Monday, July 27, 2015

Moments With My Mission President

I have a strange relationship with people in authority.

90 percent of the time, when I first meet them, I'm very quiet. I don't say much. I just sit back and listen to what they tell me to do.
And then, generally about four to six months later, I totally and completely, 100 percent break out of my shell, and I am totally and completely, 100 percent myself.

I had one of my teachers put it best. I was one of her helpers, and I went back to visit her. She said to me, "You always just treated me like your equal. At first you were quiet, and then you just acted like we were best buds, even though I told you what to do. It was a shocking turn around."

I had the same thing happen with my mission president.

Mission president = in a nut shell, he's the man who watches over all the missionaries. He assigns them to a companion, to an area, and makes sure they stay out of trouble and remain obedient. He's kind of in control of receiving direct revelation from God over your whole life for 18 months to two years.
He's kind of a big deal.

I absolutely loved my mission president. He and his wife were two of the most humble, loving, and spiritual people I have ever met. They were in their 70’s, and as soon as I met them, I felt instant love from them. I knew they cared about me, and wanted the best for me, and all my fellow missionaries.

But it was same thing in this situation than before. When I first got to New York, I was very quiet and inside my shell. I wasn't really myself. I didn't know what to do. I was completely shell shocked!

And then six months later, I became very much myself. Almost too much of myself at times, really.

I can think of a few times when I slowly warmed up to him, but the first time I remember really being myself was in an interview with him.
It was the dead of winter in upstate New York. I was going through - looking back now - the hardest time on my mission. We were in an interview, and I started to tear up. Not like, sobbing or anything, but there were tears in my eyes.
My mission president began to dig through his bag, looking for tissues.
"Oh, shoot. I know I had some, but I think I used them up on the last missionary." He said.
I can only imagine what he thought when he looked up. I was leaning forward in my chair, my head down towards the floor. As I sat like this, I said to him, "Don't even worry, President. If I lean forward like this, the tears fall straight out of my eyes and onto the ground. That way, my makeup doesn't smudge, and no one will have any idea I was crying, and I still look good."
". . . Okay . . . well . . . hang in there." he said, and sat back in his chair.

And from there, it slowly escalated.

The next took place three months later, when he showed up at a meeting where there were about 12 missionaries gathering. After the meeting took place, an elder pulled him aside to talk to him.
I glanced at his iPad which he left sitting on the table, then I glanced at him. Earlier in the meeting, he was showing off his new iPad to everyone. He even showed some of the missionaries some of the new apps the church provided.
I glanced back at the iPad.
I glanced at President.
And I instantly grabbed it.
It was locked, of course, but I could still access the camera. It was then that I went crazy with selfies. I kept striking a weird face, a pose, or a dashing smile, and would take a picture.
A few minutes later, he was done speaking with the missionary and walked back to me, where I stood with his iPad.
"President!" I said, jumping next to him, iPad in hand, "Take a selfie with me!"
I lifted the iPad and we took a couple pictures together, then he took it away from me while saying, "Very good, Sister, but that's enough."

A few weeks later, I was at a meeting in Utica. I wanted to ask him a few questions, but I had to wait for him to be done with a private meeting before I did so. While I waited, I stood by the water cooler outside his office and filled a little plastic cup with water.
No sooner after I had done that, his door opened, and he beckoned me in.
I sat down and we discussed the couple questions and concerns I had. I didn't drink out of my water, but I did hang onto it so I could drink out of it later.
The meeting didn't last long. Probably two minutes, tops. As he opened the door to escort me out, he patted me on the arm while saying, "You're doing good work. Never give up. Don't settle for failure."
Of course he patted the arm with the cup of water in it.
And water splashed all over my arm, my dress, my leg, and my foot. I smiled at him, shook his hand with my wet hand and said, "Thanks, President."
And I threw the cup away, which was now only one third full.

The following month, I was at a similar meeting in Utica. Here, around 15 missionaries would gather together and discuss the needs of the mission.
Partway through the meeting, we took a lunch break.
I wasn't hungry yet, so I headed to the main office in the building. It was there that they held all the mail the missionaries got, before forwarding it to wherever the missionaries were located.
"Did I get any mail?" I asked the sister missionary in charge of forwarding mail.
"Take a look," she said, cheerfully showing me where the incoming mail was.
I dug through the pile, and found a letter addressed to me.
I smiled, and plopped down comfortably in a big, cushioned chair. I draped my legs over one of the arms of the chair, and draped one of my arms over the opposite arm of the chair, and read my letter.
No sooner after I had comfortably positioned myself this way, did my mission president walk in.
He stared at me, and I stared back at him. I could feel my face flushing. This certainly wasn't a proper way to be sitting.
And so, I did the only thing my racing mind could think to do.
I nodded my head once, and said, "'Sup."
He stared at me a second longer, then said, "Sister." and walked away.
My companion, who was standing nearby, looked at me questionably.
"What?" I said, defensively, "He already saw me. It's not like I'm gonna pretend I WASN'T sitting that way."

Similar meeting, the following month. Lunch break, once again.
We rarely saw our mission president in anything other than a suit. I was at a table with missionaries, and my companion and I brought up the subject of what our mission president wore to bed. What kind of pajamas did this man wear?
"I'm guessing a giant 'Syracuse' T-Shirt with sweat pants." said one.
"No, I think a big night gown with a cap." said another.
"Silk pajamas. Definitely silk pajamas."
“I still can’t picture him in anything other than a suit.”
"Think he wears socks?"
"In this weather? Of course he does."
"I don't think he does."
"Think his pajamas match?"
"Nobody wears matching pajamas."
"I wear matching pajamas!"
"Sister! Go ask him!" said one.
"What? What? Why me?" I blubbered.
"You're the one that brought it up!"
"I can't!"
"Sister, what's the worst that could happen?" he presented to me.
"Don't ask her that! She's the queen of worst-case-scenario!" said my companion.
"I could get sent home early." I responded, living up to my royalty.
"He's not going to do that for asking him what pajamas he wears!"
"You don't understand," I said, "You have no idea the weird things he has seen me do!"
"So he'll be used to it. Go ask him!"
I stood up, and marched over to President.
"Heeeey, President," I said. "So, I'm just wondering . . . what kind of pajamas do you wear?"
"Flannel." he responded without missing a beat.
"Do they match?"
"Oh, yeah."
"Okay, thanks."
I walked back over to the table and said, "Matching flannel pajamas, no socks, no cap."
"OOOOOOH!" said the missionaries, followed by some cries of “I knew it”, “Wow no socks”, and “That fits him”.

Similar meeting, the following month. I came up to him, and asked him if I would be remaining in the leadership assignment I was currently in. When he told me I wasn't, I expressed my disappointment and sadness to him, and although I don't remember what I said, I have no doubt it had a touch of sass with it. To which he responded, "Well, you've still got time. I could call you to be in this position again."
"Buddy, I've only got three months left! OH MY GOSH I JUST CALLED YOU BUDDY. I am SO sorry! That just slipped out! I'm so sorry! Can I call you buddy? Is that okay?"
"Sure, you can call me buddy."
"Thanks, buddy! You're the best!"

Jump forward to the second to last month on my mission, when President arrived at our church meeting that Sunday.
"Hey, President. So . . . I never really knew my grandpas . . . I don’t think they were the best of guys . . . but I guess what I’m asking is . . . well, can I adopt you as my grandpa?"
I got a huge smile on my face and said, "Thanks, grandpa! Can I extend my mission and stay a little longer?"
"No." he said sternly.
"NO." he said even more sternly.
"WHY?!" I said, matching his tone.

Fast forward to near the end of my mission. I think President might have been losing tolerance with my craziness.
He and two other missionaries came to our apartment to drop off a dresser. They did their duty, we shook hands, and they left. Soon after he left, however, I remembered a question I needed to ask him. So I said, "Oh, shoot!"
I took off in a sprint across the wooden floor in my fuzzy, purple socks and black dress.
I neared the door, and shouted, "PRESI---"
And at that moment, I slipped on the yoga mat that was laying on the ground.
And so, it came out as:
My hip and arm were already throbbing, but I crawled over to the front door and yanked it open as I whimpered "president" to myself. I stood up and ran to the front steps, where President raced back to the bottom of them.
"What is it?!" he asked, pure terror in his eyes.
"Heeeey! Good, you're still here. Sorry, I fell. So, we were talking with the elders in this area and were wondering if-"
Instantly, all terror in his eyes left, and he got this look on his face that read: 'Are you kidding me, Sister?' and he said, "I already talked to them about it. You guys are fine."
And he turned around and walked back to the car.

We had a really awkward last interview together. I won’t go into detail. You just had to be there. And I have no doubt he was thinking to himself, "Oh Sister. You never fail to live up to your legacy."

The final day of being a missionary. He stood at the airport with all the missionaries who were waiting to go home. Tears were in my eyes as he shook hands with missionaries one-by-one. He got to me, and shook my hand. I held onto it and said, "President . . . can I hug you?"
"No." he said.
And then he gave me a quick side hug before walking away, and a tear escaped my eye as a huge smile spread across my face.

I said, mostly to myself, "He hugged me! President hugged me!"

I had the opportunity to go back to New York a few weeks ago. I knew he'd be at the Tabernachal Choir concert we were attending. Diligently, I sought him out in the crowd. And when I saw him? I hugged him, and cried tears of joy.
"You okay?" he asked.
"I'm just so happy to see you!"
"Good . . . so . . . what are you up to?" he asked me.
"Just . . . seeing the mission. You?" I responded.
"Oh, you know . . . getting ready to come home."
"Crazy. Are you excited?"
"Mixed feelings. Much like you had."
I nodded, then said, "President, can I take a selfie with you?"
I whipped out my phone and said, "Look! I have my OWN iPhone, now!"
"Fancy." he said.
We smiled for the picture. He shook my hand once more, and walked away.

A few Sunday’s ago, I got to see him at his homecoming talk.
"Hello, again!" he said to me.
"PRESIDENT!" I said in a voice far too loud for the chapel.
"Long time no see."
"I know, it's been a while."
He shook my hand, and as he shook it, he turned to the missionaries around me and said, "This sister saw me in New York and just laid one on me."
"Yup. Yup. I . . . I definitely did that." I said, unsure of what to say exactly.
He gave me a quick hug, then trotted off.
Before I left that day, I shook his hand once more and said, "President . . . can we be best friends?"
" . . . . Sure!"

And just think. These were the stories of just one of the two hundred plus missionaries President was over. And these are just SOME of the stories! I didn't even touch on my protestations to get push scooters approved, or my pleas to allow me to open a super, super, ghetto, and scary area of the mission for sister missionaries. Let's not forget the time I was motioning to him during a talk he was giving in church to fix his tag because it was crooked. Or the time he gave me good news over the phone and I screamed in excitement right into his ear.
There are many small side conversations him and I had that really influenced me, no matter how strange they must've seemed to him.
Think of all the stories he and his wife have.
Think of all the missionaries they presided over.
Think how many bizarre missionaries like myself they had to deal with.
Think how much love they had.
Think how many people they influenced.
Despite my weirdness, I am so grateful they were patient and loving with me, because through that patience and love, both  taught me so much that I know nobody else could. They truly exemplified the Savior.

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