I am somewhat of a veteran now in taking a missionary to the Missionary Training Center. I've been there two whole times and lived to tell about it.
Even though we once lived in Provo and Lindon, you would think I would know by now that our hour's drive from Centerville and our expert navigation skills in driving Provo/Orem exits can make for a short journey. But for some reason, before you least predict it, that location seems to pop out of nowhere. We are just methodically driving along, following directions, when all of a sudden, WHAM, you see it!
"That was much sooner than I expected. Too much sooner than I wanted!" I squirm.
A sea of cars are pulling in, and you follow like little lemmings walking to the cliff. I cry out, "Hit the gas! Don't stop yet! Let's circle the block 20 or 50 more times!" But then a bigger feeling takes over. "Aren't you so grateful Heavenly Father let you be the parent of this wonderful child who is worthy enough to be in the greatest army? 'How beautiful upon the mountains ... '"
As we pull in, there are volunteers everywhere orchestrating every movement. Our missionary gets out with his luggage. His siblings and I join him while Dad parks the car with rhythm to the hand signals of each parking volunteer.
I help my son take his luggage down the long sidewalks full of suitcases. OK, I admit he really doesn't need my help, I just have to hang on to his arm as long as I can. I savor every last second together. I feel so reassured he's not alone. In fact, he's got about 1,500 or so others arriving, too.
Tip: Unless your missionary's luggage is neon green with sparkling pink polka dots, chances are his black or navy blue suitcases are going to blend in with the 3,000 other black or navy blue suitcases. It's a good idea to tie a distinctive ribbon on each handle so your missionary can spot his bags as he marches back to get them later.
I am in awe at the crowd of families all looking for some vacant tiny spot to take pictures, and even more in awe how gleeful everyone seems. Then yes, we know it's time to go in the building. For me, the knots in my stomach take on a whole new meaning here. Once inside, I stand back and watch my son get his tags and such. "My, how handsome he looks. How special he is to me. Be careful now, don't start the tears. Be strong," I meditate. I force myself to get a grip and then I put on that big mom smile and ask for my missionary to pose for more pictures with us.
Then fresh courage take, we start to enter the chapel doors, but right before we do, "Oh just one more picture. Wait! Walk up and down the corridor and I'll film you." I start plotting stall, stall, stall.
I sense reverence in the midst of excitement as I enter the chapel. Before the meeting begins, they're running facts about missionaries like the amount of cold cereal they eat in a week. But what I wasn't anticipating was how I'd feel watching those cute, adorable Mormon family ads. Usually they are adorable. Well, the first two times I view each 20 or so of them, but after the fifth or sixth time each, my heart was tenderized to sticky, sappy goo.
Even for me, I was actually glad when the meeting began. Since I've been through this before, I recognized as soon as the video "Called to Serve" began that this is the last few minutes I will sit by my boy as a boy. Chills, shaking, large lump in the throat, eyes welling up with tears and that was just my husband. Me, I'm almost too far gone. I pray mightily to not lose it completely. "Please help me keep this day positive!" I beg silently in my heart. I'm truly experiencing that yes, you can have two feelings at the same time: sweetness alongside the bitter.
At this point, most, everyone seems to have breathing problems as you listen to the number of deep breaths that echo in the room. I swear there is a physical glitch in the universe where the oxygen levels plummet at that particular location and time.
Everyone seems to have his or her own way of handling that "goodbye" for two whole years. No matter how much our family rehearses this ("Hey, let's be cool and just think how wonderful this is, right?"), we seem to lose our game plan and end up being the blubbering spectacles for which volunteers get their tissue boxes out in full force.
I tenderly pry off the little brother and sister wrapped around each leg of my missionary. Consoling others when you're a wreck is what us moms seem to be good at. After my son waves goodbye near the exit 15 times, while we all remind him 16 more times that we love him, I can't wait to hightail it out of there.
As I exit the chapel and walk down the hall, I see all the more experienced missionaries (you know, the ones who have been there a week or more) give you that little laugh and grin. I think to myself, "Hmm, my son is going to have a great experience here." But as for me, hurry and get me to the car so I can say, "The hardest part is over!"
Thanks to the kind and helpful volunteers, everything went well. Thanks to being a mother, cutting apron strings is painful: open heart surgery without the anesthesia. Believe me, my heart felt it. It's not so much the MTC, it's more of the moment the moment when you have to let go of your child and realistically, wholeheartedly trust in our Lord. He who can refine a young boy into a man of great worth.Knowing my son is in those good hands, I think even I can do this.
Teri Nance is a member of the Centerville 19th Ward, Centerville, Utah South Stake.