I believe in losing oneself.
When I was a little girl, my dream was to be the next woman president or Miss America. I was bursting with imagination, and could spend endless hours under the giant white birch tree in my front yard, dreaming I was Anne of Green Gables or some other fearless heroine.
In college, I ran track, chased boys (though in a very harmless sort of way), studied, and took a job as a river guide.
Then I made the momentous decision to serve a mission for the LDS church.
In the spring of 1998, at the age of 21, I entered Dallas Texas as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Because I thought primarily of myself, I was soon deeply discouraged. Day after day went by with little success, as few people seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. I focused on how miserable I was, how I missed my home and family, dating and socializing, and “having fun.”
As time passed, my difficulties didn’t change, but I did. I learned to love longhorn cattle and a sky– Texas blue–that spread as far as the eye could see. I learned that most Texans have a heart comparable in size to their colossal state flag. Oh, and my waist grew a couple inches as a result of a few too many Blue Bell ice creams and some generous Texas cookin.’
Over months of knocking doors in the blistering Texas heat, I learned something else. I learned to love people. In neighborhoods from the projects to the prairie, I met people of expansively different race, background, and religion, people with nothing and people with everything. Some of these people had lost a loved one or had recently been divorced. Some suffered from debilitating diseases, others were alone. I learned to laugh with them and cry with them. I felt their pains as keenly as if they were my own. I became so swallowed up in their lives that I forgot my own petty troubles. My desire to relieve suffering and bring happiness, to inspire someone or to comfort them overpowered my desires to return home to my own life.
The vast majority of people I came in contact with never did join my church, but I hope their lives are better. I know mine is.
My mission changed my attitudes about what my life is worth. Now the measure of a successful life to me is how much I can give. I found my deepest happiness came when losing myself to others, and in doing so, found that part of myself worth finding.
Now I’m a mom. Together my children and I wonder at the latest wandering bug, sing, and float self-made boats down our meandering stream. We gather leaves dripping with autumn sunshine and we wear out our family story books. I hope that the love we share will be a part of the fabric of their beings that will contribute to a lifetime of happiness.
Anytime I give, I always seem to get more in return.
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