As much as I fought it and really did NOT want to go, the truth is that my life would definitely not be the same if I hadn't gone on a mission. More specifically that mission in that place & time with those people.
For those family and friends who have no idea what I'm talking about, from April of 1999 to October of 2000 I had the privilege of serving a church mission to the Netherlands & Belgium. It most certainly qualifies as a life changing experience. I don't talk about the experience much, besides telling the occasional funny story now and then. Not because it wasn't a great experience, but mostly because life has gone on. And while I'm busy now on another chapter of this adventure, there are threads from that time that have woven their way into my daily life now. Mostly in the form of life-long friendships I made while there.
To list all of the people who touched my life during my mission years would take way too long. Certainly every companion did and most of the elders in the districts & zones where I served. All of the people I taught and many of the church members I had the pleasure of working alongside & getting to know better. Someday I'll have to write a book, even though I may be the only person ever to read it, listing the incredible people who helped shaped the woman I've become today. (Funny I say that, but I still have a hard time thinking of myself as a "woman." In many ways I still feel like that same silly, 21 year old girl who clipped on a black name tag & naively thought I could single-handedly make the world a better place.)
Until I get around to writing what I think would be an interesting read (although the rest of the world would likely be bored to tears by it) this will just have to suffice. A small glimpse into some of the people and places that made that experience such an important part of my life. And why some of them remain in my inner circle of close friends to this day.
SIDEBAR: Sorry some of the photos are obviously cut up. Back in the day when we still used film cameras, we'd get our photos developed and then cut and paste them into these things called scrapbooks. Which is great when you're looking at the scrapbook, but not so much when you go to take them out and scan them in. Oh well. At least I still have them right?
I guess the beginning is a good place to start and I have to tell you I was blessed. Super, super, super BLESSED! There were five of us that entered the Missionary Training Center that April day. And when you spend every single waking minute for 9 straight weeks with the same four people you'd better pray that you can get along with them well enough. I was blessed because not only did I get along with this group, I absolutely LOVE these guys! To this day I still refer to Cory Vause, Eric Valgardson, Joe Buck Atwood & Paul Hunsaker collectively as "My Boys." Because they are! And always will be. They were such an amazing group of young men and I'm forever grateful for the opportunity I got to learn with them. Unfortunately I haven't had as much contact with them recently. I did go to Joe Buck's wedding about 6 or 7 years ago now. And I do have contact with 3 of them thanks to facebook. But the only one I've seen recently is Cory. It was really fun to reconnect with him just a couple of months ago and get to meet his super cute wife, Shelley. I hope that we can get together again soon because I really do have a special place in my heart for all four of "my boys."
Crooksy (aka Erin Crooks) came along at a time when I really needed her. That's not to say the companions I had before or after her weren't who I needed to be with at that time, but there was just something special about this particular companionship and it can be stated in one word: "FUN!" Seriously, Crooksy is a tornado of fun! She tried to drown me in a fountain once. And we got in trouble for going on a frog hunt (although Kaisa Hansen & Silvia Beentjes were also part of that episode.) And we climbed some trees. Lots of trees come to think of it. And we jumped on beds, played dress up, had water fights and ate ice cream almost daily. Those two months together in Amsterdam it was just non-stop, epic adventures with this girl. And it still is.
She's that friend that will text or call at like midnight "Are you still up?" And then we have the best talks. We laugh a lot. A LOT! (Although now that she's married & expecting that doesn't happen so much. But so happy for her anyway!) A little tidbit (and I probably shouldn't be admitting this much about myself but oh well) she's a talented artist and actually designed the custom tatoo I've never been brave enough to get. But hey, if I ever want to take that plunge, I know exactly what I'm going to get because I've had it tucked away for a dozen years thanks to this girl!
My favorite part about this next photo is that it was taken at my parents' house 3 days after I got off the plane from Holland. James & Matt remain two of my favorite people on earth. There are only about six people from the mission that I've had consistent contact with in the past dozen years since I came home and James & Matt are two of them. Even though they've lived far away and we don't necessarily see each other or talk all the time, they are two people I've always had an open line of communication with.
I was in the same zone with James for what seems like half my mission. Actually, that might not be too far off. I think it was something like 7or 8 months. We always got along well and said we'd keep in touch and I'm so glad we did. I actually have a funny mission story about James, regarding his camera & my burning of a particular article of clothing, but I'll save that for another time.
(OH McFadden! There's another guy I'm so happy I know! I miss him!)
What's funny about James is that our friendship has actually gotten even better after the mission and really since we both got married. Instead of losing touch and getting sucked apart in the daily life of kids and work, etc, we've actually gotten closer. Partly due to the fact that he and my husband have a lot in common and actually get along very well on their own. And James's wife, JeNae has become a good friend of mine exclusive of her husband. James was at our wedding and we were at his. In fact, he used to bring girls on weekend road trips to Idaho as a sort of "test." When he was ready to propse to JeNae he called me for suggestions. He ended up taking my suggestion and taking her to the top of the hill on the snowmobile at sunset. So yeah. They got engaged at our house and I've always been happy to claim my participation. And James & JeNae have likewise been there for big events in our life. They were here for the sealing an blessing of both of our babies.
(Gideon's sealing, September 20, 2008 with James & JeNae Clegg.)
Do you ever have people in your life, that from the moment you meet them, you just feel like you've known them forever. It's almost like they were just always a part of your life. Well it's happened to me exactly twice, once when I met my very best friend, Brooke. And the other was 13 years ago when I met Matt McKinney. Actually we didn't even meet in person at first. He called the apartment for.....something (it's been 13 years I'm allowed to forget insignificant details.) And I answered the phone. I remember that conversation because he asked me (very randomly I might add) if I like the old 80's TV show the "A-Team" and I think I said something along the lines of I was more of "Dukes of Hazzard" type of girl and from that moment he's been one of my best friends. Weeks later we did meet and it was like we were old friends. And to this day that's how it remains. We don't get to talk or see each other as often as either of us would like these days, but when we do, it's just like picking up right where we left off. You'd never know any time at all had passed.
(Dude why are you always eating in pictures? Seriously, I went through all of my scrapbooks and you're eating something or have food in nearly every picture. It's pretty comical.)
I remember telling Matt back then I wanted him to marry one of my sisters so I could keep him around. Although that didn't work out, I am glad that he found such a great girl. I feel very blessed that Matt & Jama Beth lived in Idaho for a while, so we were able to get to spend time with them as a couple and get to become better friends with both of them outside of the mission.
(PETEY! Aka: Tony Hello what a fun dude! And the McFaddens, love them both! And of course Clegg & the McKinney's. That was a fun weekend!)
These next two girls are amazing!
(My wedding reception March 16, 2002 Melissa Eyre & Jenni Graf)
(And yes, that's Joe Buck Atwood in the background)
I was so lucky to have two of the coolest companions of my mission at the very end, both in Rotterdam.
First the one I affectionately call Curly Top (aka Jenni Graf)
There's only one word to describe the 8 weeks I worked with Curly: BUSY. Seriously. I honestly remember running everywhere. We never had time to take breaks. We'd do our grocery shopping in the 15 minutes before we had to catch a bus or train, stash our food in the kitchen at the church, run off to our appointment and come back for our food later that night, just in time to catch the last train back to our house in Barendrecht. We were always running. I could do an entire post of photos of the silly, random, crazy stuff that happened to us together. Most memorable was the success we somehow found together. I don't think it had anything to do with us, but it was like the Heavens just opened and we were blessed with people to teach who really wanted to learn about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As with most people I haven't seen as much of Curly as I would like to over the past decade or so. But she's in Boise now, so maybe someday I'll make it over to visit her. I've missed her "Bubbly" personality so much over the years. And she remains one of the greatest women I know.
When Curly got sent to Belgium I got Melissa Jane.
I cannot write about this girl without smiling. She was with me for the last 6 weeks of my mission, which happened to be her first six weeks. She was the only missionary I trained and I know we were a challenge for each other. But I mean that in a good way. I definitely needed her enthusiasm and discipline in those final weeks before I went home. Plus, we had fun.
The best part about it is that Melissa Jane is actually someone I've had a chance to spend some time with since the mission and I'm so grateful for her friendship. She's such an AMAZING woman and FANTASTIC mother. I wish I could be more like her in so many ways. When she called me a couple of years ago and wanted me to run Ragnar's Wasatch Back with her team, of course, I couldn't say no. That was my first Ragnar, so if you want to look for someone to blame for the fact that I'm now a certified relay junkie, look no further than Melissa Jane.
July 5, 2012, not bad for 12 years & 6 kids later. (I have 2, she has 4 and she doesn't look like she's aged a day!)
So one of my most favorite people from the mission, I actually didn't ever know on the mission. But we've become so close in the years since the mission that it's hard to believe sometimes that we never actually served together. I met Mike Kent once. I was still a greenie and it was in Den Haag at a fireside I think. I'm not even sure we ever talked at that event because there were like 30 missionaries and although I know we were introduced, I have no memories of actually conversing with him. We shook hands at Keukenhof the following May right before he went home. And that was it. We never worked together or were never even in the same zone. And then came this day:
December 29, 2000
Joseph McFadden's wedding day
(That's Mike Kent with Clegg, McFadden and I want to say Jeremy Sanderson, but I could be wrong.)
Clegg & I decided to hook up with Mike before going to McFadden's wedding reception. We were at Mike's apartment at BYU when Clegg left to go.....somewhere. I'm not going to tell the story, because it's not my story to tell but suffice it to say I was in the right place at the right time. Although we'd never really talked at all before that day, one devastating phone call and a short drive from Provo to Sandy later and my friendship with Michael Grant Kent was cemented forever. It's great though because all of my wonderful memories that involve Mike are post mission so it's like we got to write that chapter of history differently.
To tell you how important of a friend Mike became, he's actually the person who picked out my my wedding dress. (He's also the one who wrecked my Mustang, but I don't hold that against him.) It's true though, I don't remember if he volunteered or if I drafted him, but somehow he was the person who went dress shopping with me shortly after I got engaged to Travis. The second dress I tried on I felt like was the one and when I walked out of the dressing room and he said, "Wow!" I knew it was the right one. And even though you can't see much of the dress in the photo below, that is Mike dancing with me at my wedding. (You can also spot John Fenstermaker & his wife Christine and James Clegg dancing with Jenni Tanner. Cory Vause, Joe Buck Atwood, Melissa Eyre, Jake Seethaler & David Ogden were there that night too though apparently not in this photo. And I feel like I'm forgetting someone......)
Ever since he started medical school and became a doctor Mike has lived in various far away places so I don't get to see much of him either. But he's got an absolutely darling wife, Ashley, who I adore. She is such a doll and so smart & creative. I'm happy to be able to count her as a friend. (Thank goodness for blogs and facebook and the wonderful women these guys married because that's how I keep track of them most of the time.)
With James Clegg & Mike Kent, December 2007.
Okay I realize I've been droning on forever but there's just one more person I need to mention and she's the one companion I can say I've remained the closest to since the mission. In fact Melissa Popiel and I are much closer now than we were even during our two months sequestered in Zwolle together.
Yes, that's Pope behind all that hair, and yes we're playing Twister. In skirts.
I don't really know when I started calling her Pope. It just kind of feels like I always have. (I also don't know why the person I feel the very closest to, is the one I have the fewest pictures of.) I was so intimidated by Pope when we were first put together. The only things I'd heard about her were that she was extremely smart and a little bit intense. (Both of which are very true! She's easily the smartest person I know.) What I found out much later is that she is wickedly funny and has a fantastic sense of humor. Plus she's the best cook I've ever met. She kept me alive in Zwolle because I never cooked anything. And Pope doesn't do anything simply. Even grilled cheese is an event with her. But I digress.
Pope's been front and center for everything important in my life. She was actually here visiting me when we got the initial phone call about the birth mother who eventually chose us. She was here for Parker's sealing and blessing. In fact, she was indispensible that day because she made all of the food we fed to the many family and friends who attended. (She was also here when the garbage disposal backed up & the toilet tank broke and the time I got the flu while she was here & ended up spending New Year's Eve with me practically comotose in the recliner. But that's the mark of a true friend right? She was here during the worst and is still my friend.) I'm an even worse friend than that because every time she comes to visit me she ends up doing all of the cooking while she's here. And during at least three of her visits we've had major blizzards and severely cold temperatures. The last time I picked her up at the airport on Thanksgiving Day the temperature was ten below 0. And that was after it had warmed up. We've driven through several major snow storms together, the scariest one the night we were coming back from a day trip to Soda Springs and I felt so blessed to have her with me because I'm confident it was our conversation that kept me on the road. But the awkward moment was several years before that when we were driving up from Salt Lake and found out they'd closed the freeway so we had to get a hotel room for a night. It wouldn't have been awkward had it not been for the fact that Travis was the one driving and I'm pretty sure that was the first time they'd ever met in person. So within two hours of introducing Pope to my husband we all had to share a hotel room. Fortunately they both seem to have recovered.
Years ago before the kids were born, she was her Stake Camp Director one year and somehow I decided to fly out and "help" her with Girl's Camp. I was no help at all. Much more of a hinderance really. But we had so much fun! Well at least I did.
With Pope it's not like we've had different experiences or different conversations. It's like we've had one ongoing coversation for 12 years. Sometimes it's in person. Sometimes on the phone or via email, or lately messenger. The medium doesn't really seem to matter, because the message is what's important. And somehow with all of the ridiculous stuff that's happened I'm blessed to still have her friendship in my life.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Without my mission I wouldn't have met any of these incredible peple who are such an integral part of my life now.
And the thing is there are so many more I feel like I'm leaving out. I may not have them in my daily life but they're so important to me for other reasons!
April Dawn showed me how to table dance to Ricky Martin. And taught me how to bake banana bread. (You know when she wasn't dousing me with water or pushing the couch over on top of me.)
And of course the man she's now married to, the irrepressible Rick Galan.
(Forsythe! What a great guy!)
And Ogden and Jubie! Curly and I spent a lot of our time in Rotterdam working together with these guys! And boy howdy I have tons of pictures to prove it. Including one where Juber is admiring his own smooth leg because we made them a deal if they'd shave their legs, we'd bring them freshly baked banana bread.
And of course Hundleytje! Who I actually got to hang out with recently. Thanks to the miracle that is facebook. When his team for the Red Rock Relay was looking for runners, the addict in me jumped at the chance. So after more than a decade we got to hang out in a van full of sweaty people for 30+ hours. It was awesome! I love that kid!
Wow there are so many more people I want to start naming & thousands of pictures I could post. But I've been at this for hours already and I'm sure no one is going to actually read this far into it anyway.