Drop Off #2: Forward in Faith
We dropped off our second missionary equally promptly at the MTC, at 12:32pm on Wednesday, September 11th. Much about her preparation looked very similar to that of her brother’s: Her arrival home from college with a car full of stuff, going for her first endowment to the beautiful Sacramento temple, the ever growing piles of supplies and the large suitcases in the front room, the sibling bonding trips to the waterpark, the city and the beach, the frustrating search for elusive winter apparel, this time for shoes and boots that were comfortable, practical, and good looking at the same time.
The Sunday before her departure, she spoke in front of our ward congregation and a group of special visitors about the Spirit of Christ. No tradition comparable to giving over your tie to a new missionary exists in our ward; we haven’t had a sister leave from our ward in a few years. So we were especially touched when our bishop’s wife took off her necklace and put it around my daughter’s neck. New tradition created! That night we hosted a second open house (same type of food, different flag) and Sarah enjoyed visiting with many of her former leaders and friends.
In spite of all the similarities, the last few weeks before her report date were a very different, much more dramatic journey. For several weeks my faith was severely tested as Sarah’s departure for the mission field remained in doubt. The emotional rollercoaster began when Sarah called the day before leaving college, telling us that she was in excruciating pain. She had felt a toothache for some time, but attributed it to some recent dental work and believed that it would pass. However, the pain continued to increase and her cheek began to swell. After consulting several dentists, it became apparent that she was experiencing complications from her wisdom tooth removal more than six months prior, very rare and unusual complications. One of them even called it, “a genetic abnormality.” Following her wisdom teeth extraction in January, one of the wounds had not properly healed and had become infected. No bone had grown to fill in the wound, just granular tissue. Sarah had to undergo a number of painful procedures. Her gums were cut open and drained of blood and fluid. She had to take strong antibiotics (which she called horse pills) four times a day. Once the antibiotics decreased the infection, the dental surgeon scooped out the granular tissue, creating a large hole, which had to be “packed” with long strips of cloth. The “packing” had to be changed every few days. It felt like having wisdom teeth surgery all over again. Sarah got to eat few of her favorite foods in the last weeks leading up to her report date.
In the meantime, the clock was ticking and her departure date was moving ever closer. Sarah remained determined to leave for her mission no matter what her medical condition; I worried greatly that she would not receive “medical clearance.” I was concerned that she would not have healed sufficiently to function normally, to be able to talk (especially a foreign language), and eat quickly in a cafeteria. I didn’t know if she could continue to see a dentist while in the MTC. The treatment options our dental surgeon suggested seemed to change with every visit. I was upset and frustrated and made multiple phone calls to the mission medical department in Salt Lake City. At the same time, we battled a never-ending bureaucratic process on both state and federal level to complete the paperwork necessary for Sarah to receive a visa for Slovenia. It seemed that obstacles continued to be put in her way, keeping her from serving the Lord as she had planned.
While Sarah encountered real opposition, the Lord opened the windows of heaven, showering us in blessings as we moved forward in faith. We obtained the help of several LDS dentists, who took a personal interest in Sarah, cleared their schedule to treat her on short notice, called her specialist to clarify the issues and consult about her treatment, and finally arranged for an excellent dentist in Provo for her to visit periodically while in the MTC. Sarah received a blessing for the sick while in the Oakland temple and her name was placed on the prayer roll of multiple temples. Family members, friends and even moms of other missionaries who didn’t even know her personally, unified to pray for her healing. And it worked! Her wound began to close up quickly and she was able to leave on time for the MTC.
So on September 11th, we pulled up to the front of the MTC for the second time in three months. We had scrambled to find proper shoes on the last possible day and bought a filtration bottle and sewing kit less than 24 hours before her report time. Sarah used the sewing kit almost right away, as the belt loop of her brand-new skirt inexplicably ripped on the way to the MTC. We went for a pie shake and burger lunch at Sammy’s, which has now become a cherished family tradition the morning of a missionary drop off. Sarah proudly signed her name on the door with her fabric marker (the only marker she had in her purse for marking her clothes at the MTC laundry) “Sister Sarah Brown, Adriatic North mission Sept 2013- March 2015”. We visited with her missionary host who struggled valiantly with Sarah’s heavy suitcases which were each a couple of pounds overweight. We hugged her good-bye, as I couldn’t think of anything profound to say. But maybe if you have taught her and talked to her every day of her life, it’s alright to be speechless for once, what more could we have said that we hadn’t already said?
Our last glimpse of Sarah, we saw her walking into the MTC with the biggest smile of excitement and anticipation on her face. Keep moving forward in faith, Sestra Brown!