“Overtime, I learned that I served exactly the time I needed to serve and taught the people I needed to teach.”
When I was thirteen years old, I attended an EFY (Especially for Youth) the summer before eighth grade and my counselor had asked us on the first day to think of questions we wanted answers to. They could be gospel related, familial, or academic – anything we wanted – and she promised us by the end of the week, if we sought for answers from the scriptures and prayer, we would receive an answer. The question I wrote was: am I meant to serve a mission? I had watched my older brothers prepare and serve and I felt that experience was something I wanted. During the week, I read a particular scripture in Doctrine and Covenants that influenced my decision. The spirit was so overwhelming in that moment that I knew I had my answer. From then on, I tried to live my life in a way that was preparatory for a mission and read that scripture on a daily basis.
I served in the Illinois, Chicago mission for exactly seven months. I entered the MTC on July 24, 2013 and flew home on February 24, 2014.
Ugh. I remember that heart-wrenching phone call with my President. For about four months, I had been struggling with bulimia nervosa to the point where I was purging 4-6 times a day. It took so much courage to even tell my President and ask for help but he was gentle, kind, and understanding. He and his wife worked one-on-one with me for weeks trying to ease my addiction but one morning I called him in tears because I was throwing up and coughing blood. I was absolutely terrified. At that point, he told me it was best that I go home. I was relieved mostly because I wanted to be home with my parents. I had severe problems with eating disorder behaviors growing up and they would know how to coach me through this. But of course I was disappointed and mad at myself that I didn’t have the strength to work through this while in the mission field. I felt as though I had let my Heavenly Father down and dealing with that guilt or disappointment was extremely painful.
I expected to be received by my family with love but also with shock or surprise because they had no clue I was dealing with this until the day my mission president called them to tell them I was coming home the next afternoon. I never confided in my family through my weekly e-mails or warned them that my mission would be ending early because I thought for sure coming home wouldn’t be the end result. I honestly didn’t want to deal with church members because I had heard rumors/stories about other early RMs who had been judged and criticized. My first Sunday back in my home ward, a woman who had a daughter close to my age approached me. She said, “*Lindsay* is having a hard time on her mission, but she chose to stay out.” That jarring comment made me feel as though I completely failed and I allowed myself to believe it for some time. (** Name changed for privacy)
It was hard to make an appearance to church because I would sit in sacrament meeting and cry. However, I didn’t allow the feelings of embarrassment to interfere with my need for God. I knew that if I needed Him at any time in my life, this was that time. I was sick, I felt lonely, and I needed His strength. Even though recovery (both physically and emotionally) took over a year, I am so much healthier and happier than I have ever been, even before my mission. He gave me His strength time and time again while in the mission and upon my return home and I feel the experience of returning early might have given me a stronger testimony than had I stayed out in the field. I was truly able to rely on my Heavenly Father and my Savior more than I had in my life. Overtime, I learned that I served exactly the time I needed to serve and taught the people I needed to teach. Heavenly Father allowed me a year to recover and in that year, I was able to meet my husband and marry in the temple. God’s timing is so real. Had I not come home the time that I did, I honestly believe that I would not have received the care that I needed in order to meet Aaron and be strong enough, spiritually and mentally, for the blessing of marriage.
The first few weeks being home were very emotional. Friends and neighbors came by to visit and drop off flowers all the time and I felt loved. I also felt scared. I didn’t know if I would be able to recover quick enough to go back to my mission, if I would ever heal from my eating disorder, and if I would ever break free from my depression. It was the darkest I had ever felt because I believed I had let down everyone that I loved. I let down the people I was teaching because I left them so abruptly and never had the chance to give them a hug goodbye and share with them my testimony one last time. I let down my companion(s), my parents, and my Heavenly Father. That disappointment in myself was certainly not easy to overcome but once I began to think about the good that I had accomplished while in Chicago, the transition suddenly became possible. Not easier, not simpler, but possible.
I got two jobs shortly after coming home because I felt that would keep my mind off of what I was dealing with and hopefully I would be able to ignore my problems, but I was so incredibly depressed that I never got there on time and I hated getting out of bed. I would have changed the way I went about trying to “adjust” back to life. I would have spent more time in the temple, and less time sleeping, watching movies, or eating. I would have met with my Bishop more often, but I basically ignored him and every leader I had because I felt ashamed and embarrassed.
It still hurts me to this day thinking of all the people I could have met and taught as a missionary, but whenever I start to think that way I have to remind myself again of the people I did meet and teach. When I think of them and the members I worked with in my areas, I feel happy and content. They blessed my life and my testimony more than I could ever think possible. But, knowing how happy I am in my life and in my testimony right now, I feel that serving full-time wouldn’t have given me the chance to turn to and lean on my Savior like I did when I came home.
I loved my mission! I loved it I loved it I loved it! I read the journal entries I wrote and I talk to the missionary friends I made in my mission often. I’m still very close with many of the members in the wards I served in and stay in contact with individuals I taught. I am blessed that Chicago is close enough to where I live so I can visit whenever I want to but even though I came home early, I wouldn’t change a second of the blessings, hardships, and miracles I experienced while there.
To read the full article and other experiences of early RMs, click here.