Do you ever look back from where you are and re-trace your steps to see what led you to your current place? I do that sometimes when I’m daydreaming and find myself on a topic totally un-related to anything I can think of. When I follow my thought processes back from one topic, back to the previous, then to the one before that, I can see where the flow of my thoughts went and how it ended up where it did. Our thoughts and our actions follow paths in this life. We don’t always think about where we are going (or where we came from) and why. But sometimes I stop and re-trace my steps to see what led me to a particular place. When I do that, I’m always interested to discover the pivotal decision or action that sent me down any particular road.
Thirty-two years ago today I became a full-time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was 22 years old, ready to graduate from BYU, and I had my whole life in front of me. After a good deal of thought and some serious prayer, I decided to put that life on hold and go do something else for the next 18 months. I submitted my paperwork and was assigned to serve in the South Africa Mission. I was to report to the Missionary Training Center to learn to speak Afrikaans on October 15th. Those next 18 months were life-changing and wonderful. I learned to know and understand my relationship to Jesus Christ much more clearly. I learned to share things I love with others, and teach gospel principles to anyone and everyone. I loved the work and the people I met and taught.
Top photo: teaching in Illinge, Transkei, South Africa.
Above: Friends in the Indian Township of Chatsworth, Durban, South Africa.
Below: With members in Sada, Ciskei, South Africa.
Now, all these years later, it’s interesting to look back on that one decision and see where it led me. After returning from South Africa, I was offered a job at the MTC teaching Afrikaans. While there, I was offered another job teaching missionaries with additional assignments. Mary Ellen Edmunds was my director and she became a mentor and dear friend. After graduating from BYU, Mary Ellen and I were asked to direct a 3-year child health project in Nigeria, West Africa. When Mary Ellen got sick and had to return home, I took her place as the project director.
Above: With a neighbor in Eket, Cross River State, Nigeria.
Below: Walking down a Nigerian bush path with friends:
After my path led to amazing adventures in Africa, I returned and because of my work in 3rd world countries, I was offered a job as an Editor for the International Magazines for the LDS Church. They needed someone who could make articles and information from America applicable and understandable for a world-wide audience. That was something I could do. I was 28 years old and I settled in to a fabulous career as an editor and writer, something I loved to do, but had no university training for. My prior experiences led me there. My path in that job, took me all over the world, and I honed my writing and editing skills.
One week, 3 years later, as I was in between trips, I went on a blind date and met John, who was also employed by an international company, traveling all over the world. Our paths came together, we married and started our family. We are both still very involved in international work, particularly in Africa. I’ll be heading to Mali again in a few weeks, and again with John in February.
As I look back over my life, and the adventures and opportunities I’ve had, I can trace almost every single good thing that has happened to me back to that pivotal decision to go out and serve someone else. I found a quote about 32 years ago that I carried with me, trusted, and put hope in:
“Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He can deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, and pour out peace.”
–Ezra Taft Benson
I believe those words and have experienced the sensation of letting go of control. Sometimes it’s frightening to step out into the unknown to do things that are hard to do. But every time I’ve taken such a step, the way has opened before me and blessings have multiplied.
I am a bit older and a bit wiser now than I was then. Perhaps part of the wisdom that has come is a result of turning things in my life over to God and trusting Him to direct my paths. He has taken me down roads I never would have chosen on my own. And I am the better for it.