Alex Taylor, Washington D.C South Mission - Depression and Anxiety

"People have asked me: 'Alex, how do you stay so strong in the gospel?' I testify about how I cannot deny the miracles I have experienced in my life and specifically on my mission. Because of my mission and experience coming home early, I KNOW, without a doubt, that the church is true. I know that God loves me enough to cut us down only to help us grow."

Alex4.jpg

I grew up singing the primary song “I hope they call me on a mission. When I have grown a foot or two.” This became my grandmother’s favorite song and she would always call me her little missionary. I knew I needed to serve for her and because it’s a priesthood duty. Several years later, I did in fact grow a foot or two. Reality sunk in and I knew I needed to decide on if I would serve or not. Beginning of my senior year, I honestly didn’t want to go serve a mission. It wasn’t until I had some life changing, spiritual experiences that changed my testimony and desire to serve.

For future reference: Before turning my papers in, I had experienced depression but nothing too severe to seek treatment. So, I didn’t think much of it and I acted with faith to pursue a full-time mission.

When I arrived in the MTC, I had the best experience. I LOVED THE MTC! While there, I was called to be a district leader. This gave me the extra push to grow spiritually and confidence within myself because I was often the quiet one in my district. A few days before we departed to the mission field, I experienced my first mental breakdown on my mission while we were preparing for bed. I didn’t fully know why other than I was overwhelmed with the task of leaving home, breaking out of my comfort zone, feeling worthless, and having negative thoughts about myself eat my mind. The next night as a district, we had a venting session because we all felt stressed and overwhelmed. I couldn’t help but break down in tears about how scared I was because I was feeling nothing but worthlessness and just overwhelming sense of judgment toward myself. I received a priesthood blessing after by my companion and the other elders in the district. What stood out to me was he said not that I would be healed but that my trials would give me the strength to know how to comfort and uplift others. I pressed forward with faith and arrived in Washington DC.

alexfull.jpeg


When I arrived in my mission, my trainer had only been out for 6 weeks. 6 WEEKS! Needless to say, we both struggled a little to really grasp the idea of what a missionary is. We both got along and worked really well together. I experienced the usual greenie blues of being homesick and falling short sometimes. Half-way through my 2nd transfer, we both hit rock bottom.

I noticed my companion feeling down and not motivated to do anything. He never would talk about it and when I brought it up he said he was fine. This got me down and hard on myself. Did I do something? Is this what missionary work is like? Finally, out of nowhere, he cracked one night and just burst into tears explaining just some of the things he felt. We immediately called the mission president and set up an interview. Things were quiet between us from then on. I never fully knew what was going on with him but he continually said that he need to go home. I was shocked and thought no you can’t go! You’re a great missionary, my only friend, what will I do? I’m not even done being trained! We received the call the next night on a P-Day that his flight would leave the next morning. I was distraught for him but confused on what was going to happen to me. We quickly got a bite to eat somewhere and headed back home for him to pack. I was in shock at what was happening. All I knew what to do was serve and love him.

He left, and I was placed in a trio to finish out the transfer for the next 3 weeks. I was paired with two of my best friends from the mission. I knew it was going to be fun but didn’t expect what was about to come at me. Now let’s review, with my companion gone, I am not only left alone to run the area but hardly know the ward, area, or how “to be missionary.” I’m clear on the other side of the country in an unfamiliar place. I was already feeling homesick and having the typical greenie struggles. On top of that, I have to help my two new companions with their area as well. This drove me to a spiral of major anxiety and depression. I literally hit rock bottom. Things were going okay for the first few days together, but my companions could notice something was up with me. I had been holding in all my emotions to be brave for my companion and finally one day just exploded with all my missionary anxiety. We went home after dinner one night so that I could just cry and cry and cry. For the remainder of the transfer, there were some days where I didn’t want to leave the apartment; days where I said nothing; days where I would cry because I was crying; or days where I couldn’t help but cry at random moments. I felt that Satan was really working against me.

Alex1.jpg


Now, I’m not telling this in full detail because it’s hard to describe in words everything I’d been feeling and would like to leave some details out. But know that I really hit rock bottom and never felt so alone, depressed, anxious, devastated, and sadly abandoned from God than at that time in my life. How could God allow someone giving 2 years of their time to serving Him and allow them to suffer through it? Bless my poor companions because they truly knew and learned how to love and serve even when I was stubborn. I met with my mission president frequently over these periods and discussed possibly coming home. At this time, I’d been out for about 3 months. I didn’t want to give up. So, I just toughened up and pushed through.

I met with a LDS Family Services counselor over the phone for several weeks but that didn’t do much other than a spark of hope. This is when I first discovered my favorite scripture when the counselor shared with me Ether 12:26. Since Family Services didn’t help, my mission president suggested I meet with a therapist and receive medication. This was a huge step because I had never been on a frequent dose of medication before. I was told that missionary medical’s policy is that I can start medications on my mission for mental health but if I decide to stop then I would have to go home (I might be wrong, but it was something along those lines). I didn’t want to end my mission, so I chose to meet with the therapist and get on medication. It took several trials and errors to find the right dose and drug. I didn’t like my therapist, so it was hard to open up to her, but she had great insight and teachings. The hardest part was that she wasn’t LDS, so it was hard to explain how I was truly feeling.

To sum up major points throughout my mission, I served in a total of 4 ½ areas (1/2 because of the transfer I was sent to be in another area in a trio after my companion went home at the beginning of my mission). My first companion went home early. Then I had the rock-solid trio, but it was during that time that I hit my low. My fourth companion was a hard companion to get along with and didn’t know how to help whatsoever with my anxiety/depression. My fifth companion was a huge blessing of comfort and friendship, but I could tell I annoyed him with my frequent breakdowns and self-criticism. After my fifth companion, I was put into another trio for 2 weeks until the 3rd Elder (seventh companion) completed his mission. My sixth companion was a huge blessing and a dear friend as we white washed an area from scratch. This is when I was the happiest and just felt successful. I had the privilege of training my son, Elder Smith, but sadly he went home early after a transfer. This brought me back into a spiral of considering going home while I was paired with my ninth companion who was the hardest companion to get along with because we were polar opposites. He ended up going home early due to medical issues, but later returned. After him, I got my tenth companion who was one of my favorite companions and a breath of fresh air. At this time, I served as district leader for a transfer. Finally, that leads us to my last area with my best friend from the mission. (You can always ask me later for a more detailed explanation of my other struggles and experiences throughout my mission.) But keep in mind that at this point, I had experienced 3 companions who returned home early, so returning home was on my mind as an option throughout my mission. 

This is the hardest part of my story to tell... 

Before I was transferred to my last area, I was explaining to my Mission President how depressed I was, and just needed a new area and fresh start since I had been in my current area for 7 ½ months. At transfers, he put me with my eleventh and final companion (who was a member of my favorite trio from the beginning of my mission). We had a blast that first week. Suddenly, I got more exhausted. I was starting to hit another low and back into the same constant depression I had at the beginning of my mission. I was even beginning to doubt my testimony. What’s the point if no one will listen? Is this worth it? Is God even there? Is this church even true? Those are crazy things to say as a missionary, but it was how I felt. Bless his heart, but my companion did everything he could to make me happy. He always knew how. But it didn’t solve the fact that I was at the same all time low that I had experienced previously at the beginning of my mission. I had no desire to get out of bed, and often never left the apartment. My companion pushed me out the door saying you’ll be better if you just go out. But I didn’t want to, I would rather just lay on my bed and review the list in my head of how much of an awful person I am and if the church was true. Sadly, the pressure and turmoil of missionary work got worse and so did the depression and anxiety.

My mission became strict on mileage allotment. To save miles, we were forced to walk for a majority of the day because a) I didn’t have a bike and b) our area covered a third of the mission because it was a YSA ward. I wasn’t eating very well, and the humidity/heat was getting to me as we walked all day. I refused to talk to people because how was I supposed to talk about something that I wasn’t sure of myself? How was I supposed to teach others about true happiness when I didn’t feel happy myself? I had given up hope that people would listen. I was self-conscious about myself and was tired of the continued rejection. I always got a mini anxiety attack when we were tracting. In the past, this wasn’t a problem). Suddenly it became more frequent. My breathing became heavy and I would have to take a break because my anxiety was out of control. There was one time that I knew something was wrong.

My companion LOVED street contacting and knocking doors. As we were walking down a street, he kept trying to get me to talk to people, but I wasn’t a) in the right mind frame and b) wasn’t feeling the spirit. Finally, I braved the courage and talked to someone just so he would stop bugging me. As I approached the man I said hey and then choked. I couldn’t speak. I just froze. Ehat felt like eternity was in reality 10 seconds of me with my mouth open. I finally just walked away while my companion gave him a pass along card and ran to catch up to me. He then began to chew me out. I knew I couldn’t do missionary work anymore at that point. I sat in lessons and didn’t feel the spirit or would say much. I sat in church and just felt numb. What was wrong me? My mind was flooding with awful criticism of all the bad things that have happened in my life like a film tape. Where was God?

I’m going to come back to this idea of God abandoning us later but wanted to share my decision to come home. That’s right, MY decision. Unlike most missionaries, my story is unique in that I chose to come home after fasting and praying to Heavenly Father, frequently meeting with my mission president, and talking to my parents on the phone. I spent my entire last transfer pondering the decision to return home. I spent my last 3 weeks thinking non-stop about going home and praying every day to know if it was time.

I remember the night I prayed and received my answer. It was the same day I froze on the street. My mom had counseled me in an email earlier that week to make a list of the pros and cons with staying or going. I then took it to the Lord and asked. I prayed over and over and just sat in the bedroom crying and received no answer. It wasn’t until I let go of my pride and asked saying that I would follow what is according to God’s will. My answer didn’t come a loud crash or a descending of light, a vision, or a miraculous stupor of thought, but rather, a still small voice saying, “your work here is done.”

Alex 3.JPG

Since coming home, I’ve seen why this was part of Heavenly Father’s plan for me. Transitioning into normal life wasn’t hard for me because I served state-side but figuring out a plan for my future was difficult. I had the typical homecoming because I wanted to feel like I served and knew it would help me cope. I had plans to do a service mission when I came home but ended up choosing to serve in the temple as an ordinance worker instead. I served as a ward missionary and even helped teach a young man who later got baptized. I attended a support group by the church, but it just didn’t click for me. My close friend, Nica, introduced me to Mission Fortify and I’ve loved it ever since. I now serve as an ERM mentor for Mission Fortify. I love the environment of friendship, their mission to serve and love, and the ability to find closure. My mission experience has led me to a desire to study psychology in hopes to become a counselor or therapist to teens and young adults.

I’ve learned that the conversion process doesn't stop at baptism but is a continuous process known as enduring to the end. The following is an exert from a talk Elder Christofferson gave in general conference that became a turning point for me from looking at my experience as negative to positive.

“President Hugh B. Brown, formerly a member of the Twelve and a counselor in the First Presidency, provided a personal experience. He told of purchasing a rundown farm in Canada many years ago. As he went about cleaning up and repairing his property, he came across a currant bush that had grown over 6 ft. high and was yielding no berries, so he pruned it back drastically, leaving only small stumps. Then he saw a drop like a tear on the top of each of these little stumps, as if the currant bush were crying, and thought he heard it say:

“How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. … And now you have cut me down. Every plant in the garden will look down on me. … How could you do this to me? I thought you were the gardener here.”

President Brown replied, “Look, little currant bush, I am the gardener here, and I know what I want you to be. I didn’t intend you to be a fruit tree or a shade tree. I want you to be a currant bush, and someday, little currant bush, when you are laden with fruit, you are going to say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for loving me enough to cut me down.’”

Years later, President Brown was a field officer in the Canadian Army serving in England. When a superior officer became a battle casualty, President Brown was in line to be promoted to general, and he was summoned to London. But even though he was fully qualified for the promotion, it was denied him because he was a Mormon. 

“I got on the train and started back … with a broken heart, with bitterness in my soul. … When I got to my tent, … I threw my cap on the cot. I clenched my fists, and I shook them at heaven. I said, ‘How could you do this to me, God? 

“And then I heard a voice, and I recognized the tone of this voice. It was my own voice, and the voice said, ‘I am the gardener here. I know what I want you to do.’ The bitterness went out of my soul, and I fell on my knees by the cot to ask forgiveness for my ungratefulness. …

“… And now, almost 50 years later, I look up to [God] and say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Gardener, for cutting me down, for loving me enough to hurt me.’”

I felt like the current bush in saying “How could you do this to me? I was making such wonderful growth. … And now you have cut me down. Every missionary and member will look down on me … How could you do this to me? I thought you were the master here.” One night on my mission, I prayed for strength to endure and received the answer of I am the master here and I know what I want you to become. Suddenly a rush of peace came over me. To this day, I say thank you Heavenly Father, for loving me enough to break me down so that I can become a better disciple of Jesus Christ.

At times, I do doubt and question but I remain strong despite of it all. People have asked me, “Alex, how do you stay so strong in the gospel?” I testify about how I cannot deny the miracles I experienced in my life and specifically on my mission. Because of my mission and experience coming home early, I KNOW, without a doubt, that the church is true. I know that God loves each of us enough to cut us down only to help us grow.

 

Emilie Neu - Louisiana, Baton Rouge Mission (Spanish Speaking), Depression and Anxiety

" ...my relationship with my Heavenly Father is the strongest it has ever been...I am now a Young Church Service Missionary at the Church Office Building in downtown Salt Lake City. I have the amazing opportunity to work with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on their media team... I have learned so much from them and have grown so much because of their examples and the light that shines in them."

 Emilie (left), with Sister (Blank) at the Mexico MTC

Emilie (left), with Sister (Blank) at the Mexico MTC

My name is Emilie Neu. I was called to serve in the Louisiana, Baton Rouge Mission Spanish speaking. I entered the Mexico CCM (MTC) on Sept 20, 2016. I was so excited! I am the baby of my family and the last one to go on a mission.

When I got to the CCM, I found out that my companion was the girl that I had sat by on the plane, and we were going to the same mission. We got along so well! We loved playing volleyball and talking and we had an awesome time together.

About a week into the CCM I was called in to have a meeting with the counselor there. In my mission papers I had marked that I had faced some depression and anxiety issues in the past and this meeting was going to be a little check up to see how things were going. I had never thought that my depression was that bad. However, the counselor thought otherwise. After seeing a few scars and hearing about some things I did, he decided it would be best to put me on Prozac. So he did. They upped my dose each week and I was doing pretty well.

This continued until one day, when I just felt awful and gross. I was dizzy, nauseous and didn't want to do anything. I went back to the doc and he found that I had contracted an intestine infection. So he gave me some meds and told me that I should feel better in a couple of days. A couple of days went by and I felt the exact same. So I went back and after a couple visits to a lab they figured that I was having a bad reaction to the Prozac. They decided that I should go off it.

 Emilie (far right), with her District at the Mexico MTC

Emilie (far right), with her District at the Mexico MTC

If you've ever been on Prozac and were told to go off, you’d probably know that you’re supposed to ween yourself off. I didn't know that and they didn't give me that piece of information,  so I just cold-turkeyed it. Not a good idea. Instead of just feeling gross I became dangerous to myself. I was scared and I didn't like it.

I went back to my counselor and told him what was happening. He told me that I had to go home to figure this out. There was no option for me. There was no “You can try and see if it gets better over time”. It was a "You're done. You're going home."  I was devastated. I hadn't even reached the field and was already being sent home. How could this happen? A couple months before that, Heavenly Father had given me a very specific prompting that I needed to go on my mission. So I followed through and this is what happened?   

I found out that I was leaving on a Monday and I left the next day. I had one hour to pack everything and say goodbye to my district. That was probably the hardest part. We had become such good friends and I loved them dearly. My companion and the 2 other hermanas from my district helped me pack and we spent the last hour talking and crying. When it finally came time for me to leave I had to get into a van, by myself, without my companion, and with a driver who didn't speak English. As I drove away, I looked out the back window and watched as my companion got smaller and smaller until we rounded a corner and she disappeared altogether. I sobbed all the way to the airport.

When I got home, I hated myself. I felt like I had let my family down and I had let my Heavenly Father down. I wasn't strong enough. I wasn't good enough. But I kept telling myself and others around me that Heavenly Father had a plan and that I trusted what He was doing. At first I didn't  believe it. It was just something I said so people wouldn't pity me. I love my family and all, but they didn't understand what I felt, and they had no idea how to help me or take care of me. For months, they walked on eggshells around me. They were scared that if they said or did something wrong I would fall apart. It felt like I would never get out of this hole that I was in. I so desperately wanted to get out and be myself again.

After a couple of months, I got an email from one of the Elders in my district and found out that he had just come home. I was heartbroken. He was such a strong missionary and I knew he was going to help so many people out in the field. From that day, we started talking and checking up on each other. For once, I felt like I wasn't alone. As sad as I was that he was home, I was happy to have someone who felt a little like me.

Now, it has been a year and a month since I came home. I'm not perfect and I still feel ashamed when talking to people about my experience, but I am happier and I actually hang out with people now. Most importantly, my relationship with my Heavenly Father is the strongest it has ever been. It has been a very painful and long road but I see now a little of what He had planned for me. I am now a Young Church Service Missionary at the Church Office Building in downtown Salt Lake City. I have the amazing opportunity to work with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on their media team. The people I have met there are so unique. They are kind, loving and accepting of everyone and their faults. They don't judge you, they don't care if you came home from a mission early or if you were excused from one for whatever reason. They just love you for being you. I have learned so much from them and have grown so much because of their examples and the light that shines in them.

 Emilie (right) serving as a Young Church Service Missionary at the Church Office Building

Emilie (right) serving as a Young Church Service Missionary at the Church Office Building

This road isn't an easy one to go down. Being an early returned missionary is a badge that I hope not too many people have to put on. But if they do, they can still become some of the strongest people. We could take this experience and treat it as a curse and let it drag us down, or we could turn in into a blessing and use our experience to help others. I'm still working on opening up about my experience but the more that I have shared with people the more comfortable I feel about sharing it. I want to help people who go through this experience so they don't have to feel like I did. I don't want you to feel alone, or worthless, or not good enough. Because none of those are true. You are NEVER alone. You ARE worth everything and you ARE good enough. I promise that Heavenly Father has something amazing planned for you in the future. He loves you so much and so do I. I've never met you, but if you're reading this, that means that you've been through something hard or know someone who has. You are not alone. Reach out. Ask for help. People love you and want to help.

 Emilie (far left) serving as a Young Church Service Missionary at the Church Office Building

Emilie (far left) serving as a Young Church Service Missionary at the Church Office Building

I know that Heavenly Father has a plan for each and every one of us. If we surrender ourselves to His will, we’ll become the best we can be and we’ll be able to help those we come in contact with. If something doesn't go the way we planned, trust that God has something even more amazing in store. I love this gospel. I love my Savior and Redeemer. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


 

Allyson Hayward, Texas McAllen Mission, Anxiety and Depression

"I have learned so much about this illness and myself, and I also pray that that knowledge will help others get through their hard times. That is the purpose of (my) blog. Let's help each other."

(Ally's experience is taken from her blog, Silently Surviving Souls, which can be found HERE. Silently Surviving Souls also has an Instagram account, which can be followed HERE.)

It took me 7 months after I came home to share what had happened on my mission. I didn't like talking about it before then and even after it was hard, but at least people knew.

This is from the original blog post I wrote the first time I really shared what happened on my mission:

"For the past few days I have felt like it's finally time to share my story. And that story is the reason I came home from my mission a little earlier than planned. I feel like sharing this will help lift a little bit of the weight I'm still carrying off, at least that's my hope.

Ally.JPG

This past year has honestly been the hardest year of my life. I write this with occasional tears streaming down my cheeks and a heart that will probably never be fully whole again. This is personal, but I get asked about it constantly and it seems to come up in one way or another and that's another reason I have for sharing it. Plus, if someone can benefit from it then I am that much more grateful.

I was diagnosed with anxiety in June of last year, and depression reared its ugly head shortly thereafter. I started having some physical illnesses on my mission in May and came to the diagnosis of anxiety, which was extremely hard on me. I had no idea that anxiety could cause you to throw up, have stomach and chest pains, digestion problems, no ability to sleep, and panic attacks. It all makes sense now, especially after taking an Abnormal Psychology class last semester and learning all about disorders, but back then I had no idea about mental illnesses.

I went to the doctor several times in May. It was frustrating not knowing what was going on. Some thought I had IBS and when a Doctor introduced mental problems I was just beyond confused. I talked to my mission president's wife, our medical advisor, and it was established I had anxiety. I received permission from my stake president at home and my parents to start taking medication. I was really against it at first because I didn't want to rely on it, but it was suggested that this was the only thing that could help, and I really wanted to stay on my mission, as hard as it was getting.

This is a journal entry from my mission on June 27, 2012: "I couldn't sleep tonight, Sister Trayner told me to write to let all my thoughts and feelings out so that's what I'm going to do. This will probably be all over the place, but I guess that's the point? Well... I'm shocked to be quite honest. I never thought this would happen to me, and least of all places on my mission. It's heartbreaking. To have wanted to do this my whole life, to dream about it, and to get here and to have it be the hardest thing I've ever done and it to be so hard on me that I have to take medication to cope... it hurts. It's like I'm not strong enough to do this, to be a missionary. It makes me wonder if I really am able to do this. Any missionary could come in and do what I do, so what am I needed for? I'm stuck, at least that's how I feel. I'm a little scared too. What if I can't get over this? I don't know how to handle it and fix it. What if I can't? I feel like being diagnosed with anxiety is giving me more anxiety. I also feel as if I'm losing myself. I don't understand why I have been given this trial, but Heavenly Father does, and I guess that's what really matters. Sometimes I wish I could borrow His spiritual eyes and see what He sees. Hopefully one day I'll understand why all of this is happening. Is it because Satan is trying to stop me? If he is, am I going to let him win? I don't know if I have much fight left in me. I'm lacking faith in myself. Can I really do this? It's just this never-ending spiral and I don't know how to make it stop so I can climb back up from how far I've already gone down."

That's how I felt and sometimes how I still feel. It still scares me at times. And it hasn't necessarily gotten any easier. I have just learned how to deal with it and accept, for the most part, that this has happened, and I may have to deal with it the rest of my life.

Ally2.jpg

After I wrote that journal entry, things only got worse.

I was transferred to the valley to be closer to the mission home, so I could get the help I needed. My companion and I whitewashed an area and that made things a little more stressful, but I was able to see doctors and a counselor once a month, although that proved to not be enough to help my illness either, although it was nice to cry to someone who was trying to understand and help. I was prescribed with a medication in Laredo that was supposed to take up to 6 weeks to work and after more than 6 weeks had gone by I wasn't improving. So, it was back to the doctor and he prescribed something else that I wasn't allowed to take as a missionary because of its maintenance. Because I couldn’t take it he referred me to a psychiatrist. That was hard on me. I remember sitting in the waiting room with a bunch of kids who had obvious mental disabilities and felt like I should be put in a mental hospital or something. It was a stab to the soul. He gave me another prescription that was supposed to take 3-4 weeks and after that time had gone by I still wasn't doing better.

By now I was just a wreck. I developed depression with my anxiety and struggled with almost everything. I always thought that mental illnesses were choices and that you could just snap out of it, but I couldn't have been more wrong. It's not like that at all. It almost controls you... it's not you. I would wake up in the morning with no desire to do anything or see anyone. I didn't care about a thing, not missionary work, not the people. It was horrible because I knew I should care, and I was disappointing everyone, but I didn't care about that either. I had no desire to do anything. And I could never sleep for more than a few hours at a time, I was emotional all over the place, I couldn't sit still to save my life, I wasn't myself.

At this point I had discussed going home with my mission president. At first that's all I could really think about. After talking to him, he helped me realize that it wasn't my decision to make. I will forever be grateful to him for giving me a kick in the butt when I needed them most. He let me talk to my Mom, which was more of me listening and crying as she tried to speak strength and love to me. A couple more weeks went by and it was finally decided for me to come home. I knew I wasn't going to get better in the field but that didn't make coming home any easier. I was able to finish the transfer and was put in a trio for the last two weeks. I had a cold those last two weeks but I felt a little better because the end was in sight.

Ally3.jpg

For the first few days of being home, I was doing so much better. It was beyond wonderful to see my family again and have their support. I was able to see my doctor and be put on a medication that finally helped me! But those days didn't last long... I was still very sick, physically and mentally. I didn't want to get out of bed in the morning, there was no point. I thought ending my life would be best because then I'd be in a happier place and wouldn't have to deal with this crap anymore. I didn't want to do anything because I had no desire to and I just didn't know what to do with myself. I was afraid of talking to people for what they may think and the questions they would ask. No one really understood, they would try, and I appreciated that, but it didn't help. And it's no one's fault, but it made me feel alone and apart from the world I once knew. I felt ashamed of what I felt I didn't accomplish and what other people thought I came home for or did wrong as well. It was as if I was a failure. And no one likes to feel like a failure, especially when you feel like you failed your Savior.

I started seeing a counselor every week and that I think made the most difference, besides my meds, in the end. He taught me how to deal with my anxiety and realize what was causing it. (Now that I know what causes it I can control it more but that doesn't mean it's completely gone. I still have it. It's not all just about my thoughts, some of it is just how I'm wired so to speak.) I saw improvement over weeks and eventually was able to stop seeing my counselor but continue with the medication.

One of the biggest helps through all of this has been my husband. On our first date he asked me why I came home and, surprisingly, I felt like I could tell him - I had only been home for 2 months at that point. He was very understanding and sweet about it all. He didn't try to "fix me" as other people did or look at me as damaged goods, but he loved me. I have felt at times that he is part of the reason I came home when I did, so I could meet up with him again and eventually marry him. If it was for him then it was all worth it.

For a long time, I wondered if I would ever feel like my old self again. Through E-mails from my mission, my Mom could tell that I wasn't myself and said she wished people from my mission could know the Allyson Harris that she knows. I don't think I'll ever completely be that person again, and you're not necessarily supposed to be the same person you were before your mission, but I changed in a different way. And I feel like that gets rubbed in my face constantly, not on purpose of course. It's every farewell and homecoming, every time someone asks about my mission or talks about theirs, church lessons, mission reunions, etc. It's like I'm getting salt sprinkled in that never fully healing wound. I didn't come home with that fire that RM's come home with. I came home and hid. My homecoming wasn't the typical homecoming. It was one of happiness but not the happiness I wanted it to be. My mission president said it'd be something I'll always have to live with and I knew that, but I thought maybe it'd get easier.

Over time, it kind of hit me that maybe that's why this happens to us... so that we can share our experience with others who go through the same thing. There have been a few people I have been able to talk to and feel like I have been able to help because we went through similar experiences. In multiple blessings I received on my mission it was mentioned a few times that this would help my future family, so I'll cling to that as well.

I have had moments where I wish I did not have to go through this on my mission, but something tells me that it was better I did. That it was better because of the person that I was when I went through all that - a missionary, a servant of the Lord, a representative of Jesus Christ. I believe things could have gotten a lot worse for me if I was anywhere besides my mission, as hard as that is sometimes for me to admit. But Heavenly Father knew me then and He knows me now and I trust in His timing now more than ever.

And the most important reason why this may have happened was for me to become closer to my Savior. He has done so much for me, for all of us, and if I have the opportunity to experience just a little of what He did then I am grateful and better off for it. There is nothing greater than being able to walk in His shoes, even if it's just a step or two. I have greater appreciation and understanding of His love and sacrifice for me. He experienced all that I have experienced and will experience, but it is a privilege to say the same about Him. And I'm not saying that I get what He did or know fully, because I don't, but I am just that much closer to because of what I went through. Because of the trial He so lovingly placed before me. I couldn't have made it through this without Him.

That's my story... but more than that, it's my life. And it's ok because I wouldn't change anything I've learned from this experience. I am who I am today because of it. I'm stronger and refined into the woman Heavenly Father wants me to be, and that is all that matters."

It’s now been over 5 years since I’ve been home. A lot has changed, and nothing has changed since then. I am a lot better at talking about what happened on my mission, although I still can't seem to without tears, and I have accepted it all, but occasionally I still feel that I was "cheated".

I thank my Heavenly Father for bringing me out of the dark abyss I felt on my mission and after, and I pray that I never have to go back there again, even though sometimes I feel like I'm heading there. I have learned so much about this illness and myself, and I also pray that that knowledge will help others get through their hard times. That is the purpose of the blog I started: http://silentlysurvivingsouls.blogspot.com/ And if the reason I went through what I did was to help someone else, then it was worth it.

Jenna Davis, Texas Dallas Mission, Physical Health Complications

"What I would like to share with y’all, especially those who just recently came home, is that you are loved for what you have done for our Savior Jesus Christ"

 

Texas Dallas Mission: May 1, 2013 - November 10, 2013

Why I decided to serve:

When I was 16 years old, I was able to serve a mini mission for my stake. The sisters got the chance to serve in Nauvoo. I never thought about serving a mission before. Well, being able to serve in Nauvoo every summer from the age 16-18 definitely planted a seed about serving. Then going to school at LDSBC and living so close to Temple Square in 2010, made it grow. I knew by 2012, when I was 20 years old that I was going to serve a mission. I started my papers in November of 2012.

Dear Sister Davis,

You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the Texas Dallas Mission.

My thoughts and feelings about my mission call:

  • Excited
  • Nervous
  • Man, it's going to be hot
  • Texas? I have family in Texas!

Favorite scripture before the Mission:

1 Nephi 3:7

And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.

Favorite song before the Mission:

"I’ll Go Where You Want Me to Go"

Favorite verse: Verse 3 -> There’s surely somewhere a lowly place in earth’s harvest fields so wide. Where I may labor through life’s short day for Jesus, the Crucified. So trusting my all to thy tender care, and knowing thou lovest me, I’ll do thy will with a heart sincere: I’ll be what you want me to be.

Furthering my covenants

 Day I entered the temple: March 15, 2013

Temple: Nauvoo Illinois

How I felt when I entered the Temple for the first time: I was really nervous because I was furthering my covenants, but the one thing that stuck out to me when I met with my Bishop and Stake President was they both told me not to pay attention to what’s going on, but the pictures around me, and the feelings that I felt as I was there.

MTC Life

Time in the MTC: May 1, 2013-May 13, 2013

My companion: Sister Maren Otto

So my time in the MTC was really rough. I ended up getting sick while I was there. Something that always made me happy was seeing my friends there as well. I had 2 of my friends from college in the MTC the same time I was. They both were going to different countries. One went to Brazil and the other went to Norway. This guy right here, is a good friend of mine. He is from my ward back home in Iowa. We entered our papers in the same day and he entered the MTC a week after I did. He came home from his mission about 4 weeks before I did due to medical reasons as well. It always made me smile when I saw him because it definitely helped with any homesickness I had. 

Jenna2.PNG
Jenna1.PNG

1st transfer

Trainer: Sister Emily Heath

First Area: Garland 1st Ward

Favorite Experience: My trainer and I were going to our ward mission leader’s home for dinner. It was the first time that we were both meeting him and his family because we were opening the area. Well I had to go to the bathroom really bad and I had this brilliant idea to pretend like we were contacting them. I really just wanted to practice contacting. Well he caught on to our joke and slammed the door in our face. It was my first official slam in the face. Yes, he did open the door and let us in. His kids were laughing so hard. His wife was as confused as could be. It was awesome. 

Jenna1st.PNG

2nd transfer

Companions: Sister Emily Heath and Sister Helene Nance

Ward: Garland 1st Ward

Favorite Memory: So this picture right here is one of my favorite memories from my second transfer. As you can see there is candy and tons of food. We are working on our nightly planning and Sister Nance and I were getting really tired. Our trainer let us take a break to go get food out of our cupboards and so we just started goofing off to keep ourselves awake. 

Jenna2nd.PNG

3rd and 4th transfer

Companion: Sister Kaylee Allen

Ward: Sherman 1st Ward

Favorite Memory: This picture right here is a picture of Sister Allen and me on our preparation day. We had this brilliant idea to whiten our teeth. Worst idea ever. It was disgusting, and we couldn’t talk to each other for about 2ish hours. We just sat in our room writing letters to family and friends. We also were writing in our journal.

Jenna3rd4th.jpg

5th Transfer (Final transfer)

Companion: Sister Kelsey Kerr

Ward: Allen 7

Favorite Memory: So I don’t really have a favorite memory because I only served in this ward for 2 ½ weeks. Something that does mean a lot to me though is being able to see one of my investigators from my last area get baptized the day before I came home. It meant so much to me because she was supposed to be baptized the week before and it was devastating to me because she started smoking, so they had to push back her baptism at least one week. It taught me to love her, but it also taught me to work harder. It was so great to see her get baptized right before I went home. It was a great way to end my mission - even though it was early.

Jenna5th.PNG
Jenna5th2.PNG

The Dreams of a Missionary

It’s what every missionary dreams of. The moment of walking off the plane and having your family cry as they embrace you for the first time in years. The big party thrown by your friends because they are so proud of you returning with honor. Having your home Ward listen with eager ears as you recount stories from faraway places. All of that hard work, sweat, and tears all ends in celebration. But what if you had to go through it all and have disgusted faces to come home to…?

My story about coming home

So I was in my 5th transfer. It was the 2nd week into it, and I started having really bad stomach pain that I couldn’t control. I went to the emergency room 3 times within 48 hours because it was bad, and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. They kept telling me I had kidney stones. I knew that there had to be something else wrong. Well that Saturday, I called my Mission President and asked if I could call my parents and talk to them about me possibly coming home. He told me that that would be a good idea. I did not want to come home but the day before I decided to come home, my Mission President’s wife and I had a talk. She said something that really bothered me. She told me that “a lot of sisters will realize a mission is not for them and they will try and find ways to go home. It looks like to me that you are doing that. You need to decide now if you want to go home or not. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as an honorable or dishonorable mission.” That stuck out to me because I wondered then, “what’s the point of being out here?” It bothered me because I KNEW I was serving honorably and she took that away from me. I didn’t really have a closing interview with my Mission President. I left the next day to go home and be with my family.

Favorite scripture after the mission

3 Nephi 5:13

Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life.

Favorite song after the mission:

"God Be With You Til We Meet Again"

My thoughts and feelings when I came home

When I decided to come home from my mission due to my health, my Mission President gave me permission to call my parents, and I asked them what their thoughts were about me wanting to come home. When I came home and saw them, it was hard. Don’t get me wrong, I loved seeing them, but I felt like I failed them. They never once made me feel like I failed. They were so proud of me. My Stake President and Bishop were so proud of me as well. My first Saturday home, I went to a Relief Society activity with my mom and everyone welcomed me home except one person who judged me because I came home early. I again felt like a failure. It was hard to face. I cried. I wanted to be back on my mission. I worked so hard to go back on my mission. When I got the news that I wasn’t going back out, I was devastated. It was very hard for me to hear that I wasn’t going to finish. Now that I have hit 4 years of being home, I look back and am so grateful for the experiences that I did have on my mission.

What my journey has been like since coming home

Closure: I feel like honestly I haven’t received closure until I created this PowerPoint. I have been upset because of multiple different reasons. My health had returned at the end of September, and to find out that my gallbladder had shut down 5 years ago, and the doctors didn’t catch it on my mission was hard. As I go through my experiences that I had on my mission, I’m just grateful that I went.

I feel like I did experience a time of inactivity more when I moved to Utah. I struggle with feeling judged, because I DID get judged. I’m honestly scared to share my story with my friends because I don’t want them to think that I am a failure. I haven’t really been open about serving a mission.

What I would like to share with y’all, especially those who just recently came home, is that you are loved for what you have done for our Savior Jesus Christ. It has, and still is, taking me time to realize that I served with all my heart. I have felt like I have failed Him. If you feel like that, it is the Adversary telling you that you are. Don’t listen, because it’s not true. Get on your knees and pray to Him and ask Him yourself if He is pleased with what you have done.

Testimony

I know that my Savior loves me. I know that I did what I could. I know that I am a Daughter of God. I know that the 6 months that I served is all that was needed. It took me some time to know that. I was talking to a sister on Temple Square one night and she told me it doesn’t matter if you serve the full amount or not, you can still relate to other missionaries. When she told me that, I thought about my mission call where it says “It is anticipated that you will serve for a period of 18 months.” I know that I helped more people than I could ever imagine when I got home. I know that I have planted a seed in the hearts of many people on my mission. I am so grateful for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

Joshua Penrod, Portugal Porto Mission, Hit By A Bus

"Justice is supported so closely by mercy. The Savior waits for our call. He is mighty to save. There is no pain, no illness, no suffering that he does not intimately understand. Likewise, there is no joy, no comfort, no relief that He is not fully capable of providing."

 Josh (left), with his companion and their investigator in Portugal

Josh (left), with his companion and their investigator in Portugal

Without spending too much time in the not so important past, but enough to create some pertinent context, we’ll begin this story in the fall of 2000. I was 20 years old, and preparing to serve a mission while working on my uncle’s farm in southern Idaho. Born in February of 1980, I was approaching my 21st birthday. Year 18 and 19 for me were unsettled years. I had spent them working construction in and around my home in Salem, Utah where I was choosing to live a life out of accordance with the principles of the gospel. I smoked cigarettes, chewed tobacco and drank alcohol. I had a very real experience with the spirit which caused me to up and leave this lifestyle in a moment, moving myself to Idaho where I immediately began a lengthy process of coming correct with my Father in Heaven. During this process I felt the call to serve, and began working to prepare for a full-time mission. In January of 2001, I entered the MTC in Provo, Utah where I began learning the language of Portuguese and the practices of the LDS Missionary.

Just after my 21st birthday I flew to the Porto, Portugal mission where I, along with seven other new missionaries, met the Assistants, jumped in taxis, and took off through wine country to the mission home. The next few weeks were amazing. I met my companion, and a connection was immediately made - to one another, as well as to the area in which we were called to serve. The people were awesome, the members faithful, the work of sharing the gospel was alive, and we were spending our days creating maps of our area while greeting people in the streets, setting appointments with potential investigators, and teaching. Life was good. I was picking up the language, and even had locals who mistook me for European when they heard me speak Portuguese.

February turned to March, and March turned to April. On about the 10th of April 2001, I was walking to a member’s home to have lunch and go over a few investigator referrals. I stepped out into a busy road and was hit by a bus. Taking into consideration the facts that I have always been a well put together person (physically strong and athletic), and that I was just hit by a moving vehicle, the adrenaline had become a key factor in my immediate physiological state, and the damage to my body was not immediately felt. In fact, after the initial contact, the catapulting of my body through the air, and the subsequent rolling and skidding of my broken frame along the cobblestone road, I leapt to my feet, and with my terrified companion close behind me, I quickly ran from the scene. I was humiliated by my stupidity, and was truly frightened by what had happened. Though the decision was unspoken, as a companionship we decided to forgo lunch with the church member and return to our apartment to rest and evaluate. As soon as I stepped in the front door to the apartment, I immediately collapsed in pain. It was as if the reality of the situation suddenly hit me with its full force, and the adrenaline wasn’t there to buoy me up. For the next several hours, as my companion made calls to District and Zone Leaders, and later to the mission office, I laid in my bed, feeling an indescribable pain in my hips and down both my legs, and moving was a chore.

I wonder how best to describe what happened next - whether I should tell it through the eyes of the frightened, inexperienced young man who had just had his world turned upside down, or through the perspective of hindsight, 16 years and a life of consequence later… Maybe just the facts will suffice at this point.

I was hit by a bus in a foreign country. Though I was not entirely disabled, I was injured. Something was wrong with the structural nature of my body. I walked with involuntary caution. My brain refused to call on my body to do tasks such as running or twisting, and bending over was a chore. I would find out later that joints in the lumbar spine had been compromised due to the impact from the accident. The disc that separates vertebrae L4 and L5 was in pieces, and the one separating and enabling the vertebrae L5 and S1 had ruptured, and was interfering with spinal communication. At the time immediately following the accident, all I knew was that something wasn’t right. My Mission President’s counsel was wise and specific; fast, pray, rest for a couple days, and then head into Porto to meet with him and evaluate my condition. From there we would look at different options. I was allowed to call my family to let them know what had happened. When I did so, I was surprised at the feelings that flooded my being... I longed to be back home. I didn’t want to finish what I had started in Portugal. These feelings lingered and they infected my situation like a killer disease. The next few days, the only piece of President’s advice that I responded to in the affirmative was the “rest” piece. I didn’t fast, and I didn’t pray. Thinking that I had a choice whether or not to stay in the country and finish the mission I had started was all I could think about. So I rested and made up my own mind - I was going to go home.

I’m not sure what my attitude did to exacerbate my physical condition, but when we went across the Douro River into Porto to meet with President, I was necessarily using a crutch to walk, and I felt totally justified in my decision to leave. President had other ideas. He bore his testimony to me of missionary work and of the Lord’s need for me to be there. He spoke authoritatively and powerfully about duty, service, and agency. He then said words to me that I received with defensive pride, “If you do not finish your mission, you will struggle to finish everything else in your life.” I heard challenge in those words - not loving guidance. I left, and went to see the specialist. A man who seemed to specialize in nothing more than drinking alcohol before noon poked at me a bit, took an x-ray, and sent me to the pharmacy to pick up pre-loaded syringes of morphine and muscle relaxants. I declined the drugs and with my companion returned to the city of Gaia and our little apartment. President had asked that I wait for the diagnosis from the specialist before making any big decisions. I waited for the diagnosis, but was already ready with my decision. I was going home – with, or without President’s recommendation to do so.

 Josh (left), with his trainer (right) and two Elders from their District.

Josh (left), with his trainer (right) and two Elders from their District.

The traditions of the LDS mission are interesting aren’t they? The farewells, the homecomings, the sending-off parties, and the returning home celebrations. The early-returnee gains a new perspective of these traditions. I limped off the plane broken, and in more ways than just physically. There were no balloons or posters, no cheerful shouts of praise, no rolling out of the red carpet. Just a tearfully worried mother and father.

The story is long from here... This was nearly 18 years ago. Each year, a series of moments; and each moment, an opportunity. “Choose you this day whom you will serve” means more to me now than it once did. I realized the miracle and blessing of agency only after traveling through moments of darkness - moments chosen by me.

What did I feel when I walked off that plane? Or when I sat in the office of my Stake President and was told that there didn’t need to be an official release performed by him, that my release would not be recognized by the church as an honorable one, and that I would not stand before my home Ward family and be recognized for my willingness to serve? I felt lost, and I felt heavy. I felt forgotten, shunned, cast out… I was disappointed in myself, but at the same time, disappointed in the church. I was angry with myself and I was angry with my Father in Heaven.

It is interesting what the natural man will do to protect himself when a sense of self-sufficiency and self-security is lost. My natural man pointed the finger of blame everywhere it could think to do so, in a prideful attempt to save face. I blamed the bus that hit me. I blamed my companion who didn’t lead the way that I thought a trainer should. I blamed my Mission President for his lack of compassion and diplomacy in dealing with me after the accident. I blamed the Church and the Mission Department for their lack of willful financial and moral support following my return - a series of omitted acts I saw as a lack of Christ-like charity. I blamed my girlfriend who promised loving support, and chose to bail on me only days after leaving for the MTC. The list goes on… This chosen perspective created a defensive paradigm which crippled my ability to see clearly. Every word spoken to me was received into a mind prepared by false impressions of reality. I could not see past my neurotic ideas of what others were truly thinking and feeling about me. They hated me - I knew they had to… They judged me as unrighteous, unwilling, and weak. They looked at me as a failure. They, as well as my Heavenly Father. How could it be otherwise?

These were my thoughts, and they commanded my actions. I removed myself from the Church and set myself apart from principles which once enlightened my mind, and influenced my direction. And so it was that the consequence for these decisions was justly placed. Of course, time and experience have tenderly shown me the deeper truth about the reality of this justice. That even through the decade of prescription drug and heroin abuse, loss of family, and the subsequent 39 month prison sentence which followed, I was never forsaken by my Heavenly Father. That even in the moment of unrighteous decision, the justice of God, through the Atonement of our Savior, was encircled about by mercy. And even though I had removed myself from the light which illuminates all darkness, and could not in the moment see his mercy being offered, it was always there. I realized this powerful truth nearly 8 years ago when, from the depths of my starved spirit and the cold floor of a prison cell, I cried in anguish for my Savior to free me from the unbearable pain, and forgive me for all that I had become. The relief was immediate. I knew in that moment that the Savior was always there, waiting for me to call out, to reach out; waiting for me to kneel.

Since that day, I have never forgotten that truth. Justice is supported so closely by mercy. The Savior waits for our call. He is mighty to save. There is no pain, no illness, no suffering that he does not intimately understand. Likewise, there is no joy, no comfort, no relief that He is not fully capable of providing. Today my family is reunited, my Priesthood restored, my mission ongoing. I serve as the Young Men’s President in my Ward and operate a growing business in which I am privileged to work with youth - sharing the reality of our Father’s great plan, and the potential we have as His sons and daughters. Today my life is renewed through Christ, my path infused with His magnificent light.

Mine is a story not unique in its challenges. However, as the days pass, and the world evolves, what follows the challenges of this too frequently told story is becoming far too unique. Too many of God’s children are getting lost in the darkness, unwilling, and at times unable, to call out, to reach out for our merciful Savior. It is my testimony and my mission in life to share the reality of His love, and to be an example of the absolute truth that He is ever near - that He will never forsake us.

Jay Thomas (JT) Whitehead, Tuscon Arizona Mission (Mental Health)

Jayphoto.png

"There are still days that are hard when I think about my mission, but I have found people who know what I have been through. I have loving friends who know me and support me. I know that when there are hard days, I can go find people to talk to."

My name is Jay Thomas Whitehead, - J.T. for short. I served in the Tucson, Arizona Mission, Spanish speaking. I am an Early Returned Missionary, and I came home because of depression.

I was scared to go Spanish speaking. I tried learning Spanish in school and completely failed at that. I would later find out that speaking Spanish was one of my favorite parts of my mission but let's go to day one…

I went to the Mexico CCM (MTC). I was in a new place where I didn't understand the language, and I was getting a little homesick. My CCM companion seemed really cool at first.

My second night at the CCM all the Elders in my house got together to talk. We started to talk about early-returned missionaries and how they have a hard time coming home, and we wanted to know what we could do to help them. There is this one quote that I remember: “direction, not velocity, when it comes to your mission”. After all of those conversations about early-returned missionaries I never thought that would apply to me, but I was wrong.

As the weeks in the CCM continued, my homesickness was still there - it didn’t get any worse, but it was still there. I was told that the CCM would be a fun place to just focus on learning about the gospel, but that’s not how it was for me.

My companion had this weird characteristic: when he felt uncomfortable, he would make fun of other people. Who is the easiest to make fun of? The person you are supposed to be with all day, every day. As days went by, all the other guys in my District started making fun of me as well. I was the scapegoat for all of them. All I needed while feeling homesick was to feel loved, but instead, I got made fun of. To my great surprise, and one of the reasons I stayed in the CCM, the Hermanas (sisters) started showing how much they cared about me, and helped the Elders to not make fun of me. After this happened, the days got better, I was less homesick, and I was happier. However, about a week later something really difficult happened. One of the Hermanas was being sent home early. This Sister helped make our District amazing! She helped us feel the love of Christ, and she helped me stay on my mission. It was a big hit to me emotionally. Why would the greatest missionary in our District be sent home?

After this Sister left, the Elders if my District started making fun of me worse than they had before. One day I woke up with shaving cream on my face and a mop in my bed. Another day my bed was torn apart and mostly thrown outside. I was having a hard time going through all of this! One day I stopped eating and I had no appetite, so I started talking to a member of the CCM Presidency and the Counselor of the CCM. They both recommended that I started taking medicine. I was hesitant at first, but I started taking them anyway. Everything eventually seemed to be getting better. I only had to survive a couple more days, then I would be going to someplace better - the mission field!

The day I got into the field everything was kind of a shock, but it felt good to be back in the USA. The next day I was able to meet my trainer, and to this day he is one of my greatest friends. The first two weeks of the field was amazing! I was learning Spanish at a faster rate than ever, I was meeting new people, and most important of all - the Elders in my new District did not make fun of me, and they loved me like my Savior would have.

After those first two weeks however, my “greenie fire” wore off. I would later realize that my depression was starting to return. Days would go by and my highs wouldn’t be as high, and my lows wouldn't be as low. The psychiatrist I was required to meet with recommended that I talk with my President and his wife about what I was experiencing. I thought I would wait for my first interview with my Mission President, but after multiple scheduling errors, we ended up meeting four weeks later than we should have.

When we were finally able to meet, we talked about all the ways that a mission can help a missionary with problems like I was experiencing. I said “let's try it all, cause I want to get better.” I got a higher dose of my medication, and I got permission to go see a counselor, but nothing was working. Days would go by, and I slowly started losing my ability to feel emotions at all.

One day my companion and I went to see an investigator who was nine years old who had finished reading the Book of Mormon in only a couple of days. A normal missionary would be so happy about that, and would what to share the gospel with him more, but I felt nothing. No happiness, no joy. It was as if I was staring at a number, nothing else. On that same day we had an investigator who was doing amazing with the lessons decide to suddenly drop us, and he told us he didn't need God. Again, a normal missionary would have been sad about this, but I felt nothing.

Weeks would go by where I couldn't feel the Spirit. Every night I would wake up constantly, and had very little sleep. I stopped tasting food, and I was just eating to eat. I was getting so depressed, and nothing was working. No matter how hard I worked, it didn’t help me feel any emotions. It got so bad that I thought about running away, hurting myself, or worse - suicide. My Mission President asked me to really pray about going home and I knew I needed to. My President and the Mission Office agreed with me, and I was sent home two days later.

I can still remember exactly what happened the morning I left the Mission: I had everything packed the night before; I had to wake up at 6:00 am to get to my plane on-time; and I said goodbye to my trainer - my friend who stood beside me every day, and helped me every possible opportunity he had. I gave him a hug, but there was no emotion to back it up. As I was going to the airport to get dropped off, I didn't say a word. When I got to the TSA security, my Zone Leader said, “Remember, you served an honorable mission”. I picked up my suit cases, and when I turned around I saw that they had already left. I was alone. I can honestly say that that was the worst moment of my life. In that moment I felt as though my companion was gone, my President was gone, the Spirit was gone, my Savior was gone, and my God, my Father, was gone.

I Was Alone…

I went from Arizona to Utah in the middle of Winter, and was not expecting the snow. When I came down the stairs to get my luggage, I saw two families waiting there for their missionaries. They all got excited and then stopped when they saw me. I wasn't the person they were looking for. I walked through the middle of both families, and only one person said “Welcome home, Elder.” I asked myself, “Why is it ‘welcome?’” and “Why am I ‘home?’” My airplane came a little early, so I beat my family there. We went straight to the Stake President’s office for me to be released. I couldn’t take off my tags; my mother had to take of them for me. I had spent years dreaming about going on a mission and being a missionary. I was so happy to be able to preach repentance to as many people as would hear. The moment that my tag was taken off was the same moment my dream was killed. We then went to go see a doctor to change my medications, we went home, I saw my dog, I walked into my room (which was somewhat changed into a game room), and then I closed my door and cried for hours. Why was I home???

After I got home I stayed in the same pair of sweatpants for a week straight. I went to a family party two days after I got home and started having panic attacks. I couldn't do anything. I couldn’t leave my house in fear of someone seeing me. I had this fear that because I came home early, people I knew wouldn't want to go on a mission. I had so many questions: Did I not have enough faith to be healed? Was in my fault that I came home? Was I a disgrace to my family and Father in heaven? Why, why did I come home?? I was so alone, and no one knew what it was like

I remembered that I still had the Sister’s email who returned home early from my District in the CCM, so I emailed her. She emailed back and told me that there was a support group up in Sandy, Utah that I should go to with her, and I did. It was hard, but of all the places that I had been to since being home, the support group was the only place I didn't feel alone. I spent the next couple of months just surviving until I could go to the support groups. There was a support group in Utah County, but whenever I went I was the only person there, so I felt alone. I spent most of my time going to the support group and being with other ERM just so I could feel better.

One day my sister came to me with a picture of a flyer from our friend up in Logan, Utah who was going to college there. In her institute there was a flyer for an Early-Returned Missionary conference. I knew there was going to be a lot of ERMs there, and that I wouldn't feel alone. I signed up immediately. When I was at the conference I met so many friends! I could be myself, and I didn’t feel like a failure and as though I was alone. I also learned about a program where ERMs could help other missionaries returning earlier than anticipated. I knew I wanted to help people not feel alone and as though they failed (like I felt), so I signed up for the ERM Mentor Program  

There are still days that are hard when I think about my mission, but I have found people who know what I have been through. I have loving friends who know me and support me. I know that when there are hard days, I can go find people to talk to.

If you are an ERM and you are feeling alone and want a friend, please contact us! I will be there ASAP!  With this program I have been able to find happiness - in spite of returning home earlier than anticipated. I want to say this again - If you are an ERM and are feeling alone and would like a friend, I will do my best to be there for you

 

Brian Smith, Australia Brisbane Mission (Mental Health)

"As I came across (Jonah's story again), it had a new meaning.  In all my years studying the scriptures, I never gave this verse a second look.  As I have gone through these experiences though, the verse makes perfect sense.  This life, I believe, is to find joy - whatever that joy is. "

BrianSmithPhoto.PNG

For almost twenty years this story has been one of anger, but over time the anger began to leave...

                My story starts on a plane leaving Brisbane Australia on October 3, 1997, I was only six months into my mission.  You see my family and I moved from the “flat lands” of Colorado just over a year prior.  We lived in a small farming community and were the only Latter-Day Saints within a 25 mile radius.  The school we attended was just as small.  Again we were the only members of the church that attended.  With that, for me, a since of pride, and not the good kind.  We didn’t really have interaction with the youth of the church, so our friends were mostly non-members, in some ways this was a good thing because it kept me in check.  I could not do anything outside the LDS norm.  The branch that I grew up in had about 50 members.  It was there that the feeling to serve a mission grew, and I started my paperwork there as well.

                The summer of 96’ we moved to Salt Lake City.  The ward we moved into had about 200 members.  It was also during that time when the urge to serve a mission was fading.  While I was in high school I met a girl from another State while at a youth conference.  We would write each other over the course of two and a half years.  Toward my last year in high school we talked about what we wanted to do when we graduated.  It was then that marriage was brought up, and in February of 97’ my call to serve a mission came.  I was to report to the MTC in April, and like many young kids, I felt like I had everything all planed out.  I had a job to come back to, a girl to marry, and I was set.  What could go wrong with this plan?

                The MTC was everything I heard it would be - very spiritual.  Time seemed to fly by, and before I knew it, I was at the airport with family seeing me off.  Within the first four months in the mission field I went through two missionary companions, and both were at the end of their missions.  I was in my first area for five and a half months.  Within those four months I helped baptize four new members into the church, but it was also during this time that something was changing inside of me.  I was no longer feeling the “spiritual high” from the MTC, the rejection and insults were starting to leave their mark on me, and I was starting to take them personally. 

             I was also struggling with my own testimony.  I never really had a testimony of my own, and was going off of my parent’s testimony - which manifested itself at a zone meeting.  My zone leader had everyone put their chairs in a circle, and had us go around and bear our testimonies.  As it came my turn to stand and bear mine, I couldn’t say anything.  I couldn’t say that the church was true, because I didn’t have that confirmation of the truth.  That was scary for me, because the one thing that a missionary has in his or her defense is a testimony.  I would write my mother and express feelings about everything, and she would write uplifting letters back with love in her heart, would say that she believed in me and loved me. She said that the Lord sent me there to find those who need the gospel in their lives.  I held on to those letters for years after I came home. 

                 I have often heard members say that a mission is where you can get a testimony - and that is true, to some extent.  For me, it felt that I was too far gone, and the anger that was starting to grow was unbelievable.  I had never felt anything like it before.  It was a deep anger, and it was showing signs everywhere.  I started to hate the mission, my missionary companions, and the Wards that I was serving in.  It was around this time that I was writing my girlfriend back home, and would tell her my about my mission and that I was thinking of coming home. One day I received a letter from her mother, and it haunted me for months after I came home.  In one of the paragraphs it said “be the kind of missionary that will take my daughter through the temple.” That was just one of the many letters I received in the final weeks of my mission. 

                Three weeks before I went home, I was transferred to the city of Brisbane.  It felt like everything was coming apart.  My last week before I went home, my companion and I were on splits with the AP’s, and as we were walking the AP asked me something that, again, has hunted me to this very day.  He asked “what are you going to do when your Ward judges you for coming home?”  I fired back that they would have to walk a mile in my shoes before they can judge me.  I didn’t realize how wrong I was.

                As I was on my last leg of my journey home, I boarded a plane with about five or six missionaries going home as well.  I didn’t think too much of it at first, but as we landed in Salt Lake I had to walk through almost everyone’s “welcome home” parties.  My mom, my sister, my older brother, his wife and newborn son were the only ones at the airport to welcome me home - no ward members, and no bishop.  It was one of the most depressing walks I had to do.  As my mom drove me home I remember looking at the sky and it was full of very dark looking clouds.  That should have been a sign of what was to come.

                My first Sunday back in my home ward, I had an elderly couple approach me and asked “what are you doing here?”  I tried to explain, but before I knew it she said that she was glad that the missionaries that taught her family the gospel never quit, and she turned and walked away.  It felt like someone just punched me in the stomach.  I had received comments like that and others in the weeks that followed.  It got to the point where I gave up on saying my prayers, I lost faith and started a deep decline into depression.  The plan that I had going for me by that time was destroyed.  I had no girl, and no job.  I was alone and that was not good for me at that time.  It was within the first four months of being home that I began thinking of suicide.  I wanted the pain to stop.  Nobody wanted to be seen with me, friends turned their back on me, and I had a bishop that didn’t believe me.  I had no one to turn to. No priesthood leadership to help me.  I was put in the Young Men’s Presidency, but that didn’t help.  All I got was put downs.  I stopped praying because in my mind I gave up on His mission, so why would he help me in my time of need?  It is sad to say, but it was true.  In my mind it was drilled that I failed, I didn’t serve the full two years, it was a failure.  My parents tried their best to try and talk to me about what happened on my mission, but I did what I had always done - I close myself off.  I would lash out in anger over the smallest of things. I would be by myself most of the time, and didn’t let anyone get too close to me.  I asked myself what the point was - I failed that was the end of it.  I could count on one hand how many ward members reached out to me. 

                The only bright spot was that I had a loving Stake President.  He saw me as a son God who tried his best to serve.  He was the only one that I could turn to, but it still didn’t take the pain away.  I remember being released from my mission, and I sat in the chapel and cried my eyes out.  The anger and the pain was growing faster now than in the field.  One night I reached a breaking point, a night that the pain was unbearable.  That night I was going to make it stop: suicide. 

                      My cousin wanted me to go with him to a young single adult dance, and I think he knew that something was up.  I met him at his parents’ house and we went to the dance.  As we arrived, we made our way up to the second floor of the building.  I was in a spot that I could see the dance floor.  I saw a girl that I hung out with before my mission, but then I noticed a girl, and that was all I could see.  As we made our way down to the dance floor, I ran into this same girl, and she asked me to dance, but I told her “no.”  She was with a girl that turned her back on me, and I didn’t want to be around her.  She didn’t move, but asked me again.  She said that she would protect me from the girl who had hurt me.  I was taken back a bit.  I didn’t know this girl, but she knew me.  We danced, and for the first time in six months I felt protected, and as though I was not alone.  This girl later became my wife! 

                 The struggles I experienced continued while dating my (future) wife.  One Sunday I was so upset that I walked out of a meeting at church, and vowed that I would never come back again.  I was told while on my mission that for the ones who come home early, their spiritual side stops progressing.  I didn’t want to believe that, but it was true for me in that period of my life.  For the longest time, my spiritual side stopped growing.

                The other side of the story is this, a choice.  I had many choices to make back in those early days when I returned home from my mission.  I could have chosen to take the “high road” and let the comments roll off, instead, I chose to take them personally.  Another more important choice was forgiveness.  This was something new for me to understand.  Forgiveness, for the longest time, just stuck in my throat, my thought was “I did nothing wrong, why do I need to seek forgiveness?”  As I take a closer look, I can see that I did everything wrong - including finding fault in the leaders and in the members. 

                 As I studied the scriptures, I found D&C section 64 verse 10 “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”  Another one is found in the book of Jonah.  In chapter 4, Jonah becomes angry because Nineveh begins to repent.  In verse 4 the Lord is speaking with Jonah, and the Lord asked Jonah a question.  “Then said the Lord, Doest well to be angry?”  Later on in the chapter, the Lord repeats the same question.  That question stayed with me for some time.  The more I thought about it, the more I felt that the verse was speaking to me.  Then you throw in 2 Nephi 2: 25, “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy.”  As I came across this, it had a new meaning.  In all my years studying the scriptures, I never gave this verse a second look.  As I have gone through these experiences though, the verse makes perfect sense.  This life, I believe, is to find joy - whatever that joy is. 

                Now to those that maybe going down this path like I have, I would like to share with you some things that my mother shared with me many years ago.  I would like to share some quotes from that letter that may shed some light in your darken path.  She said: “Accept your life as it is today, and move forward with your life, and keep the Lord by your side.” “You can overcome anything that Satan can throw at you. If he can keep you from going to church, doubt your testimony, and doubt the decisions you have made in your life, then he has succeeded in turning your heart from the Lord.” “You can’t go back and change anything that happened in the past, except ask the Lord for forgiveness and then you have to let those things go, never worry about them again.”  Here is the one that stands out on its own: Not one of us is perfect, and we can’t judge others about anything, we should be busy keeping ourselves in tune with the Lord.   

            I want to say, as I have had time to really take another look at my experience, I realize that I have been on both sides of the spiritual spectrum. I have been on the prideful side, and on the humble side. I’ve also learned lessons on forgiveness and on self-power. Self-power is something new that I have learned, and would explain a lot of what I went through. When you take the word of offense personal, you give your power to those people that offend. When this happens, your forward progressions stops in that moment. It takes a long time to get that power back. You pretty much stop caring about everything, going to church, saying prayers, and going to the temple. This list can go on. Where I want to be spiritually, and where I am today, is still so behind the curve, and I have to fight each day to stay on track.

            I have also taken a different look at my mission as well. I have come to terms with it all. I have seen for the first time in a long time what a blessing my mission was in my life. In those six months I saw first-hand the power of the Lord. I was able to see his hand in everything. Yes, I came home. Yes, things were said. Yes, I reacted foolishly. I have come to see that the time I served was served honorably. Was it the full two years? No, it wasn’t, but I gave it my all. For the longest time I saw it as a failure, and that was because I gave my power away. It put a dark cloud over what truly matters. For years, I kept all of my mission belongings in a box. Year after year, move after move, that box stayed with me. A few years ago I started to get into BBQ grilling. It was around this same time that I decided that I needed to get rid of the contents in that box. I had all of my letters and mission letters in this box. One Saturday I was out of fuel for my grill, so all of the contents in that box went up in smoke. Those were some of the better tasting burgers I have ever made!

            In closing, my story comes from a different generation. My story has some turns, and some regrets, but the major thing that I have come to learn is that we are all God’s children. We are all on the same path. We are all in different stages of the path, but still on that same path. Some stumble, some have to crawl, some take a little longer, but are we not all pointed in the same direction? I was asked a few questions a while ago: “Why don’t you leave the church? If you are not happy, why not find another church?” I told the guy that I would have been lying if it hadn’t crossed my mind, but why would I leave something as awesome as this? Yeah, things were said, but I take full responsibility for acting the way I did. My Stake President at that time said it best – “We can’t control what our members say.” It’s true! I have worried for many, many years about those comments. It doesn’t mean the church is not true, and my wife taught me that as well. She told me repeatedly that the gospel is true, not the members. If I would have listened to her back then, I think I would have come to terms with this a long time ago. I couldn’t find another church that gives you opportunities to improve yourself, that teaches you never to give up, and to keep trying. It’s the gospel that teaches you about forgiveness and the power of self-worth. It teaches us to “perfect the saints.” I’ve witnessed too many miracles on my mission to doubt the truthfulness of the gospel.

                I leave with you my testimony:  I know the church is true, I know that God lives, I have a firm testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, I know that the Lord had me go through this to teach me about humility and forgiveness.  I don’t think I would have learned it any other way.  May this help whoever reads it. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.      

 

Misty Schumann, Alpine German Speaking Mission (Physical Health)

"The hardest part for me was the uncertainty for 8 months. 8 months of not knowing what I was supposed to do with my life, and not knowing what was wrong with my health, and why this was happening to me. I felt like I had been robbed by God." 

 Misty (right), with her companion, Kimberly Eden, taken at the Neuschwanstein Castle in Schwangau, Germany

Misty (right), with her companion, Kimberly Eden, taken at the Neuschwanstein Castle in Schwangau, Germany

       On January 20th of last year, I left on my mission to the Alpine German Speaking Mission. My Mission was the “dream mission” for me. It covered Southern Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and the top of Italy. My grandparents are from Germany, and it is the same mission my dad served in. I felt a connection to my ancestors, and like I was continuing the German legacy in my family. When I was in the MTC I had a friend from England who struggled and wanted to go home. We were in the England MTC, so it would have been so easy. Her parents even told her that if she wanted to come home to just call and they could drive 30 minutes and pick her up. I explained to her how different it was for me. I told her that I could never go home early and that I would rather die on the mission then go home early. I explained to her that I would bring dishonor to my ward and family, and that there were members who would reject and disown me in a way for coming home early. I remember very vividly the words leaving my mouth “I could never leave the mission before my 18 months are up. Never.” Needless to say, I shot myself in the foot with that statement.

          I was a transfer into my mission and had what my mission called the “golden power.” My companion and I were teaching and finding with a lot of success, and I was extremely blessed with the gift of tongues. This is also when my right pupil began to randomly dilate and cause a little bit of eye pain every so often - but it wasn’t of major concern. I was still able to do all our work and carry out the normal missionary standards. I saw a few eye doctors, and they thought it was just from the headaches I was also experiencing, so I didn’t really think anything of it.

          By this time, I was halfway through my second transfer in the field and on my way to a zone training where I would be giving part of the instruction to all the other missionaries - in German. I was on the train with my companion and a set of Elders when my Mission President called and asked to talk to me. He asked me what I had thought about the doctor’s appointment, and told him that I thought it was fine, and I would just take some Tylenol when these headaches occurred. This next moment is when my life turned upside down - He proceeded to tell me that he had a strong impression that this was a lot more serious than what the two of us and the doctors were taking it, and that I needed to go home. I was in complete shock. He told me he felt I needed to seek medical answers at home in America with the support of my family, and that this was the number one priority in my life. He said I would be gone within the week. I had absolutely no say, and no choice.

          As I sat down next to my companion and the Elders, I must have looked like a ghost, and then the tears just started falling. I don’t think they ever really stopped for the next month. My mind was racing: “How could this happen to me? I thought I was supposed to be on a mission? Am I not doing well enough? What am I supposed to now? What will my family say? My parents are going to be so ashamed. My ward is going to be so ashamed. Where does my life go from here?” We sat in silence, but my mind was truly in shock at the uncertainties that I now faced.

          When we got to the zone training, I told my companion, and she just held me as we both wept.  I pulled myself together for 20 minutes and gave my instruction to the missionaries. After the conference I received a blessing from one of the office Elders, and I was filled with peace. My mind was still racing with all the concerns, but I felt at peace that I had done what the Lord sent me to Germany to do, and that he needed me somewhere else.

          That week flew by as I said goodbye to my precious investigators, bearing the strongest witness to them of my love for them and this gospel. When I had my exit interview with my Mission President I was surprised. I thought he would tell me to figure my health stuff out and then to come back to the mission, but he instead expressed so much and gratitude on behalf of the Savior for my sacrifice and service. I felt so humbled. He told me that for this point in time I had fulfilled my mission, and that I should focus on getting answers about my health. He also said it was appropriate to search for an eternal companion - which scared the heck out of me.

          The 23 hours traveling home were torture, but I made a choice on that plane - I knew that the road ahead was not going to be an easy one, but I decided I was not going to let Satan, or anything, or anyone take the things I knew away from my testimony. I promised myself that I would read the scriptures and pray every day - even when I didn’t feel like it. I promised myself that I would go to the temple every week. I promised myself that I would fill my life with good things so that there would be no room for Satan to drag me down. I can honestly say that had I not made that choice, right then and there, that I would not be here, or active in the gospel right now.

       My family has a kind of unique way of handling things, and I was so afraid of them rejecting me and being disappointed in me. I hesitate sharing this next experience, but it’s the truth, and some of you may be able to relate.

       I had no desire to see my family. I did not miss them. I was loving my mission, and coming home was one of my biggest fears. I thought back on my experience with my companion in the MTC and thought “God must be having a good laugh right now. I really shot myself in the foot, didn’t I?” When I saw my family I was exhausted from being awake for 48 hours. They all hugged me, but it was not your typical returned missionary-excited-airport-reunion that everyone dreams about. It felt more like a funeral. It was 1:00 in the morning Salt Lake City time, so I wouldn’t be getting set apart until the next day. As we drove home, my dad started going on about how he had to fix this, this, and this on my car, and how I owed him this much money. I was just like, “Are you serious… You haven’t seen me in 5 months and that’s what you want to talk about?” As I’m sure many of you can relate - laying alone in your own bed again felt so strange. I just cried and prayed that I could get some sleep.

       The next morning I went to get set apart, and my parents came with me. My Stake President was very gracious about it, and gave me all the information about LDS Family Services and the support group. He asked if I would speak in church and give a homecoming talk, to which I was a little bit apprehensive about, but grateful that I was treated like a normal RM.

          Giving my homecoming talk was hard, but I am so grateful I did it. I shared experiences about the people I taught and how they had a change of heart, and how I was having a change of heart, and that I was learning to accept Heavenly Father’s will for me. I am so grateful that my ward mostly accepted me with hugs and love and support. There were those who asked, “Why didn’t you just get a blessing?” or, “Don’t you have enough faith to be healed?” but I learned a lot from those interactions too.

          The next few months were a blur of doctors’ appointments, but let’s just say that my Mission President was inspired of God to send me home. After getting an MRI, they found multiple lesions on my brain that they thought were tumors at first, and then Multiple Sclerosis. My symptoms started to get way worse and really scary. I didn’t come home for mental health problems, but they hit me when I came home. The first few months I told myself that things would get better and that I could do it on my own. After 3 months of only sleeping 3 hours a night because I was so anxious, and then being so depressed and weighed down during the day, I finally went and talked to some of the people at the church and received some help. So, if you’re feeling that way then don’t put off getting help!

       The hardest part for me was the uncertainty for 8 months. 8 months of not knowing what I was supposed to do with my life, and not knowing what was wrong with my health, and why this was happening to me. I felt like I had been robbed by God. On my mission I was the happiest I had ever been in my life, and He took it away from me. But our missions aren’t our time - we are on His time to do what He wants, and just because we came home earlier than anticipated does not give any less value to our service. So when someone asks if you served, say proudly “YES, I SERVED A MISSION!” Own it. There is no need to qualify it with… “but I came home early,” or “only for 2 weeks.” The Lord accepts all our offerings the same.

       I actually just found out this month what is wrong with me. After 10 months, 3 countries, 18 doctors, 60 blood tests, an endoscopy, a colonoscopy, an EEG, a spinal tap, a HIDA scan, 6 MRI's, 3 CT's, a PET scan, 5 ultra sounds, an ECHO, TEE, and about 25 different possible diagnoses, from Multiple Sclerosis, to brain tumor, to sarcoidosis, to lymphoma, WE FINALLY HAVE A DIAGNOSIS! - Patent Foramen Ovale. There's a hole in my heart and an aneurysm that's been letting blood clots go to my brain, killing parts of my brain, and causing little seizures and strokes, which is why I have lesions, migraines, and weird eye stuff going on. Hopefully they'll be able to go in and repair the hole so I can move on with my life and have no further damage. This last year has been a roller coaster and nothing what I planned it to be, but I am so grateful for a loving Heavenly Father that let's us go through hard things so we can learn and become what He wants us to be!

       One of the greatest blessings in my life was when I chose to turn my will over to the Lord. A lot of us have a lot to carry. It is too much. I would invite you to turn it all over to the Lord. Trust him. Trust him with your life. He will lead you with work, school, dating, callings, missions, families, and any other decisions that are important to you. I know this because I have lived it. Nothing about my situation changed when I made that choice. In fact, things got worse; but I felt so much light and at peace because I knew who was in charge and in control of my life.

[Disclaimer: We at Mission Fortify have asked ERMs to submit their experiences with returning home earlier than anticipated from their mission service, and we will publish a new story every week on the "ERM Blog." While we encourage ERMs to be honest about their feelings and experiences, Mission Fortify does not necessarily endorse or support the views expressed in every story. It is our hope that these shared experiences will fill other ERMs with hope and encouragement - as well as reassuring them that they are not alone in their struggles.]

Nathaniel Jones, Mexico, Mexico City Mission (Anxiety)

P4133528.JPG

"I felt like I failed the Lord by not finishing out my mission. I was in the belly of the whale like Jonah of the Old Testament...I did not know what to do. "

Nathaniel had to leave his mission in Mexico City due to anxiety, but he found another opportunity to serve the Lord as a full-time Service Missionary

Elder Juan Uceda once said, “It is comforting to know that we worship a God who is merciful and who allows His children many chances to learn His ways and be obedient to them.” I know this was the case with me.

I have wanted to serve a mission all my life. I love being with the missionaries. So when the time came to put in my papers, I was so excited and also nervous like most people. I still remember when I received my call. I was in Lake Tahoe with the Priests from my ward, and I waited to open it the day I got back. I invited many of my friends over including the Elders. They were all excited for me. When I opened my call, I messed up while reading it. I said “…you are hereby called as a México” instead of “…you are hereby called as a missionary”. I was embarrassed but went on. I was excited to go to México. I would finally be putting my four years of Spanish to good use.

Fast forward three months. I received my call to México, México City South Mission in June of 2014, and in September I reported to the Provo MTC. I was scared and really sad to leave my family, but even though I had my hardships, I loved my experience in the MTC. I was there for six weeks and had two wonderful companions both from Washington State. Elder Stout from Sammamish who is actually giving his homecoming today and Elder Peterson from Camas. Elder Stout and I were the only ones in our district to go to the México City South Mission. The others went to Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Panamá, Cancun, Guadalajara and Tuscan, AZ.

One of my most memorable experiences was being able to sing in the Priesthood Session of the 184th Semi-Annual General Conference with my two companions. I absolutely loved every second - from practicing for 8 days, to the actual performance. It will forever be one of my fondest memories.

A few weeks later, early in the morning Elder Stout and I boarded a plane to México City. I was so excited to be in México. It felt a little weird being in a different country with a different language, but I really enjoyed it. We got settled in with another district and met our trainers the next day. I actually met my trainer on the ride from the airport to a place they called “La Casa Amarilla” or the Yellow House.

At first, I was really enjoying the mission life, but latter on it became really difficult. I remember one time I was in the restroom of our apartment, bawling my eyes out from the stress and homesickness I was experiencing, and thinking “I cannot do this.” Then lyrics from a song I used to listen to popped into my head. They read, “Don't worry about a thing 'cause every little thing gonna be alright…” From then on I knew the Lord was on my side.

Unfortunately, things got harder, and at five weeks and five days of being in the field, I came home due to my anxiety. I felt happy and disappointed about being home. Happy because I was out of that hard time, and disappointed because I felt like I failed the Lord by not finishing out my mission. I was in the belly of the whale like Jonah of the Old Testament. I did not know what to do.

I found out that I could not return to the field as a full time missionary due to my anxiety and, surprisingly, I was elated because I did not feel good about possibly going back out. I still did not know what to do though. Then, one day, my dad and I were talking and the topic of serving a service mission came up. I thought to myself, “Why didn’t you think of that?” After that conversation, I went to the places where I knew I could find service missionaries. I went to the Family History Library where they needed service missionaries, and the institute where they did not. The Family History Library sounded fun, but it did not feel right. My father and I had another conversation after I went looking and he mentioned serving in the mission office. That idea hit me like a ton of bricks. I really wanted to serve in the mission office.

So I brought this idea up to my Stake President when we had one of our interviews. I will never forget what he said after I told him that I wanted to serve in the mission office. He said, “You have a three percent chance,” because this was where every service missionary wanted to serve. I felt a little sad. I really wanted to serve in the mission office and I felt like I was denied that opportunity.

Then President Marston of the California Roseville Mission said that he wanted to see me, my parents, and my Stake President in his office. We walked in, started with a prayer, and then got started. President Marston started out by thanking us for coming in and then told me that he was in need of somebody to serve with a Hmong Elder who was in need of a companion. He asked me if I was willing to do so, and I accepted. He then said I might have to learn Hmong, which was very prevalent in the Yuba City, Oroville and Chico areas of the California Roseville Mission. I was excited because I wanted to learn a new language, and was excited to do so. He then told me that I was a blessing to the mission and was an answer to prayer.

Later that day I met with Elder Mitchell (my new companion) and President Marston to talk about how to find Hmong people in the southern parts of the mission. That is where my life changed for the better. I got a second chance at serving a mission, and I was so happy! Thanks to this wonderful mission, I was able to learn a little Hmong, go to many Zone Conferences, go to Hmong Conference, help out with transfers, get another wonderful companion, use my Spanish, travel throughout the mission, and help the missionaries and the Mission Presidency. This has been a wonderful experience and I am sad to be ending it so soon.

[Disclaimer: We at Mission Fortify have asked ERMs to submit their experiences with returning home earlier than anticipated from their mission service, and we will begin publishing a new story every week on the "ERM Blog." While we encourage ERMs to be honest about their feelings and experiences, Mission Fortify does not necessarily endorse or support the views expressed in every story. It is our hope that these shared experiences will fill other ERMs with hope and encouragement - as well as reassuring them that they are not alone in their struggles.]