I was staggared but pulled myself together and told her gently that next week we would be having a very special baptismal service...on the day we celebrate the birth of the Savior...would she be baptized a week from now?
She burst into tears and every day that week we stopped by her house to teach her about the gospel..., my last full week as a missionary I got to go through all of the discussions with this woman who had yearned for so long to become a member of the church.
At the baptism the branch president announced that Hermana Atwood would be returning home on Wednesday and everybody was shocked, including me. They didn't know how close I was and I was stunned that he had spilled the beans. In my mission it was fairly taboo to discuss how long one had been out and how much longer one had left. The standard answer was always "A little under a year" or "A little over a year" to the question of how long one had been serving. You were allowed to tell 3 days before you went home and as the branch president blurted out the news I realized that I did indeed have 3 days left. It was sobering.
My last full day as a missionary was Christmas day and it passed as a blur. We stopped by everybody's house...all our investigators, the members...everyone hugging me and wishing me well and feeding me tamales and I would teach impromptu discussions and give away Book of Mormons to all the friends and families at the places we stopped that weren't members. I think Christmas day I wound up giving away 8 of them.
The 26th I had my exit interview with my mission president and I remember hugging my companion goodbye as the sunset behind us that oh so chilly day in Burke Virginia. It was freezing and she had tears streaming down her face...I think she felt more than a little abandoned and I felt so bad for her but I couldn't help feeling more keyed up and excited and anxious for myself.
We had a nice dinner at my mission president's home...how was it possibly 18 months had passed? Hadn't I just arrived there?
Elder Longson, with whom I had served nearly my entire mission was there, he was a recent AP and it was comforting to have him there along with Hna. Knowlton...my MTC companion. We hadn't really gotten along at the MTC but acted like old friends by the end. We had a tear filled testimony meeting and then went to bed. There were an awful lot of sisters going home and we were put in the basement where, out of sight and sound we did NOT go to bed at 10:30 like good missionaries should but instead stayed up late, swapped mission stories, laughed ourselves sick and had a "talent night."
It was still dark, and again, oh so chilly as we drove to the airport, Elder Longson and his companion being rather subdued. I think he was equally stunned we were leaving...we were HIS hermanas.
I remember having waaay too much stuff in the airplane...I remember the movie home was "Operation Dumbo Drop" and I was horrified that something so obviously drekful had come from Disney...the company I idolized and adored and was fully prepared to be working for in a matter of a few years...
I remember the plane descending over Salt Lake and Knowlton and I gripped each other's hands and tried (unsuccessfully) not to cry.
I remember getting off and seeing a big banner "Welcome Home Sister Knowlton!" I saw my family lurking further back. I saw my dad who tried to hug me but I bolted past him and hugged my mom and THEN my dad and then everybody else.
I remember going home and being so shocked at my dog...completely frail, almost totally blind and deaf but when I picked her up she started to lick me.
I didn't know what to do with myself. I stayed in my clothes, I kept my nametag on until the next day when I went down to the stake president's office to be released. After the kindess and extreme empathy and understanding from my mission president, my interview with the stake president felt cold and matter of fact. I cried silently as he told me I was released and I could take my name tag off.
I flew home 10 years ago today.
How is it possible 10 years have gone by?
Didn't I just get home?