It’s September of 1991. I’m 19 years old and serving a 2-year, full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ve been out for approximately 3 months, and I’m serving in the Riverside, CA mission. My assigned area, for now, is Perris, CA.
I approach my mission like I do everything in my life (well except for school up to this point. haha)…with everything I’ve got. I’m bold, intense (a bit too intense actually:), determined, and my companion and I work ourselves to exhaustion every day. After 3 months, we have little to no success. I feel beat up and discouraged, Each week we write a short letter to our mission president updating him on how things are going.
So, he’s well aware of the precipitous drop in, well, let’s just say, my enthusiasm.
It’s the day for our monthly one on one interviews with him.
When it’s time, I somewhat sheepishly shuffle into his office. My head is hanging down a bit. He’s seated behind his desk. His black hair is wavey and brushed straight back. He’s wearing his reading classes. A stack of my weekly letters is in front of him in a neat pile. He has a contemplative look on his face as if he’s not just looking in my eyes, he’s studying what’s in there.
That jolts something he noted in our very first interview. He said,
“Elder Bowman, Do you know why I meet with you one on one every month? It’s so I can look in your eyes and see how you’re doing.”
I take my seat directly across from him wondering what he sees this time.
(President Jerry M. Hess and his wife Sister JoAn Hess)
I look back into his eyes.
He reaches up, takes his glasses off, rests his elbow on the table and with his glasses in his hand, points at me and, well, begins the interview with this…
“Elder Bowman, DON’T YOU QUIT!” The problem with most people is they quit before the blessings come! I promise you…if you don’t quit, you are going to be blessed with bucketfuls!”
He slides his glasses back on, sits back in his chair, and asks,
“Now, how you doin’?”
(For those of you who served under President Hess, I’m quite sure you can visualize perfectly how this went down! ha)
It’s as if a switch is flipped inside me. It quite literally is a transformative moment in my life. All discouragement is transformed into determination! A determination that, no matter what, I will not quit…ever, not now, not anytime on my mission, not any time in my life.
So my answer to his question?
“Well, President, about 60 seconds ago not too well. But now…everything is much better!”
He laughs and we have a great interview.
Little do I know the extreme extent to which that resolve would be tested much later in life. In fact, it would be tested far beyond the limits of the natural strength of my own resolve in and of itself.
Even still, to this day, as completely overmatched as I was and am, I have yet to give up, even when all hope has seemed extinguished. Born within me that day in September of 1991, when I heard the loving, firm words,
“Elder Bowman, DON’T YOU QUIT! The problem with most people is they quit before the blessings come,”
was all the future blessings of a conscious choice I made on the spot to always remember and obey that simple, yet inspired counsel.
It is grace though, pure and simple, that has done ALL the heavy lifting.
Something changed in me that day though, and by all accounts that change is permanent. It’s a deeply embedded resolve.
I simply refuse to give in to defeat. I cannot accept it.
Oh, I may give in for a day or two…or months. I may lie on the ground for quite some time until I have the strength to stand back up, but even then, even as I’m lying there, something inside me keeps striving, keeps on fighting, keeps on problem-solving and keeps on exercising faith.
In my darkest hours, I kept this exact image and quote on the lock screen of my phone.
It’s incredible how something so simple gave me so much strength every time I looked at it. And, you know what? He was right. Help AND happiness were ahead, a lot of it.
The blessings of not quitting ALWAYS come, ALWAYS. It’s never a matter of IF, only WHEN.
I can think of no better visual to capture that truth than the empty tomb. Thankfully for all of us, He didn’t quit before the blessings came!
And because He didn’t, by His grace, from this point forward everything I thought I had permanently lost, will start to be restored piece by piece.
It won’t happen faster than it takes my strength, and confidence to reemerge, for my soul and mind to heal. In fact, some of my most intense emotional and mental pain still lies ahead. I will try to re-engage fully many times before I’m capable. I will suffer painful setbacks. It will still be quite some time ’till I can feel joy or the inner strength to do what I need to do.
But, what I can do, I do, and much of the time, for now, it isn’t much. Being broken mentally, emotionally, and psychologically is just as, if not more debilitating, than being physically broken.
I understand that now, not just intellectually, but experientially.