“Serving a Full-Time Mission Was My Plan, but Heavenly Father Helped Me When Plans Changed,” Ensign, July 2019
When I was growing up, serving a full-time mission was always one of my goals. I wanted to be the best missionary possible and prepared in any way I could. It was the first step in my plan for life. But those plans soon changed, and Heavenly Father was my lifeline through the challenges that were coming my way.
I was so excited when I entered the missionary training center! Little did I know that intense trials would soon come. I got a kidney stone in the MTC that required surgery to remove. Soon after, I contracted a serious infection in my kidney. While my entire district left to go out in the field, I was sent home to recover. I was so disappointed and felt like a failure. I was told over and over that if I had enough faith, God would heal me—but the infection continued to spread. I often got high fevers and was in tremendous amounts of pain that resulted in multiple trips to the emergency room. But miraculously, I healed and was finally able to go to the mission field.
When I arrived at my mission, I had never been happier. Mission life was hard, but I loved it. I was prepared to represent Jesus Christ for two years and fulfill this lifelong goal I had. But unfortunately, a short time after I arrived, blood appeared in my urine. I panicked, because this was the same thing that happened while I was at the MTC. Unbeknownst to me, my kidney was losing function and it started to spasm. There is no true way to describe the pain these spasms would cause. I would often drop to the floor in pain and scream.
I visited many different doctors, who couldn’t give me any answers. I was so discouraged. But one day after my companion and I fasted together, we received permission to leave our mission boundaries and go to a hospital in the United States. I was excited to finally get help. But after many hours and multiple medical tests, the doctors determined that there was something seriously wrong with my kidney—but they didn’t know what exactly.
The next day, I was sent home. Feelings of disappointment and failure overwhelmed me, and I had never been lonelier. When I arrived home at 3:00 in the morning, there were no balloons or welcome-home signs at the airport like so many other missionaries get, which was more proof in my mind that I was a failure. Three hours later I was released by my stake president and then taken to the hospital.
I spent the next four months in and out of hospitals while doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with my kidney. They discovered that the infection I had in the MTC was beginning to shut down all my organs. My kidney spasms got worse and worse. I couldn’t sit and could hardly eat anything.
Ultimately I felt abandoned by God and wondered why this was happening to me. I constantly asked, “Why me?” No matter how much I prayed to have the pain taken away, it never left. Sometimes I thought I wasn’t worthy of God’s love, all because I came home from my mission early. My testimony was a bit shaken. But eventually, one thing remained true in my mind—that God loves me and has a plan for me. I would cling to this every single day. I knew in my heart that He was in charge, and I had to trust Him through this hard time.
Eventually, my doctors made the decision to do an auto kidney transplant—only the 22nd one in the world. At last my kidney pain was gone. But the emotional pain was still there. During the healing process, I had to learn to love myself again and to trust in God’s plan for me. The physical and emotional pain was something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. But after a while, I finally began to feel like myself again.
When going through trials, sometimes people ask, “Why me?” I did at first. But now I wake up every day and thank God for all the blessings He has given me. Instead of wondering why I didn’t get to serve my mission for 24 months, I thank Him for the time I did get to be a missionary. The gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t only about serving a full-time mission—it’s about improving yourself and trying your best every single day. I feel like culturally, some people judge and frown on those missionaries who have come home because of physical or even mental health concerns. That should never be the case! Early-returned missionaries need love, understanding, and empathy to heal. And when you have a desire to serve, but because of circumstances beyond your control you have to come home early or you can’t go at all, know that Heavenly Father has a plan for you and that He will help you be a missionary—with or without the name tag.
My body now functions properly, and I am so grateful for that. Although this challenge was one of the most difficult in my life, I’ve learned that sometimes you can’t control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it. And that makes all the difference. Life is about having a plan but also relying on Heavenly Father to guide you when things don’t always work out. It’s about trusting God when things don’t make sense and realizing that He knows more than we do. In terms of our individual lives, there isn’t a cookie-cutter or one-size-fits-all plan. His plans for us are unique and personalized.
Always remember that God knows you, that He loves you, and that you are one of His prized children. And no matter what you face, know that He can see the eternal perspective. He sees what we cannot. We can have our plans, but sometimes they are unexpectedly changed. Regardless of what life may throw at us, we can trust in Heavenly Father, and He will lead us to greater things than we could have ever imagined.