The Lord’s Investigator

The day I entered the MTC, right before I was whisked off to receive my badge. August 28, 2013.

The day I entered the MTC, right before I was whisked off to receive my badge. August 28, 2013.

{this post is dedicated to all those elders and sisters I served with, especially ‘The Fifty’ – the last of whom returned home this week}

Today it’s been two years since I entered the MTC, bound for the California San Fernando mission. Six months since I returned home from the field. Two days since the last member of my MTC district returned home.

I feel like my head is spinning, because it feels like just yesterday that I embarked on the hardest, sweetest, and greatest 18 California months of my life, and just this morning that I cried the entire way to Salt Lake City as I flew home to Connecticut.

In reality, I’ve been home six months, completed a semester of school and started another, gotten a ‘big girl job’ at a local investment firm, seen friends and companions marry the loves of their lives, remastered the use of technology and media, made new friends and reunited with old ones, and begun navigating the waters of life as an awkward returned missionary.

I can’t help but reflect on the past two years. There’s an indescribable amount of joy in my

Our district - August 29, 2013.

Our district – August 29, 2013.

heart as I think of the experiences I had and the people I met and came to love in California, and of the elders and sisters I had the privilege of serving with. I was recently thinking of my first day in the MTC, when we were all arriving. I had been whisked off by a sister to stow my luggage and practically abandoned with a group of other incoming missionaries. That was when I first met Sara (then Sister Humpherys), and we awkwardly made conversation before we were both escorted to our classroom, awaiting our companions. One by one, we filed in and sat down in awkward silence. Elder Barnett, Elder Nielson, Elder Simonson, Elder McCauley, Sister Olsen, Sister Humpherys, Sister Lewis, and myself, sitting in a BYU apartment that had been turned into a classroom, clutching our scriptures and Preach My Gospels like they were our only lifeline.

First steps on California pavement. September 9, 2013.

First steps on California pavement. September 9, 2013.

I don’t know quite how it happened, but by the time we left we were a tightly knit motley crew of a family, heartbroken at the thought of never seeing each other again (thanks, branch president). We were equally terrified and ready to conquer California as we stepped off the plane in Burbank, snapped a picture, and were on our way to heaven-only-knew-where.

The rest of the 18 months are a blur with beautifully vivid snapshots, experiences, and feelings. Meeting my trainer and going to my first area, attending my first mission conference with Elder Kopischke of the Quorum of the Seventy, my first transfer to a new area (Chatsworth), Christmas morning spent with our district in Reseda, training my first new missionary and being welcomed by the Korean branch in San Fernando, learning ASL practically on accident, transferring to a different valley and training again, meeting my first deaf companion (who by the time we got to our apartment became one of my closest friends) and returning to Mission Hills (which felt like I was coming home), the chaos of companionships and members, transferring and being in my last area with another deaf companion, the pride I felt as I saw each of my companions grow and blossom, watching the one baptism I had on my mission with my companion and trying not to cry, the drive to my last transfer meeting and bawling my eyes out, sitting in the living room of the mission home as we sang/cried “God Be With You Til We Meet Again,” hugging my mission president for the first and last time as I entered security in the Burbank airport and trying to keep it together with Bon Jovi singing “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” on the radio in the background, crying the entire way to Salt Lake City, rushing into the open arms of my family in the empty Hartford airport late at night, feeling cold for the first time in 18 months as I walked into a Connecticut spring, the ache of removing my tag at the request of my stake president.

There are times that it doesn’t feel real. I can’t believe it happened. Did I really do that?

The Fifty, the largest incoming transfer in the history of the San Fernando mission - September 9, 2013

The Fifty, the largest incoming transfer in the history of the San Fernando mission – September 9, 2013

How do I love these people so much? How can I miss a place with all that I am? How did we accomplish that? How did I get to who I am now? Do they know I still pray for them every day, and plead for their safety and protection? Do they know how much I love them and can’t wait to be reunited one day, all of us wearing white, the dust and sorrow of the world washed away?

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about my mission multiple times a day. Little things will remind me of something that happened. A song will bring back the feelings. A marked scripture will remind me of someone I love and pray for in California. I still hold my hand over my heart, and am shocked to not find a tag pinned there. People ask me if I miss the food, and I have to say yes and go on about what real Mexican food tastes like because I can’t express aptly that I don’t miss the food nearly as much as I miss people I sat around a table with, who shared what little they had because they loved us. I dream still of the people we met, of the dusty and hot streets we tracted, the doors we knocked on, the unique rhythm of the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys, the comradery of being missionaries.

Departing Temple Trip - March 6, 2015

Departing Temple Trip – March 6, 2015

I read once a book that explained that if the history of the world, from Adam and Eve on, were to be put on a timeline, our life would be but a centimeter or two. That image has stuck with me for years. When I think about my mission, those 18 months in California, it’s not much more than a dash in my life-line. It doesn’t even make it onto the timeline of the history of the world. But that little dash is what has changed me forever, it has changed and refined everything about me. It has turned the course of my eternity.

As a Latter-day Saint I believe that we are eternal beings, we existed before this earth,

Final district picture. March 10, 2015.

Final district picture. March 10, 2015.

and we will exist well after it. I look at who I was before my mission, who I’ve become, and who I want to be, and realize that little dash of California entirely changed the course. It put me back on track, taught me to navigate, and showed me who my Captain was with such clarity and power that I’ll never be able to stray far from the charted waters. I was blessed with men and women on my mission who I will stand beside forever, and come hell or high water, we’ll be returning to the Father together, with those we found, taught, and came to love. They are my dear sister companions, the incredible elders I served with who became brothers, the loving brethren and sisters in the wards I served in, the amazing people I taught, my inspiring mission president and his wife – all of whom taught me more with their actions than words ever could.

Being back at SVU and being on my own has shown me how much I’ve changed over the past two years. I wish I could sum it up easily, but I can’t. Every day I’m surprised and thankful for who I have become because of my mission, and every day I’m more determined to keep pressing forward.

It doesn’t matter what happens, a mission is something that never leaves you. You don’t set out to be the focus of your mission. If you do, you’re doing it wrong. You go on a mission for other people. You go in a feeble and inadequate attempt to begin to really thank Heavenly Father for all that He’s blessed you with. You go to serve. You go to share what you love most.

But somehow, in the process, you realize that you’re as much an investigator to the Lord as those who are new to the Gospel. You learn and grow as much as those you teach do. But it’s still not the point. The point is to focus outward, to lift and support and love others, all while the Lord works on you. Just like you’re working on them. Just like when you show up to a lesson, and see that it’s somehow all clicked overnight for your investigator, you wake up one morning and see how much you’ve changed.

I realize now, 2 years after diving into Preach My Gospel and searching the scriptures for what I needed to teach my investigators, that of all the things I learned on my mission (patience, love, etc.) that what has come to be the most important is this:

We are each God’s investigator. He’s equally invested in each of us, He wants each of us not only to find the fleeting happiness in the day-to-day, but the eternal joy of living the Gospel and coming to know Him and His Son personally in preparation to live with them again. He cries with us, He mourns with us, He smiles and laughs and loves with us.

As a missionary, I was always astounded by how much love I felt for the people I served. I barely knew them. They hardly knew me. Yet, every time I thought of them, my heart was full because I felt God’s love for them. It didn’t matter who they were. I loved them and knew it wasn’t even a percentage of how much God loved them.

He loves us enough to have sent us His Son – the greatest sacrifice He could ever have made for us. He provided a way for us to come home. And what’s more, He provided us with a way to have a constant source of comfort and inspiration – the Holy Ghost. He’s offered this to every single one of His children, in some way. No one left out, no one left behind.

Over looking the San Fernando Valley, where I spent 15 months of my mission. March 2015.

Over looking the San Fernando Valley, where I spent 15 months of my mission. March 2015.

I think back to my time in California with joy and peace, but it’s not without the realization that those days that I wanted to give up were just as formative as the ones where I was on fire. I can’t deny that there were days that I was exhausted, grouchy, in pain, and slow. Because it those days are the ones where I learned the most about who I was to my Father, and the depth of the love He has for me. For each of us. I think about the time we spent preparing and praying for our investigators, teaching them, finding them, guiding them, loving them, worrying about them, and realize that’s nothing compared to what He does and how He feels about us. And I’m blown away.

No matter what you’re going through, no matter what happens, He won’t leave you. He won’t drop you, put you aside, check you off the list. He’s been 100% invested in you from day 1, from ground zero, from the very start. And nothing can change that.

There won’t be a day that I will be ungrateful for the time I spent in California. I’d give anything to be back there with those I love, my strange little tribe of members, missionaries, strangers, investigators, and even the people who rejected us. I’m grateful for those I served with – they are so crucial to that little dash on my line. More so than I think they realize.

But more than anything, I’m grateful for the investment the Lord has placed in me. In each of us. And with that investment, I realize that while my time as a full-time missionary might be over, my calling as such is not. I will not rest until the people who surround me know how much their God loves them.

Because we’re all God’s investigators.

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