Friday, October 17, 2008

Be Nice to People Who are Doing Hard Things

On my wedding day, an adorable little girl with long blond pigtails called me Aunt Eileen, which was a first for me. Stephanie was wearing a floral dress with the unconventional addition of purple hiking boots. And you can't help but love a girl like that.

Stephanie is all grown up now and is simply amazing. I've heard that one of her cousins wrote an essay about her for a junior high English class and that the teacher scrawled in red pen across the front of the paper, "Is this person REAL?" Stephanie was valedictorian of her class, won the state track meet two years in a row in the 3200 while also snagging the silver in both the mile and 800. She dances ballet in point shoes and can look graceful and beautiful one minute and then turn around and compete in the elite women's division of a grueling Half-Ironman triathlon. She wins writing contests, volunteers for service organizations, plays the piano, plays the clarinet, attends science study camps, sings in choirs, and learns things like Greek in her spare time. She's a girl who works hard with seriously impressive results. She has every possible door open to her and with all options on the table, she's decided to go on a mission for our church.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, mission calls are considered inspired. The applicant doesn't choose where they want to go; they're called. And Stephanie was called to Norway. From all accounts, Norway is tough. Many if not most missionaries come home without a single baptism. Stephanie is a young woman who's certainly shown she's up for hard work, but she's also always gotten pretty tangible results. She'll definitely have results, but they might sometimes be hard to see. I know this call was inspired and that Stephanie will be great for Norway and Norway will be great for Stephanie.

Almost 20 years ago, Lyle was also at a point in his life when he had every door open to him and he chose to dedicate two years to his Heavenly Father by serving a mission. I think Lyle was good for Brazil and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Brazil was good for Lyle.

Although I didn't know him then, when he left on his mission I'm sure he was a pretty typical 19 year-old. He cared about girls and sports teams and music and movies. To this day, he says there's still an entertainment void for him from 1989-1991. "Hey didn't you ever see, THIS movie.....?" or "Doesn't THIS song bring back memories?.....Come on, you've got to know was made in the early 90's......?" Nope he missed it. Instead of watching Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore in GHOST, he was following mission rules and getting up at 6:30 AM for scripture study. He was knocking on doors in the morning, and then hoping some nice people would give him lunch, and then working hard again until lights out at 10:30. He lived with a companion 24/7. I've met some of these companions and know that Lyle's patience was probably tested.

I love that during his mission he accepted and gladly wore knit ties made by a church member on his own personal tie-making machine. I smile when he tells me that he pondered getting a pocket protector because of the pens that stained his shirt. Even without the pens, his front pocket bulged with the pamphlets that sometimes spilled out of his shirt and onto the floor of crowded buses.

I can't help but laugh when I picture him singing hymns and demonstrating the soprano part to women in an area where he said the people were incredibly beautiful but very tone deaf. I'm thankful that in a country known for gorgeous women and scanty clothing he heard counsel like, "Steel you heart, Elder" and I'm even more thankful that he listened.

He lived in some hard places and ate things that were very unlike Mom's cooking back home in Idaho. He learned to always wear sandals in the shower because of the bugs that could bite your feet and bury eggs. He befriended a parrot. He kept all of the pictures that were drawn for him by little children.

He had eggs thrown at him and once caught one unbroken in his coat pocket and resisted the urge to throw it back.

He learned the language and still sings "I Am a Child of God" to our children in Portuguese. He loved Brazil and loved the people. He studied the scriptures like he never had before and strengthened his testimony. When our teenage son asked him this morning how many people he converted in Brazil, he told him not a single one. Heavenly Father does the converting.

In his non-mission life, Lyle excelled at water skiing and could (and still can) do an impressive dock start and jump the wake with one ski. I'm sure there was a pang of envy when Lyle's family sent him this postcard when he had just a few months left on his mission:

Because while they were doing that, he was busy doing this:

Which is why I respect missionaries of all religions. These are people who are willing to put aside their normal lives and do hard things for the Lord. When a missionary comes to my door, regardless of the affiliation, I always tell them I admire them and I always offer them a drink or a snack. When I do, I think of someone in Brazil helping Lyle pick his pamphlets up off the floor of the bus and I think of someone in Norway giving an encouraging smile (and maybe a bit of lutefisk) to an amazing missionary who's coming their way.

1 comment:

Jen Bay said...

Inspiring... and the flash back pictures are great!