What I Wished I'd Known Before Coming Home

Monday, May 18, 2015

Ok....the title says it all. As's everything I'd wished I would've known before coming home .....and other tips, suggestions, and things I just happened to get right my first go at it:)

Some of these are things I did before I even left the field and some are things I did (or wish I did:) during the 3-9 weeks months of limbo following the awkward see-the-family-for-the-first-time-while-coming-down-the-escalator-but-can't-go-any-faster-to-meet-them moment.

Admit it...we've all thought how awkward that 12.8 seconds is.....


So here goes:


(Before leaving the field)

- Start eliminate unwanted or extra clothing/items 2-3 weeks before you go cuts down on packing (aka STRESS/CRAMMING) time towards the end 

- It's ok to feel tired;) means you're working hard! (Read about Alma and Moroni's "rest" after their hard efforts)....just know that your rest comes hard NOW!

- Satan will try hard those last few weeks in EVERY way...don't let him win! Work hard, be obedient, stay focused, pray harder than you ever have before, and give it ALL to the Lord!

Send on packages home if need be/possible 1-2 weeks before coming home. I sent home bulky items/mission keepsakes in a box to save on luggage space and avoid fees at the airport. 

- Mission debit cards for departing missionaries are loaded based on the number of days in the month (vs the whole month's worth) that you have left to serve. So for instance, I came home on the 16th so I got 16 days worth of funds (about $5 a day). Budget out your last cycle's worth of mission funds in case unexpected expenses come up as you start planning to go home. 

- Because it's practically impossible to say goodbye to everyone (esp converts) from old areas (or even from you current area) before you go home, consider writing "farewell" letters to them before you leave the mission. 

- Ask to bear your testimony your last Sunday (or take advantage of Fast and Testimony meeting) on the mission in your last ward! Trust me, it's an AMAZING experience!!

- KEEP A JOURNAL. Seriously...write down EVERYTHING you can! Those last few weeks are filled with some of the most precious/interesting/life-changing/

- Building off that last your last interview with your mission president, remember everything you can and then the minute you get out....WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING YOU REMEMBER!!! Trust're going to want/need it later...more like forever:) 

(When you get home)

- The ABSOLUTE BEST ADVICE I CAN GIVE ANY RM: KEEP THE MORNING SCHEDULE!! I can't stress this enough. At first, I didn't really think it was that big of a deal, but now I realize that it's CRITICAL. Rise up early, exercise, put the Lord first and really study your scriptures. Ponder, pray, and have your personal time with the Savior. 

- Have a plan before coming home. Plan on getting a calling, a job, starting school, volunteering in the community....ANYTHING. Just get busy doing the RIGHT things. You know where I'm going with this..... "be anxiously engaged in a good cause:)" 

Write down everything. Yes.....I'll say it again....KEEP A JOURNAL. It will keep you on track, close to the Lord, thinking things through, and aware of the guidance of the spirit in your life. Just do me:)

- Stay connected with investigators, LA's, members, etc.! Write them, message them, connect with them on social media, call them, FaceTime them! You will ALWAYS be their missionary! Don't EVER give that up!! 

- Stay involved with missionary work!!  That badge on your heart NEVER comes off! Go out with the missionaries, always keep a BoM and cards on you to give away, post mormon messages on social media, build your own investigator pool of friends and neighbors, get a calling and work with less actives! 

"You don't have to lose [the spirit]!" One of our AP's told us that the last night in the field and it has totally stuck with me. When you come home, you DON'T have to lose the "spiritual high"  everyone talks about if you don't want to. And it is ABSOLUTELY true. It is completely up to you. If you put in your work, time, effort, desire, and can keep that spiritual high. The Lord will NOT take that away from you!!

- Re-find "investigators" (family members, youth, friends, neighbors, etc.)! This work doesn't stay in the field! The world is your field!! (you've just been re-located:) 

- Get a routine down. I HATED routine before the mission...but now I can't live without it. Get your own post-mish routine down and stick with it. 

- Elder Perry visited our mission the week before I left and told us, "If I ever meet you after your missions, I'm going to ask you if you're using a calendar all the time to effectively budget your time.....and if you're not than you are wasting the knowledge and training you have received here on your mission!" USE A CALENDAR!! BUDGET YOUR TIME!! 

-  Give yourself time to adjust. Don't feel like you have to rush it, but also don't feel like you have to take it slow. Just let things happen the way they happen, and as long as your close to the spirit, let yourself get back into your hobbies, relationships, interests, etc. 

- BREATHE....don't take life too seriously at'll all come with time:) 

- My mission president told us, "Elders and sisters, going home from a mission isn't goes on;)" does:) Forge on in faith!

And now for some 10 second summary advice.....just remember to put your relationship with the Lord above ALL ELSE in your lifeHe is your best friend and will be at your side through it all if you will stay next to His. Yes, it will take time, and yes, it will take effort. Coming home from a mission can and will be a bit rocky at first. It's not the most graceful experience of your life. but's all part of the ride:) 

Really, though, if you can keep your faith firm and your hope bright, everything else in your sometimes tailspin-of-an-RM life will come together. Dedicate yourself to your spiritual life, first and foremost. Those spiritual muscles have been worked day in and day out for the past 18-24 months and yea, they might be bone tired.....but you DO NOT want to wake up one day and realize that all that strength...all that power...that might...and that conviction...that was so painstakingly built and fortified, has been lost due to negligence and apathy. 

Your work life, your school life, your dating life, your family life, your financial life, your social will all work together for your good and the Lord will be at the helm to guide you if you will but put your SPIRITUAL life FIRST

STUDY your scriptures daily. 
PRAY always.
Attend the temple.
Ask for priesthood blessings.
Serve faithfully in your calling.
Continue to share the gospel.
Counsel with the Lord in EVERYTHING.

The so-called "adjusting" back to "normal" life should NOT be a spiritual one!!! 

Maintain the spiritual practices, habits, and gifts you've developed on your mission. Don't slack off! It can be SOOOO tempting sometimes, but don't even think about it:) Keep your sights high and remember that you're not alone....the Lord has promised, "I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up" (D&C 84:88)

That promise doesn't end at the completion of a mission! 

He is with you.....ALWAYS!!!

Onward and got this:)

Coming Home: the Homecoming Talk

Sunday, May 10, 2015

No, your calendar didn't skip forward a month. I'm just a month behind.

Some things never change:)

I had planned on getting this up a lot earlier, but carries me away and I'm now just getting caught up. But here it is! 


For all of you who weren't able to attend, I missed having you there, and it wasn't the same without you, but know that you were close to my heart that day!! 
 For all of you who have been part of this journey with me, it has been richer because of you and I can't thank you enough for the impact you've had on my life! 
For all of you who supported me, prayed for me, and encouraged me during my mission, THANK YOU! That means more to me than you know!

To all my blog readers or those who may not know me personally (though.....we really should know each other, don't you think?;), if you have questions, comments, or want to know more about what I believe, feel free to shoot me an email! 

(preface: sorry it's kinda long....but then again...when is ANYTHING Anna Parker EVER writes that brief:) haha! 

Homecoming Talk: The 5 Prominent Powers of the Atonement
March 29, 2015

I've had over 18 months to think about this moment—standing at this pulpit as a returned missionary, looking out over this audience, reporting on my mission—and here I am, with so much in my heart and in my head, and still have NO idea how to say everything I wish I could say.

Bishop Pearson changed my speaking assignment last minute to the topic of the Atonement and, I will say this, I can't think of a better topic I'd want to speak on than the Atonement. If you've followed my mission blog you will know this already: my mission felt like a Boot Camp in the Atonement.

It was hard. I loved it, but the only thing that got me through it—and, and I believe the only thing that will get me and all of us through the rest of life—is the atonement.

One of the best scriptures on the atonement, that I came to understand and love on the mission, I discovered in Luke 4:18, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised..."

I recognized this as an atonement scripture during a Relief Society lesson, and realized that it perfectly sums up five of the most prominent aspects of the atonement that I have learned through my mission and universally apply to each of us.

1st: Preach the gospel to the poor

For us, this could mean poor in spirit, poor in love, poor in spiritual knowledge, poor in hope, poor in peace, and at times, perhaps poor as to the temporal benefits of the world.

Serving in Chicago was at time especially difficult since spiritual poverty was rampant. Physical poverty was also evident. Many were homeless and there were never enough food pantries and shelters to meet demand. There was also an apparent lack of trust and hope. With so much crime, violence, gangs, and drug abuse, many people found it near impossible to trust two girls in skirts and name tags with a message about how a simple man who lived over 2000 years ago could change their lives eternally. But He does.

He preaches to the poor. The atonement COMFORTS.

I remember going into the apartment of a woman who's cupboards were completely bare. She had hardly any food in the fridge or pantry, no furniture, only two or three dishes and a few utensils, and she was sitting against the wall in her kitchen since she had no chair. There was only one light on because she didn't have the money to pay the electricity bill and the apartment was almost completely dark. Her beautiful dark African eyes were filled with tears as she told us she was hungry, alone, scared, and I could sense the deep despair and loneliness in her heart, and while it made more sense to me to share with her some scripture story about prayer or faith, yet the spirit instructed us as missionaries to teach the message of the restored gospel. We taught as the Lord guided us, and by the end of the lesson, there came into Margaret's eyes a light that I KNEW. I knew what that light was. And it didn't stop there. It grew brighter and brighter in her eyes and in her countenance until the day she got baptized. It was the light of Christ. It was the light of hope, and of faith. Her trust and understanding, and knowledge grew until she became entirely filled with that light so that every part of her life was immersed by its rays and it was glorious! When she stepped out of that font on her baptism day, she glowed with that light and she has never stopped glowing since! When I went to say goodbye to her my last day as a missionary serving in that area, even that once-dark and bare apartment had been transformed into a beautiful, carpeted, furnished, flowered, airy, decorated, peaceful haven because of the blessings that the Lord had showered down upon this humble, beautiful, dedicated, obedient, and faithful follower. That light had truly reached every part of her life!

Personally, He has preached the gospel to me when I was poor in spirit. He was there for me when I was discouraged, depressed, lonely, doubting, weak, afraid etc.

I remember melting down and praying in the car before a lesson, "What difference am I even making? Why am I here? And why is this so hard?" The spirit comforted me and simply prompted me to take courage and go into the lesson. Fighting back tears, I grabbed my scriptures, and we went in. We had barely sat down, when we asked our investigator to start our lesson off with a prayer, and in that very prayer, she began by thanking the Lord—in one of the most heart-felt prayers I have ever heard an investigator pray—for sending us—ME—to her, to share the message of the restoration of the gospel with her, so that she could receive the blessings that only this divine gospel can bring. She thanked the Lord for sending “these two angels” to her. In that prayer.....was the answer to MY prayer. He preached the gospel to ME when I was poor in spirit through the prayer of another.

Elder Ballard shared, “Our faith can help us be equally bold and fearless during the course of our respective journeys, whether we are parents working with a troubled child, a single parent trying to raise a worthy family, young people struggling to find a place in a wicked and confusing world, or a single person trying to make the journey through life alone. No matter how difficult the trail, and regardless of how heavy our load, we can take comfort in knowing that others before us have borne life’s most grievous trials and tragedies by looking to heaven for peace, comfort, and hopeful assurance. We can know as they knew that God is our Father, that He cares about us individually and collectively, and that as long as we continue to exercise our faith and trust in Him there is nothing to fear in the journey."

2nd Heal the Brokenhearted:

I would have to say that helping people heal through the atonement was the single most powerful privilege of my mission.

We are all brokenhearted. Each one of us.

Elder Oaks, "Many carry heavy burdens. Some have lost a loved one to death or care for one who is disabled. Some have been wounded by divorce. Others yearn for an eternal marriage. Some are caught in the grip of addictive substances or practices like alcohol, tobacco, drugs, or pornography. Others have crippling physical or mental impairments. Some are challenged by same-gender attraction. Some have terrible feelings of depression or inadequacy. In one way or another, many are heavy laden."

One of the most powerful meetings I ever attended on the mission was a zone conference where our mission president wrote on the board, "The atonement heals ______ pain."

He asked us to think about it for a moment and then asked us to fill in the blank with different kinds of pain we e. Missionaries began calling out, "physical, emotional, spiritual, etc." And eventually our mission president said, "Elders and sisters, the atonement heals ALL pain. ALL pain, elders and sisters."

That has stayed with me my whole mission.

It burned in my mind as I sat across from a mother who's son was accidentally killed in a gang hit, or an investigator who was wrongfully attacked in a knife fight and will forever be scarred, or the mom who wept uncontrollably as she told us that her daughter had been assaulted, or looking into the teary eyes of those beautiful black children who's lives were surrounded by crime and drugs.

I didn't know what to say to them. I knew I was far from qualified to counsel or direct them. But what our mission president said came into my heart in each of those moments, the atonement heals ALL pain.

It heals the pain caused by others to us. It heals the pain we've caused to ourselves. It heals the pain that we can never fix. And I can say I know this to be true not only because I saw it heal those I taught and loved, but HE HEALED ME.

I can't count the number of times my heart was broken on the mission. It was broken when I was literally left out in the rain by a family of investigators that I gave my WHOLE heart to.

My heart was broken when I found out that two of my siblings were getting married and I wouldn't be there for the weddings.

My heart was broken when I had to say goodbyes to people I loved with all my heart and move onto another area.

My heart was broken by the hateful comments others made about my beliefs.

My heart was broken again and again when I found myself on my knees begging my Heavenly Father to pull me through.

And He did. And He still does. And what is so miraculous, is the fact that when we put our broken hearts into His hands, He truly does give it back to us new, stronger, and with greater capacity to continue on.

The atonement truly does HEAL.

3rd Preach Deliverance to the Captive:

The atonement liberates us. When I first reflected on this, the first face that came to my mind was a man I only met once on the mission.

If you've read my letters or followed the blog, this will be a repeat, but it's one of the most precious moments of my mission.

One time, my companion and I were invited to gather as a zone downtown Chicago to carol and give out hot chocolate so after an hour of driving and another half hour of trying to find parking, we finally started off on foot to walk about a quarter mile to where our zone was caroling but before we'd gone very far, we stopped in at a CVS to use the restroom. Before we'd even made it to the back of the store, though, a man bumped into us, saw our name tags and said, “Mormons! I need to talk to you." So he escorted us out into the metra food court and sat us down at a table. And then, for over an hour he talked to us all about his life, serving in the Vietnam war and his torturous struggle with PTSD. Our zone was waiting for us, we were already half an hour late, and it was getting dark, but as we sat there with him, the spirit prompted,"Just listen."

I couldn't take my eyes off him; I was totally intrigued by this perfect stranger sitting in front of me, telling me all about his life and struggles. He fascinated me, and though we didn't say hardly two words during the whole hour we "visited" with him, I knew that's where we were supposed to be. He began wrapping up, talking about how he was haunted every night by the memories of his time in Vietnam. His eyes clouded as he told us he'd wake up in cold sweats, see the faces of those he had been forced to kill, and hear Vietnamese phrases screaming in his dreams. "But, he said, there's nothing you or I can do about it. I've asked God to take it from me and He hasn' that's the way it is."

Immediately, the spirit spoke directly to my mind, "PROMISE him, right now, that his PTSD will be taken from him if he reads the Book of Mormon and pursues this course." I was taken off guard. I've always wanted to have an experience on my mission where the spirit directed me to promise a specific and....let's be honest....impressive…blessing to an individual. However, when the prompting came, I instinctively questioned it. "I don't know the ins and outs of PTSD. If doctors and psychologists can't help him, how am I supposed to make this promise to him?? I don't want to get his hopes up. Maybe this prompting isn't from the spirit, it's just wishful thinking."

But that prompting kept coming and coming, until I KNEW that it was undeniably given by the spirit. I finally spoke up, "Dave, you said just a moment ago that we couldn't do anything for you....and to a point that's true. But I KNOW that your Savior, Jesus Christ can and will." I testified to him of the divine mission of Christ to administer to those in need, and to save us from our pain and suffering. Then, I extended a Book of Mormon to him and said, "As messengers of Him, I can I promise you that if you read this book....and follow its teachings and continue to progress towards Him...your PTSD will be alleviated." Through the spirit, we'd promised him a blessing that only God could give.

I've sat across from people who have murdered and committed every crime in the book, people who were entirely consumed by addictions and bad habits, covered in tattoos, piercings, and reeking of smoke and drugs and alcohol, and yet the spirit BURNED through me to tell them, "You can be free. You can be forgiven."

Christ came to liberate the captive. In one way or another we are all captive, whether to sin, to life circumstance and trials, to our own fears or doubts, or whatever it may be.

But the Savior LIBERATES.

There were times that being with extremely difficult companions felt like captivity:) but the Lord was with me every. step. of .the. way.! His purpose is to free us if we will but embrace the atonement that He freely offers.

4th: Recovering of Sight to the Blind

The atonement ENLIGHTENS us.
One of my favorite hymns is Amazing Grace, and my favorite line of that songs has to be the phrase, “I once was blind but now I see.”

James, one of the converts from my mission I am the closest to, came from a background of drugs, gangs, financial ruin, mental and emotional struggles, addictions, and many other difficulties. At his lowest point, one Easter morning, his 4 year old son asked him to take him to church—to the Mormon church where his grandpa, Vijay, attended services. James said he couldn't look into the eyes of his son and reject that plea, so he came to church for the first time in 10 years. In that meeting, the spirit filled his soul and the Lord witnessed to him that that was right where he needed to be. Not only that, but the Spirit also prompted James that he needed to get baptized in order to find the peace, happiness, and hope that he was desperately searching for.

James quickly progressed to baptism, overnight he gave up addictions, and committed to live a life dedicated to serving others and ultimately, his Savior, Jesus Christ. He received answers to his prayers, and in turn, was an answer to my prayers and the prayers of my companion as were taught him and helped him make and keep commitments.

Ironically, on the day of his baptism, he chose the hymn Amazing Grace to be sung at his baptism. I wept as those last few lines were sung and I will NEVER forget that moment when James came up to me after the baptism and said, "Now I see!"

Brothers and sisters, the Atonement ENLIGHTENS us!

The Lord opened my eyes as well on the mission, to this beautiful aspect of the atonement.
I have come to know my Savior on a COMPLETELY new and different level than I've ever known before. I mean, I knew the Atonement was real and powerful before my mission, but like Elder Holland said, "How could we possibly bear any moving lasting testimony of the Atonement, if we never know or felt anything of such an experience? As must be prepared to walk something of the path He walked. To feel something a little of the pain he felt. To at least occasionally sometime during your mission shed one of the tears of sorrow that He shed. I believe that missionaries and investigators, missionaries and investigators [and I would add members], to come to the truth, to come to salvation, to come to repentance, to come to know something of this price that has been paid, will have to pay a token of that same price.

It will only be a token but I believe it has to be paid."

While I did not appreciate or even realize it in the moment, I am now fully aware and in fact, I am grateful that I shed those tears of sorrow. I DID shed them. Many of them, in fact. But I can honestly say now, that I'm grateful that my mission was not easy. I have realized that that was my token. That was the price I had to pay to be who I am today. That was the price I paid to know my Savior the way that I do now. And NO price will every be too high to know Him. It has been worth it.

My mission has opened my eyes in more ways than I will every be able to count. But most importantly, it has opened my eyes to my Savior. I see Him now clearer than I ever have before. I know Him. And I know He knows me. And that enlightenment is PRICELESS to me.

5th: Set at Liberty Them that are Bruised

The atonement ENABLES us to move past our weaknesses, to find relief from pain, and become better than we ever could without it.

Elder Bednar talked about this ENABLING power of the atonement, "Not only does the Atonement of Jesus Christ overcome the effects of the Fall of Adam and make possible the remission of our individual sins and transgressions, but His Atonement also enables us to do good and become better in ways that stretch far beyond our mortal capacities. There is no physical pain, no spiritual wound, no anguish of soul or heartache, no infirmity or weakness you or I ever confront in mortality that the Savior did not experience first. In a moment of weakness we may cry out, “No one knows what it is like. No one understands.” But the Son of God perfectly knows and understands, for He has felt and borne our individual burdens. And because of His infinite and eternal sacrifice (see Alma 34:14), He has perfect empathy and can extend to us His arm of mercy. He can reach out, touch, succor, heal, and strengthen us to be more than we could ever be and help us to do that which we could never do relying only upon our own power."

I can't even begin to describe how the enabling power of the atonement carried me through my mission. Some of you may know about the unexpected medical issues I faced on the mission. Those trials turned to priceless personal testimony of how the atonement could carry me when I couldn't carry myself. 

I remember collapsing in a doctor's office before a medical test, crying out those same words that Elder Bednar so accurately expressed, "No one knows what it is like!" and eventually asking "Why me?" as I laid in a hospital bed for yet another time.

Through that experience, however, I came to realize that HE was the one who truly DID know and understand what I was feeling, and not only that, but despite my limitations, or perhaps, because of my limitations, He enabled me to become much more than I could ever become on my own.

At the most difficult time of my mission, I remember receiving specific promptings to record my feelings, and not just in a journal or notebook, but on a blog--a public blog for the entire world to read. I was hesitant at first, because I knew my words and my opinions would be raw, honest, and perhaps abrasive to some. But acting in faith and on the promptings I'd received, I let the words the flowed into my mind and heart, flow onto the pages of that post. 

I believe that the Lord brought me to that extremely difficult, demanding and even low time of my mission so I was willing and thus compelled to write an honest blog post about mission life, and the hardships as well as the blessings and joy that come from serving.

I didn't realize that until later, however. 

By the end of my time as a missionary, only about 6 months after posting that entry, it has reached nearly 50,000 blog readers in all but 13 countries in the world. The positive feedback, emails, comments, reviews, thank-you notes, etc. continue to come because of that one post and I realized that the Lord was magnifying me, through my trials. 

That was not because of me. That was because of the Lord. He ENABLED me to do what I couldn't on my own, and it was because of the trials that I faced, that led me to put myself into His hands, relying on His power to mold and shape me into what HE wanted me to be.

The atonement ENABLES us to become better, to receive strength, to improve, to continue on, and to hope for His companionship along our journey of life.

Brothers and sisters, the Atonement WILL carry you. I know, because it has carried me through the past most difficult 18 months of my life.

Elder Holland has an address entitled "Missionary Work and the atonement" which sustained me through much of my mission. He said,

"If you wonder if there isn’t an easier way, you should remember you are not the first one to ask that. Someone a lot greater and a lot grander asked a long time ago if there wasn’t an easier way.The Atonement will carry the missionaries perhaps even more importantly than it will carry the investigators. When you struggle, when you are rejected, when you are spit upon and cast out and made a hiss and a byword, you are standing with the best life this world has ever known, the only pure and perfect life ever lived. You have reason to stand tall and be grateful that the Living Son of the Living God knows all about your sorrows and afflictions. The only way to salvation is through Gethsemane and on to Calvary. The only way to eternity is through Him—the Way, the Truth, and the Life."
Brothers and sisters, He is the way, and the atonement will bring us safely home.
I am FILLED with gratitude to my Savior for choosing me--little insignificant me--to walk with Him for these past 18 months. He has allowed ME to serve Him full-time for a year and a half and He has been there with me, the entire time! I have learned and gained SO much from these past 18 months.....and I wouldn't trade that for the world!
Most importantly I have learned that the Atonement is real. It is SO real. And if we will but put ourselves into His hands and accept His will, we will have access to the most powerful love and strength this world has to offer.
I testify that the atonement Comforts, Heals, Liberates, Enlightens, and Enables. It is there for each of us. I know our Savior lives. He loves us each, infinitely and eternally, and for that I will forever be grateful. The Book of Mormon a second witness of Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. This church is led today by prophets of God, with God himself at the head. I KNOW with all my heart that this gospel is true. I know it is true because I have lived it, and have come to find that there is no greater happiness to be found than my living it's teachings. I love this gospel, I love my Savior, and I stand all amazed at the love that HE offers me.

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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