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 for Israel.


  1. I sent two boys out too. It was incredibly hard both times. They both came back good men, and with lots of good work done while they served, so in the end my/their sacrifice was not so much a sacrifice, as it was a gain for everyone. But oh, how a mom's heart hurts those first few months! I loved this post - and I know that YOU know that it gets better, so hang in there! I have a feeling that Hyrum will keep you busy so you're not dwelling on it. There's nothing so heartbroken and yet so proud as a missionary mom.

  2. Awesome post! I feel very much the same way. Kayloni is my first missionary so I can't compare the feelings to sending out a son. I can tell you that sending a daughter has been very hard for me. Maybe I'm a little over-protective, It was much easier to send her to college for the same reasons you mentioned in your blog. Even though she has only been gone for 13 days, it is incredible to see the difference in her emails (I only received the second one yesterday). She has grown so much in that short time. I can feel her confidence growing as well. I love being a missionary dad. Can't wait to share many more experiences with her as she serves her Father in Heaven and the people of Portugal! Thanks for your post!

  3. For me it was an overwhelming feeling of pride that he had made the choice, that he was willing to sacrifice, that he was willing to serve. Hopefully it is the good kind of pride.

  4. I sent a boy out (same time as tucker) and now I have a daughter out which I have found harder. I worry a lttle more especially since she has to eat gluten free and she is far away. Sometimes mission life is hard for her. But what an incredibly strong marital union she will have when she marries a returned missionary. How blessed will their family be. I get through it by knowing this is a once in a lifetime experiene that has no down side. It's good to miss out kids. The best part is 18 months is shorter than 2 years. Love your writings!

  5. Oh boy do I ever relate to this post. You captured ever single feeling so well.

    Loved it.


    PS. I am so impressed that they saved all the money for their own missions. What great guys.

  6. Oh my! Something I have to look forward to someday. But I saw glimpses of that in myself as I served a mission--as well as glimpses of that in my husband during his latest very-much-a-stretch-for-the-whole-family calling.

    Thanks for another reminder why it's all worth it.

  7. i love those pictures!!! you've taught me today jen!!!

  8. Sending my daughter half-way across the world to serve in New Caledonia is by far the hardest thing I've ever done. It's also the most rewarding.

    Hang in there, it's almost time for our Christmas skype!