Any returned missionary will gladly tell you that the 2 years or 18 months they spent serving were some of the happiest they have ever known. You might not hear these RMs report that they have never been more stressed, emotionally strained and virtually always on the brink of panic than during that span of time. Some argue that happiness lies amidst such chaos. A hectic missionary schedule and a purpose with eternal consequences are sure to bring both satisfaction in success and constant questioning of that success. Throw in the adversary and I'm telling you, it's a big old mess. While few admit to this dichotomy of emotions, I believe it is inherent to the nature of missionary work. No complaint, just fact. I swear I was level-headed and sane before I served a mission, but as much as the work brought out the best in me, it also brought out the crazy. I remember Sister Marsh and I would always defend ourselves of our neuroses saying "I promise, I'm not like this at home."
One of the blessings of finishing a mission, and perhaps the reason behind the infrequent reports of panic, is that the further you get away from mission life, the less you remember the emotional roller coaster and fits of crazy, and the more vivid become the moments of pure, heaven-sent love and joy as described by Ammon.
I have been home from Thailand now for just over a year and half, and have been enjoying much more of the serenity of the Alma 26-tinged memories than the ones he was blessed to haze over (you know, being rejected left and right, being cast into prison, watching the believers be burned alive). This weekend, however, I had a terrifying deja vu moment of joyful panic as I walked into the homecoming of my mission president, Karl L. Dodge and his Amazing wife, Gunda Le. I sat in the back, anti-social as I am, watching at least 50 of my former mission mates greet and I swear for a minute I was transported back to zone conference. Happy, joyful, passionate about building the kingdom!!!!! OH wait, I'M NOT READY FOR THIS. Oh the veil of forgetfulness was lifted.
Luckily, my moment of stress was quick and broken by the realization that I was NOT in pantyhose, that it was NOT 120 degrees outside, and that I could flirt with ANY boy in my eye line (a bit of a stretch seeing as most males in attendance were either the little boys that served with me or over the age of 50). And, of course, the calm of realizing that the salvation of a dozen or so individuals was not sitting in my petite, inadequate hands. What a relief.
he meeting was, of course, fabulous. The poor deacons (very slowly) struggled to work out the logistics of passing the sacrament to a ward tripled in size. I also remembered just how loud family wards are (There had to have been a familly doing cartwheels in the back of the overflow, if not fully playing a game of basketball). The Dodge's son Brian gave a great late homecoming talk about charity and the love of Christ making us pure. He had the pleasure (pleasure?) of both leaving and returning from his mission to Germany-Austria from the Bangkok international ward so it was his first time addressing his home home ward in Midway. Sister Dodge followed suit with all her zone conference addresses, focusing on small miracles and God's love for us. My favorite thing she said was, "Transitions are hard. But God is with you." She talked about some of the transitions she has gone through and that people generally go through. I swear sometimes that my life for as long as I can remember has been in transition, so this thought is particularly comforting for me.
As a special musical number, all Thailand returned missionaries got up and sang Called to Serve in Thai (Thanks to the MTC and missionaries' obsession with the song, I'm fairly well practiced). President Dodge then addressed us and focused on God's attention for the individual. It's interesting that most missionary homecomings focus on a principle of the gospel or missionary lessons, but that a mission president would zoom out a bit (or perhaps it's zooming in) and bear powerful testimony of the many ways in which God loves and looks out for his children one by one. This seems to be a lesson I have been learning over and over recently, all the more potent as taught by Karl (I'm not sure what to call him now).After church, the Dodges provided hot dogs, burgers, and that lemon-sweetened tea bread (and cake and blueberry tea bread and skittles...) and I enjoyed the desserts. And an amazing view of the valley(above). And seeing my mission president as a real person, mingling with his kids, his friends and the scores of twenty-somethings who worship him. Even this was a Thailand flashback, complete with meals on the floor and shoes off at the door.
It couldn't have been a better day. The day was so good, in fact, that I keep forgetting that Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (who just happens to be my #1 favorite of the Elders due to his sincere and unapologetic calling to repentance wherever he speaks) snuck in to preside just as the Bishop was announcing the meeting and that I snuck in to shake his hand just as he was scurrying out (I guess Apostles can still scurry) with his arm around a lucky but likely terrified little deacon.