By Greg W. Haws
September 6, 2013This just in:
After nearly four months of medical leave, we have received a new assignment. We have been asked to go to the Missouri Independence Mission. We will be MLS (member/leadership/support) missionaries. We will be working with a YSA ward that is from two stakes. One of them is the Liberty Stake. In our area will be several historical sites such as the Liberty Jail, Adam-ondi-ahman, the Farr West Temple Site, Haun's Mill, and the new Kanas City Temple. We leave in two weeks. We will drive our own car. We are assuming we will serve out the rest of our mission which is one more year.
A few years ago, Debi and I trained for and participated in several “Sprint Triathlons” together, and I did a couple on my own. These events required us to swim 10 to 12 laps in the pool, bike 12 miles and run 3 miles. These were a challenge for us; especially for me.
The first one we did was in St. George. I thought it was pretty cool that they wrote our numbers on the back of our calves and also on our shoulders. We took a picture of us, “branded” and ready to go. We were joined in this effort by our daughter, Sunee, and her husband Kyle.
The officials attached a bracelet to our ankles that contained a special timing chip. The purpose of the chip was to mark the time that we crossed the line to begin and then again as we advanced from one segment to the next. At each station we passed through portals which recorded our time and progress. At the end of the event, we received our total time: the time for each segment, and something we had not focused on before, our transition time, that is, the time it took to transition from one segment to the next. We were a little shocked when we realized how much time we had used up drying off after swimming, putting on shoes and changing clothes, not to mention physically getting from one segment location to the next.
As we prepared for our second triathlon, we also prepared to manage our transition time better. We positioned our bikes, we had a five gallon bucket to hold our stuff—and it also served as a seat—and we determined the optimal clothes needed for each event. We got our helmets, sunglasses and shoes ready so that we could transition. We learned that many events are won or lost in the transition. In swimming, they say it is often how a person executes his or her starts, turns and finishes that determine the winner. So it is with other things in our lives.
On September 3, 2012 Debi and I entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo prior to our leaving for our mission to the Africa West Area. Little did we know that our mission experience would also have segments?
After 9 very rewarding months in Africa, on May 27, 2013, I became ill. On June 13, 2013 we flew from Accra, Ghana to New York City, and then home to Hooper (actually the plane landed in Salt Lake City and my brother, Wayne, picked us up and drove us to Hooper, Utah). I eventually underwent surgery and then began what has seemed like a long period of recovery. I am now healthy and we are waiting to return to full-time missionary service, the next segment of our event. So, as it has turned out, the last three months have actually been transition time.
Like our first triathlon, we clearly did not realize how much the transition would play in the total event, something that we were not adequately prepared to manage. Many things have occurred during this last three months, some of them joyful, and some not so much. Perhaps if this happened again, we would be better prepared to manage this time.
In the triathlon, as one segment is finished, you move to the next. If you do not like your time in the first segment, say the swimming, you cannot go back and do it again. You live with the time and move on. As we look back on our “time” for our first segment, we realize that we could have done better, but still, we are pleased with the results. We were able to assist Brother William Sowah in moving the Area Audit function to a higher level. We had some great missionary experiences, and were able to help establish an open house program at the Accra Ghana Temple. We found time to assist in other areas, and we made lasting friendships with other missionary couples, members of the Church, and dedicated Church leaders. As I said, we are pleased with our time in the first segment.
We did find that coming home from a mission in the middle is very hard. At first we thought that perhaps this should be an option for all senior missionaries. We wondered if it would hurt if couples were all given an option to take a vacation and go home for a few weeks and visit their families. Perhaps more would serve if the separation did not seem so long. But coming home sick is an entirely different story.
When we arrived home, I was very sick, but Debi was not. Our grandchildren and children were not sick either, and they all wanted to see us—especially their grandmother and mother. My grandchildren had all been praying for my health. They all fasted the first Sunday in June, and friends and other missionaries placed my name in many temples across the world. When I came home, some of my younger grandchildren interpreted our return as an answer to their prayers. After all, Grandma and Grandpa had come home! But still, I was sick.
The challenge was that our home was being occupied by our daughter, Judi, and her husband, Mike, and their three little boys, William, Thomas and Nathan. We determined to try not to disrupt them any more than absolutely necessary, so we moved into the guest room and tried to take up as little space as possible. Judi and Mike have been so gracious and kind, but still they did not plan on us coming home for three months in the middle of our mission.
Our dear Stake President, President Matt Malone, thinking we would be a valuable resource in recruiting other couples to serve missions, asked us to speak in all 13 wards in our stake while we were home. We have one more ward to visit, but several Sundays we have spoken in three wards in one day! This was while I was trying to recover from surgery. We understand that our efforts may have paid off as several couples in our stake have begun the process to enter full-time missionary service. An unexpected result of this “stake tour” has been that we have developed a renewed love and connection to our friends and neighbors in our stake. We realize that Hooper is truly our hometown. After all, I wrote the book on Hooper!
All of our children do not live near us, so we have taken two extended trips to visit two families in St. George and two others in Ohio and West Virginia. I asked the doctor what I was supposed to do while I was recovering after he told me not to do anything strenuous, his reply was what I supposed is standard for terminally ill patients: Take a vacation. So we did. But we had to fit them in around our speaking assignments.
I have done a couple of “projects” while in this transition period, however. On two occasions I visited the Church History Library in Salt Lake and donated original historical material to their collection. Among other things I gave them some of my father’s journals and records from his mission to Canada before World War II and his service in the Pacific during the War. They were very happy to receive this valuable information. I also donated the missionary journal of my grandfather, James G. Widdison Jr., which he recorded during his mission to the Northwestern States (Washington, Oregon, etc.) in 1902 and 1903.
Debi’s first priority was to take care of me and help me heal. I am so grateful for her service. Besides this, she was not sure what she was supposed to do so she just reverted back to her former roles, almost the first day after we returned. Even though Mike and Judi have done a remarkable job maintaining our home and yard, still Debi has helped cleaned the house, pulled weeds in the yard and garden, and helped prepare the food. She has done her very best to cover for the fact that she is also in a transition period. Unlike me, she has done strenuous work and has been busy helping her children and grandchildren but this period has been very hard for her as well.
When I have been able, we have attended the Temple. We had grown accustomed to going to the temple at least one time each week while we were in Africa. Our temple, the Ogden Temple, is undergoing signification modifications and is therefore closed, so we have had to visit other temples. With my health challenge, sitting through an entire temple session without a break has been very difficult.
When we left, we moth-balled our three cars and reduced the insurance to minimal coverage. So when we got home, we had to activate them, which meant among other things, getting them serviced and registered. Two of our car’s batteries failed over the cold winter and had to be replaced. When I took our Mustang in for inspection, I was told that the battery failure had wiped out the history on the car’s computer, so we would need to drive it for 100 to 200 miles before it could tell whether it was polluting the air or not. The shop manager kindly offered to have one of the mechanics drive it and put on those miles, but I thanked him and declined the offer. I barely let them pull it into the stall at the shop. So Debi and I determined instead to take a short road trip, maybe even stay overnight somewhere. We drove up to Logan, attended the temple, and then found that all hotels were full due to a festival in town. We then put the top down and ventured up the canyon and found the Bear Lake Valley full in preparation for an open-water triathlon that was happening the next day. So we completed our journey by going through Woodruff and Randolph and over Monte Cristo and back down to our home in Hooper. We put on the necessary 200 miles in our unlicensed (but insured) Metallic Red 2005 Mustang Convertible without being arrested.
We have spent a great deal of our transition time discussing our future. We are facing questions that we were not planning to have to deal with for another year, as we originally were planning to return in August of 2014. We have several issues. What should we do for health insurance? Our missionary insurance expires three months after our release, and as we were released when we got home, after September 30, 2013 we will have no health insurance, unless we return. We have spent a lot of time talking about our financial situation. We have discussed options for future employment, or full retirement. I have checked out several job options. What to do about Social Security (I just turned 61 so I am one year away from taking early benefits). Our home and yard is so big. We even have considered building a smaller home. But if we did build a new home, then what should we do with our current home and yard. This has occupied much of our attention. As I have had more time than I had uses for that time, all of these uncertainties have grown way out of proportion. I admit that I have been overwhelmed and confused. I should not have had to even consider these issues at this point.
We have tried to stay focused on returning to full-time missionary service, but even that has been a question. Should we call it good for now and prepare to serve again sometime in the future?
Last Monday, while we were in Ohio, we received word that a good friend of ours from our ward took his own life. Devin was a great man, and perhaps the type of person that would seem to be the last one to take such a dramatic life altering action. His death has had a terrifying impact on his family, our ward, our town, and us. We attended his funeral Saturday, and he was the subject of much of our ward meetings on Sunday. Most people stated that they could not understand how he could come to that point in his life. The disturbing thing for me is that I do understand his feelings. I have had a small glimpse into the dark side of life, and how a person’s mind can be impacted by events that seem to be beyond control. Fortunately for me, I have not gone any further down that road. But he did, and it has been a tragedy.
One night, in frustration, I told Debi that I felt like I was a ship on the open sea without sails or a rudder, and being carried by the currents, not knowing where I was or even where I was supposed to be going. Debi agreed that she too had similar feelings. We wondered several times if returning to full-time missionary service was even what we were supposed to do? Did we do what we were called to do? Also, did anyone really even care what we did next? Except for President Malone, we have had no contact with the Church; no calls to see how we are doing, or even if I survived the surgery and treatment. We received no encouragement, no counsel, and no instruction. But we are big people and there are others who need the attention of the institutional Church more than us. But, a call would have been nice.
Last Thursday, August 29, 2013, I received a clean bill of health from Dr. Tyler Christensen, my Urologist, and President Malone has been in contact with the Missionary Department, so we are hoping for a reassignment this coming week. Then our transition period will end and we can begin the next segment. In a triathlon, we would know that after swimming we would get on our bikes and ride. But as far as our mission event is concerned, we do not know what we will do next. We will not repeat the first segment however; we do not anticipate an auditing assignment.
All in all, if we serve a full 24 month period, and 3 of those months have been transition time, then we are looking at 1/8th or 12.5% of our mission as transition. This is significant! How will this time stack up when the entire event is finally judged?
In my talk, that I have given 12 times, I have said that “we are all enlisted until the conflict is over, and the conflict is definitely not over!”
So we are anxious to get back in the race. Together we are singing:
There’s surely somewhere a lovely place
In earth’s harvest fields so wide,
Where I may labor through life’s short day
For Jesus, the Crucified.
So trusting my all to thy tender care;
And knowing thou lovest me,
I’ll do thy will with a heart sincere,
I’ll be what you want me to be.
I’ll say what you want me to say.
I’ll go where you want me to go!