Monday, September 23, 2013

Head First - A missionary reality check (aka: First Assignment)

I promised myself that I wasn't going to cry.

"Dear mom," he starts energetically. "It's different," he says about his first assignment. Two weeks at the MTC, I realize, did little to prepare him for the culture change. "I have so much to get used to." I feel my eye sockets warming already. Though he's trying so hard to be positive, I sense the knot in his chest as he writes.

"I miss everything from home..." It's a simple declaration that at first leaves me with a smile. Haha, I celebrate a tiny victory: he does miss us! It's almost like sweet justice for all those teenaged eye-rolls and chest thumpings. Maybe we weren't such terrible parents after all.

"I have found a new appreciation for EVERYTHING at home... It kind of hurts to see and realize how much we take for granted." With a grin, I read the passage out loud to my sixteen year old as she shovels Apple Jacks into her mouth. She raises an eyebrow. "So?"

Ignoring her indifference, I continue reading. "I have leaned to adapt.. well, I am trying anyway!" As he relates the condition of his apartment it occurs to me that he doesn't remember our lean years. He was too young, I suppose, to recall those early years of hand-me-down furniture, bare-minimum dinners, empty closets, and cars held together with duct tape and binding wire.

Grateful to be past those days, I grab the keys to our late model SUV and head out the door for morning car pool. We've certainly come a long way since those starving student years and although we've tried not to give our children too much, it occurs to me that perhaps we did. For a moment I rebuild his childhood. Did we give him too much? Did we expect too little? Did we make it too easy? ... I don't believe we did. We've taught him to work hard. We've taught him to sacrifice. We've taught him to be independent. But, we never taught him that life was supposed to be easy.

The sun crests the mountains and shines into my car, my chest burns. I remind myself again that it's not supposed to be easy. We didn't send him on a vacation, after all. That's not what any of this is about.

As I make the turn into the high school parking lot, I realize that it's not his physical comfort - or lack thereof - that draws my tears to the surface. He's a tough kid - heck, he survived his own "war-zone" of a bedroom just fine. Let's face it, I'm surprised we didn't find parasites in there when we cleaned it out! Physical comforts are just that: comforts. He'll survive an old dirty apartment just fine. It is what's on the inside, however, that I worry about.

As I pull back into the garage, I also pull myself together. One more kiddo to get off to school before I can have a full breakdown... But, it doesn't come. Instead, I open my laptop and start typing. "Dear son," I start, but where do I go from there? What can I tell him that will make the growing pains feel better? 

We've spent his whole life hoping he'd choose to serve the Lord. This is what we've prepared him for. Why then, is it so hard to see him go through exactly what we knew he'd go through?

If I were there, I'd wrap my arms around him and together we'd shed a tear or two. Yeah, I know that its not cool for guys to cry - for heaven's sake, this mama doesn't usually cry either - but sometimes it's necessary to just let it out. It wouldn't take long, I am sure, before we both had things back in perspective. I'd swat him on the shoulder and say, "Get to it son. You've got important work to do."

But I can't do that. Whether its 500 or 5,000 miles standing between us, my arms would not reach him. I plunk a few words into a letter. Its not my arms, I admit, that he needs anyway. I can give him my love, my support, my advice, and my heart, but the comfort he needs can only come through learning to rely on the Savior. "Heavenly Father," I pray aloud, "please wrap my son in your love."

Before I can finish my prayer, I feel the comforting embrace of the Holy Ghost. Maybe my elder isn't the only one who needed a hug today.

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