
Blogger Mo Mommy said...

A dearly beloved girlfriend of mine once sent me a picture from the MTC. It was of a gaggle of future missionaries crowded into the cafeteria. It was entitled, "where's waldo?". Perhaps you could post one of those. Since we don't know what you look like,it could be quite time consuming and fun.
Orange, always the perfect accessory.

1/27/2006 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger JB said...

I know someone who went on a mission because he was expected to and hated it. He decided to leave after 17 months of trying to "make it work." That has been the big turning point for him in his decision to temporarily (at least) leave the church. I think it was good for him.

Maybe God's trying to give you an extra push in that direction?

And then again, maybe you'll be all the more convinced that being Mormon is what you need to be and you'll be all the more committed? *shrug* I have a hard time seeing it go in the middle.

In any case, I admire your courage to do the difficult (and inconvenient) thing that you feel inspired to do.

1/28/2006 10:26:00 PM  
Blogger Kiskilili said...

Melyngoch--Congratulations on making a difficult decision, and I wish you the best of luck! I hope to hear several exciting stories . . .

1/29/2006 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger Melyngoch said...

S: The weird thing is, I thought God had told me to go to graduate school. If only he'd pick one thing and stick to it, you know? :)

Katya: All you have to do is get a job in North-West Cheeto Land, obviously.

Lynnette: You thought you were surprised! Hah! Maybe if Katya's sending me orange accessories you can send me a gourd-growing seedpot.

Ziff: Perhaps -- this is more a general speculation than one which I mean to apply to you individually -- God had to call us particularly because the culture didn't expect it of us; or, rather, God didn't supply you with a particular calling/impression/whetvs because the culture was going to make you go anyway. In any case, I'd be very interested to see what decisions guys might make without the social consequences of not going looming over them, and also the kinds of missionaries they'd be. And as soon as you send me a Reformed Egyptian primer, I'll get started learning it . . . :)

JB: It's actually crossed my mind that this will turn out to be God's bid to get me out of the church, but only in my bitterest moments. I've honestly always the temple is more likely to do it than the mission, but I also think that for good or ill, this church is where God wants me. Most people seem to come back a little bit zealotous (with the possible exception of Ziff, whom I didn't think I'd heard swear before the mish :) ), but I'll be surprised if the experience sends me careening permanently in either direction. But who knows? Maybe I'll discover my divine gender role!

Thanks for being supportive, everyone -- I'm sure I'm going to need it in the next couple of years!

1/30/2006 07:43:00 AM  

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