I know that most of you can relate to how I felt and the experiences I had, but I felt like sharing my personal experiences of coming home from my mission. For whatever reason, whether it is to help someone else or for selfish reasons of needing some closure to my time serving a mission, I'm not sure. I really hope it can do a little bit of both for us. As my time of serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to an end, there were so many feelings and thoughts running through my mind and heart.Coming home, I had a fear that the past 18 months of my life would become a distant dream because I had quickly forgotten a lot of the little things about home and my life before the mission. What would happen after being home for a week, a month, a year? I did NOT want to forget ANYTHING I had learned while being a missionary, because being a missionary changed my life.
Lucky me, my mom kept my blog updated with the emails I sent home, so I have a record of my weekly happenings. Thanks Mom :) I also wrote in a personal journal, but even with pictures and the multiple sources of recorded information of my journey, SO much happened that I didn't get to record. I'm afraid I will forget those things I never wrote down, but I know they will forever be imprinted on my heart.
As I prepared to fly on a couple of different planes and experience a layover on my journey from Bakersfield to Idaho, I was informed that I would be the only missionary flying home that day. I wasn't necessarily afraid of flying by myself because I had done it in the past. But what I was terrified of, was being alone. I wasn't going to have a companion... After having someone by my side 24/7 for 18 months, I was going to be all by myself. Many times when I was a missionary, having a constant companion was a challenge, as it is for most missionaries. Aside from the typical challenges, your faults and shortcomings are magnified when someone is always right next to you. I think that's why you learn to love your companions so much, and that you always have a special bond with them, because you have the most spiritual experiences of your life together while both striving to become the best version of yourself. Having a companion refined who I was and who I wanted to be. I had learned and practiced teaching and talking in unity with my companion in every situation -- and now I wasn't going to have anyone by my side... It was just going to be me.
Looking back at it, Heavenly Father knew exactly what I needed that day. Absolutely everyone I sat next to or stood close to in lines were so nice and so willing to answer my inquiries of their lives and beliefs. They listened and shared some insightful moments with me. It was an unexpected day full of missionary work and miracles.
I was able to see both sides of my extended family, my closest friends and people that love me at the Phoenix airport (where I had a lay over) and when arriving home in the Boise airport. For the past 18 months, I had dreamed of the day I would see my family again in the airport and the real deal didn't disappoint. After I landed in Boise, I was basically running through the airport after coming out of the gate because I was so excited to see everyone. It hadn't registered what was REALLY about to happen and that this was real life until right before I rounded the last corner. I had to stop and catch my breath and try to compose myself for what was about to happen. I started through those security doors and I could see so many people I loved waiting for me! It was everything I had dreamed it would be and more! Such a glorious reunion!
That evening I went to get officially released from my missionary calling...something I had been dreading for a while. It was a great opportunity of reflection as I told my Stake President all about my mission and what I had learned. I could sense the closing of our meeting as he then asked me why I thought missionaries wore name tags. My response was delayed, because I knew what this question was prefacing.. I answered his question and shared my feelings of gratitude and honor of wearing my Savior's name on the same name tag as mine. Then, as a symbol of me being released as a missionary, I was asked to remove my name tag. With uncontrollable tears falling from my face, I unlatched the magnet on the back of my tag and held it in my hand. I knew that from this moment forward, my life I had become accustomed to and grown to love with all of my heart, was done. A life filled with obedience to a strict schedule and the highest form of conduct, and every hour being filled with purpose to help others come closer to the Savior. Something President Smith said that I will never forget is that now I won't wear a name tag with Christ's name etched on it for people to see who I was and who I represented. He said His name is etched on my heart and my actions, and my name has always been etched in His hands, feet and side. I wasn't going to be able to introduce myself to strangers and point to my heart where my name tag was and say, "My name is Sister Loar and I'm a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," but I would be able to continue to show them the love and compassion I had learned to have as a missionary. After my meeting with President Smith, I realized that my conduct, words and actions will show people who I am and who I represent. Even though I was heart broken to not be able to wear a name tag and have the calling of a missionary anymore, I knew that I could still share God's light with others. Transitioning back from missionary life to home life, was an interesting ride! I think I was able to get a few of the awkward habits out of my system the three days I was home before having to pack up and leave to go to school in Utah. I am positive my younger sister enjoyed backing me out of the garage in below freezing weather when I drove for the first time, accompanying me to hang out with my friends, and helping me remember what "style" was. I had to start school four days after I came home from my mission, so it was hard leaving so soon to be away from family... again. I struggled a lot trying to figure out how to juggle the stress of life again. I had to relearn how to do the whole "school" thing and how to be a responsible adult in managing the complicated life I forgot I had left behind. It's funny, I think in the different stages of our lives, our brains are structured to forget the hard day to day struggles and worries we had in the previous stage of life we just came from. I definitely forgot how difficult life could be. This last semester at BYU was the most difficult one I've experienced scholastically but also in other areas of my life as well. By the end of it I was kind of bitter at the fact that I was home and not a missionary still. But I knew I was where I was supposed to be and that this stage of life is what I needed to be living. Don't get me wrong, I did have so much fun being home for the many weddings I was able to attend, rooming with my best friend, going on dates, being able to watch movies, having dance parties (and we all know that I love to bust a move), going long boarding and many other things that I missed while out serving a mission. I also was able to see my family A LOT during the semester, so it really turned out fine. But the rewarding and fulfilling selfless life as a missionary is something I have missed every single day since I've been home. I don't think that feeling of missing the mission will change, because after being home for six months, it's still here. The most prominent lesson I've learned these last six months is that sometimes God has us go down certain roads because He needs us to know that they are the wrong roads. Then he leads us the right way and we are able to appreciate life in such a better and more grateful perspective. Elder Holland teaches about this principle in an experience he had. I love the way he explains it and would echo everything he says. The link will take you to a video about it. (It's definitely worth the watch!)
After I came home from my mission, I was very fortunate to see so many people I had met in Bakersfield! I counted my blessings and figured out that every week since I was home I was able to see or talk to at least one person I had come to know as a missionary. I think living in Utah had its advantages! :) Those relationships and connections that I made while serving are so close to my heart. The people I met changed my life and have given me the ability to see the world differently. In May I was able to go back and visit part of my mission! YAY IT WAS THE BEST WEEKEND EVER. It was so hard not being able to see everyone I wanted to. Time was against me and I didn't have enough of it. I learned so many lessons that weekend though! :) I learned that I need to take a longer vacation to visit everyone, because I honestly wanted to stop and see EVERYONE I had met and talked to ever. I also learned that God's timing is the best timing and that miracles still happen as long as you do your part and exercise faith. I learned that people didn't forget me! (That was a fear I had when leaving each area I served in. BLESSINGS.) I also learned that I have a very unhealthy love for Bakersfield, California (and the surrounding areas) and that I will shake with excitement within 100 miles of reaching those places. Haha it is the honest truth. :) I learned that our brains really do make us forget the hard day to day struggles and worries we had in the previous stage of life we just came from.. because I didn't remember until meeting up with some missionaries I served with, just how difficult missionary life really was. Missionary life is SIMPLE, but still hard. But it's hard because I tried. And I kept trying and I'm still going to keep trying even though life is hard too because that is how we learn and grow. It gave me so much closure to visit the mission again and I'm so grateful for the timing of it all. I was able to spend some time with President and Sister Wilson, my mission president and his wife, and it was the most rewarding experience. I love them! They are like my second parents. I look up to them so much and I'm so grateful for their time and energy spent on my behalf for those 18 months. Serving a mission has given me a new set of glasses to look at life through. I feel more aware of those around me and their feelings. I have been able to notice God's hand in my life more clearly. My patience with others, myself and with the circumstances life provides, has grown exponentially. I see others differently. I judge less, because I have felt God's love for strangers and I know that everyone has a story. I am far from perfect, but I know now what I need to do and what kind of efforts I need to put forth to truly change and become better everyday. The simplest of things that I learned and developed as a missionary have made the biggest difference in my life now. Habits that I formed as a missionary have helped me to make the day to day lifestyle choices that shape an attitude of faith, hope and charity. Serving a mission allowed me to learn more about the Savior and His love for each one of us. As I got to know the individuals I interacted with, my heart grew with love for them, that I didn't know could exist in me. I love the people of the California Bakersfield Mission. They taught me so many valuable things that will always be close to my heart. I know that the message I shared for 18 months and continue to share with others is the greatest blessing of hope and peace in this life. I know that God lives, that He created all things, and that He loves us more than we can comprehend. I know that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world, the Only Begotten of the Father, the Prince of Peace and my Redeemer. His grace is sufficient for all of us to be strengthened and enabled to overcome anything we experience in this life. He is the greatest gift our Heavenly Father could give us. Through Christ we are able to live after we die and be cleansed from sin, making us eligible to live with our families, God and Him again after this life in peace and joy. If we have faith, keep God's commandments, serve others and live cheerfully we will be given the strength to endure and experience the purest of joy now and forever. I know that this is true. My life is forever changed because of the experience I had of serving a mission. Every missionary is different, every mission is different, and the experiences you have as a missionary are different from anyone else's experiences. But they are unique and personalized to be exactly what you need individually because God cares just as much about the messenger as He does the people receiving the message. It was a hard 18 months. There were tears of happiness as well as sadness and frustration. Many nights I went to sleep, exhausted and worried about companions, the people we were trying to help and of being inadequate to carry the calling of a missionary. I tried my best and trusted in the Lord, and miracles happened. The greatest miracle of my mission was my own conversion to Jesus Christ and His gospel. I've truly been saved, in every sense of the word. I think God's commandments are perfect and intentional in all aspects. I know it's not a coincidence that as we are helping others come closer to Christ, we end up at the feet of the Savior as well. Thank you to everyone who supported me during my time of service. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by such amazing and inspirational people. Every interaction I've had with any of you, has been a blessing to me. Here's to new adventures and life changing experiences! The journey continues... Love, Maren xoxo
"God is my salvation I will trust, and not be afraid for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also has become my salvation." [2 Nephi 22:2]