A friend was asking for experiences of those who waited for their missionaries, so I thought I’d share mine.
I was Dear John’d. And it was one of the best things that happened to me.
My then-girlfriend was surprisingly wise for her years. The day of my mission farewell, she and a big group of high school friends all came over to my house for the big farewell party. She was the last one to leave that afternoon.
We hadn’t really talked about our relationship, because we both just *knew* that we’d be together afterwards.
Or at least, we thought we knew.
We hugged and said goodbye, and she walked up the long hill that was our driveway. I stood there at the bottom, empty as a shell, not sure of what was going to happen next but absolutely certain that my heart was breaking.
She turned around at the top of the hill, saw me standing there. I could see her put her hand to her face and just shake her head, come running back down to me.
“I just can’t do this…” she panted as she hugged me tight. For the last time, again.
I held her again, not knowing how to respond.
She quieted down, reached into her reservoir of courage, looked and up at me.
“Here’s the truth. Neither of us knows what’s going to happen in the future.”
Wait…was she breaking up? Where is this going? I thought.
“It would be foolish of us to try to make promises today that may never come to pass. I mean, who knows what’s going to happen?”
Dang it…she’s making sense again. <sigh>
“So here’s what we’re going to do. You promise me that you will be 100% obedient to every single mission rule. You work your hardest. Do your absolute best. Don’t complain, don’t whine. Work it up, and leave everything you have out on the field.
“I will promise you that I will be 100% obedient to every commandment and counsel that I have here. I’ll go to school, get a job, have a great life, stay active and develop spiritually, and do everything God wants me to do here.
“At the end of the two years, if we are still available, then let’s do our best to make things work out and we’ll see what happens.
“But…” and she took my face in her hands and looked pleadingly into my eyes.
“…if, during those 2 years, I get called away to be with my future companion, *you have to trust me that it’s the right thing for both of us, and that that’s what God wants.*”
She was summoning every ounce of resolve to face down that fear, the fear that our plans and hopes and dreams might just evaporate at some distant point. But she knew that trying to avoid or ignore that possibility would only set us up for even greater pain.
I had to smile and chuckle through my tears. “Well now, I guess that’s just really the only logical thing we can do, now, isn’t it?”
So I swallowed my fears, took a deep breath, and hugged her one more time. I had to admit that she was right. There was a good chance it may not work out. But now wasn’t the time to focus on that.
A wise man told me ‘You spent the first 19 years of your life getting ready for these 2 years of your mission. You will only have those 2 years of your mission to get ready for the rest of your life. Don’t blow it.’
Another one told me to ‘lock your heart. Either lock it so girls don’t come in, or if you already have one in there, lock it so she doesn’t come out and distract you.’
So I resolved then and there to give it my all. Hit the ground running. Leave absolutely everything on the table, nothing held back. I wanted to come back thoroughly spent, used up, sacrificed of everything I held dear, with the faith that I would be transformed, renewed, and evolved into something higher, something deeper.
So I left. And I left her. I actually put a small padlock on my backpack zipper…a small reminder that my thoughts and dreams of her were locked up. I gave her the key the day I flew out. She wore it on a necklace.
We stayed in touch and wrote letters. I tried my hardest to focus.
Transfers. Airplanes. Catamarans. Volcanic island jungle, grass huts, angry natives, chases, escapes, true love, miracles. For the first time in my life, I was threatened with death. And I had to ask myself whether I would endure it. For the first time, I truly started to learn about Brother Joseph, and have Truman Madsen’s definitive series on him to thank for it. For the first time, I truly began to understand doctrine. And I began to catch a tiny, candle-sized glimpse of the power of Heaven and the magnitude of Eternity.
Then her letters started to change.
‘I’m learning so much about myself’.
‘I got the job I really wanted, and I’m meeting new people…but I’m still yours.’
‘I’m so grateful for all the memories we made together.’
Wait, what? What do you mean you’re ‘learning about yourself’?!?! What are you learning???!!!
Then the letters stopped.
Maybe she stopped writing altogether. Or maybe they were just held up with the island postage; sometimes it took over a month for mail to arrive.
And then a large envelope with her return address appeared. She addressed it to “Elder Bernards”, instead of my first name. She sealed it on the back with her signet and preferred choice of sealing wax and ink. She had only done that on rare occasions before.
“Dear Elder Bernards…” she began. She never began like that.
“I will not mince words. Our paths are no longer the same.”
I can’t believe I’m reading this.
“Free your heart. Free your mind. I’ll always be grateful for the time we shared.”
I started getting dizzy. The room was spinning. I felt like the ground under me was rolling and I couldn’t make sense of anything.
And that was the end of the letter.
“Dude, what’s wrong with you?” asked my companion, sitting there watching me. He was munching a baguette and a papaya.
“Um…I think I just got ‘Dear John’d’.”
“Oh man…oh man oh man, you’ve got to be KIDDING me!! Oh that sucks…”
I looked around frantically, trying to keep myself from spinning out of control. I felt like everything was coming unhinged. All the plans and hopes and dreams that I thought I had locked away were bursting out of that secure enclave in my heart, trying to tip me completely over.
Panting, I wrestled with the rest of the mail stack, looking for an escape, something else to change the reality I was facing.
And there was another letter for me…from my favorite cousin. I tore it open and didn’t really read it, just scanned through while my brain raced, yearning for answers.
She mailed that letter a month ago. She’s already been gone for 4 weeks. It’s over. I can’t do anything about it. It’s totally over.
And then my eyes locked on a sentence from my cousin’s letter…
“Hi Elder Bernards! Here’s a cool quote I heard in my religion class today, from Joseph Smith:”
“Whatever God asks is right, no matter what it is, even though we may not understand the reasons why until AFTER the events have transpired.”
And the spinning world stopped.
Everything became eerily quiet and calm. It felt like the universe was holding its breath, watching me in the balance, waiting to see how I would respond.
I tearfully looked up. ‘Father…is this really how it works? I have to choose? Do I sacrifice her and everything we had? Is it really going to be better for us if I do? I mean, I know I had sort of promised her…but…really, do I have to?’
And I heard her words from what felt like a lifetime ago:
“…if, during those 2 years, I get called away to be with my future companion, you have to trust me that it’s the right thing for both of us, and that that’s what God wants.”
And the way then became clear to me. I walked to my hut and slowly picked through my bags, gathering every letter and photo or anything else that reminded me of her. This has to be a complete, 100% sacrifice, I thought. Nothing held back.
I found the file our native family used to sharpen our hunting machetes. A few seconds later the padlock came off my backpack.
I took the pile of memories and walked back to our cooking area in the clearing behind the hut. Set it all on the altar, I thought.
We piled up the stones and the images and letters and mementoes. Poured on oil. Lit the flame.
And walked away.
I took a deep breath, feeling free for the first time in my life. Terrified. Calm. Faithful.
“Dude, you okay?” asked my companion, who watched the whole (overly dramatic ritual) with an awestruck kind of grin on his face.
“Yeah man. I’m fine. Let’s get to work.”
I got Dear John’d. And it was one of the best things that happened to me.