My last few days in Italy were truly amazing. For our last p-day, Sorella Curtis and I went to visit Lisa. We walked around her cute little city for hours, ate gelato, and just enjoyed Italy. Then we went to the church. We said goodbye to the Anziani one last time, and then we headed home.
I'm a big fan of transfer circle. Always have been. There is something so beautiful about the opportunity to see other missionaries, to know that you're not alone in Italy. This transfer circle was by far the hardest. I had to say goodbye to many of my dearest friends, but I found myself overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to do so. These people are amazing. They're changing lives everyday, just by being the happiest and kindest people you ever did meet. I count myself lucky to have served among them.
All of the departing missionaries hopped on a train together, and, before we knew it, we found ourselves in the mission office waiting for our departing interviews. I went first, and, as I sat across from President Dibb, I thought back to the very first time I met this inspired man. He and Sorella Dibb came to our ward his very first Sunday; we were expecting them and so excited to finally meet them. I sang that Sunday, Be Still My Soul. It's a favorite of mine. After Sacrament meeting, as I was talking with some of the members, President Dibb walked up to me, shook my hand, and thanked me for singing. Then he said something about Sibelius. Well, that was it, the moment he earned my respect. It may seem silly, well, because it is. But the fact he knew the composer of Be Still My Soul wasn't why he gained my respect. It was his desire to connect with his missionaries, his desire to understand them, to know them, and to love them. President Dibb is a strict man; there's no denying it. He expects a certain level of dedication and obedience. He expects 100%. But he gives 100% every single day of his life. In the last year I have seen him change as he has accepted and understood his calling. He's not perfect, but he tries to be, just like we all should. Every single time I met with him, I felt as if I was meeting with a new man, a better man. As if everyday he changed for the better. I believe that's just how he lives his life.
That night, we each had an opportunity to share our testimonies. Many tears fell as we, one after another, shared what we have learned, who we have become, and how much we love our missions. I wish we could have just kept that moment forever. There was so much love in the mission home that night.
The next morning, we awoke way too early and piled onto a bus to the airport. Half of us took a flight to London. Unfortunately that flight was late and arrived 10 minutes before the gate to my connecting flight closed. I waved goodbye to my missionaries and started running. I got to security, and they pushed me through as fast as they could so I could make my flight. I'm pretty sure the lady who checked my ticket was LDS. As she handed my ticket back she looked into my eyes, grabbed my hand, and said, "Now you're going to have to run really fast if you want to make this flight. Thank you, sister." Even with the running and the nice people, I made it out of security 15 minutes after the gate was supposed to close. I just kept running. Then I noticed a really cute older Italian couple from my first flight; they were struggling. I asked them if they were headed to Seattle, and they were! So I told them to take it easy, that I would lay in front of the plane if I had to, but I would get us there. The older man stopped to help his wife, and told me to run as fast as I could. As I rounded the corner, they were closing the gate. The man saw me and asked if I was headed to Seattle. I couldn't breathe or talk, and I just started crying for joy and nodding my head. What a sight I must have been. I told them about the couple coming, and a few seconds later they rounded the corner. The woman gave me a hug and thanked me as we boarded.
I had a lot of time to think on the flight home. Especially since I didn't sleep, thanks to the adorable baby screaming next to me and the fact that no one around me spoke English or Italian. Seriously? So I thought and prayed for eight hours straight. At one point during my meditation, the flight attendant came up to me and said, "You know, I've never seen any women." I was confused at first, you know, since that's impossible. But then he said, "I have been on countless flights with you missionaries. I've watched you leave and come home, but I've never seen any women, good for you!" He was a sweet older Englishman, and he was surprisingly very proud of me. After we talked a little, I went back to thinking.
Here's what I came up with; I AM THE LUCKIEST PERSON IN THE WORLD! Literally. I absolutely love my father in Heaven and am so grateful for the experiences that he gave me in Italy. I learned so much about myself, and I became the person I always wanted to be. I have come to know my Savior, Jesus Christ on a much more personal level. I feel more than ever that he is my brother and my friend. The opportunity to serve as His missionary has been an incredible one. I have seen His hand in my life and in the lives of others. I have had moments in which I have been able to serve as His hands. There is nothing more beautiful. The lessons are numerous, and in the next few weeks, I'll share some of them with you. But there is one lesson that stands out above the rest. Love is the most important thing in the world. It is the reason we are here. Everything comes back to the love of our Father and our Brother for us. It is everything. Our sacred calling is to share that love and help it to grow.
After eight hours of meditation, we landed. It took me an hour to get through customs, but then I was finally headed up on the escalator to my family. I saw my grandma first as she ran up to hug me . . . while I was still on the escalator with three suitcases. Therefore, I fell over my suitcases and barely avoided pushing every single person behind me down. Graceful as always. As I untangled myself, I looked up to see my mom, holding a Welcome Gnome sign. Ahaha! I've missed my mom! Look at how cute she is. But skip over my face . . . I'm a mess. I did not want to let go, but they finally convinced me with an offer of Thai food.
I don't remember the rest of the day very well. I was out of it. I know Bishop Bressan, his wife Rebecca, and my second mom, Kendra went with us to eat Thai food. They talked a lot as I mostly just focused on the food. Then somehow we ended up at the stake center. I don't know how. Seriously, I'm missing so many hours.
President Smith is amazing, and we had an absolutely incredible talk. Which ended in tears of course because he released me as a missionary. He forgot to ask me to take off the tag though, and I just kept hoping he wouldn't notice and I would be able to take it off when I got home . . . so no one else would see me cry . . . no such luck. He remembered, and as I unclipped the name tag tears streamed down my face. I don't think I understood until that moment what was happening, and then suddenly it was over. I was giving the Stake President a hug and numbly walking out of his office.
Over the next few days and even weeks I had many incredible opportunities to talk about my mission and what I have learned. As sad as I am that this part of my life is over, I really am excited to start the next part of my life. I'm excited to see where I end up and how I get there. I have full faith in the Lord that everything will turn out just the way He wants it to.
Thank you for following my journey, for the prayers, the letters, for everything really. I am so grateful to have you in my life, all of you. Even though my time as a full-time missionary has ended, I feel as if my real mission has just begun. I'm excited to share these next experiences with you as well, because whoever you are, wherever you are, we're family, and nothing will ever change that.
Vi voglio un mondo di bene!
Sorella Ellen Rose Ervin