I have wanted to serve a mission since I was in Primary. It has always been a part of my plan and I used to tell people, “Well, if I could go on a mission tomorrow I would!” So when President Monson made the announcement about the age change, I was ready to go. I had prepared myself physically and spiritually and I had prayed to know that it was right. I put in my papers right away and reported to the Provo MTC on January 30th, 19-years-old, to serve in the Chile Osorno Mission. I spent 7 difficult, but beautiful months in the mission field. I learned so much about myself, about the gospel, about others, about what it meant to be a missionary.
I did everything I was supposed to. I was obedient, I was diligent, I loved my companions, I loved the people, I was even a trainer, but success did not come in the way I thought it would. One night after finishing a special fast with my sweet companion I realized I wasn’t feeling quite well. That night was the beginning of one of the most difficult months of my life. A spinal problem that I had resolved in high school unexpectedly resurfaced. I was told by the doctor in Chile that I would be fine, that I could stay in Chile, and that I would recover; but I knew he was wrong. I could no longer do what I had come to do. I couldn’t do missionary work because I was too busy lying in bed with overwhelming headaches, or stretching my tingling muscles, or twitching in pain on the floor. I was a burden to the mission, to my leaders, to the members, to my companion and after a month of pain, exhaustion, and tears I realized I needed to go home. I had every intention of returning to the field after what I thought would be a relatively short recovery.
I was wrong. When the x-rays of my back came in, it looked as if I had just been in a serious car accident. It took 6 months of professional treatment before I could even take care of myself, let alone return to the mission field. I was confused. I felt like my life had been put on hold. I wouldn’t be able to finish my mission, previous plans to join the military collapsed, I didn’t know when I’d be able to go back to school, I barely even had friends, and I spent many lonely days in an empty house struggling with inevitable feelings of depression. As patient as I tried to be in my situation there were moments when I asked myself, “Why wasn’t I just allowed to finish? Did I to something wrong? Was I just not good enough?”
First, let me say that a full time mission is not the only mission you will serve whether you return home early or not. We all have many privileges and responsibilities in life whether it is as a child, as a spouse, as a parent, as a friend, as a contributing member of the church, etc. My mission was not the end. My poor health is not the end. I intend to live and serve and love to the best of my abilities, however limited those abilities are or become. Life still holds joy and sorrow and blessings and responsibilities that I and everyone else will experience.
I don’t know why our minds and bodies are burdened with devastating afflictions and illnesses. I do know that God loves us and our pain and struggling will allow us to become more like Him. As dark and dreary as our lives may seem, there is light and joy ahead as great as our pain. I spent 7 months teaching the people of Chile that Christ and His Atonement could heal all of the pain and injustices of this life. What sort of missionary would I be if I did not believe it? Because of my difficult experiences I have gained a greater understanding of the healing power of the Atonement in a way that I could not have understood before. I am so grateful for the trials I faced on my mission and after. It was hard. It is hard, but I would not give up what I know now. I know that through the Atonement one day we will stand glorified and perfected in body, mind, and spirit. It is such a comfort to me to know that God and His perfect Son want us all even and especially in our brokenness and grief. I testify of the reality of God’s unconditional and infinite love, and I invite all struggling souls to turn to Him with trust.
*I currently serve part time and from home as an online Family Search Missionary as I continue to recover.