I had planned to prepare and record several episodes in advance to prepare for when I move into my house because I wasn’t sure how long it would be before I was settled enough to record, but you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. So far I have been so busy that I have only been able to just have the episode done before it was due, so I haven’t had any chance to record ahead. I never imagined there would be so much to do with buying a house, and I have been working part of the weekends trying to catch up at work. Plus, I am still making and selling metal art on ETSY, I have to do some repairs to my parent’s house, and for some reason I decided that I was not quite busy enough and volunteered to teach VBS (Vacation Bible School) at my church, which starts the week I move into my house. I worked half the day today and then had to rush home and get cleaned up to go to one of my friend’s weddings, and I decided before I get busy doing something else that I should record a podcast episode with what I have left of Saturday.
I have talked a lot about my two year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, AKA the Mormons, but I haven’t really talked about returning home from my mission, so that is what today’s episode is about. I am not sure if I am alone in this or if it is common, but I had a lot more difficulty adjusting to returning home after my mission than I did adjusting to my mission. It almost felt natural going on a mission, but when I returned home I felt like a fish out of water and I had no clear direction for my life. To put it simply, I felt lost.
The reason I adjusted to my mission easier than I adjusted to returning home is that I was being prepared to serve a mission from the day I joined the Church, but during my mission my mission president discouraged us from even so much as thinking about what we would do when we returned home, and I did my absolute best to follow his council on this and everything else. Even when I did not agree with my mission president, which was often, I felt it was my duty to do as I was told without complaint. As a missionary I was expected to spend every waking thought on things pertaining to my mission, and I did my absolute best to give my mission and the people of Hawaii my complete and undivided attention and to not get distracted by what was going on at home or by my plans for after my mission.
Not only was I not prepared for coming home because I was expected to not prepare for it, but there are so many things that I was expressly forbidden to do on my mission that I was expected to jump into with both feet as soon as a I got home, such as dating. I was honestly scared to come home because I didn’t know what to expect and I tried to convince my mission president to extend my mission but he declined and said I had served well and it was time for me go home and live my life.
It wasn’t only because I was scared to go home that I wanted to extend my mission, I also felt that I had not done enough good on my mission and I was always trying to do as much as humanly possible, partially because the LDS Church teaches that you have to earn your salvation and I took that extremely seriously.
It was also difficult to adjust to returning home because I served my mission in Hawaii, the land of eternal summer, and I returned home to Idaho, in the middle of a harsh winter. I dressed like an Eskimo and was still freezing more than half of the time, and I could not keep my apartment as warm as I would like because I could not afford the heating bill if I did.
Before my mission I did what was expected of me and I gave all the money I had saved to the Church to help pay for my mission, so when I returned home I was flat broke and had to live with my parents until I had enough money to rent an apartment. At least I had my parents keep my car for me while I was gone so I would have transportation when I returned home, and the only reason I was not encouraged to sell my car before serving a mission to help pay for it was that my car was not worth anything.
Not too long before my mission I was involved in a roll over accident and totaled my truck, which I talked about in an earlier episode, and instead of getting another nice vehicle I purchased an old Ford Escort with high miles that smelled like fish. I found the car in the local paper and paid cash for it, $600 if I recall correctly, and guy who sold it worked at a fish farm that prepared their fish to sell to the stores, so he would get into the car every day smelling like fish. When I returned home from my mission two years later the car still smelled like fish.
While almost everything went smooth when leaving for my mission everything went wrong right out the gate when returning home, actually things started to go wrong before I even got to the gate at the airport. My flight out of Honolulu to San Fransisco was delayed so I missed my connecting flight, and when I finally arrived in Salt Lake City my flight to Pocatello, Idaho was delayed by almost eight hours because of a severe storm. It is only a two hour drive from Pocatello to Salt Lake City so I wanted my parents to come pick me up but the Church said I had to wait for my flight instead.
A lot of people had gathered to welcome me home at the airport in Pocatello but when the flight was delayed they gave up on me and went home and when I finally did land the only people waiting for me were my parents. There was a welcome home party planned in my honor but because of the flight delay it was cancelled and I never had a welcome home party. My parents got a pizza when I came home and my sisters came over, and that was it.
From the airport my parents took me to my stake president’s office so I could be released from my mission, and considering the long process and all of the ceremony involved with being called to serve a mission and being set apart for it I was extremely let down by how underwhelming the release was. Basically my stake president took my name tag off of my jacket and said. “Welcome home Elder Curl, you are released from your mission.”
“What?” I said in disbelief. “Is that it?”
“That is it, as simple as that,” the stake president said.
“Can’t you do something more substantial to make me feel better.”
“No,” the president said.
“Please, just humor me,” I pleaded.
“No brother Curl,” the president said, reaching to shake my hand. He called me brother instead of Elder to hammer home the point that I had been released from my mission and had joined the ranks of lay members. “You served well and now you are home. I am sorry but that is all there is, being released doesn’t even require the laying on of hands or any special words. I felt the same when I came home, as does most missionaries. I felt a bit lost when I cam home to, but you will get into the grove of live soon enough. I have spoken to your bishop and you will be given a calling on Sunday.”
As promised, the bishop wasted no time at all giving me a calling and he also wasted no time in applying pressure to get me to date. Basically as soon as I got home it was like, “Congratulations on completing a successful mission, now hurry up and get married.” It wasn’t just my ward and stake leaders that pushed the marriage thing, but every older Church member I knew.
At my very first family home evening at the bishop’s house after I got home the bishop had a young woman sit on either side of me, which made me extremely uncomfortable. For the past two years I had been told I had to stay at least arms length from all females unless I was giving them a priesthood blessing, and now I was sandwiched between two beautiful young women and they were sitting so close that I I could feel them breathing. I am not saying that it caused any physical reaction on my part, but let's just say that I felt compelled to keep my scriptures laying open on my lap for the duration.
On my mission I was told that my mission was the most important thing I would ever do in my life, but when I got home I was told that a mission, while it is to bring people into the Church, is as much about preparing the young man for marriage and leadership in the Church as it is about proselytizing and winning new converts. As I mentioned in the episodes about my mission, I realized during my mission that preparing the young people for a lifetime of service in the Church was more important, or at least as important, as bringing people into the Church, otherwise they would only send the best prepared and most faithful members, which would mean they would mostly only send retired people to serve missions.
A few weeks after returning home my bishop called me into his office and asked me how many dates I had been on that week and I told him that I had only been on one date since returning home. My bishop then got out a hot plate and set a kettle of water on it, which I thought was a bit strange, but he did not say anything about it for a while. After we talked for at least ten minutes the bishop pointed out that the hot plate was set on 1, its lowest setting, and then he looked at me and said, “Brother Curl, how long do you think it would take for this water to boil at this setting?”
“It would never boil,” I responded, already suspecting where the conversation was headed.
“That is correct. What setting do you think it would need to be at to boil the water?” He asked me.
“At least 8” I said, “but possibly 10.”
“I want you to go on as many dates as possible so you can fulfill your duty to God and get married,” the bishop said. “Just like the water will never boil at 1 you will never get married by only going on one date per week. I will ask you each week how many dates you have been on, and the answer better be more than one.”
I have never been overly confident and I have absolutely never been a ladies man, so it has never been the easiest thing for me to put myself out there and ask for a date, especially so soon after my mission. Whenever I was turned down, which was more often than I was wasn’t, I would decide there must be something wrong with me and would loose all motivation to ask anyone else out. Despite the bishop and stake president constantly harassing me about it, I often went weeks without asking anyone out at all because I was more uncomfortable with being rejected than I was with being harassed by my local priesthood leaders. I suspect as well that a lot of the ladies that did agree to go out with me only did so because they were poor college students and liked the idea of someone paying for their dinner.
One day I called to ask a young lady out and was unaware that she shared a name with two other girls in her apartment. This was in the days before everyone had a cell phone so I called the landline phone for the apartment and asked to speak to Sarah and the girl who answered the phone informed me there were three Sarah’s there, and that she was not one of them, and she asked me which Sarah I wanted to speak to. There were six girls in that apartment so half of the girls in the apartment were named Sarah.
It occurred to me that I had no idea what her last name was so I had to quickly think about how to describe which Sarah I was calling for, and knowing she was from South American origins I said, “Uh, the one who is not white.” Of course I immediately thought I had said something wrong and was afraid that I would offend her, but we had a good laugh about it.
We dated for a few months and then she broke up with me so she could marry one of my friends. I was heartbroken for a while, but there were no hard feelings and we are still friends today, at least on Facebook. Honestly I am surprised that we are still friends since I left the Church and am outspoken about the Church not being Christian, despite its name.
In the Church the responsibility for dating and getting married is placed firmly on the men’s shoulders and one of the things local leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints likes to say, at least in Idaho, is “If a man doesn’t get married it is his fault for not putting in the effort to get married, but if a woman doesn’t get married it is the man’s fault for not asking her.” I didn’t get anywhere near asking for anyone’s hand in marriage for quite some time, and most of the time because of my alarming lack of second or third dates I felt like a fly fisherman trying to catch fish with a fly that had been tied on a straight piece of wire instead of a hook. The best part
To be honest, a lot of the time I wasn’t sure if I actually wanted to find someone and get married or if I only thought I did because it was so important to the Church. One of the things I heard during a young single adult fireside was that any two people, man and woman, could be happily married together if they were living according to the dictates of the Church, a statement which I whole heatedly disagree with. The statement that any two people living the Church’s version of the gospel would have a happy marriage was likely said both in an attempt to get people married off sooner, and also to reinforce the teaching that the Church is to be the most important thing in the member’s life.
A young single adult fireside, by the way, is a church meeting on Sunday night held at the Church’s Institute of Religion or one of the stake centers where a general authority speaks, either in person or broadcast via satellite, to an assembly of young single LDS adults between the ages of eighteen and thirty. It is generally assumed that if you are still single by thirty that you are doing something wrong and there is no hope for you and then you are expected to move on and attend a family ward instead of a singles ward. Besides, it would be kind of creepy for a person crowding forty trying to date twenty year olds, even though several of the early presidents of the Church did so, including Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.
I have taken a lot of girls to a fireside as a first date, which doesn’t really count as a date, before I asked them out on a proper date. For some reason, despite the fact that I was doing exactly what the Church told me I should be doing, a lot of girls felt that I was too devoted to the Church and said they were looking for a man who was not such a “peter priesthood,” which is a Mormon term for a man who is overly dedicated and devoted to the Church and bases all of his life’s decisions on whether or not the Church would approve. The female equivalent is called “Molly Mormon.”
I always though it was odd that some girls thought I was too churchy since I was the epitome of everything they were taught their entire life to look for in a man. I was a returned missionary, in good standings with the Church, never missed sacrament meeting, attended the temple every chance I got, faithfully did my home teaching and was attending college and getting good grades, as well as being the best employee I could possibly be to my employer. Apparently a lot of girls wanted what they wanted and not what they were told by the Church to want and the guys who only attended often enough to be considered active but really didn’t care that much about the Church beyond that got more dates than those of us who toed the line.
Looking back I can see why she was upset, but one time a girl asked me to come over to her apartment to watch a movie when it would only be the two of us and I declined. When she asked why I didn’t want to come I said it was because I wanted to follow the admonition of Paul the apostle and avoid even the appearance of evil, and by that I meant I didn’t want it to look like we were participating in premarital sexual relations and didn’t even want to leave the opportunity for anyone to think we had the opportunity. Of course she misunderstood what I was saying and thought I was insinuating that she was sinful or looked the part. Not only did try not to be alone with a girl, I also refused to date girls who were not active in the Church or who were not members of the Church.
Looking back at that point in my life I sometimes wonder if I would have jumped off a bridge if the Church had asked me to. It isn’t that I didn’t have any doubts about the Church at that point in my life but rather I was convinced that any doubts I had were placed there by the devil and that I was sinning by allowing myself to doubt. The first time I had any serious doubts about the Church and went inactive was at least two years after returning home from my mission, and at first I hated myself for it.
It is kind of ironic that one of the things that caused me to allow myself to question the Church the most, which eventually led me to leaving, was dating a bishop’s daughter. She was also the one who was able to convince me to budge on my standards in following the rules of the church, especially with dating and spending time alone and unsupervised while dating, which almost got me excommunicated, which is a story for another day. Actually, I covered that relationship in a previous episode, but I don’t remember which one it was.
The LDS Church puts such high standards on everyone, impossible standards, that for anyone who actually cares and is trying to live the way the Church says they should it is easy to feel guilty and hate yourself for not doing enough. At this point in my life, shortly after my mission, and many other points in my life I have felt like Bilbo Baggins when he said, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” I have always had the tendency to take on more than I can handle and then stress out over not doing enough, especially when I feel it is expected of me.
When I first got home I was working two jobs, construction during the day and at a potato processing plant at night, both full time. However, it did not take too long to realize that working nine hours overnight in American Falls, Idaho and then driving back to Pocatello, Idaho Thirty miles away, sometimes in extremely dicey weather, and working nine or ten hours during the day only to get a few hours of sleep before driving back to American Falls was not sustainable. After a few months of that, and I don’t know how I lasted that long, I put in my two week notice with the potato plant and only worked for the construction company. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed that first night I got to sleep instead of working. Sometimes you have to take pleasure in the simple things in life.
Even when I was working two full time jobs I never missed church, and did my absolute best not to miss family home evening at the bishop’s house. Even if I had worked all night and got off just in time to make it to church I felt bad if I fell asleep during Church.
During my entire mission I was told that the more faithful and obedient you are on your mission the more blessed you would be after your mission, but I felt anything but blessed after my mission and it wasn’t long after returning home that I felt my life was falling apart. I had a series of bad things happen to me that were in no way my fault from not getting paid at work and getting behind on bills to having issues with a dishonest landlord and being given a 24 hour notice to vacate a rental property because the person I rented it from didn’t own it and was not allowed to rent it.
It didn’t take me long to get tired of hearing people say that my trials were blessings in disguise. One time my brother in-law, my younger sister’s husband, said he had never known anyone who had more bad luck than I did after a light fell from a pole in a parking lot and damaged my car. Not only did my bad luck make me wonder if God was mad at me it also made me have serious doubts about whether or not serving a mission had been the right move.