Sunday, April 10, 2011

Can We Really Make A Difference?

Sometimes people ask me this question. Does what we do as mothers really make a difference in the success of our children as they serve? The answer is simple: More than you may EVER know.

Unlike so many things in their lives that must be done completely on their own, a mission is one time when others' help is time that what we do has a direct and long-lasting effect on the outcome. In the past 12 years that I've been sending missionary sons nonstop into the MTC/Mission Field, as well as 3 years as a Mission President's wife watching the experiences of over 700 total missionaries who served in Boston while we were there, I have gained new insight into what it is that makes a missionary stay on his mission and what causes him to change his mind and decide not to serve after all. I have come to the conclusion that there are 2 things that are especially dangerous to them...2 things that take them from feeling excited about serving a mission to feeling depressed and sad and maybe even wanting to come home. The first one is: feeling alone. Some people might wonder how anyone could ever feel alone in the MTC with hundreds of missionaries everywhere you look--or in the mission field when he is always around people. It's important to know...I'm not talking about feeling alone in the physical sense. I'm talking about feeling alone emotionally. Feeling like there is no one to talk to. No one around who really cares how they feel or what they are going through or the good and bad things that happened to them that day. As mothers, we can make sure this does not happen. We can show them we are interested in the details of their mission. We can write them letters about how much we are thinking of them. We can validate their feelings by telling them we know how hard it is and how proud of them we are and how certain we are that they can push through the difficulties and face the challenges. We can make sure they know they are NEVER alone by reminding them the Lord is always there and that He loves him. We can build his faith which, in turn, helps him understand his relationship with his Father in Heaven and feel the comfort that comes from knowing He truly is aware of him--in every way.

The second danger that we need to be aware of is the tendency for our sons to feel forgotten. Think about it: they leave on their missions...we pack up their rooms, cancel their cell phones, and sell their cars (This is what we do at least! ALL necessary things!) Their life as they knew it is gone--and they know it. When our boys leave on their missions, they know this is what will happen. Most missionaries do. But that feeling (almost like there is no sign left of their former life!) is intensely magnified when it seems as if everyone has forgotten them. Feeling forgotten a very tough place for ANY of us to be. And, when you add this one element to all the other challenges and adjustments of a mission, it can really weigh them down. Feeling forgotten--feeling as though you don't matter--is emotionally crippling in so many ways. It deepens feelings of homesickness. It makes a normal longing for home turn into an obsessive desire to BE home...a feeling that sometimes is just too strong to resist.

Fortunately for us (and them!) there are things we can do to make sure they never have to feel alone or forgotten. Sit down and think about it. Make a list. The most immediate and obvious one is to write them letters/emails (do not EVER miss a week--and get as many other family members as you can to do the same), sending them packages (they don't have to cost alot.. in the case of missionaries, the cliche "It's the thought that counts" is absolutely true!), reminding them every chance we get--by our words and our actions--that they are still very much a part of our lives. That they are missed. That nothing is the same without them. That you are sad too (always pair this one with something like, "...but I can do it because I know you are serving the Lord...and YOU CAN TOO!) Pray for inspiration concerning your child...what you can specifically do to keep him from feeling isolated in these ways. You can make a difference. More than you may EVER know.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


**I'm sorry some of these photos didn't come through very clearly...I took them quickly right before he went into the MTC. I hope you can at least get the general idea**

One of the things that has meant the most to my missionary sons is the journal I make for them before they leave. I buy a blank, leather journal--I like to get one that is small enough for them to carry in their backpack so they have it with them and can read it often, but big enough to hold everything I want to include and still leave them room to write in it (my boys use this as their actual journal.) I start putting this together a couple of months before they leave so I have plenty of time to gather everything together I want to include. I use a glue stick to loosely attach everything to a page and then use shipping tape to "laminate" each page. Because it is impossible, of course, to actually put it through a laminator, this has worked really well and kept everything intact for two years. If you have scrabooking abilities, you can make the pages much better than what I've done below (although you need to be careful not to pile too much stuff on or the journal will not shut.) I've found that my boys don't care a whole lot about how cute the pages are's what's actually on the pages that has made such a difference for them on their missions. Let me apologize ahead of time for the poor quality of the pictures below...I realized this journal was about to go to Kentucky so I hurriedly snapped a few photos with my phone right before my last son went in the MTC. I know they resemble something a two-year-old might take (actually, my two-year-old grandson could do much better than that!) but I hope they will at least give you an idea of some of the things I included in his journal.

I put his information (name, address, mission office address) on the inside front cover. In case it is ever lost, I want whoever finds it to be able to return it.

The past few years, they have been requesting that new missionaries bring a copy of their 4-generation pedigree chart with them to the MTC. This journal is the perfect place for that.

We actually found ancestors who lived in Kentucky, where my youngest son is serving (soon to leave the MTC.) I thought it would be fun for him to have their names and how they are related to him in case he ran across a distant cousin or something. I put that part of his pedigree chart in his journal, too.

I put his mission call on one of the very first pages of the journal with a picture of the prophet next to it.

Include a copy of his patriarchal blessing. Scan it in your computer to edit the size or just use a copier and adjust it to fit in the journal.

They will need to know D&C 4 by is nice to have it in their journal for them to look at while they are learning it.

The Standard of Truth is the other thing they will memorize and recite as a mission. Before they have memorized it, it is nice for them to have a copy. (By the way, there is nothing in this world like hearing missionaries recite this together at a zone conference. It's sure to bring tears every time!)

If there is a temple in the mission boundaries, it is nice for them to have a picture of the temple along with a copy of the dedicatory prayer (you can find this at

This is one of my all-time favorites! I always give it a place of honor in the journal! :)

I add a few pages of quotes like this one that I have just typed out. If it is a quote that is especially inspiring, I usually give it its own page. But having a list of quotes is really useful for them in case they need to give a talk, share one with an investigator, etc.

We have a tradition in our family...every time someone is called on a mission, we all go to lunch and sit around for hours (literally) giving him advice. I write it all down as it is said (my husband records it on his phone as a backup) and afterwards I transcribe it and put it in his journal. My returned missionary sons have told me over and over how much this meant to them and how it strengthened them during the bad times. You will see a link on the upper right-hand part of the blog that says "missionary advice." I have listed there all of the advice we have recorded since we started doing this 10 years ago. You can certainly use any of that in your son's journal. You could also start gathering your own advice from people in your family who have served missions, friends, etc. It might be more meaningful to your child if it comes from people he knows.

Besides the pages of advice, I also ask all of my kids to write our missionary a handwritten note of encouragement (my husband and I do it too...sometimes even grandparents.) I put them all in his journal so he has them handy and can read them often.

I always include this quote. It speaks directly to them and is so inspiring!

I first saw this quote when our oldest son was called to serve in Japan. This was their mission "theme." I love the way it spells out their purpose and reminds them exactly why they are there.

This is one of my favorite quotes to put in the journal. It is empowering and inspiring and helps them understand exactly what their mission is all about. It is also one of those that helps them as they read it over and over.

I always wait to give this journal to my missionary son as we are saying goodbye at the MTC. I want everything in it to be new to himi--not something he has been browsing through for the past few weeks. I just feel like the things inside will have more of an impact on him if he is seeing them for the first time when he is sitting alone that night feeling alone. That also allows me to put some notes in from his setting-apart the night before. I want him to remember what was said--the blessings he was promised, the comfort he was given, the inspiration he felt--as men holding the Priesthood of God laid their hands on his head and set him apart as a missionary.