Thursday, September 14, 2017

A year later, a year older, a year...wiser? Yeah, I'd say so.

A year, really? 

Someone this week asked me how long I've been back.
"A couple months", I replied. 
Only today did it hit me that I'm one of those guys I would stare at my freshman semester and think, "wow, you guys are old."

If you ever read my emails (or this blog my mom kept up for me) you would know how much I truly loved my mission, and how I loved to complain about it--the different food, language, and lack of any living creation besides humans, dogs, fleas, and spiders.

Despite all the bad, I was torn to leave. I had invested my whole soul to a people and land I never knew I could love so much. But there was also my family, my friends, and... In-n-Out burger to go home to.

I remember that moment as I dropped my suitcase, ran towards my mom, seeing only the inside of her shoulder soon to be drenched in tears, with my dad and an excited group of family and friends smiling not too far beyond. Banners and signs flurried about. The moment I had been dreaming for all those long, hot days was here, and I was happy about it.

Then came the crucial moment of the release, the moment your precious name tag is removed. After all the emotional proceedings of the day, I thought this would be easier. Surprisingly, it was the hardest moment of the whole mission.

It happens all so fast. Mom places her hand on my tag ready to rip it off. I tell her to stop. The final seconds of the longest journey of my life is coming to a close. An unexpected flood of tears cascades down my face, some dropping onto the now faded Elder Phillips engraved into the tag. I don't know what shakes me the most: what I am leaving behind or what faces me in the future.

And like a harpoon being ripped out of my chest, the tag now hangs before me, clasped by the hands of a sobbing mother.

As any missionary would know, for the next few days you are the superstar. More loved ones are seen, American food is devoured, and even though everyone says they know how you feel, you can't help from feeling a little lost.

Soon everyone goes back to their routine. I mean, what do you expect? Their world doesn't revolve completely around you.  Exclamations such as, “Oh my! I haven't seen you in forever! How was your mission?!" seem to fade from your everyday conversations. You're now just another RM.

I think that is the first real adjustment all RM's must make. We build up the big homecoming in our minds so much that once it's over we feel just a part of the crowd. We have to get a job, go to school, and have grown up responsibilities that we obviously know how to do since we lived independently for two years. 😏

The next phase is the dealing with the real-life implications of our mission "success". We go on Facebook to find people we taught and baptized. Some pleasant surprises pop up. "I can't believe they got baptized!!" And some not so pleasant things. "Why aren't you going to church?!?!" One day, I found out one of my most beloved converts no longer wanted anything with the church. It tears your very soul apart. You can feel your "success" draining from you.

This leads to a not so accurate self-reflection. You begin to look at your mistakes not only in the mission field but in your RM life as well, looking for some explanation to your "failures". You recognize old habits you swore off in your mission that have crept in.

I spent too much time in this reflection phase. It made me less confident, less social, and more inclined to give in to all the things I had always wanted to try but knew were wrong. I mean, if I had tried to be good and people from my mission still didn't want to change, maybe it was time to try something else.

Good thing I didn't really act on those feelings or I would be in a big mess today.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, if this past year has taught me anything it's that to learn from the past is good if you don't dwell there too long. People have to make their own decisions and more often than not, they will pick right in the end. You owe it to them to believe that.

Life isn't any easier after the mission, but you do have a few more tricks up your sleeve.

 More recently, I've seen that people who didn't serve a mission or had to come home early can be just as (or more) spiritual and awesome as those who bear the RM pin.

And most importantly;

It was the hardest, hottest, driest two years of my life...and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Everything STILL is awesome,

Austin Phillips