I was not unprepared for this. My brother served as president of the Utah Salt Lake City Mission and he warned me long before I left that the fourth year is the hardest. I remember running into my friend Oscar McConkie in the food court at the old ZCMI Center after he had been home about six months. I asked him how he was doing, and the normally ebullient Oscar responding hesitatingly, “I’m OK.” Shortly before we left my son-law-asked me what I was most worried about, and I replied, “Coming home.”
The daily life and experience of a mission president and his wife is very different from that of the missionaries. We had relatively little contact with members and investigators – sitting in on a few lessons, meeting with local leaders, street contacting. When in town, most of the day was spent preparing for the next zone conference, interview, stake conference, district conference or concilio. And preparing for and participating in transfers, the single most time-consuming aspect of the work other than actually participating in conferences and interviews. Most other days were spent in actual conferences, meetings and interviews.
Our connection was primarily with the missionaries – 321 of them over three years. They became our family, our sons and daughters. One of the hardest parts of coming home was leaving 110 of them behind. And so abruptly! One day we were inseparably connected to them, thinking about them all day long, worrying about them, praying for them. They next day Pte. and Hna. Pace took that role and we were gone!
In the six months we have been home, not a day has passed that we have not thought in some way about the mission. For me, there are really four major things I miss:
- The missionaries. Being with them every day, interviewing them, teaching them, working with them, just talking with them.
- The engagement with the Work. Every day in the mission was focused on moving the Work forward. Scripture study had more meaning, teaching was focused, every thought and every action was connected to our purpose. That kind of constant engagement is simply not possible in any other setting.
- The support system. This may sound trivial, but it is something we are reminded of every day. If the air conditioning didn’t work or a light bulb needed to be changed, all we had to do was mention it to Carolina and it was fixed. Jose Luis Hernandez took care of all the mission home needs with great men like Leo and Antonio coming whenever needed. Carolina was so competent that we could send her to Makro to do the shopping. She prepared lunch for us whenever she was at the mission home with us. When we came back from Makro with a car filled with groceries we simply called the office elders and they met us in the garage and carried the groceries upstairs. A multitude of tasks were accomplished daily by the office staff. Today I spend much of my time doing things that others did for me in the mission! Thank you all so much!
- Spain. Had we served in Nebraska or Texas or California or Russia or Nigeria I think our return home would have been easier. But, oh how we miss Spain! We miss our monthly trips to Palma, to Valencia, to Bilbao or Vitoria. We miss the Ramblas and the Barri Gotic. We miss slipping out for an hour on a Friday night, heading over to Passeig Gracia and ordering mussels sautéed in olive oil at Tapa Tapa, then walking down the street to Tapas 24 for dessert – dark chocolate mouse with sea salt and olive oil. We miss Corte Ingles. We miss walking through the plaza in Vitoria at night and eating Subway sandwiches in the shadow of the Guggenheim in Bilbao. We miss the Christmas lights. We miss Beatriz. We miss hot chocolate with churros. We miss corn on our pizza. We even miss olives with anchovies. I could go on and on. We miss Spain!
So how are we coping? Here is the good news. We left many missionaries behind in Barcelona, but many missionaries are now in Utah. We have loved seeing them at the reunion, in Provo, on the street, or having them drop by the house. One of the great blessings of being home is the opportunity to see so many of our missionaries, see them moving forward in their lives, and seeing again how good they are!
We love being with family, especially grandchildren. We had four grandchildren born in the years we were in Spain, and the others are all three years older. Eleven of our 15 grandchildren live in Utah – not one lived here when we left – and being able to spend time with them is a great blessing. There is no substitute for being close to family.
We are undertaking a remodeling project in our home – updating two bathrooms that have not been updated since 1928. They were lovely in their day, with exquisite tile work. But the tile is worn, the spaces are cramped, and the storage is limited. We spent a couple of months determining what we could do, what we should do, and what made sense. We are now two months into the project and hope to have it done before King’s Day. Though we are changing only two rooms, it has impacted every room in the house, so we have been living behind plastic barriers for as long as we can remember. But the end is in sight.
I work in the baptistry at the Salt Lake Temple each Tuesday morning, which is a great assignment. For one thing, I serve on same shift with both of my former counselors in the stake presidency, so we feel like we still get a weekly meeting together, something we have missed since our release! Many of our patrons are either youth groups or young single adults who come before their classes at the University, and the association with these youth and young adults is very rewarding. And just to spend several hours in the temple each week is a great blessing.
I have been elected to the board of Zions Bank, which will keep me in touch with the bank, the industry, and the business community. I have my first board meeting in January and look forward to getting back into the industry where I spent 35 years.
I am teaching the Gospel Doctrine class in my ward, one of my favorite callings. Being able to teach from the Book of Mormon on Sunday is almost as much fun as zone conference. I continue to learn more each week about the Doctrine of Christ.
In my “free” time – which has been surprisingly small – I am researching the life and writings of Christopher Columbus, a project that began developing in my mind while in Barcelona. Getting involved quickly in a positive and uplifting project is a key to adjusting to post-mission life. I have a pile of books at the side of my desk and try to spend some time every day researching, taking notes, and writing. This project has been very rewarding, and I continue to learn some astonishing things about this remarkable man whom Nephi saw in vision. The clarity with which Columbus saw his prophetic role is stunning. There is a great deal of myth surrounding Columbus, especially among Latter-day Saints, but the verifiable facts are far more compelling. I hope over the next six months to have this project in a form that it is useful.
What’s next? Much of the future remains unclear – we can at best see it “through a glass darkly.” But the best is yet to come!