Sunday, April 13, 2014

What Coming Home Feels Like

It was 5:30 am when my alarm went off--probably the earliest I'd woken up in over 18 months. My luggage was already gone, and I tried not to wake my companions up as I walked back and forth from the bathroom to the closet. I put on my last set of clothes and did what I could with my hair. I'd felt okay for the past few weeks--even with hearing so many people tell me how well I'd served as a missionary, hearing other missionaries tease me about how much time I had left, and knowing we'd probably have to drop our main investigator soon if he didn't make any more progress. But this morning it was so early, and I felt so tired and overwhelmed, that I sat in the bathroom and cried. In that moment, it felt like my world was ending and everything I'd come to love was slipping through my fingers.
I was okay once my companions got up, and we drove to the mission home. I walked in and saw the other departing missionaries sitting at the kitchen table staring gloomily at piles of granola bars and their cups of orange juice. Nobody really wanted to talk, so we sat in silence until President came in to take us out to the 15-seat van we'd take to the John Wayne airport. Someone said a prayer, and we loaded up. We raced down the already crowded freeway, and I tried not to look out the window because I was still jumpy from the car crash I'd had a few months before.
President and his assistants said goodbye to us before the security check. I remember that he shook my hand, thanked me, and murmured something to let me know he'd read my last email to him--he always did little things like that--and that he stayed to watch us until we couldn't see him anymore. The sister in front of me started to cry, and I hugged her because I didn't want her to be sad and I've never been good at being around crying people.
We split up to go to our different terminals, and I was left with three other missionaries coming with me to Salt Lake. We had two flights with a layover in Portland, so we did a lot of waiting. I tried to watch the takeoff, but I chickened out (I'm a wimp, okay?). We didn't say much to each other, but I think we were all grateful for the company. At least I sure was.
We waked through the tunnel from the plane to the terminal. We started following the signs to the baggage claim, and as we got closer to an escalator, I asked, "When do you think they'll be able to see us?" Nobody answered, because as we stepped on and the ground in front of us moved up and out of the way, we heard screaming.
I didn't have time to not look shocked. People were jumping up and down and waving signs, and then I was tackled. I smiled, but for the rest of the day I felt like I was watching and hearing everything underwater.
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I didn't listen to music or watch TV for a week or two. It wasn't that I was being self-righteous, or that I felt guilty, or any other conscious reason. My brain just couldn't take it. But eventually I calmed down a little. My parents bugged me for a while about getting a job, and I finally found one working swing shift, and I said goodbye to the feeble beginnings of a social life that I'd managed to build up.
The really hard part was the depression and self-pity that I couldn't shake off. I didn't want to be home. I wanted to run back to California, but I just couldn't for the time being. I felt so alone, and I didn't feel like anyone was there to listen to me and understand what I was going through. I still don't understand it myself, so how could I explain it to someone else? I was stuck in a house with five other people when I was used to living with only one or two (and they cleaned up after themselves!).
The moral of this story (by the way, I'm making this up as I go, so I'm as interested as any of you to find this out) is that even though I don't fully understand God's love and His plans for me, I know that they exist. Some days I feel like I'm doing this all wrong and that I'm failing at my life right now. But always, some part of me is hanging on for dear life to the knowledge that my Heavenly Father is still here.
The happy ending of this story...is that there isn't one.
"In light of what we know about our eternal destiny, is it any wonder that whenever we face the bitter endings of life, they seem unacceptable to us? There seems to be something inside of us that resists endings.
Why is this? Because we are made of the stuff of eternity. We are eternal beings, children of the Almighty God, whose name is Endless and who promises eternal blessings without number. Endings are not our destiny.
The more we learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more we realize that endings here in mortality are not endings at all. They are merely interruptions--temporary pauses that one day will seem small compared to the eternal joy awaiting the faithful.
How grateful I am to my Heavenly Father that in His plan there are no true endings, only everlasting beginnings."
--President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, April 2014 General Conference

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