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A Missionary Mother

Today’s guest post is from Marcia Stanford. Marcia lives on a tree-lined street in California with her charming husband and delightful children, who are growing up much too quickly. She is a BYU English major currently completing the last few courses via Independent Study. Raised in Utah, she now savors the opportunity to pick fresh lemons year round and tend to her window boxes filled with red geraniums.

She’d always wanted to go on a mission. On Sundays she would organize the television programing, self-appointed as the oldest sibling, as they watched “Families are Forever,” “Labor of Love” and “Called to Serve.” She loved them all. So really, it was no surprise when shortly after turning twenty that she began the process. It didn’t matter that she was in college 700 miles away from home. I got calls, texts, and emails about health insurance, medical appointments, and interviews with a Bishop whose name I didn’t know. She was always an independent soul—a soul filled with faith.

When the call came she was volunteering at the Provo MTC. At the appointed hour we gathered around the speaker phone at home, while roommates, boyfriend, sister and grandma gathered in her apartment. This was drama. She started to read the letter. It sounded like the lines from “Called to Serve,” only this time it was real. My little girl was ready to fly.

“You are hereby called to serve in the El Salvador San Salvador East Mission,” her quavering voice read. Ah! At least I knew where that was. My brother served there in the 70’s—before they closed the mission to civil war unrest. Obviously it had been reopened in the decades since. I hadn’t paid attention. Now I prayed with earnest that such unrest had been resolved.

She came home after the semester, and we bought clothes together—sturdy ones that could handle being “washed in a stone sink,” per mission instructions. I could hardly imagine the laundry scene. I could hardly imagine anything she was about to discover. But she was ready. And I prayed I would be.

Once she left, a memorial of sorts collected on my kitchen cupboards. A map of El Salvador, photos of her looking uncommonly similar to past first-day-of-school photos—crisp, clean and anxious to begin. The memorial grew with every picture she sent. I loved seeing her familiar face amid unfamiliar surroundings as I made peanut butter sandwiches on weekdays and pot roasts on Sundays.

Her letters were gifts. Each Monday felt like Christmas morning when my husband would call, “It’s here!” and I’d scramble from the laundry room with my silent high-efficient washer to the computer and enter her world for a few sacred moments. I read every word hearing her voice, for she wrote as she spoke. After a few weeks, her English grammar bumbled about as adjectives followed nouns or pronouns slipped from position. Then I’d smile, knowing she was immersing herself in the language.

The weeks melted into months and before long we had the Christmas phone call, then the Mother’s Day call. How can you describe what it’s like to finally hear a voice that feels like part of your very being? We recorded the second call and planted it on my desktop like a hyacinth. I’d often click on it and live the blessed conversation all over again when I needed it. Some weeks I needed it a lot.

The scheduled date of her arrival home was anticipated like the date of her birth. And in a way there were a lot of similarities. She had become a new person. She had survived hurricane winds, mudslides, rats and robbery. She had walked miles on unpaved roads at the feet of unstable volcanoes, knocked on doors made of tin, and testified of truths she had known since childhood. She loved these people. And they loved her. They hated to see her leave. And part of me felt as they did, for this experience had been priceless. My wise little one had become a gentle and profound woman. I read it in her words; I heard it spoken in the spaces between. Her sacrifice became ours, and we had all been fed. Deliciously.

My husband was the first to see her at the far end of the International Terminal, exclaiming, “I see her!” She came slowly, pushing a cart loaded with luggage, smiling. The sight is forever engraved in my memory. Watching her approach, I felt renewed, infused. We hugged. All around. Again and again. Strangers watched, smiling. Our joy was tangible, even contagious. I pulled back from a second hug to touch her face, comprehend her presence, connect to the depth of her soul. In this I was complete—my daughter was home.

17 thoughts on “A Missionary Mother”

  1. Wow. My husband is asking what's wrong because my tears are flowing.

    I know the stone sinks, the tin doors, the dusty streets. But that was over twenty years ago that I served as a missionary in Peru and now I have a son about to leave for college and I hope next year a mission. And I wonder how my heart will manage.

    Thank you for such beautiful words and example of a mother's love and a daughter's goodness.

  2. I'm crying too! Thank you for your beautiful writing, Marcia. I'm at the stage where I can't imagine my son ever coming home; I love reading about the growth you've described. You've raised and incredible daughter.

  3. My second son has 17 weeks to go 'til end of his mission… he's half a world away, where nights are long and days short right now, at the foot of volcanoes, with earthquakes and a tsunami during his stay, walking 5 to 20 miles in daily rain and having angels watch over him every minute. You've captured my feelings and posted them for all to see. Thank you for this.

  4. Marcia – this is so beautifully written. And the photo has me in tears. You speak so articulately to the joy missionary families experience. This kind of work – of sending our children out to serve, of serving ourselves – is the life-blood of the gospel. Your support and love for your daughter is inspiring. Makes me hope my daughters will go on missions. Thank you.

  5. Marsh- we all gathered around and read this. I had to fight back the tears. It's so beautifully put. We love you!

  6. Beautiful.

    My daughter has been gone just over 4 months now, serving the Lord. I am waiting for a wonderful reunion.

    Thank you.

  7. I love this. Like some other commenters, I remember the stone sinks and the things you described from my own mission, and can't wait for my children to have those amazing and life-changing experiences, as you so beautifully described.

  8. Thank you for your kind comments! I love the universality of experience we share, whether as the missionary herself, or the parent raising our children to serve, or actually sending them off with that bittersweet tug of love. Last week my second daughter flew out to mission field in Indiana. It was easier to let her go, remembering how sweet the homecoming can be. Yet in the midst of this experience, I can’t help but think that a mother in another place awaits the homecoming of each of us. And then I ask myself, “Am I doing all that I can? Am I doing what I was sent here to do?” And then I usually just go start another load of laundry—hoping to just keep afloat for another day.

  9. That photo is so precious. This post was beautiful and not only makes me reflect on my own mission but also gets me looking forward to the day when my kids can go.

  10. Marcia I'm in Indiana and your daughter is serving in my ward! I've been very impressed with her spirit and maturity for this being her first assignment. She's going to be a fantastic missionary! 🙂

  11. I'm surprised that I got so emotional while reading this. I don't have any children and I returned from my mission years ago, but reading this gave me a glimpse into what my mom must have felt. Thank you.

  12. Sherri C. – what a small world! Thank you for making the connection and sharing that—it completely made my day! Please give her a hug for me. Thank you!

  13. Last week our 20-year-old daughter–who NEVER wanted to serve a mission–announced to us that she knows she is supposed to go. She turns 21 in just four short months, so she is ready to work hard to finish all the paperwork.

    Additionally our son will be 19 in January, so his paperwork is also about to begin, and he is counting the days.

    I am thrilled beyond belief that our children want to serve, and I am willing to put them in the Lord's hands for 18 — 24 months. I also find that I am putting my heart in His hands, because it hurts to let my babies leave. There are hundreds of thousands of mothers who have experienced this and have survived it, so I know I can, too.

    But OUCH.

    And also HOORAY!

  14. tears are streaming. my son has been in the Italy Milan mission for 19 months now. i can't wait for that sweet reunion


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