Friday, May 18, 2012

That Big Fluffy Airport in the Sky

One of the great things about living in the wilds of West Texas, where members of my church are about as prevalent as chickens in Antarctica, is that I get to spend a lot of time with the missionaries assigned to the area. Most of these young men come to us from Utah and Idaho and are like a breath of fresh air and enthusiasm from home. I see them on their preparation days because they do laundry at our home and I’ve had multiple opportunities to go out and teach with them. Over time I find myself learning to love them just as if they were my own sons.

(As an aside here- please note that I am not old enough to be the mother of a missionary. I will not reach that milestone for at least 3 1/2 more years... Sigh... Excuse me for a moment while I run out and buy some nice 'n' easy to cover up my gray.) Anyway-

With the experience of seeing so many different Elders pass through I have begun to recognize patterns in those missionaries who are productive and happy. Let’s be clear, this is the Southern Bible Belt and rejection is an all-day-long everyday occurrence for these guys. They are met with shotguns at the doors they knock on with alarming frequency and all of them struggle with some of the harsh words that are thrown their way. Over the years I've seen those who struggle and then give up and then those who keep pushing forward and eventually are transformed into productive incredible men.

My younger brother Kent is a prime example of the transformation that can take place in the course of two years of service on an LDS mission. Kent was a good kid, didn’t get into much trouble, had potential and talent but was content to spend his time memorizing quotes from Space Ghost Coast to Coast and beating Final Fantasy twelve times in a row. He spent one inglorious year at BYU Idaho and after an injury to his knee while playing softball, moved into my basement to recover and get ready to go on his mission. His preparation consisted of playing video games 8 hours a day and venturing up into the light once in a while to raid the freezer for frozen pizza.

He was called to serve in the Central American country of Panama and was immediately assigned to a senior companion who had been an Olympic athlete. That Elder ran Kent up and down the side of a jungle mountain for months. They had limited conveniences and showered by using a garden hose nailed to the wall of their small tin-roofed residence. Kent was out of shape and battled through his lazy streak, learned a new language, and learned to serve and love the people of that country with all of his heart.

 The dashing Elder Cherry is on the right.

At the end of two years we met him at the airport wearing sombreros (which was totally inappropriate for a multitude of reasons) and with a huge misspelled “Bienvenido a casa élder Cherry!” banner. As he came through security no one recognized him. He had grown to almost 6 foot 5 inches tall, had lost 100 pounds and absolutely glowed with an inner light. No kidding, it almost hurt your eyes to look at him. His homecoming talk in church the following Sunday had the entire congregation awash in tears it was so beautiful and everyone we spoke to was amazed at his growth in such a short period of time. He now has an incredible wife, a beautiful son, and has just completed his first year of dental school. 

The future is impossibly bright for Kent because he chose to allow the hardships of his mission to make him into a better version of himself.

At this point in these kinds of stories I always start to think “Ok, so good for him and those other people that take advantage of that experience. Big deal, that isn’t me. I didn’t serve a mission and I’m just schlubbing along in life and dealing with all the garbage and hardships I have to deal with. Right?

Here’s the thing, from an LDS perspective we know that we existed before we came here as spirit children of our Heavenly Father. In that place we accepted a mission call to this earth. Truly we did, and like the young men and women who go out today we were excited and I’m sure a little nervous about taking on the challenge. Some of us were better prepared than others to come, some had tendencies towards all kinds of different character defects like laziness, but all of us signed up to come out with the knowledge that if we would persevere through the difficulties and rejection and trust in God, that He would transform us into much better versions of ourselves. That was the deal.

So the question now becomes, who do we want to be when we get back to our family at that big airport in the sky? And will they be wearing sombreros?



“It is not a question of whether or not we want to be missionaries. We have already decided that issue. We are alive; we are here; we are members. The only question is: What kind of missionaries will we be?” 
 - John H. Groberg

1 comment:

  1. I love this Brenda. It makes me want to be better, and for the record I think you are doing a pretty GREAT job.


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