Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Passing the Pigskin to the Next Generation

I can't count how many of Ben's football games I cheered on from the sidelines.

Now it's Micah's turn. Look for the fluorescent orange cleats and you can't miss him.
Still one of the smallest on the team.
I had flashes of Ben so many times as I watched this game. He is good defensive player, just like his big brother.
Rarely did his man get past him before Micah pulled the flag.
And he almost had an interception as well.
It wasn't enough, though. The grey Bulldogs lost by a large margin. I think one of the hardest skills to teach highly competitive kids is losing with grace. Any great ways of teaching kids that when they lose, it isn't the officials' fault or the other team just got lucky? I'd love to hear them.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Has It Really Been Five Years?

Most of you weren't reading my blog five years ago. That's okay.

Five years ago, I snapped a picture of Brad for this post--the day he was sustained as the bishop of our ward.
My photography skills have improved a lot since then--the flash shadow, the composition, the editing. ARGH. This is not a post about my photography skills. I had taken the picture to mark how grey his hair was at that moment in time--still dark on top, with a little distinguished white at the temples.

Here is a picture I snapped of Brad as he left for work Monday morning.
Brad was released as the bishop of our ward (congregation) on Sunday. The grey has crept up and covered most of his head now and the dark hairs are definitely in the minority, but he's still sporting the same 'do.

Many of you are not members of the LDS Church, and you probably don't know much about being an LDS bishop. Here's a quick summary. What is not included in that summary is how much time it takes to serve as a bishop (with no salary) and how much a bishop falls in love with the people of his ward. It was labor, but a true labor of love as he came to know the youth and kids and families who live in our ward.

Sunday was a emotional day for me. Not only was it Ben's first Sunday in the mission field, but it was the last Sunday Brad would serve as bishop. I was a mess, from the second I woke up until I got home from Church around 5 pm. The new bishop, his wife, and his new counselors were asked to speak, as were Brad and both of his counselors and me. I wanted to share with you what I said to our ward family, and I hope that it gives you a better understanding of what it's like to serve as a bishop of an LDS congregation.

I’ve reflected a lot about the time I’ve spent sitting on our bench in this chapel over the last five years. We used to sit behind the Wudels, much closer to the front, but having to manage my wild monkeys alone pushed me closer and closer to the back as I tried to minimize the commotion of Denton kids being regularly taken out. When Brad was sustained, I was eight months pregnant with Eve. Tucker was a senior, and Hyrum was 2 ½ years old. Our bench has changed a lot in that time, and hopefully gotten a little bit quieter as well. We may be back up front soon, but we’ll see.

Think about how your own bench here in the chapel has changed over the past five years. How many callings have you had? I’ve been a RS teacher (twice, actually), a Primary counselor, a Stake Institute teacher, a Sunday school teacher, and now the choir accompanist. Have you moved here since then? Have you welcomed babies or sent off missionaries or married off children or lost loved ones?

In these last five years, you all have never been far from Brad’s thoughts. So many times, your families’ lives have interwoven with his. So many happy memories.
  • He’s cannonball’ed with your children and reminded me to get more tootsie rolls at Sam’s Club so he could dole them out—one per customer—on Sunday.
  • He’s trekked miles across the dusty Arizona desert with your youth and counseled them as they received temple recommends.
  • He’s watched your young men and women leave for missions and proudly embraced them when they return.
  • He’s attended baptisms, endowments, and sealings, and held many of your newborn children in his arms.
  • He’s visited many of your in your homes and invited others out to lunch and remembered others at the holidays with special celebrations.
He’s been bishop of the 30th ward for about 250 Sundays. Most of those Sundays I would roll over and go back to sleep when his alarm went off—signalling time for him to prepare for early morning meetings. I will say that on the Saturday nights of General Conference, he would stretch out in bed and say, “I get to sleep in tomorrow!” and I would be lucky to see him downstairs and ready for conference before 8:55 am.

I’ve seen so many miracles in your lives, both small and great, as he’s served—from getting a cell signal in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean just long enough for the temple to call verifying a young woman’s worthiness—to being inspired to hold a ward fast for a family to be brought into our ward and seeing that miracle happen right on my street.

I’ve heard him pray for many of you by name as you prepared for baptism or temple ordinances or faced the loss of loved ones. I’ve heard him include the names of countless pairs of missionaries who have served in our ward boundaries, and I’ve heard him pray for many more of you as he’s repeated, “for those in the ward who are struggling at this time.” On those nights, he often would linger longer on his knees as he privately supplicated the Lord on your behalf.

I’ve seen him change into a white shirt and tie during the day or after he was ready for bed at night, telling me who was in the hospital or who had just lost their son or simply that “someone” needed him and he would be gone for a while.

When the announcement was made that a new bishopric would be sustained, I got comments that usually fell into one of two categories: Some people would say, “You get your husband back!” Though I do feel a lot like Hannah as I have “lent my boys to the Lord” for their two-year missionary service, I never felt like I lost Brad while he was the bishop. I’ve heard it said that when a young man dedicates two years of his life to serving a mission at 18, he is tithing one-tenth of his life back to the Lord. Brad is almost 50, and I can see how he has once again willingly tithed one-tenth of his life as he’s served as bishop these past five years.

While some comments congratulated me on surviving, other comments touched my heart deeply. Some of you have quietly told me, with tears in your voice, “Thank you. No one will ever know what Bishop Denton has done for me (or for our family or for our son or for our daughter).” I will never know, but I have seen the change that has come upon him as he has sacrificed and labored and prayed and partnered with our God to help bring to pass “the immortality and eternal life” of the members of our ward. He has developed compassion and patience and empathy and wisdom—and an understanding of the power of the Atonement that he couldn’t have gained any other way.

So, as you look down at our bench in the chapel today and see our husband and dad sitting with us for the first time in Eve’s life, I hope you see how much you and your family have grown closer to the Savior over the past five years. I want to thank you for praying for him, for sustaining him, and for loving him. I need to thank you for allowing him into your lives, for allowing him to serve you, and for helping him to grow. While I have had my own stormy moments where I struggled and begged the Lord to help me to change my heart or to forgive or to be forgiven during the last five years, I need to thank the Lord for bringing the blessings of heaven down on our home over this time.

It is truly a blessing to serve the Lord in any capacity in any church anywhere in the world. It may be the end of his time serving as bishop, but I know that he will have a new calling and a new job and a new group of people to love very soon. 

For now, Hyrum and Evie will love having Dad sit with them on our bench again. And so will I.

If you have any questions about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons), leave me a comment or send me an email. I will do my best to try and answer them.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

News from the Mission Field

Got Ben's first letter yesterday.

He sounds so happy.

If you'd like to follow along with his adventures, I've started a blog for him (surprised, aren't you?)--www.elderbendenton.blogspot.com. A shoutout today to my friend Kara at Life with Fingerprints. I've had pretty crazy weeks lately, and she stepped in to help with the blog header.
Isn't it incredible? What I love the most about it is the picture. That name tag is her husband's tag--from when he served in the Peru Lima South mission fourteen years ago--edited to Denton. Thanks, Kara. I couldn't have done that right now.

And yes, there have been more things happening around the Sanatorium than just Ben. Time to move on to a new normal.

As Lily reminded me last night, only 103 weeks left to go.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

How This Whole Missionary Mom Thing Feels

I know many of you have sent missionaries off on missions, and I know that many more of you have never experienced what it's like to send a child off on a mission. I've spent a few days trying to find the words to explain what it feels like and why it's instantaneously incredible and incredibly painful.

I can't find the words.

The loss is so immediate and so complete and so overwhelming. Unlike moving on to college in some distant town, there are no phone calls or texts every day that gradually taper off as both mother and child adjust to separation. There are no FaceTime or Skype conversations (except four times in two years on Christmas and Mother's Day) to reassure a mother's heart that everything is just fine. There are no quick drives to a college dorm to drop off a batch of homemade cookies and some extra toilet paper . . . just in case they need it.

None of that. One short email once a week, hopefully with a few pictures. 104 emails. That's all.

One day, their keys are on the counter where you've asked them NOT to be . . .
. . . and the next day, they're in the drawer. 

And the next day, and the next day, and the next, and you find yourself wishing for the keys to be on the counter again where you'd always hated them to be, just once more.

No more rumpled beds.

No more empty ice cream bowls in the hallway. No more books in the bathroom.
No surprise hugs from behind or surprise attacks as I come around the corner. No glint in his eye as he apologizes for scaring me. No arms around me, simultaneously hugging me and subduing a punch directed at his arm as punishment for scaring me so.

When Tucker left for his mission 3 1/2 years ago, Ben stayed in their room. So, although Tucker's stuff was mostly packed away, the room didn't change all that much. Ben eventually took over the space that had been Tucker's, and that then became normal, a little at a time.

That's not the case this time.

The little boys are moving into the bigger bedroom as soon as a few changes are made--window seat removed and closet reconfigured (it's never been right since we moved in, and this seemed like a good time to fix it). Ben's stuff had to all be sorted through, thrown away, or stowed away in his dresser for the next two years.

It seems so weird to see his beloved shoes, whittled down to the most favorite, all in a tub like he'll be back in the morning to choose a pair to wear to work. When he comes home from Peru, his stuff will all be waiting for him in the same dresser and in the same tubs, but they will be in the room across the hall. Will that room ever be truly his?

What makes it possible for moms go through this experience--some again and again--of sending their precious children away into the world? I can't speak for all missionary moms (and I can't speak for moms who have sent daughters), but I can speak for myself, as the mom of two missionary sons.

The first reason I do it--it's not my decision. I have raised my children to follow what they know to be true and what is right for themselves. My boys have been taught what I know to be right, and as they have grown older, they have learned for themselves what they know to be right. Each of my boys chose to serve missions, despite the fact that it's what I would have chosen for them. They saved every penny to pay for two years' missionary experience. I didn't pay for it. They studied, prayed, fasted, and prepared themselves emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually to do what they believe is the right thing for them to do. I didn't do that. How can any mother not feel complete joy when she knows that her child is doing the very thing that beloved child knows to be best for them?

Second, in my experience, missions make men. There is no better way to grow into who you can be than to leave everything and everyone you know and love completely behind for two years. You come to rely on yourself. You are forced to grow up. You learn to budget money, cook, clean, and take complete care of yourself. You learn that you can stand alone. When missionaries return home, they are no longer boys. They are men. And seeing that change come upon your child is worth every single second they are gone.

Third (and most important), I believe what they teach. I know how the message they share can change people's lives. I'm not here to try to convert you or to convince you to believe as I do. I strongly believe that every person has the freedom to believe and worship however they choose. I also know that there is more to being a missionary than simply teaching a message. It's about service--finding opportunities to serve and help the people. It's about culture--seeing how other people live and appreciating and understanding their corner of the world. Bottom line--it's about love. Learning to put love of God first in your life, and the love of fellow beings second, with self a distant third. I know there are people in Peru (just as there were people in New York for Tucker) who need Ben. People who need his quirky humor and peaceful spirit and kind eyes. People who need his influence and his joy and his light. People who need him more for the next two years than I do.

What I do know is that what I believe makes me happy, and it can make others happy, too. I received a text from my neighbor last week.

"Thank you for sending your missionary men out into the world. I know firsthand the amazing gift the missionaries have been to our life. I know Ben will bring that same gift to the families of Peru. Thank you for your sacrifices."

That's why I do it. Twice now, and hopefully more times in the future.

I do it because it's worth it. For my child and for me.

Hurrah.
Hurrah for Israel.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Last Goodbye

Home. Just before we left for the airport.

It's funny how each of my kids has their own personality. Ben has a lot of his dad in him. He spent a long time picking out which messenger bag he would get--the colors, the fabric, the strap. He also has a lot of his mom in him. He spent a lot of time deciding which pocket of his messenger bag would hold what--different colored pens, his journal, a few small toys to entertain himself and kids, even a couple snacks.

Arriving at the airport.
 I was so preoccupied with getting Ben out the door that I didn't notice that Eve had pulled out a too-small skirt and was sporting it with her Cinderella shoes. Kinda sassy. Kinda funny.
We had our heads up looking for his airline, when someone in a big hurry ran smack into Ben. With a quick, accented, "Sorry," the man tried to get around all of us, until we recognized that accented voice.
It was Jeff, Ben's rugby coach, headed off to Orlando . . . and he was late. At least he collided with a friend.

Waiting at the airport.
There was some of that.

Walking through the airport.

There was a lot of that. And everyone wanted to be next to Ben. That is, until the little boys discovered that the screens could be touched and with their touch, the image on the screen morphed around. Then it was fun to find the next bank of monitors.

Where is Mexico City?
There wasn't enough walking through the airport.

 Because, at the end of the walking through the airport, it was time to say goodbye.
 I wondered how Evie would handle this moment. She is particularly attached to Ben, and her mood can be . . . let's say . . . a little unpredictable.  She hugged and kissed and laughed and got back down to clicky-clack her Cinderella shoes through the airport some more.
 The little brothers (now the only brothers at home, and that's really weird to me, and they really should be renamed just "the brothers," but I don't know if that's even possible for me to say) hugged their brother with little emotion.
Lily and I, on the other hand, were both a mess. 

I don't know who cried more--Mom . . . 

. . . or Little Sister who lost her best friend.
 It wasn't all tears. Ben is much too funny and was much to excited for that.

I think Micah has inherited a bit of that humor as well.
There aren't words in my vocabulary or in my experience that can describe what it feels like to give your child--that teeny little boy who entered my world at 11:26 pm on April 24, 1996, and good-naturedly joked and teased and learned and played and matured and . . . insisted on growing up into a man leaving for a mission--one final hug that has to last for two years.

 As long as it was and as tight as it was, it wasn't long enough or tight enough.
 We tried to delay that final goodbye as long as we could.
After all, he had more than an hour until his flight was scheduled to leave.
But he was itching to begin this great adventure that he's been looking forward to and saving his money for and thinking about since he could ever remember.

And so . . .
. . . we had to let go. 

And we let him.
The image I will carry with me for the next two years is his final turn back to his family. He raised his fist in the air and pumped it a few times. In my mind, I could hear: "Hurrah! Hurrah for Israel!"--a line from the movie The Other Side of Heaven, a movie my kids have watched over and over on Sunday afternoons.

Goodbye, son. See you in two.

Hurrah. 
Hurrah for Israel.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday #40--Gone, Boy

I'm sure you all think my silence in cyberspace has been the result of me dissolving in a salty puddle of my own tears. While I am missing Ben terribly and while I have shed many tears, my lack of posting has not been because of Ben's departure. I spent 8-12 hours each of the last three days writing the final project for my latest master's class. This may sound ridiculous, but my arms and hands were so tired from typing when I went to bed last night that I couldn't find a way to position myself in bed that rested them enough. After twenty minutes of savasana position (yoga final relaxation pose, also known by Brad's favorite name of corpse pose), my arms finally relaxed enough so that I could go to sleep. It was weird, but true.

Because I've spent so much time at the keyboard this week, and because I've written pages and pages of curriculum and analysis (the summary alone was sixteen pages and almost 5000 words), I haven't had the mental energy to process what I want to write about Ben leaving for his mission. I hope to be mentally (and physically--typing this is making my hands ache) recovered enough to write what is in my heart about sending a child on a mission. Until then . . .