“You can’t be what you can’t see”: Sister Missionary Edition
A week or so ago, I found myself eating watermelon in my parent’s kitchen with my six-year old niece. I was standing near the island. She was standing close by, looking at the fridge. After awhile, she exclaimed, “I see you as a missionary!” And she did. She saw this picture of me, standing with other people she knew and loved:
A few moments passed, and then she added more reflectively, “I can’t believe an aunt of mine was a missionary.”
Sometimes I can’t believe it either, because I didn’t see sister missionaries when I was growing up. I had one aunt, too, but I never saw a picture, and I never heard any stories. There weren’t sister missionaries leaving or serving in any of my wards, and there weren’t any in my immediate family. I may have known about one daughter of one family friend, but she lived in a city a few hours from mine, and was ten years my senior.
How did I know I could be a missionary? How did I see something in myself that I didn’t see elsewhere?
Both of my parents told me that girls could be great missionaries, and while I am certain that their words played a large role, I believe that there is something else. That something is small, but not insignificant. And I wasn’t cognizant of until just a few days before my niece looked at the picture, when I was sitting in a Sacrament Meeting, flipping through my mom’s Children’s Songbook.
The pages opened to “We’ll Bring the World his Truth,” and I just paused. It was a song I loved when I was very young, but the need to pause came from something else, from the picture I loved even more. As soon as I saw it, I remembered how I used to sit at my family’s piano, just to look at all of the beautiful pictures, and to draw them. I distinctly remembered drawing that one, with that boy, and that girl, holding their scriptures tenderly, as they stood bravely in front of the entire world.
I read the words. Over and over they said, “We.” We have been born. We have been taught. We. We. We. And there is the last part of the chorus: We will be the Lord’s missionaries, to bring the world his truth. It felt deeply important to me that there is no distinction here. There is no note that says “We” means boys. And the picture! It shows all who will have eyes to see that this “We” can mean girls.
I flipped the pages again, backward and forward, but this time with greater purpose. I wanted to find the other missionary songs. I wanted to read the words, and I wanted to look at the pictures. ”Called to Serve” shows a little girl too. Happily it also uses inclusive language. Verse two even specifies “daughters of a King.”
“The Things I Do,” on the other hand, does not depict a girl. It does not use inclusive language. Instead it uses, “I.” I’ll take my friends to church with me. I will act with dignity. And then: “when the elders find their door, they’ll say, ‘Come in and tell us more.’”
Without even telling my mom what I was looking for, she leaned over and whispered, “Then when the sisters find their door, they said, ‘Come in, and tell us more.’” She pointed at the corresponding passage. I asked her about it later, and she explained that she has been singing it that way for years, for her children and her primary children.
I didn’t remember this re-envisioning, but it makes quite a bit of sense, really, as it was sister missionaries who taught her dad when she was two, making it possible for her family to be sealed together in the temple.
I left church that day immensely grateful for the Children’s Songbook, and the words and pictures that helped me see that I could be something more than what I saw in person.
I am also grateful for Caroline’s recent post, relating the phrase, “You can’t be what you can’t see” to the important Heavenly Mother Art and Poetry Contest, as well as her earlier reminder that “Everybody needs a God that looks like them.” And then there is Mrayne’s posts, “It Matters,” and “A God Like Me.” And probably many more, on this blog, and elsewhere, affirming that examples matter, pictures matter, stories matter.
What things have helped you envision yourself in roles where you want to be (whether spiritual or temporal)?
How can we better help our sisters and nieces and friends envision themselves?