A few weeks ago, a former church leader e-mailed me. We reminisced a little, it was fun. Then, he sent me the text of a letter I had sent him from the MTC. Talk about a blast from the past. It started me remembering a period of my life, a decade ago, and contemplating how I’ve changed since then. (Warning: Long personal discussion follows — ultimately enlightening, at least for me, but read on at your own risk).
While in high school, I participated in a great program at the Arizona Temple Visitors’ Center. It was called the Youth Guide program. A group of about 80 youth participated at the time, as I recall. (I understand that it got a little larger in later years, and it was eventually discontinued).
We trained as guides (learning a pre-written temple garden tour, as well as the commitment pattern) and we gave tours of the temple grounds. We worked in pairs, like missionaries. Each person had an assigned night of the week: There was a Monday district, a Tuesday district, and so forth. The tours were about 10-15 minutes in length. During the tour, we would talk with the people to whom we were giving the tour; at the end, if they were non-members, we would invite them to take the missionary discussions (if they were members, we would invite them to bring non-member friends). We met as a group on Sundays, and sometimes had activities. We had name tags, and worked closely with the missionaries. We recited D & C 4 and sang “Called to Serve” at record speeds. It was awesome.
It was a great environment for me. I made some close friends, many of whom I’m still in contact with. It was also a supportive, spiritual environment, during those difficult and ambiguous high school years and post-high-school years (I started attending partway through my senior year). That was important for me, because it provided useful positive peer pressure, and as a high schooler, I was awfully subject to peer pressure. Sometimes I wonder if I still am.
The experience also ended up shaping my family life: As a Youth Guide, I became pretty good friends with a fellow guide named Amelia. Really friends, not “friends” (stop jumping to conclusions!); she liked my friend Aaron, who she eventually married. Amelia was a great letter writer who stayed in touch with me while I was on my mission. When I returned (and she was dating my friend Aaron), she and Aaron continued to hang out with me; since they were dating at the time, she set me up on a double-date with her cousin Mardell — who I later married.
As a YG, I referred a number of tour takers to the missionaries — strangers who I hadn’t known before. I also tried to be a missionary at school: I gave a temple tour to a classmate (not entirely based on her spiritual welfare — she was awfully cute!) who accepted the referral and took the discussions, but eventually lost interest.
Nineteen rolled around. The guides typically sent out missionaries with great fanfare. I was no exception — a number of guides came to my farewell. (And when I returned, they came to my homecoming). It was a great time in my life. While I was in the MTC, I wrote to Brother Parker, the director of the program at the time. And that’s the letter that he e-mailed me, starting me thinking about this all. A paragraph of my letter shows my thoughts at the time:
Go for the 250 a month goal. Donâ€™t doubt. We can do it. Don’t interpret scriptures down. The Lord says in Alma 26:22 that each missionary can baptize thousands. That meant thousands. Not “a lot.” Not 10. Not 20. Thousands! He says the gospel will go to every creature. Not just goldens. Not just ones we think are ready. We must declare it to everyone. If we literally speak to everyone in our path, we can we can literally baptize thousands. (or, for you YG’s, get thousands of referrals). Matthew 21:21-22 says that anything we ask for in faith, believing, we can do. Anything! Not just a “reasonable” goal, or something we’ve achieved before. Anything. Don’t set new goals based on old performance. Set them based on what we know we can do with God’s help. Create goals from inside, not from outside. What would have happened if the Wright Brothers had set their goals based on past science? Let’s be adventurers and explorers, like they were, and reset the Standards! The Lord doesn’t lie, and He doesn’t exaggerate. WE (That means us!) can be part of a force baptizing thousands apiece. Let’s do it!
I looked at that letter again, for the first time since I wrote it, a few weeks ago when Brother Parker e-mailed it to me. My first reaction was “Did I write that?” I guess I did; and looking over it, I do remember it. My, I’ve changed since then.
I’m amazed that I was so energetic, and so enthusiastic. (My goodness, I was fond of underlining, wasn’t I?) I sometimes get excited about things now, but I’m often just tired these days. Is that the natural progression from youth to middle age? Or did I lose something else somewhere along the way?
I notice how I was particularly excited about missionary work. And I can still remember, twelve years ago, getting up the courage to ask my classmate to take a temple tour. I was sure brave then — I was quite aware at the time that it was a break from my usual introverted self, it made me extremely uncomfortable, but I did it anyway. It seems that I’ve gone back to being an introvert. I didn’t ask anyone from work to go to the Manhattan Temple, a few months ago. I probably should have. When did I change?
And in part, I feel disillusioned. I look at the letter and think, it didn’t pan out. I went into the MTC thinking that I could baptize thousands of people. And, well, I didn’t. Was it because I didn’t have enough faith? Was it because I didn’t obey all of the mission rules? Was it because I didn’t work hard enough? Or was I asking too much to start with? I don’t think I can claim to have enough faith to baptize thousands, but now I wonder if that isn’t asking a lot of a nineteen year old.
But on balance, I’m happy that I somehow shifted from focusing on the stars to enjoying what was around me. I didn’t baptize thousands, but I did bring some families to the church. (And I remember their names — can you do that if you baptize thousands?) I wasn’t a perfect missionary, but I did try hard, most of the time, and I had some great experiences. There are a few things which I might do differently, looking back, but overall it wasn’t a bad mission. Quite different than the one I imagined in my letter, but a big step forward in my life nonetheless.
I’ve changed since then, and when I look at the snapshot of me as written in my letter, the changes are evident. I’ve gotten older, wiser (perhaps), more tired. I’m less of an idealist, and more of a realist. I’ve gone to school, married, moved and started a family. Quite a few changes, which is why my letter seems almost foreign to me at first glance. But if I look closely enough at Kaimi 2004, I can still see the outline of Kaimi 1993. I still believe the church is true. I still stress and worry, about different things now. I still like the scriptures, and I still wonder sometimes where I fit in in the world. I’m still Kaimipono — “seeking for righteousness,” as the name means in Hawaiian. And that core similarity, despite all of the changes since then, tells me something about the difference a decade makes — and the difference it does not make.