This post was most recently updated on July 2nd, 2015
I’ll be leaving in a few hours to drive to the airport to pick up my son. This is no ordinary airport pick-up. I have not seen my son for two years, except in photos. I have only heard his voice three times over the phone. Weekly emails have been our sole communication. No, he has not been avoiding me. My son has been serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
A little over two years ago, my son, Caleb, submitted an application to serve as a missionary. That involves interviews, health and dental exams, and a lot of soul-searching. I’m sure he probably had his doubts about giving up his normal teen-aged life to serve for two years. But he’s a good kid, and he’s always enjoyed helping others. He wanted to go, and his application was accepted. Soon after, he received his call to serve in New Jersey as a Spanish-speaking missionary. This was the beginning of hectic preparations–he would be entering the Missionary Training Center only one week after finishing finals at BYU.
And that was the beginning of my having to accept that he would be gone for two years. My baby. Well…not really. Here was my 6-foot tall 18-yr old son making the kind of choices I had taught him to make his entire life. But he is my youngest. And I knew it would be difficult to say good-bye. I have two older children who also served missions. My oldest daughter served for 18 months in Madrid, Spain. My oldest son served in southern France for two years. They were both gone at the same time, and I missed them terribly. But it doesn’t get any easier to say good-bye just because you’ve done it before.
After he finished finals, Caleb flew home from college to finish packing for his mission. He also gave a farewell talk in church to share his thoughts about serving a mission. He was set apart as a missionary, and he gained the title, “Elder Wilcox”. We then drove him back to Utah to visit more family before he entered the Missionary Training Center. The day he entered, we drove up to the curb of the MTC, unloaded his bags, gave him a hug, and drove away. I cried all the way back to San Diego.
The first couple months were pretty difficult for me but the letters and photos we received always portrayed a very happy and positive missionary son. He loved learning Spanish and mastered it quickly. He loved experiencing different cultures (even in New Jersey!) and trying different foods. But most of all, he was learning to really love the people he was serving. Whether he was helping someone move, scraping snow off of sidewalks, or decorating for a wedding, he was so happy making a difference in others’ lives. Most of all, he found great joy teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to all who would listen. Seeing others’ eyes light up when they learn how much Heavenly Father and Jesus love them is incredible, and Elder Wilcox got to experience that joy many times on his mission.
Elder Wilcox had a lot of fun on his mission, too. He had one day a week off, when he could play local soccer or football games, visit the temple in Manhattan, or visit the “Cake Boss” bakery in Hoboken. He made many new friends, and had lots of opportunities to develop leadership skills–training and teaching new missionaries. He helped in the mission office and local church congregations. But his greatest love was being out on the streets, talking to the people and testifying of God’s love for them. That’s what he did for two years, and I’m so proud of him.
Now, he’s flying home. Right now, he’s somewhere over Nebraska. I am so excited, I can hardly contain it. Welcome home, Son! That’s why I sat down to write this post. In just a few hours, I’ll be able to hug him and talk to him, and hear all about his mission experiences–more than I could in emails. I’m sure I’ll shed a few tears of joy–maybe he will too. And then we’ll all help Elder Wilcox become Caleb Wilcox again. He’ll work and save more money for college and return to BYU in the fall. But he’ll always be a missionary too. In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we are all missionaries because we want to share the joy we experience, knowing about Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
(Here are the photos from the airport–such a wonderful reunion!)
Also, if you would like to know more about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and why missionaries all over the world are willing to sacrifice 18-24 months to serve, please go to the Church website here.