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My Role as a Missionary Mom

I love being a Missionary Mom and you can tell.  I have (and proudly wear) a T-shirt with the logo of the North Adriatic mission and one for the Romanian mission—and one that proclaims in large letters “Missionary Mom”.  For Christmas I ordered  ornament replicas of my two missionaries for the tree, complete with their name tags on.  I have two pictures on my nightstand, one with my missionary son with his arms around me, and one with my arms around my missionary daughter, right where I can see them first thing in the morning and last thing at night.  I even have two country stickers on the bag of my car, RO for Romania, SLO for Slovenia.  I belong to two on-line Missionary Mom support groups, and frequently contribute to both.  I spend long hours updating and editing our missionary blog.  I spend most of each Monday reading my kids’ letters over and over, followed by checking a number of other missionary blogs.  I believe I can say I am taking my role as a Missionary Mom very seriously.  Even so, I keep asking myself what I could do to be more helpful.  I wonder if my letters to them are meaningful and spiritual enough?  I ask myself if we could possibly afford to send more frequent packages?  Should I contact the mission office if I worry about their health or their relationship with their companion?

As I was studying the experience of the sons of Mosiah for a seminary lesson this week, reading about the anxiety of their father and the Lord’s reassurance to him, I was suddenly struck by a pattern I had not thought of before:  Our Heavenly Father sends us out into the world to struggle, to use our agency, to learn and grow.  I’m sure He hurts when he sees us suffer; He wishes he could interfere when we get offended and insulted by others.  But while He is always with us, and always there for us when we turn to Him, He doesn’t remove all trials, because to do so would not allow us to reach our true potential.  In somewhat the same way, we sent our sons and daughters on missions in His service, far away from us.  We need to love and support them when they turn to us.  We pray for them and for their success.  But we also need to be content to watch them struggle and grow.  We cannot take away the difficult times from them, and we shouldn’t wish to.  This is when they need to stand on their own, to learn to rely on the Lord, to learn to appreciate things formerly taken for granted, to become humble through having less than what they are accustomed to, to strengthen their testimony.  So I am content for the most part to stand back and allow them to work out their trials, and share with us the wonderful lessons they are learning.  I am beginning to realize that serving a mission certainly brings the missionary closer to their Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, but in a different and no less powerful way, being a missionary parent also brings us closer to an understanding of our Heavenly Father.  If only yet in a limited and imperfect way, knowing God and his Son, Jesus Christ, is eternal life (see John 17:3).

So if hovering over our missionaries is not helpful, what can we do?  There has to be something we can   devote our energies to (if only to distract us from missing our missionaries and worrying about them?)  My son and daughter have expressed how much they enjoy working with the local members where they serve, and how much they wished they had done better sharing their testimony with their friends before their mission.  So I have decided to serve the missionaries assigned to our ward.  We try to have them in our home frequently to feed them and cheer them up.  We made a plate of cookies for all 21 missionaries serving in our stake for Christmas.  We offer to help them by attending their lessons and fellowshipping the people they teach.  We try to be less fearful and more open when talking to our friends about the gospel.  If my children can speak to strangers in a foreign tongue, I can certainly share the testimony that has changed my life with those I know in English or German, my “native tongue”.  In this way, I hope to grow in testimony and service along with the growth they are experiencing, so they can be proud of their Mom like I am proud of my missionaries.  It’s great to be a Missionary Mom!

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Year in Review: Brown Family ABCs

A is for Adriatic North Mission.  Sarah entered the MTC on September 11th to serve as a missionary in the Adriatic North Mission, which covers the countries of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, and Montenegro.

B is for Blog.  Todd has become a blogger!  We started a family blog with the title “Converting on Cobblestones” to share the adventures of our two missionaries in Eastern Europe.

C is for Cheerleading.  Naomi made the Fairfield High School cheerleading squad.  She enjoyed dancing and performing stunts at the football and basketball games.  In her free time she continues to model for a local photographer.

D is for Driver’s License.  Naomi obtained her California driver’s license and can now drive herself to school and all extracurricular events.

E is for Elephant Seals.  We saw a huge colony of elephant seals on our way to a robotics tournament at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo in February.  Both Rachel and Julian remain involved in robotics.  Julian’s team made it all the way to the California state finals, leaving him the youngest driver to compete in that tournament.

F is for Feathers.  We saw plenty of colorful feathers when Sarah became a bridesmaid to one of her closest friends in a peacock themed summer wedding.

G is for Gymnastics.  Both Ariel and Rachel have taken up gymnastics.  Their favorite apparatus is the balance beam.  They also marched with their Dream Xtreme gymnastics group in our local Fiesta Days Parade.

H is for Honor.  Ariel was honored with the special “Be the Change” award by the mayor of Fairfield for exemplary leadership at her school and charity work in the community.  She also distinguished herself by performing magic tricks in her school talent show.  Rachel started taking art lessons and is studying how to paint portraits.

I is for In-line Skates.  The twins love rollerblading and going to the roller rink to skate to music.

J is for Jump Highway.  The girls celebrated their 11th Birthday with a trampoline party for all of their friends.  We also attended the Pirate Dinner Adventure show as a special birthday surprise.

K is for Kidnapped.  Ariel was briefly kidnapped by Goofy, only one of the special memories we made during our visits to Disneyland and California Adventure Parks.  Since Disneyland is on the way to Sebastian’s University, we spent a few extra days there this year.

L is for Ljubljana.  Sarah is learning to speak Slovene while serving in her first area in the capitol city of Slovenia, Ljubljana.

M is for Marathon.  I achieved a lifelong goal this year when running my first marathon.  I completed the Western Pacific Marathon at Quarry Lakes with my husband and kids to cheer me on.  Julian, Rachel, and Ariel even came on to the course to finish the last mile of the race with me.

N is for News.  Sebastian surprised us when he appeared on the Moldovan news.  The local Chisinau TV station covered the opening of a children’s center that had been renovated by the LDS missionaries serving there.

O is for Operation.  Both Sarah and Sebastian had their impacted wisdom teeth taken out on the same day.  While Sebastian experienced no complications, Sarah’s incision became infected and she needed an additional procedure and continued care in the MTC before she fully recovered.

P is for Pierced Ears.  Both Ariel and Rachel had their ears pierced.

Q is for Quorum.  Julian served faithfully as our ward’s Deacon’s quorum president before being ordained a Teacher after his 14th birthday.

R is for Romania.  Sebastian was called to serve for two years as a missionary in the Romania-Moldova Mission.  He began his mission in Chisinau, the capitol city of Moldova, and is now serving in the beautiful city of Brasov, in the Transylvanian mountains.

S is for Surfing.  Naomi spent a week in surf camp at Stinson Beach.  Sebastian received his first surfboard as a belated Christmas present.

T is for Teacher.  After serving for seven years as a Relief Society President, I was released only to be called as an early morning seminary teacher the same day.  I absolutely love studying the Book of Mormon and teaching seminary.  I love all the teenagers in my class.

U is for UC San Diego.  Sebastian finished his freshman year as an undergraduate at the University of California – San Diego.

V is for Visitor Center.  When visiting the Mormon Battalion visitor’s center in San Diego, we discovered that the family featured in the multi-media presentation consisted of our own ancestors.  Julian dressed up as a soldier in the Mexican American War and we panned for gold.

W is for Wrist.  Ariel broke her wrist in a horse-riding accident, but jumped back in the saddle to gallop again as soon as the doctor allowed.

X is for Executive Secretary.  Todd’s new calling as the Stake Executive Secretary keeps him consistently busy.  He also continues to travel frequently for his work.

Y is for YCL.  Naomi served this year as a youth camp leader at girls’ camp and as a member of the Stake Steering Committee, mentoring younger girls and planning youth activities.  She also spent a week at the University of Utah for EFY conference.

Z is for Zoo.  When visiting Sebastian at college, we also toured the famous San Diego Zoo.  We even saw a baby panda bear!

Merry Christmas from the Brown family!!!

Angels Round About Them

In the last few weeks, I have frequently been asked the following question:  “Aren’t you scared something could happen to your son or your daughter while they are on their mission?”  I think one of the reasons for that question lies in the recent well publicized deaths of several missionaries.  A missionary from a town only 10 minutes north of Fairfield died in a car accident in Idaho only a month ago.  Also, for many of my friends it’s difficult to comprehend how we can willingly send our sons and daughters, little older than teenagers, into a foreign country equipped only with limited language skills, two suitcases and unlimited enthusiasm.  Doesn’t that sound like a recipe for disaster?

I freely admit I have my motherly moments of anxiety.  As a student of Eastern European culture and history, I am well aware of some of the challenges of living and preaching the gospel in that part of the world.  I have heard of several attempts to rob and kidnap missionaries.  This week a movie that chronicles the kidnapping of two missionaries in Saratov, Russia, premieres in theatres.  My own son has been threatened with a brick.  A “mob” threw live firecrackers directly at his head; one of them exploded immediately in front of his foot and caused him to momentarily lose his hearing.  But in spite of all this, the answer to the question “Aren’t you scared?” remains a firm “no.”  I am not afraid for my son and my daughter, I feel calm and at peace that they will be watched over and protected.  I base this assurance on the experiences of the many missionaries we have known, spiritual blessings and communications my family has received, and my own personal experiences.  I know that no matter where they are, they are always in the Lord’s hands.

One of the most memorable talks by a recently returned missionary I have heard was given by a sister that served in the country of Mongolia.  While a world away from her family, her mission president sent her to find a nomad family that had requested to be taught the gospel.  The missionaries took a bus deep into the vast grasslands; the family was to meet them at the bus stop.  When they disembarked and watched the bus drive off, they realized that they were utterly alone with only miles and miles of prairie around them.  No human, house, or sign in sight.  At first the sister panicked, but then she related she “realized that even though I had no idea where I was, and nobody else knew where they were, the Lord knew perfectly well.”  The two sister missionaries fell to their knees by the side of the road and began to pray.  I don’t remember how they were rescued and if they ever taught that family, but I never forgot the lesson this sister taught our congregation.  I may not know whether Sebastian is walking through a forest in Transylvania, or if Sarah is knocking on doors in a small mountain village in the Alps, but the Lord knows where they are, and what they are doing every second of every day.

When Sebastian and Sarah were set apart by our stake president, he mentioned that angels would be in front of them and behind them and round about them at all times.  As I heard this blessing, it reminded me of an answer I received to another prayer, a little over a year ago.  At that time Sarah had decided to work in the African country of Uganda, leaving behind electricity, sanitation, and access to the internet for several months.  I was excited for her to experience this opportunity but couldn’t help worrying about tropical diseases and militia attacks.  While pondering in the Celestial Room of the Oakland temple, the Lord through his Spirit spoke to me, giving me this distinct impression, “Let her go, she will be in the hollow of my hand, and will return unharmed.”  Through numerous adventures, including falling off a raft into crocodile infested waters, being tear gassed on the way to a soccer game, becoming separated from her guide in the jungle, and curing a stomach parasite with black market medicine, she had the time of her life and came back safe and sound, just as I had been promised.

Lastly, I have personally experienced the Lord’s care when I was surrounded by strangers and far from anyone I knew.  In 2009, my mother passed away after being diagnosed with cancer four months earlier.  After spending some time with her a few weeks before, I found myself at home in California when she died in Germany, having deteriorated even more rapidly than predicted.  What followed remains a blur as my husband and I frantically made arrangements for me to fly to Germany and for our children to be cared for while he had to work.  The whirlwind of packing and planning left me little time for reflections of any kind.  It wasn’t until I sat in an airport lounge in Dallas, Texas, during a long layover, that the enormity of the situation hit me like a ton of bricks.  Not only did I feel entirely overwhelmed with grief about the loss of my mother, but I felt completely paralyzed by anxiety at having to organize my mother’s funeral.  As far as I knew, there had never been an LDS funeral in my village, and I anticipated great opposition from everyone including family members and funeral directors when attempting to fulfill my mother’s wishes.  I felt like I was frozen in place, that I could not possibly move from that plastic chair.  I prayed fervently for the Lord’s help.  Almost as soon as I had finished my silent but desperate prayer, I heard a friendly voice complimenting the old T-shirt I was wearing.  When I looked up, I saw the kind face of an older man in a dark suit.  On the label of the suit I discovered the familiar missionary name tag.  When he introduced himself, I quickly learned that he was the newly appointed mission president of one of the British missions.  When he heard I was a member traveling to Germany, he said, “Come meet the rest of our group, the new president of the Berlin mission is here, too.”  My eyes widened in surprise!  Of all the thousands of planes in the sky that day, I ended up on the one carrying seven mission presidents and their wives.  What are the odds of that?  Talk about the Lord sending in the cavalry to save me!  This little group took me in, lifted my spirits, and counseled me on how to handle the funeral arrangements.  From that point on, everything went much smoother than I had any right to expect.  When we picked a flight to Europe, we could not have known any of this, but the Lord knew.  How could I doubt that He will do likewise for my children?

I cannot keep my children perfectly safe, whether they are living with us or on the other side of the world.  But the Lord can, and I believe that He will and that once their missions end, we will see Sarah and Sebastian again.  However, if not, I rest secure in the knowledge that my children were sealed to us.  If we stay faithful, our family will endure for all eternity.  My children are mine forever.  Through the ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are ultimately safe.

Happy Birthday Sebastian!

Across the 6288 miles from Fairfield, California to Chisinau, Moldova:
HAPPY 19TH BIRTHDAY SEBASTIAN!
We love you so much and are so proud of your choice to serve the Lord!!!

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!

Changes and Challenges…and the Dust of Eternity

One of my favorite talks of all time is called “The Abundant Life”.  In this conference address, Elder Wirthlin explains his recipe for being truly happy by filling your life with faith and service.  He also utters the memorable line that we are “made of the dust of eternity as much as of the dust of the earth”.  Our potential exceeds anything we can imagine, if we can only see ourselves the way the Lord sees us and allow Him to work in our lives.  Elder Wirthlin shares the story of Snowman, a decrepit old plow horse, sold for virtually nothing to a riding teacher who saved it from the slaughter house out of pity.  When the horse kept disappearing from its pasture, the new owner discovered that this flea-bitten horse could effortlessly clear any fence.  The horse looked like a worthless animal, but became a famous national jumping champion.  In the same way, the people of David’s day saw only a young shepherd boy, but the Lord saw a king and a prophet.  Joseph of Egypt was looked upon as a slave, but the Lord called him to be a seer.  Where we sometimes only view the outward appearance, the Lord perceives eternal potential.

This talk touched me so deeply because it was given right around the time that my own life changed dramatically:  In October of 2006, I was called as Relief Society President.  I did not see myself as the ideal candidate for this position by any stretch of the imagination.  I was only 36 years old, with six young children living at home, including 3 year old twins, and a husband who traveled out of town on business virtually every week.  I didn’t particularly enjoy cooking and had never cooked for anyone outside of my immediate family.  I couldn’t sew or quilt.  I had zero talent in home decorating or crafts of any kind.  I didn’t like change, felt uncomfortable meeting new people, and awkwardly avoided hugging others (I blame this on my German heritage, we are a rather stiff and proper people, for the most part).  The thought of seeing a dead body or participating in a funeral terrified me.  Lastly, I had mostly been teaching Primary since joining the church and had no leadership experience to speak of.  I could only see myself as a stay-at-home mother with few talents, who often felt like she didn’t fit in, but the Lord saw a future Relief Society President.

So trusting in the Lord, I accepted my new assignment.  Over the next seven years, my faith in the Lord grew immeasurably, as I learned to love and serve the sisters with all my heart.  I served alongside three different bishops, had three first counselors, four second counselors, and multiple secretaries.  With the constant turnover in our military ward, visiting teaching routes had to be adjusted virtually every month.  I learned to delegate, recognizing and appreciating the talents of others as I organized many Relief Society activities, dinners, and service projects.  For one whole Relief Society additional meeting, I walked on a broken foot the entire night.  With my counselors, I cooked for three general authorities and 100 missionaries, all on short notice.  We made numerous baby blankets and baked countless cookies to welcome new members to the ward.  We became fearless about knocking on doors, trying to find those who didn’t attend.  We cleaned homes and bought Christmas presents for those without funds.  With the loving guidance of more experienced sisters, I overcame my fears and learned to dress sisters for burial; experiencing this as one of the sweetest services we can perform for those ready to meet their Heavenly Father.  A house burned down, ward boundaries were re-aligned twice, and a bishop deployed to Afghanistan for six months, requiring detailed daily email updates on the state of the ward.  Serving the Lord and the sisters was a joy and a privilege and a never-ending adventure.  (But I still don’t do crafts, period!)

Last month I was released from service in the Relief Society and immediately asked to teach early morning seminary.  Again, I feel utterly inadequate.  I can’t stress enough that I am NOT a morning person.  My teenage daughter has probably arrived at seminary on time a grand total of five times during the past year.  I’m not sure I have ever truly immersed myself in the scriptures sufficiently to teach with competence.  I haven’t worked with the youth before, my own children excluded.  Speaking of my children, I still have three elementary and middle school children who now need to get ready for school on their own, since their father still travels.  I see a sister in need of rest, but the Lord believes that I can be a valiant seminary teacher.  I reread my favorite Elder Maxwell quote on my refrigerator, “The Lord is not interested in our abilities or inabilities as much as he is interested in our availability.  And if we show him our dependability, He will take care of our capability.”  Apparently, I am available each morning before school starts and the Lord can depend on me to study the scriptures and love His children.  I trust in the Lord’s promise that “if ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me.” (Moroni 7:33) Even if this promise requires getting up at 5am every day!  Moving forward in faith, I believe that with the Lord, all things are possible.  When we follow Him and do what He has asked us to do, we can fulfill our eternal potential and truly become His sons and His daughters and live the abundant life.

Blessings for Those Left Behind

During my first year as Relief Society President, I returned home late in the evening, following long hours at the Deseret Industries facility in Sacramento picking out warm clothing and Christmas presents for needy families in our ward.  I had left my oldest daughter Sarah, only 14 at the time, in charge of her five younger siblings.  When I walked into the house, I discovered a scene of utter devastation.  I couldn’t walk two feet without tripping over toys, crayons, and school supplies that seemed to cover every inch of the floor.  The kitchen counters were cluttered with food and dirty dishes.  I found my children asleep in various rooms all over the house, still wearing their street clothing.  I felt devastated.  I had no energy left to clean up.  I carefully picked up each child, kissed them and carried them to their beds.  Then I knelt down in tears next to my bed, pleading with the Lord.  I worried that my children would suffer and feel neglected as both Todd and I served in demanding callings that frequently required us to leave them alone.

As soon as I began to pray, I felt the Spirit descend on me and cover me like a warm blanket, I can think of no other words to describe the feeling.  I remembered a special blessing I had been given by our bishop, promising me that as long as I served faithfully, my children would be taken care of.  I also remembered my husband’s pioneer ancestors, Ebenezer Brown and his wife Phoebe Draper.  They answered the call to join the Mormon Battalion and marched all the way to San Diego, California, leaving their numerous children behind on the plains of Iowa in the care of their oldest son and daughter.  The children successfully made their way to Utah, learning to trust in the Lord in their extreme circumstances.  As far as we know, these children remained faithful after they were reunited with their parents more than a year later.  I was comforted by their example, and as I continued to serve, the Lord abundantly blessed my children.

Studying a recent conference talk by Elder Eyring, I learned that far from an individual blessing, this principle represents an eternal truth applicable to all that leave their families in the Lord’s service.  I have a strong testimony that these blessings apply particularly to missionaries who leave their families and friends for two long years.  Elder Eyring taught, “There is another way you and I have felt Him (the Savior) grow closer to us.  As we give devoted service to Him, He draws closer to those we love in our families.  Every time I have been called in the Lord’s service to…leave my family, I have come to see that the Lord was blessing” (them).  “He prepared loving servants of His and opportunities to draw my family closer to Him.”  Elder Eyring further reminds us of the words of the Lord to Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in D&C 100:1, “…your families are well; they are in mine hands, and I will do with them as seemeth me good; for in me there is all power.”  He continues, “My promise to you who pray and serve the Lord cannot be that you will have every blessing you may wish for yourself and your family.  But I can promise you that the Savior will draw close to you and bless you and your family with what is best.  You will have the comfort of His love and feel the answer of His drawing closer as you reach out your arms in giving service to others…His arms are outstretched with yours to succor and bless the children of our Heavenly Father, including those in your family.”  (Come unto Me, April 2013 conference)

Missionary service has often been described as “leaving your family for two years, so that others can be with their family for eternity.”  But in addition, devoted full time service to the Lord brings untold blessings to family members of missionaries who serve.  In making this sacrifice, both the missionary and the family feel a greater closeness to the Lord and an increased devotion to his gospel.  As the family of two missionaries, we have felt the joy and the comfort of the Spirit.  We feel blessed every day.

Drop Off #1: Like the Stripling Warriors’ Mothers and Hannah of the Old Testament

We dropped off our first missionary at the MTC on July 24th, promptly at 12.35pm.  Looking back on it, the month leading up to his report date passed in a whirlwind of preparation.  Picking him up from college at UCSD, taking him through the beautiful San Diego temple, creating a tremendous pile of supplies to be packed into two huge suitcases in our front living room, family pictures at the beach and the endless online search for affordable thermal underwear in the middle of summer!  I expressed my anxiety mostly by cooking him one of his favorite meals every night, which he greatly appreciated (and by taking the kids on crazy adventures in SF which he probably appreciated less.)  The Sunday before his report date, he spoke in church in front of our ward (congregation), with many special visitors including some of his closest friends and former teachers and leaders about what it means to be a pioneer.  Several of his youth leaders and our bishop gave him their tie to wear on his mission, a special tradition in our ward.  That evening, we hosted an open house at our home with cupcakes decorated with miniature Romanian flags and a large Romanian flag suspended in the hallway!  (Sure, it was tacky all the way and I loved it!)

The next morning, Sebastian had to say good-bye to his younger brothers and sisters, who were off to scout camp, cheerleading camp or staying home with a babysitter.  Lots of hugs—and an unsuccessful attempt by little Rachel to stow away inside the suitcase.  Two years is a long time, but for a 10 year old little sister who adores her big brother, it truly seems forever!  Following a 12 hour drive through Nevada (funnest road trip ever), we arrived in Utah to complete a 14 hour shopping marathon for most of his clothing in 112 degree heat.  His last day before his mission ended with a lively all you can eat pizza dinner generously hosted by our extended family (during which Sebastian quietly insisted on refilling my water glass and serving me, which brought me to tears) and a private final father’s blessing.

Before we knew it, the day and time had come.  Fortified with pie shakes from Sammy’s (there’s a lot of food in this post, I know, but Sebastian loves to eat), we were headed to the MTC with Sarah and Sebastian in the back seat, Todd driving and me holding the camera in the passenger seat.  The road in front of the MTC was completely torn up by construction, blocking the regular entrance.  But from several blocks away, signs and senior missionaries pointed out the correct path:  Keep going up the hill and enter the MTC through the loading dock area.  The signs read:  “New missionaries this way” From beginning to end, the drop off proceeded in an orderly manner, with missionaries there to help each step of the way.  Entering the MTC grounds, we joined a seemingly endless line of vehicles.  I have been told, 800 new missionaries arrived within two hours.  An older brother approached our car and asked “Elder or sister?” to which we replied “Elder this time, sister next time.”  He was so kind and funny, he had all of us laughing.  He also asked which mission and based on Sebastian’s answer, place a colored sticker on our windshield.  We were then directed to a drop-off area based on our sticker color.

Coming around the corner to the front of the MTC, we were met with the most amazing sight:  Hundreds of missionaries lined up to greet us.  Most of them were sisters!  They were all smiling and calling out, “Welcome to the MTC!”  I couldn’t help but smile and wave back.  We felt like riding in a parade as we slowly made our way all the way down and around the corner.  Our drop off point was marked with the number 20, almost at the very end.  As soon as we pulled up to the curb, a missionary host stepped up and opened my door.  He then proceeded to help Todd unload the luggage.  He gave us plenty of time to hug Sebastian good-bye.  And I didn’t cry, both my children asked me repeatedly not to cry.  “No tears, Mom!”  Since I didn’t want them to remember me as a blubbering mess and worry about me, I smiled my bravest smile, watching Sebastian walk off with the backpack casually slung over one shoulder.  He was engaged in conversation by  the host, who was pulling his suitcases.  But before he reached the front doors, he looked around one more time, smiling at me!  And that was that.  We climbed back into the car, while some of the sisters on the curb called, “See you again soon!”

This is what I felt (yes, I am allowed one melodramatic post on this blog):  I thought of the mothers of the stripling warriors in the Book of Mormon.  I wondered, as they were standing on a dirt road, somewhere in the jungle and watched their sons march off to war, did one of them turn around, with a shield casually over his shoulder, sword in hand and smile at his mother as if to say, “I love you, don’t worry, I will be ok”?  I feel that some of the examples of righteous parents and children are included in our scriptures precisely so we can learn to model ourselves after them in the latter days, but also so we can take comfort from their experiences.  I’m purposefully saying parents, not only mothers.     I know this was just as hard, if not harder on my husband.  (On a sidenote: We always talk about the stripling warriors’ devotion to their mothers and rightly so, but we often overlook that they also had supportive and faithful fathers.  This was pointed out to me by a post on one of my favorite blogs on father’s day this year.  Their fathers supported and provided for them, see Alma 56:27!)  But not one of my children told their father that he couldn’t cry which was patently unfair, if you ask me!

The night before, I read from the book of Samuel in the Old Testament, reviewing the story of Hannah, who also sent off her first born son far away from home to serve the Lord in the temple.  Her words, spoken thousands of years ago, perfectly expressed my emotions on this day, “For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord.”  1 Samuel 1:27-28 (Well, for the next two years anyway)  She continues, “My heart rejoiceth in the Lord,” 1 Samuel 2:1 and so does mine.  We raised a son who loves the Lord and wants to serve Him as a missionary!  How great is our joy!