|Wish I could have found a pic of a young lady with this, but I'll take what I can get.|
Speaking as a female who served, I'm just going to say that the timing of when you actually decide to go - if you go at all - is a very personal decision. My 19-year-old-in-three-weeks sister just informed me that she has zero intention of ever serving a mission. That's fine. Plenty of girls (and guys, but I'm focusing on the ladies here) don't go. Six months before I left, I still had zero intention of going on a mission. Oh, the idea had occurred to me before, but I dismissed it for a variety of reasons. But, as so often is the case, things happen, life changes and you are allowed to re-make your decision (shocking, I know).
I left on my mission three months before my 23rd birthday - well after the then-required minimum age of 21. I had a mission companion who was 25 when she left on her mission. All of the elders (young men missionaries) and many of the sisters (young women missionaries) in my mission were a lot younger than me. It's a funny thing, but at home, age is such a huge consideration in so many things. On the mission, it didn't bother me. Not even when someone brought up that my district leader or zone leaders were three or four years younger than me. There is a spirit about the people called to leadership positions in the Church - whether locally or in the mission field - that supersedes all other considerations. That is a downright fact.
There will be much made of this development in the coming days and weeks because, quite honestly, this kind of stuff doesn't happen very often and everyone gets fluttery when something new comes down the pipe. We Mormons are a lot like chickens in that regard - throw a rock in the coop and we all go nuts (bless our hearts). But also there are some girls who are graduating high school whose male peers are leaving and they want to go too and they'll take that chance. Good for them. Also, good for those who choose not to. Everyone is in a different stage of life and it's up to you and God to determine what is right for you.
Just as an example (and the statute of limitations on this story has run out, so I don't feel weird about sharing it): When I was nineteen, I was a freshman at Snow College and it hadn't even occurred to me that marriage was an option for someone at my age. To compare, I had a roommate who was also nineteen and practically thought of nothing else and very nearly drove us all crazy with it. Her goal was to be engaged by the end of the school year. Two days before the end of Finals Week in spring semester, she was engaged. Mission Accomplished [insert balloons and banners and fireworks here]. As far as I know, she's happy with her decision and I wish her and her husband and kids all the best. But I was not ready for marriage at nineteen (and I don't know if I'm even ready now, though nothing has happened to make me confront the subject of my readiness for marriage, so I just leave it alone).
I have one more thing to say about this then the next session of Conference starts - there was a press conference from the Church Office Building to talk about the changes with the media. One media chick - some dippy feminist from the Salt Lake Tribune with a really nasally voice - got all huffy and kind of disrespectful because the Brethren hadn't adjusted the duration of service for the sisters (sisters serve for 18 months and the elders serve for two years). Elder Holland had a great line - always in his gracious-yet-firm way that makes me wish I could give the man a high-five (if it's even appropriate to give an Apostle a high-five, of course) - and that was "One miracle at a time." Who knows - maybe if this a success, they will give the ladies an extra six months to serve. Geez, lady - keep your hair on and let's see where this goes. Personally, I've never felt short-changed because I served a shorter amount of time. Actually, I've never felt short-changed for any kind of differences in Church responsibilities between men and women. That could be its own blog post, honestly. But I had to comment on that because that chick's question and her attitude ticked me off. And that's the point where you shrug your shoulder and go "Eh, it's the Tribune. What d'ya do?"
Anyway - missions. Serve if you feel like it's something you want to do. Serve with all your heart and mind. If you don't do a mission, serve where you are with all your heart and mind. Don't feel pressure to do anything that you don't feel is what you need to do, but don't discount your own feelings. As with every major decision in your life, pray about it and be honest with yourself and with God. Trust Him - God will never lead you astray. Missions are hard. I would be a dirty rotten liar if I said otherwise. When the statute of limitations runs out on those stories (for posting them online, I mean), I'll have to tell you all about it. But if you feel that it's something God wants for you, believe that He's guiding your life and trust that He wants you to be happy. My mission accelerated my own spiritual growth and prepared me to deal with some of the tough stuff I've dealt with since then. And probably prepared me for tough stuff that I haven't even begun to think of yet (and here is where I do a mental-side-note of "Awww... crap...") For all it's difficulty and toughness, it is worth it.
Well, I've rambled enough on this topic. The next Conference session starts in eight minutes and I'm sure one of my sisters has stolen my seat, so I have to go relocate myself. Enjoy the day, everyone.