I just completed a whirlwind period in which we had a wedding in Minneapolis for one son and sent another son off on a two-year mission to Piura, Peru. In between we had a reception in Menominee, Wisconsin, a family reunion and an open house in Neenah, Wisconsin and to celebrate the wedding, the mission, and our own departure to China. My wife and I got a bit frazzled as we worked frantically to recover from all the activities and guests. We worked through our last night in Wisconsin without a wink of sleep to complete our move out of the house before the 6 am flight that would bring us home to Shanghai. We’re so grateful to the kind LDS man from the Neenah Ward who came by and insisted on staying to help after we had foolishly turned down a couple other offers for help, thinking we could do it all ourselves. He helped me see that I had grossly underestimated how much work was involved, and his kindness in stepping up and helping us won’t be forgotten. We could have used another day, frankly, but we managed to get all the essentials completed and barely made it to the airport in time. Whew.
Before the sleepless night of frantic final packing, we had one of the sweetest and most difficult experiences: sending a son on a mission. The sweetness especially comes from the ordinance that begins the mission: the setting apart of a missionary by the Stake President. It’s a simple, beautiful ordinance done in the ancient mode of the laying on of hands and speaking a blessing with the power of the Priesthood. During that blessing, I opened my eyes to take in the scene. The first thing I saw was portrait of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemene hanging on the well of our Stake President’s office, a reminder of what missionary work and the Gospel is all about: the Atonement of Jesus Christ and its power to save souls. Beneath the portrait was a little bronze state of an early Boy Scout, which called to my mind all the blessings my young son has received from the dedicated Young Men leaders in his life, especially Scout leaders. How grateful I am to all those who helped shape this young man and all of my sons that I am so proud of. Then my eyes turned to my son, his eyes closed in humbly accepting the blessing and charge being given, the overwhelming challenge of full-time missionary work. Then I glanced at the Stake President, such a kind and loving man, a lawyer with a giant soul (yes, this is possible!) who does so much for our Stake in kindness and love, and makes even those who fail in their callings and in their duties feel appreciated and loved. Then I looked over at my wife, who was quietly taking notes on my iPad about the things spoken in the blessing that would pertain to my son. My heart leaps when I look at her sometimes and ponder what a gem I’ve been blessed with, the woman who more than anyone has shaped and blessed the lives of those most important to me, not to mention my own life. And the secret to her success and positive influence, like the secret to the success of our Stake President, has been in large part her commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the intelligent application of the principles taught by the Church and the scriptures.
It was a sweet and joyous moment to take in this scene and contemplate the culmination of so many blessings that enabled this sweet moment of beginning to occur. But it was also bittersweet, knowing that this son who has brought us so much joy would not be seen by us for two more years. The next morning we drove him to the Green Bay airport, took some photos, said good-bye, and sent him off to Salt Lake City, where family there would get him safely to the MTC while we scurried to complete our move to China.
As we walked away, my wife and I both felt the same thing, I think, as our eyes moistened. We’ve done this three times before, sent three of the finest people we know away for two long years, and we realized it has not gotten any easier, not a whit easier at all. We’re so grateful for his mission call and for the privilege to serve, but we will miss him sorely. May the Lord watch over him, and may those souls in Peru that he meets learn all they can from him and receive the blessings that he is sacrificing much to bring them.