Wednesday, October 15, 2014

When Plans Don't Overlap

Today marks exactly 1 year since I came home early from my mission in the Adriatic South States. According to my former agenda, right now I should be on the streets of Albania handing out blue hardcover copies of The Book of Mormon. But I'm not. Instead, I'm in Provo, UT, USA @ the BYU library reading from a tattered, green chemistry textbook. So what happened?

Before my mission I was prescribed antidepressant/anxiolytic meds for what doctors thought was Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I suited up, nametag and all, thinking things were fine and dandy. And for the duration of the MTC and first several weeks in Kosovo, things were just that: fine and dandy.

Then circumstances took a turn for the worse. Several scary, life-threatening incidents went down that consequently overwhelmed me with unimaginable levels of anxiety. (That's another story for another day) It seemed only logical to up my daily dose of Zoloft. So I did. I doubled it, actually.

Then things turned from worse to frenzied psychotic. I felt constant compulsive urges to commit suicide, so I was put under 24/7 lock-down supervision. Missionary Department Psychiatrists concluded that my response to the upped-antidepressant was indicative of some form of Bipolar Disorder. And that's just bad news. So they decided to medically release me and send me home to the United States.

I couldn't help but think that God's plan for me was ruined: I was supposed to serve my 2 years, come home & get married, and live happily-ever-after, right? Instead I was sent home after 4 meager months, lonely, and dealing with symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. How could something that awful ever be part of a loving Heavenly Father's perfect plan?

Neither did things get better in any timely fashion. It wasn't just once that I cried out in desperation, "Lord, where art thou?" Heck. It wasn't even just 10, 50, or 100 times. It took a solid 10 1/2 months, 12 different psychotropic medications in all their varieties and combinations, and a seeming eternity of psychological and emotional anguish. And then something clicked.

The long-awaited day finally arrived when the dark curtain was lifted and my life was flooded with light. Happiness returned as a regular emotion, rather than just a distant dream. People, school, work, and even routine daily activities became surprisingly interesting and engaging. Every facet of life surpassed my grandest expectations one-hundred-fold. Even now I am dumbfounded by just how good ordinary life can be, and is, on a daily basis.

You know, when God comes to the rescue, He doesn't just perform CPR and haul you off in an ambulance. No, when God comes to the rescue, He gives CPR with a complimentary manicure and massage, and takes you away in an emergency medical limousine! I couldn't even begin to express how tenderhearted He has been to me the past 365 days.

So why did God send me home early from my mission? I might soon as well discover a new principle of relativity in quantum mechanics before I know 100% why I'm home. But I have my ideas...

What I do know, however, is that God has made me more compassionate, less selfish, more intelligent, more handsome with whiter platinum hair, ripped shoulders, and shredded abs (that there was all probably just icing on the compensation cake), more appreciative of life, and most importantly, more happy.

So for now I'm at BYU. Studying Neuroscience. Making my best attempt at meeting and dating the incredible BYU girls. And just living lYfe.

Even though my once-thought-perfect plans were revised, happily-ever-after is still 100% possible. That hasn't changed a bit :)

1 Year Home And Happy As Ever

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Second Half of Seven

You know, it's been a while since my last entry. I haven't lost interest in sharing my 'Adriatic Adventures', but rather I think I've adopted the idea that my writing has been "set as a thing of naught", "cast like pearls before swine", and "trampled under the feet of men". Okay. Maybe those scriptural descriptions are a little too elaborate in rehearsing that I feel like my blog has been forgotten. And so had I surrendered to this assumption until recently reading the statistical report to find, to my surprise, some 1,500+ blog views since several months of dormancy. I'm not elevated by this figure but devastated because of the hosts of missed opportunities to share my testimony of The Gospel of Jesus Christ through a public, non-pressing medium. So I apologize to those who contributed to that population.

In addition to the motivation of my audience, today marks another special instance associated with quantitative values. As a brief introduction, upon arriving home from the mission field, I was reintroduced to pop culture- music particularly. One song I'd never heard before was 'Marry Me' by Jason Derulo, and the opening line made me do a double-take, which goes, "One hundred and five is the number that comes to my head when I think of all the years I wanna be with you." Ignoring the second half of the sentence, I think my jaw dropped 'til it hit asphalt. It's significant to me because, "One hundred and five is the number that comes to my head when I think of [the number of days I spent as a missionary]". What the random, right? Why'd you choose that number, Mr. Derulo, when average life expectancy is like 79? Well, that number popped up again today as the sum of the days I've been home. (Hence the nonsense title) One hundred and five. It's probably just a coincidence, right? Well my life has been full of too many coincidences to not draw suspicion. For example, not too long ago I was watching the video of me opening my mission call. And guess what? As I read aloud my call I guess I failed to see a two digit in the tens place because it came out, "It is anticipated that you will serve for a period of FOUR months," before catching my stumble. I served fifteen weeks. Another coincidence, maybe? Regardless, there's another point to plot on the regression line. "All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things upon it… do witness that there is a Supreme Creator." (Alma 30:44)

Another observation that I've made on the home front regards how receptive and compassionate my family, friends, ward members, and essentially anyone who knows my name have been towards me. From the airport terminal 'til now I haven't seen nor felt anything but sympathy and solicitude for me. From plates of cookies to prayers and phone calls and everything else in between, there has been no room for doubt that Heavenly Father manifests His love through other people. In speaking with other missionaries, my perception has been that they think regularly about what others are thinking of them. This has been far from the case for me. It hasn't once crossed my mind that others are gossiping behind my back or speaking critically of me. And I don't get worked up wondering how often I'm the topic of disappointment in others minds. I wouldn't credit this feature to my cognitive reasoning capacity, but to every walking angel that God has placed in my path. And that's how my every prayer begins, with thanks for each one.

I don't intend to lament because of how blessed I am, but there is one theme that's been dominating my thinking which I think sharing would broaden understanding and tear down a lot of uninvited awkward walls. I think individuals' intentions are genuine but applications are unexplored when it comes to topic of conversation with people in circumstances unique to the norm. I'd assume that from the reciprocal side of my situation conversation is similar to talking to someone with a missing appendage. Okay. Maybe not. But that's as best as I could come up with. I'll bet it starts with that queasy, hesitant feeling when you recognize an anomaly, then proceeds to swift reasoning of how to approach what to say, and concludes nine times out of ten with avoidance of any discourse at all. Once again, I'm not frustrated with people but simply the unfamiliarity of how to respond in situations like this. I don't dare say to what extent of variety I represent, but for myself and most early returned missionaries, we want to talk about our experiences just like any other RM! We want to share our spiritual experiences, our takes on people & culture, what we did on p-days, how our companions were, what the members were like, and everything else top to bottom. I don't know about the others, but I even what to talk about my coming home early because that's the best part of the story. And to be denied to say even one word because of a fear of offending is heartbreaking. I served an honorable full-time mission, and I am not ashamed of it.

In connection with this idea is 'What next?' Man. I really wish people would ask me that question more often. I think the only people brave enough to venture into that uncertain territory have been my bishop/stake president and my parents. Why not? It's an equally important chapter in my story. If you were to ask me, I doubt I could give you a confident reply. Sure I've got my speculations. But at least I'd know that you care. Hence, because of the dearth of bravery, I'll write it out. My primary psychiatrist is employed by the missionary department and works with early returned missionaries. From him and other statistics, reported rates of missionaries medically released for mental health issues that return to the mission field are roughly 20%. The remaining 80% is composed of those whose service was complete in whatever duration of time they faithfully served and who are thus medically excused from further service. In which group do I stand? I don't know. A decision will be reached sometime come May. But it doesn't matter much because Heavenly Father is still in charge, and I've shown my willingness to rise to the call to serve. To what task will I rise next? Your guess is as good as mine. But there is Someone that knows and has known forever.

If anything, I have learned that "[God] shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain" (2 Nephi 2:2). With the prophet Lehi I testify that "All things have been done in the wisdom of him who knoweth all things" (2 Nephi 2:24). And finally, it is my witness that all things unfair will be made just through the Savior, Jesus Christ. It is my prayer that He will be as tenderhearted towards you as He has been me.
Me and The Clan outside my new home
I just really like this picture. I think I look like Elder Calhoun (to an extent).

Sunday, October 27, 2013


I'm sure Webster's Dictionary has some lengthy, dry definition for 'Theory', but I'm not much interested in it. For my objective something the level of a 4th grader will suffice. Don't cite me on it, but I'd define a theory as a plausible explanation for why things happen.

The first of my theories was really a miracle. Austin West, my high school hero, spoke in his home ward today, addressing the congregation in what was his missionary homecoming address. It's been just over a year now since he returned from Indiana and was honorably released as a full-time missionary. Austin and myself share similar circumstances. We share whatever composition of genetics, environment, and neuro-chemistry that constitute psychological ailment. I don't intend to compare any of his experiences to mine because I simply have hardly an idea of their nature, but the thought that I am not alone in seemingly unconquerable barriers is sweetly hopeful.

My first theory is that in any situation we are not the first to walk that path. Perhaps the road might not be lighted by a childhood friend, cross-country captain, and medically-released missionary, but without question there is always Someone. And because of that Someone, we are assured that we are never alone.

Next, almost one year prior, I was running on the American Fork High School's track. The Utah state cross-country championship crept into vision, and I wasn't about to let it out of sight without my fair chance of participation. Thousands of miles and four years of painful dedication amounted to one event of my senior year. I crossed the finish line ninth man on our team prior to region. The race following would determine which seven boys would represent our team at State.

The last workout before the Region 4 Championships was 600m repeats on the track. Toes touched the line and in a flurry of feet we were off. Rounding the first corner there was a stumble of three or four boys, and in an attempt to avoid collision my right ankle was wrenched from under me. Collapsing in pain my years of dreams were surrendered. There would be no likelihood of qualification with an ankle the size of cantaloupe. Though seeing no way to stand, immediately at my side stood Sam Everett and Connor Hoopes, and with their help I rose up. Years of wishing were devastated, but in hindsight, not without reason.

I could ramble about my theories for days, but as closure I believe that significant events don't happen without more significant purposes. Maybe my cross-country season was ruined. Maybe my mission was revised. Maybe there exists no parallel between the two. But maybe what awaits me is a grand future.

So theories or not, my fingers are crossed.

Austin West- someone should write a book about this guy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pushing Pause

This entry is for my younger brothers, cousins, and anyone else who echoes the words, "I hope they call me on a mission!"

It isn't an inventory of excuses, a dialouge of drama, or a catalog of complaints. No, that's quite contrary to my objective.

I can't rewind time and stop a stumble, but I can show you what it's like to rise up and dust yourself off.

From the front rows of sunbeams my eyes sparkled with eagerness for suits, nametags, and all the magic that came with a foot-or-two. Bedtime stories were best from the mouth of a knight in shining armor who bravely battled in the kingdom of East Germany some many years before. Scout camps, piggy banks, and scripture stories all coached to one commission. Contrary to 1st grade addition, everything seemed to add up to the number 2.

Before I could blink, my arms were wrapped tightly around my precious mother and time swept me into fictional reality. Altered lyrics resonated the halls of the MTC as we sang, "We are now the Lord's missionaries to bring the world His truth."

And I lived happily-ever-after, right?

Well, no one said that happily-ever-after doesn't come without mountains to climb.

My mountain came in the shape of psychological illness. It wasn't something I chose, nor did it come as a consequence of disobedience. Instead it carries the
potential to shape me into something magnificent.

For the moment, I am home on Medical Release from my full-time service as a missionary. It isn't a conclusion to my call to serve, but rather a brief pause to a fairytale ending.

Maybe I can't change my tragedy. But I can embrace it.

Thank you family, friends, and otherwise teammates for your love, support, and prayers on my behalf.  
You are the greatest encouragement any missionary could ask for.


Family Forever

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Numbers Don't Matter But They Count

Dearest Family:

Thank you for your warm regards and for your prayers. It's funny that I can physiologically feel them. Quite the sensation as a missionary. I wouldn't dare estimate how many you say for me in a given day- I don't think my apartment would have the room to hold the tally marks. But I do appreciate them. I need them.

This week I was privileged to take part in my first baptismal service as a missionary. I won't disclose her name for reasons evident, but we call her Iba. She's been investigating the Church for almost 2 months now. My companion and I were blessed to teach her the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. To say she is golden would be like calling the Whitehouse a satisfactory residence. She is incredible! And such an unmatched strength to the Church in a country where the collective membership is fewer than there were in my former deacons quorom. Most missionaries would kill for the chance to share the gospel in a country where the number of missionaries can be counted on two hands. What a calling!

We also had the chance to watch a bit of General Conference on the other side of the world. Because of the 8 hours or so time exchange, it was a bit tough. But we, the missionaries, gathered in the home of the senior couple in Prishtina to view it. It was better than the super bowl. We had goodies and good company and mostly a good time. We only had time for the Priesthood and Sunday Morning sessions, but it was unmatched!

Missionary work is tough. It's very slow. Very demanding. But very rewarding. And in a place where Christ is needed most, it's very necessary. I am the tool in the hands of the Father. And He is doing something incredible here. To those who are discouraged, put yourself in His hands and watch Him do miracles. I love you and pray for your happiness. Keep in mind that it's always darkest before dawn. Wise words of a wise woman. Until then.


Elder Benson Gunther

Just a funny, common sight with local telephone poles.

The field IS white already to harvest!

We did a very allegorical service project for one of the members this week, harvesting corn.

Baptism number one for Elder Gunther. But it's more than just a number

General Conference Viewing Party- An LDS equivalent of the superbowl.

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Full Tithe

Dearest Family:

All is well. But please don't stop praying for me. Through struggle and discouragement I have found that your words in prayer have fully upheld me. As we near General Conference weekend, I've considered a bit the significance of what has transpired this past year. 12 months ago I would have never considered that I'd be anywhere so distant as I am now. Miracles happen. And they always will.

The motivation for the title today has somewhat to do with the monumental announcement made almost 365 days ago. Of course we all know what happened. But as of late I've considered its significance from an alternate perspective. My companion and I taught the law of tithing to one of our investigators this week. It was my first chance to teach such a principle. And it clicked that my mission is a full tithe. By the time I return home, exactly 10% of my life will have been devoted to the Lord. And mathematically this is only possible since the change of missionary age last October. 10%. No less. All to the selfless cause of God's work and glory.

So with that in mind, give thought to the meager one-of-ten that God seeks of young boys. It is no easy task. Neither was it intended to be. But how great is the sacrifice made possible as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It is the most noble of causes upon the earth. It's authority is above that of kings and presidents. It's influence more penetrative that any other power known to man. And I get to be a fraction of this great force.

So for those of you who are nearing the age of the draft, are you ready to suit up and fight for the cause of righteousness? Are you humble enough to pay a full tithe? 

I love you, and as your representative in this marvelous work I plead for the cause of happily-ever-after as God intended it to be. You are in my prayers. I love you. I love you enough to be away for the next 21 months. And one day I'll give you a big hug.


Elder Benson Ryan Gunther

In a local supermarket

More Macedonia

Alexander the Great- A Macedonian Hero

In the Macedonian Elders' Apartment

An exchange in Macedonia

Our Branch in Prishtina, Kosovo

A sight to see in the the town center, giving thanks to the nations that brought Kosovo freedom

Monday, September 23, 2013

Mama's boy

Dearest Family:

You don't realize how much you love your mom until you're half-way across the world with no one to hug. No one to kiss you good night. No one to wipe away your tears of disappointment. And every time she pops into your mind you wish you could see her for even a second. That's what it's like for me right now.

And then you remember there's only 21 short months left. Then you can hug and kiss your mom all you want. Then there's no distance to separate you again. And you smile. Offer a prayer of thanks that you're blessed with the world's greatest woman to call Mother. Pick yourself up. Realize the Priesthood's uniting power of sons and mothers everywhere for eternity. Open your mouth to share the message of forever families. 

Homesickness is a funny thing. It's really a longing for Mom that even the strongest of missionaries can't hide from. I didn't ever think myself to be the type. But here it is. 

Kosovo is a place where most people wouldn't imagine that sons and mothers can be together forever. I am saddened by the solemn looks about their face. If they only knew, how happy they'd be! So that's why I'm here. So that sadness can be chased away by the unbreakable bond of Mother and Son, Family forever. 

So Heidi Elisabeth, my dearest Mother, this one's for you. Your son is 5,000 miles away, missing you like crazy, so that boys and their moms can be like us, inseparable for eternity. 

I can hardly wait for the Salt Lake City Airport in July 2015. I'm such a mama's boy. I am going to run to her first. Give her the biggest hug. Tell her that I'll love her forever. 

Until we meet someday, dearest family, may God be with you. May he embrace you in the love of his gospel. You are truly my greatest happiness.



Just eating some Kosovo traditional food. I think it's called a Dyner?

Elder Tanner and I outside our apartment building. 

Our fabulous apartment- in the living room.

Our bathroom complete with an actual shower with actually warm water.

The humble abode of our bedroom.

The roads of Prishtina and some bakery food.

This is Kosovo. This is my home until at least January.