The privilege of being the first story shared on Early Returned Honor goes to my good friend, Hayley. Hayley, thanks so much for being willing to share your story with us.
1. Why did you decide to serve a mission?
Well, when I was 14 I received my patriarchal blessing and I was told that I would be a full-time missionary at some time in my life. Growing up, I kind of assumed that meant that I would go on a mission later in life as a senior couple, because the idea of going on a mission was scary. When I started school at BYU, the thought of a mission kept coming into my mind. I thought it was weird that this thought kept strongly coming to me at age 18, when I had no idea what life would hold three years in the future, at age 21 (It was funny, because I always told my mom that if I could go at age 19, I would). The week before the October General Conference in 2012, I decided to write down a question that I wanted answered. My question was, “should I go on a mission?” and I had faith that my question would be answered. Within the first few minutes of Conference, the missionary age was lowered to age 19, and that was my answer. It was so overwhelmingly strong, and I called my parents telling them that I was going on a mission. I had my papers in a few weeks later, and then it went forward from there.
2. When did you know that you would be coming home?
(Preface: I came home three months before I thought I would because of a serious shoulder injury that needed surgery) I knew that I would probably be coming home about two weeks after I fell, when my injuries were not getting better. I saw a doctor in Italy, but that did not help. About a week before transfer calls, I made a deal with myself that if I was transferred I would go home immediately (because there was no way I could survive carrying three pieces of luggage on a train possibly by myself with a dislocated and torn shoulder), but if I stayed in the same area, I would stay one more transfer so that I could help a family that I was really close with towards baptism. I was able to stay that extra transfer, and that family was baptized. I came home three days after the baptism. I stayed in the mission a total of two months after the time that I dislocated and tore my shoulder. I only had about three months in the mission left when I came home, and at first I thought that I could just “stick it out” during the last three months, but of course that wasn’t the right course of action.
3. What were things you personally could have done to make it easier for you to come home?
I wish that I had been more willing to accept the fact that I had been a part of something truly miraculous. I should have accepted sooner that I had done my part, and the Lord was proud of that.
4. What were things your ward or family could have done to make it easier for you as you came home?
I was really lucky in this department. When my family realized that my shoulder injury was really serious, they were encouraging me to come home. My family was actually really worried that I was staying for an extra transfer. I think the best thing a family can do is find the right balance between being there for their ERM, and giving them the space they need. I remember the first week I was home was great, but some parts were really overwhelming and too much.
My stake president was really supportive. He made sure that I knew that the Lord was happy with my mission, and that I had served MY full mission. The one comment that a few people made that stung a little bit was, “You’re back already?” even though I only came home about three months early. Then I would usually explain what had happened and everyone was very supportive. The one thing that bothered me about that was that as a ERM, you don’t owe anyone an explanation.
5. What do you want other ERMs/ward members/friends/family to know?
ERMs: Some days will be hard, but some days will be great. It will all work out. I found one of the reasons that I was supposed to be home fairly quickly after I got home. Find your reason/purpose. Also, it is really easy to resent the fact that you had to come home early. Finding your reason will really help this. The best advice I received was to jump back into life with both feet. You can’t live with one foot in the mission and one foot in life. Get involved when you get home.
Ward members/friends: Be loving and supportive. Ask about the experiences they had on their missions, not why they came home, or if they’re going back to the mission.
6. Share your testimony of how a mission has blessed you and, if possible, how coming home has blessed you.
Simply, the mission showed me that miracles exist and that God loves us beyond our comprehension. As for coming home, the timing of when I came home was exactly how it was supposed to be. The morning after I came home I was able to see a shoulder specialist, and I was put into a physical therapy program. Then, six weeks later we decided surgery was the best option, and I was in a sling for six weeks. My sling came off just a few days before the fall semester started (going to school with that beast of a sling would have been terrible). Then I did physical therapy for another six weeks or so. My arm went from being in pain constantly and not being able to move while in the mission, to full functioning during the semester.
I was also able to support one of my best friends who needed help. It was a blessing to know that one of the reasons I came home was to help that friend. I am a strong believer in “everything happens for a reason.”