Thank You, Elder Scott: Memories of an MTC Moment

Thank You, Elder Scott: Memories of an MTC Moment September 25, 2015

By Eustress (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Richard G. Scott was the first General Authority I ever met. While I was in the MTC, he came and spoke in the last Tuesday night devotional I was there — the only Apostle my district got to see in our two months’ time in Provo. Hearing of his passing this week took me back to the summer of 2003, when I was 21 years old and so excited to wear that black name tag, to teach and testify and sacrifice for the Lord as a missionary. It had been a tumultuous few months prior to my going to the MTC, but on September 9, 2003 when Elder Scott was in the house, I was all-in and all enthralled by the chance to see and hear a Special Witness in person.

I remember sitting in Marketing class that spring with my friend Dave, also a member of the Church, trying to calculate when to expect my mission call to arrive to my campus mailbox. He was also from Pennsylvania, so we figured it would probably take somewhere close to how long it took for him to get his call for me to get mine…and we were right! My papers went in March 29 — the day after my 21st birthday — and 27 days later, April 25, it came. I remember the giddy feeling of seeing that thick white envelope on the other side of the glass in my mailbox at the commons building for my dorm complex, of rushing it back to my single room, opening the packet, and having the words “Washington Spokane Mission” and “Spanish” be the first ones I read. I’m no dancer, but the elation I felt in that moment found its expression as I jigged on that linoleum floor in Thompson Hall. That moment was when the hard stuff really started, though.

For the first two and a half years I was in the Church, my paternal grandparents didn’t know I was LDS. When I was baptized, my dad and I made a deal that neither of us would tell them. Part of it had to do with the fact that neither of us expected me to last that long in the Church, so why upset them like that for a temporary change I’d made? Part of it also had to do with just that — the fact they were two of the hardest core Catholics on earth and the thought their recently-graduated-from-high-school granddaughter had up and joined the Mormon Church would have been a hugely painful and controversial matter. When I put my papers in, though, I knew I would have to tell them. I remember getting the letter back from my grandma, written in her beautiful, formal ‘cursive’ hand, speaking of the betrayal she and my grandpa felt that I had become LDS, but more so that I had kept that information from them for so long. Unsurprisingly, she also said they’d be praying I’d come back to the Catholic Church at some point.

I also remember the card my mom sent me with the simple words “Please don’t go” written in the message block. I know she — if not my dad too — felt like I was once again putting them through the pain they experienced when I joined the Church. I wished with all that was in me that they could understand why I was doing this — why I was willing to let people I didn’t know send me to a place I’d never been, potentially to speak a language I’d never spoken before, teaching ideas they didn’t at all believe, for a year and a half.

I don’t remember much of the time between the end of spring semester and the last week of June when I flew out to Utah to receive my endowment in the Bountiful Temple (my favorite at the time), visit friends, and, on July 16, enter the MTC. Saying goodbye to my dad the night before and to my mom when she dropped me off at the Pittsburgh airport was miserable. Yes, I was excited to be going on a mission, but I was also terrified by the implications of the decision, both while serving and once I got home afterward. Leaving home was the beginning of a new chapter in my life, and I had no idea what direction it was going to take.

The MTC was tough. It is interesting when you are learning one of the ‘easier’ foreign languages because you are in a middle of sorts — jealous of the English missionaries who don’t have to be there for weeks and don’t have to take hours of language class a day, but counting your lucky stars you weren’t called to speak Finnish or Mandarin or Armenian (or…), which would have meant more training time and much less receptive cultures to which to be going. By the time Elder Scott came, I was ready…I think my whole district was ready…not to be teaching the teachers, or the fake investigators in the TRC, or our companions…anymore. We were excited to finally get to start playing with ‘live ammunition’ the following week when we left for our respective mission areas.

We in District 6B had been kind of surprised that no other Apostles had been featured in the seven other Tuesday evening devotionals we’d attended. It was the summertime, after all, so you would think they’d have more availability to make the quick trip down I-15 to come and speak to the missionaries, right? Throughout the week leading up to our final Tuesday night on September 9, we had been praying together in class, as companionships, and as individuals, that we would be blessed to have one of the Twelve as the speaker our last time. That day, rumors were flying that we were going to get our wish, and then some. Elder Scott was coming! Woo hoo!! Soul-penetrating-radar-stare time!

We were told the following morning that Elder Scott had shaken hands with every last missionary there — probably around 2500 in all, which was a lot for those days. It took him probably about 2.5-3 hours to do it, but I think he knew it may be the only time some of them would ever shake hands with an Apostle, so he wanted to make sure he gave everyone that chance. No doubt in a nod to the need to expedite the process, we didn’t get to stop and chat with him at all, but the word he chose to say to each of us as we came through the line (to accompany the soul stare we all loved so much, whether truly or sarcastically so) has stuck with me: “Thanks.” He also knew that every missionary makes sacrifices to serve – some more than others, but all to one degree or another. Even if my family could not understand why I was doing what I was doing, and so did not see the positive value in it, I knew he could, and that was enough for me that night. I left the building knowing he was definitely one of God’s chosen servants and knew the Lord in a way to which all members could and should aspire.

Little did I know at the time, but I would be home four weeks later. As it turned out, I’d only been out in the field a few days before the temptation to self-injure became more than I could bear and I was sent home the first Monday in October. I remember this because Elder Scott spoke in Conference the day before I left the mission and talked about his having spoken at the MTC the previous month. It shocked me how things had changed so quickly from that night, but that was really only the beginning of my difficulties, looking back on it now. I didn’t end up cutting myself then, and I haven’t since, but that isn’t to say the thought doesn’t occur to me from time to time or, more frequently, the memory of the pain the experience of having things go so sour so quickly has caused haunts me just about every day. Coming home early — especially THAT early — really is something you never completely overcome.

These days, I struggle mightily with my willingness to stay in the Church. I teeter on the edge of quitting once and for all. That makes reflecting on the events of 2003 bittersweet — wonderful memories, but also the end of the honeymoon between the Church and me. Still, though, I will always be grateful for that one special night when my district and I prayed an Apostle into our midst (or so we convinced ourselves), and he helped me feel I was where I belonged after months of reasons to doubt myself. This memory is the “June rose” that I am able to hold when the “December” of this overall experience comes to mind. Thank you, Elder Scott. Your choice of word that night all those years ago is meaningful to me still.

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