At a young age, it was always a goal for me to go on a mission. I thought a mission would be this easy, fun task where you go out and just teach people about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We always grow up knowing the mission is the thing we are supposed to do when we hit the age of 19. (18 now).
Dear Elder Emery, You are assigned to Labor in the Germany Frankfurt mission. You will teach the gospel in the German Language.
May 1st, 2013: I departed to what seemed like the most rewarding, enjoyable experience of my life. I was dropped off at the MTC on May 1st, 2013. I remember rolling my bags away looking back at my family and wondering how the heck I was going to get through the next two years without seeing them.
As missionaries for the Church, we are called as representatives of Jesus Christ and are required to wear a shirt and tie every day. What makes it even better is that we get to wear this geeky-looking name tag that says, “Elder”.
During my time in Germany, I worked with so many great companions who helped me so much to grow as a person. The rigorous schedule of getting up every morning at 6:30am and then having to study for 3 hours straight was brutal for me. I am a person with severe ADHD so I can’t sit for a long time. I was always so anxious to get out of the apartment.
Now Germany is a unique place to talk about religion because they uh, are German. Germans are very strict, on schedule and don’t want to be bothered by anyone. We would go days upon days talking to people on the streets and meeting with members who belong to a ward or branch in a certain area.
Once you get to teaching and understanding German culture, it is the coolest thing!
I absolutely love the people I met and still have some of my best relationships with German friends. My mission was truly a blessing even though, at times, I was selfish or didn’t want to work. I cared way too much what others thought instead of just being me. I give that advice to every newly called missionary: just be you!!!
Out there tracting and being on your feet every day is quite the task. But early in my mission I felt a weird pain in my shoulders. It was almost like someone was sticking a needle in my neck and it would shoot weird nerve sensations down my arms (almost like hitting your funny bone). I didn’t think much of it the first 9 months of my mission. Right about my 9 month mark, these pains continued to be more persistent and would start hurting more and more every day. But again, I never thought much of it.
During this time, I also had about 4 surgeries on my big toenails for ingrown toenails from my shoes. We did so much walking and talking everything was wearing out.
I was in Frankfurt when President Ronald Stoddard (who was a Neonatologist here in Utah) became the new mission President. His first month he was there, I began telling him about these funky nerve feelings in my neck and hands and that I had no idea what was going on. We began calling my doctors here in Utah and tried certain things to calm the pain but it just wasn’t working.
I remember the night I was told by my doctor that I needed to go home. I said, “Doc, I am not going home. I still have 8 months left. I am not coming home”. He assured me that if I kept staying out there, that my pain would continue to increase and it would just get more miserable if I didn’t get these surgeries done.
I was devastated when I heard the news but knew I needed to figure out what was going on with my shoulders. I finally agreed to go home and get the surgeries.
About 2 hours after that phone call with Doc, I get a phone call from President Stoddard saying, “Elder Emery, you are flying out tomorrow morning. Sister Stoddard and I will take you to the airport”. At this point it was already 8:00pm and I had absolutely no chance to see any members that I wanted to say goodbye to.
August 2014: I flew home from Germany and immediately the next day was seeing 3 different doctors. Getting all these tests done and everything. I felt like I barely had time to even grasp that I was just a missionary 24 hours prior to that moment. After completing all the tests, doctor appointments, and consultations, I decided to get the surgery. The first surgery was on my right shoulder. 2 weeks later I got surgery on my left shoulder. The surgery was for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Essentially the nerves and arteries going into your arms are being pinched by tissue or bone so it causes these weird sensations.
I remember feeling guilty and also a little angry. I felt like I was giving it my all in Germany and yet this Thoracic Outlet Syndrome flares up and I have to come home from my mission early. I was a little upset with myself but I felt like God was letting me down a little bit. I felt like I was a super-obedient missionary doing all I could to help and serve others. But yet I have to come home and have these 2 surgeries.
My time healing from the surgeries was quite a nightmare. I was staying at home and infrequently working at a part time job just trying to figure out what was happening in life. I had no idea what my plan in life was and what I needed to do. I would go home at nights and just cry myself to sleep because I thought I had done something wrong for God to put this on me.
What a lot of early returned home missionaries do is immediately feel like they are judged by the Mormons around them. I was guilty of this and thought the same thing. I pushed through my healing process WAY to fast because I wanted to prove to people that I was going to go finish my mission.
I received approval to return to Frankfurt to finish out my mission. I was so excited but was really questioning my motives at the same time. Was I doing it for myself? Or was I doing it to please others?
Oct 13th, 2014: I returned to Germany to finish my mission strong and to get back to work. Honestly telling the truth, this was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do personally. I left to go back and serve the remaining 6 months that I felt like I owed God.
There was a reason I went back, for sure. I met some people that I will forever be friends with. But the hardest part of all, I was experiencing complications with my recovery from surgery which happened in August and September. It was almost like a knife stabbing my right lung as well as having nerve pain yet again. January 2015 I came home early again.
At this point, I had come home early twice. I was so disappointed, so discouraged, and tried to force myself back into reality so fast that it caused me to have some serious depression episodes. I started questioning God and if he really heard my prayers. I started questioning myself if I was mentally tough to battle through to the end. I questioned a lot of things at that time and it was almost detrimental to me because I thought about everything that was so out of my control but it seemed to be controlling my thoughts.
My state of depression quickly dissipated through time as I got back into real life. But that was a scar that needed to heal and I believe is still in the process of healing to this day. One thing I will say though, I have met so many missionaries who have come home for a variety of reasons and issues. When you go to church and you go places, don’t automatically assume people are going to judge you for coming home early. Most people are there to help you!
When I went through that experience, I thought everyone was judging me and thought I got kicked off the mission or whatever else. But in all reality, everyone brought me in and loved me and wanted me to just be happy. They were making sure I was doing okay. 95% of the church support you in whatever you’re dealing with. But don’t let the 5% who think you should go back out to get the rest of your “blessings” influence how you think. Just realize we all got stuff happening and don’t be discouraged.
If I could go back, I would change how I handled the situation with myself. But I can’t go back in time and have to live with it. I came home early from my LDS mission. Am I ashamed of it now? No, not one bit. Was I ashamed of it then? Yes! It’s okay to feel the emotion, but don’t hide that emotion so much where it affects how you think. This was one of the first things that put me into depression because I let it take over my life. I wish I would have handled it differently but we can never erase the past. Sometimes we have to not even think the, “I wish”, and replace it with, “I’m grateful”. The future is bright, so help someone who maybe had that same experience coming home. WE as church members need to be more supportive and ask the appropriate questions to these Elders and Sisters who do come home early. Believe in them and help them with whatever they are dealing with. A mission is a hard thing to do. A mission is not an easy thing at all. So encourage and do whatever you can to help someone who is struggling.
I am forever grateful for my mission and the lessons I learned. A mission teaches lessons that you never even thought you could learn. A mission is hard. But I am grateful for the 20 months I had to serve those people in Germany. I have so many incredible relationships that God has blessed me with. I don’t regret ever going on a mission. I just wished I would have handled the coming home part a little better.
It helps to talk about it, so if anyone has felt these same emotions, please reach out. I love hearing people’s stories and I really believe all the stories I have received have been inspiring to me. It’s nothing to look down upon, coming home early. God has his timing in everything we do in life, I really do believe that. Keep on swimming, don’t feel like you have to overdo it either. Take a step back and breathe. God is with you every step of the way. At one point in life, you will understand why you had to go through what you went through. God Bless!