My grandmother, mother, and I all served missions, so I was delighted when my firstborn announced her intention to serve, submitted her papers, received her call.
Little did I know.
Nobody told me about that wrenching scene at the MTC when they cheerfully announce â€œParents and families go this way; missionaries go that way.â€ Like we were going to two different Disneyland rides instead of two different lives.
Or the millennial wait for the first letter from the field assuring me my child is not, in fact, dying of starvation, stuck with Cruella de Vil for a companion, or the victim of a terrorist plot.
Or the nightmares â€“ how can they just skip over the nightmares? â€“ about her getting Dengue Fever or disappearing like they do in the opening scenes of Without a Trace.
Okay, so Iâ€™m a little paranoid. But really. Whose idea was this anyway?
I guess I should confess that all three of my children returned safely from their missions. Nor did it prove necessary to hospitalize me for reverse-homesickness. I know it doesnâ€™t always go that way, but it did for me, and more often than not it does for others. The mortality rate is lower for missionaries than for comparable groups of young adults not on missions, and that holds even when those comparable groups are not living on a remote island with no medical attention or sweating in the jungles of Ghana â€“ or Boise.
So, you ask, how did I survive this unnatural assault on my every maternal instinct?
I survived the way my mother survived when I left on a mission, and her mother, and her mother before her. I worried and prayed. I wrote letters and sent packages. I talked to others who had also said goodbye for a long time to the people they loved most in all the world. Then I simply lived long enough to see them come home, and when they did I was grateful beyond words.
A few things Iâ€™ve learned from our experience and that of others:
1. Itâ€™s just as hard with the third one as it was with the first. Sorry.
2. Donâ€™t be surprised if there is a blow-up in the weeks before they go. It is very common for families to figure out some way to have a big fight just before a beloved child leaves for college or a mission â€“ perhaps a way to loosen the ties a bit and avoid more tender feelings. If it happens, donâ€™t panic. Do apologize and make things right.
3. Trust them. We werenâ€™t perfectly prepared to launch into adulthood, and we survived. Chances are good they will also. If they can figure out the new cell phone faster than we can, maybe they can figure out the rest of the world without us too.
4. Trust yourself. The home teacher speaking at a missionary farewell in my ward said, â€œI know the Plilerâ€™s have honorably fulfilled their stewardship for their son.â€ Iâ€™m quite sure thatâ€™s true. But Plilerâ€™s are probably the last to know it.
5. And finally, trust the Lord. Those rude non-members, blundering mission presidents, lackluster companions, and incompetent church leaders are also His children, as precious to him as this precious child of ours. He knows how to save us all, whether or not He protects us. This is the message we send to the world on the smiles and hopes of our sons and daughters.
6. Some of them will come home early, come home broken, or come home on the way out the doors of the church. In many cases these challenges would have caught up with them anyway. In other cases there is still something to be learned or gained from the experience, even if it takes a long time. And in those cases where the loss seems irreparably soul-shattering, even life-ending, surely there is some special medal of valor in the eternities for those who lost their lives, physically or otherwise, in the service of the Lord. And for those who loved them and let them go.