20 years ago I was serving a full time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I was stateside and Spanish speaking. It was the best of both mission worlds. I was in my own country, able to get my diabetes care, and because I was Spanish speaking, I was able to teach and work with people from Mexico, Central America and South America. My first area was awesomely incredible. The work was moving, I was working hard and I was happy.
After a couple of months there, when call outs for transfers came, my name was included. I was going to a new area along with a new companion. Together we would open the area for Spanish speaking sisters again. There were elders there already and they were wonderful to us. They gave us families and individuals to teach. They worked on getting dinner appointments for us. They introduced us to many of the members and investigators. They told us the best places to proselyte as well as the not so great places.
It soon became very apparent that we, the sisters, were not welcome there. The member men, Los Hermanos, as they were called, said that because we didn't hold the priesthood we were not really on the Lord's errand. They shunned us. The member women would only sign up to feed the missionaries if the sisters did not accompany the elders. They did not want us in their homes. As we began meeting investigators, we were quickly told they were not interested. They stopped answering their phones and their doors. While looking for service opportunities, we were quickly met with nice people saying they were not in need of help. My companion and I found ourselves in a very difficult scenario. We were not wanted, we were not working and we were not serving.
As a result, we spent a lot of time in our apartment. Soon I became very ill. I stopped sleeping, my blood sugars were sky high, I had gained about 40 pounds, my head was constantly pounding and I had no energy to do anything. I went to a doctor who said I needed to lose weight. That would solve everything. I struggled with that. I couldn't lose anything. We were on a very tight budget and at the mercy of anyone who fed us. I couldn't exercise because I eventually couldn't get out of bed. Weight was no longer an issue. Something else was wrong.
In this process, I stopped studying with my companion. She found that sleeping during the day was best under the circumstances. I also stopped studying my scriptures and praying. Now, this all had happened within a very short time of my becoming sick. Although it felt like an eternity.
I saw a few more doctors and there was nothing they could do for me. They didn't know what was wrong. My mission president was on his way home. And with a new president coming in, I found myself on his radar. The problem was, I scared the new president. We spent some time on the phone for him to become familiar with me and what was happening. When our phone calls would end, I didn't even feel relief that he knew my situation. He was just as stumped as the previous president. He spent time talking with the doctors I'd seen and on the phone with my parents. Everyone was at a loss.
It had only been about 2 weeks. I found myself unable to see any light at all. I described it to one of the elders as “being in a deep, dark pit with no light and no way out”. One night I sat on the bathroom floor crying. I was so completely miserable that I couldn't see anything in front of me. My companion came in and asked what I was thinking. I only told her that I couldn't do it anymore. She said, “so you're just going to sit here and cry?!”. Well. Yes.
Actually I was going through every option I could think of to end my life. But without causing pain. Physical pain and I don't really like each other. And to take my life, I would experience some type of pain. To my clouded mind, it seemed like the only way out. So I was left wondering. With no real answer.
Then the phone rang. It was my grandma. Meme, actually. My family was on a trip to Canada and I had been trying to contact them earlier. I don't remember how it was that she knew to call, but I was grateful she did. We talked for just a few minutes. She said she would have my aunt Ruth call me. She lived just a short drive away. I hung up and waited by the phone.
Ruth called and I told her what was going on. I talked for a while. Then she gave me the best advice I think I have ever received. It went something like this... I will send Chuck (her hubby) right now to pick you up. You don't have to pack anything, don't say anything to anyone, just wait for him and leave with him. We'll get you home and in to see your own doctor. We will all support you. You will get better and move on with your life. In 20 years you'll look back and think “I didn't finish, even though I did get better”. OR, You stay and you get on your knees right after you hang up. You talk to Heavenly Father and get His help. You do all you can to get out and work, just a little a day. We will support you. You will get better and in 20 years you'll look back and think “I finished and I got better and I am stronger and better because of it”. She said I just needed to choose. If I needed some time to think about it, all I needed to do was call back and let her know I needed Chuck to come. We talked for just a few more minutes and I told her I would call her back when I'd made a decision.
Oh how I wanted to go home. How I wanted to just walk away from the misery. How I wanted to just have some light in my life again. But the advice to kneel and talk to Heavenly Father was echoing in my head. Along with the pounding pain. So I knelt.
I knelt for a very long time. I didn't say a word. I didn't know what to say. 2 weeks is a very long time to not pray. I had given up on Heavenly Father so easily that I didn't know if He would even listen. I knelt for a very long time.
Then it was time. I began my prayer with “Heavenly Father. Are you there?..” and with that I felt his arms wrapped around me so tightly and so lovingly that I knew He was there. He was listening, and, by golly, He loved me! So so much. The rest of my prayer came a little more easily. I talked. I asked. I pleaded. I listened. And then I knew. I needed to stay. Not even thinking 20 years into the future. But for right in that moment I knew that He had a purpose for me to be there and work that only I could do. And I knew that I would get better. I knew I would be okay.
I called Ruth back and told her I was staying. She said their family had been praying for me and that they knew I had gotten the right answer. I went to my companion and told her I would be okay and that we needed to get back to the work. We needed to study and pray and get out of the gross apartment.
It was a process to get back on my feet. I soon went to a doctor who simply asked if I was depressed. Um. Yep. He gave me some meds and sent me on my way. That helped clear the clouds out. I was studying and praying again. We were getting out and working as much as I could do each day. It wasn't easy and it wasn't fast. But it was the right direction.
Soon call outs were coming and the mission president had told me that I now needed a whole new view. A new area and a new companion. I was transferred to a beautiful and hard working companion in an area ripe for the picking. Our apartment was on Christmas Tree Lane! My Spanish was picking up fast and my body was getting stronger. I was sleeping and I was happy.
It has been 20 years now. I do look back with so much gratitude for that phone call from Ruth and the advice she gave. I have often thought over these many years how my life would have been different if I had left that night. Would my testimony be what it is now? Would my courage be what it is now? Would I even be who I am now? I have no idea. And frankly, I'm glad I'll never know. I always say that those 18 months of full time service were the hardest I've ever lived. But the worth of the experience shows in how I live my life, how I love the gospel and in the relationship I have with my Heavenly Father. If I ever wonder how a decision I need to make will impact my life 20 years from now, I think of this one experience. And I know that in seeking the Lord's help and doing what He wants me to do will bring joy and rejoicing. Now, and in 20 years.