I met Chase at the SL ERM (early returned missionary) group. It was his turn to share his story (each month members of the group take turns sharing their story of coming home early) and I was so touched by it, I shed a few tears as Chase shared his experience. Part of that was because this really hit home for me, and part of it was because of Redd. I hope we can all be a Redd to someone who needs us to be.
Chase is from Midvale, Utah. He is 21 years old. He served an LDS mission in the Washington Yakima Mission. He is going to be attending either BYU or BYU-I. He will be aiming to achieve a Master’s degree in Psychology with a hopeful focus being on helping young adults dealing with mental disabilities and diseases. He is single (so if you have any friends who are single let him know haha). He enjoys virtually all forms of sports recreationally. He loves the outdoors and doing anything involved in nature. His real passion lies in people and culture. What drives him the most is the decisions every unique person makes and what drove them to make that decision. He is fascinated by the sheer variety we have on the earth from all the unique factors we all are exposed to. He currently works full-time as a Quality Assurance Specialist as well as an Ordinance Worker in the Draper Utah Temple!
When I was younger, I think I was around 8 years old, to be honest, I don’t remember much about it as I blocked a lot of it out, but long story made short my “picture perfect family” came crashing down when my dad was sent to prison as a sex offender and pedophile. We had a nice house with really good parents and then everything changed very quickly in my life. I remember feeling worthless and alone because I couldn’t understand how my dad could do those things and come home to his family every single night. We had to have been on his mind and he just didn’t care about us. It was really rough then…
Fast forward to me turning 18 and I had been active in the church for about 1-2 years at this point and I was hard set AGAINST serving a mission, it was definitely not for me. There was no way I was going. It was not the path I was supposed to take. I was not going to serve. My mindset stayed like this until I was 19, two years ago, when my grandfather passed away, because of what my dad had done my grandfather was the “father figure” I had in my life and let’s just say I didn’t take it very well. But while at his funeral it was at that moment where I had an incredible spiritual experience that completely shifted my mindset of going on a mission. And I knew at that point I needed to do whatever it takes to go out. So I spent the next year and a half studying, saving money, working hard, and trying to get myself to a place where I could actually serve and I did!
I made it to my mission, and I was so happy to go. I was an incredibly good missionary, I don’t know necessarily why or what it was but I seriously just flourished with success. I served in two areas on my mission and both were considered “low baptism areas,” one averaged maybe one per year and the other was previously closed down due to no baptisms and they wanted me and my companion to open it back up. After leaving both areas I had gotten 3 baptisms, or 3 really strong on dates. I actually wasn’t there long enough to see the baptisms themselves but they had all gone through the interview already and had it scheduled. I had almost no issues adjusting to missionary life and worked hard and got stuff done. I had so many incredible experiences while I was out there and I was so happy to be experiencing them as I had worked so hard to get there, then after only being out in the field a few months, I started to have some really bad problems with my brain. These problems, in turn, caused my physical health to plummet, but to explain the issue first, the doctors and therapists in the field diagnosed me with a form of PTSD. Similar to how a soldier in battle comes home and sees a firecracker and their brain makes them think they are back in that traumatic moment, mine was doing that with the events that happened with my family when I was younger.
They said the likely cause was probably a combination of not having any of my usual stress outlets combined with the fact that I was now talking about eternal families literally all day every day and that was triggering it. We tried to work on a few techniques and tools I could use to try and control the trigger while I was there but it started to affect my physical health far too quickly. The culmination of this was in my heart. You know how when you are in a tense moment in sports or in danger and you have that adrenaline flowing and your heart is pounding? My heart was basically in that mode 24/7 and was over-working itself to death. It got to the point where I honestly did not have the strength to get out of bed on one of the days because my body couldn’t physically do it (it should be noted that I passed the physical before my mission with flying colors). Needless to say, the result was that my mission president, the therapists, my stake president, etc, all advised me to “return home, but that it was my choice to do so.”
This pissed me off so much, for a variety of reasons, for one I was literally dying and they are like “you can choose to stay and die if you want” and it just made me feel even worse knowing that I needed to come home because it was “my choice” to do so.
It took me so long to feel ready for my mission, I didn’t want to go unless I knew I was ready, and I finally got to that point only to be ripped apart and sent home after only serving a few months. My mission completely shattered me in just about every aspect of my life. I didn’t know who I was, what value I had, where I wanted to go with my life, what testimony I had, I knew nothing about me.
I came home Saturday night (the 23 of December) but it was like between 9 and 10 o’ clock at night when I landed and so it was basically Christmas Eve when I came home. I honestly just wanted to cry. I wanted to hurt. I wanted to feel something, anything that night because I was just numb. Everything was numb. I got released and told to take off my badge and it honestly felt like the last shred of light inside of me just got ripped off of my chest. My bishop also called me that night and told me he wanted me in church the next day (Christmas Eve).
I was absolutely mortified, especially because of how powerful a farewell talk I gave. I had a member of the 70 at my farewell talk come and tell me that he hadn’t ever heard such a powerful farewell anywhere else and now I had to do the walk of shame back into my ward after just a few months… However, I swallowed my fear and promised my bishop I would be there. And so I was.
I walked into the chapel just barely before the Sacrament was about to start and I kid you not, the moment I walked in, the prelude music stopped and every head in the chapel turned towards me. (I was in the Elders Quorum Presidency for a year before I left as well so I knew everyone in the ward very well.) So they all turn towards me and there is just this moment of silence for about 15 or 20 seconds. After a moment a guy in my ward named Redd stood up and started to walk over to me, all eyes still fixed on me. He walked up to me and just said, “Welcome home Elder Whitehead, we love you.” And hugged me. I just started crying.
There are many amazing things and people that have helped me to recover and come back into the world since I have been home and, honestly, I feel so blessed because of everything that has happened, especially because of how truly incredible I feel right now about all of it. But that was the first moment where I experienced Christ’s love in a completely pure form.
All in all, since then I have had a ton of downs and quite a few ups, the downs were mostly in January and February, and the ups have mostly been in March and April, which is good. I don’t know if I really feel like my mission was a waste, I mean feelings of failure definitely come and go along with self-doubt, but I have admitted and will continue to admit for quite some time that my mission was the best single decision I have made in my life up to this point, and I stand by that. The things I have learned, experienced, and seen because of my mission, both in serving where I did and in coming home early, are all a part of me.
I really feel like now, right now, I am at a pretty good place in my life and a large part of that is due to all of you. So thank you for all of the love, all of the support, all of the emotions you all so willingly shared because all of that has helped me in so many ways, and that is my story.
Thank you for sharing your experience. I think you are very brave, and it will help a lot of ERM’s. Forever grateful for people who are guinely kind to others.