Introduction to the Rebel Missionary.

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.

So it’s been a few Mondays since I wrote about my mission…writing in general has been sporadic lately. The musical really derails my life, and every year it takes longer to get back to normalcy.

20 years ago at this moment, I was in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The boundaries of the Montreal Mission at that time extended far north, way past Quebec City, and south into three small towns in New York (those towns are now part of a different mission). I knew before leaving the MTC that my chances of actually using my French on my mission were slim, and serving in Ottawa offered very few opportunities to speak French. I must have been concerned about that, because every journal entry from my first month in Ottawa is written in French. A sampling, from April 12, 1997:

IL NEIGE MAINTENANT!!! C’EST AVRIL, ET IL NEIGE! Alors, et on fair de porting ce soir.

Translation: it was snowing in April, yet we were still going to knock on doors. This is called tracting, and it’s what I spent much of my mission doing–going door to door throughout an assigned area in Montreal, talking to people about my church. I’m an introvert, so this was not easy work for me. But I did it, because we had goals to meet.

To outsiders, fans of the musical “Book of Mormon,” and those who are no longer LDS, “goals” in missionary service can come across as harsh–if the purpose of a mission is to bring souls to Christ, should numbers-driven goals be involved at all? My answer is a qualified yes. Without goals, introverts like me would never leave the apartment. I would never open my mouth to speak on a bus or metro, I would never preach.

But not even a month of service in Ottawa and my journals reveal early signs that my lifelong church participation and spiritual development would not follow an expected path. I was put off by the emphasis on numbers–so what if we only taught three people this week? Isn’t that three more people who heard our message? I wanted to work with people who had been baptized but weren’t coming to church anymore. I had been that person just three years prior–I felt I could offer perspective and empathy to them, and most important, love.

So when, on April 14, 1997, we got word that our assigned area had been cut in half, I wrote this: “Our area shrunk tons! But that’s okay. I think our tracting has been ineffective because we need to take care of the people we have now, reach out to people who aren’t coming to church, and then redefine success.”

This was not something I shared with my companion at the time, but as my mission progressed, I became bolder in expressing my disdain for quantifying the work of saving souls. And that boldness continued after I came home.

For example, yesterday I taught a lesson at church about Jesus. And at one point, I told the women I was teaching that we can never assume that everyone sitting in church believes in God and Jesus, because at times, I’ve gone to church and wasn’t sure I believed in God or Jesus. This can be a radical admission in some circles, especially when church is often the place where we put on our perfect faces and pretend we are “all in.”

I often wonder if I would be so outspoken now when it comes to spiritual matters if I hadn’t served a mission. I’m not sure I would be, because it was on my mission where I started to see how some people can lose sight of what Jesus’ gospel was all about–and having crawled back to the church after leaving it, I wasn’t going to spend my mission too concerned about anything other than loving people.

That framework made me a bit of a rebel missionary, but I’ve never really been one to do things the way someone tells me to anyway.



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.