Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sons and daughters

Many years ago both Elder Draper and I, long before we met and married, were each promised through a blessing under the hands of a patriarch in our church that “sons and daughters” would come to share our lives. Years later we welcomed two beautiful daughters into our family. No other children came after.

We often wondered, where were the boys promised in the blessings? Had God gotten the “sons” part wrong? Did we do something wrong? We might say we already have one son, a wonderful son-in-law. That’s one son. The blessings were specific in that we would have sons, plural. Would I end up like Sarah, the wife of Old Testament prophet Abraham, and get pregnant with a son long after passing through menopause? Were we to have only two daughters?

Throughout the ensuing years this blessing seemed a little strange to us but we just shrugged it off as one of the mysteries of God that we may never unravel in this life. Little did we realize that we would see the patriarchs’ blessing unfold in profound ways on this mission.

Serving a mission requires a substantial sacrifice of time, talents, financial resources, and our own will on behalf of others. As we’ve sacrificed and served the military men and women here in the Jacksonville area we’ve gained new appreciation for an important eternal principle: you love whom you serve. And the depth of that love seems to increase in proportion to both our sacrifice and service.

A chief characteristic of the parent-child bond is the unconditional love parents have for their children. Parental love toward a child is born of sacrifice given joyfully, freely, and without condition. Parental love is nurturing and protecting. It is also empathetic: we hurt when they hurt, we rejoice when they make choices which bring them lasting happiness, we suffer their tragedies and triumphs right alongside them. Perhaps the greatest example of parental love through sacrifice is found in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world [us, His children in the world], that he gave his only begotten Son.”

With the Zayas family after a
5K Color Run
Through our service and sacrifice more than a few of the military men and women here have become sons and daughters to us in every way save natural birth. Our hearts truly ache when we see them struggle with the myriad challenges of deployment, with their demons of addiction, loneliness, marital issues, with their anxiety about the next duty assignment, their disappointments and indecision.

Like any parent, we want to fix things for them, make things easier for them. But that is seldom wise. It is through adversity and struggle that they learn the lessons God needs them to learn. Our stepping in to solve whatever is troubling them, if we even could, would just short-circuit an important growth opportunity. Often all we can do is watch anxiously, pray for them and with them, encourage, and cheer them on. “You can do it! We love you!” When action is required we try to be right there for them with transportation, a homecooked meal, a fun activity, a house cleaned, a wall painted, a blessing given, a satellite dish dug up, furniture moved, an errand run, even a sofa to crash on.

Welcoming home the USS Vicksburg
Their joys are our joys, their triumphs our triumphs. One young woman struggles with clinical depression and mental illness . Throughout the time we’ve been here in Jacksonville we’ve cried and laughed with her and comforted her through anguish and despair. After encouraging her to keep a gratitude journal she came to us later with a glow of joy and expressed how much that helped her to face each day with strength and renewed hope. Seeing their joie de vivre underwater when they learn to scuba dive is a unique experience that I particularly enjoy on this mission as a scuba instructor. We make happy memories with them to take on deployment: we took our Navy chaplain “son” to the temple in Orlando and diving Disney’s Epcot aquarium (“a once in a lifetime experience” he exclaimed in a letter to friends and family) a few days before he shipped out. We stand on the jetty waiving our giant pirate flag to farewell their grey ships as they pass out of the harbor and stand on the dock with “Welcome Home” signs and little American flags when they return, many months later.

With Chaplain Justin Top at the
Orlando Temple just before his deployment
These kids sometimes refer to us their “Florida parents”. It is not unusual to get a knock on our door or a text asking to come over just to talk, to ask our advice (which I jokingly tell them is worth only what they pay for it), or get a blessing of comfort.

Since arriving in Jacksonville last year we have tried to follow the wise advice of an LDS chaplain and bishop. Referring to the military servicemen and women whom we would serve he said, “They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Some of our “kids” became instant family the moment we met. Others are taking a bit longer. Each is unique and precious. We love them all fiercely and deeply.

They are surely our sons and our daughters.

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