Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Where Love Is, There God Is Also

This blog was my favorite outlet and I worked hard to make sure that I was always honest and sincere in every post. I didn't want anyone reading this to think that a mission was easy or that I was a perfect missionary. I wanted people to know how much I loved the Lord and how grateful I was to be serving Him. I wanted anyone who read any part of this to feel some small portion of the love I felt for my companions and the Bolivian people I served. I hope that anyone who has been a part of this journey in any way has felt something because of what I've shared. So that's the reason for this post, I don't want anyone to think that my life is easy or that I'm a perfect person. But I do want to share a little update on the past year of my life and I want you to know that God has a plan for each of us. I want to be real honest with whoever reads this and I hope you can be reminded that Heavenly Father is in the details of our lives.

A year ago today, my life changed forever. I came home, six months earlier than I had anticipated. It was...rough.

But it turned out that coming home was easy in comparison to adjusting to life at home. Anxiety hit me like never before and it was truly debilitating. Most of my nights were spent crying instead of sleeping and on the couch rather than my bed because I couldn't stand to feel closed in. I felt so lonely and I felt like there was no one who understood me. I would stay up all night worrying about anything and everything. My family was so patient and understanding even though I could tell they were concerned.

My entire mission felt like a dream and I spent hours rereading my journal and staring at pictures to remind myself that it was all real and it really happened. I wanted so badly to call my old companions and have them remind me that they knew me and remembered that I had been there with them. Those first few months were filled with tears and anguish. I was so confused and prayed often to know why God had sent me home early. I was still so sick and the various tests and evaluations weren't giving me the answers I desperately desired. I couldn't understand why I had to get sick when I had felt so right about serving a mission. Why wasn't God helping me fulfill my most righteous aspiration? Looking back now, I feel pretty naive.

November to January passed in slow motion. I finally got results back and was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in December. I know most people wouldn't say that finding out you have a chronic illness is a relief but for me, it was. I knew I was sick and I finally knew why. That was actually one of the first times I felt the weight of anxiety lessen.

In February, my stake president was sick, very sick, and we learned that our stake presidency would be reorganized six months earlier than planned. Our family assumed that my dad would be released as second counselor and we joked about his future calling in nursery. Ha ha ha... On February 13, my dad was sustained as the new stake president. It was a crazy weekend for my family and when I raised my hand to sustain my dad, I felt the Holy Ghost confirm to me that I was meant to be there in that room, that my family needed me right then more than anyone else. I remember that moment so clearly and thinking "maybe there is a purpose to all of this suffering."

A week later, I was still feeling anxiety, like I-feel-completely-and-utterly-alone anxiety. I had started attending the YSA ward in January but I still felt lonely, I hadn't made any friends and I felt like I didn't have anything in common with anyone. That Saturday night, I prayed harder than I had prayed in a long time. I told Heavenly Father that I wasn't looking for a husband or for a huge group of friends, all I wanted was to have one friend. I felt so pathetic but I begged for someone who would understand me and help me overcome the crushing loneliness. The next morning, I went to church and met Katie Lloyd. (Her name has not been changed because she deserves all the praise and gratitude I could ever give). We became insta-friends within the first five minutes of conversation. She had just returned home from a mission in Argentina (aka fellow gringa para hablar conmigo) and was going to be in town for a couple months on an internship. She was and is one of the most incredible friends on planet earth. Once she started coming to the ward, she made friends with other people and I can't deny I was a little jealous that she made it look so easy. Luckily, she helped me out and invited me to start hanging out with people that I had technically known for years but had never talked with. And that's when Adam's part in this story begins. Spoiler alert: he ends up being pretty important. :)

Adam became my best friend pretty quickly. He is so funny and we had so much in common, our families seemed to be identical and our love of swimming led to us getting trial memberships at the gym and believing Katie's crazy idea that we could train for a triathlon. (Side note: Adam and I have since ceased all training but superhero Katie completed a triathlon this summer, remember how I told you she was amazing??) Katie eventually moved back to Utah and I was left to my own devices to come up with a way to convince Adam to continue hanging out with me. First, I tried baked goods. I would bake 3 dozen cookies and tell him "oh man, you should stop by after school and take some cookies home." And since he came, I did it every night for a week. Then he finally asked me out and I didn't have to bribe him with cookies anymore. But unfortunately, he had plans to work in South Dakota from May-August and I had plans to go back to BYU-Idaho in September and I realized that things did not look optimistic, no matter how many cookies I baked.

But things worked out, as they tend to do when they're part of Heavenly Father's plan. Adam changed his flight and decided to come home in June. We skyped every single day that he was gone. We were pretty obsessed with each other. (I probably shouldn't have put that sentence in past tense because it's still true). While he was gone, I prayed to know if I should go back to Idaho and felt very strongly that staying home was right. I picked him up from the airport on the night he returned home and I could not stop smiling. It was literally painful to be as happy as I felt and my cheeks ached the next day.

Adam and I have been mostly inseparable since and so many spiritual confirmations have taught me that Heavenly Father was thinking of Adam when He sent me home one year ago today. Heavenly Father was thinking about my future. He was thinking about my sweet father who would be overwhelmed by his new calling. He was thinking about the YSA ward that would need a Relief Society President.  He was thinking about my best friend Breanna who would need a friend when wedding planning stress became too much. There are so many moments that come to mind and they all testify to me that Someone so much greater is in control.

What is all comes down to is this, if I had not come home when I did, I would not be the person that I am today. I would have surely enjoyed six more months in Bolivia. Heck, I would have killed for another year and I sometimes wonder what it would have been like.

But right now, I know that I never would have gotten to know and love Adam. I know that I very likely would have met someone else and probably would have been happy. But I thank my Heavenly Father every single day for taking away something I wanted so badly so that I could be with Adam. He is my favorite blessing of all. I could spend all day bragging about the man who gets to be my eternal companion in just eighty days but it still wouldn't be enough. So I'll just say a few things that stand out to me.

Adam is the most selfless, kind, and gentle soul. His love is so pure and so sweet. He takes care of me when I am ill, even to the point of driving the entire way home from Utah while I slept in the passenger seat. He reminds me to take my medicine daily and is so sensitive to my needs. He is so talented and I could watch him paint for hours. Adam is humble and I know he is blushing as he reads this because he thinks I am being completely biased and ridiculously kind to say all of this but it's true. He is so, so good to me and he makes me want to be a better version of myself. He prays for me and he prays with me. We have cried together, we have laughed together, and we have grown together. He is so much greater than I imagined and he makes me so, so happy. He is not perfect and I love him for his desire to improve and progress. He's my forever. He's my reminder that God works in the details of and through the people in our lives to help us become the best we can be.

I love my Father in Heaven. He loves each of us personally. He knows what we need to learn and how we need to learn it and He will always bless us. His son, Jesus Christ, knows and understands us perfectly. His atonement is real and I have felt its enabling power while I traveled through my Gethsemane in the past year. He can help us overcome any fear or weakness and He eagerly waits for us to accept His help. I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is Christ's church upon the earth today. I am so happy that because of the restoration of the gospel, I will not hear the words "til death do you part" on my wedding day. Instead, I will be sealed to my best friend for time and for all eternity and our little family will be together forever. That is the most glorious message of all. Families are forever. I am so grateful for the people who were family to me while I was in Bolivia and that includes a lot of you who have managed to make it to the end of this post. Thank you for your prayers and support. I cannot thank you enough. With God, life is oh so good. ♥

 My family on the day my dad was sustained. 
(Fun Fact: Adam took this picture before we had ever really met.)
 Breanna's Wedding Day
The infamous Katie Lloyd
Happy, happy, happy. :)

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Christmas Bells Are Ringing

Hi loved ones,

I don't have much to say this week. Still no answers but I've got two more appointments this week and I'm stoked to chat with my ol' pal of a rheumatologist. Side note: At age 13 I got diagnosed with Raynaud's Disease and my rheummie was the gal who explained it all, cheered me on when I found swimming as a therapy, worried about me the entire time I lived in the Arctic (BYUI), and cried a little when I told her I was going off to Bolivia and now is gonna face the facts with me tomorrow as we figure out why my body is being so difficult. Then I gotta see my general surgery pal who gets to take a look at my nasty Bolivian surgery wounds that are still not healing. Sorry for the gross reality, this is just my life lately.

Since this blog has always been a place for raw reality and honest emotions, I just wanted to share this article from the December 2015 Ensign that changed my life today.

This article brought immense peace to my aching heart and renewed hope as I took a moment to realize that the best days since I've been home have been days where I've focused on the Lord and His will. The hardest days are when I let Satan get me down or when I let fear cloud my faith. I know He lives and I know He loves me.

I've officially been home for a month now and in that time, my simple candle light testimony has felt so dimmed by fear, anxiety, and worry about the unknown. And the truth is, I don't know what's ahead of me. I don't know if I'm going back to Bolivia or when I'm going back to school or what's wrong with me. There's actually a lot I don't know. But here are a few things I do know.

I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior. I know He was born with a glorious purpose to live a perfect life and be a perfect example and then suffer my full spectrum of pain and sin and experience. But not just for me, and not just for you, but for every single one of us who have lived, who are living, or who will live upon this earth. He suffered more than we could even begin to imagine because He loves us and He was resurrected because He wanted each of us to have the opportunity to overcome both spiritual and physical death. I love this Christmas season as we take time to celebrate His birth, His life, and His Atonement. He was born so I can have hope and move forward in F A I T H and say "chau" to Satan's influence.

Thanks a million for all your kind words, warm hugs, and heartfelt prayers. I love you all so much and I wish I could fix all of your struggles too. But He's the only one that can help you out. Remember Christ this Christmas.

Con mucho amor,
Jen Gauger

P.S. Check out this amazing video. :)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Some Say That Heaven is Far Away

Well, hello there, friends and family,

About 10 days ago, I was with a specialist deciding what day we'd have our next appointment for more testing and in the exact moment my mom went to check her phone calendar, a message from my sister showed up inviting us to join them in Disneyland. My mom asked the doctor if I would be able to attend and the doctor said, "You've suffered enough, sweetie. Go enjoy Disney and get your mind off of all this and then we'll see you on the 19th." 

So I did something crazy. I went to Disneyland. And it was probably the best thing I could have ever done. Sure, I probably pushed myself way more than I should have and I probably should have been in bed sleeping instead of closing out the night on Haunted Mansion but in regards to my ánimo and emotional health, nothing could have helped me more. 

Coming home has been a huge culture shock, way more than when I arrived in Bolivia and the fact that I spend most of my time at home, doing nothing and feeling useless, hasn't been so easy either. So I finally got out of the house and let the Happiest Place on Earth work its magic on me. It gave me hope and strength and mostly helped me feel a little more normal. In a time when everything is so unsure, it was nice to go to a place that feels so familiar and homey. 

This week, I'll be having my (hopefully) final procedure to figure out what the heck is going on with this body of mine. Not super excited about it but I am super excited for answers and information so I can decide what to do next. All that's been confirmed is that there's definitely evidence of an autoimmune disease, but we can't tell which one until after my procedure this Thursday. So I guess Disneyland was my way of escaping reality and pretending that this week's results won't completely alter my life forever and ever. 

I'm doing well overall. Feeling about 90% healthy but 100% anxious. I can't express enough gratitude to my incredible family who is being so patient and loving with me. They've done so much for me and continue to help me daily as I adjust to life back home and the English language and the fact that everyone is married/pregnant. 

But through it all, I find strength in the same simple things that gave me strength every day in Bolivia. The restored gospel of Jesus Christ is on the earth today. God hears and answers prayers. Jesus Christ lived on this earth, suffered and died for our sins and weaknesses, and was resurrected to save each one of us. We are able to receive exaltation if we follow His example and come unto Him. I know these things are true because the Spirit has taught and testified to me and I know these things of myself. I know that He has a perfect plan for us and He loves us more than we can imagine. Pray to Him, learn of Him, do something more to be like Him. I know that He is the source of true and lasting joy. 

With much love,
Jen Gauger 

P.S. Here's a photo update for y'all. :)

 Thanks, Dad, for letting me go on exchanges with your companion. :)
 The only thing cooler than a fanny pack is a fanny pack from Tarija.
 Barium Smoothies. Not as delicious as you think.
 Changed out the title "Hermana" for "Auntie" and it's the only thing keeping me sane.
 Shout out to my dad for buying overpriced strawberries to satisfy the cravings of someone who hasn't eaten them in far too long.
When in America, do as the Americans.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Who, Who Can Understand? He, Only One.

Hey there friends,

I've gotten accustomed to this whole writing thing and I promised 18 months of adventures so if we're all up for it, I'd like to keep posting here and continue using this as an outlet for my thoughts and experiences. This week has been an interesting one, but it's caused me to think and pray a lot.

A favorite scripture of mine is found in Mosiah 3:19, where it talks about becoming a saint through the atonement of Christ and refers to becoming like a child; "submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father." I've been ponderizing that scripture for a lot longer than the word "ponderize" has been around and it's been written on my heart time and time again.

I always think about the example of young children as I strive to understand this passage and the sort of child-like humility and submissiveness that our Father desires so that we can become like Him.

For example, I think of a young mom starting the day off with a long to-do list and a prayer in her heart that she will be able to accomplish her list and have the aid of her young child to get it all done without too many meltdowns. I imagine the child's meekness as she gets ready while Mom explains the plan for the day.  I think about how the child submissively allows her car seat to be fastened because she knows her mom loves her and wants her to be safe. I think of how a loving mom has prepared snacks and toys to help her child when the idea of patience runs thin. I think about the two walking through the mall with the mom's head spinning with all the things to do and errands to run while the young child secretly wishes that her own agenda will be filled and she'll be headed home with a new toy or special treat for being good. And then I imagine the moment in the late afternoon when the tiredness hits and suddenly the child cares a lot more about what she wants than what Mom had planned. She whines. She cries. She wants to go home. I imagine that a loving mom, who sees and understands way more than her suffering child, picks her up and carries her when it gets tough and gets her safely home.

Is the journey of life much different? Does our Father not have a perfect agenda or plan for our life on earth? Should we not hop in the good ship zion and allow our loving Father to fulfill His plan? Should we not buckle our seatbelts by keeping the commandments which He has given out of love? Does He not offer spiritual snacks and nourishment when patience runs thin? Do we sometimes go through the motions hoping we will get a special treat out of it? Do we not have moments in this journey of life when we get tired, whine, cry, and want to go home? Is our Father in Heaven any less willing to lift us up and carry us in those moments of difficulty?

I testify that He loves us even more than we can imagine. I know He's willing to pick us up and I know it because He's done it for me. He's done it for me every day this week. He's heard my whining and complaining and He's picked me up and carried me. He's answered my prayers. He knows that it's tough to stay patient and positive when I'm tired and the days are long. He's been with me when the nights were long and I felt overcome by sorrow. He has a perfect plan and He has things He needs me to do today. All I want is to grab His hand and let Him run His errands with me and through me and lose my own agenda and trust that He knows what we need to get done on this trip of life and He's got a perfect plan. He has given me help through so many great friends and has allowed my family members to act as literal angels for me in a time when I felt so overwhelmed.

The best lesson I learned this week is that my destination hasn't changed but my journey, very obviously, has taken a different course. I'm currently feeling too healthy to stay inside and do nothing but I recognize that I'm also too sick to be out in Bolivia wasting the Lord's precious time. After a number of doctor's appointments, I feel even further away from the answers I was hoping to get in regards to my health and the future ahead of me. Every moment that I've thought to myself, "I should be in Bolivia right now, what am I doing here?" has been remedied by the Spirit's whisper of a scripture in Doctrine and Covenants which reads

"Cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?"

I know that He guided this transfer just as much as He guided the past year of my mission and the past 20 years of my life on earth. I don't know what the next transfer holds, but I know that the Lord needs Jen Gauger here at this time. Thank you for your prayers, love, and support. I have been overwhelmed with love and hugs and I am grateful for every single one of you who have been there on this journey with me. I know I'm not the only one suffering and I invite each of you to allow your Father or even your loving brother and savior, Jesus Christ to carry you when things get tough. I know they love you and want what's best for you.

Con mucho amor,
Jen Gauger

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Oh Savior, if thou wilt be my guide

Hey there loved ones,

What a crazy week has gone by. These last 7 days have probably been the toughest and roughest of the past 20 years I've been alive.

First of all, surgery...not so fun. But then again, no one ever said it would be. But they did say the anesthesia would kick in immediately and it definitely didn't. But anyway, all went well and they left me with a 1-inch long cut that was about 3/4 inches deep packed with gauze and now I have to get it changed daily.

So then since I was on bedrest and no unhallowed hand can stop the work in Barrio San Pedro, my companion went out with members and left me in the house of members every day to babysit me. It was quite the experience.

Then, on Saturday, I went for my check-up appointment and unfortunately enough, they found another cyst. (Read as Another Surgery)... And apparently, when you have 4 abscesses in a period of 5 months, they start realizing that there's got to be a bigger problem.

It was kind of my breaking point, to be honest. I smiled and nodded while the doctor explained that we'd keep an eye on things and then see what happens, but I was an emotional wreck about 2 steps outside of the hospital on a busy street in the center of Santa Cruz while my companion with all of the sweetness and care she could muster tried to console me. We went home and the tears kept flowing as the pain kept surging through a body that's been through quite a lot in such a short window of time. I prayed. I cried. Then I prayed some more. Then I cried some more. And finally, when I got tired of crying, I called Hermana Willard, my mission president's wife and we cried together as I told her the news. Then President Willard called 20 minutes later as we cried together and we received the revelation that an emergency transfer was necessary.

So I got transferred. To the Antelope 4th Ward in Antelope, California. They booked my flight before I could even finish packing all my souvenirs. I'm home now with a week full of hospital visits with specialists and even though it's not what I wanted, I feel confident that it's part of the Lord's plan for me.

So how long will I be home? When do I go back? What do I have? What's causing all the cysts? What am I doing now? When can you all come and see me? Am I contagious? I'm sure even more questions will come but most of the answers haven't yet been revealed, even to me. (Except the fact that I'm not contagious).

So far, I know that this is a lot more serious than I ever thought. I know we're looking at the possibility of some chronic conditions that could run in the family. I know that what I need (to be healthy) comes before what I want (to be in Bolivia). I know that I came home feeling 100% content with the 368 days that Heavenly Father blessed me with to love Bolivia and Bolivians and come to truly know that my Redeemer lives and loves me. In regards to the date in which I'll be headed back? I really don't know. I feel that the scripture in Matthew 26:41 fits perfectly in saying "the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."

Coming down in a wheelchair is obviously the best way to arrive home to your concerned family and assure them that all is well.
Tears shed at the fact that someone kidnapped my baby nephews and replaced them with giant toddlers that walk.

So right now, I'm trusting my all to His tender care and knowing He loves me, I'll do His will with a heart sincere, I'll go where He wants me to go, I'll say what He wants me to say, and I'll be what He wants me to be.

I can't express enough gratitude for all of your love, prayers, and support. Thank you all for your examples and emails and words of encouragement. Please have patience with me as I adjust in this time and just keep on praying for me. I love you all and I feel like we've been on this journey together and I'll continue to update according to what I feel necessary and important and letting you all know what's going on with your favorite [returned] sister missionary from Bolivia.

Con mucho amor,
Jen Gauger :)

Monday, October 19, 2015

But He Now Will Bear No More

Email from Monday, October 19, 2015

Hi Friends (my family has chosen a cruise over me so they're probably not even reading this...hahaha just kidding...:))

This week was...painful. Hahah believe it or not, the Lord is continuing to purify me through health trials and this week included a new and very painful one. My journal contains all the embarrassing details for my posterity to barf about someday but it sufficeth me to say that I'm finally feeling better and that there is no limit to the crazy things that can happen to me out here. But all is well, that new problem is like 50% solved so we're gonna go forward with the cyst removal surgery on Thursday. Hahah, I'm not even sure anyone back home believes the stories I tell anymore because other missionaries are constantly telling me "your mission stories aren't even real, Hermana, how does something ALWAYS happen to you?" La verdad es que...yo no sé pero...así es. :)

Anyway, that whole health thing kinda got to me and put me in an emotional funk this week. I've never really thought "why me?" during any of my trials in the mission but I think this week I was thinking "why me again?" Like I understand that trial is necessary to become the person I want to be but then when more than one trial comes at a time, it's like "wait, no one else needs to grow? it's my turn again?" I've tried to get better about making sure that my prayers are times to talk to the Lord and I can say that we're had some good long talks this week. I've found a lot of comfort in a quote that Hermana Wilson shared in a letter she wrote me on one of my rough days. I don't have it with me right now but it talks about how quick we are to want the attributes of the Savior without paying any of the price he paid to become the way He is. It made me think about how many times I've prayed so so hard for help to become better and reach my divine potential and then when help comes, if not in the way I thought, it's even more humbling. 

Today, more than anything else, I feel an intense gratitude for a loving Father in Heaven who sees me as I truly am and knows my deepest desires and loves me enough to help me acheive all of my righteous goals and reach the full measure of my divine nature. I'm grateful for His divine plan which includes family members, friends, companions, investigators, church leaders at home and in Bolivia that are shaping me and changing me. I'm grateful for repentance and the promise of change. I'm grateful that because He lived, suffered, and died, we can change.

When I went to the clinic this week, a few days later than I probably should have, the doctor asked why I didn't come in sooner, and then said something so profound that I had heard Hermana Willard explain in our zone conference just the day before while talking about repentance. 

"You don't have to suffer!"

That is the glorious message of the restored gospel! We don't have to suffer the pain of sin, transgression, or fault. Even better than the best clinic in Santa Cruz, is the 24/7 constant care of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He wants to heal us. He wants to make us whole. He doesn't want us to suffer or cry out in pain any longer. He wants to free us from the bonds of sin and remove all the painful scars. 

And that's why I'm here. And it's why the Hermana Gauger that comes down the escalator in the Sacramento Airport in 6 months will not be the same one who went up it a year ago. 

I hope you all know and feel the same cleansing and enabling power of Christ's Atonement this week, whether it be for the very first time or a familiar feeling. I pray for you all and I love you so much.

Con mucho amor,
Hermana Gauger :)

this is my face right after we didn't get it on camera :(

 mi mejor amiga de perú

hermanas in the zone with our tour guide!