I remember clearly the day I took my oldest son, Ryan, to the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. There were a few hundred missionaries entering the MTC that day. They had a forty-five minute program for the families and missionaries. It consisted of singing a couple of hymns mixed in with talks by the MTC president and his wife. Everyone enters into one side of the chapel and at the end they usher the families out one way and the missionaries out the other, not to see each other again for 18-24 months.
As a mother, I expected this to be emotional. There aren’t words that can adequately describe the emotions that I felt that day. The MTC president’s wife talked about her experience with sending her own missionaries off and then watching others send out their young adults and how gut-wrenching it was. She talked about the jumble of emotions that conflicted and flooded through us all. I felt so pleased that Ryan had chosen to serve the Lord for two years by serving his fellow man and telling others about Jesus Christ. I knew it would be hard and trying work. I knew that he would learn and grow in ways that I could not imagine. I also knew that I would miss him terribly.
As I listened to the program, my heart was full of excitement, joy, peace, and pain all at the same time. Then, at the end, we rose to sing "Called to Serve". I couldn’t sing the words. They caught in my throat and the tears poured down my face. I looked at Ryan and had a small inkling of how Heavenly Father must have felt sending His Only Begotten Son on His mission. I was so proud of him, so pleased with his willingness to go, so sad about his being gone for two years, and so sure it was the right thing to do. When he saw me crying, Ryan reached over and took my hand and said, “It will be okay, Mom.” My heart felt like it would break from all the feelings that were swelling inside. Yet, I knew he was right, that no matter what we had to endure during his mission, we would be better from the experience, all of us.
There were a few things that my older sister, Wendy, had warned me about. One of them was how much a mother misses the mere physical presence of a child when they are gone. And boy, did I! For the first few weeks things felt pretty odd and empty, and I went about my usual work with less enthusiasm than normal. (OK, that’s an understatement...I’m trying to sound brave.) Then, as I focused on my remaining children and college starting again for me, things settled in. But the things I continually missed were Ryan’s constant guitar playing, singing, and quirky, wry wit.
I looked forward to every letter and email. He continually told me that he was doing well other than a few homesick days at the beginning. He sent wonderful stories of how Heavenly Father answered his prayers and how challenging the work was. He usually included some funny story that would crack me up as I read it. Then He would ask about his guitar and if anyone was playing "her". No one was.
His regular correspondence helped me feel close to him, except I still missed his music. So I downloaded some of the songs from the internet that he played often. My favorites were More Than Words and Sweet Home Alabama. He seemed to play them almost every time he picked up his guitar the months before he left. Hearing them would make me smile. But it didn’t quite fill the hole.
Our family would have the local missionaries over often for dinner. I figured if we fed them often that Heavenly Father would continue to bless Ryan. We got close to one set of missionaries that first winter after Ryan was gone. Elder Waters and Elder Johnson would come over and share their stories with us and we would share our food. I asked them if either of them played the guitar. I told them that Ryan’s guitar was lonely and needed someone to play her. Neither of them could.
Then one evening the missionaries came for dinner. Elder Waters showed up with a new missionary companion named Elder Misiego. The first thing that Elder Waters told us about him was that he played the guitar and would play Ryan’s guitar for us after dinner.
During dinner, Elder Misiego told us his story. He was from Spain and had gone to Texas as an exchange student his senior year of high school. Because of that, he didn’t have any money for his mission. He took his problem to the Lord and told Him that he wanted to serve his mission as soon as he could when he turned 19. He needed a way to earn the money. A friend told Elder Misiego that there were auditions for the percussion group "Stomp" and that he should try out. So he did. He was picked for the group and made all the money he needed in just a few short months and went on his mission on time. He had an incredible testimony and light about him.
Elder Misiego told us that he wrote music. Because of his being from Spain, we expected that he would play Spanish music for us. When we brought the guitar out, one of the children joked that Ryan would be so happy that someone finally played her and gave her some attention. We were all sitting and waiting for E. Misiego to start and when the first chords hit our ears, there was an audible gasp from the family. He was playing "More Than Words"! The sweet warmth that spread through me testified to me that my Heavenly Father was aware of the hole in my heart and wanted to let me know that He loved me. The affirmation of this brought tears to my eyes. The girls and I sang that song with Elder Misiego and then told him how that was a song Ryan always played. He laughed and started to play his next song for us..."Sweet Home Alabama"! We couldn’t believe it! It was as if the guitar had willed him to play those two songs, but we all knew better. We knew that Heavenly Father inspired him to. E. Misiego finally did play some of the amazing music that he wrote in his native tongue. We enjoyed his visit that day so much.
The miracle was a small and simple thing really, but so tender to me. The music that day filled that hole in my heart with a precious proof that my Heavenly Father loves me and is aware of my private longings. The ache for Ryan’s music was gone after that. I still smile when I think of that evening and the Tender Mercy that was given to me, and I’m so thankful for it.