Monday, August 22, 2016

Called To Serve: Now What?

It seems like the Call will never come. Then, one day, it finally does. You now know where he will serve, when he will leave, if he will speak a language, and which MTC he will be sent to. You have all the pieces of the puzzle and he is ready to pack his suitcase and walk out your door except for one thing: It's not time yet. There are still weeks (or months!) to wait between call and departure date and, trust me, these will be some of the most trying days yet. Most likely he will be living at home without school or work to keep him occupied. You don't want him getting into trouble because he has too much time on his hands and you don't want him spending too much time with his girlfriend (remember, I've had 7 missionary sons!) So what's a mother to do? Here are a few ideas:
1. Spend as much time together as you can (as much as he will) because the day will soon come when you will look back and wish for one more minute with him (and, it might surprise you, but when he is gone, HE will wish for that, too.) Shopping for clothing, supplies, and whatever else is on his list of things to take along is one great way to do that.
2. Have him pack up his room and tape the boxes shut--very tightly if he has younger siblings who might want to wear his clothes or "borrow" his things while he is gone. Unfortunately, I learned this from experience. Prepare for the inevitable moment after he returns home and finds a few things missing. I was much less accountable for those "lost" things if I had HIM pack up his stuff and store it away before he left. I offered to pack up one son's belongings and when he got home and realized not everything was there, he looked at me with wide eyes and mouth open as if to say: MOM! How could you? I learned my lesson with that one. From that moment on, I always had my missionary son do it himself so I wasn't in trouble when he got home.
3. Suggest to your child (or even the entire family) to read the Book of Mormon during this time with an eye for missionary scriptures. It's amazing the things you discover when you have one subject in mind as you read. It will be a fun activity and your missionary child will love this memory once he is in the mission field (and will probably find a whole lot of new scriptures to use, as well!)
4. Help him practice things he will have to do on his mission. We have a son who was so timid in high school that he wouldn't even call the pizza guy on the phone because he "didn't know him." (Seriously, though, who DOES know the pizza guy?) So while he was waiting to leave, I made sure we changed that and, not only did he start calling for pizza, he learned it really wasn't all that scary to talk to people he didn't know. As a matter of fact, most of my boys felt that same kind of anxiety prior to leaving, and talking to strangers (investigators, members, companions, other missionaries, even his Mission President!) is really what missions are ALL about. If your missionary son or daughter is challenged by this, try to find situations around home in a familiar environment where they can practice this in more comfortable circumstances.
5. Most of my boys served foreign missions so I sent them with a big ziplock bag full of over-the-counter medications that they wouldn't be able to get abroad (Advil, Immodium, Allergy meds, etc.) I spent some time teaching them how to use everything (or in other words, teaching them to read the directions on the package and not just count on me to give them the right dosage.) I knew they would need to know how to remedy some things and I also knew they probably hadn't paid a bit of attention to that in years past. This was a great time to educate them.
6. Help him build self-confidence because self-confidence turns into courage and everyone needs a boatload of that on a mission. Remind him of his strengths and compliment him often. Teach him the right words to say in different situations. I know that's what we mothers have been trying to do all their lives. But a mission will present unique situations that your child has never before faced and he needs words that he just might not have. For example, when he meets his Mission President for the first time, teach him to look him in the eye, shake his hand and say "Hello President." That might sound simple (and it is) but you would be surprised how many missionaries came to us in Boston who were too shy to look us in the eye or speak one word. It helps SO much if we as mothers can prepare them by helping them know the words to say.
7. Time for a few cooking lessons! Stick with simple things like scrambled eggs and grilled cheese sandwiches (hey, your child might already know how to make those things but my boys sure didn't!) Knowing how to cook rice could be valuable in Asian countries but when my son served in Japan, most missionary apartments had rice cookers. (Hopefully that's still the case for you who are sending children to Asia.) General rule of thumb: ask yourself what the bare minimum is for your child to eat to survive. And then teach them how to make those things.

Quick story: our oldest son finished his senior year in Utah when we were serving as Mission President and wife in Boston and received his call at the end of his senior year. He then came to Boston to spend 2 months before he was to report to the Provo MTC. Being in the missionary mindset that I was as the Mission President's wife, I was SO sure he would come to Boston wanting to work hard and prepare for his mission. We couldn't wait to memorize scriptures with him, have him go on splits with the missionaries every night, and a million other things that would transform him into a real missionary right before our eyes. Imagine my shock when he got to Boston and ALL he wanted to do was sleep, eat, and watch movies. Like...that was IT. I still laugh when I remember how frustrated I was. But, you know what? That was exactly what he needed (and hey, we watched movies together sometimes, so there's that) and still, he became a wonderful missionary! I guess what I'm saying is, don't panic if your child isn't in missionary mode yet. That is normal. Don't ruin your last days together by nagging him and trying to tell him what to do. Make suggestions but then step back and let him set the pace. Make it a peaceful, happy time in your home. THAT is what he will remember most once he is gone.

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