Dear Everyone (the handful of you that read this blog :)),
After four months in the field, I was medically released from my mission. I'm Amanda now, not Sister Chase. My migraines/headache got really bad. After a lot of prayer, tears, talking to President Smart, and my parents, we decided it'd be best for me to come home to get better. I knew I needed to do that, even though coming home 14 months early is really hard. Since I've been home, my decision to come home was definitely the right one, albeit a difficult one. I just couldn't be the missionary I needed/wanted to be with this headache. Sometimes Heavenly Father throws these crazy curveballs. Although I went to Riverside with my headache, I thought I could do it. But I found out that I am not perfect and that my body isn't perfect either. I've been home a little less than a month now.
Since I've been home my headache hasn't gotten better, but the comforts of home have helped me deal with it better (at least I think so). My doctors think I have a bad neck problem and a possible heart problem...but we still have some testing to do. I feel really hopeful that this new doctor will be able to help me become mostly headache free. When I was released (by President Monson's son....President Monson...my old stake president in Provo) he said that the doctors would be able to discover the source of this 19 month headache and that my headache and all the accompanying issues would be resolved quickly. I feel really hopeful. I haven't really felt that before in regards to my headache unfortunately. I was doing tests this weekend and I feel like this headache will go away and that I need to go back on my mission. When I first got released, I thought there was no way I'd be able to go back...it'd be too hard and who knows if my headache would become an issue again. But this weekend I have felt like my work is not finished in California. That for some reason, or for some person (possibly for this girl), I need to go back. I have no idea when I'll get better or what surgeries or treatment is needed, but I finally feel at peace. Knowing that I have a purpose. I have something to work towards while I am at home with no job, no BYU, and no friends (they're all on missions or at BYU). It's okay that I am not a normal 20 year old. That's been pretty hard to accept, but it's okay. I am learning lots of patience. Learning to accept God's will is something that is pretty hard for me. But His plans are ALWAYS better than mine. Always.
Although I was only in Riverside for four months, I felt like I learned a lot and changed a lot. So for you future missionaries I thought I'd write about some things I've learned or things I wish I would've known beforehand...to help you in your preparation. (these things are not in order of importance :)
Spiritual preparation is SO much more important than physical preparation. I spent way too much time worrying about clothes or what I needed to bring. While I read PMG and prayed and attended the temple and all that good stuff, I could've spent all that time looking at sister missionary boards on pinterest on more important things...like reading the Book of Mormon or serving my family.
Memorize. Have the Standard of Truth, D&C 4, your purpose (in PMG), and Joseph Smith's account of the First Vision (page 11). I wish I would have spent more time familiarizing myself with the First Vision. But don't stress yourself out if you have a difficult time memorizing!
Serving a mission is NOT a glamorous task. We spent a lot of time running from appointment to appointment or door to door. Lets just say you're gonna sweat! And sometimes you'll have no time to think. Or eat. And p-days are ridiculously busy. You're not always going to have perfect hair, you'll look like you've been run over by a car when you come home every night, and you
Sometimes people aren't nice. And say really hurtful things. To help with that, read this talk by Elder Holland.
Pray. Pray sincerely and often and on your knees. Pray for specific people. Pray for your companion. I loved and appreciated when my companions would pray for me or say something about me during companion prayers, not just in their personal prayers. I felt loved and acknowledged when they did that. It meant and still means a lot to me. Pray for your mission president and his wife. Pray for strength. Tell Heavenly Father what is going on. Tell Him how you feel. Tell Him what's hard. Talk to him like He's your dad. Talk to Him with the knowledge that He will help you, as you have faith. Thank Him for the tender mercies. Pray for patience. Ask for inspiration and the ability to recognize promptings.
Look for the little miracles. We all know that bringing souls unto Christ (through baptism) is kind of the big thing missionaries aim for. However, not every person you come in contact with will choose to be baptized. There are other miracles or tender mercies to be found EVERY day, even if you aren't seeing baptisms that you would like to see happen. Try to see the little changes in yourself, or your companion, or your investigators. Look for the times when you felt the spirit, or you were able to say the right thing at the right time to someone. Or that you were able to get past a weakness that day. Seriously. Baptism is not the only miracle to be found. If you don't seek out the little things, you'll be miserable. I've been there and it's not the best place to be.
It's hard. It's tough to really explain unless you've served a mission. But. It's worth it. Completely. There were moments of complete joy and happiness. I was never happier before in my life. Seeing people come unto Christ is such a joy and privilege.
Bring conference talks or past devotionals or firesides. I read those a lot. While I love the Book of Mormon, it's hard to read it straight for an hour everyday.
Understand what "exact obedience" means. You'll probably hear that a lot. Especially in zone or district meetings. That was a hard one for me. Whenever someone spoke about that, I interpreted that as "be perfect. have one baptism a month. hit the standard of excellence every week. find new investigators every day. don't say anything you shouldn't. don't be awkward. teach perfect lessons." That is NOT what exact obedience means. For me to not feel guilty and sick about my imperfections, I had to learn to ignore others' ideas of obedience. I knew what Heavenly Father's standards were for me...and that is what I tried to do. Beating yourself up is not what Heavenly Father wants you to do. He wants you to work and try and commit. Pretty sure the phrase "be perfect and don't make any mistakes or else you'll be considered a crappy missionary" isn't in the white handbook :)
Be bold and loving. This is something that I LOVED about teaching. Be bold as you testify and teach. The gospel is not something we need to tiptoe around or sugarcoat. Say the things you feel inspired to say, regardless if you're scared. If you think about it, we are representatives of Jesus Christ and we are to do and say what He would do and say. I know that if Jesus Christ was able to walk with us as we tracted he would NOT be ashamed or shy with what He said. He would be bold and loving. He would see people as they could become, not as they currently are. He would give these people the opportunity to fully accept Him and the plan He has for them. I remember some missionary said that every time they spoke with someone, they imagined them getting baptized. Imagine how much their Father in Heaven wants them to return. If we only knew His deep love for His children we would be running from person to person exclaiming this good news...that He lives and loves them!
Let Go(d). This is His work. Not yours. Because He loves you and knows how this service will bless you and mold you into the person He needs you to become, He lets you help Him in this work. Strive to listen to the promptings of the spirit and He will help you to know what to say. Trust Him ALWAYS. Even when you're working hard and doing everything "right" and not seeing the success you'd like to see. It will come in His timing.
So after all that being said, please know that I definitely had my (many) times where I complained (more than I should've) or I wasn't perfectly obedient, or I taught a crappy lesson, or I said something ridiculously dumb or awkward. That's completely normal. And do not beat yourself up about it. Learn from it and move on. Don't dwell on your weaknesses or past mistakes. Look forward and realize that God does not expect you to be a perfect, sinless missionary. As long as you are striving to do the right and serve God, all is gonna be okay and Heavenly Father will fill in any gaps and help you all along the way. I promise.
I hope this little list helps you all out there as you prepare to embark on your missionary service. Keep a smile on your face and keep walking, joy will come :)