What I Wish I Would Have Known: Advice for Early Return Missionaries

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Well, let's face it, people. I've been "around the block" now... twice. It's not fun. In fact, it's the opposite of fun. To be blunt (and completely honest), it sucks. It's the worst! Your number one desire to is to be serving a mission- you're worthy, you're willing, and yet... your body or your mind can't seem to come to grips with the difficult and challenging aspects that missionary work requires. Whether it be stress, anxiety, a broken limb, needing surgery... or spending time in urgent care and the emergency room for strange severe abdominal pain... you had to take off that nametag a little earlier than expected. Whether you served for two weeks or seventeen months, it doesn't change the fact that you served. You gave up that time of your life for the Lord. 

Something I came to realize over the months I spent trying to heal, physically and emotionally, from early release, is that I didn't fail simply because I didn't complete the amount of time I was expected to serve. In fact, I donated a significant amount of my time to the Lord, through learning Spanish, the five lessons, the baptismal commitment. Through waking up each morning at 6:30 am and studying for hours and walking miles and miles in the heat and mud, battling mosquitos and having doors slammed in my face and dogs bite my ankles. I gave that time of my life to the Lord- and so did you. Do you think that He is not pleased with that time you gave Him? Do you think that He would condemn you just because someone else served 18 or 24 months and you could only serve 3 because of your imperfect and mortal body or mind?

Remember the lesson of the widow's mite: in Mark 12:42-44, a poor widow came into the treasury where Christ was. She gave two mites- and a lot of people looked down on her because they believed her sacrifice was not sufficient. But Christ looked at those two mites, and plainly stated to those around Him that she had given more in those two mites than the others had given in their abundance, because of the sacrifice she had made in giving "...all her living." 

The Lord recognizes your sacrifices. He knows. He understands. You may look and compare yourself to others, but the Lord will not do so. He knew from the beginning that this would happen. We were blessed with bodies when we were born here- imperfect, yes, but of the utmost importance. The imperfections in our bodies and minds are here to help us learn and are opportunities for our spiritual strength to be tested and increased. Your physical imperfections are not sins. You do not need to repent because your appendix burst, or because you don't respond well to large amounts of stress. 

What you DO need to do is strengthen your relationship with your Father. What you ARE responsible for is how your trials affect your testimony. Remember always that EVERYTHING you went through, Christ went through as well. The Atonement was not only to pay for the sins of the world, but through the Atonement, Christ felt every physical, emotional, spiritual pain and trial. 

"And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people." (Alma 7:11) 

He knows. He gets it.  And He's right there, ready to help you through every trial you face and every heartache you feel. Turn to Him and tell Him everything. He will help guide you through this difficult time and will help reaffirm your personal worth as a son or daughter of God. President David A. Bednar said: "I frankly do not think many of us 'get it' concerning [the] enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, and I wondier if we mistakenly believe we must make the journey... all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities. The belief that through our own "sheer grit, willpower, and discipline" we can manage just about anything seems to be widespread these days. This simply is not true. Heavenly Father and the Savior can inspire, comfort, and strengthen us in our time of need, if we remember to cast our burdens at Their feet."

Anyway, I think you get the point. It's important to learn to apply the principles of the Atonement as an enabling power, rather than solely a redeeming power (see Elder Bednar's talk "The Enabling Power of the Atonement", link below). He will help you get through this difficult time, and He will do so in a way where He can mold you to become even better than you were before. Below, I listed a couple of things that helped me get through both rounds of coming home early, and I honest-to-goodness hope it helps you too. P.S., if you have other tips, comment below!  

  • Get better... Your health should be the number one priority when you get home! Do whatever it takes to get feeling better. Some are more simple solutions (finding the right medicine, healing from a broken bone, etc) but others may take more time. Take the time to focus on your health. Trust me, it's sooo hard to serve others when you're not all the way okay. Do what it takes to feel better!
  • Don't forget the basics... read your scriptures, pray everyday, take the Sacrament and go to church (but it's OK to sleep in and do what you need to go get healthy... like take four hour naps in the middle of the day hohoho). It can be easy to say that you're too tired to read, or you're feeling too sick to attend sacrament meeting (which may be true!), but do whatever you can to avoid slipping into the trap that so many returned missionaries fall into. 
  • Set small goals... like today, I'm going to shower (I managed to shower three times in the first two weeks I was back... yeah it was not a proud moment for me). Or maybe set a goal to take a nice walk today, or unpack one thing from your suitcase. Just little things to help you feel like you accomplished something that day.
  • Set realistic goals... You are home from your mission for a reason. You are not going to go run a marathon tomorrow and you are not going back on your mission in a week. Set realistic goals that will help keep you motivated and keep the end in sight! If you want to go back on the mission, set a realistic date for when you want to start the paperwork back up. If you're not planning on going back out, set a realistic goal for something you CAN do in the future, like hoping to be healthy enough to apply for a job or apply for school. It's a good motivator and a good reward at the end of a long journey.
  • Go to the temple... Trust me, if you're healthy enough to go, it helps. Even if you don't feel up to a two-hour session, try doing iniatories. The feeling that you get from serving in the temple is the most amazing feeling, and it will help you feel like you're still a missionary. Don't forget- doing ordinances for the dead is part of missionary work. Even if you can't be a formal missionary, you can still bring others to Christ through temple work. 
  • Do stuff that makes you happy... Bubble bath? Check. Reading a book in a hammock in your yard? Go crazy. Eating cadbury eggs that have been sitting in your kitchen for two months? Do it. Take a nap, paint your nails, go see a basketball game. Just do something that will help lift your spirits and keep you optimistic about the future. 
  • Let people help you and support you... It's going to be soooo awkward and uncomfortable being home early because of EXPECTATIONS that people have, that you have, that your parents have... but so many people want to help you and love you. Let them. You don't have to answer question after question (trust me, you'll get plenty of "How are you?" and "Any news?") but accept a hug or two or a comforting word now and again. Remember, this gospel is one of love and support. It's in our nature to want to help- so let people help you as much as they can. They love you too- don't forget that. 
  • Let go of expectations and realize no one is judging you or thinks less of you for coming home early because of your health. Most people are interested in helping you and supporting you- and the rest of them (the judgemental ones), well- no one really cares what they have to say! The only opinion that matter is God's! 
  • Make friends... Do stuff with your friends. Make new friends! Maybe you want to attend the singles' ward or go to an institute class once or twice a week. Be as social as you feel comfortable. I promise you it will help. As you reach out to friends you knew before the mission, or during the mission, or whoever, it will be a lot easier transition home. 
  • Find ways to serve...  Do family history! Go to the temple! Volunteer at a school! Offer to babysit your nieces and nephews! Just do something to serve. It keeps you busy and in a more Christlike attitude. 
  • Keep up the language... If you served in a foreign mission or a foreign language, keep practicing. Even if you only made it through the MTC. I read somewhere that by consistently praying and reading your scriptures in your language, you can continue to keep up the language even after you've returned home. Find someone to practice with! Find an online program such as Duolingo. Find flashcards or write letters in your language. Don't let it go! 
  • Talk to your bishop... Meeting with your Bishop or Stake President can help so much. They will talk to you, they will give you resources for overcoming the challenges you may face. They can help you! That's one of their jobs, to be a counselor of sorts. They've been given special authority and a special blessing to be able to counsel people in situations like this. Talk to them! Even if they just listen to you cry for half an hour (like me...), you'll feel so much better after you do. 
  • Don't be afraid to ask for priesthood blessings... I grew up my whole life not really having access to Priesthood blessings, and so honestly, I jump on the chance whenever somebody offers to give me a blessing. But don't be like me! Don't wait for somebody to offer. The priesthood was given to man to bless the lives of others. If you're feeling really sick, or super sad or depressed, or for whatever reason you may need a blessing- ASK FOR ONE! Your father, brothers, friends, home teachers, Bishop, or whoever will be more than happy to help you. 
  • Remember that you don't owe anyone anything... The number one thing that my Stake President kept saying in my interview when I was released is that I don't owe anyone anything. I don't owe everyone an explanation as to why I'm home, I don't owe them excuses or my plans for the future. There's a lot of pressure to know exactly what you want to do the second you get home, but the truth is that you're still figuring a lot of it out. Just remember that you don't have to tell anyone, anything, but also know that it's your decision. Don't let anybody choose what you want to do for you. The most important thing is doing what is right for you
  • Take it at your own pace... like don't worry about unpacking your stuff if you don't feel like you can just yet. It's sentimental and it sucks and I totally get that and I didn't unpack for two solid months the first time I came home and I didn't even care. Some can bounce right back and be fine, and others may have a more emotional route, and it doesn't matter which you are, just as long as you're doing everything on your own time. 
  • Be open and honest with your family from the beginning about how you feel and where you're at and what you can do/can't do. Be patient with them and it will help them be patient with you. Chances are, they haven't had a missionary come home before so they don't what to expect exactly. It's such an emotional time for everyone (especially you) that the more open you are, the less tension there will be and the easier it will be to transition back into the non-mission world while you recover and figure out what you're doing with your life.
  • Don't worry about figuring out what you're doing with your life the second you get home. You may know that you want to go back out, or you may be unsure. It's OK if you don't know yet. Don't sweat it. As long as you're keeping your covenants, Heavenly Father will not let you go down the wrong path!

"Your success as a missionary is measured primarily by your commitment to find, teach, baptize, and confirm people and to help them become faithful members of the Church who enjoy the presence of the Holy Ghost." (PMG, Chapter 1)

"The attitude you have toward your mission experience is a reflection of your love toward your Heavenly Father and His Son and your respect for the priesthood." (PMG, Chapter 8)  

 "Verily, verily, I say unto you, that when I give a commandment to any of the sons of men to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work, behold, it behooveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept of their offerings." (Doctrine and Covenants 124:49) (shoutout to President Hall for sharing this with me!)

"But behold, I, Jacob, would speak unto you that are pure in heart. Look unto God with firmness of mind, and prayunto him with exceeding faith, and he will console you in your afflictions, and he will plead your cause, and send down justice upon those who seek your destruction. O all ye that are pure in heart, lift up your heads and receive the pleasing word of God, and feast upon his love; for ye may, if your minds are firm, forever." (Jacob 3:1-2)

Other helpful links:

Home Again

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Well, if you haven't read on Facebook or seen elsewhere... I'm home again from the mission. Sadly, I will not be able to go back out again. During the time I spent on the mission, my back and neck problems came back and I spent some time in the emergency room. Prayerfully, my mission president and I decided I would return home. Right now, I'm in physical therapy for my back and neck and undergoing a series of tests to help diagnose the internal problems I developed in California.  

But boy! Am I grateful for the time I spent in California. I love my missions! Those three months are the greatest parts of my life thus far. It is AMAZING to see how different I feel between August and now.  I wouldn't give up those three months for anything. My heart forever belongs to California, and Mexico. To la familia Ganuza, to Marili and Yousely and Rosi. To the Church, forever and always. 

Pues, quiero compartir mi testimonio en Español, porque siempre my corazón es un parte de este. Yo sé que esta Iglesia es verdadera! Y también El Libro de Mormón es la palabra de Dios y juntos con la Biblia, testifican de Jesucristo  y el amor de Dios. Estoy agradecido por el tiempo yo tuve a enseñar las personas en Mexico y California también, y especialmente la oportunidad yo tuve a enseñar sobre historia familiar y ayudarles encontrar sus familias y antepasados. Yo sé que la obra de historia familiar y la obra misional son la misma obra. Y en todo eso, yo sé que Dios les ama y especialmente Dios me ama. Estoy agradecido por la oportunidad yo tuve a ser una misionara. Lo extraño, pero yo sé que mi vida... solo es comienzo, ahora, aqui. Les amo, mi amigos. La Iglesia es verdadera. Nunca lo olvides. Les bendecirá. 

Mar 1 "Photos from my last week"

Sunday, March 1, 2015