My eldest son has been serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the past nine months. He left shortly after his high school graduation last summer to spend two years in Hawaii teaching and loving the Marshallese people there. (He learned to speak Marshallese before heading across the ocean.)
Because a mission requires intense focus, his decision to serve was also the decision to leave home behind and pour 100% of his time and energy into the work. Our only contact with him is through weekly letters and email, except for a short Skype call on both Christmas and Mother’s Day. As you can imagine, it was not easy to say goodbye.
Since he had never lived away from home before his mission, there was a massive void in our family after he left. We all missed him terribly. It was rough getting those first few emails because it was obvious that he was struggling with the language and the transition to missionary life. I wanted to reach through the computer and give him a huge hug or send him a few encouraging texts.
But then something changed. His emails went from “Things are hard, but I am learning so much,” to “Don’t worry about me because I LOVE IT HERE!”
He has experienced a wide range of ups and downs. From 369 bedbug bites in one night (yes, he counted) to sickness and fatigue to overwhelming joy and love for the people he serves, his mission is shaping up to be the best experience of his young life. Through it, he is growing in ways he never could at home. He is finding God and himself in the islands.
Because I see him maturing from a young and inexperienced teenager to a stalwart and faithful man, I am savoring this experience right along with him. It is not always easy. There are days when I miss him more than I ever thought possible and want nothing more than to sit beside him and talk like we used to do. There are weeks that drag on forever, and I feel like I cannot wait for one more second to see his email in my inbox. Most Mondays, I refresh my email every five minutes between the hours of 5:00 and 7:00 because I usually hear from him around that time, and I have zero patience left.
Sometimes, I analyze his emails, wondering if the exhaustion he is experiencing is normal, or if there is something wrong. I wonder if he is getting enough sleep, enough exercise, and enough healthy food. (He gets plenty of food…Hawaiians love to eat! But fruit and veggies are hard to come by.) I often contemplate sending him more vitamins or a few extra dollars to purchase oranges or spinach at the store because bananas are the only type of produce he can afford.
But most days, I am incredibly grateful that he gets to have this experience. I love watching from afar as he learns to work hard and rely on his faith to carry him. I think of him every single day, but peace and joy have replaced the ache in my heart.
It makes me happy to hear him say things like this:
After some pondering, study, training, and inspiration this week, I have declared war. War on the natural man. War on laziness, war on fatigue. War on procrastination and poor time management. War on dwarfed goals, smooth knees, and tamed visions. War on Satan and his temptations.
I will not give up. I will not be still. I will keep moving forward. Because if I stand still for even a moment, the current of life will sweep me backward.
I will not, in the words of Brother Cook, be a wussie. I am a WARRIOR!
I’m determined to make this week better than last week, and the next week after that even better, and so on and so on until I finish my mission, not wanting to leave because of all the miracles I see. I know it can happen. It all starts with faith.
While I miss him like crazy, his weekly letters remind me that this mission is not about me. It is about him, and the man he is becoming as he learns to devote his life to the service of God. As a mother, there is not a single thing I want more for him than that.
Being a missionary mom is not easy. It is a considerable sacrifice to send your child off into the unknown with little communication for two whole years. But I would not trade this experience for all the diamonds and rubies in the world. It is profoundly fulfilling in ways I would never have understood had I not experienced them for myself. I hope all of my children decide to serve missions when they are old enough to do so.
P.S. If you appreciate music, you may enjoy this song that my son posted from Hawaii just last week. It is his very own arrangement, and is perfect for Easter.