Hey y'all!! Well here I am....back in good ol' Bentonville, AR! It has been one of the craziest weeks of my life! I can't believe that I am home now. It has been so surreal to be home and back doing normal missionary things!
Last Monday I had the opportunity to head back to my greenie area, Cheyenne, WY! It was so much fun to go back up there! I was giddy the whole time and I just felt so happy to be back there. First we stopped by and surprised Rod and Virginia! They were so surprised to see me and couldn't believe that I was getting ready to go home. We chatted for a while and then we headed to go eat lunch with one of my favorite ladies, Randi Carpenter! We had a great time together!! After that I was able to see the family I lived with at the very beginning of my mission. That was so tender because they were with me at the very beginning when I was really struggling! It was so fun to see them at the end! Then we had to head back down to Windsor so I could finish packing and then get to the mission home. All of the departing missionaries spend the night so that we can all head to the airport bright and early the next morning. That night in the mission home we ate dinner, and then we had a testimony meeting. That was so neat because we were able to see how each of us have grown since we left the MTC together. It was sweet to be there with the sisters I started this journey with!
Tuesday was probably the longest day of my whole life. It began at the lovely hour of 3:30am, where 10 sister missionaries fought over mirror space in the two bathrooms in the McMurray's basement. We then left for the airport at 4:15, to be there at 5:15 so that the 7:15 flight could check in. My grandparents and uncles were at the airport when we got there to see me off- they live in the Denver area- and that was crazy to see them! I had been doing pretty good emotion wise until I saw them, and then reality hit and I started to fall apart! And right after that we all went through security and I had to say goodbye to the McMurray's and the other departing missionaries. That was so weird. I felt like I was leaving my family all over again!
So I was already off to a rocky and emotional start... and it just got more stressful from that point on. My first plane was delayed 45 minutes which was no bueno because my layover in Atlanta was only 50 minutes, which meant that I would be cutting it really close to make my second flight into Arkansas. I need to make a little disclaimer here and say that I set a goal for myself that I would pass out two copies of the Book of Mormon on my way home. On my first flight I sat down first. I kept sizing up each person who was walking towards my row to see if one of them could be the lucky owner of Book of Mormon. Well after about 15 minutes of this I finally made eye contact with a lady and she was heading straight for the seat next to mine. "This is it" I thought. "You've been passing out copies of the Book of Mormon for 18 months and its been harder because they can close the door in your face. She is trapped on this airplane with you!" She looked at my badge and then smiled and me and said, "Hello Sister Hooper! I am Sister Green!" OF ALL OF THE PEOPLE ON THE PLANE THAT I COULD SIT NEXT TO, I GOT PUT NEXT TO THE ONLY OTHER MORMON! What are the odds? Well we had a really great conversation and she answered a lot of prayers for me!
Before that flight even landed in Atlanta, the flight attendant came on to read off all of the connecting flights. She sad that there was only 20 minutes between then and when my next flight took off. So obviously I was slightly worried... especially because I had to go all the way across the Atlanta airport to get to my next flight. Also, I hate the Atlanta airport. Some nice people on the first flight let me run past them to try to get to my plane. So I take off running and get to the tram that goes through the airport, and wouldn't you know it, THE TRAM WAS EXPERIENCING MOMENTARY TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES. So I proceed to sprint 3 terminals to try to get to my flight. I end up hopping on the tram because it decided to start working again and running and flats don't mix so well. I barley make it onto the tram and I am panting more than my dog in the middle of the summer after she chases the skunks out of our yard. The guy I was standing next to kept looking at me like I had some sort of plague so I decided to talk to him. I asked him how he was doing and where he was going, you know, basic airport small talk. Well I told him about how I haven't seen my family in 18 months and I have approximately 6 minutes to get on my flight or else I would get left behind. He could tell that I was very obviously stressing out, so as soon as the tram doors opened, he looked at me, told me to grab onto his backpack, and the pushed us through the crowds of people all the way up the escalator while shouting "Excuse me people, move move move!!! We've got 5 minutes to get this missionary on a plane!! Out of my way!!" And this was a big guy too! He was probably 6'5 and 200+ pounds. When we got out of the crowd of people, I took off sprinting again (which I later learned was in the wrong direction) and as I ran away the man was yelling "Good luck Sister Hooper!! WOOOOOOO!" with his fist in the air. It was awesome!
I got on my next flight just in the nick of time. They literally closed the door behind me. The flight attendants were so startled by my appearance (panting, sweaty, red face) and concerned for me because of my physical state so they gave me a bottle of water. I found my seat and sat down next to a man who had headphones in and was doing work on his laptop. But I set that Book of Mormon goal and I knew that Heavenly Father wanted me to share the gospel and that He would help me. So I prayed and asked for help to have an opportunity to start talking to him. Not too much later the attendants came by asking for drink orders! So he took out his headphones and and I took that opportunity to strike up a conversation with him. I asked him why he was heading to Arkansas. He told me that he works for a vitamin company and they were doing some big deal with Wal-Mart and then asked me why I was going to Arkansas. That was just the perfect opportunity for me to tell him all about my mission and I think I explained everything about the mission; from the purpose of missionaries down to how transfers work. He was so interested and intrigued by the whole thing. We then started having a conversation about God and our beliefs. He shared with me that he and his wife's first baby had a bunch of health challenges and she passed away not long after birth. Up until that point, they were both pretty passive about their belief in God. they believed in a God, but weren't active in having a relationship with Him. After their baby passed away, they had a lot of questions about life and death and that they could really only turn to God. I was then able to talk about the plan of salvation with him and how through temples he can be with his family forever. He listened so intently and had so many questions for me. At the end of the flight I asked him if he would like a copy of the Book of Mormon to which he gladly accepted and told me that that was the best airplane conversation he's ever had. It was an incredible way to spend my last hours as a missionary.
Then I finally got to see my family for the first time in 18 months. That was such a happy and wonderful reunion!!!!!! I never wanted to let go of them when I hugged them!!!! There were so many wonderful people who showed up at the airport to support me as well and I am so grateful to all of you who came!!!
About an hour and a half later we went to the stake center to meet President Keogh so I could be released. I don't think I have ever experienced something as difficult as that. It broke my heart to take off my tag. I still introduce myself as Sister Hooper and I just talk about my mission and the church to everyone i talk to. Because of my mission, the gospel has become a part of me. I know this church is true without a shadow of a doubt. I know that the Lord loves each and every one of us. He knows us personally and that when we turn to Him and allow Him in our lives that miracles will happen. Please allow Him into your life. He will help you.
Thank all of you for following my journey these last 18 months. Your support has meant the world to me and I am grateful for each one of you!!!
Last car selfie of Sister Manning and I!
Rod and Virginia
Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Jeff, and Uncle Michael
Pictures from the homecoming!