“The Mormons stole my baby!”
That was the text I sent to my best friend as we drove home from the airport. It was only one of the many crazy emotional sentiments I felt that day. My son would be reporting to the MTC in Preston, England so there was no Provo curbside photo and farewell. Instead, we lingered outside of the security area of the Salt Lake airport, waiting for the delayed flight to flip to “boarding” status on the departures board. Hugs, a few last minute instructions, a passing glance over his shoulder as he met and shook hands with other missionaries, and then he was on his way.
He had already been away at college for two semesters. The family dynamic had adjusted to his absence and we had settled in to our ‘new norm’. The mission departure, however, required that I come to terms with the reality of him no longer being a mere phone call away. I gradually slipped into the repetitive schedule of Sunday night email writing followed by Monday morning email posting (so his extended family and friends could keep up with his adventures), Pinterest inspired packages, and prayers for his safety and success. Our new ‘new norm’.
Now that he has passed the halfway mark, I have been pondering what having a missionary in the field has taught me. I have learned several lessons during the past 17 months. Here are my top three.
Becoming a missionary mom opens your heart…in so many ways.
When my son left, I suddenly became very aware of other missionary moms. It was as if I had been granted membership in an exclusive club. While our experiences and the experiences of our missionaries varied widely, there were heartaches and joys that we definitely had in common. Sharing with these remarkable women bonded me to them in a unique way.
I also developed sincere compassion for all missionaries everywhere. When I saw them in the store I felt a compulsion to make sure they had everything they needed. When I saw them on the street I made sure to smile and greet them warmly, now aware that the past several hours of their lives had probably been filled with rejection and sometimes downright rudeness. When the opportunity arose to feed the missionaries, I opted in. I made sure that my contact information was in their phone for ‘member teaches’ or ’just in case’. I hoped that by taking care of someone’s missionary here, someone else would be taking care of my missionary there…and they were.
I acquired a deep and abiding sense of gratitude and love for all those who showed small acts of kindness. At the beginning of his mission, my son wrote about an older couple who had their tea by their front window every morning. As he and his companion left their flat for the day this couple would always give a smile or a wave. Sometimes that was the only encouragement they would receive. My heart was filled with gratitude for this sweet couple and the many others he encountered, members or non, who brightened his day.
Finally, my heart opened to all those that my missionary was teaching. Every step these investigators took along the path, whether forward or backward, was now a part of my sphere… and I loved them.
Your relationship with your missionary isn’t ending. It is changing, deepening, growing and strengthening.
During the first few months we received several rather intense letters. They were full of questions as he sought counsel regarding the many new experiences and people he was encountering. He then had a series of tragic losses he needed to process. I had been concerned that we would lose our bond while he was away, but instead we began connecting on a whole new level. The interaction became more of the peer to peer variety and there was mutual respect, even when we disagreed. While the difficult times passed and his letters are now those of a more experienced and confident missionary (i.e. shorter and more businesslike), I appreciate the new path our relationship has taken.
Your missionary is much stronger than you ever realized.
“The Spirit of Revelation is the Spirit of ‘You want me to do WHAT?’” -Sister RoseE Hadden, Korea Busan Mission 2009-2010.
If there is one thing I’ve learned from going out with the Sister missionaries, it is that we are sending our young men and women out to do a very difficult work. They encounter poverty and deprivation. They deal with the mentally ill and the lonely. They meet with those in deep despair and those who experience the most devastating tragedies. They are in the midst of all the things that we as parents sought so desperately to protect them from … and they are doing it well. They are doing it willingly. They are doing it happily. They are amazing!
What have you learned from being a missionary parent?
I am a wife and mother of three teenage boys. I am a Seattle native who now calls Salt Lake City home. Currently serving in the Relief Society presidency. I love science and organizing things. I see exercise as a necessary evil.