I'd like to take you back about 12 years to the day our oldest son opened his mission call. I'll never forget how I felt. The moment he read "Japan Fukuoka Mission" I was SO excited. It was the moment we had been waiting for--right? Our first son...off to serve a mission! Knowing it should be a joyous moment was probably the reason I was caught so completely off guard when only a few seconds later, I was filled with the most profound sadness--realizing that my son would soon leave me and, for two years, be so far away. As reality set in, I remember thinking to myself, "Are you kidding? I am just going to send him off to Japan--without me?" I honestly didn't know if I could do it--I didn't know if I had enough faith.
At the time, we were serving in Boston--my husband was the Mission President and we were responsible for 200+ missionaries (a total of 700+ over the 3 year period of time we were there.) My mind turned to the hundreds of mothers and fathers who had sent their children to Boston to serve with us, and their great example of faith. I remember one missionary in particular who shared his story with me: born and raised in a small village in South America, neither he or his parents had any concept of what he was about to do when he accepted a mission call to the Massachusetts Boston Mission and climbed on a bus that would take him to the airport, on to Utah and the MTC, and eventually to Boston.(He had never even ridden on a bus before--let alone an airplane!) It was another world to them--one they knew absolutely nothing about. But that didn't stop them. No, their faith gave them hope that all would be well. And that faith--as well as the faith of thousands of others throughout time who had sent their children to unknown places to serve as witnesses of Jesus Christ--was what gave me the strength to do the very same thing.
Leaving our son at the MTC was not easy to do, and I still get tears in my eyes thinking of the experience. But it was the beginning of a wonderful ride--watching our sons serve missions and witnessing firsthand the incredible growth they experienced because of their decision to give two years of their lives to the Lord. It has, truly, been one of our greatest blessings.
A few months after leaving our oldest son at the MTC, I wrote about it. Perhaps you can see a little of yourself in here and realize that having a child serve a mission, although it pulls at a mother's heartstrings, is such an incredible blessing!
I thought nothing could be harder than labor. Then, as a young mother, I actually believed that around-the-clock mothering was as hard as life could possibly get. I was always tired. I just knew that when my children got older and I had a little bit of my own life back, things would get easier. I made the mistake of thinking that teething and potty-training and sleepless nights (HUNDREDS of sleepless nights) were the toughest things I would ever face as a mother. How little I knew then about what was to come. Here I am, nineteen years into this mothering thing, and I think I have finally discovered the single most difficult moment of my life.
Last summer, we left our oldest son at the MTC. We went into "that" room (the one that our Stake President in Alpine calls "the room designed to tear your heart out") and when we went out one door, Chad went out the other. I felt somewhat like Mary must have felt as she took the Savior to the temple and gave Him to the Lord. And even though I knew it was for the Lord, it was still so hard. It was truly as if my heart would break. Looking into my son's sweet face, tears streaming down his cheeks, I recognized that look as the same one that he had as a nine-year old when he was afraid his Little League coach might call him in to pitch. Sheer terror. My first instinct was to grab him by the hand and take him home--I just didn't know if I had the strength, or the faith, to do this.
How did we get here so fast? Just yesterday he was born. Just yesterday he learned to ride a bike. Just yesterday he was baptized and we talked about the day--so very far away--that he would be a missionary.
After leaving the MTC that day, I went home, laid down on his bed, and cried. The next day, I was still crying. And the next. There was an emptiness I didn't expect and was not at all prepared to face. But life is always teaching me something and this experience is no exception. I have already learned so much. I find now that I pray with a constancy and intensity that I have never had in my prayers before...because I am praying for him. I have a deep, moving, gratitude for little moments of life that, before, might have gone unnoticed. I am more willing to slow down a bit...go for a walk or color a picture with one of my children...because I know that, soon enough, these days, too, will be gone and I will be mourning their loss. I feel my faith growing and understand that I am truly being taught of the Lord daily through this experience. How ironic to me that we are here in Boston, receiving the sons of so many mothers who are at home laying on their son's beds, crying. It has made me want to be better at loving the missionaries in our care. Not necessarily because they need me...but because I need them.
When I returned to Boston last summer after the MTC experience, I found a letter from a friend in my mailbox that touched me deeply because it spoke to my very soul. On the front of the card it said, "I'll give you, for a little while, a child of mine, He said." Inside was this handwritten message:
"In 1980, when our firstborn flew from the protection of my heart and hearth to serve his mission in Switzerland, I actually quoted the poem from which the front page lines were taken. It is a poem often used at funerals and when I admitted such, the congregation laughed. But a mother's soul recognizes the death of a season when she sees it. I know that you know that your precious nuclear family season has turned its corner, never to return again to that same sweet time when all of your tiny tousled heads were peacefully tucked in and sleeping under your safe and loving roof. The wonder is not why we cry. The wonder is that we manage to stop crying--and to face this new season with some kind of grace."
Her words gave me hope and understanding and made me feel forever bonded to missionary mothers everywhere. We all cry...but we would probably be crying harder if our children didn't go. I will try to remember that in the days ahead when I miss my son so much.
When I see a young mother now, I am always tempted to tell her what I've learned. That life is short and these moments with your little ones will pass much too quickly. The seasons of life come and go without our permission or approval. This next season is upon me and I am trying to enter it gracefully. But despite my best efforts...I just can't seem to help it. I still cry.