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.