Beginnings, endings and everything in-between
February 13, 2012 5 Comments
It’s not that I wasn’t excited to come home. The idea of real pizza, cold milk and long naps made me grin from ear-to-ear. But the idea of leaving was almost too much to bear. I had been on the island for two years, managed to extend my mission from the usual 24 months to twenty-six and had grown to love the Dominican people beyond any love I had ever felt before. And the work, oh I loved the work. It was intense, exhausting, heart-breaking, stretching and beyond stressful. But as hard as it was at times, my mission was also fulfilling, satisfying, surprising, exciting, exhilarating and filled with spiritual experience after spiritual experience. Though Alma was speaking of a different kind of experience, his description also fits here:
“…there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you…that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy.” (Alma 36:21)
So it wasn’t that I didn’t want to return to real life in Coos Bay, Oregon. No, I simply didn’t want to leave the Dominican Republic. I knew that life would be great and that many wonderful experiences awaited. I even knew that I would be fine. I would adjust – eventually. But I wanted to hang on for as long as I could. I wanted to squeeze out every ounce of spirituality, every drop of mission life.
I saw a chance to stay even longer and phoned my father to tell him I would be home for Christmas but not before. He calmly said, “Troy, I’m your father and I’m telling you it’s time to come home and face life.” That was it – the moment I realized my mission was really coming to an end.
It is with these same feelings that I face another end. Don’t get me wrong, I know my ministry or discipleship continues. This is nothing more than the turning of a page. But oh, did I love the work in my Stake calling. Like my mission, it was hard at times. Some of the most gut-wrenching experiences I have ever had happened in these last six years – “so exquisite and so bitter”. Yet, the joy (or as I sometimes call it, the “fun”), the spiritual experiences and wonderful lessons I learned can’t be adequately expressed. Add in the absolutely incredible people with whom I served, adult and youth alike, and those same leaving-mission feelings are very close to the surface.
So it is in life – beginnings and endings and everything in-between. Life really is fun. It’s sometimes hard, but it is fun.
The feelings I’ve been experiencing have reminded me of a story I hold dear. I found it when I returned home from my mission. I don’t know if it’s true or even the name of the author but I love the story. I pray that I have, in some small way, reflected the service of the returning missionary in this story and yet know that I’m certainly the departing missionary as a new adventure unfolds. I hope you enjoy the story too.
MARKS OF A MAN
As I jumped on board my flight from Miami to Salt Lake City, I paused for a moment to catch my breath. Seated near the front of the plane was an excited young man, probably 19, sitting with his parents. His hair was short and his clothes new and sharp. His suit was fitted perfectly and his black shoes still retained that store-bought shine. His body was in good shape, his face clear, and his hands clean. In his eyes I could see a nervous look and his movements were that of an actor on opening night.
He was obviously flying to Utah to become a missionary for the Mormon Church. I smiled as I walked by and took pride in belonging to this same Church where these young men and women voluntarily serve the Savior for two years. With this special feeling, I continued to the back where my seat was located.
As I sat in my seat, I looked to the right and to my surprise, saw another missionary sleeping in the window seat. His hair was also short, but that was the only similarity between the two. This one was obviously returning home, and I could tell at a glance what type of missionary he had been.
The fact that he was already asleep told me a lot. His entire body seemed to let out a big sigh. It looked as if this was the first time in two years he had even slept, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.
As I looked at his face, I could see the heavy bags under his eyes, the chapped lips, and the scarred and sunburned face caused by the fierce Florida sun.
His suit was tattered and worn. A few of the seems were coming apart and I noticed that there were a couple of rips that had been hand-sewn with a very sloppy stitch.
I saw the name tag, crooked, scratched, and bearing the name of the Church he represented, the engraving of which was almost all worn away.
I saw the knee of his pants, worn and white, the result of many hours of humble prayer.
A tear came to my eye as I saw the things that really told me what kind of missionary he had been. I saw the marks that made this boy a man.
His feet – the two that had carried him from house to house-now lay there swollen and tired. They were covered by a pair of worn out shoes. Many of the large scrapes and gouges had been filled by the countless number of polishings.
His books-laying across his lap-were his scriptures, the word of God. Once new, these books which testify of Jesus Christ and His mission, were now torn, bent, and ragged from use.
His hands—those big, strong hands, which had been used to bless and teach were now scarred and cut from knocking at doors.
Those were indeed the marks of that man. And as I looked at him, I saw the marks of another man, the Savior, as he was hanging on the cross for the sins of the world
His feet-those that had once carried him throughout the land during his ministry were now nailed to the cross.
His side – now pierced with a spear – sealing his gospel, his testimony, with his life.
His hands—the hands that had been used to ordain his servants and bless the sick – were also scarred with the nails that were pounded to hang him on the cross.
Those were the marks of that great man.
As my mind returned to the missionary, my whole body seemed to swell with pride and joy; because I knew, by looking at him, that he had served his Master well.
My joy was so great, I felt like running to the front of the plane, grabbing that new, young missionary, and brining him back to see what he could become, what he could do.
But would he see the things that I saw? Could anyone see the things I saw? Or would he just see the outward appearance of that mighty elder, tired and worn out, almost dead?
As we landed, I reached over and tapped him to wake him up. As he awoke, it seemed like new life was entering his body. His whole frame just seemed to fill as he stood up, tall and proud. As he turned his face towards mine, I saw a light about his face that I had never seen before. I looked into his eyes. Those eyes, I will never forget those eyes. They were the eyes of the Savior. No words were spoken. No words were needed.
As we unloaded, I stepped aside to let him go first I watched as he walked, slow but steady, tired but strong. I followed him and found myself walking the way he did
When I came through the doors, I saw this young man in the arms of his parents, and I couldn’t hold it any longer. With tears streaming down my face, I watched these loving parents greet their son who had been away for a short time. And I wondered if our Parents in Heaven would greet us the same way. Will they wrap their arms around us and welcome us home from our journey on earth? I believe they will, I just hope that I’ll be worthy enough to receive such praise, as I’m sure this missionary will.
I said a silent prayer, thanking the Lord for missionaries like this young man. I don’t think I will ever forget the joy and happiness he brought me that day.