I’ve been mulling over this post for days as I got caught up on the posts from my letters home. I’ve been back home in Connecticut for just over a week, and part of me is still in the field. It’s a weird feeling, to be honest. I’ve had a lot of time to think about the past eighteen months of my life.
My last few days in the field were over too soon – it feels like between my last email home and getting off the plane was just a few seconds, rather than a few days. On Monday night, Sister Marsh and I were up all night packing, cleaning, and preparing to close the apartment. I don’t think I could have slept if I had tried, really. I was trying to savor every last bit of my time in the field, and had a lot going on in my head. Before I knew it, the sun was rising over the balcony, and I was putting my last odds and ends into my suitcase.
Transfer meeting was tough – at the beginning of the meeting, after introducing the new missionaries to the rest of the elders and sisters, President calls the departing missionaries up to sit behind him on the stand. It felt like the longest transfer meeting of my life. As the new missionaries walked in, we stood to sing “Called to Serve,” and for a moment I was back to my first few days in the field. Bewildered, exhausted, anxious and excited, all in one mess of a sister missionary. Sitting on the stand was even harder, seeing my friends who have truly become family move to new areas and new companionships. It made me proud to see those sisters I have served with move on in their missions to different triumphs and challenges, and to see those elders I love hug one another as they switched seats.
After the meeting, departing missionaries had a few spare hours at the stake center for lunch. We got one last district photo with our elders, I got to say goodbye to my companions who are remaining in the field, and chatted with other missionaries I’ve come to really love and respect. One by one (well, two by two), elders and sisters left to return to their areas, leaving us to wander aimlessly and companion-less around the building. Both Sister Lewis and I were as anxious as the day we came in, and decided to go get back into our element and hit the pavement. The assistants looked like they were going to have an apoplexy when they saw us snag some proselyting materials from Elder Jacobson and his new companion, and made us promise to be back soon. We talked as we knocked, reflecting on the past 18 months and how different we had become since our days in the MTC with our district.
It was so hard to say goodbye to ‘our’ elders. It was so strange – we’ve done everything together, and have been able to serve together often. I tried my best not to cry. Each of them is incredible, and I’m excited to hear about the next six months of their missions.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent with President and Sister Hall at the mission home. We’d all heard of the “date training” (and all the associated horror stories) that accompanies departing activities, but really it was just a chance for the lot of us to sit down with President and Sister Hall and have an informal conversation about what was head. It was pretty nice to just talk with them for a few hours.
After dinner, which the assistants so kindly prepared, we had a departing testimony meeting in the living room, which just turned into an ocean of tears as we each took a turn expressing what we were feeling as we prepared to go home. I was in a shambles the entire time, using an entire package of tissues from my purse, but it was comforting to look across the room and see the elders wiping their eyes on their ties and cuffs. We sang “God Be With You Til We Meet Again” – the most horrible rendition every, punctuated by sniffles and cracking voices – before heading to bed for the night.
Everyone says it’s hard to leave on a mission. It’s so much harder to leave the mission when your time is up. We all sat in the airport dejected and exhausted, trying our best to cheer one another up as we thought about being released. It’s a bundle of mixed emotions: excitement to see your family, exhaustion from the past 18-24 months of working 80+ hours a week, sorrow to leave the family you’ve created behind you, joy at having accomplished such an incredible task, and all sorts of other complicated things. I was doing okay until I turned around after going through security to see President and the Assistants simply lift their hands in a goodbye. My heart broke. Even now, describing it all, I’m tearing up, and I feel far away from where I really am.
The series of plane rides and layovers were hours of reflection for me. I was able to write in my journal and read a few chapters of the Book of Mormon, which was comforting. I felt, the closer I got to the east, that I was leaving Sister Redner behind and slipping back into the world of Meg. It was a strange feeling, really. The best word to use is cathartic.
I’m so happy to be home. It’s not been easy to start that transition from ‘missionary’ to ‘returned missionary.’ I’m awkward, torn between two coasts, and still pretty exhausted. I’ve got a lot to think about: everything I experienced, the people I left behind, the people I’ve come home to, what I learned, what’s ahead.
People ask me how my mission was. I don’t ever know how to respond. How do you sum
up 18 months in a few words? I think it will take a long time to eloquently describe it. I still think like a missionary, and I hope that never leaves. I’m excited to press forward, to keep helping others to draw closer to Christ.
People have asked me, “how many baptisms did you have?” That’s been the most common question. It’s really caused me to think about how I measure my time in California.
I don’t measure it by baptisms, by contacts, by doors knocked and slams, or by investigators. I’ve come to measure it by how much heart I put into each day. By how many times I helped someone feel the Spirit. By the verses that lifted my companion and I from discouragement. By the examples of those I met. By the things that made me a better person. By the things that brought me to my knees. By the things that brought me to my feet. By the friendships that have blossomed. By the person I’ve become.
The world ahead is daunting. I don’t know quiet what to do with it. Right now, my lifeline is the habits of prayer, study, and diligence that I learned on my mission (oh, and keeping in contact with those incredible people I served with). But I’m excited. I’m eager to press forward, to continue on, carrying everything I learned with me. You’ll have to forgive me if I’m constantly talking about my mission. I love it, and it’s become part of me. I’m stoked to take it forward with me.