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Reluctant Sower

By Dalene Rowley

LAST NIGHT AFTER MY OLDEST SON, Luke, went to bed, I knocked on his bedroom door. “I need to give you a hug,” I said. I hugged him good night, wanting to sear the memory of that hug, and the few we have remaining, into my heart forever. Or at least for the next two years. Luke has been called to serve in the England Manchester Mission.

Just a few short months ago in sacrament meeting, the high council speaker said he had just put his son into the MTC. “It was the greatest day ever!” he declared.

Tears welled up in my eyes. I’ve been visualizing the day Luke will leave, and in spite of all that is good and wonderful about it, I know I will not be able to say, “It was the greatest day ever.” In fact, when I think about it too much I get a little sick to my stomach.

I mentioned this feeling to a friend and she said, “Well, you wouldn’t want him to not go.” Of course, she is right. I’ve dreamt about Luke serving a mission since the day he was born. I realize my children are not my own. My efforts as a mother have been to raise them up unto the Lord so I could turn them over to Him. Having a son willing to serve should fill my heart with joy. But to be honest, right now I feel more fear and trepidation than joy.

Despite all the beaming faces of proud missionary parents I see around me, as I talk with friends I realize I am not the only mother feeling torn over giving one’s child back to the Lord. One close friend of mine told me she wanted to curl up in a ball and die the first three weeks after her son left; for months after that she just felt numb. (She later sent out a daughter, too.) Another mother (two sons and a daughter down, two sons and maybe another daughter to go) reassured me the first year is almost unbearable, but if I could make it through that, the second year should go by more quickly. But just last week another mother (three down, two to go) told me not to believe anyone who tried to tell me it gets any easier.

A few months ago I visited with a friend whose only child had been out for about a year. I asked how he was doing. She assured me he was doing great and that his mission has been the best thing for him; but she also admitted that having him gone was the hardest thing ever for her. She recounted how difficult it was for her to watch him pack up his room and pack his bags, and see all traces of his presence in their home stack up in boxes and suitcases in the hallway. “It still hurts to walk by his empty room.” And although she knew time was flying by for him, it wasn’t so with her. “I am so sick of people coming up to me and saying, ‘Wow! It’s going by so fast!’” As she spoke I realized all that phrase really means is, “I’m not missing your child as much as you are.” I made a mental note to stop saying that to people.

Another mother (one down, one to go) likened sending off a missionary to giving birth. I had asked her why it seemed no one talks about how painful it is. “I guess it’s a bit like labor and delivery,” she explained. “You have to forget quickly how much it hurts or you wouldn’t be able to do it again.” As I pondered her statement later, I agreed, deciding it’s too bad there is no epidural for the heartache of saying good-bye.

The birth analogy is apt because the experience of sending off a missionary is not without great joy and comfort as well. When I see the excitement, enthusiasm, and love with which Luke has prepared himself to serve, I cannot help but be happy for him. I have been blessed with comfort, too. During the past year I’ve listened as Luke has prayed for me, I’ve had the privilege of feeling his hands upon my head in a priesthood blessing, I was blessed to accompany him to the temple many times, and I have loved how often he almost walks out the front door but then turns around to come back and hug me. The sense of his love for me will linger even when I miss his physical presence.

Luke has not been oblivious to my mixed emotions. Last year I wrote about a favorite family Christmas tradition. I realized it would be the last time we would experience this tradition—having our Luke read the account of the Savior’s birth from the second chapter of the book of Luke. I wrote about how I would miss hearing the way his voice expresses his love of the Savior and I asked, “Who will read it while he is gone?”

Unbeknownst to me, Luke read my essay and collaborated with a friend to pull off one of the best Christmas surprises ever—a professional recording of him reading the Christmas story. I haven’t listened to it yet, but I don’t think I’ll be able to wait until Christmas. I’m saving it for the day it hits me just how long two years apart will be. I know it will bring comfort whenever I need to hear his voice.

With Luke’s departure looming, our family has felt compelled to spend more time together, even though we’re busy and pulled apart in so many directions. We’ve all made greater efforts to strengthen relationships and make sure the remaining memories are good ones. One morning we were trying to read the Book of Mormon over breakfast out on our deck, but it was difficult to concentrate on wars and contentions when we were simultaneously entertained by the antics of our neighbor’s kittens that had crawled under the fence to play in our backyard. I didn’t mind though; we were together, sharing a good memory, even if it wasn’t quite the one I’d intended.

I noticed everyone seemed to work harder to get along and enjoy one another’s company as we took one last family vacation to Yellowstone Park. Luke has spent more time one-on-one with each of his siblings. I’ve forgone housework to retreat from the hot summer nights together in our cool basement to catch up on a few movies. We’ve even tried to enjoy the seemingly endless shopping trips necessary to procure every needful thing.

As we tackle the last of the to-buys and to-dos, and I contemplate saying the last good-bye, I am reminded of the mothers of Alma and of the sons of Mosiah sending their boys out to preach to the Lamanites, as well as other scriptural accounts of mothers sending sons off to be missionaries, prophets, or warriors. I know those mothers were women of greater faith than mine. But I doubt their faith let them miss their children any less. Yet knowing they did it, and that every day mothers survive the bittersweet of letting their sons and daughters go out into the world to serve, encourages me that I too can do this hard thing.

Friends whose children have come and gone remind me missionaries do come home eventually. A friend who lives abroad said the perfect thing to comfort my mother heart: “I sure enjoy the young elders and sisters who serve here. And I’m sure there are mothers in Luke’s mission who feel like I do . . . [the] need to gather these kids under our wings, our roof, and feed them, love them, get to know them. I absolutely love the missionaries and love the parents who send them.”

Luke encourages me as well. When I mentioned how two years seemed like such a really, really long time, he lovingly responded, ”Two years isn’t that long—I’ll be home before you know it! All you have to do when you miss me is do what I’m going to do when I start missing you . . . go to work and serve!”

I promise him I will. I know there will be great joy both for him and for our family over the next two years. But part of me still wonders how I could possibly get used to the empty room, the empty bed, or the empty chair.

Epilogue: We put Luke on a plane to the MTC in Preston, England, on August 28. I was mostly OK until I walked out of the airport, at which point I was overcome with grief. (Unfortunately those haven’t been the last of the tears. When I let myself really feel it, it feels like someone is reaching down my throat and pulling out a chunk of my heart.) But I have also been overwhelmed by the loving kindnesses, thoughts, and prayers of dear family and friends. One friend e-mailed saying, “I hope your heart is at peace.” I couldn’t feel it at first, but I can now truly say that it is.

About Dalene Rowley

Began blogging as a legitimate way to avoid housework and to keep a journal of sorts. In her other life she wants to be excellent at a number of things, but in this one she's settling for baking a mean sour cream lemon pie, keeping most of the points on her quilt blocks in line, being a loyal friend and aspiring to moments of goodness as a wife and mother.

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