I read the Book of Mormon on my own for the first time when I was about eight years old. I largely credit this to my older sister, Reana, because of her example. She was always so diligent in her nightly scripture study and journal-writing that I picked up on it and, along with me, my little sister, Risa. From that young age, I remember the silence that fell just before bed time every night in my shared bedroom as Risa and I read from the blue, paper-backed copies we each possessed of the Book of Mormon.
I remember reading and re-reading that Book over and over again as I grew up. The Spirit of God, "like a fire is burning," became so much a part of my life-- a part of my very self-- that I wanted to share it with everyone. I have many embarrassing memories of sharing my testimony of the Gospel with tactless zeal to unsuspecting victims.
I was thirteen when my brother began his mission in Brazil, and from that time on, I was determined to serve a mission myself someday. It was an ambition as glorious as my ambition to become a published author. With full heart I imagined myself blazing a trail of righteousness wherever I went, converting people left and right and pouring out the love and happiness I felt to all I came in contact with!
My grand visions of wearing a black missionary tag were replaced with visions of white dresses and veils more quickly than I would have thought possible.
The idea of putting college and dating on hold to live the rigorous life of a full-time missionary became less and less appealing with each day.
... A mission didn't sound like such a bad idea after all....
Making the decision to serve a full-time mission is different for everyone. For some it is a life-long ambition, for others (like my sister), it comes as unexpectedly as a bolt of lightning. For me it's been an off-and-on thing. There have been days when I've wanted nothing more, and then there have been days when I'd rather die than commit myself to a year and a half of non-stop hard work. I've bobbed along with the tide of life, taking my merry time to make commitments of any kind. I don't like feeling trapped. It's one of my worst fears. I hate hiking simply because if I decide I'm done halfway through, I know I can't really be done because I'll have to hike back. I don't like carpooling, because I want to be able to leave when I want to leave. I don't like anything I can't pull out of with ease. I hate feeling stuck. The commitment to serve a mission, in all honesty, is one that terrifies me.
So what finally got me to commit? In a nutshell, it was a complete stranger who found me crying in (what I'd thought to be) a secluded corner of a dark parking lot one night. How embarrassing.
I'd been trying to decide what I should do with my life. The thought of a mission kept entering my mind, but I kept pushing it away.
I can't even count the amount of people who have told me I should serve a mission or said that I'd make a great missionary. I've lost track of the times people have just assumed I was going to go. But for some reason, when that particular stranger asked if I'd considered serving a mission, it was my bolt of lightening. Maybe she had magical persuasive powers, or maybe I was just so desperate for an answer to my problems, or maybe the timing was just right. Whatever the case, that night was a major turning point for me. I was ready to fly home right away and start working on my mission papers! The idea was still frightening to me, but I was unshaken in my resolve to do it. It was so thrilling to have finally made a solid choice that I didn't even care what I'd have to sacrifice to make it happen.
And thus began the saga of Sister Railee Whitaker.