So…I came home from my mission almost a month ago now. And it has been a roller coaster, let me just tell you. I don’t think a single day has gone by where I didn’t think, at least for a minute, “wow, the real world kind of just … sucks.” And I know for a fact not a single day has gone by where I didn’t wish I could go back and be a missionary, even for a few hours. I think about my mission every day.
Has it gotten better since I’ve been home? Yes. I am no longer a complete wreck and I don’t just burst into tears for no apparent reason other than … I hate real life. I really like being able to listen to normal music and you can bet I watched Tangled twice in the same day once I got home and loved it. Is it still hard? Oh, absolutely yes. It still breaks my heart when I am introduced to people as “Carlene” rather than “Sister Watson” (I die a little inside every time).
Everyone writes about how to prepare for missions and the best ways to be the best missionary you can possibly be. Everyone tells stories about mission experiences – both good and bad – and does everything they can to help future missionaries prepare. And that’s wonderful and good and I know I was especially grateful to have so many Pinterest boards and blogs to stalk as I prepared for my mission. No one talks about coming home. No one tells you how emotional you get or how many mental breakdowns you have. No one takes you through a nice MTC to help you reorient to the real world. They smile when your homecoming talk is over, want to hear some nice stories from your mission, and then you go on your way and everything is fine and dandy. They tell you how happy they are that you’re with your family again, laugh a little because you feel awkward wearing pants in public for the first week, and then everything goes back to the way it was before your mission, right?
Except it can’t go back to the way it was, nor do I want it to. Everything has changed. There’s a new Costco by my house that still surprises me every time I remember it’s there. I don’t know the names of half my friends on Facebook because they all got married while I was gone (Also, let’s not even talk about how much social media is changed; I still don’t understand the new Instagram updates from like a year ago). My brothers all got taller and older while I was gone (and the youngest one speaks so clearly, it’s nuts) and my sister is like … an adult now. I still know about zero of the songs that play on the radio and I hate approximately 90% of the clothes that are in style right now (which makes shopping incredibly frustrating).
But most importantly, I’ve changed. I’m not the person I was when I left, nor do I want to be. I’ve had a lot of faith building experiences and a lot of life lessons crammed into the last year and a half. I’ve seen a lot of both heartbreaking and joyous things. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and grown from every single one. I’ve learned so much – from dealing with rejection, getting along with someone I have to spend literally 24 hours a day with (ha! Those communication skills are up to par), and knowing when it’s time to stop to make an ice cream run … but also from bearing my testimony almost constantly, watching people change their lives, and seeing miracles on a daily basis.
I don’t ever want things to go back to the way they were … but I’m really not sure where I want them to go right now either.
I could probably dedicate an entire blog post to the whirlwind of emotions I feel coming home from my mission. But that wouldn’t help missionaries returning home from their missions; they all know very well how they feel. What none of us do know … is what to do about it. So I think I’m going to attempt to explain things that have helped me as I’ve struggled to figure out how to fit the person I’ve become into this new lifestyle that once felt so familiar and easy to me.
First, it’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to feel awkward. It’s okay to cry a lot. It’s okay that going to the store by yourself makes you uncomfortable or you don’t know what the speed limit is because you’re used to just going until the tiwi tells you to slow down. It’s okay if your first name makes you cringe a little or you feel naked without a name tag on. Every returned missionary is going to adjust differently. Some want to sit down and marathon the Star Wars movies they missed the day after they’re released, some don’t even want to see Disney movies for two weeks. Whatever you’re struggling with, it’s okay. You just went through an entire lifestyle change and literally everything will throw you off, both big and small. One of my favorite quotes that kind of became my mantra on my mission is “Have patience with all things, but first of all yourself.” You’re not a perfect person and in this life, you never will be. Things aren’t going to be completely fine and dandy, so be patient with yourself as you get used to things. Things will get better in time, for now, let yourself be okay with not being completely okay.
Celebrate the little victories. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed since coming home is sometimes, it’s hard to motivate yourself to want to be happy. I can tell you right now, I have never been happier in my life than I was on my mission. Sure, there were hard days and bad days. And I’m pretty sure there were absolutely zero days that were perfect. But I can tell you that 95% of the time, I could lay my head on my pillow at the end of the day and say, “Wow, I just had the best day EVER!” Because even if you spent four hours in the rain because no one was home and wanted to let you in or just had someone yell rude things to you on the street … you’ll have that one lesson that makes everything better. You’ll see that person who had just prayed to ask God if He even knew them, let alone cared about them … and then you just happened to randomly drop by to tell them that He does know and care about them. You see the light enter their eyes as they feel His love overpower them. You see someone feel the Spirit for the first time and commit right then and there to change their life. You see someone finally pick up the Book of Mormon for the first time and get excited because they liked it and liked the way it made them feel. And any amount of pain, rejection, sorrow, heartache, or homesickness flies away in that moment. Your joy is so full … you forget about the bad. It doesn’t matter anymore, it’s in the past. Nothing can compare to the joy you feel now. You’re having the best day ever.
And then … you come home. And it’s not that you’re sad … when it’s raining, you can curl up inside and take a nap, or dance in it (depending on how you’re feeling). People aren’t rude to you just because you’re wearing a name tag; you’re a normal person again. Homesick? Mom is in the other room, just go give her a hug (or if she isn’t, just pick up the phone and call her right now). The things that got you down are gone … but so are those incomparable joys. You don’t get to just go visit random strangers to tell them that Jesus Christ lives and loves them. I have a job working as a restaurant cashier; while it’s great (and I actually get paid to do this work), it’s not the same. You’re not sad or depressed … but you’re not happy to the same degree either.
I’ve learned to pay attention to the things that do make me smile. I haven’t had a single best day ever since I’ve been home. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t had moments of joy. I’ve felt God’s love for me as I’ve said my personal prayers. I find myself laughing while catching up with an old friend that I haven’t seen for years (because missions). I’ve been able to talk to past companions and mission friends who went home before me and reminisce good times. I’ve been able to draw closer to my family and enjoy little moments with them. Maybe I’m not watching anyone make drastic life changes, but I’m enjoying a lot of the little life moments that I couldn’t while I was on my mission (like reading my younger brothers a bedtime story). There is still joy and goodness to be found in the real world! But just like the joy your found on your mission, it takes practice to recognize it.
Focus on the things that haven’t changed. So much about your environment and your day-to-day lifestyle have changed. Focus on the constants and the things you can anchor in when you’re feeling uncertain. When I was stressed on my mission, my go to solution was to eat ice cream. That still works! The little things you do to relieve stress still help!
When you come home from your mission, your lifestyle changed and the world you knew before your mission has changed. But just because you take your name tag off, doesn’t mean you take off the person you’ve become. When you take the tag off, you are still you. Your testimony is just as strong as your last day in the mission field (and if you’re doing things right, it will only continue to get stronger). My relationship with the Lord didn’t change just because I’m not a missionary. He’s still just as close as ever and He still loves me and wants to help me. I didn’t suddenly lose everything I’d learned about prayer and recognizing the Holy Ghost when I was released. On the contrary, I learned what the Spirit felt like on my mission and now it’s easier for me to recognize answers. And I’m still a missionary; when people around me have questions about what I believe, I know how to answer. I just spent a year and a half teaching people all the basics about Jesus Christ and His Gospel; I can answer a few simple questions.
So is being a returned missionary easy? No. But it’s possible and as time goes on, I know I will enjoy it more! Life wasn’t supposed to peak on your mission. It gets better. You do great things and you have more joy than you did even on your mission! And of course I will always look back on my mission fondly … but I know there will come a time when I’m not looking back just because I want to go back, but looking back and being grateful for how it shaped me into who I am today. And until then, as Elder Holland said, “Don’t you quit. You keep walking, you keep trying, there is help and happiness ahead. Some blessings come soon. Some come late. Some don’t come until heaven. But for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come. It will be alright in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.”
I know there are good things to come! I know our loving Heavenly Father has a plan for each of us and He didn’t plan for a single one of us to fail. I know it may be hard now, but I will learn and grow and be better for the things I’m learning, even now, as I struggle through this. Most of all, I know Jesus Christ is my Savior. And through Him, all of my problems are solved, if I just trust Him and trust His timing. And I say that in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.