I have been home for two years, five months and seven days, but who's counting? The very first letter I received while on my mission was waiting for me when I arrived at the MTC. It was from my Brother-in-law, Zach Bellows. As I recall it was the last letter he ever wrote me, but it was one that came with a lot of thought and a lot of heart. He reflected on his mission experience, bore his testimony of it and the Gospel and offered some heartfelt advice. I specifically remember him telling me that there had not been one day that had gone by that he had not thought of his mission in someway, and that it would be the same for me. I'm not sure how seriously I took him then. I remember feeling the spirit and being grateful for my family and for the opportunity to serve, but really? everyday? Yes. Really. Every. Single. 891 days. And counting.
A lot has happened since I have been "released" from the calling as a full time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And a lot have things have changed. For the good and for the bad, but I'm pretty sure it has all been for the better, what ever the immediate effect may have been. I have held many other callings in the church, serving where ever I can. I've seen someone I taught go through the temple and then on a mission(one of the sweetest experiences). I've closed doors and opened others. And closed some of those. I've left the country. I've come back against my will. I have not stayed in one place since my mission (and even a little before) for any more than 6 months at a time. In 2012 I managed not to stay in one place for any more that 3 months.I have been very happy and I have been very sad. I've met some very smart and very inspiring people. And I have met some that I have had to work really hard to like, or even think very highly of.
Life as a "not a missionary" is, as you can imagine, very different than that of a missionary. There are pros and cons to both. I have found application of those things I both learned and tried to teach on my mission absolutely vital to some experiences I've had since being home. Vital and hard. I feel that as a missionary you start to just feel on fire! But every fire roars under perfect conditions. It still takes feeding the fire and watching it, but it's different. Take a perfect fire and add wind, rain, sleet, snow and damp wood and the constant efforts it takes to keep the fire going not only become more complicated, but more tiresome and if you are not careful, less hopeful. With out that constant roar it may look appealing to stop or slow down or take a break. You cannot. Complacency is not an option, just as it was not as a missionary. Things have gotten harder? Then work harder. And --- Remember.
Remember has been a word that is not only used more than frequently in scripture, but has been spoken about and highlighted in general authority talks, sunday school lessons, sacrament talks, P.H. and R.S. lessons. Lesson from the mission number one: Repetition is important. With all this talk about remembrance, I think it would be important to remember to remember. As a missionary I asked people to do things. All. The. Time. Hard things. As in any position of servitude I gained so much more from my experiences than those I met with. They taught me in ways I will never be able to pay back. I watched people, via my invitation, exercise their faith in ways that I had wondered if I ever had. Sometimes serving a mission felt like I was reading a book. A really good one, the kind that sucks you in, that you can't put down. One in which you are so utterly attached to the characters that you actually cheer at their successes and weep at their pain. You hope for the best, but ultimately can do nothing for them. They have to make their own choices. And you have to watch. Getting released has been like getting sucked into the book. There are unfamiliar paths, dark forest, castles, dragons, storms that have a life of their own and mountains that seem to block the way entirely - and some things I only ever thought I'd read about, literally and figuratively. There are also beautiful pastures, Sunlight that moves in after storms to dry things out and warm things up, miracles, angels, happiness and peace. You are now another character in the book. A force for good or evil. Effected by every element of the story. There are choices to be made and a life to be built and navigated and taken care of. Weeded - and otherwise maintained.
The point is, I'm grateful for the things I learned while "reading the book" and I will never forget them, because it was all so amazing, but also in part to constantly remembering. Remembering how absolutely magnificent every character is, regardless of wether or not I get a long with them. Remembering to "look for the rudiments of God"(full text) in each person I struggle to love. And feel that love seep in when I find them. Remembering what brilliant perfect untainted truth feels like and then searching for that feeling elsewhere as I navigate the rest of my life. Remembering to continue to feed my spirit by feeding others and sharing my testimony when the opportunity arises (and it does). There is no better way to feed your spirit than to feed someone else's. (Matthew 16:25). This is obviously not the end of the list of things I have to remember, but it's what comes to mind now. Some of the things that will keep a fire burning, roaring even, with enough effort.
One other thing that is only slightly related to any of this is but has crossed my mind through all this remembering and weeding this morning is that God never asked us to like anybody. I can't think of one verse that says "ye must like all people". Nope. He does however tell us to "Love one another". That's a commandment. I really do think it is utterly impossible to like everyone. Some people are just unlikeable. And go ahead, don't like them, but you are not excused from loving them. Just as it is impossible to like everyone it is very, very possible to love everyone. That is what we have been asked to do and it is that that brings us closer to God, helps us become more like him and stifles the natural man enough to see our way a little more clearly. Love somebody you don't today. You don't even have to like them, but Love them. It will change a bit of your world. And once you love them, love somebody else.
I have a good friend, (dare I say a best friend? I have a couple of those) that I met in Fiji. He did not serve a mission. He is an amazing person and I love him very much. He came home a described Fiji in a similar way to how I might describe "coming home" from a mission. "I recently traveled to Fiji and changed my life quite a bit. I fear I will never be the same, or that I will ever quite be at home again." I would change it a little. I'm not afraid I will never be the same again, I know I wont be. I also know that I'll never "quite be at home again" either. Maybe when I'm a mom. I think that may feel like home.
There are certain things that have not changed since "coming home" - or leaving home which ever seems to fit better, and they are the fundamentals:
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is still true.
My family, is awesome, and I love them.
There is so much more than this.
The temple is a house of service, safety, comfort, God. (And my favorite place to be)
I love my nephews.
God loves us.
There is a prophet of God on the earth.
The Book of Mormon is true. And also awesome.
There will always be need to remember.
There are choices to be made.
And others, but I'm kind of done writing.
What made me think about writing last night was a succession of two different songs. The first was a good summary of how I have felt for a lot of the past two years five months and seven days:
Some Nights - FUN.
Best clean version I could find
And the second is a response to the first, and what I hope those feelings are met with when I am down on my knees expressing them:
Home - Phillip Phillips
Actually everything in that video is pretty applicable to my past two years as well. Except for the giant rock concert.