Thursday, June 9, 2016

I was walking my dog this morning and for the whole walk I kept thinking about staying strong even as a returned missionary. I was thinking a lot about it because today was supposed to be my last day in the mission field. I was scheduled to go home tomorrow. This week would have marked my 18 months as a sister missionary.  Those who have been following along with my missionary journey know how hard my missionary experience was, and a lot of people wonder how it has affected me.

Going home early –– TWICE –– can affect you a lot. I was extremely sad both times. The first time, I wasn't sure if I would go back. The second, I knew I wasn't going back.

So today, as I was thinking about being a strong returned missionary, my thoughts wandered to thinking about how missionaries who return early are affected spiritually by their early return. I will be honest: it hasn't been easy for me. There has been a lot of self-doubt and sadness from myself every time I walk into church, every time I open my scriptures, and many times as a kneel to pray.

A few weeks back I was at Stake Women's Conference and one of the speakers told a simple story about how her son almost went home early on his mission; bags packed, ticket booked, everything; but at the last minute he made that choice and chose to stay. I wish it could have been so easy for me. Even as I sat in the airport waiting to go home last November, I kept thinking "what if I just leave the airport and go back to the mission office. What if I tell them I can work through this sickness." So many what-ifs.

How has my early return home affected me spiritually? I want to say it hasn't; that I'm as strong as I've ever been. But there's always part of me who wonders what kind of spiritual growth and strength I missed out on by leaving six months early. Maybe I missed a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience or, even more importantly, what if I missed meeting someone who I was supposed to help accept the Gospel.  Like I said, there are a lot of "what ifs." I know what is true. I have a strong and firm testimony. Despite all this, I still feel guilt; and for what, I don't know. It might just be the constant looks or opinions of others when they find out I came home early and didn't serve a full 18 months. I know going home was essential for my health. I wasn't working, I was trying hard but it affected me, my companions, even the people we were teaching. I go through it all in my head over and over, but I still feel like I could have done more. I could have fought harder to get better quicker, or something. I think mostly it is because I don't want to be a disappointment. I'm afraid of disappointing God, my parents, and even myself.

How do I deal with the spiritual repercussions I deal with? My advice to myself everyday is to remember the basic principles of the Gospel. It's like we teach investigators; those core principles can help so much in overcoming trials and helping us find direction in our lives. I think about my faith in what I know and try to act on that faith every single day through prayer and scripture reading. Faith can help a lot in relying on Heavenly Father and knowing that as long as I stick to what is true, it will all be okay and I'll have his help along the way. Repentance is the second principle. We all make mistakes and that is okay, as long as we learn from them and become stronger. Repentance is an essential part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and because I have repentance, I can ask for forgiveness and rely on the Savior to lighten my burdens. Baptism is the third step, and as members this takes form in partaking of the Sacrament every Sunday to renew our covenants, remember the savior, and recommit ourselves to follow the example of Jesus Christ. As a returned missionary, this step is one that has been the most important in reminding me weekly of the learning experiences I had in Honduras, and has helped me stay strong and true. The gift of the Holy Ghost comes next. As a member and returned missionary, it is vital to stay worthy of the companionship of the spirit. The constant companionship definitely helps keep me on the right path and especially when faced with morally questionable situations. The last principle is endure to the end, which is exactly what the others are helping me do. It involves being strong enough to go to church every Sunday and keeping the Sabbath day sacred and holy, going to activities, institute, volunteering to teach with the missionaries, serving others, and for me personally it has been a lot about being a good example to my parents.

My advice to others who have returned early, for whatever reason, from their missions is to remember why you went, remember what you learned and the people you met, and most importantly– remember your testimony. Following the principles of the Gospel encompasses everything we should be doing as members and will help guide and lead you, especially upon returning home and feeling lost or hopeless. Read the scriptures and pray every single day. Try to pray and rely on Heavenly Father as often as you did in the mission field. Be strong, be happy, and be proud of the time you spend serving the Lord.



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