Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Full Circle

When I was 18 I found myself in a deep depression over a seemingly hopeless future. I was headed for nowhereville while everyone around me was moving upward and onward.

I had moved out with friends to go to college. I was so lonely even though I was surrounded by people. I was overwhelmed with trying to financially support myself and take full time college credits. Everything felt so bleak. Thennn on top of that all that fun .. the worst happened. Thee worst. I was positive I would never be able get over it. Those were dark days. 

Right away when I moved out I quit going to church and spent my Sundays sleeping the day away. I never went to church, and distanced myself from my roommates and people in general.   Loud, happy, bubbly, friendly people. Leave me alone. 

In the midst of those hard and lonely times, one evening I sat alone in my dark, quiet apartment quite literally staring at a wall. I felt a voice say to me that I was to serve a mission for my church. 

Umm, what? 

I don't even go to church. Totally inactive. Not less active. No activity there. Yep.

It would be 2 plus years before I was even eligible to serve. I was a hot mess and not at all worthy to serve a mission in any shape or way or form or or or or. I shelved the idea as I had no idea how I would even go about making that happen. 

Eventually events that happened in the year I was away prompted me to move back home. After moving home I began to attend my family's ward again. Rules, you know:) 
Truly the Lord picked me up and set me back down exactly where I needed to be and with the people I needed guidance and care from to make a mission/transformation come to fruition. 

I was headed down a path that lead to nowhere. Out there wandering in a midst of darkness. That was me. It was as if the Lord tangibly put His hands on my shoulders, turned me around, and sent me down an entirely different path. He sent angels to save me. Sixteen years later I still marvel at this. He literally came after me. That whole story about 1 of the 99? It's totally true.

I worked hard in the next 2 years to become mission worthy. I attended church regularly, I prayed, I read and studied the scriptures everyday. I followed all the counsel my Bishop gave me. He believed in me and I in turn began to believe in myself. Soon I was entrusted with a calling teaching sweet girls that loved me and looked up to me. I longed to be a good example to them and strived to do so. I was handed a temple recommend when I felt totally undeserving of one, I used it frequently to do baptisms in the temple.

My whole entire life changed. 

I was completely transformed spiritually, mentally and physically. I felt alive and happy for the first time in 8 years. So happy.

Finally on the exact day I became eligible to turn my mission papers in, I did so.
I was called to serve a welfare/proselyting mission in Costa Rica. I left one week after my 21st birthday. 

There was so much happiness when my call came. I was the first sister missionary to have served in my ward. My send off was happy and the love and support was amazing. 
I left for the MTC somewhat dreading the thought of living there for months learning Spanish, welfare, and how to proselyte. I just wanted to get out into the field where the good stuff happens! I thought the MTC would be the hardest part of my mission. 

Oh boy. 
Nope.

The MTC was just perfect. Structured, and full of spiritual experiences. I was there for 10 weeks and when it came time to leave all I wanted to do was stay. Forever. Safe and tucked away in an environment where I was thriving!

But now came the fun part! The actual mission itself! Right??? The part that I literally had waited and worked so so hard to finally arrive at!  No. Just no.

Now, please don't take this the wrong way. There were sooooo many wonderful, intimate and joyous experiences on my mission. That's not what I'm going to write about though. Stories for another day. I have made peace with those sentiments so I hope whomever is reading isn't offended by them. 
( and if you are, bye now )

I arrived to Costa Rica in the evening after a very long day of travel. It was dark. I stepped out of the terminal and sucked in deeply, my lungs screamed for oxygen and all they were met with was humid humid air. Just like you would imagine air would be like in a RAIN forest. I survived what was the most terrifying ride of my life en route to the mission home where I slept on the floor after my long day. The next day was a day full of errands and paperwork. I sat in  meetings all day and chewed all my nails off till they were raw and painful. To say I was anxious would be a gross understatement. All I wanted to do was get on plane and head straight for home. Post haste. I wondered what in the heck I was doing there in all honesty. (Totally had to edit that right there.) 

The next day was transfers meeting where I was paired with my trainer. She had 6 weeks left in the mission and that made me incredibly home sick. Knowing she was leaving and I was staying for a long time, a very long time, made me want to disappear. 

Sixteen months may have well been an entire eternity.

I watched her hail the junkiest "taxi" you've ever seen and we made our way back to my first area. We pulled up to a white cinder block home where we lived on the top level. Our kitchen was in open air with only bars where a nice window should have been. Every last thing in this country was behind bars. There was no hot water.
Go to your shower and turn it all the way to cold and get in. Yep. 
It would take hours to warm back up after showering. Then there were the bugs. Cockroaches slept with me. In my bed. We had hardly any food and I was so hungry. 

My companion became sick within a few days of my arrival so an hermana came from another area to work with me. I was physically sick from all the anxiety. I wish that all the change would have come more naturally to me, but it did not. Smile on my face .. dying inside.

One week after my arrival, and after a long day working, anddd after walking straight into an open tail gate that left an indentation on my forehead, my mission president's wife called to let me know that my dear sweet Grandma had unexpectedly and suddenly passed away from a stroke. So heartbreaking. I wanted to go home more badly than I had ever wanted anything before. 

This was not what I imagined my mission would be like -at all. 

I knew in my heart going home would not be an option. The Lord had called me to serve in Costa Rica, I could not deny there was no where else He wanted me to be. 
That thought didn't bring any comfort, it terrified me. 

Why oh why oh why ???? 

Either I was absolutely supposed to be in Costa Rica serving a mission, or there simply wasn't a God at all. He had brought me so far to be there. I'm not talking about miles. I was a completely different person. The work that had been done to get me to this point in my life was a miracle in and of itselfie. I had to believe that since the Lord truly wanted me on this mission He would help me accomplish what felt utterly impossible. 

Can I just take a moment to say that is soo much easier said than done. Eye roll. 

In all seriousness though... I'm just getting started here. 

Within a few days of my grandma dying I was covered in rash and hives from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I was very allergic to something. There were many medications and doctor visits to try and find the cause but nothing helped. I'm pretty sure I was just allergic to Costa Rica. The whole country and everything within. This went on for months. Four months to be exact. I would sit through discussions trying desperately to understand what was being said, feel the spirit and participate whilst my body felt like it was on fire! Like, you could have set me on fire and I wouldn't have known the difference. My body was covered in scars where hives would bleed and scab and new ones would begin. I was finally transferred from the area and into better living arrangements in hopes that the allergies would be tempered and I would be well. 

Other than a few more hive flare ups I did better. Thank gooodness. 
My problems were far from solved though.
It became very clear to me that this mission was going to be very difficult. Period. I for months had been waiting to fall in love with my mission and be one of those missionaries that never wanted to go home and extended out indefinitely. You know the kind, right!? I wanted to be that kind of missionary so badly it hurt... But that was not me. It was never me. It devastated me on my mission and for years afterwards. 

Totally broke my heart. 

I felt like I had failed in so many ways because I never loved it. I never wanted to be there. It just never happened. I was only there because the Lord asked me to be. I realize now that those were just unreasonable expectations and I wish I could have made peace with it while I was serving. Unfortunately that peace didn't come until years later.

I did have so so many wonderful experiences on my mission. I loved the people. I loved to serve. I was obedient. I went out and worked every single day except for a couple when I was legitimately sick. I got up on time and followed all the rules. I prayed with all my might that the Lord would see me through each and every day. I fasted every single Sunday, desperate for heavens strength. I prayed all day everyday. Walking and praying and walking and praying. I prayed I would love it. I prayed for deliverance. I prayed I could completely forget myself, and lose myself in the work. I prayed I would find the people I needed to teach and serve. I prayed I could and would open my mouth. I prayed for my investigators, I prayed that I would accomplish what I was sent to Costa Rica to accomplish. A million of those prayers were answered.

I prayed and prayed I would love the work. That I could and would quit counting down the days until it would be over. That particular prayer went unanswered. It just did. The struggle to be happy and content with myself on my mission never came. 

Every single day I would get up. Pray. Study. Take a cold shower and eat oatmeal day after day. I would head out to work right on time and try to have courage and speak to people, men mostly, and share the gospel and make appointments. I would return for a simple lunch of rice and beans, macaroni, bean sandwiches, or rice or beans or beans and rice, and if time permitted a 10 minute nap. I would again pray for strength as I headed out into the street on foot from 1-9 pm everyday. There were no dinners with members or dinner at all, unless you consider a piece or fruit or a bun from a panaderia dinner. I was always hungry. I was always thirsty. I would walk miles and miles everyday in the one pair of shoes I owned. Everything I owned was worth nothing and fit into 2 suitcases. 

Simplicity at its absolute best. 

Long gone was the beautiful Express and Eddie Bauer wardrobe.. I owned 5 jumper dresses and that was it. 

The afternoons were so so hot and humid and then it would rain. Every day. Everywhere I walked, which was everywhere, I carried an enormous umbrella and still I would be drenched from the waist down. The humidity made the evenings chilly and I longed to come home and take a warm shower. DID I MENTION THERE ARE NO HOT SHOWERS IN COSTA RICA? I would pray bedside and fall into my bed only to get up and do it all again the next day.  

Often I didn't even feel human. It was the loneliest experience of my life. Isolated in a country thousands of miles away from anyone that knew me and loved me. Letters had a 6 week turnaround time and I was so disconnected from life as I had known it.

The days did become easier as I forgot the finer things in life. Eventually the life I'd left behind seemed like nothing but a dream. 

Day in and day out month after month I pressed on. At the time it seemed as though it would never ever end. 

Until one day it did.

I had done what seemed like the impossible. I endured and finished.

Me. 

The Lord had qualified me for the work and seen me through. It was a miracle. It may not seem like it to you. But, I assure you it was, and I knew it.  
My faith was stronger than ever. I knew I had accomplished that which I was sent to do. 
All these years later that means the world to me. 
I know that there are thousands and thousands of return missionaries that could come home and tell the same story, so maybe it's not all that impressive. 

Oh but it is!

I keep both of my missionary badges displayed in my home where I see them multiple times a day to remind me that I can do hard hard things. To remind me that I can and will endure day in and day out. And most of all that the Lord will see me through.

However, lately the struggle to remember that has been real!

I have had my mission on my mind a lot lately. I just finally realized the mission wasn't for me, but me for the mission. (latebloomer) The Lord didn't call me on a mission so I could have a euphoric experience in Costa Rica, or because He thought I would be so happy down there toiling away day after day. Of course He didn't want me to be miserable, but He certainly wasn't upset that I didn't have the besst time ever. That is not a fail in His book. These realizations have just come! 13 years later! Life and the things I spend my time doing aren't always about what brings me happiness.

It's about living a life that isn't for myself. Not then and not now.

I have no regrets when it comes to my mission other than I was too hard on myself. That is the only thing I would change and that makes me feel content.

Serving a mission was the hardest thing I had ever done.

For years after I got home I would have dreams that I was back in Costa Rica. Or dreams that I was called to serve a mission again and would have to leave my husband and children behind. I can tell you honestly that these were never happy dreams. They were dreams that brought about feelings of anxiety and worry over even the thought of having to do it all over again. I have been home from my mission for many years now and it wasn't until just a short time ago that I quit having these dreams.

It wasn't until now that all the experiences and lessons I learned on my mission have all come rushing back. After 13 years I have finally met my match in terms of life experiences that can hold a match to what serving a mission in Costa Rica was like for me. 

I have come full circle. Full circle. It's painfully and delightfully amazing how the Lord orchestrated all of that. My life. As He was the only one who could or would have known what the coming years would bring. He gave me the exact experiences I would need during that grueling 18 months so I could gain the knowledge I would need to move on an even more important work. 

Marriage and motherhood.

To be continued 

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