“Bless Grandma and Grandpa,” Ensign, Dec. 2005, 30–31
It began with the first letter we received from my mother. She and my father were brand-new missionaries in the Florida Tallahassee Mission. She told of a recent conference they had attended. As everyone was saying good-bye at the conclusion of the meetings, she noticed that her companion was missing. Hearing male laughter, she followed the sound to a classroom and found herself in the midst of a leg-wrestling tournament, which my dad had organized. “I got there just in time,” she wrote, “to see some 20-year-old elder flip your dad across the room.” So much for my worry that a mission might turn Dad into some sort of somber old gentleman.
In reading that letter I began to discover the delights and blessings of being the child of missionary parents. When I served a mission in my youth, I understood on some level that my family loved the letters I wrote them. But at that somewhat selfish age, I didn’t appreciate how eager my family was for my success or how much prayer and worry they invested in my mission.
Now the tables were turned. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself rifling through the mail each day for missionary news, devouring every line. I soon noticed that our family prayers took on a new urgency. Our children no longer prayed the generic, “Please bless the missionaries.” They prayed the specific, “Please bless Grandma and Grandpa on their mission.”
When my parents were called on that first mission, they were both in their mid-50s and not retired. But the seasonal nature of farming allowed them to spend the winter in the Lord’s service. So their mission call was for six months. Those six months seemed to fly by.
What a shock it was to see them when they came home. My parents had become a force. The same remarkable changes that most parents recognize in their young missionary sons and daughters had taken place in Mom and Dad. The most dramatic change was that they just hummed with energy. Enthusiasm is an amazing tonic. They looked and acted younger. My mother ignored some of the chronic health problems that had slowed her down for years. And maybe it was my imagination, but my parents seemed to be more in love. Once, in a private moment I will always cherish, my mother told me of some occasions when my father had taught the gospel with great power. With love and admiration in her voice, she said, “Your dad is the most amazing man.” I also noticed that their mission experience had been fun. Any conversation about their mission was punctuated with frequent and persistent laughter.
And my parents didn’t serve just one mission. The next winter they returned to Florida. During the ensuing years they served eight more six-month missions, making ten in all. They missed many family events—births, baby blessings, baptisms, ten Thanksgivings and Christmases—and none of it seems much like a sacrifice. The compensating blessings are too great.
How thankful I am for parents who set the example. We try to teach our children that they have an obligation to share the gospel. Nothing gives life to that teaching quite like beloved grandparents who forgo the comforts of retirement to serve the Lord. This example becomes a powerful force in an extended family.
A few years ago our oldest son, Matt, was serving a mission in California while my parents were serving in Virginia. I noted that Matt never once wrote a letter home complaining about how tough missionary work is. I have to credit his grandparents for that. How can a young elder in his physical prime think of complaining when his grandmother—in her late 60s with lung problems, back pain, and numerous allergies—is knocking on doors in another state?
My parents’ missions have shown me the error of the notion that once a child is raised, the parents’ work is done. Wonderful as my childhood training was, I believe some of the greatest parenting my mother and father have done has occurred after I became an adult. And while they have helped baptize or activate many people, I believe their most profound ministry has been to their own grandchildren.
My parents’ letters taught volumes of gospel lessons. Stories of serving in an inner-city branch in Washington, D.C.; hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to teach investigators; laboring with impoverished single mothers, wealthy stockbrokers, fishermen, potters, farmers, addicts, alcoholics, ministers, police officers, and the elderly—what better way to teach grandchildren the worth of every soul?
The greatest thing my parents have done for their posterity is to leave them in the Lord’s hands and accept calls to serve Him as missionaries.