Today, Ben has been gone eighteen months.
I know what you are thinking. Maybe you even turned and quipped it to the person next to you, "Wow. The time has just flown by. I didn't think he'd been gone that long."
Think it if you like, or whisper it to each other, but just don't say those words to me. At best, I'll just start to cry; at worst, I'll kick you in the shins. Because all I hear is, "I don't miss him. I don't care about him."
Eighteen months, 549 days, is a long time to not see your child, to not hug him or watch his face break into laughter. And these next months might go quickly, but I won't wish them away, because as soon as Ben gets home I have to say goodbye to Stefan (and then Hans and Xander and Gabe, but if Mary goes, we'll at least get a two-year break in between).
People often say to me, “I bet when you were having all these boys, you didn’t think about sending them on missions one after the other.”
I'm probably a little too direct when I answer, "I thought about their missions every single day." Erik and I raised them to be ready and anxious to serve the Lord.
As Latter Day Saints, we feel an urgency to serve God who has given us all; we do it in little ways every day. And young men have a priesthood responsibility to serve the Lord on a two year mission. It is a privilege to represent Jesus Christ while teaching his gospel and serving His children. But I won’t say the time is flying by.
For our family the blessing of Ben’s mission is the increased closeness in our family and the love we have for each other. He writes the kindest, sweetest letters and we try to live up to the image he has of us.
Strangely, everyone chooses to write 'letters to Ben' from my email account (even Erik and Stefan). So in addition to Ben's glorious and funny letter, I get a weekly glimpse into what each person in my family is thinking and feeling. I've learned about Stefan spending twelve hours a day in the library, Hans fasting for a friend, Xander's love for the New Testament, Gabe's new friend and Mary's heart, "now Stefan is gone too. Our house is getting empty and it scares me."
I especially love Erik's letters-- long epistles full of thoughts on the gospel, stories from work and expressions of love for our family. How often, in this age of cell phones and text messages do we read a thoughtful letter? I've learned to love Erik on a whole new level (and he misses Ben like crazy too).
Happily, Ben loves Italy, loves missionary work, loves the people. I think the next six months will go quickly for him. As Ben wrote, "Missionary work is all about bringing people to Christ and strengthening families. It seems fitting to leave my family for two years so others can be with their family for eternity."
I'm proud of Ben, I am grateful for his opportunity to serve as a representative of Jesus Christ. But I still miss him.