It seems like only yesterday that mom and I were checking the mailbox every day waiting for your mission call to arrive. Once it did there was the flight to Idaho in the brutal cold and snow when you opened that letter to learn you were going to the Georgia Atlanta North Mission. You were so excited. Every word out of your mouth from that point on talked about Georgia and serving the people there.
That semester at school seemed to drag on for you as you tried to focus on your classes but your mind and your heart were already in Georgia. Each week we talked to you, you would quickly go through your experiences at school then begin talking about your upcoming mission. Whether it was going through packing lists and making decisions about ties and clothing or talking about missionary experiences you had at school and how you would use them when you arrived in Georgia. There were trips to bike stores to pick out models of Trek bicycles and trips to Ferrel’s to get overcoats, shirts, and pants. Each day brought you closer and closer to the day you would leave.
When school ended you moved back home for a month until it was time to leave. During that month you continued to work to be prepared. Part of that preparation as going through the temple for the first time. I was your escort that day guiding you through each part of the endowment helping you where necessary and watching with pride as you did it yourself. As we entered the Celestial Room I could not be prouder. There we were as a family holding hands, hugging, and wiping tears of joy from our eyes. It was one of the most amazing spiritual experiences I’ve had seeing all of my children together in the temple. I include your sister Lindsay when I say that. Although it has been 31 years since we lost her I can testify that she was there with us that night in the temple.
Your farewell was amazing. The talk you gave came from the heart and touched everyone that was listening. You were prepared and confident but humbled for the journey that lie ahead. Then the next night the Stake President set you apart as a full-time missionary and assigned me as your companion. I was so proud to be your first companion and so excited for you to start your mission. I knew it would be hard but I also knew that the Lord would be with you and watch over you as you tarried in His vineyard.
That early morning in May we all got up. The emotions were very high and whenever any of us would look at each other tears would start. It was a happy time but also difficult knowing we would not see each other for two years and would only be able to communicate through letter and email. Despite the emotions we made our way to the airport where we got you checked in and walked to the security gate. There were a lot of pictures taken and many of them showed at least one person in tears. Finally it was time to go and you said your good-byes and walked through security towards the plane.
That journey to the plane was just the first of many steps you would make. You are going to grow so much spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and even physically. The flight from Phoenix to Salt Lake City was short but seemed to take forever. We watched the computer screens monitoring your progress praying everything was ok wondering how you were doing.
During your time in the Mission Training Center (MTC) we listened as you talked about all you were learning and the amazing people you had met. There were struggles with some of the practice investigators but also some of the most spiritual experiences that you had ever had in your life. It was wonderful hearing from you and all you were going through. And when you sent mom the note telling her to please send a new white shirt because you left blue paper in the pocket and caused a stain so you threw away the shirt we knew that despite all of the changes, you were still the same kid you’ve always been.
The day you left for Georgia was a day none of us slept. You promised to call from the airport in Salt Lake City before boarding the plane. Everyone came over to the house at 4 AM to make sure they were there when the phone rang. It was so wonderful hearing your voice even though you had only been gone for three weeks. You sounded so excited about getting to Georgia and what you were about to experience. This was the moment you had been waiting for your whole life.
It was again a long day as mom watched the plane going east from her computer screen. Each moment added more miles and distance between us. As a parent it was bittersweet. On the one hand we were so proud of you and all you had accomplished already but on the other hand we worried. Would things work out for you? Would you and your companion get along? What happens if you struggled? Would you eat right and how many more shirts would we need to send you? Ok, that last one was all your mother.
Since arriving in Georgia you have tarried in the Ellijay Branch and have been in Jasper. I have to admit, we had to look up Jasper on Google and from the pictures it didn’t look like it would ever compete with Walt Disney World to be crowned the Happiest Place on Earth. For a city kid it looked pretty small and there was a part of me that wondered whether you really would be eating roadkill at some point in your mission.
Elder Spotten became your trainer and the emails we received sounded as though you were adapting well to mission life. Sure there were a couple that you sounded a little frustrated that the work was not progressing fast enough and it broke our hearts to hear that Elder Spotten had an injury that kept him and you from doing a lot of what needed to be done. But through it all you persevered and stayed positive. We’re still not sure whether you were really that positive or if that was just for our benefit. I guess we should ask Whitney since I think you probably tell her more than you do mom and I. Despite the struggles you seemed to be having good contact and getting people to hear the message.
We were all shocked when we heard about the emergency transfer that sent Elder Spotten back near the mission home and gave you a new companion Elder Klingler. Almost immediately we felt a different tone in your emails. You were much more excited than you had been previously and a lot busier. It was exciting to hear about all of your adventures and our hearts swelled with pride as you talked about teaching people and challenging them to baptism.
So here we are today celebrating 100 days of your mission. Looking back and reading the emails and looking at the pictures it is amazing how much you have done in such a short period of time. A hundred days seems so long yet it is just beginning for you. You still have 631 days to go (not that we are counting. Ok, we are totally counting and mom has a map of Georgia that she colors for every day you have served). You have completed 13 percent of your mission but still have 87 percent remaining.
It is hard to imagine how many more people you will meet, how many more lessons you will teach, and how many more experiences you will have. For a brief moment we wanted to recount all that we have heard and to tell you how proud we are of you. Your mission is not just touching the lives of people in Georgia. There is not a day that goes by that a member of the family does not talk to someone about you and about your mission.
We are constantly talking about your experiences and sharing experiences of our own teaching those around us about the restored gospel. It has also brought many opportunities for us to build our own testimony of Jesus Christ and recount all of the blessings we have been given. Every day you are in our thoughts and our prayers. We have maps of Georgia on phones and hanging in the house. We have countdown maps and pictures you have sent. And every time we walk out the front door we look up to see the “Return with Honor” sign that mom hung above the door as a reminder for each of us to endure to the end so that we may return to our Heavenly Father with honor and fulfill our mission here on this earth.
May the Lord bless you and keep you safe. May you continue to feel the promptings of the Holy Spirit and let it guide you to those who are seeking a way back to their Heavenly Father. I know without doubt that He is very proud of the work you are doing and will continue to be with you always. Continue to reach out to those around you and teach them all that they should do to return with honor back to heaven when their mortal lives are over.
Dad and Mom