Monday, May 9, 2011

Missionaries and Moms

Yesterday was Mother's Day and, on that day, my son made his final call home from the mission field. He will be home in two months. I can't believe how fast the time has gone.

During our conversation I asked my son if he had any dinner appointments for Mother's Day. He said no.

He was transferred into this area only recently and he said they have a large ward and an empty dinner calendar all the time. No one feeds the missionaries in the ward. In his last area, the missionaries were often double-booked for dinners. Here they will go all week without a single invite from the members for anything...dinners, appointments. This ward just does not have a connection with their missionaries.

Well, I reacted as any mother would. I asked for the Relief Society President's name and number and said I would call and get things taken care of!! We laughed together and then he said no dinner appointment just meant he could visit with me longer.

Despite his laughter, my son is struggling to adjust to his last area. He loved the area he had been serving in and the work there kept four missionaries busy all the time. Now he is trying to stay focused on finishing strong in a ward where missionary work is being neglected by the members. Sadly, there are many wards like that across the church. Is your ward one of them?

Whenever missionaries have been in our area, I have regularly invited them for dinner...not because we could afford it easily but because I am a mother. I feel it is my duty to take care of these young missionaries in the same way I would want my sons cared for on their missions. Apparently other mothers do not feel the same way.

As a result of yesterday's phone call, here is part of an e-mail I sent to my son this morning:

As you mentioned your area, I had a couple of impressions come to me and maybe you've already had them. When you are younger in life, it is easy to think that decisions are made to "punish" you. I remember elders thinking they were being sent to certain areas or certain zones or linked up with certain companions because they were being punished by the mission president and that the mission president didn't like them. At times it was easy to think maybe the elders were right.

However, as I've gotten older I realize that adults do not make decisions based on what would be worst for someone. It is just the opposite. Adults look at a situation and they think...what would be the BEST decision here. I am sure the mission president looked at the area and he, too, thought, what would be the BEST decision here. Who would be the best missionary to send there? What does that area need to help the members start to click with the missionaries and get the work started? He sent you there because you were the BEST choice.

As for the empty dinner calendars...there is only one reason ward members do not invite missionaries to dinner...the missionaries. If your ward has not been inviting previous missionaries to dinner you will need to continue to work on earning their trust and friendship. It can take several months for a ward to change their attitude toward the missionaries if they've had some bad experiences in the past.

Most of the priesthood (those who have served missions at least) understand that all missionaries are imperfect. They tend to accept new missionaries faster than the women, so work with the brethren. Get involved in Young Men's and with the elders, etc.

Unfortunately, most women in the church have NOT served missions and they tend to expect the missionaries to walk on water all the time. When they notice a missionary is really just a young man who still gets mud on his shoes and splashes water on occasion, they can get very upset and turn away from the missionaries...kind of like what happened with your companion and the blessing situation before you arrived; or even with you and the mission leader's wife earlier in your mission.

Yes, as Paul advised young Timothy...who was suffering similar problems..."Let no man despise thy youth but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity...Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by the laying on of the hands...Meditate upon these things and give thyself wholly to them." (1 Tim 4:12-14)

"Them" could mean your talents and the Lord, but it could also mean the people in your area. Give yourself wholly to them for these last two months. Use your gifts and special talents to bless them and the work. The mission president did not send you there to punish you or forget about you for the last two months of your mission. He sent you there to change hearts and attitudes toward the missionary work, starting first with the members of that ward. He sent you there because he looked over his mission and knew that this decision was BEST. They need YOU whether they recognize that or not.

So, MEMBERS--I'm talking to you now--as you work with missionaries in your area remember they were sent to your area because they were the BEST for you. Remember, too, most of those missionaries are still in their teens. All have sacrificed tremendously to be in your area. They are supposed to learn and grow and be guided and helped by members on their missions. They aren't supposed to be perfect anymore than you are.

Still don't think the missionaries are 'worth' your effort? Notice the other teenagers around you and what they are doing right out of high school. Now look at those missionaries serving in your area. They don't even compare.

So, even if an elder shows up a bit muddy, a bit wet, or even very green...

...if you don't like his hairstyle, his tie, his gospel knowledge, or his personality...

...always remember he has made a choice and a sacrifice to serve God. He gave up something to be there. You can give up something to help him.

Remember, also, that God's ordained leaders--from apostles to mission presidents--have been guided by the Lord to send him to your area, your ward, your doorstep. Do not close the door on him. Do not reject the Lord in that way.

And always treat him as you would want some other mother treating your missionary son.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Starting back to school at 49

As if working 50 to 60 hours a week and raising six children wasn’t enough on my plate, I added a helping of full-time school this spring. By the time my graduatation date finally rolls around this time, I will have crossed over the 50-year mark. I could even be a grandmother.

When my hubby graduated from college before me, he moved our family to rural Montana. At that time, the closest university was in another state and it did not have a secondary education program. Online classes were rare, expensive and not in courses I needed to finish my degree. With no other options available, I did what many young mothers do…I chose my family over my education.

Some years later, our family moved to within 30 minutes of a university. When my youngest entered school full-time I realized I was finally in a position to finish the degree I had started so many years earlier.

That excited thought was rapidly displaced by a long list of doubts, fears and despairs. Isn't that the way Satan loves to work--knock down your enthusiasm with naysaying? He doesn't even give you much chance to get a breath. The moment you think something would be cool, he's there telling you it's hopeless.

Well, here's what he told me.

I was too old to start now. Goodness, our first-born son was in college! He wouldn’t want to share text books with Mom!

(Actually, he was attending BYU and I would be going to a different school, so saving on text books was out of the question--though I am considering the idea with our second son!)

Okay, so I countered that attack because I wasn't really concerned with what my son or the younger college students would think. I had once been a younger college student with older students sprinkled into classes around me and I didn’t mind them--as long as they didn’t ask too many ‘old’ or dated questions and hold the class up too much with their reminiscing.

No one will hire're too old. Okay, he did bump me back good on that one. Afterall, what chance did I have of being hired as a first-time teacher at age 50? That's almost retirement age! Why go through the expense and effort of school if it isn’t going to get me the job you want?

I think God countered on that fear. I literally found myself in several unplanned conversations with principals and superintendents—some I knew—some I did not. Each time, I believe those unexpected encounters were arranged by the Lord. So, I took advantage of them. I expressed my "old age" concern to them and asked their opinions. Each one readily answered that, grades being equal, they would hire a first-time teacher at my age with life experiences and real confidence over a fresh-out-of-college teacher with no life experiences and no confidence or, worse, cockiness or bravado. Their enthusiasm and support made me feel like I could finish my degree and then actually enter the world of teaching even if I was starting out in my 50s.

You won't be able to make school work Again, I was not worried about the academics portion. I’ve always been blessed with a sharp mind. However, I did find myself listening to this worry about making school fit with an already full and demanding life. Prayer and my patriarchal blessing helped me conquer this concern.

They won't accept your previous credits This fear may sound silly to some but I had been in my junior year when we moved away from educational opportunities. Would I have to start over? While waiting to hear back from several schools I took this agonizing fear to the Lord and received a very powerful answer. Even if no credits were accepted and I found myself starting completely over, this was what He wanted me to do. Case closed.

Making a move like this is dumb in this economy While many students work full-time and go to school full-time, my job was 50-60 hours a week with quite a bit of travel. I tried doing both for a while but it wasn’t working. Finally, my husband and I discussed financial options were I to quit my job. How could we make it work? I crunched numbers and lost sleep. What would going back to school do to my family financially? What if I had to quit my job to do it?

Still unsure, I asked for and received two priesthood blessings…one from my husband and another, a month later, from my brother when I visited with family in a distant state. Both blessings said the exact same thing. The Lord wanted me to pursue my education and the finances we needed would come. In answer to those blessings, my job did not want me to quit and they took great steps to accommodate me by letting me go part-time.

Yes, we have to tighten our financial belt at a time when the economy is a disaster and prices are rapidly rising, but we have the promise from the Lord that this is right and we will be fine. I can’t tell you how much peace that brings. I don’t have to make my decisions based on the price at the pump or the grocery store or watch the financial markets with fear. I know what the Lord wants me to do and what He has promised and that makes all the difference in the world.