Monday, July 26, 2010

Reflections and Blessings

At institute last week, we talked about blogging and how being open can help others. I usually don't get too personal on this blog (or in general), but I'm going to give it a little test.

My mission was really hard. I'm not talking about South Africa mission in general. I'm talking about my particular circumstances. Sometimes when I hear others say it was the best two years of their life, I get really jealous. As far as I am concerned, it was the hardest, most isolating, and damaging year and a half of mine. I was severely abused. After a particular incident, I went about three weeks without speaking more than probably five sentences (unless I was teaching) because every other time I opened my mouth I would immediately start to cry (and I was never a crier before - and am not now, either). Because of the things that happened to me while there, I was in terrible shape physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. I retreated into this invisible, practically impenetrable shell and there I stayed. There were times when I thought I would never be able to be the same carefree, fun-loving person again. But I stuck it out until the end, though sometimes I wonder if I should have.

I felt completely stripped of self-worth. I wouldn't hug anyone apart from my immediate family for months after I first came home (thanks for breaking my bubble, Brittany) and was overly leery and skeptical of people in general. I used to believe that people were generally good and if they did anything bad it was just a simple mistake. After mission and to this day, people have to prove they are good over a long period of time before I trust them.

I was bitter about it for several years, but I've had some recent breakthroughs.

A. God won't control the agency of others. People are free to treat others how they choose. When someone is taken advantage of or abused, it is not that God is trying to punish them. It's not God's fault, and it is also not the fault of the abused. God can and does use others to bless our lives, but He never uses others to hurt us. Samuel the Lamanite was obediently doing God's work, yet God didn't interfere with the Nephites' agency when they tried to kill him with stones and arrows. That was the Nephite's choice.

B. Death is part of life. And, as I was teaching the people but not always applying the concept, it is not the end. Sometimes it is hard to feel that, and easy to shout "unfair!" But it is the truth.

C. Forgiveness heals. Without forgiveness, the load will only get heavier the further we carry it with us. Forgiveness is the only way to drop it and leave it behind as we continue on our path. As I have forgiven, I've felt peace within myself.

D. I am a lot stronger now than I would otherwise be.

I feel that, miraculously, I have been made whole over the almost five years since I've been back in the states. I don't struggle with any type of clinical depression, anxiety, or other mental condition. I'm physically in very good shape and very healthy. I suppose that sometimes we have to go through hell before we can be refined. Maybe there was no other way for me to get to where I am today.

There have been a few other experiences that I have had recently that have helped me as well.

When serving in South Africa, my companion and I started teaching a beautiful Afrikaner family. They were all baptized. Natalie, who was 15 at the time, is now engaged and getting married in the temple.

Just last week, I was thinking about a particular woman that I love named Jenny Motsomi that Sister Carvalho and I started teaching in Botswana toward the end of my mission. Sister Carvolho was transferred and I got a new companion, and then I was transferred to a new area in Botswana. The companion I was leaving said she would no longer teach anyone I started teaching, especially Jenny. I made a detailed page for Jenny in the area book, hoping someone down the road would find her. Just last week, I sent out some messages to a bunch of missionaries who served around the same time period as me, asking if anyone knew how to get a hold of her.

My current roommate also served in my same mission, a year and a half after me (in Botswana because all sisters had been permanently evacuated from South Africa by then). I was driving in the car with her just a few days after sending out the messages, when she suddenly and randomly turned to me and asked, "Did you teach a woman named Jenny in Botswana?"

I was completely floored, and wondered why I hadn't thought to ask her. I was disappointed when I found out it wasn't Jenny Motsomi, but a Jenny with a different last name, that she'd taught and baptized. Then I looked through her photo album. Same Jenny! Someone had found the record I'd left in the area book and started teaching her again. She'd gotten married to the man she had been living with and had gotten baptized! My roommate had seen both her marriage and her baptism. She told me about it and showed me pictures.

It is so comforting for me to see, even years down the road, how the big picture comes together. The sadness and after-effects of those traumatic years are nearly gone for me. Just hearing the stories about Natalie and Jenny this week have made me realize that it was worth it, and that the joy that is being and will continue to be created from that year and a half will overshadow the hard times in the long run.


Sundy said...

Oh, Sarah.

Hard. Yes, my mission was hard. In a way that I don't really know how to explain to anyone. Especially the first 6 months. There was a morning when I woke up and I knew where I needed to go--inside my mattress. Not under the bed, but sewn up inside the mattress where I could dissolve into nothingness.

I definitely struggled more with anxiety, guilt, and depression in South Africa than at any other time in my life. I can still picture certain places where my skin felt on fire (not the Spirit's heavenly flame) and I literally felt that I would explode and this life would be done.

But I never knew that you experienced such pain.

Thank you for opening up. I'd love to talk with you about mission sometime. The good, the bad, the ugly.

You were always a good friend to me, even when all the sisters hated me :) Remember that? I realize now that I did not experience hatred the way you did. . .

Sarah said...

Hey Sunshine -

They never hated you. They were just jealous of your angel singing voice and how much attention you were getting from the elders, but since people never like to admit when they are jealous, they transformed it in their head to annoyance. They still loved you. :-)

Thank you for sharing your feelings. I would love to talk with you about mission sometime.

I don't know how you are, but sometimes I am not sure whether to just leave it in the past and never talk about it again, or to continue to hash out and try to make some sense of what happened.

I think talking is healthier, but I usually opt for ignoring.

I think it would be very useful for us to have a chat sometime. You are one of the few who might get it.

I'd love to hear how you and your hubby are doing, as well!