Monday, October 1, 2012

My Life Story: Awakening Unto God

I knelt next to my bed, my head down, my heart a heavy metronome of beats. My hands, shaking like an Aspen, held a chunky white envelop, eight by eleven in size, holding a destiny I’d arrived at some months ago. I prayed,

“Oh Heavenly Father, help me relax.”

I did what I said I was going to do in London when I sent my parents a No Going Back email. Upon my return flight home I made arrangements with my newest friend Amanda to find an apartment in Salt Lake City and apply at the University of Utah, get a job and work on sustaining myself. That was eight months prior and I had done well for myself establishing independence, though I had to use the last bits of my grandfather’s trust fund and learn how to make meals from the Chevron on 40th using my parent’s gas card.

The hardest part to transition was separating from my boyfriend. In a desperate attempt to have space, I rejected the idea of marrying him and instead bought more time in the idea that I’d only consider marriage if he were a returned missionary. This meant a revolutionary change in his lifestyle and some modifications to mine as well. The bumpy road that led to his departure nearly derailed us spiritually and physically. But his existence in the southern most parts of Chile gave me a reassurance that I was safe--safe to make decisions outside of the confines of our complicated and bi-polar relationship.

I cleaned up. I made peace with God and man about actions of my past and I dedicated myself to making a serious study of the religion my parents gave me. On an early north-bound bus on frozen mornings along the Wasatch Front I started a curious read of the Book of Mormon for the first time of my life. I expected it to be boring, frankly, but my morality knew it was imperative. How could I call myself a Mormon if I had never even read the book?

After time, those colorless mornings and dark evening rides on jerky buses reading my Book of Mormon became my preferred times of the day. I was studying incredible ideas in all of my Human Development and Family Psychology classes and yet nothing held my intrigue like the wispy pages of my Mormon scripture.

Then, one morning in late fall I came to the last page of the book. I was at my family’s cabin in Walsburg, Utah in my parent’s expansive bedroom covered in pioneer quilts, landscape paintings and braided rugs. I knew what was coming, a couple verses which asked me, the reader, to ask God if this book were true.

But I already knew. It was.

In the course of reading the Book of Mormon something awoke inside of me. The seeds of strength which had been buried in my mortal soil started to bloom. I was a daughter of a God. I was capable of great power. I had completely misidentified myself as a Mormon woman. I was not a chess piece on a man’s board of success, I WAS MY OWN.

This new connection with my true identity transformed me, seeped into my pores and changed my body and spirit. Suddenly my soul felt lighter. I laughed more. I connected to people with love. I wanted less consumption. I craved intimacy with others and with God. I noticed my hated hair started flipping in soft waves just as I always wished it would. Even my skin projected clarity of deeper origins. And my body, generous and voluptuous, fit right on my small-boned frame. The world, after all, was a safe place for the authentic me.

I had spent two decades avoiding spirituality, thinking it would only lead to a robotically cloying, drab little life. And here I was nearly twenty-one feeling for the first time explosive, utterly interested and increasingly fascinated. My brain no longer saw the world as rights and wrongs, but as a spectrum of truth. There was truth everywhere, in culture, in literature, in everything.

And I knew what God was really asking me at the end of the Book of Mormon, as I devoured the last page one orange morning in my parent’s cabin-bedroom. He was asking,

“Will you go share this book with others?”

I wanted to reach out to other people. I wanted to serve. I wanted to help others. I wanted to follow my new-found friend Jesus Christ in living a self-aware, selflessly-donated life. I responded to this call with a heaviness of heart, knowing mine would break a million times if I were to say yes. And I never thought I would be this person, this girl who would put her educational plans on hold for God. But I said it anyway.


Then one day I found the chunky, white envelop, packed into and protruding out of my narrow mail slot adjacent to my apartment building in Salt Lake City. I knew it was the response from Church Headquarters to my request to be a full-time missionary for the next eighteen months of my life; my mission call. I knew it was full of instructional papers, what to wear, what to study, how to prepare. I had seen these pages spill from the envelops of  my five missionary brothers before me. And I knew the very front page would be from the prophet. He would ask me to serve in a specific location, a part of the world which would become like home to me for the rest of my life. This mission call would be wrapped up in my identity and my compassion, a place where I would go to give myself to God completely.

So after my prayer asking God to soothe my jumpy heart, I slowly opened up the envelop reached inside and read the top page of courier font and heart-felt greetings.

Sister Clark…
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 Canada Montreal Mission. You will be speaking in the French language.

I can’t really say what happened next, I was alone in my room, but I remember jumping up off my knees. I remember screaming with thrilling vibrations out of my throat. I remember thinking it all felt exactly like I knew it would--as though Montreal had been home for a long time. And there were people there, though I had never met them at all, waiting for me.


Honey said...

Love this! Thank you!

Senorita Spravzoff said...

Hurrah for missions. I have been waiting for you to write this part of your life.

Rachel said...

I felt the same way when I opened my mission call to Jacksonville, Florida. I couldn't have even found it on a map, but I knew it had been home to me for a long, long time. I knew people were waiting for me. And now that I've been "home" 2.5 years, Jacksonville in many ways is still so much more home than anywhere else. It's where I learned who I really was. Thanks for sharing, C Jane. Reading your blog is my favorite thing to do on the Internet!! :)

Kelli Anderson said...

i thoroughly enjoy and relate with you! i can't get enough of your blog (:

Manda said...

I don't normally leave any comments, though I love reading your blog. But today I felt the spirit while reading this post, and I felt like you should know. I think what you do here is good, and while I don't always personally connect or even sometimes agree, I always feel like I learned something about life. So thank you for that!

Unknown said...

Your losing me Cjane, wish this wasn't the case but there it is.

Somers said...

I just have to echo Manda's comment. Thanks for this post, I really needed it this morning.

Linda Stone said...

Way to make me cry! Thank you!

Chatty Natty said...


I cannot believe how parallel our lives were leading up to that very mission call. While you were in London, I was in Switzerland where I, too, found God. I then returned to the U and just one month after you sat in my rented college house opening up the very same white envelope. How did we not know each other before??

We shared so many of the same feelings about our culture, religion that eventually led us to the small little bunk beds in St. Leo (I hope you heard the thick Quebecois accent in the word Saint). My only regret of those 18 months was that we didn't get to spend more time together.

I still remember you in the MTC wearing braids and will never forget your inquisition to other missionaries asking "what is Sister Clark REALLY like?"

And how funny that both Utah Mormon Clark girls eventually ended up marrying Idaho Mormon boys. I'm still waiting for you to occupy the vacant lot next to me.

Megan said...

Thank you for sharing your experiances! I loved your post today. I love hearing (reading) other peoples experiences with gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon. It always makes me think of mine. Thank you. :)

Miggy said...

That was some good writing lady.

And while this isn't terribly important--I could really relate to a lot of what you wrote.

sanders six said...

do not worry about losing anybody else here in the finding of yourself.

I'm Shelley said...

I'm waiting for and hoping my daughters path to take her on a mission. I loved reading this.

Erin L said...

I love this. I admit I've had a hard time reading your life story because it was so unlike mine - even though I grew up in a Mormon family with 8 brothers and sisters myself. But this piece - awakening unto God - we all must have it, and though everyone's experiences are unique, they are all alike. And The Book of Mormon was brought mine as well. Also, I always wanted to serve a mission. It was not in my plan, but I am glad it was in yours.

K Silvestro said...

Thank you. I loved this so much. While our roads and paths to it can be so different and, yes, even foreign, conversion is the great unifier.

Lynette said...

Loved this. Especially since my son is currently in the MTC heading to your "home", Montréal, in a few weeks.

Sally said...

Thanks for sharing your story with such carefully chosen words.

Kyla Ford said...

Such a great post! Love hearing mission stories! xoxo

Delirious said...

Thank you for writing this. I think there are those who won't understand what you have written. It will sound just as foreign to them as reading an account of someone dedicating their entire life to being a nun would sound to me. But, being someone who also made this journey, it all rang familiar to me. And because I have done the same things you did; read the Book of Mormon, pray, etc. I knew those same feelings.

Lindy Yam said...

Loved reading this! I too have been reading your blog for awhile now but have never commented. You have always seemed so familiar to me, and now I wonder if I knew you as a missionary! I grew up in Ottawa - which as I'm sure you know is in the Montreal mission. Small world indeed. Keep the posts coming!

Allison said...

Thank you so, so much for this post. I got teary eyed thinking about my own call that I received just over two years ago. The mission was hard- and I ended up coming home early because of how intense my pre-existing depression and anxiety had become- but I wouldn't take that year back. It was both the darkest part of my life so far, and the lightest.

Sarah said...

In the last year you have taken snapshots of your life and shared them with us. With each snapshot you have helped me look back and reflect on my life as a girl growing up Mormon. Your thoughts and insights have helped me ponder my experiences. It helps to realize that you are not the only one who felt similar feelings about, body image, spirituality, sexuality, and relationships with ourselves and others. Thank you for your openess, courage and willingness to share. Your heart speaks to mine!!!

Cannon's said...

You sound like Lainey from Reality Bites. Well atleast the dinner from the parents gas card part :)

Tara said...

Powerful as usual. What a beautiful story, I had goosebumps reading it. Thanks so much for sharing.

Jeni said...

"My brain no longer saw the world as rights and wrongs, but as a spectrum of truth" Brilliant and highly quotable!! Thanks for sharing your soul with the world. You put the dearest things of yourself in such a vulnerable position - an extremely courageous thing to do. You are a gift.

Tamsin North said...

"I was a daughter of a God. I was capable of great power. I had completely misidentified myself as a Mormon woman. I was not a chess piece on a man’s board of success, I WAS MY OWN."


Jules said...

Oh, the CMM. I cried as I read this. Thanks for reminding me of those initial exciting feelings. I felt super-lucky, because Montreal is the only place I truly, truly desired to go. I'd have gone anywhere, but I WANTED Montreal.

Side note: I wish we had been companions in the short time we overlapped. I think we would have rocked. :D

Debra said...

I am not a Mormon, and I never comment on here, but I had to tell you how inspiring this post was to me!

I was raised Christian, but haven't really practiced in years...I think it's time for me to pick up my Bible again.

Jenny said...

This post makes all your previous posts even more poignant. It shows such growth. What a beautiful picture of progress. You are so magically human!

minta said...

that was wonderful. Thank you, Courtney, for writing this. It reminded me of my experience of deciding to serve and then serving in the Utah, Provo mission. You also gave me a little more inspiration to stay connected to the people from my mission- why is it such a challenge? It's like we're afraid to reconnect because we're ashamed we're not the same person we were when we served... or maybe that's just how it is for me. But, I know they'd love to hear from us and don't care that we're imperfect... they've always known we weren't perfect :).

Thanks again for what you do, I look forward to reading your essays SO much!

Carin said...

Beautifully written!

My awakening was after reading the Book of Mormon for the first time...and it resulted in a mission too (Argentina). It has been 20 years (yikes!) but I am grateful every single day.

Lizzie Bay said...

SORRY TO DISAPPOINT ALL OF YOU, but mission calls are purely based on where the need for new missionaries are. (Or if you are part of the "elite member posse" which will be explained below).

It is a nice flowery thought though, to think that you were always meant to go somewhere - sorry to burst your bubble.

For the members of the church that are more highly esteemed (such as cjane and offshoots of the Clark posse and other "esteemed" members as well) exceptions are made. For example, in cjanes case because the "Clark" family is a more "esteemed" family in the community and church, she would never be called to say Ogden, Utah or Montana, Oklahoma, or Idaho, etc.

They are always called to a more "exciting" place, and a language always seems to be part of the package as well. Many times for an "elect member" group living in the US, they will go "foreign", meaning they get to go to another country and learn a new language, such as French (which is a big one), or German, etc.

The main point here is, a member belonging to an "elect" group would never be called to some podunk city stateside. I see it time and again. In our ward for example, recently a pudgy no name was called to California, while a good-looking "esteemed family type" was called to Germany. Why was Elizabeth Smart not called to Oklahoma City instead of Paris, France? Because she is part of the "elite" club. Can you imagine the shame and horror for that family if they even dared do that?
Sometimes even no names have a lucky break when there is no choice but to send them somewhere "exotic", because the numbers needed in that mission need to be met.
So there you have it. A long winded answer to put to rest what is really going on behind the scenes with mission calls. Whew!

Bethany said...

I'm waiting to welcome home my missionary from Montreal in three weeks. THREE MORE WEEKS. My heart gave a flutter when I saw that is where you served. Thanks for your testimony C. Jane!

me said...

Hot damn! My husband went to Sweden and spoke the ever elegant Svenska, does that mean we're in?

Hayde said...

Hold up Lizzie Bay. That means that little ole' me from a small suburb of SLC, brothers, cousins and uncles, some from a smaller border town of Mexico, are far more important than we ever thought we were? I'll be sure to hand this information over to my uncle who is serving as a mission president to a bunch of no names in Northern CA. Whether it was luck, necessity or otherwise that took me to a small, as you say; podunk, town in Argentina, and where actually a piece of my heart resides, I am happy I was called to serve there. Now where do I go get that elite member posse card? I want that stuff official.

Shannon said...

Lizzie Bay - Wahwah.

al said...

Lizzie Bay, do you believe you are where you are in life because God has called you there for a reason? We're all "missionaries" of His word, whether we're stateside or abroad. "Go into ALL the world..." isn't that the Great Commission?
I'm so glad to know that whether in Arkansas or Africa, the kingdom of God is THERE, and all Christians are tools to be used.
Guess that makes us all elite. How neat.

swedemom said...

Your comment about making meals from the chevron made me think of Reality Bites, which made me chuckle. Ah, the 90's. . .

Licorice Incense said...

Lizzie Bay, why all the conspiracy theory mumbo jumbo? I'm pretty sure the leaders of the church have more important things to do - like, I dunno, trying to save souls, or something - than looking at Pudgy's weight and banishing him to the armpit of the United States where he will dutifully, and obese-ly, serve other no-name losers.

Rebecca Raye said...

Ah- C.Jane, time to break out the Book! After I finish Mormon Enigma (read that one?).

Lizzie Bay - You are correct, missionaries are assigned where they are needed. The elite factor you mention just doesn't hold up to fact. And as far as Sister Smart goes, really? Really? You think careful consideration shouldn't have been made for her specific case?

Meaghan said...

Wooo! Montreal is the best city on the world! (Born and raised, so i'm a little biased;)) I've always been pretty fascinated with Mormonism; wish we could go back in time and you could ring my doorbell! Would've been a great conversation.

Cheryl said...

Oh man I am not in the elite club since I was called to Philadelphia and only spoke English. Dang I thought I was better than everyone else. Lizzy you burst my bubble.

Cara said...

Lizzie Bay-
We are a "no name" family from a small town in Idaho. My siblings served in Brazil, Uruguay, Scotland, and New York State. Our example negates the theory of a "lucky break." The odds just wouldn't have been in our favor.

There are not "no name" families in the Lord's eyes. And there are not lucky breaks when His work is considered. Although some mission calls are as a result of need and some receive special consideration, His hand is in it all because it is His work.

Neal A. Maxwell said, "The same God that placed that star in a precise orbit millennia before it appeared over Bethlehem in celebration of the birth of the Babe has given at least equal attention to placement of each of us in precise human orbits so that we may, if we will, illuminate the landscape of our individual lives, so that our light may not only lead others but warm them as well." (That My Family Should Partake, p. 86)

I'm sorry you feel negative about the situations you have witnessed. All human error aside, the Lord is in control.

Jamie said...

Cara, I looooved your comment. It's so true. I feel the same way about the process of issuing calling in my ward. Sometimes it's glowingly obvious that the Lord has chosen this one person, sometimes is just comes up like a practical decision, but I always seek His input and I always see his hand in the experiences that follow. What looks rote to us is always orchestrated in ways our minds can't fathom. It's awesome. And know what else I think? Your mission is what you make of for me and my house and my heart, North Carolina is gods country!

Vanessa said...

you captured the emotion of opening up a mission call so well.

lisastassforth said...

Lizzy Bay,
The reality of assigning mission calls falls on the apostle who sits in a room with a computer, pulls up the application of the prospective missionary, looks at the picture and then asks, where in the world do we send you?...then about 30 seconds later the decision is made. Not a big deal like the conspiracy theory you just conjured up.

Tara said...

Oh dear Lizzie. I've never posted a comment before, but you brought it out of me. My brother went to Guatemala and sorry to break it to you honey, but we aren't anywhere near being what you are referring to as "elite". No pioneer heritage, conversion in the 70's, and from the Midwest. Not even a single family member in the Bishopric. (Lots of sarcasm on my part there, because that's obviously not my definition of "the Mormon elite", but I have a feeling it's yours.) Now onto your bone to pick with the Clark family... If the Clarks are so "elite" in your mind then why were the parents called to St. Louis of all places??? It's my home and I love it here, but it's not exactly exotic. ;)

M cubed said...

OhcCJane you've done it again! Made me cry at 2:30 in the afternoon. I love mission stores.... "Elite" calls or podunky Idaho ones. They're all miraculous and I loved hearing how you got on yours. My white envelope took me to the latin world of Washington DC. Loved it so much I married my district leader so we could keep the mission memories alive.

Thanks for sharing another great insight.

And as for the Lizzie Bay fiasco... Lets get real , when was she privy to sit on the missionary council?shame on her for making light of something so life changing and inspired. I was pudgy (still am) and they sent me to knock on Senators doors!!!

Heather Ales said...

I've been a member my entire life. And, while I've taken detours on occasion trying to find myself, I always come back. However, your statement of "I had spent two decades avoiding spirituality, thinking it would only lead to a robotically cloying, drab little life." is the perfect description of how I've been living the last 37+ years.

I need to re-read the Book of Mormon again. I need to get back to where I should have been all along.

Judd said...

Poor poor Lizzie Bay. What a sad pathetic life you must lead.

Cristi said...

Loved this post C Jane! And Lizzie Bay-- I know a family in CA who is not well to do and they have 7 boys and they've served everywhere from the mid-west United States to New Zealand to Uruguay. Boys from the SAME family going to ALL different places. Another example-- my three male cousins who were not well to do at all either-- one went to the Dominican Republic, one to the Philippines, and one to New Jersey. Completely different places, same family. Also, Elizabeth Smart was probably sent to Paris because they though it was somewhere that would be extremely safe for a young woman.

Cristi said...

Another example for Lizzie-- my other cousins from a another non-elite, unknown family: She was called to Hong Kong and he was called to Brazil. There are thousand of other examples in the church I'm sure. Your theory just doesn't hold up.

Elizabeth said...

They probably sent Elizabeth Smart to Paris because she is so recognized in the US.

Mayday said...

Loved this today Courtney. I think I needed it. I hope to one day feel this way, about the church or anything really. I want to KNOW something. Love you, hope all is well.

Sage said...

Do. God's word will guide you. And don't be afraid to read The Book of Mormon. It is also God's word.

Delirious said...

You know Lizzie, I couldn't disagree more. Probably because I had such a strong conviction, even before I received my call, that I should be serving in that country. I couldn't write that on my application though. And in fact I didn't dare. I had heard that if you wrote such things, they sent you the opposite direction. So I just prayed that the Lord would send me where I was meant to be. Later I had a companion who thought as you did. She was upset that she wasn't sent to a more "cultured" location. She felt she was meant for greatness. She also struggled with the language. It took a lot of faith on my part to even live with her constant negativity. But I knew, deep down inside, that this was where I was meant to serve.

After returning home, I gained a new appreciation for those who serve stateside. As I read the Book of Mormon, I read of the warnings to the people who would live in America. It occurred to me just how important it is for missionaries to serve in my own country, to help the people there to repent so that our country can remain free. Never underestimate the value of a stateside mission. It really doesn't matter where you serve. It matters that you have faith that God is in control. This conference talk says it all, and might help:

Amy Hackworth said...

Beautiful, Courtney. I love your searching heart that was willing to read the Book of Mormon and see, even though you thought it might not have much to offer. I love your discovery of who you really are and that energy and peace that came with that. I think a lot of people in the church miss that, and cling to what you described--the idea that a woman's life in the church is vapid, cloying. Oh, so sad when we don't discover for ourselves God's power in us. I loved this post.

Untypically Jia said...

I'm just on the verge of tears (holding back only because I'd have to explain to my husband why I was crying sitting at the computer at 1 in the morning LOL). I yearn for this same relationship with God. I know I've had it here and there, but I really yearn for those moments to become longer lasting.

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