Called to serve · Missing Them · Missionary Mama · What I wish I'd known

The First Six Months

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My missionary, Elder Halverson, on the right

My elder has been out for five months.

In some ways, it’s gone faster than I would have thought.  In other ways, it feels like an eternity.  So much has happened in our family in this short time, and we’ve experienced a lot without him.  We’ve gone through major holidays, birthdays, illnesses and surgeries.  We’ve had triumphs and failures.  We’ve struggled, cried, celebrated and prayed together; we’ve grown and learned.

All without him here to see or share in it.

My best friend from high school is dropping her daughter off at the MTC this week (hi, Britnee!) and my heart just aches because I know the roller coaster of emotions she’s about to get on.

And, man, is it ever a long, bumpy, wild ride.

Those first few weeks are truly the worst.  I remember being teary all the time.  I couldn’t walk past his room without feeling like someone had punched me in the gut.  I missed him so terribly that it physically hurt, and I thought of little else.   I worried about him nonstop, and counted the minutes until P-Day when I could email chat with him and make sure he was all right.  I lived for those conversations, and it was all that got me through the week.  I prayed for him with a fierce intensity that I’d never had before.

He struggled in the early days.  The language was overwhelming, the culture unfamiliar.  He felt homesick and couldn’t talk about it because his companion spoke no English.  Their shared vocabulary was minuscule and my elder was drowning.  This only increased my anxiety here at home, and I questioned everything about this process.  I watched, helpless, and hated to see him all alone in the world, surrounded by the unfamiliar, with no support system.  I worried if we had what it would take to survive.

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My other kids jokingly referred to him as the ‘favorite child,’ and there was some truth to their sentiments.  If friends or family asked me about him (which they did often), it was my favorite topic and I rattled off every detail I knew about how he spent his days, what he was eating, and how he was feeling.  Mostly, I cried.  I felt that no one truly understood my desperation except other missionary mamas, and I sought them out in earnest.  I was a woman obsessed.

Then, as time is wont to do, the weeks passed and he found his footing.  His routine became familiar and the language took root.  He built relationships with a few Chilean families, and they grew to love him as much as I do.  He is now determined and content.  He is happy and works hard.  I get photos at least once a week from a Chilean man we lovingly refer to as Señor Willie, and I see proof of this happiness in the eyes of my boy.

And now, I find myself almost one-quarter of the way through this seemingly eternal adventure, and I reflect with gratitude for these five months of hard.  While I’d gladly sell my soul to have him home with me today, I’m so thankful for this opportunity in his life.  He will never experience selfless service on a full-time basis ever again.  His mission is a time to dedicate his life to a cause greater than himself, and I find myself bathing in the blessings that come from it.  After a few months, and a particularly poignant letter from our elder which described growth and maturity beyond his 19 years, my husband said, “He’s letting the change happen.

That change was unavoidable for us here at home, as well.  It stood knocking at my door, while I cried and kicked my feet against it on the other side.  I fought the growth with a toddler-like tantrum of epic proportions.  I grumbled, pouted, and sighed at the unfairness of it all.  Daily.  I second-guessed the process and questioned the wisdom of putting my child (and my family) through what seemed like an odious sacrifice.

But I feel that change slowly, carefully working in me, as well.

If you find yourself at the beginning of this long road, just know that it does get better.  The homesickness will ease; your heart will know peace again.  The language will come.  The studying and teaching will become routine.  The culture and foreignness will feel like home in just a few short months.  Your child will spread those beautiful wings and fly.  Your nest is a lot emptier, there is no denying that, but the Lord will send a soft, warm, beautiful joy to fill the void.

So much so that you’ll not have room enough to hold it.

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