Guys, this is the post I’ve been afraid to write.
On this blog, I’ve talked about all kinds of sensitive subjects- mental illness, abortion, gay marriage, and pornography to name a few. While I am usually pretty open about my mental processes regarding these tough issues, I actually tend to stay fairly guarded when it comes to how they affect me personally and emotionally.
This post, however, is going to be the mother of personal and emotional. It’s the post I’ve been needing to write for about 6 years, and afraid to write for just as long. Brothers and sisters, today I’ve been assigned to talk about:
I struggled with depression from my late childhood on up through college, however, by the time I was able to serve a mission, I was on a pretty good combo of meds that kept me balanced. So off I went to preach the gospel.
The first few months of my mission were wonderful- challenging and frigid cold, but wonderful. Somehow though, things took a turn for the worst- and I lost my mind.
I cried every day- usually during personal study time and after we were done planning for the evening. Truth be told, there was no good reason for me to be so upset, but my depression-laden mind told me that I was a horrible and a useless missionary, and that I would never be able to do anything good or important on my mission. I began to see the downs in the normal ups and downs of missionary life as being entirely my fault. (Ex: Feeling like an unfruitful tracting session occurred because of my general ineptitude.)
I had a hard time understanding why God was doing this to me. I had always been told that it was Satan who gave us sad, unproductive, and pessimistic thoughts, and that I simply needed to draw closer to the Savior. Well, at that point, I was literally knocking on people’s doors day in and day out, had moved halfway across the country, put my school on hold when I was only 6 months away from finishing my degree, and had cut off almost all contact with my (nonmember) family all for the cause of Christ. How could I have been any closer? I remember, as I knelt in prayer one night, wondering if this was some kind of a joke. If there was somebody who deserved a little bit of piece of mind, wasn’t it me?
Usually when I prayed during this time, I just felt empty space. However, at one point I began to experience something even worse. When I would attempt to pray, my mind would immediately be filled with vivid and horrible images of my own death. There were a few different scenes that played out in my head, but the one that I saw most frequently was death by lethal injection- and I was the one doing the injecting. I imagined that I had a syringe in one hand, extended the opposite arm, and injected myself with some kind of poison that would kill me quickly and painlessly. For some reason, the poison was blue.
And God was nowhere. I realize that this makes people uncomfortable- but I honestly felt then and continue to feel now (in respect to that period of my life) that God was simply not available to me. There are probably some people who are thinking to themselves, “she must have have been doing something wrong! Where was her faith?! God always helps us when we ask for it.” And I reply with a polite, “Go to hell.”
Well, you don;t have to go to hell, but the idea that I was suffering because I was unworthy can burn next to the devil himself.
I of course do not claim perfection, but everything I know about life, the gospel, and truth in general tells me that my pain was requisite of my sin.
This is part of the reason why I have been afraid to wrote this post: The only way I can understand what happened is that God refused to comfort me. And it felt terribly cruel.
I didn’t choose to come home. My mission president became aware of the extent of my struggles through another sister. I didn’t want her to tell him per se, but I wasn’t upset that she had. He called me around 10 pm on a Sunday night and told me to pack all of my things and come to the mission office first thing the following morning. You should know that the mission office was a five hour drive from where I was serving.
I didn’t think he was going to send me home. I thought he was going to turn me into a Visitor’s Center sister. Either way, I wasn’t sure what his intentions were, but I knew that God was involved. The drive from my area to Independence the next morning was one of the most peace-filled experiences of my life. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but the Spirit told me that God had been hearing my prayers, and that he was finally going to help me.
Upon arriving at the mission office, my mission president immediately invited me into his office, sat me down, and, perhaps before saying anything (if he did say something it was brief and inconsequential) handed me my plane ticket home.
Arrangements had been made for me to leave before I even knew that was going to happen.
I hear a lot about the crazy shit that other missionaries do, and sometimes still feel a little bit bitter that I was dismissed so thoughtlessly while other people caught to spend their whole missions goofing off and having little regard for the work.
I probably sound a little bit contradictory right now, as I look back on that experience, I feel both resentment at gratitude. I still haven’t quite worked these feelings out, but the rest of the story is only about love.
After that meeting with my mission president, he sent me across the parking lot to the Visitor’s Center to use a phone to call my family. My mom answered, and I of course just began to bawl. I explained to her what was happening. I could here the smile on her face as she exclaimed, “Oh honey! This is the best news I could have gotten!” She then told me that everybody who really loved me, and really knew me, was just going to be proud of me.
That was hard for me to believe at the time. I was so fearful of coming home- how could people respect me after I had failed at the one thing I felt like I was good at? From the time I had joined the church 5 years prior, everybody told me how great of a missionary I would be. I had a testimony, I was a good teacher, and I was obedient, but, when it came down to it, I was not a great missionary.
When I arrived at the airport the next day, I called a good friend who had had to come home early from her mission for medical reasons from a pay phone. Man of man, was I grateful to have somebody who understood and who didn’t pass any kind of judgement.
I had a layover in Dallas on my way home. It is weird to be a missionary, in an airport, alone- especially in my condition of trying to decide how I was going to hide my face in shame for the rest of eternity as soon as the next plane touched down in California. I ended up at food court where I bought a taco for $8. The young cook who gave me my taco called me “sister”, and I somehow established that he was also LDS, and had actually recently returned home from his mission. I told him that my mission was over and I was heading home, and he congratulated me without knowing that my mission had only lasted 5 months. I felt a little bit guilty for not disclosing it, but hey, he didn’t ask, and either way, there was something comforting to me about being acknowledged as a missionary one last time.
Other people get huge welcoming committees when they come home from their missions. I had one person at the airport waiting for me- my dad. He didn’t have a sign, or a balloon, or even tears (prior to my mission I had been an adventurous college student who only visited my parents when obligated to by the closure of the dorms, so being without me for a few months wasn’t a world-rocker for him). He was just standing there at the bottom of the escalator, with his sleeves rolled up and his tie off and that “it’s been a long day at work” look on his face. On the day I left with my family to go to Utah to enter the MTC, my dad sat down on my bed and said, “Juliet, I know this is important to you, and I know how much you want to do this, but I want you to know that you can always come home- whenever you are ready.” I had dismissively jumped up and assured him that there would be no coming home for the 18 months everyone was planning on, but 5 months later, as I rode down that escalator in that airport, I got the feeling that he had known something that I hadn’t, and I was grateful that his offer to accept me back home whenever I was ready still stood.
On the way home from the airport, we stopped at a church building to meet with the first counselor in the stake presidency so that I could be released- it was just the three of us. During that meeting the counselor said something that would become incredibly important to me and that I have oft repeated to others: “You don’t owe an explanation to anybody.”
We then went home, where my mom was sitting in her nightgown watching TV. She was happy to see me, but, like I said, five months really isn’t that long for parents of twenty-somethings, so it wasn’t really an emotional or exciting reunion.
I then called my good friend Ryan Shapiro.
Me: Hi Ryan.
Ryan: Who is this?
Me: You don’t know who this is?
Ryan: Oh my gosh…IT’S JULIET!!!!!!
And then the rejoicing continued. He had missed me, and was thrilled that I was home. What a comfort it was to be met with such joy.
Do you remember the friend I called from the airport before I left? Well, next I decided to drive over to visit her and her family (husband, 4 kids, 1 niece who was living with them at the time). I knocked on the door and was greeted with not just hugs and smiles, but, get this: a banner, balloons, and a cake. They threw me a welcome home party! I then was brought up to date on this new dance craze called the dougie and was wowed by a middle schooler’s ability to perfectly recite every word of a song called “Fergilicious”.
I didn’t stay with my parents long. Withing a few weeks, I had headed back up to Santa Barbara where I had lived for the three years prior to my mission. This is also where just about all of my LDS friends lived.
I had been so nervous about coming home early, but not only did people nit shun me, but people weren’t even awkward around me! They were happy to see me! I was quickly invited to take over an open spot in an apartment of LDS girls, and they really were needing somebody to be the 1st counselor in relief society. About a month passed between me being sent home early from my mission and my call to be in the RS presidency. I was met with love, trust, and enthusiasm.
I heard an account of a girl who hadn’t met me hearing of my early return and speculating that I had done something wrong. Apparently, another girl, who had known me for a few years scolded her with something like, “Don’t even say that! Juliet would never do something wrong on her mission!” Bless her heart- she may have had more confidence in me than I deserved, but I am immensely grateful for the sentiment.
Upon returning home, the depression let up immediately. Suicidal thoughts no longer roamed in and out of my mind, and I felt capable, important, and happy.
Oftentimes, I hear that people come home early from their missions, for whatever reason, and never really make it back to church again, in part due to people being judgmental, isolating, and even cruel.
But let’s recap what happened to me when I returned home:
- I was congratulated by a (granted, uninformed) stranger who made my taco.
- I was told by a church leader that I didn’t owe anybody an explanation.
- I was accepted whole-heartedly by my family.
- I was thrown a party.
- I was offered a place to live.
- I was extended a leadership calling.
- I was defended by people who knew me to people who didn’t.
- I was met with joy, excitement, and, most of all, love.
At the place in my life where I thought I was going to see the worst of the Mormon people is where I found the very best of the Mormon people- kind, accepting, and eager to support and connect. By the time this happened I had been a Mormon for about 5 years, but this was when I knew that the Mormons were mine, and that I was their’s. This was when I knew that they would stand by me no matter what.
And they, collectively and individually, are still standing by me.
I received a blessing in the MTC from my district leader. In it, he said, “Juliet, you mission will be a success in the eyes of the Lord.” Well, you should know that I achieved a grand total of zero baptisms as a missionary. That’s right- on paper, my mission was a waste of 5 months and few thousand dollars.
So how was it a success? I believe that my mission was never supposed to be longer than five months. Being a missionary was an amazing and life-changing experience, but far and away, hands down, without a doubt, the most valuable part of my mission was the end of my mission.
Before my mission I loved Jesus, loved the gospel, and liked the Church. I still love Jesus best of all, and the gospel is still second on the list, but now I love, not just like, the Church.
My God, who had seemed absent while I suffered in Kansas, surrounded me with compassion in California. Every act of love shown by a fellow human felt like God’s hands reaching through them.
Thank you, God, for taking me out there. Thank you, even more, for bringing me back home.
And that is the post I’m no longer afraid to write.