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1 The Difference in the Sight of the Lord It was Tuesday when I told God no. Waking up to the 6:25 a.m. alarm clock, I didn’t think about telling him no that day. Pray, exercise, shower, begin studies at 8 a.m., out the door by 11 a.m. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. proselyte. 9 p.m. plan. Bed by 10:30 p.m. I knelt at my bedside, giving an accounting for my day in prayer – a day full of knocking and slammed doors. I accounted for the Baptist minister yelling at us for an hour; I told Him about the woman hurling the door in our face; I recounted the tale of the man on the street, wondering about Christianity. I paused for a moment to listen, my prayer almost finished. My companion, Elder Cotter, got up from his prayer and climbed into the bed across the room. Go to Fall. The words materialized in my mind. What? I replied. Go to Fall. The warmth I always feel when God communes with me filled my body. It couldn’t be right; Heavenly Father wouldn’t tell me this. Fall what? I thought, perplexed. It couldn’t be what I was thinking about. That was the last thing I wanted to do. Fall semester? I asked timidly. The warmth returned and I knew that was what He wanted. Retracting myself from the conversation, I thought about what this would mean. My mission ended in mid-September. How could I possibly make it back for Fall semester? I couldn’t. I absolutely didn’t want to end my mission early. Two years, that was the deal, the commitment. I wasn’t going to selfishly end it a month early. What about those that I might find during September? No, I told Him and crawled into bed.


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Trees sped past me as I drove to the grocery store. Drumming on the steering wheel, keeping time with the Mulan soundtrack playing, I smiled. Dallas, Texas. I couldn’t believe it. My mission call had come only thirty minutes earlier. After four weeks of waiting, I finally knew where the Lord wanted me to go. Is it really where I want to go? Seeing those words – Dallas and Texas – had filled me with such discouragement. Where had the words Africa, England, or Australia been? I wanted the Philippines or somewhere exotic. Somewhere that I could leave all my troubles behind and dedicate myself to the work, somewhere that wasn’t this side of the border, somewhere that wasn’t boring like Dallas, Texas. Two requests, that’s all I had given the Lord: short-sleeve shirts and to get lost in the work. Why can’t he just give me what I want this one time? I can’t get lost in Dallas. It just doesn’t work that way, not on a stateside mission. I turned my thoughts to conversing with the Lord. You’ve taken me away from my friends, made me travel thousands of miles, had me go through hell and back and I can’t even get one request. Come on; why Dallas? I flipped to the next song on the soundtrack. Part of me disgusted myself. Question God? How could I do that? That’s not what a good Latter-day Saint did. I should just accept the place I’m going. I didn’t really want to fit the cookie cutter mold of a Mormon, though. I had been raised to question and find the best answers from a loving Heavenly Father. And, leaving in September? Why not August? I want to get to BYU as soon as I can! I can’t if I leave in September, I’d have to wait another semester. My departure date was three months away, September 21. This isn’t right; it’s not fair. I breathed out loudly, trying to calm myself. I was glad no one was in the car with me. Of course, I thought, a mission isn’t about


3 where I serve, it’s about who I serve and committing myself to the Lord. The stubborn thought, dredged up from my days in youth programs and Sunday School, floated into my mind. How can I enjoy Dallas, though? I don’t get to learn a language, I can’t get lost in the States—how can I do this? I prayed silently. “Somehow I’ll make a man out of you!” The words reverberated in the air. I hadn’t been listening to the music until that point. The warmth of the Spirit caressed my back, then began to fill my soul with flames. I knew what He wanted me to know. So, that’s what you want to do with me? I said, my tirade instantly sizzling like water on fire. That’s why Dallas? The Spirit nudged me, signifying a yes. I sighed. I can’t win with You, can I? Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll do the entire two years, in Dallas. I shouldn’t worry about BYU, I can wait until winter semester. I promise I’ll go for the entire two years. *

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“Hello Elder McLain!” the jolly voice of Sister Williams, the mission office secretary, said through the phone. “Hi Sister Williams, how are you doing today?” I said, stifling a yawn. “I’m doing wonderful, Elder McLain! And yourself?” “Just great,” I said. I paced the section-8 housing we lived in, as I always did on the phone. Poster board covered one wall. Words like knock on doors, street contact, and challenge members covered the boards. Clean dishes from breakfast dried on the counter. Desks littered with papers and books filled the living room. Elder Cotter sat at the table, his hipster glasses watching me as I paced, drumming his fingers. He still had the impatience of a missionary right out of the MTC. “What can I do for you, Sister Williams?”


4 “I’m calling about if you were planning on going home for fall semester or winter semester.” “Winter,” I said immediately. “Great, thanks.” “Is there anything else?” “No, just go back out to work and have a great day, Elder McLain!” The phone clicked off. My mind went back to the previous night and what God had told me. Well, I am planning on going back for winter, I told myself, grabbing the keys. “What was that about?” Elder Cotter asked, following behind me. I told him as we descended the stairs to our car. A woman rummaged in the large garbage can, trying to find hidden treasures to fill her shopping cart. People walked about in the cool March morning, inhaling their cigarettes, walking to their cars. “You’re going to go back for winter, then?” “I think,” I said, starting up the car. “I don’t know. I was praying last night and I got the feeling that I need to go home earlier.” “Then why don’t you? If God tells you something, you should do it.” “I know. I don’t want to.” “Why not?” “I want to serve for the full two years, I promised the Lord I would,” I said, starting up the car and putting on my seat belt. “But, if the Lord tells you to do something, shouldn’t you do it? I don’t see where you can go wrong if you follow the Lord.” “I know that,” I said, disgruntled. “I just don’t want to miss all of this. I love my mission.”


5 “I know you do, man. You’ve helped me come to love mine, too,” Elder Cotter said. Even though he was one of the first eighteen year olds in the mission field, he had the wisdom of a seasoned mission president sometimes. “But, you have to follow the Lord. It’s not really your mission you’re on, it’s His.” I opened my mouth to reply, but closed it, instead deciding to drum on the steering wheel. The lady that lived two buildings over carted her wheelchair over the sidewalk, the electric scooter filled to the brim with groceries. “Why do you have to be so gosh darn smart?” Elder Cotter shrugged his shoulders. “You ready to get some work done?” Three weeks on his mission and ready to work, that’s how the missionaries were starting to enter the field. Maybe going home early wouldn’t be that bad. There’s so much that goes into it, though. I’d have to make sure Mom could handle only a few days with me at home, and I need to ask President Durrant even if I can. It isn’t the smartest thing to deny the Lord—I can’t just do this on a whim, though. I committed myself to Him for two years. “We going to go?” Elder Cotter asked. I could have laughed, but decided not to. Elder Cotter always forgot to back up the car, a common missionary safety practice, so I repeated the mantra I’d created as a code word to remind him: “It’s a beautiful day, by the way.” Elder Cotter smacked his head with his hand. He opened his door, grumbling to himself about forgetting again, and stood behind the car to back me up. When he reentered the car, I sat silently, brooding. I needed to think about my answer to Heavenly Father a little more by myself. *

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As I lay in bed Wednesday evening, memories traipsed freely through my mind. Martha, standing next to me in the water, both of us dressed in white. Smiling at her, her face radiant and


6 determined. Raising my hand to the square and saying the baptismal prayer for the first time in my life. Water submerging her body, her soul rising clean. Ashleigh, her son Giovanni watching behind the glass, as she made the covenant, being baptized by her husband. Tears staining Michelle’s cheek at our first meeting with her. “What is the most important thing you’ve learned from the missionaries?” Elder Bezona asked Michelle, after three months of teaching her as we met with her new missionaries in her new city. “The Atonement,” Michelle answered, her El Salvadorian accent tickling a smile onto my face. Reading an email and learning that Ray, John, Brenda, Dustin, and James had all been baptized in Quitman. “Thank you so much for finding me,” the text that Precious had sent floated in from the back of my mind. “I’ve finally found family.” Precious, dressed in white, being submerged in the water, my hand on her back pulling her up from that cold water. I can’t leave this. Not early at least. What about the people I could find in September? I’ve been able to help so many people; what about them? I’d be selfish to leave early. Selfish, selfish, selfish. *

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Mom, I need to come home early. I know we were going to have four months together when I got home, but I need to change that to four days. Sorry. Love, Elder McLain. I turned to the other side of my bed, still exhausted from the long day of knocking on doors that had filled Saturday. That wasn’t the right way to write Mom on Monday. I had asked Heavenly Father about fall semester again for the past two nights. Each time, I received the same response. Give me time to think about it, I had responded to Him. I needed to figure things out


7 for myself. I still felt selfish, but how could I really deny Heavenly Father? It still didn’t feel completely comfortable to me. Figuring out how to tell Mom was where I decided to begin. Mom, I’ve had a revelation. The Lord revealed that I need to come home early to go to school. Yes, early, school, that means only two days or so together. Sorry, ask the Lord. Love, Elder McLain. That sounded good. Blame it on Heavenly Father; He was the one making me do it anyway. How could I do this if I didn’t even know it was right for me? Mom, I need you to act fast. I was praying the other night and I had the feeling that I needed to come home early. I wish it wasn’t this way, I’m not even sure it’s the right thing, I feel really selfish, but I can’t fight the Lord that well. That wouldn’t work either. With a fast approaching Monday, I needed to find an answer to, number one, if this was the right thing to do and, number two, how to tell Mom. Mom, it’s the only way! Definitely a bad way to start an email. Mom, I was praying this past week and I received an answer that I need to go home for the fall semester. That sounded right. But, I need to know and be behind my answer, one hundred percent. Church, the thought came to my mind. Where else could I get a really good answer in time for Preparation Day? *

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The pew felt hard behind my back. I clenched my hands together, looking around. Nope, no investigators, as usual. Bishop Earl welcomed everyone to sacrament meeting. Well, I thought, releasing my tense hands from their embrace, if I can’t worry about others, I guess I can worry about myself. I began weighing the pros and cons of going home for fall semester. The


8 bread and water came and went. Why do you want me to do this? I pleaded silently, looking at the floor. “Thank you for the reverent manner in which you passed the sacrament. Aaronic priesthood, you may go sit with your families,” Bishop Earl said from the pulpit. “I’m very pleased to introduce our speakers for this meeting. We have with us Elder and Sister Williams. They are currently serving a mission in the mission office and so I feel very privileged to have them speak.” What am I to do? I know what you want me to do, but what do I want to do? “Ask the missionaries, they can help you! In Jesus’ name, amen.” Sister Williams said, finishing her talk. I blinked. Had I missed the entire thing? I guess I had. Sister Array, the ward chorister, ushered for everyone to stand. The organ played triumphantly as we opened our mouths to sing. “It may not be on the mountain height,” the song began. Warmth assaulted me unwillingly again. Was this it? My answer? I stopped singing, listening to the words. “I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord, over mountain or plain or sea; I’ll say what you want me to say, dear Lord; I’ll be what you want me to be.” There it was. The answer. I needed to listen. As we sat down, I closed my eyes as Elder Williams spoke. Fine, I’ll do it. I’ll go home early to go to school in fall semester. But how? How was it supposed to happen? The Lord had softened my heart, but that didn’t mean everything was going to work out. I needed to speak with President. Elder Williams closed his remarks and Bishop Earl stood up to close the meeting. “We would like to remind everyone of the special missionary fireside that President and Sister Durrant will be hosting for the DeSoto ward tonight. We are invited to attend.”


9 I perked up. My second answer for the day. I shook my head in disbelief. Funny, I told the Lord. Thanks for the reminder. *

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President Durrant’s large hands sliced a path through the air as he emphasized what he was saying in front of the crowd. Elder Cotter and I snuck into the back row. I nodded a hello to President. Elder Cotter’s ear-to-ear smile filled his face as he looked around the room. He always filled the room with light. I half-listened to what Sister Durrant said as she addressed the crowd. Here I am, I thought, opening up a conversation with Heavenly Father. I’m going to see if I even can leave early. I’m not going to fight if President Durrant says no. Doing my part should please Heavenly Father, even if I still didn’t fully want to do what He wanted me to. “In the name of Jesus Christ, amen,” President Durrant said, closing his part of the fireside. Sister Durrant, a pixie in height compared to President’s tall stature, took her seat. President Durrant walked down the aisle as the closing hymn was announced. He motioned for me to follow him outside. I left Elder Cotter and moved outside the chapel to the Relief Society room with President Durrant. “I don’t have that much time, I have a granddaughter that needs Grandma and Grandpa to come take care of her,” President Durrant began as we set up chairs to sit down. “I want to hear what you need to talk about, though.” I had called President earlier in the day to schedule the interview. “So, if we need to continue this interview, let’s do it. I’m here to just listen to you, though.” President Durrant slid one leg over the other and held his knee with conjoined fingers. “Okay,” I said, sheepishly at first. It was always hard to begin a conversation with President. He had an ominous presence, his face always stern and business-like. Except when he smiled. When he smiled, you knew he loved and cared about you. “Earlier this week, I wasn’t


10 asking the Lord about it, but I got a prompting that I need to go to the Fall semester of school. A very strong prompting. The only problem is I’d have to end my mission early to get there.” “When does your mission end?” “September.” President nodded, his mind working quickly. “Okay, then, let’s get you home early for school. We don’t want you to get lost by having a lot of month’s back at home doing nothing. This means that you’ll have to end a few weeks earlier, which means you’ll have to work harder to catch up on your time. I know you, Elder McLain, and that means you’ll have to end Preparation Days early, cut lunch and dinner shorter, that way you can earn that time back.” President Durrant paused. I nodded. Was he actually agreeing with the prompting? This wasn’t how it was supposed to be! You’re supposed to say no so I can stay for that last month and fulfill my promise! “It doesn’t really matter how long you serve; its how much effort you put into it. Two months, twenty-three months, two years, I don’t believe it makes a difference in the sight of the Lord. It matters that you did serve, and you’re doing a wonderful job of it, Elder McLain.” I nodded. The warmth of the Spirit reinforced his words in my heart. “Thanks,” I whispered. The logic of my mission president penetrated my soul. I actually agreed with what he was saying. I had been so focused on length of time, that I hadn’t realized what the Lord really cared about: intent, heart, the things on the inside. It wasn’t about my timecard; it was about what I did with the time I was given. “Is there anything else?” “No,” I said. He had already answered all the questions I had. “Great,” President Durrant said. “I love interviews like these. How’s Elder Cotter doing?”


11 “He’s doing wonderful, one of the best missionaries out there,” I said, “I expect great things from him.” “I do, too,” President Durrant said, smiling. “Keep up the great work training him; you do an excellent job.” “Thanks,” I said again. I was still too stunned from the way I had received my complete answer. It was Sunday and all I could do was tell God yes.


Narrative Honorable Mention 2