Wednesday, April 25, 2012

a missionary

It's been a whirlwind of activity around here this week. Actually, this whole month, when I come to think about it.

An emotional rollercoaster, too.

And now, I'm sitting here trying to digest it all.

It was good of Keith to take the day off yesterday. Divide and conquer is how we knew everything would get done. Last minute errands, the packing, the moral support, being there for each other and for Gary.

Towards evening, I got busy in the kitchen making his favorite dinner, highlighted with a big pot of Jambalaya (our Louisiana heritage coming through), a loaf of homemade bread from Mama, and a storebought lemon meringue pie for dessert. Then it was off with family and other loved ones for Gary's "setting apart" (or ordination) as a full time missionary by our local ecclesiastical leader.

I got up early this morning and made another favorite of his- homemade biscuits- with fried eggs to make breakfast a little more special. Again, as I was standing in that kitchen in my nightgown with apron donned, I realized again that this work that I do in the kitchen, this holy work, is a powerful way to bless and manifest my love to my family. I wanted Gary to feel that.

Again, a few more errands to run this morning and last minute checking off of the packing list. "Did you remember this? What about that?" And can you believe that last night we realized that there was a required immunization that we had thought was up to date, but actually wasn't, and so we scrambled to get into the Dr's  first thing and get that DPT shot. What a great send off !

The mood at home today and yesterday was loving and good, and despite the stress and hurried-ness, we all felt surprisingly at ease and relaxed. All the while, the growing feelings of meloncholy and impending separation looming.

Right before heading out the door today, Keith layed his hands on Gary's head, bestowing a father's blessing. This prayer, this sweet tradition this has always been in our home whenever the children are ill, are starting a new school year, are going far/ moving away from home, or any time they need comfort, guidence, healing, and reassurance of not only their earthly father's care and concern, but more importantly that of our Father in Heaven's constant and abiding love.

We gathered, too, in a circle to kneel in family prayer and listened to Eliza's sweet words of faith and gratitude and pleading for her brother.

We all thought a stop at the Creamery for lunch and ice cream  sounded like a good plan since it's very close to the Missionary Training Center where Gary will be staying for the next three months before leaving for Finland.

This is the place where young men and women, as well as retired couples, begin their training to serve as volunteer missionaries for a period of 18-24 months. Did you know that there are approximately 52,000 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, serving in 120 countries of the world? Here's a little bit more about what our son will experience for the first three months (because of the difficulty of the Finnish language, one more month of study is added to the normal stay at the Missionary Training Center) of his missionary service:

"Each Wednesday several hundred missionaries enter the Provo MTC. The eager missionaries enter an exciting world of learning. The MTC curriculum consists of up to 12 weeks of studying doctrine, learning to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively, and developing excellent communication skills. When missionaries are called to serve in foreign lands, their training also includes learning a new language. The Provo MTC is well known for its language teaching program. Approximately 50 languages are taught at the Provo MTC. The teaching staff is composed largely of former missionaries, who are well acquainted with missionary life...."

"The Provo MTC is a beautiful campus designed to accommodate up to 4,000 missionaries. The facility includes a large gymnasium, cafeterias, a medical clinic, a bookstore, a mail center, laundry facilities, classrooms, and residence halls. A day at the MTC can involve many different activities, including visiting the cafeteria, enjoying some exercise in the gym, and engaging in personal study. Missionaries spend much of their time in classroom activities."
"Although the MTC has excellent facilities and an outstanding training curriculum, missionaries feel that the spirit of the MTC is their best learning and teaching aid. The MTC experience is the fulfillment of a life-long dream for many missionaries, and yet they anxiously await the day when they will depart to their assigned missions. After weeks of training, missionaries leave prepared to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with people around the world. " 

As you can probably imagine, it's not an easy thing to sacrifice it all to serve a full time mission. To leave the world behind in the prime of your life.

It's not an easy thing for a parent to send a beloved son or daughter out in the world to a far off place. Hearing his or her voice only on Christmas Day and on Mother's Day. To have the communication  be by a once a week email.

But we do it out of love.

This love and gratitude for our Lord that we serve.

And despite this moment of victory, of this day of celebration, this pride, this excitement for this precious son of ours, there's a profound sense of separation. Of longing. Of this mother heart physically aching. This heart almost breaking. The sobbing, raw emotion holding you close and kissing your face, hoping you'll be okay and knowing we're both letting go and not being able to swallow that hot lump in your throat that just isn't going away.

How can you feel all these feelings at once?

How I'll miss you, Gary.

Seeing your body all curled up on the couch in those dark, early morning hours.
Not hearing the click and close of the door when you've come home late at night.
Not hearing your happy voice, "Hi!" on the phone multiple times a day.
Not hearing your ever cheerful, musical whistling, knowing you're around and that you are in happy mood.
Not picking up your dirty socks in a heap on the floor.
Not being able to stroke your fine, smooth hair.
Not being able to share those deep gospel, literary, and lessons of life discussions of ours.
Not having that moment of mother-joy when I see your car pull up against the curb.
Not hearing your music.
Not having you and Ivana around the kitchen table doing puzzles and eating my food.
Missing your sweet Gary smell.
Holding you in my arms.

So goodbye, sweetheart. May the Lord bless you and keep you. You'll be in our prayers, in our hearts. Constantly. We're cheering you on. We are so grateful and happy you've chosen this path. So proud of the person you've become and the person you are now becoming. Your light shines. You'll be a blessing to those Finnish souls who'll learn to love you and who you'll learn to love.

God be with you until we meet again.


  1. I don't remember how I happened across your blog, but I love to check in with you. You brought tears to my eyes as I read your poetic words about your son. My two eldest will be away from home for their first summers. Though they've been off to college, this is a new step away. So I know how it is, the sadness for me, yet the happiness for them. God's blessings to you as you adapt to your son's new journey.

  2. Wow- Emily, Congratulations. This was a beautiful post! I am so glad you shared is preparing me for 4 years from now and maybe 3 years for Hil. You are great parents and this call is very exciting!

  3. My favorite part of this post was the father's blessing that your husband gave to Gary before he left the house. And that precious photo of them embracing, I can only imagine how hard it is to say farewell for this time, and yet how rich you must feel! Best wishes and prayers for these new beginnings.

  4. It must be so challenging--I think you look so fabulous and not all splotchy in these photos. I know it's exciting, but from the Mama side it's just so hard. I guess that's true of the phases that pull them from us so that they can be independent too.

  5. Dropping them off IS the hardest! When Cole left (he comes home in August) I said my goodbyes in Mesa and Wade took him up to the MTC. They had him on speaker phone for me when he said goodbye at the MTC, tears are coming as I even think back to that moment -- but now, I can't believe how fast the 2 years have gone!! Life is GOOD!!

  6. I found your blog after reading your article from the whole foods class. What a beautiful blog. And what a beautiful preparing time you have had with your son. I think having my two girls serve was one of the hardest things I have done as a Mom, but also one of the most rewarding! Good luck to all of you. What a lucky young man, to have the support that he does.

  7. We're all praying for Gary and also for you and Keith. You described it perfectly, Em, when you asked "How can you feel all these feelings at once?" But just think, Mother's Day is right around the corner. (You'll be measuring time by Mother's Day and Christmas from now on ha ha!)
    We love you guys,

  8. I found this post from Carine Clarks facebook post. What a great memoir and diary of his sendoff. I am going to be sending a missionary off in the next year and a half or so as well. it's going to be tough.

    i served in Finland 90-91 and that's a tough place to go, the language is tough, the weather is super tough and the people are pretty ingrained in their habits, but it's an AWESOME place, it's extremely safe, it's very beautiful and he'll come home with a lifetime worth of experiences and love for the people and the land.

    Learn right now to pronounce "Sauna" as "Sow-na" and not "Saw-na". Sow as in female pig. He'll insist on it when he gets back.

    Also make sure he gets a "sauna pad" as soon as he gets there, and never goes to Sauna without it. Since it's summer, send him with 5 lbs of Mosquito spray. They are vicious and plentiful there. Depending on where he'll be, they'll either be plentiful and huge, or plentiful and tiny but with a mean bite that makes you bleed. Farther north they get meaner and bigger.

    Tell him good luck and "Tervetuloa"

    -matt meservey

  9. An emotional post describing your heartache. However I find myself asking "Why"
    Why are you members of a church which inflicts misery in such a capacity?
    My religion encourages "love" Love is not inflicting pain on others, either physically or emotionally.
    Nothing is as important to me as my family. Nothing.
    I find it hard to understand why you as parents encourage your children to think it's acceptable to inflict emotional pain on others.
    To only be allowed to speak to each other on 2 days a year? It's a strange religion that inflicts such emotional suffering on people.

  10. Stacey, I'm sorry that my post gave you this impression that the pain outspeaks the love and joy I'm experiencing, or that my son is experiencing. Maybe you can imagine how you might feel if you were sending a child or a spouse off in a far away country to serve in the military. In a way you are so proud of them for serving their country, for the sacrifice they are making, but still feeling the pain of separation and worry for their well being. Perhaps you could think of other religions where men and women take vows to God's service such as monks and nuns do. I'm not sure these are the best analogies I can provide. My love for my family is paramount and my relationships with them are everlasting. I know, Stacey, that this 2 year sacrifice my son and our family are making will hopefully make us all better people, forge our family bonds ever stronger, and build our characters. The purpose of missionary service, or any service for that matter, is never to "inflict emotional pain" on others, but to share Christ's message of love and go about doing good in a world that really needs it. Our church missionaries not only prosletize, but also do an enormous amount of humanitarian and community service. My husband, my sisters, my parents- everyone I know who has made this committment to serve God and His children have never regretted it and are better people for it. I know this for a surety. A truly faith and love building experience that wasn't easy, but worth it.

    I sincerely hope this clarifies your concerns and questions.

  11. An incredibly poignant, yet wonderfully hope-filled post Emily.

    Well said...

  12. Emily, I found your post beautifully and tenderly written, expressing both your love and pride in Gary. I am so sorry you had to respond to a comment like this. I am not LDS, but I find it heartless and unnecessary for anyone to leave a comment like that at this time. Hang in there, dear....


  13. You are so gifted! I love how you express yourself. How you LOVE being a mother and appreciate the opportunity to feed your family...this is a hard thing for me :)
    One thing to remember about the mission experience is that they are supposed to be free from distractions at home. letters are welcome but if we were calling all the time it is harder to put your whole self into the did a great job truthful, so sincere!