At this very moment, a white 9×12 envelope lies on my kitchen counter addressed to Elder Alexander Christoph Baptiste Lehnardt from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
All over the world, similar letters rest on other kitchen counters while mothers wait and fret. Three or four of Xander’s friends have opened mission calls every week for the last two months. If I scroll through Instagram or Facebook, I can see videos of kids opening calls nearly every day of the week.
It starts to feel ordinary– this remarkable practice of sending off our teens for two years (or eighteen months) to far flung climes. It’s especially bold to sign your name on the dotted line and say, “I’ll go where you want me to go.”– literally anywhere on the planet.
I always love talking to my friends of other faiths about missions because their questions illustrate the astonishing facts about missionary work that Mormons treat as a matter of course.
So where do you want to go?
But what if it’s a place you don’t like?
And what about school?
Do you think you might meet a nice girl on your mission?
But you’ll text and call and Facetime with your friends and family?
Wait, does this mean you’re going to miss the new Star Wars Movie?
I know of nothing like it in the world– where young people put their fate in the hands of someone else, commit to serving anywhere in the world (even if it sounds awful), set aside schooling, work, dating, books, entertainment and even Star Wars, and spend their time helping others.
Right now, Xander could be going anywhere on his mission. Spin the globe, place your finger on a landmass or an island– he could be going there (with the very few exceptions of Syria, Saudi Arabia, etc.). In just a few hours all those possibilities will shrink a single point on the map. A place that will mold him, where he’ll form friendships and pick up new words and possibly a parasite.
If he could choose, he’d go to Africa.
I can’t think about him going anywhere without feeling my throat grow tight and my heart ache. We’re on our fourth missionary and the process only gets harder. I now know EXACTLY how long two years feels like. I know how much they’ll miss in our family and how much we’ll miss them. Each time we’ve started on mission papers, I’ve had this argument with God, “Don’t you see I can’t live without this child for two years?” Each boy is my favorite for reasons that don’t have words and can’t be expressed. And right now today I wonder, how will we live without Xander for two years?
We’ve all been feeling it for the last months. Every morning when we pack lunches, pass the milk down the counter, gather homework and pray before school there’s an awareness that our days are numbered. No one forgets hugs, or ‘I love you’s these days and Xander offers them freely and extravagantly (sometime embarrassing his friends in the hallways ‘I love you man!’) There’s a sense of importance in every family dinner and I notice Xander taking more time to throw a Frisbee with Gabe, unicycle with Mary. It’s been a good year, an almost sacred time, where we’ve relied on each other and basked in the comfort of feeling truly safe.
I’m so proud of Xander, of the gentler, kinder person he’s become. Senior year always consists of successes and failures and he’s weathered them with grace.
He’s a lot to miss.
I’ll update tomorrow.