Everything I Never Told You

I didn't plan this, but today marks six months that I've been home from my mission. I can't believe it's been that long, but sometimes I feel like every single second has been etched into my skin.

I won't lie: it's been a very long six months. In fact, it's been a very long two years. There were times I didn't think I'd make it to this point.

There was a lot of my mission that I didn't show you, that I didn't talk about. I needed some space in order to wrap my head around all of it, and that's what I've spent the last six months doing. Getting space. Wrapping my head around it. Pushing through and trying to move on.

I think that talking about it is my next step. Talking not just to my therapist, but to everyone. And I wanted to take this to a bigger scale, the internet, because although it's hard for me to let you see this side of me, I know that somewhere there is someone just like I was a few months ago who needs to know that it's going to be okay. It's okay if your mission was not what you wanted it to be. It's okay if you came home early or never went on a mission. It's okay if you are hurt. It's okay if you have mental health struggles. It's okay if you've thought about leaving church. It's okay if you've left church. It's okay to feel lost. Things will get better.

So, to start it all off, let me be up-front about a few things:

-My mission was, overall, painful and difficult for me. A lot of that was my fault, for being stubborn and arrogant, but some of it wasn't. I was diagnosed with mental health issues that I should have seen coming but didn't, and a large portion of my mission was struggling through medications, spotty therapy, extra stress, and feeling inferior because of my mental and emotional weaknesses.

-I was honorably released a month early from my mission. I had known it was coming almost from the beginning, when things quickly began to spiral downward. I'm not sure if anyone at home noticed, because it was only 30 days prior to my original release, but I held (and still hold) that burden, honorable release or not.

-I've spent the last six months contemplating a lot of things, from mental illness to the missionary program to my standing with the LDS Church. I've changed a lot in the past two years, and I feel unsteady about many things.

I don't want to beat a dead horse in talking about my experiences on my mission. It's all I've thought about for the past six months, and frankly I'm ready to leave the negativity behind. I don't want to feel uncomfortable every time someone asks me about my mission. I don't want to drag out this healing process by refusing to give up my pains.

But, for the sake of the story, if anything: I was told I have depression and anxiety about eight months into my mission. I finally broke down and called my mission president after months of lethargy, social struggles, anger, hopelessness, and even on occasion thoughts of suicide. I remember very clearly where I was when I realized that I needed help. It was the end of a lunch break and I was lying on the floor in our apartment, my mind awash with white noise. I couldn't think, couldn't move, couldn't fathom how I would get up and go outside. My companion was watching, quiet, waiting for me to do or say something.

Calling my mission president and meeting with him brought about therapy, a diagnosis, and medication, but to be honest there isn't a lot of mental health support in the field. There just isn't time to meet with a therapist every week, to spend time healing, when you're a missionary. So I found a dosage of medication that took out the white noise from my head and just kept moving, trying to tell myself that I would take care of it when I got home.

That's no way to live, as anybody with a mental illness knows. I begged my mission president multiple times to let me stay on my mission despite his concerns, partially out of pride and partially out of fear. Nobody wants to be "that missionary," the one who gets sent home (honorably or not). I struggled and tried to work and at times thought I had moved past my struggles, but they always came back.

Eventually, my mission president decided it was best for me to go home. He reassured me over and over again that it was an honorable release, that it was only thirty days early, but I cried for days despite my secret relief. I was "that" missionary. I was allowed to call my family to let them know, and although they were supportive of me, there were some hard facts we all had to come to terms with: I was broken, completely, and broken people are a lot harder to piece back together than broken china. Still, I was lucky, because I could continue to pretend like everything was normal, if I wanted: nobody would notice thirty days or mental illnesses tempered with medication. Even if I was broken on the inside, I could at least appear to be whole.

When I got home, I found that was true: nobody noticed. I weaned myself off of my medication because I hated feeling dependent, and at first it was okay. I loved my mission. I missed it like crazy. I was awkward and uncomfortable and everyone thought it was adorable because I was a freshly-returned missionary trying to readjust to the world. I made scripture references and jokes about the Joseph Smith movie in normal conversation. I cried. A lot.

And then I got angry. I was angry at God, angry at the Church, angry at myself, angry and hurt and disenchanted. I had spent most of my mission feeling like an outcast, and I capitalized on that loneliness when I got home. I hated the missionaries that had made me feel bad about myself or who said mean things about my friends in the mission. I hated all of the times I had been weak and disobedient. I hated the people that were rude to me and to others, hated the leaders that were ignorant to our needs and the needs of those we loved and worked with.

I hated myself for hating my mission.

It was a dark winter. I spent all of December and January bitter, teetering on the edge of leaving the Church and starting fresh. In mid-January, I moved away to Utah without a plan of what I was going to do there, and found myself in the heart of young adult Mormonism, Provo, surrounded by thirty thousand other young Mormons who were much better at being Mormon and much happier about it than I was.

By March, I started to see the downward spiral that I had continued traveling and, again, reached out for help. I found a therapist and started talking to him every week. At first, all I could talk about was my mission and my anger. I tried reading the scriptures but only found things to argue about. I tried praying but felt like no one was listening. I went to Church but never spoke. If only they knew how much I hate this, I would think. None of them would want to talk to me if they knew what I really was.

But I kept going. I went because it was the only thing I knew. I went because I had felt and seen things on my mission that had changed me and my way of thinking, and as much as I wanted to leave church and never look back, I started to realize that I couldn't. I owed it to God to try again. On my mission in California, when I told myself I was completely alone, I always had the thought in the back of my mind that's not true. I hadn't always had that reassurance in life; not until I started reaching out and asking for help did I realize that others were reaching back, had been reaching for ages. I owe any clarity and joy I had on my mission to God, who gave me miraculous days where I could work without crashing and moments with people that I still cherish.

I'm not half as angry as I was a few months ago. I have my days when that sense of injustice comes back and riles me up. I hear things at church or spoken between peers that I now know can be hurtful to the right ears (sometimes my own). At times I get angry when I try to understand points of doctrine or LDS history that I don't agree with or understand. I'm not perfect, and don't see much point in pretending like I am.

But I've also recently heard beautiful, incredible talks about loving others unconditionally. I've been comforted by tiny bits of scripture or random happenstance that make me feel, once again, like God is aware of me. I've been given an opportunity to teach in church, something that I love to do, and something that helps me feel that the Christ I am teaching of is a real person. 

I'm still broken. I still have a long way to go before I will feel steady again. I can't help but look back on my college life with envy at times, wishing for that lost confidence and independence. I still have days where I'm full of white noise or anxiety, where I feel like I can't breathe, but that's my normal, for now, and I'm learning to live in it.

If you ever have been or are any of these things, 
full of hate, 
full of self-loathing, 
please know how much I want to be your friend. We have these things in common. I don't care about your religious affiliation, sexual orientation, your weight, your skin color, your age/sex/location; you are worthy of love and attention. You are worthy of friendship.

I'm not sure about a lot of things, but I do believe that we are on this earth to be good to each other, to be a friend and support to others. That was one of my most cherished roles on my mission: friend. So if you need a friend, I'm here. If you have friendship to give, give it freely.

I might not have the big picture yet, but I believe that everything can be shaped for good in our lives if we allow them to. So here's to one year, five months, and a lifetime of struggling and getting back up again, always a little stronger than before, always growing.

(Thanks for your prayers and support while I served. Now you know how much I meant it when I said that in my emails.)

Amazing Grace

I always wondered what I was going to say and do when it came time for me to say goodbye to Sister B.

How do you sum up all that you've felt and done for the last 18 months in a few short paragraphs? How do you possibly express all that you've come to feel about the people you have served? How do you talk about the culture, the homes, the food, the companions, the weather, the experiences, without getting lost in the glory of your missionary lifetime?

Like the blind man healed by Christ, washed by the waters of the pool of Siloam, I can only say: "one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see" (St. John 9: 25, KJV).

I can't tell you why God loves His children. We are stubbornly imperfect, impotent little creatures. We pretend we know what's going on and that we are in control of our own lives, but really we don't and we aren't. We're always about two steps away from spiraling out of control, and it is only by reaching out to His higher power that we can stay on the right track.

I have met the most incredible people on my mission. I've made friends that I didn't expect and probably didn't deserve. I've witnessed the sealing of a family for time and all eternity; I've seen people emerge from the waters of baptism, clean and full of light; I've seen lost sheep return to the fold and countless lives change because of it. Because God loves me, imperfect, impotent, stubborn little me, He allowed me to be a part of these things. He knew that if I could begin to see His children as He sees them, that I would grow and become a vessel for His unending joy and love.

I was so blind to that before my mission. I didn't see beyond the backs of my own eyelids. I told myself that I loved others because I occasionally did something kind for someone else or I occasionally forgave when someone hurt my feelings.

The truth is, my love for myself was empty. I loved my own skin merely because I was in it, not because I saw myself as a daughter of God with the ability to do good in this world. I kept myself contained within my own little world because I felt like reaching out would do more harm than good.

The amazing thing about Sister Broadbent is that she is completely different now than she was 18 months ago. Looking back now, I can see it. Every single human being that I came in contact with stretched me and helped to shape me into who I am now. Every friend I gained forced me to love myself a little bit more, and in return hold more love for others. 

I struggled a lot. There are so many stories that I might tell you some day about how much I struggled. I fought this change tooth and nail. Growing pains, you could say.

And yet God forgave me! Not just "sometimes," not just when He felt like I had suffered enough to earn it. Every day, every sin, He forgave as readily as I brought them to Him. That love stretched me the most. As I saw myself stumbling, falling, and getting back up over and over again, my instinct was to do what I had always done: turn inward on the pain, resent myself, and hurt.

As a missionary, you can't. You simply cannot fulfill your calling as an ambassador of Jesus Christ and hate yourself because of your shortcomings and imperfections. The minute you turn inward and turn bitter, the lights go off and you no longer carry the Spirit. You may be wearing a name-tag, but you are certainly not a missionary. 

As you learn to be okay with the fact that you are imperfect, you are more willing to allow that same thing for others. In fact, you want it more than anything else. You want your brothers and sisters to experience the same freedom that you do from feeling like a failure. You want them to know that there is a plan for this life, and that the center of it is the price that Christ paid for each of those daily sins, so that we wouldn't have to be trapped with them. You want them to know that God still loves His children, so he reestablished His Son's church upon the earth, with a prophet at the helm to give constant guidance and direction.

This is why I am still striving to be a missionary, one year and six months later. This is why I am not the Sister Broadbent I used to be. This is what I barely glimpsed, vaguely and briefly, when I decided to pursue a mission experience under the title "One Year, Six Months, Forever". 

Missions are not just 18 or 24 months of time spent being a good neighbor and teaching others about Jesus. Being a missionary is not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Being a missionary once changes your life forever. Performing one act of service enlarges your soul, giving room for more love and desire to serve. In our Heavenly Father's great attention and love to each of us, He calls us to serve because He knows that we can become more like Him, full of confidence and light and love, as we do it.

I hope you don't take all of this prose to mean that I think I will be perfect from now on. Being a missionary has changed the eternal course of my life. I am so much better at showing and giving love than I used to be. I am so much closer to my Savior and have gained great knowledge about His gospel.

But I will still make mistakes. I will still let opportunities to share the Gospel slip by me sometimes. I will still try to beat myself up about it. Sometimes, Satan will win for a little season. To quote the words to my favorite hymn,

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, 
prone to leave the God I love; 
here's my heart, O take and seal it, 
seal it for thy courts above.

I want you all to know that you can count on me to be a friend. I may not be perfect (I will always be a little ornery and stubborn in this life) but I know how it feels to wander and come back. I do it every day. I know how it feels to find something good and cling to it.

Please, please, use me. Talk to me. Stretch me. Every friend that I gain, every single one of God's beloved children I come into contact with, helps me to be a better person. We all have that effect on each other.

I love you! I loved you as a missionary and I love you now, on my way home. I will always hold this space of 18 months in sunny California dear. I have loved this journey of becoming the Sister Broadbent that God knew I could be.

Love always,
Sister B

Happy Halloween!

This week revolved around Halloween, obviously. We had our ward Trunk or Treat (like trick or treating, but better) on Wednesday night. Sister Jones and I dressed up and everyone thought it was hilarious. The woman who lent me my costume loved it so much that she told me to keep the thing. I have no idea what I'll do with it, but I couldn't say no!

Sister Moonflower and Sister Miss Chievous 
On actual Halloween night, we had to be in at 6pm. We rushed back to our apartment after carving pumpkins at a member's home and then Sister Jones watched "17 Miracles" and cried a little bit while I popped popcorn kernels on the stove and ate a handful of Halloween candy.

Time is winding down and I'm doing my very best to stay focused on what's at hand instead of what's coming. Honestly (and I know some missionaries might kill me for saying this) I think it's pretty easy. I've been a missionary for the last 17 months! It's all I know how to do at this point. Packing? Thinking about my homecoming talk? HAVING A PERSONAL CELL PHONE?


;) I am really just loving life in Carlsbad right now. I think we are finally hitting a good groove, and it's great. Groovy, even! (hah, I had to! I can only make corny missionary jokes for so much longer now)

Izzie saw us with our copies of the Book of Mormon out and wanted to read, too! :)

This is what Amber does when we are talking too loudly and she is trying to sleep.
Let me say one thing to anyone who is thinking about serving a mission: DO IT. If the Lord says go, you go! It will be the most difficult thing you have ever done, I can promise you that. But there are so many things that you will learn, miracles you will witness, and blessings you and your family will receive from your service. It is an experience which, if done right, will shape the rest of eternity. Every decision you make after serving a mission will be impacted by what you learned and felt and saw during those short 2 years or 18 months.

I love you always!

Sister B

You've Never Been to Chick-fil-A?

I'm going to get this sent out before I run out of time like I did last week!

The highlight of this week, of course, was going to the San Diego temple. Good golly I love being able to go to the temple. It was a beautiful, sunny, warm (sorry, everyone) day and I loved having time to sit and feel the gentle presence of the Spirit. I left feeling rejuvenated and at peace for the first time in a while!

The San Diego temple!

Mini-MTC reunion at the temple!
After the temple we went to Chick-Fil-A because apparently Sis. Jones has never had it before! I was flabbergasted! Our ride's jaw dropped when she heard, and she said, "you've never been to Chick-Fil-A?!" I promise if I had known, we would have fixed that a long time ago. Don't worry; she loved it, and we now know where to go when we need a fun lunch or don't have a dinner appointment. :)

This past week I also (while wearing mostly blue) was told that I looked like Elsa while standing in line at the grocery store. I didn't have the heart to tell the cashier that I've never seen Frozen, so I just smiled and said thanks. I do know what she looks like, so I guess that's a compliment, right? ;)

I love you all so very much! I promise I'm trying to figure out a way to bring some of this California sun home with me. Once I do, I'll send some to you!

I love Halloween.

Sister B