Hang in There


I was discouraged. Those weren’t the words I wanted to hear.

The metal cover on the door’s mail slot clattered as the mail was pushed through and landed on the floor of our apartment. One of the high points of our day had arrived, and my companion and I collided as we made haste to see what the mailman had brought. Not even Santa could compete with the excitement he inspired.

Four white envelopes lay scattered on the floor and my companion, having mastered the morning dash and beaten me to the door, scooped them up. “Let’s see,” she said slowly, holding them just out of my reach. “One for me. One for me. One for me, and, oh, one for you.”

One for me. Why did I insist on racing to the door for this kind of treatment? The handwriting on the envelope was familiar, and I knew it was from home. I tore it open as I walked to my bed and pulled out a card with a picture on the front of two tired sister missionaries soaking their feet. I opened it up and settled back on my bed to read. “Hang in there,” it said. “We love you! Mom and Dad.”

“Well, so much for news from home,” I thought and glanced over at my companion who was still on her first letter (a three-pager) and smiling slightly as she read. The other two letters waited patiently on her lap.

“I guess I’ll go finish making breakfast,” I said and walked toward the small kitchen. My companion nodded her head in acknowledgment that I had spoken and continued reading without a pause.

I had been in Finland four months. I pulled out a pan to mix our purro (porridge) in and sighed heavily. Because the mission was short on missionaries who had been in the field for very long, the president had had no choice but to make senior companions of fairly new missionaries. And I was one of them.

I remembered back a few weeks ago to the excitement I had felt at the prospect of leaving my first city to go on to a new area as a senior companion. I remembered even more clearly the sick feeling I had experienced as my new companion and I knocked on our first door, and I realized that neither of us understood the language very well; and I was in charge.

That’s what my parents’ card was in response to. I’d written home expressing, mildly, of course, the way I was feeling, and the card was their message of encouragement. No thought-provoking words of wisdom, no sage advice to ponder, not even a quotation from Richard L. Evans. How was I supposed to reach lofty new heights on the words “hang in there”?

I wondered if any other missionaries had parents who were so economical with words. I turned on the stove and began slowly stirring the purro.

Hang in there. How many times had I heard that as I was growing up? My mind carried me back to my senior year in high school.

I was the Laurel class president and my mom was president of the Young Women. Each week I made what seemed like endless rounds to pick up all the less-active girls in my class to get them out to Young Women classes, basketball practices, activities, or whatever else came up. I didn’t enjoy it. “I’m not doing it anymore,” I told my mom after a particularly frustrating day and then proceeded to explain to her the heavy burden I carried as class president.

She smiled and listened patiently. “Well, Lori,” she said when I had finished, “it’s not forever. Just do your best and hang in there.”

So I tried. It wasn’t always easy and I didn’t always smile as I went, but I hung in there. And, surprisingly, as I looked back it wasn’t the hard times I remembered. What I remembered were basketball games that we almost won together, slumber parties where we stayed up talking and laughing most of the night, and Young Women classes when everyone was there for a lesson.

The purro began to boil thickly, and its slow bubbling called my attention back to what I was doing. I turned off the stove and called to my companion.

Those four short months in Finland quickly turned into 16, and I found myself on my way home. As I look back now, I remember only vaguely the fear and inadequacy I felt in that new city as a new senior companion (although my journal could tell tales!). What I do remember is the fact that my companion and I hung in there.

We probably weren’t the most successful companionship to ever pack scriptures, pamphlets, filmstrips and a projector onto our bikes to hit the tracting trail, but we did hit it.

And in that city during some of the hardest times of my mission, I learned what it meant to pray, to really pray, and consequently to receive answers to prayers. I learned that we weren’t out there alone and that we could do what we had been called to do.

I hadn’t needed to receive a long discourse from my parents on the at merits of overcoming discouragement and pushing ahead. The card they sent was enough because it served as a reminder to me that sometimes half the battle is just enduring to the end.

Recently my sister, who is on a mission, sent a letter home that had a hint of discouragement in it. As I wrote back to her, I made sure I left a large part of the last page free so that I could fill it in with words of advice and encouragement.

After all, I had been there and understood what she was feeling. Surely I could come up with something profound on the subject. For a long time I thought about what I could say and, after drawing on my vast experience, finally sat down to finish the letter.

“Hang in there,” I wrote. “I love you.”

[photo] Photography by Jed Clark