Casey is home. We waited at the escalator for the arriving passengers. Skippy and Dillon stood right at the bottom, gazing upward for the first glance of a dark suit and missionary nametag. I knew Skippy would start dancing with excitement when he spotted his brother, but it was not Skip, but 16-year-old Dillon, who turned to me with an almost giddy expression, and said, “He’s here!” Ten seconds later, down he came into our arms… too tall, too skinny, already needing a shave at noon, and carrying a handcrafted sombrero, the gift of a hispanic woman he baptized in Dallas.
Our first stop was Casey’s release. Because he was an ordained minister for our church, and had been called as such, and his service as a full-time missionary was over, he had to be formally released. We all sat in a conference room, where after a short private interview with Casey, the member of our stake presidency told Elder McDaniel that he was officially released from being a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. At which point, he began to cry like a baby. We all cried. He removed the nametag that had marked him as a missionary, and put it in his pocket. President Carter asked him what he had learned in two years, and he said through his tears that he couldn’t say, because he couldn’t remember what he knew before.
I know exactly what he means. I’m not sure what I knew before, either. Today is the first day in five years that I haven’t had a missionary. No missionaries out, no missionaries living in my home. It is a happy day, and it is so sad that I can’t stop crying right now. From each missionary, I have learned so much that I am not sure what I really knew before. Please forgive me as I am about to do each of my missionaries a disservice by telling one or two things I learned from them, when in reality I learned enough things from each that it would require a whole post to tell.
From Elder Josh McDaniel, I learned how to send a missionary out. What a great way to start, with a missionary that had spent his whole life preparing to go, and his whole life since holding onto the best of his mission, while adding new graces every single day. Josh is the most consistently cheerful and upbeat person I know, and I learned from him that every single day could be my “best day.”
Elder Breyman taught me hospitality. As I opened my home to missionaries not my own, I found that they were my own after all, and that I could truly love them that much. From Elder Breyman I also learned that everything is not just bigger, but also better in Texas, and that you can make almost anything from duct tape.
From Elder Krenkel, I learned that it was okay to fall down. Blood and bruises are a badge of honor, that show you haven’t been sitting around all day. Elder Krenkel also showed me how much a person can grow and change in a short period of time, and he never failed to amaze me with his humble love of the gospel and beautiful teaching style.
Elder Danielson showed me obedience and how to follow leadership. Coming from a tiny town in North Dakota, he was dropped into the middle of the Real Housewives of Orange County. For days, he simply followed Elder Breyman. By following a good example, the time came when he was a leader in his own right.
Elder Tyler McDaniel taught me that missionary work is about saving souls. Sometimes the soul you have to save is not a stranger’s, but your companion’s. His enemies were anger, frustration and discouragement, and he conquered them so that he could be free to do the work that Heavenly Father had laid out for him. He showed brotherly love to his companions, and kept a very little brother Skippy waiting by the mailbox for the amazing illustrated letters he sent so that Skippy would remember a brother over two long years. It worked.
Elder Gould taught me that life is not a popularity contest. His kind spirit and desire to do the right thing inspired other missionaries, members of the church and all the people that he met on his mission. He taught me the importance of confidence, and that when you are doing the right thing, you can and should be confident. Elder Hopkins taught me to express love for people that are not my immediate family. I had never really considered doing that, and he made me realize how important it really is, and that by extending that love, my family circle just becomes that much larger. From Elder Hopkins I also learned that stalkers aren’t just on TV.
From Elder Pfile I learned courage. He took his weaknesses, like a fear of street contacting, and turned them into strengths by conquering fear. He showed me how important it is to have passion for what you are doing, and never took a sick day in two years. He set the best example I have ever known of what it means to be truly repentant. From him I learned that the only true apology is a humble one. At the same time, he taught me about having fun even when things are difficult. He also taught me about loyalty, as he was fiercely loyal to me and my family.
From Elder Waller I learned that a tough and stern exterior may just be guarding a tender heart. He showed that when you know someone loves you, it makes all the difference. I learned from Elder Waller the power music has to unite people, and he also showed me the importance of gratitude for small acts of kindness, and the importance of doing small acts of kindness every day.
From Elder Hobley I learned compassion, as he showed that compassion to me in difficult times, and as he showed it to others. He helped me realize what a comfort a sense of humor can be, and that it is okay to be big, goofy and childlike because it makes everyone else happy when you are happy. What a great trait to have! He taught me to think before speaking or acting, but not to let people push you around. I also learned from Elder Hobley that one can hunt spiders with swords. Who knew?
Elder Crane taught me about discipline. All my missionaries were hardworking, but Elder Crane was one of the best examples of how to give your best effort at all times. He had the determination to reach goals that others would find too daunting to even attempt. He showed me triumph over adversity, and love for his companions. I learned from Elder Crane how a positive attitude and modesty (combined with the ability to blush) would attract people and make them want to learn from him.
From Elder Murray I learned about possibilities. Elder Murray was excited to try anything. His desire to excel was inspiring, and made me want to learn new things as well. Elder Murray was an example of patience and kindness under all circumstances, and in half a year I never even saw him give in to frustration, much less anger. That is remarkable. Another thing that Elder Murray showed me was how to build up the people around me by showing them their own best traits. I think his own best trait was childlike faith... another thing he taught me.
Elder Felkner was the example of gentleness and kindness. His McDaniel-like sense of humor was tempered by an awareness of others’ feelings at all times. While all of our missionaries have been unfailingly polite and considerate, Elder Felkner was the best example I have seen of being gentleman-like and moderate in his speech and actions. I learned by watching his loving behavior, particularly toward a certain pesky five-year-old boy, that there is no need to call attention to yourself… when you have a kind and gentle, yet confident attitude, people are naturally drawn to you.
And from Elder Casey McDaniel, I have learned that life is short, so you had better be about Heavenly Father’s business. He is an example of seeing to the heart of what is the most important, and pursuing that, without being distracted by unimportant things. I have seen how people are drawn to him and want to be around him and be like him, because of his clean spirit, positive attitude and his refusal to judge others. He has also shown me the joy that comes from being independent. I didn’t always appreciate that independence, but now it is priceless.
My missionary board is covered with probably 80 cards from missionaries we have known and loved (okay, probably 30 of those cards are Elder Hobley’s... but still) and welcomed into our home. Even if they didn’t live here, each and every one still set an amazing example.
Five years, and what have I learned? I remember I didn’t even like to have the missionaries to dinner five years ago… it seemed so awkward. What could we even talk about? I guess I didn’t know much at all back then.