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.

Injury, Episode 1.

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.

Today, a story with no real lesson. Just an old-fashioned missionary story.

While in the MTC, we were allotted time every week to run, walk, or play sports. With three weeks remaining before I would leave for Montreal, I was playing basketball with some other missionaries, when someone launched a half-court shot that fell way short and nailed me in the side of my head and knocked me down.

I stood up, dizzy and nauseous and seeing spots, so the on-site trainer ordered me to the local hospital to make sure I wasn’t seriously concussed. 10 minutes earlier, another missionary I knew had been hit in the head with a volleyball, and as we waited for a van to take us to the hospital, another missionary suffered an unfortunate rebounding incident and ended up with a split eyelid.

So we all spent several hours in the ER, and by the time we had each been seen, we realized the cafeteria would be closed and dinner would not be in our futures.

But our driver–who just so happened to be a friend of my BYU roommates–took pity on us and took us to McDonalds.

None of us had eaten food from the outside world in weeks, so the chicken sandwich and fries more than made up for the mild concussion.


So Sick.

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.

I didn’t write at all last week for three reasons:

  1. I was sick.
  2. It was parent-teacher conference week.
  3. I was finishing up my Apple Distinguished Educator application, and it took all my time and energy. I find out in the spring if I’m accepted (which I’ll be shocked if I am), but the application process was eye-opening.

So now I am back to share a tale or two about my mission to Montreal.

Except that 20 years ago this week, Montreal was way off in the distance–I was still at the MTC in Provo, brushing up my French and learning how to manage the emotional and physical demands of missionary work.

Most of my February journal entries mention sickness of varying degrees. I know that since returning, I’ve often told people that I was so sick for most of my mission that I was certain I would go home on a stretcher. Revisiting these journals prove that to be true.

I read an article this week about stress and missionary work, and as I read, I thought about my own missionary experiences. As I’m reading these accounts of my illnesses in the MTC, I’m also reading about different stressors: not getting along with the people I was in class with, feeling like a failure, switching my brain from English-speaking to French-speaking.

Earlier this month, the church announced some changes to the daily life of a missionary, one that allows for flexibility while still meeting the overall demands of the work. Included in that schedule is time for exercise and time for writing. I’m glad to see these changes, however slight. Glad to see an acknowledgment that the rigorous schedule might not be the healthiest of options.

Maybe if things had been different 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have spent so much of my missionary service sick.


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.

Throughout my LDS upbringing, I knew that missionaries could only be contacted by letter. No phone calls (except for Mother’s Day and Christmas), no meetups with traveling friends family unless approved by the mission president. Just letters. And 20 years ago, not everyone had email, so email was also forbidden…not that we had any internet access in the first place.

I had written my fair share of letters over time, as writing missionaries was nearly a competitive sport in the halls of BYU. Even after I left BYU, I still wrote friends on missions. For me, it was a small way I contributed to taking care of missionaries–to remind them that they were loved and worried about and prayed for.

Two weeks into my time at the MTC, I’d received letters from my parents and siblings, but none from my friends. This discouraged me, because even 20 years ago, FOMO existed. Who was engaged? What were classes like? What was going on in the world?!?!? But more than that, it was easy to feel forgotten. Easy to feel like I was replaceable.

I loved the letters from my family, but at that time, I’d been hoping for one letter–The Letter–from a boy I loved so much, I would’ve not gone on my mission had he asked me to stay instead. And 20 years ago today, I got that letter.

I wish I still had it.

This surprises me–I am a packrat extraordinaire (an organized packrat)–to discover I no longer have any letters he wrote my throughout my mission. For those who’ve read my book, maybe this isn’t surprising. It’s not like we ended up getting married.

No, here’s the surprising part: I still have every letter he wrote to me from his mission.

Anyway, the arrival of that letter was such a wave of relief that it got top billing in my journal that day.

I do love the immediacy of emails and texts that govern my current everyday communication. But I miss the intimacy of letters, of seeing someone’s handwriting, handwriting so familiar that at times it feels like the person is in the same room, even when he isn’t.

I should write more letters.


When A Muslim Family Saved My Soul.

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 week, rather than try to create something interesting from the repetitive days in the MTC, I ask you to read this piece that I wrote in 2015. Read that first. Go ahead; I’ll wait.

Now that you’ve read that, a story from much later in my mission.

Of my time in Montreal, two miracles are never far from my mind. The first miracle happened after I’d been in Montreal for seven months. We were in an area of the city that was difficult to work in, as it was an enclave of orthodox Jews. My grandmother was Jewish, the daughter of Russian immigrants escaping the pogroms of 1906. I respected their faith deeply, and proselytizing to them never felt right to me.

In the early months of my mission, we spoke with many Muslims. I loved speaking with them. They had an abiding love of God and prophets, and our conversations were always respectful and engaging. Two months after I arrived in Montreal, we were instructed to no longer teach Muslims. Even in a pre-9/11 world, there was concern that if their families found out they were speaking to Christians, their lives could be in danger. This made me profoundly sad—I never expected to teach any Muslim families to the point of conversion, but I knew I would dearly miss the conversations I had with so many people of a faith about which I knew very little.

One night as we walked through the streets of our Jewish enclave, not wanting to knock on any doors but knowing we had to, we decided to head to an apartment building and see if we could talk to maybe one person. The first door we knocked on, a woman answered.

“Bon jour, nous sommes missionaires de l’eglise de Jesus-Christ des saints des dernier jours. Avez-vous le temps de parler?” I asked.

“Please, come in,” said the woman.

I paused for a moment. Did she hear what I said? That we were missionaries? In weeks, we hadn’t been let in to a single home, and I was certain some language barrier was preventing her from understanding who were were.

“My son just arrived from Morocco and brought all this food, and we are celebrating. Join us!” she said, as she extended her hands to take our coats.

I looked at my companion—who normally would find a way to excuse us from such a situation. Our purpose as missionaries was not to celebrate, it was to teach and convert and let the men baptize. She shrugged, took off her coat, and introduced herself. I wish I could remember the family’s name. I cannot. But I remember sitting around a rug with plates of food in the middle, and talking to a Moroccan family for nearly two hours.

During our conversation, they told us they were Muslim, and my companion tried to keep the religion talk to a minimum. But the conversation would always meander back to God, and we shared our common feelings about doing good in the world and serving He who loves us most. 

I knew I would not see this family again, and when we left, the mother hugged me tight and long, long enough that I felt tears escape my eyes. It had been months since I felt truly enveloped by another human being.

The letter of missionary law would brand me and my companion as rule-breakers that night. Home visits weren’t supposed to last more than an hour, and staying with a family when the conversation wasn’t really focused on preaching the gospel was frowned upon. But that night, the Moroccan family was a miracle for me. I needed respite. I needed love. And in the years since, it is a moment I witness to others during times of irrational xenophobia.

This family took in two Mormon missionaries, fed them, communed with them, and those two hours sustained me for months. Miracle.

The other miracle? You’ll have to wait a year or so to hear about that one.