Saturday, January 5, 2013

Welcome home... job well done!

We can't hardly believe how fast two years goes by.  It seems like just yesterday when Christopher was sitting at our kitchen table with all of his friends having breakfast that the morning just before he entered the MTC.  Here we are two years later and instead of looking forward to what the next two years would bring, we were preparing ourselves for the drive to the Salt Lake Airport to welcome Christopher back after serving in the Rochester, New York mission for the past two years. 

To give you an idea of how our day went, it started out basically like any other day.  Getting up in the morning and getting ready for a typical Wednesday.  But this wasn't just any typical Wednesday.  Christopher's plane was due to arrive at the airport at around 12:30 pm, so we spent the morning getting ready for his arrival.  Of course, his mother had to make sure that his bedroom at home was ready with all of Christopher's things moved out of the storage closet where they had been safely tucked away for the past two years.  The weather was typical for January in Utah, which usually means very cold.  In fact the temperature was well below freezing and the only car we have that fits our whole family had been sitting outside all night and needed the ice and snow scraped off.  In fact the car was so frozen, that I had to move it out into the street where the sun was shining so that the frozen car could thaw out in the sunshine.  But just opening the door and starting the car was a chore. 

After loading ourselves into the car and making the drive from Utah Valley to the Salt Lake Airport, we arrived with banners in hand and a half hour to spare.  As usual on a day like today, there were already several other families standing just outside of baggage claim area along with us, with their own banners and signs, just waiting to greet their missionaries as well.  In fact we heard that within the next couple of hours, over 20 missionaries were schedule to arrive home.  This would probably not be a common occurrence in any other airport, but for the Salt Lake Airport, seeing large family gatherings, all eagerly waiting for the arrival of their special missionary, happens every day.  The time finally came and we got word that Christopher's plane had landed and the passengers were making their way to baggage claim.  Christopher was not the only missionary returning from New York that day, so when we saw the family members of one of the other missionaries suddenly burst into shouts of excitement, we knew that Christopher must be right around the corner.  Sure enough, after just a few more seconds, there he was.  After two years, a lot of great life changing experiences and some wonderful lessons taught and learned, Christopher was finally making his way through security and into the arms of his mother. 

Christopher had tears in his eyes as he walked toward us and of course, his mother was the first one to run to him to get the first big hug from her missionary son.  After mother and son spent the first few moments greeting each other for the first time in two years, the rest of us got our chance.  In all, his mother and father, brothers, sister, grandparents, uncle and even a sister-in-law to be, were all there to welcome Christopher home.

For some reason, none of the luggage for any of the New York passengers made the transfer from the the New York plane to the Salt Lake plane during their layover in Chicago.  We didn't find this out until we had waited around the baggage claim area for quite a while after Christopher's arrival.  This meant that Christopher was without all of his things except for the stuff he had in the one carry-on bag that he arrived with.  The airline told us that his baggage was scheduled to arrive on the next flight from Chicago and would be delivered to our house later on that evening.  Well, no bags showed up that evening and in fact, it wasn't until the next morning before his bags finally came.  But never-mind that.  A couple of missing bags weren't going to spoil the rest of a wonderful day.

After finally leaving the airport, the first place we headed was to downtown Salt Lake City to eat at the Tucanos restaurant.  Christopher had emailed us the Monday before and told us that he and another returning missionary along with his family, wanted to go out to eat after arriving home and Tucanos was the place where they wanted to go.  We had a wonderful time at lunch talking with Christopher, his mission companion and his companion's family.  There were lots of stories both from home and the mission.  Then after a great time getting reacquainted during lunch, the next stop was Temple Square.  Christopher and his companion wanted to take a little time in the visitor's center and walking around the grounds.  But since it was so cold that day, spending much time outside just wasn't going to happen.  But if you have ever been to the south visitor's center on Temple Square, there is a place inside the center where you can stand in front of a very large window which overlooks the Salt Lake Temple.  It is a great place to be, even on a cold day.  A place where a recently returned missionary can just sit and ponder everything that has happened over the last two years.  Especially all of the experiences and events that have taken place in the life of a missionary. 

By this time it was getting late and we still needed to travel back to Utah Valley so that Christopher could meet with the Stake President.  We had made an appointment with our Stake President to meet at 6:30 PM so that Christopher could be formally released from his calling as a full-time missionary.  After arriving home, we changed into our Sunday best and again loaded up into the car and drove to the Stake center where the Stake President was waiting for us in his office.  He first met with Christopher for a few minutes alone and then he invited all of us to join him in his office.  As his Mother and Father, this was the second time that we have welcomed a son home from a mission and sat in the office of the Stake President as he formally released our son from his missionary service.  What we didn't expect the first time was just how hard that would be to see your son being released from a work that he so thoroughly enjoyed.  This being the second time, we kind of knew what was coming.  But that really didn't make it any easier.  The Stake President asked Christopher to talk about some of the most influential people from his mission.  We listened while Christopher talked about his mission President and the mission President's wife and just how wonderful they had been.  Christopher also talked about companions that he served with and later about a senior couple who had a great impact on Christopher his missionary work.  The Stake President also offered Christopher some advice about remembering all of the lessons that he had learned from his mission and how much those lessons will still apply as a "returned missionary".  But even after being formally released, Christopher is not quite done yet.  He still has a couple more missionary assignments to fulfill over the coming weeks which include reporting his mission to the High Council and to the Ward members during Sacrament meeting.

The rest of the night we all spent sitting around our living room and talking.  We heard more about some of Christopher's experiences and told Christopher a little about our life here at home while he was serving in New York.  The whole day was just wonderful and one that we will always remember.  As Christopher's parents, we are so grateful to everybody in the New York, Rochester mission for taking care of our son over the last two years.  Especially to his great mission president and his wife, all of the wonderful Ward and Branch members in the various cities and towns where Christopher served and to all of the people who Christopher was able to teach and baptize.  It seems like such a sacrifice for a missionary to leave his family for two years so that he can teach others about the Gospel.  But the reality is that it is no sacrifice at all.  The rewards of serving a mission far outweigh any sacrifice that is made during that time.  Christopher has learned so much over the last two years and the great thing is that all of these lessons and experiences will continue to shape his life in the years to come.  And for that, we are extremely grateful!