Life After Coming Home Early From an LDS Mission
As general conference approaches I wanted to share a part of my life that was hard. REALLY hard. I have always loved being inspired from the leaders of the LDS church and it has been such a huge strength throughout life's trials. While I wish no one else has experienced coming home early from a mission I know that many walk the same path as me. For this reason I decided to write my experience down in the hopes that it might help someone else. I have met or heard of missionaries returning home early for various reasons: illness, unrepented sin, uncertainty, etc.. While I do not condone returning home early from your mission I am aware that things happen whether it be outside of our control or within it. Whatever the reason my heart breaks for those missionaries. I have walked that same road and continue to walk it every day.
The first six months of my mission flew by. I felt such peace and joy. I loved everything about it! The people, the culture, the service, the food. After my training I was called to train, which made me nervous. After all I didn’t really know the language but I trusted it would be ok. My “anak” Sister Montenegro was the most incredible missionary. We worked hard but had so much fun with each other. There wasn’t a single day we didn’t laugh and enjoy the work we had been called to do. The day after my six month mark I woke up with a cold. We continued to work, after a week an ugly cough set in. It worsened over the span of three weeks. Eventually I was transferred to a Missionary Recovery Center in Manila and spent about two weeks there trying different medication, seeing doctors, and trying to figure out what was wrong. It was decided that I would need to see a specialist and seek better medical treatment than what was available in the Philippines. I spent 36 hours traveling back home alone. I pondered a lot. I told myself I would get better and be fine.
It took about 24 hours before the anger set it. I was full of it. I had some serious blame game going on. I was angry with my family, myself, members, friends still serving, even angry with God for prompting me to serve in the first place. I remember my parents had offered (not knowing I would be sick and returning home) to have our close family friends wedding reception at our house. I love weddings so naturally I decided to clean myself up and go outside. Our backyard was full of friends from our home ward. I don’t think I lasted more than ten minutes before going back inside and bawling my eyes out. In my mind I felt like everyone was staring at me and asking me questions, which inevitably led back to my feelings of intense sorrow. I remember Hudson’s mom and sister coming to drop off my favorite treats. I could hear my mom talking to them from the hallway and while that was one of the sweet things people did for me embarrassment seeped into my soul. I didn’t even want to make eye contact with them.
This fear ruled my life for a while. But as President Uchtdorf explained, "fear rarely has the power to change hearts..." and with time it got better. I was able to sit through sacrament meeting with out getting up to cry. I healed physically and emotionally and decided to go back. Miracles happened and I was reinstated to my same mission and I flew back full of hope and happiness to continue. Three weeks later I was on a flight home for good. The combination of weak lungs and a country with the worst air quality resulted in the return of my respiratory symptoms. My heart was broken but I remembered something I had forgotten the first time. The choice was mine. I chose to remain faithful upon returning home. But that does not mean that I got off the roller coaster.
I decided to attend BYUI in the hopes of starting fresh. Going to a church school you often hear the question “Did you serve?” sometimes I dodged it. Sometimes I would make sure to get my age out first and most would assume that there wasn't a mathematical way that I could go to a semester at USU, serve 18 months, and be home. I would let them think they were right. Other times there was no way to avoid it. People would quickly catch on and ask how are you home and still served a mission. The answer was always the same “ I came home early.” Sometimes I could explain it but sometimes I didn’t care. In my mind the judgment had been cast. Over time my mission just became a hit or miss topic when it should have been the high light.
The more time that passes the more comfortable I become with saying I served a LDS mission and it was some of the sweetest seven months of my life. I can talk about my mission and the joyous experiences that I was blessed to be apart of. I can share my love for the gospel and my testimony of trials with conviction. But my hard days are still there. I don’t know if I will ever be ably to hear a return missionary speak in sacrament meeting and have them talk about the feeling of getting off the airplane to a crowd of loved ones and balloons and signs of MISSION ACCOMPLISHED and not feel a spark of envy. Or get the notification that I have a mission reunion and feel the anxiety sweep me away with feelings of not belonging and embarrassment.
After coming home I had a mission reunion with the missionaries that had served under my second mission president. I knew most of them. They had been friends while I was in the Philippines. There was part of me that wanted to go but the larger part felt it would be a mistake. I knew that they were full of compassion towards me but my heart told me that they would judge me, I would feel out of place because I didn’t belong there. So I decided not to go. Shortly after that reunion I got another event notification for a reunion with my first mission president. I justified once more not going. The closer it got the more I thought about it. Why was I letting my fear hold me back and take me captive?? Although I never could bring myself to fully commit to going I found myself walking in at 8 o clock to the church building just in time to hear my mission president talk. He read a quote by Joseph Smith, “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.” It was a beautiful reunion and I realized that every time I have feelings of doubt my faith grows. Those feelings allow to me to draw closer unto my Savior. Life is full of sacrifices both large and small that have the potential to be essential building blocks in our testimony building if we choose to let it.
To the missionaries that have returned home early for whatever reason or those of you that are struggling I hope you hold fast to your faith and never give up. There will be times of joy and sorrow but our earthly experiences are there to allow us to bless the lives of those around us. Remember as Elder Holland reminded us, “If for a time you are unable to echo the joyous melodies you hear coming from others, I ask you to hold tenaciously to the line in this hymn that reassures ‘Jesus listening can hear The songs [you] cannot sing’." I hope that we can all find a source of inspiration and strength this week through General Conference.
And don't forget to choose faith over fear… today and every day.