Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The best 2 years.... or 5 months

I’ve been intending to write a follow up post of my mission now that my mission is “over” and it has slowly turned into more of a novel but here it is.

Last fall I lived a life that I thought was great, I was running better than I ever had, I was doing great in school, I had lots of friends by my side that supported and loved me, and a family that was always there for me. I had no reason to have a desire to change my life everything was going great, I don’t know what I would have changed if I could change anything.

I didn’t have a desire to serve a mission. Most of the guys that I hung around in high school were all so excited to serve missions right when they got out of high school and that’s almost all they could talk about it seemed like. I never understood why, I didn’t have a desire to go. I just wanted to go to college and start working towards a degree. All of that changed in about 2 hours. One night while with some friends I suddenly got a strong desire to turn my life in a whole new direction and serve a mission. I chose to turn my life towards the lord. Im thankful I was living my life in a way at that time that I could heed the call I was given to serve a mission.

In early November right before xc practice I got a text from my mom with a picture of my mission call. Going on an hour run and then lifting after can often feel kinda long but that days workout felt like forever the entire 60 minutes all I could think about was getting done so I could go home and open up my call. I thought about serving in some crazy foreign mission that would be really tough and would be a really exciting adventure with a whole lot of firsts. I would look down at my watch probably every 2 or 3 minutes, that just made it feel a lot longer, but eventually the 60 minutes were up and I had finished my workout in the weight room and I ran off to my car to drive back to Kaysville and open my call.

When I opened the letter and read I was going to Arkansas I was so excited, I didn’t care I wasn’t going to south America or Africa or Europe or anywhere foreign. Plenty of people would ask me if I was disappointed at staying in the states but my answer was always the same, im going to the best mission in the world.

I had 5 weeks to prepare for my mission, along with finishing up my first semester at weber, and a few big races in my first season as a collegiate athlete. It was a very stressful time but at the same time I finally began to understand why all my high school friends were so excited to go on there missions, it was all I could think about. I was so excited to get off to the MTC! I dreamed of being the greatest missionary possible and knowing the scriptures like the back of my hand, getting lots of baptisms, and have a great time with all of my companions.

December 18th came really fast surprisingly, im glad I didn’t have to wait as long as most missionaries have to wait to leave because five weeks was plenty long for me, I was ready to go.

The MTC wasn’t all that I expected but my knowledge of the scriptures probably tripled in the short 2 weeks I was there. By day 3 I was getting really anxious to get out of there and into Arkansas.

                Once in Arkansas I really enjoyed being a missionary. I had lots of fun with my companions, made a lot of great memories, had awesome experiences, served a lot of people, worked really hard, and learned a lot. It was definitely such a big growing experience in my life that will effect me for the rest of my life. I don’t think there is anything else I would rather have been doing for those 4 months.

I have written about most of my experiences in the MTC and mission field in previous posts so I wont go into a lot of detail about that, but what I wanted to focus most of this post on is the events that brought it to an end.

Missionary work is hard, it was a challenge to me and I loved that. For as long as I can remember I have had lots of trials and challenges pushing me to my limits. I have seen a good share of them in sports and in many other aspects of my life. I’ve gotten to a point where I almost enjoy them, I love seeing how much I can endure before I can’t go on. I guess that’s why I like running so much, the whole point of the sport is pushing the limits. The rigorous lifestyle of being a missionary along with the minimal time I was allowed to run brought out a new challenge in my life that had previously been hidden. I was diagnosed with MDD a medically diagnosed depression due to a chemical imbalance in my brain. This new challenge in my life made every day seem like there was no hope and that I was all alone. The feeling of being alone is almost impossible to explain and is unlike any other challenge I have ever faced. It is such an empty feeling and because of that empty feeling there is no one in your mind you can turn to for help. It is a never ending cycle of pain. I saw several doctors and counselors to try and deal with this challenge which brought a little bit of temporal relief. Talking with my president about it he said that we would do all that we could in the field to take care of this problem but if it continued to get worse I would have to be sent home for further help. He knew as well as I that I would be dealing with some challenges and that the lord would guide us in right direction.

It was a Saturday afternoon and I was sitting in the chapel of the pinnacle mountain church right across the street from my apartment. I was enjoying my second session of general conference as a missionary when my brain was suddenly flooded with various thoughts. I was attacked with thoughts about never being able to run again, losing my friends back home, never getting back up to speed in school, and of course all of the stressful day to day tasks as a missionary.

I stood up and walked out of the chapel to go get a drink to calm all of this anxiety. My companion didn’t fallow because the drinking fountain was just outside the door we were sitting by so I went alone. Almost instantly after standing up I started to feel dazed, I was light headed and started to breathe uncontrollably. I had never felt so out of it.

On the way back from the drinking fountain I was out of breath, which was very odd for someone who previously ran 13-18 miles every day compared to the 15 ft  I walked to the drinking fountain. I quickly sat down on the couch in the foyer of the church. My breathing rate continued to increase as did my heart rate. 5 minutes later elder Nielson finally walked out the door to see why it was taking me so long to get a drink just outside the door. He looked over and saw me sitting on the couch breathing really rapidly and pale as a ghost.

He knew instantly something was wrong and quickly ran back into the chapel to grab someone to give me a blessing and to call 911. When he came back out I was laying down on the couch and had lost control of just about every muscle in my body. They had all tightened up to a point where I couldn’t move anything. As bishop Tobler and my companion began to give me a blessing I went unconscious I don’t remember anything about that blessing except for hearing my name at the beginning. Even with all that was going on, I remember feeling peace in hearing my first name again. I really missed hearing it, all anyone had ever called me for 4 months was Elder Johnson. It’s a great title to have but at that moment it gave me comfort to hear that name I had heard thousands of times in my life.

Next thing I knew there were 3 paramedics standing in front of me with a stretcher. I was still breathing rapidly and couldn’t move. After about 10 minutes of them trying to calm me down, I was finally somewhat in control of my body. The paramedics told me that they were required to take me to the hospital for precautionary reasons unless I signed some form they had on some massive iPad looking thing. I really didn’t want this to be a big deal, going to the hospital would just make the situation worse than it already was. I managed to literally scribble a few circles on the signature line and that’s all. It looked nothing like my signature but it was good enough for them, they packed up and left me lying on the couch with at this time probably 20 members from the ward.

My mission president and his wife showed up just as everything was calming down. I was able to talk with my president for a little bit at the church but was later brought to the mission home to watch the priesthood session with him so he could keep an eye on me.

Before priesthood started President Peterson pulled me into his office to talk about the situation. After dealing with severe depression and now this random attack he was very concerned and was considering sending me home. We talked for quite a while and made a few phone calls to my parents, to my stake president, and to my heavenly father through prayer. At that time neither of us had the answer. I didn’t know what would be best for me, the mission, and for anyone else involved and neither did President Peterson. We decided it would be best to just wait for the answer and enjoy the remaining talks in that evening’s session.

The next morning I got a phone call from President Peterson. He asked me what feelings I had gotten in the last 12 hours about going home. The night before I prayed hard, I didn’t stop until got my answer. I kneeled there in reverence for probably 20 minutes before I got a strong feeling of peace and gratitude about the service I had put in. I knew that heavenly father was telling me that my mission in Arkansas was finished, but I also knew that my mission wasn’t over yet. President Peterson’s reply was very similar to what I had said to him.

I always pictured returning from a mission as a happy joyous occasion, a time when everyone celebrated and was excited to see you again. My experience was not anywhere near what I had pictured earlier in my life. While my family was happy to see me and was very supportive of this big change, I didn’t know how I felt about it. In my mind I was a failure. I finished 4 of 24 months… that’s only a sixth of what “normal missionaries” serve. I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist so that was nowhere near the standards I had set for myself. The worst part of it all was seeing the reactions I got from friends when they saw me for the first time. All of them acted surprised and confused, many of them tried to give me sympathy and told me everything would be ok, and some, even some close friends, looked at me in disgust like I was a failure and was no longer good enough to be there friend. The sad part is that’s exactly how I felt too. This definitely wasn’t helping the tough situation I was already in.

I continued to pray and ask daily if this is really the plan that my life is supposed to follow. Every time I prayed I received the same answer confirming to me and giving me comfort that my mission is in Utah right now. I was sent home for medical reasons but why im in Utah right now is still a mystery to me. I just need to continue to have trust that god knows why im in Utah and that 4 months is all he intended for me to serve in Arkansas. Its not the customary time period that everyone here in Utah expects you to serve, but that’s ok because if theres one thing that I learned while being on my mission its that god has a plan for every one of us individually and that there will be trials along the way.

Slowly as things began to feel more normal for me I began to see doctors and counselors to try and fix the problems I was having. I was prescribed medicine, asked a million different questions, and went to countless appointments, but the most beneficial part of all of these appointments came within the first ten minutes of my first visit. I was talking with a LDS family services counselor when the topic of honorable return missionaries came up. He taught me that no matter how long you serve, how hard you serve, or whether you were a zone leader, district leader, or assistant to the president all your church records will say under the mission box is the name of the mission you served in. We are all honorable return missionaries and we all deserve to be treated that way. There is no difference between me and someone that served a full two years. He used the analogy of a soldier going off to war. If they are wounded in battle they are sent home early before the war ends. When they return home they are treated like heroes. They are given countless awards recognized by thousands, and thanked by everyone. Although it is not seen the same way for injured missionaries that return home, that is how it should be. We gave it our all and fought in the war against Satan. Not everyone is going to make it through this war unharmed, we took a hit for the team, gods team.

                Often times so much emphasis is put on becoming a RM the most important parts of our missions are overlooked, like going through the temple and the conversion of the most important people in our missions ourselves. A mission isn’t a 2 year thing, it’s a life long thing. Too many missionaries come home from there missions and fall away. With that falling away they lose the two most important things that they gained in the last 2 years, there worthiness to go through the temple and the conversion to a Christ like life that they worked so hard to gain for themselves. I hope that I can continue to live my life in a way to have these two important things in my life forever, because missions don’t end when we step off the plane they are still just beginning. Called to serve!

                I think for most people its not that they mean anything bad towards missionaries that return home early for various reasons but they just don’t know what to do. It takes everyone by surprise just as much as it takes the missionary by surprise. If I were to give any advice to people that know missionaries that have come home early is to just be there friend no matter what. Whether they had an honorable release, a medical release, or a dishonorable release we are all striving for the same goal of eternal life and we cant do it alone. The main focus should be on working towards the temple and keeping the covenants we make there and that is what I continue to do.