Sunday, February 17, 2013

Those Much Anticipated Phone Calls Home


I dare say there is nothing that excites the mother of a missionary more than hearing her child's voice on the other end of the phone. Lucky for us, someone decided mothers should get an extra moment of joy every year and they approved the Mother's Day phone call (I actually think--after all we do as mothers--we deserve one a month but hey, nobody asked me!) With Mother's Day right around the corner, I thought it would be good to give you some suggestions on how to make THE phone call a positive experience for everyone and squeeze every bit of happiness out of those 20+ minutes (the exact amount of allotted time usually depends on your child's Mission President.)

When we served in Boston, we saw the good--and the bad--effects of THE phone call on our missionaries. Some missionaries could talk to their families for hours and wake up the next day ready to step right back into their normal routine and work harder than ever before. But some were just the opposite. Some of our missionaries were sad and moped around for at least a week or two after talking to their families. It was almost as if they had suddenly been reminded of all the things they were missing out on and that stirred up an incredible amount of sadness in them. Those few minutes on the phone set them back in their progression as a missionary. Many of them had to recover all over again from those intense feelings of homesickness they had already worked through when they first arrived in the mission field. Whether it was something specific that was said on the phone or the reminder of all the things that were happening at home without them, I don't know. All I know is--there was a stark difference between the way those phone calls affected individual missionaries and their commitment to their missions. I thought long and hard about this so I could know how to do it right when my own children began serving missions. I came to the conclusion that we, as mothers, have the ability to make THE phone call a great experience for our missionaries and make sure it has a positive impact on their missions.

A few thoughts:

*Make the phone call about them. Be interested in what they are doing. The best way to show them you are interested is to ask questions: How many people are you teaching right now? Have you been to a baptism lately? What is the coolest thing you've seen in your area? When is your next Zone Conference? Tell me about the members you've met. Make the conversation revolve around him and his mission--it will make him feel like you are a part of what he is doing, that you care about people he is teaching and what he does on his P-day. Be interested in the little things of life he is experiencing. He doesn't need to know all that much about what is happening at home. He needs you to know what is happening with him.

*Do not dwell on things that are going on at home. Of course he will want to hear about life in general, but some information ("Oh hey...did you know I heard your girlfriend was hanging out with that friend of yours who just got home from his mission?") is better left unsaid. Be smart. Tell him the things that will be interesting, but not hurtful ("They just opened an In-and-Out Burger in town!" Now THOSE are the interesting things most missionaries want to know!) Don't talk to them about things that won't help them feel happy or things they have no control over, like the girlfriend comment. Keep any thoughts about home uplifting and positive. Do you want them to miss home so much that they want to come home? Of course not! So don't MAKE them more homesick by talking to them about things they don't really need to know.

I do need to qualify this statement. There are times when there is news from home that isn't good--family news that will hurt them and make them sad. We once had a mother who told us she and her husband split up shortly after their son left for the mission field but hadn't told him yet because they didn't want to detract from his mission. We wanted to cry for that poor missionary who would return home to divorced parents! And to make it even more painful, he had never been told. We could understand where the parents were coming from--in a way--but had they taken time to really think this through they would have told him immediately to spare him even more pain in the long run. This is one instance where a missionary should be told a piece of news that will, yes, make him sad. But this is much different than sharing news from home that is just frivolous and hurtful. You need to keep your child updated on family affairs as they happen. He will forever be a part of your family and he deserves to be told whenever there is a family crisis of any kind.

*Do not cry on the phone. OK well, just a little is OK. But remember, this is not about you or how sad you are. It might be good for him to know you miss him so much it makes you cry a little. But if you sob and sob about him being gone, he is not going to feel good. He is going to feel guilty for being gone because it is making his mother cry. If you can't control your tears (yes, I've been in this boat a few times) just make sure you leave him with the thought that, even though you are really. really sad sometimes because you miss him so much, you are even MORE proud of him for sacrificing everything to serve the Lord. Build him up and tell him how happy it makes you to see him grow spiritually. Tell him you just have to remind yourself the time will go quickly (good for him to hear that, too) and that you can do anything for the Lord--just like he can. Do not just sit and blubber on the phone, telling him you can't believe you ever let him go, that you want him to be home because he is missing out on so much (Gahhh...do you want him to come home?) Let him know you are sad sometimes but that these tears are HAPPY tears because it is so great to hear his voice and hear how well he is doing! The last thing you want to do is make him feel bad. So whatever you say to him on the phone, ask yourself how you are making him feel. Then you will know if you need to make a quick adjustment and say something that will uplift the conversation. The last thing you want him to do is go in his room after he talks to you, lay down on his bed, and cry.

*Try to allow enough time so your other children can talk privately for a minute or two, especially those who are nearing mission age. I promise, two minutes on the phone with a missionary sibling will do more to influence them for good that just about anything you or I can say. If you think of it, tell your missionary child in your email the week before the call that you are going to try to arrange for them to have a minute or two alone on the phone to encourage and help your other children (you just may want to give him a heads up so he knows your purpose in those two minutes is for him to encourage them--not discourage them!)

*Most missions let their missionaries Skype at the home of a member. This is amazing! You get to see how much weight they have gained (and they get to see how much you've gained..Ugh!) Make sure you are set up for Skype ahead of time so you don't waste valuable talking time trying to get it figured out. Another option is Google Hangout which is a lot of fun too! Both of these options have the capability of allowing you to talk to more than one person at a time--even those in another city or state or country. Make sure to get everything set up and test it out before the big day.

Whatever you do, make sure these few moments spent on the phone create a positive memory for your missionary child. Say things that will build him and empower him, things that will make him go to bed that night more determined than ever that the rest of his mission will be even better than what came before. You have the power to do that--the power to help him forget about home and focus his attention on serving the Lord, the power to make him believe he really can do this--that there's nothing at home that is nearly as important as him serving the Lord with all his heart. Because it's true. He will come home one day and realize that he wasn't really missing out on anything at all. So use this time to fill him with positive, affirming words of love and support that will propel him forward in every way!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Babylon Box: How to Catch Up on 2 Years!

When our first son entered the MTC, I remember thinking about (OK...crying about) all of the things he would be missing out on over the next 2 years. That made me sad...and I remember thinking to myself, "If I am feeling sad about this, imagine how sad HE must be feeling about it." I thought how great it would be if he could somehow catch up on everything when he got home. What if there was some way to fill in that 2 year gap for him. And so the Babylon Box was born.

The day our sons leave for their missions, we start collecting little parts of the world they left behind (thus, the name "Babylon".) We watch for things they would enjoy if they were at home. Things like...magazines and newspapers that have major news stories in them, DVDs of movies that come out, gift certificates to new restaurants that open. We pile everything in a big plastic bin that I tuck in the corner of my little office, keep adding to, and leave there until the day they arrive home. They are always SO excited to see what is in their Babylon Box--it is almost always the very first thing we do when we walk in the door from the airport after picking him up. It is so much fun watching our newly-returned missionary son go through every item one by one. Through the years, my younger boys have watched their older brothers open their Babylon Boxes, knowing they will have one when they serve, too. It has just added a little bit of fun to the coming home process and has become a Murphy family tradition that has lasted through 13 years and 7 missionary sons.

There are some things, of course, they are simply going to miss out on. Period. That's just the way it is. There is no way we can ever replace the experience of being at a sibling's wedding or the birth of a new nephew or niece. (It's been amazing to me how little they even care about--or remember--those big things they have missed. I think it's been much harder on me to not have them at things than it has been on them to not be there.) But there ARE little things we have found that have made the experience of "catching up" a little more fun and helped them feel a little less left out when they return home--when they start to really realize how MUCH has happened since they've been gone.

Here are a few ideas of things we put in our boys' Babylon Boxes. You will, of course, want to add to (or subtract from) this list for your own child. Just ask yourself: what would he/she be missing the most right now? What will he/she want to see or know about or have once they come home? That's what I've done...just try to think of things he would be excited to have or see when he gets home. Each Babylon Box has been uniquely special for each of our children but there have been a few things I have done for them all. Here's a list to get you started:

1. Newspapers and Magazines: One of my boys loved video game magazines, several of them loved sports magazines, one is an artist and loved art magazines. I collected the type of magazine they liked--they really LOVED having those magazines when they got home. It was fun, for example, for my football-obsessed sons to read the football news they missed in Sports Illustrated. A lot more fun than having us just tell them the condensed version of 2 years of news. Also, there are several magazines that put out an issue at the end of the year that recaps that year (sometimes in pictures) and I love to include these, as well.

2. Christmas ornaments: We give all of our children a new Christmas ornament every year. The one for our missionary child--we write the year on, wrap it up, and put it in his Babylon Box.

3. DVDs and CDs: This is one of the things they love the very most. To tell you the truth, I have debated about just giving them an Itunes gift certificate since everything they could possibly want can be downloaded from Itunes nowadays. You could certainly do that and it would be great--especially for music. But for some reason I haven't been able to bring myself to NOT buy them the movies...watching them go through that huge stack of DVDs in their box is just so darn much fun! All my boys have really loved having them and now, even those who are married with kids of their own, still have all of the DVDs on their shelves. *Just a little hint here: if you decide to buy DVDs, try to buy them as they come out in the stores--it is so much less expensive to buy 1 or 2 a month than having to play catch up and buy 40 of them the month before he comes home! Also, if you aren't sure of all the movies that have come out since he has been gone, Google will help you. :)

4. Gift cards: I like to put a few gift cards in to places that have opened in our town since they have been gone. To make it look a little more substantial, I get a container from that store and wrap it up with the gift card inside. For example, Red Mango opened while one of my sons was serving in Ukraine so I bought a gift card there and asked for one of the little containers--put a little shredded paper in the bottom with the gift card on top, put it all in a cellophane bag and tied a cute ribbon around the top.

5. T-shirts and memorabilia: We like to buy a t-shirt at places we go--vacation spots, restaurants, concerts--and put it in their box. It's a little way for them to know that, even though they weren't with us during all those times, we were always thinking about them and wishing they were.

6. Belated birthday gifts: I think it's pretty tough to think of gifts for missionaries when they are serving...the list of things they need is so small and (let's be honest)so monotonous and boring: ties, shirts, shoes, ties, shirts, shoes. If you're lucky maybe they'll need a new sweater or a winter hat to just give some variety to your shopping list...but it is usually really hard for me to think of new and interesting--and useful--things to send them. So instead of buying a bunch of stuff they don't need for say--their birthdays--we have given our boys the option of having a little cash put in their Babylon Boxes (I still send them something small so they at least have one birthday gift to open..then maybe some inexpensive party supplies and a cake mix--something fun to make the day a little special.) We have found that they have LOVED having that little bit of cash when they got home and that it was a lot more meaningful to them then than it would have been if we had spent it on something they really didn't need on their mission. (**NOTE: Please make sure you send your son SOMETHING on his birthday, Christmas, holidays. As a mission president's wife, there was nothing more heartbreaking to me that a missionary who never got gifts from home. Yeah...it happens. Hard to believe, huh?)

As I am typing, I am looking at my son's Babylon Box sitting in the corner(he returns home in March!) I have only included a few things on this list that I can see from here. Just know there are unlimited possibilities! And don't stress too much. WHAT you put in the box doesn't really matter. You don't have to spend a lot of time or a lot of money to make this box something they will treasure. What has mattered to my boys--and what will matter to yours--is what the things in this box represent. This Babylon Box is a way of saying: I never stopped thinking about you during the 2 years you have been gone. You have been a part of our lives and our family even though you haven't been with us. Knowing that he has been in your heart during the past months and years will mean so much to him. As a matter of fact, THAT is what will be the most meaningful to him when he sees the things you have gathered together for him and when he realizes the time and thought that went into this collection of things you knew he would miss during the time he was away. One of the toughest things for a missionary when he leaves home is the fear of being (or feeling) forgotten. This Babylon Box has become our way of saying to our missionary sons: You weren't.

I'm not one to put a lot of work into things that aren't worth it--things that don't make a substantial impact in someone's life. There is a reason the Babylon Box tradition has endured all these years in our family: it is worth whatever time and energy it takes to put together. Remember, it does not need to be perfect. You do NOT have to have every single DVD in it from the 2 years your son was gone! Just do the best you can. Throw something in it now and then. You'll be surprised how quickly it fills up...and just how much it means to your child.