Woah. This is it. This is really my last email home, as a missionary. I found out today that I would be released over the phone. I about had a heart attack, actually I'm still in the process of wrapping my head around it. I think the fact that I have to take my name tag off and never put it on again is what really gets me. It reminds me of when I was told that I had cancer and the thing that finally made me cry was when I realized I would lose my hair. In my head, that made it all real. Now in my head, once my name tag comes off it will mean its over. My mission will really be over.
They say that looking back everything is clearer, and I would agree. There is something about the future that blinds us. I guess its the midst of the unknown that makes us so afraid. An RM that is already home would read this and smile and say "I remember when I felt that way.", almost like I do when I meet the new Greenies. But the fact is that taking a step into the dark, whatever that step is, is scary. We all ask ourselves, "Is this really right? Will I really be happy? Am I going to be okay?" And I guess with my mission coming to an end, and real life starting, I find myself thinking some of those things. But no matter how "scary" or "unnerving" this next step is, I will never regret my mission.
I look back in awe as I think about the Lord's hand in my life. I was 20, living in Russia, teaching English when it was announced that girls could now go on missions at 19. I had never considered a mission before, and honestly the thought of it made me cringe. I liked makeup and heels way too much for that life. I didn't actually hear President Monson make the age change, I only received a text informing me, but as I read that text my heart burned. I think I knew then what my decision was going to be, but I was afraid of the midst of the unknown. How could a mission ever give me more than what I had right now? I had plans of marriage and schooling and a cute decorated apartment in my head, and 630 am wake up calls, and district leaders didn't really fit into that picture, but I prayed anyways.
I had never had quite a strong experience with prayer like I did when I asked God if I should serve a mission. I had never quite experienced an answer so sure, so unchanging, and so complete when I was told I needed to go. But yet, it was still difficult. I didn't want to go. I didn't think I was good enough, and when I got out of the MTC and into the field, I realized something, I was right. I wasn't good enough. I wasn't brave enough. And I wasn't prepared enough, and I wanted to go home. I sat on my knees so many times in my first 6 months and asked God why I had to be here, but to no avail because no real answer came. But I decided to stay anyways.
As time went on I started realizing that there was something special about the people that I was meeting on the mission. As I served with them, taught them, and learned from them, I realized that they were people I would remember for the rest of my life, and people that I would have never met in any other circumstance. For awhile, that became my fuel for being here. I was here for them and they were definitely, and probably even more so, here for me.
Now after 18 months, I don't have the "midst" of a mission in front of me, as I did when I prayed that first prayer. I look back on all the experiences I have had, all the friendships I have made, and I am overcome with emotion at how blessed I have been. I stopped asking why I was here a long time ago because I realized it was for a lot of different reasons, but now I really understand. I came on a mission for me. The one I was supposed to save was myself.
I can't express in words or at least not in one email, what my mission has done for me, or how much I have loved it. There were so many moments where I wanted to quit, where I wanted to throw in the towel or at least raise my fists towards Heaven and scream, but now looking back I can see even those moments that I absolutely loathed have helped paint the picture of my mission.
As I have thought back I have tried to put a finger on the things that I have learned. Talk about difficult, and even more difficult is choosing one as my favorite, but above all that I have learned it as been my testimony of Christ that has been the foundation. The enabling power of the Atonement is real. When I was young and focused on everything I couldn't do, I felt so inadequate, and I was, but through the Atonement, those inadequacies faded away. I realized that I did have talents, I was valued, and I could contribute. I learned I could do things that terrified me, made me cry, or even that I hated, because I was strengthened beyond my own. There have been so many days where I woke up and thought "How am I going to make it through this day?" The answer was through the Atonement.
Although my world came crashing down when I was sick, I didn't have to face it much. I could lay in my bed and I could almost just wait for it to pass. Out here, that wasn't an option. Well, I guess it was, but not for me. I had to face my fears, my weaknesses, and other people. I was put in a situation where I couldn't run away or say that I was done, and at times I hated it, but wow has it molded me into all that I am now.
It reminds me of a story that my adorable Trainer, Hilty, told me when we were together. She told the story of a house. The house was a good house. It had some problems, but who had a perfect house these days? The house owners were satisfied enough with it. But one day a builder came and started tearing down the house brick by brick. As they watched the house being destroyed they were terrified and saddened. They thought the house was so great and so useful. As they began to look away in grief they noticed something, this house builder wasn't just tearing the house down, he was building something. As they watched they were amazed. All the weaknesses of the house weren't just been fixed, but replaced with the top of the line products and materials. When the house was finished they could hardly believe their eyes. It was not the house they had owned, now it was a mansion, and that house builder that they had thought was so mean at the beginning was really the Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 6:19 "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?" Each experience we have, each success, trial, mistake, heartbreak, and triumph is to turn our house, ourselves, into a mansion. I realize now how much there is to learn from that story. I realize now that the Lord could never just add on to the house I was ever so "satisfied" with, but that first he had to break the house down. Yes, on my mission I experienced a lot of breaking. I experience all that was needed to keep me on my knees and keep my gaze heavenward. Do I regret it? No. Because I got to experience firsthand the Atonement in my life.
I couldn't have done these 18 months without my Savior. I can't say that I know that Christ lives more than I did before I left, that is something I have had a strong testimony of since I was sick, but my ability to access those powers have grown. I have learned to pray, receive, and act on inspiration. I have learned to plan all that I could and then be willing to leave all my plans behind so that I could fulfill what the Lord needed me to do. I have tried my hardest to abandon my will and align my will with God's. Many times I had to be "broken" into that, as the Lord quietly reminded me that His ways and plans are higher than mine. I have been comforted, strengthened, and changed. In short, I have been converted.
In the words of Francis Webster, “‘I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it.’” He continues: “‘I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.
“‘Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.’”
Was I sorry that I came on a mission? Was I sorry that I got that answer on a dark Fall day in Russia as I knelt down and prayed? Was I sorry I stayed? No. It was the price I paid to become acquainted with God. What is the price of sanctification? The will power to keep going. Because it is when our testimony know longer becomes our knowledge, but becomes our actions, that changes a doubting heart into an converted heart.
So with this burning in my heart, I will take this step into the dark. I will trust God and I will wait for the light to illuminate the midst. I know that there is much more to be learned, and my heart has much more room to be converted, but I now know and understand that it is all a process, one brick at a time. I have loved my mission, and I will love the next stage too. I know that it will be a little bit difficult, and I know that I am probably going to be really weird for awhile, but hey we've all been through this before! #Right? #guys? #areyouthere?
Thank you all for your love and support. I have been so blessed because of your emails, letters, and prayers. I want to say so much more, but I think now is the time where only hugs and tears can correctly express my feelings. I love you guys. Each of you. And I am so glad that you guys will be by my side as I strive to find my footing again. I hope that you all have a great next 3 weeks. I'll be seeing you at the airport.
Keep it real. Keep it classy. And may the odds be ever in your favor!