Feature Friday: Alec

Alec and I went to Davis High together and when I came home from my mission he reached out to me and shared some of his experiences, for which I will be forever grateful. He is part of the reason why I believe this whole sharing thing helps others. Here is a blog post he wrote in March 2014.

Are traditional full-time missions for everyone?
Let me first state that I hope that what I say doesn’t come across as a slam against the Church or anything. I want everyone to know that I have a firm testimony in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that nothing would ever change that. Not too long ago, I had a really great conversation with one of my old friends from high school. We were discussing our missions and the effect they had on each of our lives. We also discussed how it felt coming home early from our missions. It was a wonderful conversation, and since then I’ve reflected on it often and I’ve been impressed to share some of my experiences. This blog will hopefully help me reach my goal of impacting someone’s life, especially if that someone is going through a difficult situation concerning their mission. So here we go…
Some people, not many, are aware of the fact that I returned home early from my 2-year mission to the Santiago West, Chile Mission. Fewer people are aware of the fact that I didn’t even make it out of the MTC (Missionary Training Center) in Provo. Before I left for the MTC, I remember feeling absolutely confident that no matter what life threw at me I was going to be ready for these next 2 years serving a full-time mission. Boy, was I wrong.
Look at that. Look at how confident I am! I was pumped! Nothin’ was gonna pull me down. Those two fine Elders right there basically yanked me out of my parent’s car and scurried me away from my entire family with hardly a goodbye, but it didn’t matter. I was ready. Or so I thought. Not even 2 hours after this picture was taken, I was feeling absolutely miserable. I’ll never forget the feeling of dread I felt while I sat through my first class with my brand new district. My teacher walked in and immediately started speaking Spanish. Only Spanish. For an hour and a half. I had no experience with this! No one did! Didn’t this teacher get that?! Of course, he did. I slowly came to realize that teaching this way was quite effective. But that realization only came to me right before I left.
Everyone always says that the first few days in the MTC are the hardest you’ll face. Everyone always says that if you make it past Sunday, you’re good to go. Once you’ve made it past Sunday, you’ve made it past the “initiation” process and are now an official missionary in the MTC. I held on to that for dear life as I struggled through the next few days. I remember thinking, “Why the heck do I feel so miserable every second of each day?!” or “Everyone lied to me, this doesn’t get easier. This can’t get easier.” This quote comes directly from my journal, “I don’t understand. It’s probably me doing something wrong. I’ve always heard that you can feel the Spirit so strongly here, that you can almost cut it with scissors because it’s so thick. I don’t feel it.” I wrote that on my fifth day. It took me 5 days to realize that I wasn’t feeling the Spirit, and I had no idea why. I was worthy to serve a mission, so why couldn’t I feel the Spirit? Why did I feel so sick? Why did I feel such a massive amount of dread every single time I tried to do anything? And I mean ANYTHING. I couldn’t walk to class without freaking out. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I was miserable every single second of every single day. The scariest thing that I kept thinking about was that this wasn’t getting easier. I watched everyone around me blossom with their newly found missionary mantle. Why couldn’t I be like that? Why was I having SUCH a hard time? These questions just kept coming into my head. I tried distracting myself with my studies and to force myself to completely lose myself in my missionary work. Those kinds of distractions didn’t work. The only thing that made me feel better was writing out my feelings or talking to my best friend who blessedly was in the MTC with me at the same time.
So what was it? Why did I feel that way? Before my mission, I had NEVER felt anything like what I was feeling. I tried convincing myself over and over again that there was nothing wrong, that I was freaking out for no reason. I tried telling myself that everyone was facing what I was facing, but they just weren’t making a huge deal out of it like I was. But as time progressed in the MTC, I slowly realized that that wasn’t true…
Something was wrong, and I had no idea how to fix it. Because I had never experienced anything like that before, I didn’t know what I could do about it. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my family. Sure, people knew I was struggling, but what brand new missionary doesn’t struggle? No, this was different. I knew it was different, but I had no idea how to go about fixing it.
Well, weeks went by. I hardly ate, and I hardly slept. My only solace was going to the Provo Temple once a week and doing temple work. I remember thinking all the time how Wednesday (temple day) was only 5 days away! and that I had only 5 days to go before I could feel 3 hours of comfort! Thoughts like that were all that kept me going. I remember discussing this with my companion and my other 2 roommates often. I was sick and I didn’t know what to do about it. Those 3 guys helped me out more than they will ever know. I still think of them often and surprisingly enough, I miss those nights where I would struggle so much and just talk with them. They distracted me from my “doom and gloom” feelings and honestly, they saved me. This picture is one I’ll treasure forever:
Alright, now I’m going to jump ahead a few weeks. I was sitting in class trying as hard as I could to not puke (a never-ending battle for me throughout my entire experience in the MTC) when I had the strongest urge to go speak to my Branch President and tell him EVERYTHING that I was feeling. So, immediately after I got outta the class, I met with him. The couple of hours that I sat in there with him were the first moments of comfort that I had felt as a missionary outside of the temple. I knew then that I was feeling the Spirit and that I was doing what Heavenly Father wanted me to do. Finally. My Branch President (who happened to be a doctor. Coincidence?) was absolutely stunned after what I had told him. We cried together and he confirmed my suspicions that I was absolutely correct. I was NOT supposed to be feeling this way. He immediately contacted a therapist in the MTC and I started meeting with him for a couple of hours on a daily basis. My poor companion must have gone through some crazy trials dealing with patience. He dutifully tagged along and offered support where he could. I hope he knows how thankful I am for that, I don’t think I ever told him. Well, the therapist helped a little bit, but not much. He referred me to someone else that had more experience. Still, no one knew what was wrong with me. Not my Branch President, not my companions, not me, and not my therapist. It was just weird. (I should also add right here that no one at home was aware of my issues. I still hadn’t told anyone. Just that I was having a hard time. No one knew the severity.)
Just over 5 weeks into the MTC, I met with my new therapist. He, finally, knew what was wrong. I had/have what’s called an “anxiety disorder”. In that, my brain freaks itself out over just about anything it decides and then it pumps crazy amounts of adrenaline through me. That’s just a very brief explanation. He also had the inspired thought to put me on a scale and weigh me. I weighed roughly 150 lbs going into the MTC, and 5 weeks in I weighed at 132 lbs. That’s when we knew that something had to change. He told me that this was so severe that he recommended me going home. But, of course, it was my choice and that if I decided to stay he could prescribe me some medicine that he THOUGHT might help. I told him I’d think about it and then I left. That night, I of course got zero sleep. Instead of lying there feeling miserable, I got down on my knees and asked the Lord if going home was the right option. To my complete and utter surprise, it was. That morning, while doing laundry I sent my mom an email explaining what had been going on. I told her the truth about everything that I had been hiding from her. I also told her she’d be receiving a phone call that day and to probably expect me to come home within a day or two. Well, I’ll spare you all the details. I called home with one of my leaders in the MTC. I talked with my Bishop, Stake President, and my parents. It was absolutely the hardest thing I’ve ever done to tell them that I was coming home. I wept, they cried etc etc. My greatest fear was that everyone would be disappointed in me. I KNEW I had to come home. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know how to explain to anyone what I had gone through, what I was going through, and what I felt I needed to do. I’ve never felt so confused or vulnerable in my life. But I knew that the Lord was on my side. To make this part of my long story short, I said my goodbye’s to my dear friends and then my parents came and got me and I went home.
Confusion. Doubt. Pain. Regret. Those were the feelings that I felt over the next few weeks. I had failed. No one understood me. No one COULD understand me. I didn’t even understand. Why had this happened to me? Why had the Lord wanted me to come home? All I wanted was to be a dutiful son and serve my Father. When I was driving home with my parents from the MTC, I realized that even after this life-changing ordeal that I had just gone through, I still wanted to serve Him. I felt like a complete, absolute failure. But I still wanted to serve. The thing that surprised me more than anything was that my testimony of the Gospel had VASTLY increased. Why was that? I met with my Bishop and my Stake President that night and they released me. We talked about my plans and I told them that I still wanted to be a missionary. I think that might have surprised them. I immediately thought of the temple and the comfort it had given me. Before I knew what was happening, I asked them if they could help me get a missionary position at the temple. Right when I asked that, I was overcome with the Spirit. I knew what I had to do.
Not too long after, I was a service missionary working in the Bountiful Temple and I was so, so happy. It took a long time for me to adjust, to realize that I hadn’t failed. One thing that helped me and my mom more than anything was an experience that I will never forget. One that has stayed with me over the years and that I will always reflect back on:
I was standing in a huge checkout line at Costco with my mom feeling absolutely terrible about myself. I was still battling thoughts of having “failed” my Father. I was embarrassed, I was upset, and I hated myself for being “weak”. Thoughts of “not being good enough” or “I’ve let everyone down” kept popping up in my head. Well, as I was standing there, I felt a soft tapping on my shoulder. I turned around and was surprised to be facing an elderly gentleman. I will never forget his eyes. He had the kindest, most sincere eyes that I have ever seen in my entire life. He then asked me, “Are you okay?” At that moment I knew that this man was an answer to my prayers. I didn’t know what it was, but I felt so GOOD about this man. I completely opened up and told him everything. Then I cried. He grabbed me by the arm, looked right in my eyes and said, “Don’t EVER think that you failed Father. Don’t EVER think that coming home from your mission was a mistake. It’s not. Heavenly Father knew you would come home. It was His plan for you. He has something in mind for you, and you couldn’t accomplish it on your previous mission. You have already completed the mission that you were called to serve. Now it’s time for your next mission.” (I copied that almost word for word from my journal) He said a few things more, but after we checked out and were walking away, I turned around and asked him his name. “Elder Fisher” he replied. He’s a member of the Seventy. I know that he was placed in my path for a reason. Ever since that moment, I have never had any doubt or regret about coming home from my first mission.
Now, about my temple mission. It wasn’t long after I came home from the MTC that I started serving in the temple. It was the most BEAUTIFUL experience I have ever had. I was there Monday through Friday, and most Saturdays. I will never ever forget the experiences I had there. They were divine experiences that I will never trade away for anything. As time progressed, I realized that serving in the Bountiful Temple was right for me. Nothing else made sense during that short period in my life. It meant everything to me. I felt myself growing in ways that I had desperately prayed for while serving in the MTC. I felt myself developing a testimony that I knew would never go away. I KNEW that this is what Heavenly Father wanted me to do. Now, here’s the interesting thing. Certain things are stated in my Patriarchal Blessing about my mission and the experiences I would have. That was one of my major doubts upon coming home from my mission. I knew that those experiences would never be accomplished. But in retrospect, I realized that the experiences spoken of in my Blessing didn’t happen on my first mission. But every single one happened during my mission at the Bountiful Temple. Once I made that connection, I knew without a doubt that Heavenly Father wanted me to end up there. I realized that had I not gone through the “traditional LDS mission” path and served as a missionary in the MTC, I NEVER would have ended up at the Bountiful Temple. The place where I was supposed to complete my mission. There’s a WONDERFUL Mormon Message about taking certain paths in order to get to where we should be. It’s called Wrong Roads and it’s based on a talk by Jeffrey R. Holland. Watch it here. Now, I’m not saying that my first mission was a “wrong road”, but I am saying that “there are times when the only way to get from A to C is by way of B.” Watch that video. It will change your life.
Now, I know this was a super long post, but I just want to wrap it up here by summarizing it a little bit. My Father in Heaven sent me on a mission. I felt like I had “failed” that mission, when in fact I actually succeeded. Father gave me a mission, and I answered the call. I accomplished everything I needed to, and then He sent me home. He sent me home using a method that caught me completely off-guard because He knew that an “anxiety disorder” would be the one thing to get me to come home. He then gave me another mission. A mission at the LDS Bountiful Temple as an Ordinance Worker. A mission that I completed and that changed me forever. My testimony is infinitely greater than it was upon first entering the MTC. HEAVENLY FATHER HAS A PLAN. My greatest fear that I had was that I had failed. Well, I promise those who read this that if you follow God’s word, and you do the things that you’re SUPPOSED to, don’t ever feel like you can fail. Even if things don’t go according to plan. It’s because it’s your plan when that happens, not Heavenly Father’s. He knows what He is doing. He has a path designed for each and every one of us. Sure, bad things happen. But with Heavenly Father involved, why do we even worry?
Here’s a support website for missionaries who come home early (https://earlyreturnmissionary.wordpress.com/). If you or someone close to you has come home early and you’re struggling, I highly recommend this.
Also, here’s an article that the Salt Lake Tribune did on a missionary who came home early. It’s pretty dang good. (http://archive.sltrib.com/story.php?ref=/sltrib/lifestyle/57219005-80/mission-missionaries-early-says.html.csp)
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