Monday, January 21, 2013

Called To Serve!

Well, like most good stories, I think I'll start at the beginning....
About a year ago I began seriously considering what I was going to do after graduation. I was going to graduate with my associates degree so I really felt like I should get right to work on earning my bachelors degree. I prayed and prayed about it, I discussed it with my parents, church leaders, good friends...I just couldn't decide what to do. I desperately wanted to go to BYU! That's where the majority of my friends were, I could get started on my Pre-Med studies, it just seemed like the logical next step. However, despite what I wanted, it just didn't feel right. I must have decided, and changed my mind a dozen times! I filled out the applications, applied for scholarships...but I just couldn't shake the restless feeling I had. Then, finally I realized that if it were the right thing for me at that point in my life Heavenly Father wouldn't let me be so unsettled about it. I prayed, earnestly, and poured out all my feelings to my Heavenly Father. For the first time in my life, I talked to Him like I was talking to my best friend. I told Him how desperately I wanted to go away to school. I told Him how scared I was of losing my friends, as they moved on without me, how I was scared that by staying in my parents house I would grow complacent and lose my motivation. I told Him EVERYTHING! And and the end of it all I felt...calm. Like that feeling you get when you have cried every tear you have and you have no tears left so there's nothing left to do but move forward. I just knew that I was supposed to stay in Pueblo. I had no inkling of why, or what i was supposed to accomplish by staying, I just knew that it was where He wanted me to be. So I registered for a 5th semester at PCC, and I began applying for jobs.
I graduated, saw many friends off to school, and sent several good friends off on missions. I spent the summer really trying to focus on the people still around me rather than feeling abandoned. I served as a Youth Leader at Youth Conference and Girls Camp, I attended the weddings of two of my good friends, and I prepared for another semester of school. I got a job as a Student Ambassador at PCC-something that a friend of mine practically forced me to apply for, and it turned out to be one of the greatest blessing in my life thus far! I was able to work with an incredible team and make several really good friends, whom I have really grown to love. I loved my work, working with the community-primarily high school students to enroll in classes at PCC and continue their education. It was incredibly rewarding to feel as if I was making a difference-no matter how small. My classes went well, and as always I enjoyed learning- Anatomy & Physiology, Physics, Psychology...I continued my studies in American Sign really was a fun semester! But i really didn't feel as if I was progressing academically...none of the courses I was taking would transfer over to help with the credits I still need to complete my bachelors degree... I visited the ward for the young single adults in Colorado Springs and made several new friends, I continued working and building bonds with my coworkers, I spent time with my family and devoted a lot of time to strengthening my relationships with my individual siblings...I just still felt as if something were missing.
Then October came-General Conference!! It's my favorite time of the year! It seems like General Conference, even though it comes at the same time every 6 months, always seems to arrive when I need it the most. I was feeling drained, tired, and I was so excited to hear the words of the Prophet and Apostles and to feel that incredible rejuvenation that comes with it. I was bummed out that I wasn't able to attend a session at the Conference center, and my parents had to work so I would be watching it alone at my house (seeing as the kids attention span really doesn't hold for more than one session tops, and Samantha had previous engagements that weekend.) So I invited over a couple of friends who would otherwise, also be watching it alone, and we had a breakfast potluck. I baked pumpkin cinnamon rolls and made homemade apple cider and hot chocolate. By the time my friends arrived and the first session was about to start the house smelled delicious! ( I was so proud! haha) As the prelude music of the first session was playing my friend Jon was telling me how excited he was to put in his mission papers. He had just come home from BYU and was anxiously awaiting his 19th birthday so he could leave on his mission. I was so jealous! I remember telling him that boys were so lucky that they got to leave at 19! I couldn't leave till I was 21 and that just seemed like such a long time to wait! I told him that if I could I would leave that day! At that point it was time for the opening prayer, so I called in Derik and Maren, and we all settled down to listen. The opening remarks were made and then President Monson made the announcement that they were lowering the mission age for boys. My first thought- "Seriously! Wasn't I just saying that they were lucky to go at 19 and now they can leave at 18?!" And then I felt this incredible peace...I continued listening. "As we have prayerfully pondered the age at which young men may begin their missionary service, we have also given consideration to the age at which a young woman might serve. Today I am pleased to announce 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."-Thomas S. Monson. My jaw literally dropped. I immediately began to cry. (No surprise to those of you who know me. The Spirit often touches me so strongly it pours out of my eyes. haha) I looked over at where Jon, Derik, and Maren were all sitting, staring at me. Derik ran over and gave me a big hug. I couldn't even speak. And then my Nana called me, ecstatic, asking if I'd heard the announcement. She'd already called my mom at work, and assured me that if I decided to serve, she and my Papa would help me in any way that they could. After talking with her, or rather, listening and crying while she talked to me, I called my Mom and then my Dad and informed them that I was going to serve a mission. I sent out a mass text message to all my friends to share the news. Life changing. It was an adjustment to a requirement that had been in place over 50 years. My life changed in a matter of seconds. As President Monson spoke those words the camera panned out to the audience and there were Brothers with wide eyes and open mouths, Sisters crying and hugging the people next to them. And I heard, very clearly in my mind, the words, "This is your answer." Months and months of praying and confusion, walking blindly, purely a trial of my faith, had led me to that moment. I know that the announcement changed many lives, and that there are many other young women who feel just as I do, but at that moment I could have sworn that the Prophet had kneeled down and prayed with my name in mind. Asking our Heavenly Father "What is it that Sister Ali Wickham in Pueblo, CO really needs? How do you want me to direct her?" I have been blessed to have had many very strong spiritual experiences in my life, and I have witnessed miracles, but that is the strongest I have ever felt the Spirit so personally. I felt like I was the only person in the world and my Heavenly Father had just given me everything I needed.
I spoke with my Bishop that Sunday at Church, and by the following Thursday I had interviewed with my Bishop and started my papers.
The whole process of filling out and submitting my papers took me MUCH longer than I had hoped, but I submitted my papers on the 9th of December. And then I waited. And Waited. And Waited some more. It was THE LONGEST 3 WEEKS OF MY LIFE! One of my best friends had submitted her papers the same day I did so we called each other every day just to see if the other one had gotten her "white envelope" yet. It was torturous! By the beginning of January I had given up expecting it to come anytime soon...., but I still couldn't help checking the mailbox on my way to work everyday! My parents kept getting all of these large white envelopes with insurance papers and such. So every time I'd grab one I'd take a deep breath and then turn it over only to find that it was addressed to one of my parents! So disappointing! The Elders in my ward told me that I would know when it was there, that I would be able to feel it as I walked to the mailbox. I didn't really understand what they meant but everyday as I left the house I'd pause just to see if I felt any different. If I'd have some feeling that would indicate that it had arrived. Nothing. Then one day I was running late for work, but as I was backing out of the driveway I just couldn't help checking. And when I opened the mailbox I saw the envelope and even before I saw the return address, or my name, Sister Ali Lyn Wickham, I knew that this was it. I pulled the car back into the driveway and ran screaming inside and handed it to my mom. I told her to call the family and figure out how to get them all on the phone or Skype so they could share the moment with me and to let them know that I would open it at 7:00 that night after my Daddy and I had both gotten home from work. I than ran out the door and tried not to speed as I drove to work. As I was driving, Don't Stop Believing came one the radio. That was my graduation song, and the soundtrack to so many of my favorite memories, it just seemed perfect that it should be part of that moment too. Although I had thought long and hard about it and felt that I really would love pretty much anywhere I went-I just wanted to go!, I secretly really REALLY wanted to go to London. haha. And as I was driving, and singing, I had the thought "you know....if I were to stay stateside, California would be nice. I really do love it out there. I'd always be able to go back and visit my mission, and I would know what climate to dress for." But I assumed it was just one of those strange, errant thoughts that pop into my head, so I put it aside. Surprisingly, the day went by pretty quickly! I stayed busy at work and enjoyed discussing all the possibilities with my coworkers. (They were almost as excited as I was!) I got home, did the dishes, and prepared as best as I could. haha. When 7:00 rolled around it was crazy trying to get my family and friends connected so that I could share the moment with as many of them as possible. When I opened it and read the words, "Dear Sister Wickham, You are hereby called to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the California Carlsbad Mission." I really wasn't at all surprised... it just felt right. And suddenly my "errant" thought from that morning made sense! Spiritual preparation. March 27th seems to be approaching so quickly! And I feel like I really haven't made much progress in gathering all of the things I need, and I suddenly feel as if I'm not at all prepared. But when I really stop to think about it I realize that I have been preparing to serve a mission my whole life. I can now look back and remember past experiences and see the direct correlation to how they have prepared me for this moment. And in the end I know that no amount of preparation will ever make me a perfect missionary. There is no such thing. While there are many things I can do to help me, in the end, all that truly matters is that I love my Heavenly Father and my Savior Jesus Christ. I know that They love me, as They love all Their children. I love the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and I shudder to think who and where I would be without it. I recognize how blessed I am to have had such a precious knowledge all my life and realize how different things would be if my precious Mom and Daddy hadn't chosen to raise me in the Church. And I have been SO blessed to feel even just the slightest part of the love that God has for His children. I walk in Sunshine every day and I am SO excited for the opportunity to devote 18 months of my life to the spreading and sharing of that Sunshine with the people of the Carlsbad, CA Mission!!

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