"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."
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.
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.