Normally, when someone submits his or her mission papers to Church headquarters, they wait eagerly to find out where they’ll be going. However, when I sent my papers in, I didn’t know whether I’d be going.
I was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome (high-functioning autism) at the age of three-and-a-half, although according to my mother, I was expressing signs of autism before then. My young years weren’t easy for anyone in my family, even in a home that was a safe haven for the Spirit. However, later on, and especially during my years in junior high and high school, I improved leaps and bounds on my ability to succeed socially as well as academically. Upon graduation from high school, I left to study engineering at Snow College with an intention to finish up at Utah State University.
By the time I started my mission papers, my parents had made me aware that a full-time proselyting mission wouldn’t necessarily be a certainty, but they also informed me of the possibility of a Church-service mission. I went ahead to begin my mission papers in December 2012, because I wanted to know what God wanted me to do. My bishop and stake president were absolutely fantastic during this time. Both of them had known me for a very long time and understood where I was coming from. Shortly after I submitted the last of the “regular” mission papers in January, I met with LDS Family Services at BYU, who had me come in for an evaluation the following month and fill out standardized psychological questionnaires.
When I met with them the second time, they gave me a personal interview based on my mission paperwork and on the experiences I’d reported to them. From there, it took almost two months of (im)patient waiting before I was called into my stake president’s office toward the end of March. He informed me that the Missionary Department had carefully considered all the paperwork I’d sent in, and had honorably excused me from serving a regular mission. He then referred me to a list of service missions and told me that he was proud of me.
Two weeks after this meeting, I went to Salt Lake to take a tour of the Family & Church History Headquarters Mission. My intent in doing so was to gather enough information to make an informed decision as to what to do next. I was able to see a day in the lives of many Church-service missionaries, young men with various disabilities who were diligently working on doing family history research for themselves and for others. Upon returning to my apartment at college, I began to seriously consider all possible paths that I could take. After a lot of careful consideration and prayer, I decided that I would simply move on; that is, work during the summer and return to school in the fall.
All throughout this time, I felt stigmatized as a result of being different from others, but I now recognize that the only person who really criticized me was myself. My friends seemed to understand what was going on with me when I told them of my experiences, and they’ve been absolutely fantastic at making me feel like I belong. As far as I know, I haven’t run into anyone who has either deliberately or mistakenly judged or criticized me. If it ever happens, I have resolved to respond civilly to such harsh talk, and I will stand up for anyone else who may be judged un-righteously.
The stigma of not serving “the two years” lingered with me for quite some time, but it has since faded away, and I’ve become a lot happier as a result. Additionally, I feel fortunate to have discovered the Sick RMs website, as learning of the experiences of young people similar to mine has led me to start developing a greater sense of empathy for others. As I engage in academic pursuits, strive to become a better man and priesthood holder, and work toward my goal of temple marriage and starting a family, I will maintain an eternal perspective in all things and help others to do the same by setting a righteous example for them.
We need to show love and kindness for any and all missionaries who get sick or injured, and we need to do the same for missionaries who are honorably excused altogether for medical reasons. These young men and women are some of the best people I know, and we may never know exactly what they have sacrificed to get to where they are today. I hope that the stigma associated with less than ideal mission experiences will one day be gone, and we can see all for who they truly are. God understands our situations, and He has a wonderful, individualized plan for each of us, even if we don’t immediately recognize it.