Friday, September 12, 2014

A defining moment of being wrong again

The biggest defining moment in the Fuhrer's and my relationship was when we were giving a lesson to a man, I think his name was Gustavo.

We had planned to ask him to be baptized (again, something I don't think you can "plan for" but I was going with it because I was really wanting to be transformed by this mission experience! In the MTC, it's a tactic they really hit hard as a primary 'goal' and have you practice in groups. It's all about 'being bold' and asking someone to be baptized the first lesson. It never quite settled with me) … so I gave myself a pep talk and said, "Well, he's either going to become our 'student' or we're never gonna see him again, so who cares if I look like a zealous buffoon…"

I threw caution to the wind and and asked this Catholic man if he wanted to be baptized. Guys, I was so sincere. It was as heartfelt as I could be, as miserable as I was. I said the right things and he responded that yes, he would. The heavens rejoiced, and angels sang. This 'committing someone to be baptized' was a valuable, coveted check-off in our planner for the day and week! It would mean that we met our goal for the day, and we'd report it this week in District Meeting and be met with congratulatory pats on the back from our leader! I was thrilled. Surely, the Fuhrer would think I was alright after all….at least for the rest of the day.

We get in the car after we finish up our lesson, and there is stone cold silence. After a few moments, I squeak out a "Yea!" to break up the ever-present awkwardness. This was our first commitment to be baptized we had ever had together!

She sighed heavily and said, "Yeah, you didn't do it correctly."

"What do you mean?"

"There's specific wording you have to say and you didn't say it."


"We went over it, remember?"

"Oh, yeah… (remembering the section of PMG that goes over it but not realizing it had to be 110% word-for-word). But I thought I did."

"No, sorry, we can't count it."

 That's when I started to realize maybe I should call her out.

"I am doing the very best that I can and I don't know what else I could have done," I said, dumbfounded and a little outwardly mad for the first time.

"Fine," she sighed. "I guess you can still text President X and tell him." (That was a thing the President liked to be texted about, affirmatively answered baptismal invitations)

And then I started to get passive aggressive, for the first time putting off my "keep forgiving"/"keep respecting"/"keep deferring"/"keep trying to make her happy" attitude.

"Nah, I don't need to," I said. "I mean, after all, I didn't do it correctly, so why would it count?" I was never in the mission for numbers, and I honestly didn't need to be congratulated because deep down I thought it was a ludicrous thing to count this guy as basically baptized because I had asked this baited question that made it kind of impossible to reply in the negative.

( I was just talking the other week with a spouse of a returned missionary who said people in his mission would ask drunk people on the streets of Brazil as they were walking by if they wanted to be baptized just to get numbers. I laughed and said that even though I would have never fathomed that on mine, I guessed it made total sense, since the mission is, above all, a marketing program. )

We got home and still, I didn't text the President and she never brought it up. I forgot if we actually counted it in our planner after all (I'll have to check…standby for a while…it's at my parents' house).

I opened PMG to see what I had done wrong. I think maybe I was 3 words off. I hadn't said "priesthood" or "authority" or I had used one but not the other, and I just became numb with this sense that I could never succeed and never be correct unless I was perfect in a Pharisitical sense.

A few days later, we saw the Mission President in person and I asked to have a private meeting. I wasn't going to "go through the proper channels" because sorry, I didn't trust 19-year-old boys with handling my issues. My bad.

I sit down and I don't even cry because I'm just so emotionally checked out and wanting to die. I tell him that I think Fuhrer is a little intense and that some things she does aren't quite in the spirit of mission work. He asks me to elaborate, and I tell him the story of incorrectly asking Gustavo to be baptized, shrugging my shoulders in defeat, telepathically begging for some kind of sympathy.

"Actually, she's right," he said. "There is a correct way."

I told him that yeah, I did know about that section in PMG, and I was 3 words off. He just sat there and said, "We have been instructed to use the format in PMG."

I just sat there, numb for the rest of our meeting, as he told me I needed to love her more etc etc and incredibly enough, that I needed to help her grow, too. I was utterly confused with the mixed messages and what he meant.

Fuhrer also had a private meeting with the President. She came out, teary, and we walked out and she said, "I really do love you, Sister." I told her I loved her, too, but man, it was tough to believe her when her actions said otherwise.

Normally in the real world, I would have texted my mom or something for a 3rd party opinion, but this was a mission and so I rode home that night, back up into the hills of God-fearing Appalachia, carrying an even greater weight of loneliness, thinking I could never do anything right and could never talk to anyone else about it who would understand. I would have to wait until P-Day for a few minutes to vent, but that was it. This loneliness depressed me further and made me think erroneous thoughts like there was truly no one who loved me, not even my parents. They, too, would agree that I had not done things perfectly. Or would they? Could I still be their daughter?

I was alone in this, and I was completely wrong about everything. My world kind of collapsed around me as I questioned why God would let anyone experience this kind of loneliness and worthlessness based on wording a sentence wrong and threats of not being "perfectly obedient". Everything in my life I had experienced would point to the Fuhrer and Mission President being pretty Pharasitical, but since I had no one else to talk to, I had to accept their way as absolute. I I then got into a vicious cycle of chastising myself for being so selfish with the whole "starving kids in Africa" cliche, and my sadness compounded from there.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Study time

Waking up every morning in the bed next to the Fuhrer was also something.
She would wake up, pray, go to the bathroom and start doing her "workout" in the living room, all without saying a word to me.
I'd say some variation of Good Morning! or Hey! or try to lighten the situation with some aside, but I was only met with a stone face and one or two word irritated responses if I asked a question. I came to see that she would not talk to me from the time we woke up until 9am, when we'd begin companionship study. I tried to accept this as normal, but it made me really sad and likely contributed to my misery! I know you might not be a morning person, but there's a certain warmness and decency you can still display even when exhausted....maybe I'm wrong.

At 7:58am, she would silently kneel to pray to open up her personal study time. She'd start reading her scriptures or Preach My Gospel, wordless still, eating cereal, sitting across the table from me. Then, at 8:58 she would get up and walk over to the carpet and kneel to pray solo. I would just imitate her behavior, worried that if I didn't kneel while praying or if my prayers were shorter in length (as they typically were), she would think less of me.  

At 9am she would finally talk to me, quizzing me on what I had studied in my one hour of "personal study" time. She would ask certain questions, and I'd answer in a way that was more personal than a rote response from the manual. For example, if we were studying prayer, I'd offer something like- "One time Elder Oaks came to our ward and made a great statement that prayer isn't a monologue, it's a dialogue. So that makes me think that....etc etc etc" But I quickly came to find that this was not correct. She would make a crooked face while looking in her PMG, shaking her head to indicate I was somehow wrong…or even flat out telling me, "Hmm, no. It's actually X…."
The only time I was 'right' was when I gave her word-for-word answers out of the book. She would hardly even look at me, checking for comprehension on elementary topics like "the spirit", "prayer" or "holy ghost". I hated to be prideful but so much of me wanted to scream out some variation of "HEY! Not even a year ago I was in an East Village bar recanting the Joseph Smith story to a nonmember friend who wanted to know. I think I know how to talk to people about this stuff! And even if I didn't, you think I didn't go to Primary or was paying attention even a fraction of the time in Seminary?" But no, she'd just get frustrated and ask me things like "Well, what DID you study in your personal study time, anyway?" And I would bring up things that were ultimately deemed "off topic" (even though they weren't…they just weren't rote).

But I just tried to accept the Fuhrer's method as The Way It Was Done, figuring that it was part of that "refiner's fire" that all missionaries go through. But part of me couldn't help from racking my brain thinking of all the people I knew who had served missions. I made myself think that ultimately, everyone else had gone through the same experience with study hour… so why was I having such a hard time? This question made me spiral into a lot of self-criticism:
"So-and-so did a mission and they are the most dim-witted person you know! And you can't answer the Fuhrer's questions 'correctly'?"
"Even lazy so-and-so did a mission, and you are having a hard time here? Get it together, you piece of shit! You aren't even learning a language!" I would tell myself over and over again.

Anyway, after a torturous 2 hours of this every morning (you study for 2 hours as a companionship in your first two transfers while you are being "trained" instead of the usual 1) and even if I was mid-sentence in thought, Fuhrer would cut me off and we'd kneel to pray, and then head out.