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.

April 23, 2017



  1. ellen patton

    April 27, 2017

    My friend is the President of the Durban South Africa Mission — I hope Xander goes there!

    • Hildie

      May 13, 2017

      Ellen, a boy in our ward got called to Durban (supposed to leave in two weeks), but South Africa stopped issuing visas to Americans! So he got a second 9×12 letter last week with a new mission call: Zimbabwe!

      Michelle, you are extremely fortunate. My son, York, was so unbearable at the end of his senior year that I could hardly wait to see him go. At one point he told me he wouldn’t even be writing to us and my response? “I don’t even care!” (He has written every week and I do care.) Some kids are very obnoxious about the whole spreading-wings thing. Of course once he got out in the third world and saw the blessing that his life and family were, he changed his tune. He has written the kindest and sweetest emails.

      York gets home in August and instead of going right off to school he told us that he wants to spend the fall semester living at home. “I never really bothered to get to know you and dad and I want to change that,” he said. “I’m not a jerk anymore and I want to prove that to you.” Yay for missions!

      Finn is much more pleasant and nice than his brother so we will miss him a great deal. But if there has ever been a kid who needs to learn what a mission can teach, it’s him.

      My two kids have learned so much and been refined in all the best ways that although it’s sad to see them go (not going to lie, so much harder to send a daughter off. Like, a billion times harder), I’m just thrilled at the changes that will come about in their lives. And I’m downright shocked how fast two years goes!

      Finn is waiting for his mission call to arrive and it’s the freakiest thing, knowing this letter will literally change his life.

  2. Annie

    April 29, 2017

    It really is such a remarkable thing. You’re right, after a while we kind of take it for granted but it really is an amazing thing! Something funny: when Sam heard about Xander’s call we had to laugh because if anyone had asked where he’d choose to serve, it would be Montreal! Good things wait for them both in the places they’ll serve. (And I’ve been having conversations with God about this whole thing, too.)

  3. Michelle

    April 29, 2017

    There is nothing common about this…as we recently discussed. As I read on another post just last night — this is a HUGE DEAL!

    Was thinking about you all last night, but didn’t have the presence of mind to check your blog or Facebook. I take comfort in knowing that wise friends have walked this path before…as I feel my heart may literally be pulled out of me as I prepare to send my firstborn off.

    Did I mention that this feels like a really big deal to me? Ahem.

    Love you.

  4. Tasha

    May 2, 2017

    And the lucky mission to get Xander is …

  5. Anne Marie

    May 4, 2017

    It is truly phenomenal what these young people do as missionaries. Two years sometimes truly does feel like an eternity. We are coming up on the almost half-way point with our first missionary, and it has felt like such a LONG time. Having him gone has really stretched my faith in God. I told my son before he left that nothing else in the world could allow me to let him go like this. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. Sending you all the best as you get ready for Xander to leave and enjoy the time with each other. xox

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