This is always a bittersweet time of year. Today marks the end of yet another Hill Cumorah Pageant. I have been so blessed to have had the opportunity to grow up being a part of the cast of this wonderful production. (If you don’t know what the Hill Cumorah Pageant is, see http://www.mormon.org/hillcumorah-pageant). Year after year, my testimony has been strengthened, new friendships have been formed, and my heart has been touched as I have had the privilege to help portray stories from the Book of Mormon and share the love that God has for us with others. All throughout middle and high school, participating in the Hill Cumorah Pageant has been the highlight of my year, as they were always wonderful experiences.
This year, however, was a little different. It was my first year doing Pageant since 2012 before my mission. Having returned from my mission, I’m not quite the same person I was before, and therefore, Pageant had a bit of a different feel to it. But in order to fully understand it, I need to rewind a little bit…
I returned home from my mission almost 9 months ago, just before Halloween. The last several months of my mission, I struggled with depression and anxiety that seemed to get worse and worse as the weeks went by. Things got so bad, my mission president asked if I wanted to go home early so that I could see a doctor and get better help than could be provided in Italy. After a lot of prayer and fasting, I felt that I needed to stay and finish what I had started. After receiving my answer, I decided to pray and tell my Heavenly Father that I was going to stay and finish all 18 months of my mission, but that He needed to help me because there was no way I could do it without Him. The very next day following that prayer, it seemed that everything took a turn for the worse and continued to worsen for the last few weeks of my mission. But somehow, through the grace of a God and the love of other missionaries around me, I completed my mission and returned home.
Upon returning home, I kind of expected things to start getting better. I was able to see a doctor and a therapist all within a week of being home. I had hoped that within a month or so, I would have made a lot of progress and be feeling much better, but that wasn’t what Heavenly Father had planned for me. What then followed were six months of trial and error as we tried to find a medication that helped. Those six months were the hardest six months of my life. I struggled with bad reactions to medicines, family problems, and eventually dropped out of almost all of my classes at school. I had had some experiences at the very end of my mission that were a little traumatizing, for lack of a better word. For months afterwards, I struggled memory flashbacks and nightmares and waking up to panic attacks. Attending church and reading my scriptures were just reminders of my mission and the things I had experienced. My anxiety was so bad, I stopped going to church altogether for a couple of months. I didn’t have many friends that semester, seeing as most of my friends still hadn’t returned home from their missions. I felt alone in my struggles. I was ashamed of myself. I hated asking for help. I felt like such a burden on everyone and I hated myself for it. I tried to do what I could to help myself spiritually, but at first they seemed too small to be beneficial. All I could handle for a few months was praying and listening to talks on my phone. Gradually, I started listening to the scriptures instead of just talks. And then eventually reading them instead of just listening (on my phone instead of a hard copy). Finally, I started going back to church, although it was just for sacrament meeting. It was about this time, when I was going back to church again and finals were approaching, that we finally found a medicine that worked about 2 weeks before I was to head home for the summer. It was a night and day difference. For the first time in over a year, I was genuinely feeling happy. I could actually go a whole day without any racing thoughts or flashbacks or feelings of depression. I was finally getting a good night’s sleep. I felt like myself again!
So, with all that’s been going on leading up to the Hill Cumorah Pageant, I was really looking forward to having a nice, spiritual uplift that I felt I needed. And the first week was great! I got to see lots of old friends, make new ones, and just enjoy being surrounded by so many wonderful things. I really thought that this was going to help be a turning point in getting over everything and moving on so that I could be back to where I was, so that I could read out of my own set of scriptures again and attend all 3 hours of church on Sunday without my anxiety freaking out on me. But I guess Heavenly Father has something else planned for me because that second week of Pageant, where the bulk of the performances take place, was really hard. I woke up one morning just as depressed as before we found a medication that helped. After trying to tough it out for a couple of days, I decided to ask for a priesthood blessing. I am so grateful for the power of the priesthood and for a father who is worthy to use it to bless the lives of others. I was overwhelmed by the love that God has for me and I knew that, even though things were still going to be hard, that everything was going to be ok.
Things continued to be hard for the remainder of Pageant, and it definitely wasn’t how I would have wanted things to go. I didn’t have this great spiritual boost that I was used to, that left me feeling inspired and full of joy. But rather, I gained a deeper sense of gratitude and appreciation towards my Savior and His atoning sacrifice because it is only through His Atonement that I am even still here today. I know, even though I’m still struggling, that Heavenly Father is happy with my efforts. He doesn’t care if we’re running, walking, or even crawling towards Him. He doesn’t care how fast we’re going, so long as we’re going in the right direction. And even though I may not like the pace I’m going right now, I know that God knows that I’m trying my best. Even though my best right now isn’t the same as what my best was a year or two ago, it’s enough for Him because “it is by [His] grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23). And for that, I am eternally grateful.