I wasn’t sure this day would ever come.
There’s a lot of anxiety and worry that accompanies being the parent of a child with a mental illness.
On one end are things like: will he be able to make friends and how will he manage school (I didn’t think he’d ever survive elementary school. I’m sure the teachers and administrators thought the same thing. And then we homeschooled him for a year and a half during the middle of high school).
On the other end – the end I don’t like to think that much about – are things like: what crimes he might commit or harm he might cause to others.
Somewhere in the middle is something I’ve been contemplating since he was first diagnosed as a young child. And that is being a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It’s something I always felt was expected of young men … that they were even called by God to do as soon as they turned 19 (the age was recently lowered to 18).
And when a young man did not go, there was usually gossip surrounding it and/or shame and judging. Sometimes even harsh judging. At the very least, there was generally questioning as to why he was not going.
Let me interject here that I believe The Church’s missionary program is wonderful – an opportunity to spread the word of God around the world, to do good, to love and serve others and to help the young man learn and grow as well.
But the shame and judging that occurs when one doesn’t go was what I feared. And I worried about it. A lot. Not just for me but for him, too. The looks, the whispers, humiliation even.
So as he continued to grow from a little boy into a young man, we taught him and prepared him to be a missionary. But in the back of my mind, I just felt there was no way he could serve with his mental illness. He needed so much supervision and guidance. And I was having a lot of guilt about it. Was there something more or different I should be doing so that he could go? And if we did push him to go, what would happen if he had to come home early because he couldn’t handle it. More shame. More judging. And more feelings of guilt.
As he continued to get older and the missionary age was approaching, my anxiety levels started to go way up.
And then, as an answer to years of prayer, we learned about a program the church was doing – the Young Church Service Missionary program. The more I learned about it, and the way in which it was presented during a special conference, the more I felt it was so inspired. Not just for our son but for thousands of other young men and women who have special needs, medical conditions or other circumstances but still have talents and desires to serve.
“Service missions can be a great blessing, allowing individuals to live at home and receive appropriate medical care while growing and maturing in the service of the Lord” (Donald B. Doty, M.D., Chairman, Missionary Department Health Services).
So fast forward to today … what an unbelievably awesome day it was! He was set apart (for those unfamiliar, he basically received a special blessing as he embarks upon this time of service) as Elder Wood, a Young Church Service Missionary, in the Far West Missouri Stake. He will be serving part-time (a minimum of eight hours per week) for one year (possibly longer). He will be using his talents in several capacities, one of which is helping with the technical side of the “Savior of the World” musical production this November in Richmond.
We are grateful for his willingness to serve and share his talents. I still have a lot of anxiety and worry but know he’s made a great choice and will be blessed because of it.
*One final note about the anxiety … because a lot of it stemmed from feeling like he (and we) would be judged by others. In a church where the fundamentals of the gospel taught are those that the Savior taught … to love one another and to be kind and compassionate … Stop. Judging. Others.
You don’t know the miles they’ve had to walk or the burdens they’ve been asked to carry.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf said: “This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it! It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children.”