February 14th, 2007 started out like any other day, until I rolled out of bed. In a few hours I would be going to the MTC. I would be immersed in the gospel, day and night, so I could better help teach it to the people of Vanuatu. I spent my morning like every other morning; showering, shaving, brushing my teeth, getting dressed, prayers, etc. The house was chaotic as ever, with 10 kids, and 6 adults getting ready at the same time. My Dad loaded the car with my bags and we began the drive to the MTC. At the MTC, we were viewing a movie explaining what the missionary was to do and how it would impact him/her. My family took up an entire row of chairs, 17 people, in the conference room. After the video presentation, the MTC President told us to separate; “Missionaries this way, families this way!” I stood up. I began at the front of the line, hugging each person individually, capturing an image to hold onto forever, permanently seared into my memory. I cherished each embrace, each tear and each expression of “I love you.” I counted each step leading me closer to the unknown world on the other side of “my” door, each step further from the comfort of my family. I took one last look from the doorway and saw my family, 3 generations of love, slightly blurred due to my own tears, huddled in a group with tear stained smiles and their hands waving the “I love you” expression in sign language. That is a snapshot to remember. (Click!) As I turned the corner I had the most amazing experience. I stopped crying. It wasn’t me. I didn’t do it. It just…happened! I was instantly overcome with this thought, this feeling, this impression, that I couldn’t shake. I was doing the right thing and I wouldn’t screw it up. I was in the place I was supposed to be, at the right time, doing what I should. One of the best feelings I can recollect in my 21 years of life.
I spent 4 weeks in the MTC before I got “the” letter. I was finally able to leave, after being delayed for a week. I was to be on the plane heading to Nadi, Fiji in 2 days! Talk about elation! I was about to truly begin that which I was called to do; preach the gospel! After being in Suva, Fiji for 2 days I got on a plane and headed to Vanuatu, the country of islands I was to spend the entirety of my mission on. Around noon, I got off the 8 seater plane and planted my feet on ni-Van soil. I took it all in: the trees, the smell of the ocean, the faces on all the people, and the sheer beauty of this desolate island. I have never seen anything so beautiful and so majestic. I have never heard such beautiful music in all my life. I have never met such amazing and strong people. I went straight to my flat in Fanafo to meet my first “real” companion. Upon meeting Elder Kiatonga, I made a promise in my heart, a promise to myself, to God, and to these people, to not leave this magnificent country until I had accomplished that which the Lord would have me do. 5 days later, I was back on that tiny plane headed to LAX. How soon your plans can change and your whole world be turned upside down.
I was “diagnosed” with depression/anxiety disorder shortly after arriving home. “It’s not your fault,” I was told, “you’re just missing some…connections upstairs.” I saw a therapist for the next nine months, and hated every moment of it. I was angry with myself, with God, with my mission president, with my parents, with my therapist. I was bitter with the mission department at church headquarters. I hated myself for what happened. I hated God for allowing this to happen. I did everything by the “handbook”, the “Code of Mormons”, if you will. I did everything right. I got the Aaronic Priesthood at 12 and advanced to the Melchizedek Priesthood at 18. I got my patriarchal blessing (a road map for your life). I submitted my mission papers at exactly 3 months before my 19th birthday and at 19 years, 1 month and 29 days I embarked on a mission for the Lord and the people of Vanuatu. Why then, was I here, 1 month and 7 days later, in Dumas, Texas? I had the distinct impression I could conquer this myself. I, alone, would be able to overcome these feelings. I would be the one to get myself back on track. I would climb the mountain of fear, depression and anger and place the flag of victory at the summit of defeat! I now know that I do nothing on my own. I do not climb this mountain or any other mountain alone…ever.
Nearly 2 years later, I am still fighting the affects of my mission experience. I still struggle with anger, depression, guilt, bitterness, sadness, elation, confusion and joy beyond anything that is joyous! But I am content. I feel no remorse. I feel no regret. I feel no need to change what has happened. I feel the need to thank my “guide” for the help I have received. I feel the need to share my story with others. I feel the need to rejoice in the opportunities and experiences I have been granted. Life is funny. It will throw you curve ball after curve ball. One day, you will be slapped in the face so hard, it turns you around 180 degrees. You will think to yourself, “How can I recover from this? Where do I go from here?” The answer is simple: drop to your knees immediately. Then move forward, whichever direction that may be. North, south, up, down, left, right, sideways or any other ways you can think of. Just move!
I believe in the reality of a guiding hand. I believe in the inability of humans to waltz through life, without the direction and assistance of a supreme being. I believe in God and His miraculously unconditional love.
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