Sunday, March 22, 2015

Round 1

I think that at some point we all find ourselves looking back on our lives and marveling at how quickly and abruptly they can change.  What seems like the smallest of choices, or the most minuscule of details can shape and alter so many things in our life that the immensity of each of our lives is almost incomprehensible.  Every single one of us has a different experience and impression of the same day all at the same time.  And those experiences and impressions in turn shape who we are: each our own complex web of thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

One experience for me was my time spent as a Full-Time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  In April of 2014 I was called to serve in the Peru Trujillo mission, set to report to the MTC in Lima, Peru on August 26.  I was a senior in high school, and really the decision for me to serve a mission right after graduation came as a shock to most people around me, including myself.

Previous to this time, I had always expressed that it was my plan to wait to serve a mission until after I had completed a year of college.  Realistically, however, I figured that I probably would just end up not serving a mission. I would be too busy doing other things that I wouldn't have time for a mission. I didn't really have a desire to serve.  I had nothing against missions, and I thought it was great that so many people were so willing to go on them, but I just never seriously had it in the play book.  I figured that I would just be one of those good people that never went on a mission.  And I always had a reason to push it off. I used college deferral, age, college soccer, and anything I could find to try and justify my waiting to submit my mission papers.  I figured if I could put it off long enough that everyone would just forget that I was even supposed to have gone on a mission.

I should have known that when Heavenly Father wants you to do something he's going to make it happen.  Every excuse that I made to avoid missionary service seemed to wash away as the words left my mouth.  The age change made me eligible to go right after high school. I was not accepted into schools back east that I had applied to.  College soccer did not seem to be in the cards for me.  Finally one day I just fell to my knees and asked my Heavenly Father why nothing was working out like I wanted and what I was supposed to do, and suddenly it hit me that in every plan I made, I was always putting The Lord second and myself first.  I needed to put the Lord first.

Once I realized this, I immediately started preparing my mission papers to send in, and everything fell rapidly into place.  Within a month of my decision, I had my call to Peru.  Time flew by, and soon I found myself leaving my friends, family, and country behind as I boarded a plane in Salt Lake City for Atlanta, where I would then travel directly to the MTC in Lima Peru.

A friend had told me that the fact that I was actually leaving to some foreign place for two years wouldn't hit me until I laid down in the MTC that night.  He was partially correct, except I was lucky enough to have almost 11 hours of flying time to think about it.  So for me, it hit me right as we were passing over Central America, about halfway through the flight.  I started to get really nervous.  I wondered why I was leaving, if I would be able to accomplish anything, and if it was really what I was supposed to be doing.  I had a huge pit in my stomach. I was really nervous, as is to be expected. I was off to a new country, doing new things, on my own for the first time. I had left everything behind for two years. Who wouldn't be a little bit scared? When we arrived in Lima, however, everything happened so fast that my fear didn't really have a chance to exist anymore, and things seemed to be going smoothly. I slept that night, met my companion and things seemed to be going great.

The next day started off well, but as the day went on, I began to become very anxious about everything. I was scared about even the tiniest little things. Which was weird because I liked everything about the MTC. The food was different, but good. I loved my companion. Everyone was nice, and the language was coming along really easily. But I couldn't shake that nervous feeling. And as the day progressed, it began to turn from anxious to depressed. I settled into a gloom that I couldn't shake no matter how hard I try. Once again, these thoughts were weird because I liked everything at the MTC. I knew that the thoughts I were having didn't make any sense, but I couldn't get rid of them.

That night, we had interviews with the branch presidency at the MTC. I basically just told him everything I had been feeling, and asked him for help. He referred me to the area psychologist, Elder Hoem, who I began to meet with to try and deal with my problem. At first, he thought I may just be adjusting to my new lifestyle and I would be fine after a couple of days. But after two or three days I began to get worse. I began to show physical symptoms of my anxiety and depression that had become constant thoughts in my head. I had headaches, stomach pains, little to no appetite, difficulty sleeping, exhaustion, and I lost a lot of weight.

We discussed some different options to try to help me. The biggest one was numerous methods to try and change my perception of things to see them in a more positive light. This was hard, however, because for the most part I liked the MTC, and I didn't understand why I was having the thoughts and the feelings that I was. As time grew on, I began to grow worse and worse. Over the two week period, I went from slightly nervous, to anxious, to depressed, and it eventually even led to me having thoughts of hurting myself.  I never wanted to actually hurt myself, but I occasionally would have the thought that maybe it would be better if I did, or if I simply did not exist.  When I shared all of my thoughts and feelings with my psychologist, we came to the conclusion that the best thing for my health would be for me to return home, and I boarded the plane from Lima the next night.

My companion, Elder Stephens, and I.  Elder Stephens was one of the biggest blessings while I was in Peru.  We connected instantly, and I still feel like I have known him my whole life.  I don't think I would be where I am today if I had been paired with someone else.
Since then, I have learned a lot about myself.  I have been able to learn to control my thoughts and emotions better, and have become a lot more mature.  More importantly, I have developed a much stronger relationship with my Father in Heaven.  My whole experience in Peru taught me to be humble, and that I'm not going to be able to do anything and everything on my own.  I have learned, however, that I need to turn to the Lord, and he will give me the strength to accomplish anything he requires of me.  He says in Matthew 11: 28-30:
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
When Jesus Christ suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, he did not just take upon him all of our sins.  Alma taught in Alma 7 that he took upon him "the pains and sicknesses of his people". Every trial we go through in this life, he experienced personally.  He is willing to take every burden from us.  All we have to do is come unto him and he will give us rest. I testify that this is true.  I have learned it through my own experience, and this knowledge has given me the courage and faith to return to Peru to serve the remainder of my mission on May 5, 2015.

This decision has come as a surprise to a lot of people.  Often they wonder what will happen if I am met with anxiety again when I return to Peru.  Many worry that I won't be able to handle a mission, and will end up returning home early again.  And it is hard for me to answer their questions a lot of times, mainly because I don't know the answers to a lot of them.  I don't know why I was supposed to come home the first time.  I don't know if I will have the same symptoms when I return as I did previously.  I don't even really know why I am supposed to be in Peru.  But I do know that Heavenly Father has a hand in each of our lives, and he has definitely had a hand in mine.  I know that I experienced what I did in Peru for a reason.  I know that I was supposed to come home at the time that I did.  And I know that I am now supposed to return to serve the people of Peru.  Most importantly, I know that it is not going to be easy for me there.  But I know that there is nothing I cannot accomplish as long as I have the Lord on my side.  I have absolutely no doubt that he will provide a way for me to do everything he has in store for me.  We are taught in Ether 12:27 that if we humble ourselves before Christ and have faith, he will make our weaknesses become strong.  I would not be returning to Peru if I had not received a spiritual confirmation of all these things.

Elder Stephens and I with some of the Hermanas from our District in front of the Temple in Lima.  The temple has been one of the greatest blessings for me as I have developed a relationship with my Heavenly Father.

My hope is that through sharing the experiences that have led me to this point, as well as through my family posting experiences that I share with them while I am in Peru, this blog will help some people out.  Whether it be someone who is experiencing trials, a young man or woman contemplating serving a mission, or just somebody looking to be uplifted spiritually, I hope that the words I post on here help bring the spirit into your life.

I also want to publically thank all my family and friends for the tremendous support they have given me throughout this entire experience.  I could never be where I am without them.

God lives.  He knows each and every one of us.  And he loves us more than we will ever be able to comprehend.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is truly the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  I testify of this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.