12 October 2013

The Story Continues

Here are more bits and pieces of my novel. i've cut and pasted parts so that you can follow along my journey:

Fall of 2005. Looking back, I believe that it was in this semester that I really grew up. I had just turned 20 and somehow that resonated with me. I was no longer a teenager. While I was still goofy sometimes, I stopped acting like a teenager. My style had been evolving slowly, but it was in the first month of this semester that it really softened. Without realizing it, my closet of hot pink and black and studded things had turned to soft blues and greens and lacey things. I gained a confidence in myself as well-- although I still spoke a little more blunt than I should have (then again, I still do that). Somehow I ended up almost being the ‘organizer’ of the apartment, even though I was the youngest and my roommates did baby me a little. Because of my suggestions, we developed a cooking plan to eat dinner together each night, a cleaning standard that kept our apartment spotless and a goal to read in the scriptures and pray together every morning as an apartment. On a personal level, I also pushed myself to grow more than I ever had before. My dreams of living abroad had always seemed so far away. That semester I made them a reality. I looked into the money it would take to spend a semester in France, I applied for BYU and then for the semester abroad program. In French classes, I dedicated myself to master the language as much as I possibly could, even though I had no idea yet if I would be awarded a place in the program. It did not seem likely, considering the fact that I was not even a student at BYU.

My roommates became my family that semester. One of them, Tara, had just barely gotten off of her mission. We worked out together everyday and spent hours talking about her mission and I listened to her wish to be back again. In conjunction with her influence, I was also enrolled in a Doctrine and Covenants class. My habits of scripture study over the summer carried over into the semester. Between roommate study and personal study, the Spirit guided me those months like I had never experienced before. As I read about mission after mission in the Doctrine and Covenants, the idea to serve a mission wormed its way into my head. Of course, I turned to Tara, who did nothing but sell me completely on the idea of serving.

Previously, I had thrown the idea around a bit, but it was mostly to be shocking or to act like I was going to do something no one expected me to do. On one of our first dates, Jacob took me out to a chinese lunch buffet (he was slightly obsessed with ‘all you can eat’ dishes or buffets--probably because he really got his money’s worth). As we piled our plates with orange chicken and egg rolls, he questioned me about my future plans and goals. Of course, I informed him of my life long dream to spend a semester traveling abroad and spending a semester in Paris. ‘Have you thought about serving a mission,’ Jacob inquired. ‘Yeah, I could maybe serve a mission,’ I casually responded. But in my mind I was really thinking, ‘Are you kidding me? That is so unlike me to give up one and a half years of my life to go and TALK to people. I would not even know how to approach people.’ His answer surprised me, ‘I support any girl that decides to go on a mission. I loved the sister missionaries on my mission and looked up to them. I always thought that I would like to marry a returned missionary.’

When I went to tell him that I was seriously considering a mission, I remembered that conversation in the chinese restaurant and if he will still feel the same now that we were talking about ME and about US-- it was not a generalization anymore. This was a ‘it will be at least another year before I even START my mission and that's a long time for you to wait’ conversation. When I finally got up the nerve, I blurted out to Jake, “Jake, I am thinking about serving a mission.’
He seemed taken off guard. ‘What about France?’
'Well, the mission would be after France.’
Slight pause. There was not even a long pause-- he took it all in stride.
‘I think that if you want to go, you should go. I would be the last person to stop you.’
A huge weight came off my shoulders; when it came down to make the final decision of whether to serve or not, even if he had asked me to stay and I felt I needed to go, I would have left. But knowing that I had his blessing made it easier to think about making my decision.

I still had just under a year until I turned twenty one, so I was not in a hurry to say ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ yet. Truth be told, I had already received my answer, really. Sometimes I still chalk it up to the fact that I was studying the Doctrine and Covenants which is full of mission calls and verses about white fields ready to harvest. Also, I started praying about if I should leave on a mission. Since that time I have learned a little about prayer-- I believe that some questions one should never ask God about. For example, if you ask God if you should have children, the answer is always going to be ‘yes.’ I think maybe my mission was the same way; God would never tell me not to be selfless and serve His other children. Either way, my answer was a very distinct feeling that going on a mission would be a wise choice for me. I kept these celestial promptings to myself for the time being, still telling people I was just thinking about a mission.

To my amazement, after I told Jacob, I received a phone call from his mother, Linda. They had conversed, mother to son, and Jake had confided in her that a mission was most probably on my horizon. This did NOT sit well with her agenda of when she wanted us to be married. Forward woman that she is, Linda called me to discuss with me the situation. I was appalled as I listened to her.
‘I just don’t understand why you would be going on a mission if you are in love with my son,’ she said.
‘Well, this has nothing to do with him,’ I replied, ‘I do love him, very much. But my decision to serve a mission stems from my love of the Lord and I feel strongly that I am needed and wanted in the mission field.’
I tried to share my testimony with her and the very personal revelation that I had received and had not told anyone about.
‘I have prayed and I have asked God if I should serve a mission. The Holy Ghost has whispered to me repeatedly. I feel as though I am being prepared to be a missionary. I KNOW that God wants me on the mission. This is what the Spirit is telling me.’
She was still sad, thinking that I was blowing off Jake and the bigger picture of marriage and family. Perhaps what I said next was too harsh, but I found the words spewing from my mouth:

‘If I know anything at all, I know this: If I decide to serve a mission, whether I marry Jacob or not afterwards, I will NEVER regret it. On the other hand, if I marry Jacob and do not serve a mission, I will ALWAYS regret it. And whether we end up together or not, Jacob will win; he will either find someone that he loves more than me while I am gone, or if he chooses to wait for me, he will end up with a better wife because the mission will make me a better person.’

Looking back on this conversation, I feel that my words really were inspired. I do not know where I received the strength, but I believed what I said. I have many regrets in my life already; Even though I try not to focus on regrets (since I realize that there is no way to change the past) I know that there are words I wish that I could take back, items in which I would never have invested, decisions that now seem hasty or irrational. But one thing in life that I know I will NEVER regret is being strong enough to say, ‘I know I have a boyfriend. I know he loves me. I know I love him. I know we could get married. I am going to take the chance of losing that relationship because I want to serve the Lord on a mission.’

Shortly after this conversation, I received a phone call from the BYU Study Abroad program. Their application process had been rigorous, full of paperwork, essays and even phone interviews about why I wanted to go (and this was after all the applications and getting accepted to BYU in and of itself). My work had paid off; I had been accepted to the program and they had offered to let me travel with them to France. The arrival of this news caused me to scream louder than I ever had in my life. It was if the Eiffel Tower had appeared right then in my bedroom. For years I had dreamed of living in France. My father served his mission in the Paris, France mission years before. When I was a young girl, I had spent hours with him pouring over his mission pictures, letters and journals. He told me stories about castles and museums and cathedrals and stained glass. My dreams were filled with impressionistic paintings, ‘la vie en rose’ and crepes. We poured over art books together and even went to small exhibits that came to Vegas. The first time I stood in front of a real Monet painting at the exhibit in the Bellagio, I cried.

In my dorm room I had a tack board where I kept pictures of my family since they were far away when I was in school. Once Jacob left for training, pictures of him were also tacked up to keep his face fresh in my memory. I also pinned up silly cartoons or things that made me smile. Always in the top right hand corner was a picture of the Eiffel Tower all lit up in the night sky. The more I dreamed, the more pictures of French monuments surrounded the Eiffel Tower-- they inspired me to do everything in my power to reach my goal of living in France. I had even declared French as my minor in college and pushed as hard as I could in Idaho to learn the language. Now it was all coming true. All I had to do was pay the program fees, sign up for classes, buy my plane ticket and pack my bags. Within three months I would be there. It was too good to be true-- and yet it was true and that was fine with me.

Before the mission idea had solidified, Jacob and I had briefly discussed getting engaged before I went to France in order to be married upon my arrival back home. But even then I had a desire to venture through Paris without a ring on my finger. It was such an old dream-- such a life time longing of mine-- that even though I had no intention of dating while I was abroad, I could not stand the idea of having anything tying me down while I was there. Now that a mission was in the works, there was no question that I would head to Paris officially unattached.

Jacob returned from all his training and our few months together raced by. Before I could blink, Christmas had come and gone and I was packed--my life for the next three months fit into two enormous suitcases, which would completely fill up the entire tiny European car of Madame Boudemange, with whom I would shortly be living. Even though I had wanted to go to Europe and live in Paris my entire life, now that I was on the brink of fulfilling my dream, I was terrified. I was about to board an airplane by myself and end up in France, by myself. I doubted myself and my ability to be independent at all. It was actually the Christmas present I received from Jacob, along with his promptings, that got me on my plane. Though many people thought Jake would hold me back from doing exciting adventurous things in my life, at that particular moment, it was only his encouragement and faith in me that gave me any faith in myself.

For Christmas, Jacob handed me an absolutely stunning leather journal. In the first pages, he had written a beautiful dedication. His words explained how much he loved me and how even though he would miss me, he knew that I would love France. The words expressed how proud he was of me and how he knew that I would excel at everything I tackled. He concluded by saying ‘You will always have Paris.’

How right he was. When I was abroad, I wrote him an email every week and sent a letter or two. Jacob was not the best correspondent when I was away in Paris, but I did receive a few letters and usually at least one email a week as well. Plus, he made the effort to call the cell phone issued by the program about every other week for an hour or two. But when it came down to it, France was my time. From January to April 2006, I did not focus on anyone except myself. It was about me. Me, and, I found out as I was over there, my father.
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