When You Don’t Change Much.

2017 marks 20 years since my mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Every Monday, I’ll be posting tales from that time.

This morning I got carried away revising the book I wrote in November, lost track of time, and missed the first 90 minutes of church. I had to go for the last hour, so I quickly gathered the things I’d need and drove to Plattsmouth.

I arrived 15 minutes before I was needed, so I plopped down in a chair in the foyer and waited for the room to clear from the previous class. A fellow ward member stopped by to ask how I was, and I said, “I’m okay.”

“Why do you say ‘okay’? Does that mean something is wrong?” he asked.

“No, no, no,” I said. “I’m good. Really. I’m good.”

“Okay then. If you say so. You’re awesome. I’m so glad to know you.”

When I opened my mission journal to see what I was doing this week 20 years ago, here’s what I read:

I am a basketcase. But can’t show it because I’m never alone long enough. I haven’t really had a good cry since I’ve been here–I just hold everything back and every now and then I let a couple of tears sneak by. I will go insane if I keep going this way. I’m having an identity crisis, too. No one knows anything about me. How much I love Gershwin. How sarcastic I am. How needy I am. Everything thinks I’m so strong. I’m not. And no one knows, basically because I don’t tell anyone, because I don’t want to bother anyone.

Not much has changed in 20 years. The similarity of that journal entry and my brief exchange in the church foyer proved that. I’m not sure why I’m unable to drop my mask at church. I was able to in Ohio, but as I sit here thinking about all the different wards I’ve attended as an adult, that Ohio ward was the only place I allowed myself to be fully vulnerable and known.

Though I truly believe that churches are hospitals and not museums, I don’t include myself in that philosophy. But today at church, I realized a benefit to that exclusion is that it allows me to listen more deeply to others, to empathize with those who need it, to comfort. Spending three hours a week pushing aside my own concerns and troubles allows me to be wholly open to the concerns and troubles of others.

Maybe someday I will need my fellow citizens of saints to hear my concerns and troubles.

But for now, and 20 years ago, I’ll paint on my happy face, tell people I’m doing great, and hope most days I’m answering truthfully.

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