"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 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.]