Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My Best Two Years

I have often heard people refer to their missions as their best two years. There is even a movie about it. And I've heard many people mock the idea of a mission being their best two years. Usually because missions are so hard and miserable. Who can honestly enjoy being rejected on an hourly basis, working so hard at something with so little personal reward? You've got to be insane, or brainwashed. Or brain dead.

To be honest, my mission is not the best two-year span anymore, though it was. That honor currently goes to my most recent two years. But directly after my mission, I would have said it was my best two years without any hesitation. Not because it was fun. It was actually pretty terrible. I would explain, but that would be a VERY long blog post. So I'll give a light sampling. Under my first mission president, incredible focus was placed on memorizing the discussions. We were even considered "greenies" (newbie missionaries) until we had memorized and passed off word-for-word the first discussion. (They still had the seven discussions, then.) Eventually, we were expected to memorize them all.

I don't memorize. Generally, I think memorization is a waste of time that undermines comprehension, especially with something like missionary discussions. Being who I used to be, I vociferously refused to do it. (My poor 19-21 year old district leaders really got a workout trying to be my Priesthood leader through the entire duration of my mission. Any of them who still wish to serve God in a priesthood capacity after experiencing mission-me really deserve some kudos.) I did eventually cave, but only because my mission president told me that while I didn't have to do it, it would really help my district leader if I just bent to the unnecessary rule.

The bulk of my mission under this president was an ongoing battle of wills between me, my district/zone leaders, and the mission numbers. It was the most miserable and difficult thing I'd done up to that point in my life. Contrary to appearance, I don't like conflict. I have many stories illustrating how difficult it was for me, and how difficult I made it for other missionaries.

One district leader challenged us to do something. I don't remember what it was at this point, probably place a certain number of Books of Mormon or something. It was a well-meant challenge, and he had likely prayed earnestly about it and truly felt it was the best thing for the district. But I felt very strongly it was NOT the best thing for our companionship. Bear in mind, I was only a junior companion at this time and really didn't have much authority. However, I was a bit of a spitfire then and would loudly and firmly stand up for what I thought was right. (I've learned a bit since then.) At any rate, the conversation eventually devolved to my companion sitting inside the Church, his companion sitting outside on the steps, and he and I in the foyer yelling at each other. I'm pretty sure he strongly considered strangling me at one point.

Despite—or more likely because of—this, he was one of my favorite district leaders. We built a pretty strong friendship at the time, which helped me later on in my mission when things really got tough. I'd like to think I helped him a bit, too. He was the only one who would stand up to me, who I could trust to tell me how things were. In fact, he's one of a scant few men I've met with the ability to disagree strongly, and keep with it until some consensus was reached. It's a quality I admire intensely.

Several months later, my mission was just over halfway done. I was serving in what might have been the single most difficult area for sisters in the entire mission. Prominent members in the branch were openly hostile to the missionaries. We had no elders or other missionaries within miles (45 minute train ride away.) I had labored under that dark auspice for several weeks with my companion, become senior companion, and labored for several more. Because the hostility towards missionaries was so strong, when my mission president asked, both my companion and I recommended that the area be closed to allow the members to heal. He closed the area and I was reassigned to the main office apartment of my mission, a place I had felt I needed to be for some time. Then, just a few months before my release, the mission presidents changed. My new companion turned out to be the worst companionship of my mission. We couldn't do any missionary work because the atmosphere was so hostile. After only three weeks, the new mission president sent me back to the place that had just been closed, where I would serve the remaining months of my mission.

I felt I had failed. Eventually, things became so difficult under the new regime that I was almost sent home early. I begged and pleaded to stay, which was granted me but only on probation. I kept my loud mouth shut for the rest of my mission. My heart for mission work was broken. Despite feeling I was nothing more than a prop on my mission, with nothing valuable of my own to contribute, I kept pushing. Certainly too hard. But a few days before I went home to be released I saw the only baptism of someone I had taught which I would see on my mission, and I saw the rift between members and missionaries begin to heal.

My "numbers" were nowhere near par. My mission was chock-full of conflict and pain. I felt a failure. On the outside, I was more fit and beautiful than I had ever been (and ever would be again,) but inside I was completely broken. It was during this time of internal and invisible self-recrimination that I met the man I would marry. Because I had learned to keep silent on my mission and no longer stand up for myself, this man would eventually turn me into a divorcee and victim of domestic violence. My previous patterns in life, of setting goals and achieving them, of excelling, have never been restored. You might say that my life fell apart at least in part because of the emotional destruction I experienced on my mission.

And yet, I can still say it was my best two years. During all that awful mess, I learned to rely on God. I learned that my relationships with my Savior and Father were all I really COULD rely on. I learned to be sensitive to the Spirit. I learned compassion. I learned to be broken, and to see the miracles that happen when someone is at the end of their resources. I became a new person. Some day, I'll probably write a book about it.

My current best two years share one thing with my mission: they have been the hardest two years of my life. I have been broken more thoroughly than I could have imagined as an early-twenties-year-old missionary. My resources have been drained further than I thought possible. But while I reached the new depths of my well of strength and found it dry, I have also found new, Living Water. I have found strength from my God, my Savior, and those who serve them. In the breaking of the bonds which I had decreed would never break no-matter-what, I learned to make better bonds, to feel attached to good people, and to want to pay it forward, to serve Christ and His children.

I know this post is rambly. I usually edit after this point, refining my thoughts and clarifying my point. But I don't think I will this time. (I'll save it for the book. Hah!) Life is messy. Often, we learn things we can't really clarify. Your best two years should always be your last two years, I think. Every year we live, we can delve deeper into the things that make us who we are. We can redefine ourselves and stretch, push, just a little more. Our difficulties should be glorious, because it is through hardship and pain that we become more than what we were. Sorrow is terrible, but it is also good. Christ taught us that with His life.

I will always and forever be a person who almost failed her mission, who certainly failed her marriage. I'm branded a statistic, a failure, a loser in life. I carry scars, externally and internally. That will never change. But I wouldn't trade who I've been able to become from (so far) enduring all that has happened in my life. I wouldn't trade my understanding, even if it could save me the pain.

Here's hoping for two more best years to come.


  1. Oh my gracious, I want to hug you right now. RIGHT NOW!

    I was that same spit fire that refused to memorize the discussions to. It resulted in me refusing to have anything to do with the Elders at all for months. Then I had a really kind and patient companion that saw I could do it, but on my own terms and she was the one that helped me just do it.

    I've often felt like my mission wasn't really worth anything as well, but a few years after I had been home and I was visiting a compantion and her family, her Dad gently reminded us that there were many jobs in the vineyard -- some planted, some harvested, some gleaned, but we always forget about the people who go and dung the vineyard. The ones who go do the smelly, hard and unattractive work. But that, that work is very important to the lord as well. From then on I was happy with my mission, knew that even though I didn't have "the numbers", I had served to the best of my ability, worked hard, came home with a very broken and sick body to prove it too.

    I think too, a lot of the time, the mission is more for the person to grow and to learn, rather than to baptize the masses. I know there are those missionaries out there, but in my experience, and with the people I served with, we were all growing into the people we needed to be. Perhaps that was your mission as well.

    I know you keep things pretty ambiguous and private here on the blog, but I wish I knew where you served.... I would love to hear more of your stories. :)

    Thank you so much for this great post! (Joyce Anderson)

  2. I love the concept of learning to be broken. How painful a process that is, and yet, for me, learning that lesson was the key to understanding the atonement in my life. Sadly I did not not learn it on my mission (though I perhaps could and should have); it took me many years of fatherhood to finally learn it.

    Thanks for this, SR.

  3. SilverRain, you have a way of evoking some poerful emotions with your words. It is your instropection that is laid out for us, often poignant, raw, and real, that get to me. The way that you almost cruelly analyze yourself and your faults.

    Maybe just a couple of words of advice? encouragement?

    When I was a parent, I would often have to call my children out for some type of bad behavior on their part. There were times, looking back in retrospect, when I was pretty much 100% right in the matter at hand, but I so often handled those situations maybe 100% wrong. I had to learn what my true objectives really were. All too often they were to show that I was right and that they were wrong. I never got very far that way. I had to learn to first of all, decide what I really wanted and needed out of the situation, then to determine the best way of achieving that goal. I changed my methods a lot over the years, and the results, while not 100% successful, were much better than my earlier attempts.

    I note that you are really hard on yourself on many fronts, especially your marriage. I can understand how tough a failed marriage can be on a person who holds the covenants and ideals of a celestial marriage sacred. But I do think that maybe you are assuming a total responsibility for the failure of the marriage. Please forgive me and tell me to shut up if I am being too personal. The trick on any failed relationship is to analyze the situation as honestly as you can. To accept responsibility for those things that were actually your fault (and that is tough, I have been there) and to also realize that there were problems on the other side, problems that were out of your control. It would really help if you could make peace with yourself on that matter. You never will if you accept responsibility for another's actions and faults. (I am writing these things because they remind me so much of my wife who accepted the total blame for the failure of her first two marriages despite the facts. Her two ex-husbands were all to happy to go along with that assessment of herself.)

    I also see a quiet ray of hope in these words that you wrote "I have found strength from my God, my Savior, and those who serve them."

    I hope something that I have said helps. But if not, just throw it in the trash bin.



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