My sister gave a lesson in church today, blending LDS missionary work and motherhood together. She asked for my feelings on the subject, and so we begin—
It was a brilliant summer day, and we were both busy at work in the kitchen~I was kneading bread while Ashton hammered the pegs into the little playschool workbench. Hammer, bam, crash, crack, bang.
“Mom, when I go on a mission...” he lisped—and we spoke of when and where and what it would be like. Then I heard the telltale break in his baby boy voice as he realized what he was saying—the weight behind the future plans. Suddenly it was more than he could bear. “Mom! I don’t want to go! I don’t want to leave you! I want to stay here and be little! Do I have to go? Do I?” And he bowed his head over his knees and wept. I scooped him up into my mother’s arms and told him a lie...but I knew better. I knew that there would come a day when he would want to go...when he did want to leave me...when he would move away from home as a young man, to be about his Father’s business.
The boy turned 14. He had just finished building and detonating a bomb. He had his cell phone taken away weekly. He refused to floss between his braces and had eye boogers and mouth corner mustard on a consistent basis. We weren’t sure if he was going to live past the age of 15—it was iffy at best. We walked up a dirt trail on our way to Youth Conference testimony meeting—I was there as a leader, and I didn’t know it at the time, but he was there as a leader, too. He spoke of Joseph Smith~his same age~being willing to die for this Gospel and his God. Then he fervently declared that, if it were asked of him, he would do the very. same. thing. And he bowed his head over his folded arms, and wept.
He grew strong and handsome—became a slave to fashion and an admirer of beautiful women. He was elected Student Body President, lettered in Debate, tutored special needs peers and figured out just in time, how to be a friend to his siblings. All of this was intermixed with Come To Jesus scoldings, “What in tarnation were you THINKING?” and a heavy dose of believing the Earth’s axis went directly through him.
We raised the bar. And he ducked under it.
We raised the bar. And he tripped over it.
We raised the bar. And he backed up, gathered up his noble spirit and running with all his might, flung himself to the heavens and catapulted over the bar, soaring to the highest heights! We stood on the sidelines and watched with mouths gaping. And we bowed our heads on each other’s shoulders and wept.
He was called to Florianopolis, Brazil, leaving one week before Christmas. He and his very best friends strengthened and brought each other unto Christ, and then departed within months of each other, to bring even more souls unto Christ. Stripling Warriors, these young men. I received the long awaited letter the very first week he lived at the Missionary Training Center. “Mother, I love you so much...you have no idea. And you were right. About everything. I am just now beginning to see it all. Thank you.”
I’ve placed him in his own little section of my heart as a necessity. I only check in every week, and only for a short while, as I read his letter and write him mine. It’s the only way to survive the gaping hole that is exactly his shape and size. But just last week, I was checking through my wallet during sacrament meeting, and pulled out Ashton’s missionary picture. I touched the one dimensional face, then handed it to my husband whispering, “Remember him?” He poignantly stared at the image, then whispered back, “He’s still ours, you know. We get him back.” And we looked into each others eyes and smiled.
And I know that within a few short months, there will be a young man, sweltering in the brilliant Brazilian sunlight, hammering away at the work. Scriptures in his hand, a tool in the Lord’s. Hammer, bam, crash, crack, bang. The letter will arrive and his voice will crack and echos from the past will take on a different meaning, “Lord! I don’t want to go! I don’t want to leave these people! I want to stay here and continue to grow big! Do I have to go? Do I?” And he will bow his head over his two year sacrifice and weep.
But the work will go on. Because some other courageous mother stands at her kitchen counter, kneading bread and talking of when...and where...and what...in preparation for her own Stripling Warrior to go to battle—to be about his Father’s business.
And he will not doubt it, because his mother tells him it is so.