Big Goals, Little Steps

Part 4 of ‘The Return of the Missionary’ Series

This is an image that I designed and created especially for this post. A vision of what it feels like for many missionaries as they leave fulltime service and come back into the world.

Sometimes coming home from a mission feels like you are stepping out from Eden into the vast wastelands. Without goals in mind, a missionary can be left to wander the wastelands with little purpose or focus. With larger goals in mind, it may still be rough, but there is purpose and hope on the horizon as they take each day, step by step.

Today’s post is all about how returned missionaries can take those small steps towards the greater goals in life; navigating through the wastelands to find haven within the Temple and the ordinances found there.


Big goals, little steps.

From Dave and Wendy Ulrich

Newly returning missionaries will not be able to create a ten-year plan for themselves (although some would like to). More important is to start doing small things that will help them get some momentum and put them in the path of inspiration. Help them list ten little things they could do in a variety of areas to get started (school, work, social life, hobbies, church, friends, etc.), and the bigger life purposes will emerge over time. Review patriarchal blessings. Make lists of what they have learned, what they like, and what they want.

Some helpful books:

1. What Color is Your Parachute? (Bolles) for direction in career decisions

2. Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, (Steve Covey) for goal setting, planning

3. Seven Habits for Teens, (Sean Covey) for goal setting, planning at a teen’s level

4. The Artist’s Way, by Cameron for imaginative ways to get started with goals


What do I think?

Recently, in talking with one of our daughters, my husband and I explained that if anyone had said to us 25 years ago that this is where we would be at this time of our lives we would have laughed at them. While we are in a very good place, the journey we have taken to get here has been one that we would never have been able to predict. Nobody knows what twists and turns are along the path of life. This is most applicable to missionaries returning home. Many think that they have the answers and burst back into the world with high expectations, only to be discouraged by what they find.

I am hoping that the image I have shared above instills a sense of what it can be like for many missionaries coming home. It certainly reflects the feelings that I had over 30 years ago. As Dave and Wendy stated, it is very hard for a returning missionary to create a 10 year plan. As a returned missionary I knew what I needed to do, but I had little control over the many of the important things. But what I did have was control over the little things. Those little things were what prepared me for the bigger decisions when they came along.

On their departure from their mission, most missionaries are given the challenge by their Mission President to go home, find a companion, marry in the Temple, and raise a righteous family. Honorable, but HUGE goals. For the majority of returning missionaries, these goals will not be met within the first 6-12 months of returning home. They are also goals that most have little control over until the opportunity arises.

So what is vital to these young people is the need to micro manage their lives in such a way that they are working towards those greater goals. Small steps towards the bigger goal…


1. Have you talked to your returned missionary about what they hope to do in the future in terms of work, school, hobbies, church service etc?

2. Have you shared with your returned missionary some of the experiences you may have had in terms of setting goals?

3. Have you taken the time to share with your returned missionary strengths that you see they have?

4. Can you share here an experience your returned missionary has had where setting smaller goals has led to the successful achievement of larger goals?

>> Part 5 Renegotiating Family Relationships >>

Guest Post…When Marriage Takes Precedence

Today’s guest post is from a very special person. Nicole is the best friend of my missionary daughter. But she is so much more than that to our family.

In 2005, when our family made our first trek over to New Zealand, Nicole, 14 at the time, was one of the first people we met in our new ward. Almost from the day we were there, she and my daughter Jess became firm friends. Over the last 7-8 years they have remained best of friends, and Nicole has literally become a part of our family, having lived with us for several months when we were back in Sydney.

She would have to be one of the most focused individuals I know. Both in her educational pursuits, as well as her religious devotion. When it comes to the gospel she is unfailing in her commitment to the Lord, and constantly seeks his guidance in everything. Her story reveals this deep devotion.

The decision for a young lady to serve a mission doesn’t carry the same emphasis as it does for a young man, but when that decision is balanced against another of equal importance, it can create some conflicting emotions and feelings.

From my perspective, I have always taught my girls that the preparation for a mission and for marriage is very much the same. So our family focus has been for each of our girls to prepare for a mission, and if marriage comes before that opportunity, then they will be aptly prepared.

In Nicole’s case there was no wrong or right decision, both were noble. But this is when it is important for a young lady to know what is right for her personally. 

If you are interested, Nicole also has a blog. Please stop by there and say hello – Our Happily Ever After.


This was my journey, this was my story, this is my life
By Nicole Horsford

I was 18 when I received my first distinct impression to serve a mission. Life progressed, as it tends to do. I dated, went to university, and even though I still wanted to serve a mission it was much less of a focus for me.

I was nearly 20 when my focus returned. Part of the influence for that was my best friend preparing for a mission. Another was reading my patriarchal blessing and noticing it seemed as if every paragraph was talking about serving a mission. I felt the spirit testify to me that that was what I was supposed to do.

The experience that cemented my desire to serve a mission came just days after my 20th birthday. I had been worrying for a while about what to do with my future. That night I went to Heavenly Father in prayer. As I prayed, I heard a voice saying, “Go on a mission”. I felt the spirit flood through my body and I was filled with an indescribable joy.

To say I was anxious to go on a mission would be a gross understatement! I counted down the days until I could start my papers, submit them, receive my call, and then leave. I wanted to leave as close to my 21st birthday as possible. Things took longer than expected but by November 2011 my papers were in.

Nicole's Mission Call

The Mission Call Arrives

On the 13th of December 2011 I received my call to serve in the Philippines Quezon City North Mission, reporting to the Provo MTC on the 24th of April 2012.

In January 2012, Joel, the brother of one of my best friends, returned from his mission. His family had moved to NZ in July 2011, and so rather than going home to Perth where he left from, he came to Auckland. I first met him the night he got home and then didn’t see him for another week and a half, but the next time we saw each other something clicked and I realised that I had feelings for him. Over the next week we saw each other regularly and things with us progressed rapidly from there. He was everything I had ever wanted and so much more. In short, he was perfect for me.

On the 10th of February we started officially dating, and we began to talk marriage straight away. It took me by surprise because I was so fixed on my mission. I didn’t know what to do.

I was torn, emotionally and spiritually. I had prepared for so long for my mission, I didn’t see how I could just change my mind. But I had been preparing my entire life for marriage as well, and being a wife and a mother is my ultimate goal.

I prayed about it, we went to the temple the next morning and although I received answers about some things, I was still unsure about what I should do about serving a mission. The next day we fasted and the thoughts and feelings that came through strongest to me were that Joel was right for me, and I should follow the counsel that our priesthood leaders have given us.

Richard G Scott, in the April 2006 General Conference, said:

“In the home a young girl can understand that her primary role is to be a wife and mother. Yet as that preparation unfolds there may be an opportunity to serve a full-time mission, provided recent counsel of the First Presidency is followed: “Worthy single women ages twenty-one and older … may be recommended to serve full-time missions… Bishops should not recommend them for missionary service if it will interfere with imminent marriage prospects.” “

My first choice was whether I felt Joel was the one I was to marry- a decision I made and confirmed with Heavenly Father. If that was right, then marriage was to take precedence. It seemed as if the solution was clear, and yet I still felt guilty.

I knew without a doubt that I had received revelation that helped me to make the decision to prepare for a mission. But I didn’t know if all of that had happened because I was supposed to go on a mission, or because it would give me opportunities to learn and grow, and be in a position where I could meet and marry Joel.

We sought the counsel of my bishop. I am grateful for my kind, wise bishop, who listened as I explained how things had happened, my thoughts and feelings, and the questions that I had. The first thing he said was that he would not make any decision for us, that was our responsibility.

We talked about how a mission is a priesthood responsibility, and that while it is a fantastic thing for sisters to serve missions, it is not an obligation. He stressed that there is no shame in not serving a mission, even though I had received my call. He cautioned us about discerning between emotions and communication from the spirit so that we would be able to more clearly receive the answers we were seeking for. We talked about the need for righteous families to be reared.

As we talked, I felt my fears being calmed. I felt at peace. I felt that Joel was the one that I was to marry. And, I felt like serving a mission was not what I was supposed to do right now.

Later that night, Joel proposed and I, with no doubts or reservations, said yes!

The Happy Couple

The Happy Couple

There are opportunities that I will not have because I chose not to serve a mission right now. But there are many more opportunities that have opened up because I have chosen to be married in the temple, to a wonderful man, and to raise a family with him in the gospel.

I still plan on serving a mission, hopefully several, but now with my eternal companion.

This was my journey, this was my story, this is my life. How grateful I am for the gospel, and for a loving Heavenly Father who has a plan for each of us.

Have you had to make a similar decision? How did you come to decide? I would love to hear your stories and how you made, or would make, the decision between serving a mission or marrying.