I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this pattern, but in my own life, I’ve realized that at least 90% of the time, things don’t happen how we plan or hope for them to. I’ve also realized that 100% of the time, it turns out more beautiful than I could have imagined for myself.
It’s not the apparent, everything-is-perfect kind of beautiful. It’s the better, sometimes-easier-to-miss kind of beauty. You know, the beauty from ashes kind? It’s the kind that brings you through things you never would have chosen for yourself, but leads you to tops of mountains with breathtaking views. It gives you newfound strength that you never would have imagined for yourself. It’s the kind that doesn’t always produce circumstantial happiness, but brings opportunities for surpassing joy and sustaining peace that can come only from the Savior. It’s the kind of beauty that makes you realize just how perfect the love, wisdom, and knowledge of our God really is, and that life is the most beautiful when we trust Him.
A Desire to Serve
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When I was in high school and the big missionary age change happened, the idea seemed thrilling. After completing my first year of college, I started the application process and my excitement started to build. But reality quickly set in as my bishop reminded me how difficult it would be to serve with my chronic illness and that I had a lot of work to do first. How could I have forgotten about something so obvious? My dreams were instantly dashed as I realized the battle that was ahead of me.
I felt right about it, though, so I pressed on and made plans to improve my health as much as possible, working as hard as I could to achieve them. It was exciting — fun, even — for the first few months, but after continually not seeing the results I hoped for, there began a very long game of tug-of-war. I would feel excited and motivated about serving, but then decide it wasn’t possible and give up on the idea. I went back and forth time and time again.
I convinced myself for almost a year that I didn’t want to serve a mission so that I’d be okay with not being able to. Whenever I was asked if I was going to serve, my answer was, “I will when I’m old and married.” Still, it was always in the back of my mind, and my heart ached when I saw missionaries, heard stories from my missionary friends, or thought about the joy of being able to serve.
About two years from when I initially had decided to serve, I was talking with a dear friend of mine. She had always been convinced that I needed to serve a mission and would be able to do it — so even the fact that I had been entirely sure for over a year that I was not going to serve did not deter her. She reminded me of my potential and of God’s power and faith in me.
That gave me the push I didn’t know I needed or wanted, and I decided to try one final time. When I told my family and friends, some supported me, some were a little skeptical because I had changed my mind so many times, and some even told me that it was okay if I didn’t serve a full-time mission — that not everyone was meant to. But I believed that I was meant to.
So I started back where I had a million times before: trying to eat as healthy as I could and going on runs (more like walk-runs). I even hired a personal trainer. I did a lot of research and tried a lot of different things. I was serious about this and I was not going to fail this time. I received blessing after blessing that the Lord would provide the health necessary to do what He needed me to. I would play over and over in my head the feelings of victory and accomplishment as I imagined myself overcoming the biggest obstacle in my life up to that point. I imagined the inspiring stories I would tell people about how I worked so hard to climb an impossible mountain, and how with Christ’s help, I MADE it; I conquered an illness that has no cure. Things were going better than they ever had in any of my previous attempts, and I began to have more energy and strength than I’d had in a long time.
Every so often, I would return to my mission papers that I had started over a year before and update the health record portion with my little improvements. As I continued to do this, though, it started to hit me just how poor my health really was. As I poured through the papers and noticed how box after box after box was checked with some sort of medical issue, discouragement flooded through me. I realized even with the progress I had made, there was no way the missionary department would approve my papers for assignment. I had heard countless stories of sisters whose papers had been denied or who were sent home early for health reasons much less severe than mine. I could keep trying month after month, even year after year, but for what? There was no known cure. I felt like I was running in a hamster ball of trial and error. I was already 21 and, after trying for so long, knew that I needed to either get out and serve or move on with my life.
Yet after everything I’d been through and experienced over the last few years, I couldn’t move on. Through all of it, I had come to know my Savior in such a deep and personal way. He had supported me, guided me, and carried me during times when my burdens were too heavy. I wanted to help others find the same joy that I had, and I knew that I needed to. But I was at a standstill. I considered a service mission, but whenever I thought about it, I had a pit in my stomach that told me it wasn’t right. I was so confused and had no idea what the Lord expected me to do.
Determination Against All Odds
One day I was talking it out with the same friend I mentioned earlier. In the middle of our conversation, she suddenly said, “Why don’t you just submit your papers and see what happens?”
What? She was crazy. I already knew exactly what would happen — or at least I thought I did. The wheels started turning in my brain. I remembered having had that thought a few times through the process, but had never given any attention to it because logically it didn’t make sense. The more I allowed myself to think about it and the more we talked about it, I started to experience a spark of hope.
What if my papers were accepted? What if after almost two years, I finally got a mission call? Even if my papers were denied, I realized I could still have peace knowing I had tried everything I could.
I started praying and fasting harder than I had in a long time. I thought it out, wrote it out, talked it out, and prayed it out — and it felt right. I was amazed. I didn’t dare get my hopes up, though. I feared even getting past my bishop would be a difficult feat, let alone the stake president, doctors, and, of course, the Missionary Department. My bishop had worked with me for over a year during the whole process and he knew how poor my health was. He and I had already agreed I had a lot more work to do before he could submit my papers.
Well, y’all, all I can say is 1 Nephi 3:7:
“. . . the Lord giveth no unto the children of men, save he shall a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”
As soon as I mentioned to my bishop the idea of just submitting my papers, he was on board and ready to help me in any way possible. Within 15 minutes, I left my bishop’s office with such joy and excitement in my heart. Within two weeks, I went to and passed all my medical/dental examinations, met with my stake president, and submitted my papers. Let’s just say that when it’s right, it’s right. To say it was surreal is an understatement.
Our Plans vs. God’s Plan
The moment that hit me the hardest — even more than receiving my call — was about two weeks after I submitted my papers. I texted my bishop to see if he could check on the status of my application. He responded 10 minutes later to tell me that it was marked “Ready for Assignment.” For those of you who don’t know, that means that my submission passed the initial reviews, made it through the medical team, and was now directly in the hands of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to prayerfully decide where I would serve.
It made it through the medical team. The one thing I thought was impossible. The one thing I allowed to hold me captive for over two years. The one thing I hoped and prayed for the most, but feared would never happen. It happened. And in that moment, the Spirit taught me the most beautiful thing of all: the Lord knew that it was possible the whole time.
To me, it was always this giant obstacle; proof that I wouldn’t be able to accomplish what the Lord had inspired me to do. To Him, it was a small roadblock. He had a plan all along to move it right out of the way as soon as the time was right. He always knew I would be able to serve. He also knew the journey I needed to go on to get there and to build my faith and trust in Him so that I would be ready. I didn’t overcome my physical challenges like I hoped I would, but I overcame things that were much more powerful.
Now I know that the missionary application process is inspired by God. I know that there are rules, guidelines, and protections in place for very good reasons. I know that not everyone is able to serve a full-time mission for those or other reasons, and that the Lord has a different mission and journey for each of us. For me, the plan was to serve a full-time mission, even against all odds. No matter what God has in mind for us or calls us to do, I’ve learned that it’s exactly what we need — even if it’s not always what we think we wanted — and that He will always prepare a way.
So yes, things didn’t go as I had planned or hoped. They definitely didn’t on my mission, either, and the pattern still continues now. But I am so grateful for that because of what I receive instead.
Without fail, God’s plan for me is always so much better and more beautiful than what I could have imagined.
The lead image for this article is property of the artist, Alyssa De Arman.
Alyssa De Arman
Alyssa has just recently discovered she loves writing, but she already knew that she loves sharing joy. She believes in the power of faith and positive thinking, in God's never-ending love, and in the reality of the Savior's ability and desire to make us more, no matter our limitations — something she saw constantly on her 18-month mission in North Carolina. To follow along on her journey, check out her Instagram, @AlyssaDawnArt!