Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of my return home from Colombia early for ankle surgery. What a year it has been.
A year and a week ago, I was a fledgling missionary, ready to be the best one my mission had ever seen. I had experienced some unpleasant things in the mission that I will not discuss further here, but those experiences did not matter because I knew that I had another glorious 18 months left to experience the “good” part of the mission where the other missionaries respect you, you have numerical success and your emails home aren’t lies about how you are just loving it and having a great time. I was going to be a senior companion. I was ready to start being honest in emails home without worrying that everyone will think that I must have been doing something wrong because I was unhappy in my service. I was prideful enough to believe that I was entitled to such an experience, and I was certain that God wanted that for me too. I knew that everyone “loved their mission,” and so it followed that I just hadn’t reached that part of my mission yet.
Then, we received the MRI results. My ankle was broken. Thursday morning we decided that I would return home for approximately two months to undergo a routine ankle surgery, after which I would be back in my mission field. Friday morning I boarded a plane in Barranquilla. Saturday morning I received my honorable release.
Things slowly disintegrated further. The surgeon recommended we postpone surgery for a month to try physical therapy first. That failed. Then we tried immobilization. I wore a boot for 2 months. That didn’t work either. Finally, I was on the operating table in late September, three months after my return. The necessary surgery turned out to be much more complicated, requiring six months recovery. I was in bed for two weeks, then on a knee scooter for two months. We decided I would return to BYU.
At that point, I felt very far from God. I had tried to just “have a good attitude” about this “learning experience” that was meant to “grow my faith” as so many told me. And, of course, it was a learning experience that grew my faith. But it didn’t feel like that at the time.
I had lost all desire to do missionary work. The aforementioned unpleasantness of my six months in Colombia dominated my memories of the mission, and I developed real anxiety about returning to the field. I was at home in Las Vegas, without many friends close to my age. My 20th birthday was dismal. I honestly felt that the life I should have been living had long since split from the life I was living, like I had fallen off the celestial stallion, and it had galloped on without me. I couldn’t look someone in the eyes and tell them that I loved my mission like other returned missionaries could. To me it seemed like either most returned missionaries were lying about their missions or there was something seriously wrong with me. I was experiencing borderline clinical depression and anxiety because I felt that my life was shattered before me. I felt utterly alone.
And so six months ago, I had been home for six months, and I was three months post-surgery. I could finally walk almost normally again, and I had some nice scars on my ankle. I also had some scars on my testimony.
I still believed intellectually everything that I had taught and been taught my whole life. I knew the Plan of Salvation, the scriptures, and about Jesus Christ, but I did not truly believe that His sacrifice was working in my life. It caused turmoil within me: the truths that I knew and believed directly opposed my life experience. The Book of Mormon says.
“For the Lord God hath said that: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; and inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence.”
2 Nephi 4:4
Yet, here I was. I had kept the commandments of the Lord by leaving to serve a mission in Colombia, but my resulting experience resembled being “cut off from [His] presence” much more than it resembled “prosper[ing] in the land.”
People asked me constantly when I was planning to return to the field, and I was grateful for my broken ankle, because it allowed me to mask the fact that I was terrified of going back there.
Then, in January, I returned to BYU to continue my studies. I did not mention to most people that I wasn’t a 24-month RM, but a 6-month “quarter-baked” RM. I still felt bitter about the way things had gone, but I was ready to be happy again. Slowly, the clouds parted. I found friends that were my age, several of whom were also early returned missionaries. I even went to an ERM (early returned missionary) Conference . I would highly recommend it.
I realized that the majority of my prayers since returning home had been rather superficial. Deep down, I was angry at God for the way things had gone, but I knew that I ought not to feel that, so I pretended I didn’t and proceeded with my life.
My prayers changed. I began to be completely honest with God, not holding back any of the emotions I had built up for months inside of me. I realized that I was holding onto those feelings for dear life, never letting my Father in Heaven in to let Him teach me. I began to let them go. It was difficult. I began to realized that I needed the Christ to come and take those feelings and unpleasant memories from me, because they were paralyzing me with fear.
I began to be more open with everyone with exactly what I had experienced and what I was feeling. I made more friends. I began to find joy in focusing on them, rather than basking in dismal glow of my own self-pity. I met with a few counselors that showed me how to separate my experiences and emotions from who I was.
Then, in May, I received an impression to start running. I started by just running around the block, but soon I was running miles at a time. Running, as it did for me in High School, helped to relieve my stress and to reset my priorities and perspective. I started smiling and laughing despite myself. God was proving to me that He loved me.
I have come to know that that is really what Jesus Christ’s sacrifice can do for us. I had experienced some unpleasantness. I had emotional reactions to my life. It seemed in December like there was no redeeming quality to my experience. It destroyed my ankle, my happiness, and my faith. It made me cynical and numb to the world. And maybe I could have prevented some of that.
People say that “everything happens for a reason,” but I disagree. We don’t have to go very far to find a myriad of events that clearly shouldn’t have happened, the very least of which I experienced. I faced a relatively small trial. However, broken families, poverty, war, and abuse, etc. all happen, but there is often little to nothing redeemable about them on their own. The beauty of what Christ did for us is that He can take the most vile events in our lives and make us better and stronger despite what we experience. He can help a family mend despite their previous struggles. He lets the rain fall despite the fire that burned a forest.
He allowed me to run despite my broken ankle. He relieved my stress despite my anxiety. He helped me to learn to love helping people despite the negative feelings I have from my mission in Colombia.
Those negative things did not happen for a reason. Christ negated their ill effects despite their previous choke hold on my life.
Yesterday, I ran a half marathon with my brother in Long Beach, CA. For me, it was an incredibly symbolic victory through Christ. I was broken, and He healed me. I wasn’t sure when I had the surgery if I would ever run again, but I have run a hundred miles in the last two months despite that. I wasn’t sure if I would ever want to be a missionary again, but now, I do despite what I felt before.
I testify that God loves us each so much. He allows us to pass through difficult things here on earth, but He sent His Son to heal us despite what has happened. If we seek healing from Him, He will grant it to us.
Christ extends His loving hand to us all. He says,
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
Today, I am of good cheer, and I have peace because I know that He lives and loves me.
I testify that He lives and loves you as well.