I am slightly ashamed to say I burst into tears - not out of joy, but of regret, jealousy, and bitterness.
I graduated from high school and with my Associate's degree when I was 17 years old. When a young woman graduates from high school, she is asked to attend Relief Society. No longer are you in a class with your own peers, but you have graduated to The Grown Up class, which brings in women of all ages, backgrounds, walks of life. That's fine.
But as a 17 year old, I was lost. Completely and utterly lost. I lived in a very adult ward with almost nobody my own age. The next youngest to me was 24 and married with children. As a new member of the Relief Society, I was confused and felt "too young for all this." After all, I certainly didn't need to know how to be a good wife, or how to serve my husband or take care of my children. At age 17, I had no desire or plans to get married - ever. EVER.
When I was 12, I remember asking my mom why girls had to wait until they were 21 before they could go on a mission. My mom didn't know, but she tried to be positive about it. She didn't like the rule either, she said, but that's the way it was.
Maybe the church has changed now, but when I was growing up, the emphasis was always on getting married. Young women, you will grow up. You will get married. You will have children. As a youth, that was not what I wanted in the slightest. I had no prospective boyfriends and I hated children. I still hate children. I liked being alone. I was going to grow up, go to medical school and be an Emergency Room physician. Or I was going to be a veterinarian with my own farm, complete with horse I rode to work, and a dog. Or I was going to do all of the above and write novels. But it was always going to be alone.
I left the church for a while, because I felt so unneeded and unwanted. I had well meaning leaders who thought I was homosexual because I had zero interest in getting married (at age 17! come on!) I spent 3 miserable years in a dark place, cutting myself almost daily, struggling with suicidal thoughts and depression and social anxiety. My family and I weren't getting along at all. I was in debt. I was lost, still.
I met Nate. We dated and it got serious. I asked him if he would be willing to wait for me if I went on a mission. I was 19, so I still had 2 years before I could turn in my application plus an additional 2 years to serve. Nate said no way would he wait for me. And because I didn't want to lose my first love, the first person who had made me feel worthwhile, I decided I wouldn't risk it. I dropped the missionary thoughts. Nate asked me to marry him, and a month after I turned 20, I did. I still had a full year before I could have served a mission.
I remember when we lived in Arkansas and the missionaries would stop by our home. I remember thinking how weird it was that I was living in my own home, married, and yet these two boys were still older than me.
I have struggled with regrets my entire life, but I regret nothing the way I do those years between 2004-2007. Every day, even today, I think at least once a day how those choices I made back then have affected me. Sometimes I get sad because it feels like all the important decisions in my life have been made. I'm done. Now it's just little things from here on out.
But most of all, I have regretted not going on a mission. I regret not waiting, not telling Nate to suck it and still remaining friends, but making plans to be my own person before I got married. I regret dropping out of school. I regret everything about those years. I love my husband. I do. But how much different would my life have been if I had said "no, this is something I need to do"?
So much different.
But again, at the time, it was a 5 year wait between graduating and going on a mission. Five years where I felt alone and irrelevant to the church. I know that many young adults have struggled with the transition between the youth program and the adult program. I am so happy for these youth who will have the opportunity to serve missions at a younger age. I believe this will greatly help them, people around the world, and the church's ability to keep our young adults active in the gospel. I am excited for them.
I am also jealous of them.
If this call had just come 5 years ago, my life would be so different. I can't say it would be better, because I don't know that. But I wouldn't be here right now - struggling every day with a child who doesn't like me and who I don't particularly care for either. I wouldn't be looking at scars from self-inflicted wounds. I wouldn't think back on those years as a waste and a mistake. I would be more sure of myself, more firm in my foundations, and more experienced. I would be a better person. I know it.
Yes, I can serve when I am older. It's not the same and it never will be - I don't know why people use that as a consolation.
My mom always said that her biggest regret was not serving a mission before she had me. I know she wanted me, but I often felt like I'd ruined her life when I was growing up (she tried very hard to keep me from feeling this way, but I am awesome at being melodramatic.) I interrupted her plans and I broke her goals. If this call had come 26 years ago, my mom would have been able to serve earlier. I wouldn't have been born - and that's okay. Everyone might have just been a little bit happier. There's a difference, though, between missing this announcement by 26 years and missing it by just 5.
Everyone has regrets. Mine just punched me in the face this morning.
I wish I could articulate it better. But long story short: yay for the younger missionary age, I hate that it didn't come early enough for me, my life is filled with regrets and I have struggled intensely with them all month (so this wasn't a particularly timely announcement for me.)
Edited to add: I'm not leaving the church over this. I'm not mad at President Monson. I'm not going to go jump off a cliff or flush Toby down the toilet. I am sad, yes, but I'm not angry or vindictive or...irrational? I realize that I am where I am supposed to be (even if I don't always want to be here.)
I am really, really excited for the new sisters who can serve! So many lives are going to be affected by this and I am thrilled to be here to witness it. I just think, to some extent, I will always regret not having served a mission, and today it hit me even harder than normal. Just as I will always regret dropping out of college or not going to medical school. It's okay to have regrets, I just have to remind myself that it's not the end of the world that I didn't do X, Y and Z. As long as I don't allow my mistakes (or my inability to do something) to rule my life, it's okay to be sad once in a while.
It was hard to post this because I don't want to seem like "I hate my life! The missionary age requirement ruined it forever! It's the church's fault I'm married and have a weird child!" No no no. I love Nate and I am so glad I married him - that will never be a regret. I love Toby and while I would take away his mental problems in a heartbeat*, I don't regret him either. It's just one of those things, you know? I don't regret my family and I don't hate my religion. It's okay. Okay? Okay.
I've never understood parents who say "My child is autistic and even if there was a cure I wouldn't take it!" Are you kidding? I'd sign Toby up for the cure so fast your head would explode. Just as I know my mom or Nate would have signed me up for the anxiety/depression cure in a heartbeat.