It’s been a year.

The Disclaimer

Today’s post comes with a disclaimer. Albeit pathetic, writing about Elder Burt today is a cathartic acknowledgement by the mother who needs to reflect on the “anniversary” of sorts that is October 1. An uncelebrated occasion is this marker in the mission timeline that may not deserve the attention I give it, like an unheralded birthday. But I cannot ignore it despite Elder Burt likely disapproving of it for so many reasons. And maybe I just need to talk. So, if you are here today looking for an update on David, you may want to skip this post.

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But . . . who’s counting?

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Now let’s get real.

I hardly dare say the words. They are both good and badand loaded. I can’t say that David and I have directly discussed (i.e., written or emailed) anything about this unspoken elephant in the room: It’s now been an entire year since he left.

One year. One half of a mission. And because that seems like some sort of torturous milestone, how could I resist saying at least something about it?  How rude, you might say—anyone knows that watching the calendar isn’t helpful at all. A missionary must stay focused on their new work of studying and serving and avoid thinking about the life left behind. Okay, so David won’t want to talk about it, especially if this elephant is distracting. But maybe I do, even if it is a little silly and obvious. And since this is my blog, technically speaking, then I can say whatever I want. Besides, I rarely editorialize as I post David’s letters, so it is clearly my turn.

“Tell me, how do you REALLY feel? This is for posterity, so please, be honest.”

Six-Fingered Man, The Princess Bride

There is something tricky about being smack dab in the middle: Either way you go, it’s the same distance. You’re not that close to anything. It is the dreaded middle, the forgotten phase, the trenches. This “thing” is no longer new and exciting, but it’s not finished either. I hope that David can look this next year right in the eye and say with confidence and enthusiasm, “I’ve learned so much that this next year will be even more fabulous than the first!” Or, “I only have one more year to be the best missionary ever!” How about, “My adventure is half over and going so fast that I had better slurp up all the rewards, excitement and energy out of this before it’s all over!”

Can I also look this next year in the eye and say those things?

One year ago

First, let’s start at the beginning. I’ve never posted this photo of David boarding the plane before dawn on October 1, 2014. It’s blurry and poignant.

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That last look: why must we feel so compelled to look back?

And this one still kills me. Sadie took this photo when David unceremoniously exited her car, having just landed in Utah and driven to the MTC with her, and turned towards his new life. He didn’t look back this time.

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“Don’t feel bad,” I comforted her, pretending to be unaffected. “He’s just ready to go and doesn’t see any need to stand around talking about it.”

Why it’s all good

Regardless of the obvious sending-my-precious-son-away-for-two whole-years-is-hard monologue (Doesn’t that go without saying?), I can’t deny the lessons I’ve learned, which are the same that every other parent of a missionary discovers. 

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David has always loved to travel and experience new and exciting adventures. What’s to be sad about when you are looking forward to going and doing?

That being said, I can happily concede that it’s all good in the big picture, so I will share a few truths reinforced this past year. (Repeat note to parents having already done this bit: You may want to skip this post. You’ve already got this.)

Truth #1. I know that I wouldn’t have David anywhere else right now; I couldn’t selfishly want him missing what only God can teach him through this mission. The sacrifices can be listed, and yet they just don’t tell the whole story. What David is learning about himself, about God, about each person he comes to love, is pricelessan invaluable treasure. What we at home are learning about ourselves, about God, and about David through his mission, is precious.

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Truth #2. We can do hard things. Pushing through disappointment, tests of faith, homesickness, worry, communication barriers, and personal weaknesses are instructive to David every day in Brazil, while we are learning similarly here as we participate as supporters. Funny how so many life experiences teach us all about the concept “it goes both ways.”

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Rejection, exhaustion, disappointment, discomfort and hard work. “Sometimes a mission is so . . . heavy,” David reflects.

Truth #3. Love, fully engaged and energetically offered, conquers all. Forget what social shame dictates—David is all in, wholehearted, and completely engulfed in the biggest soul full of love I have ever seen. He sorrows for souls lost and wounded; he rejoices with each person’s triumphs and successes. He embodies non-prejudiced vision, not judging because he truly loves his people, wherever they are, and just wants the best for them. And I can learn much from his giant capacity to genuinely live fully, have fun wherever he goes, and keep an upbeat positive attitude. I desperately need his natural example of forgiveness, resilience, and acceptance. (If he has ever handled a relationship or situation poorly, I can assure you, he still carries sadness and regret for it.) David isn’t perfectnone of us are.  But he really gets attached and cares about people for who they are, and it’s satisfying to watch that trait help him in his missionary work.

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Who would happily drag home a tire like this? Whoever wouldn’t want to pass up a free fitness toy.

Truth #4. Blessings and miracles happen all the time, and God is watching over us. Every one. Can we even begin to count the many tender mercies we’ve experienced? And that doesn’t count the unseen miracles and protection of which we can’t always be aware. David has never been more aware of these blessings than he is now. The evidence of God’s hand in our lives cannot be denied, and that recognition builds our faith. That’s not to say that the trials aren’t equally apparent. In fact, they may be even more obvious than ever before. But the point is that God is there and is helping us however and whenever he can, without detracting from what he deems necessary life experiences. We must learn to trust him and then recognize his mercy.

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Of course it is hard, but David also declares that there is nothing more rewarding.

Truth #5. Perspective is a great reminder of our place in the big picture. And what about that perspective we gain with respect to our own Heavenly Father? The parallels seem so obvious. He eagerly awaits communication and love from us. He dearly values our attention, our devotion, our obedience. He yearns for us to do with him what we need to grow and also to help his other children through our service. He knows, so much better than we, what we need to learn and how hard we must stretch to become who he knows we can be.

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I confess that I look forward to the day that we can repeat this picture on the other end.

Truth #6. Families are forever and are central to God’s plan of happiness. I have a whole new level of appreciation for our Heavenly Father and how he loves and cares for us every day like a loving parentfrom a great distance and with seemingly insurmountable barriers. He teaches me much about the pain and love and sacrifice of a parent and the role and impetuousness of a growing child. And this realization makes me want to be a more attentive Christian, a more faithful child (and a more loving parent) who follows his example with exactness and lives a life of consecration and reverence. It goes both ways. God understands and is with us. We all support each other as we grow. Is this not what families are all about?

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I suppose I should apologize for being sappy. But really, how can I discuss missing the sunshine that David radiates, celebrate that one year has already passed, simultaneously lament that there is, after all, still another year without him . . . and then fail to elaborate on why it is all okay?

If I insist on exploring this elephant in the room, how can I fairly expose it without noticing its beauty?

Bring on another year.

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