Overall the process of filling out Kyle’s mission papers went pretty well. He took care of all the online paperwork, scheduling and keeping the appointments and even passed the physical. The dentist even helped out by announcing he had no wisdom teeth to remove, thereby eliminating one of the most expensive, painful and time consuming parts of the mission preparation process. I thought we were on the home stretch when late one evening he casually asked, “Will you take my picture?” For a minute I couldn’t believe my ears, Kyle the little boy I had chased around for so many years trying get him to stand still long enough for me to snap a picture of that mischievous grin, the cute face and the beautiful blue eyes was wanting me to take his picture? At first I thought I might make him chase me around – under the table, into the backyard – all the while whining about how many pictures I had taken of him already and wouldn’t one of those work. He must have sensed what was going through my mind and he quickly added, “Its for my mission papers.” I guess it was then I decided it would be fun and easy to take a picture of this young man while he was holding still, looking at the camera and smiling. Not so. He disappeared for a few moments and returned wearing a white shirt, tie, suit coat jacket and shorts (let’s not get carried away – after all they just wanted a head shot.) I retrieved my camera, tested the settings and began to take picture after picture. We tried different lighting, different backgrounds and different angles. He smiled for some and had a serious face in others. We adjusted his tie, smoothed his hair and whetted his lips. After every few shots I would show him the results on the LCD screen and hope he would exclaim, “That’s it.” It didn’t happen. Finally we gave up and moved to the computer where I thought maybe seeing them on the big screen and making some Photoshop-type adjustments would help. Here are some of the results.
After an hour or so of debating, he chose one photo but somehow I could tell he still wasn’t really happy. I couldn’t figure it out. This wasn’t a picture that a whole bunch of cute girls would see in a yearbook or that would appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated or GQ. At the most a few secretaries and distinguished older gentlemen who happened to be Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ would see it. They didn’t care nearly as much about how he looked as they did about knowing the Lord’s will for him. Oh well, it was done and now we could turn these papers in. Again I was wrong.
A couple of nights later Kyle came to me and said, “I think I need a haircut.” This sounded fine to me as I have never really had to be concerned about the length of Kyle’s hair. “No, I mean for the picture. I need to have a haircut and then take another picture,” he said. Inside I cringed, but outside I wanted to be helpful. “What about the one we took the other night?” I queried. “I don’t like it,” he replied “it isn’t quite right.” “Yes, but is it really all that important?” I asked, trying not to sound too discouraging. “Mom,” he said “it’s all about the picture.”
A couple of nights later sporting a new (but not that much different) haircut, a tie that matched his eyes and a better attitude on my part, we started taking pictures again. Once again we tried all different types of poses and backgrounds. Once again adjusted the distance and turned the camera back and forth between portrait and landscape mode. Once again we made sure his smile wasn’t too big and his ears didn’t stick out. Once again we retired to the computer still not convinced that we had taken the perfect picture. We picked out three that we liked and here they are.
After assigning each picture a number, we invited everyone who was lucky enough to be in the house at that time, to come into the room – one by one – to vote. After everyone had voted at least once, (some were asked back into the room when it became clear the vote was going to be close) Kyle deemed the middle photo the winner and this part of the mission papers complete. He seemed much happier and I don’t think either of us really thought much about it again until his mission call arrived and he opened it. At first I was a little taken aback by the place he had been called to serve. Were missionaries even allowed to go in there? (The answer to this one is “yes” apparently they don’t call missionaries to places they are not allowed to go.) Does anyone there ever join the church? What would he be eating and would he get sick? Would he be safe? As I learned more about Hong Kong however, I realized just how perfect this assignment would be for Kyle and my thoughts turned to the kind, older gentlemen who had issued him this calling. How did they know this would be perfect? How could they tell? They didn’t know him like I did. They hadn’t been with him from those first few days in intensive care as he valiantly struggled to breathe to his high school graduation and first semester in college. They had only read a few words about him and looked briefly at his picture. His picture? Was Kyle right about his picture? Could they tell from his haircut how obedient he would be to the rules of a mission so far away from home? Could they tell by his smile or his kind and gentle face that he would love the people of such a distant land? Could they tell because his tie matched his eyes that he would pay close attention to detail and learn to love, honor and respect the Chinese culture? Could they tell by how hard he worked on the knot of his tie that he would study very hard and never give up on learning a very challenging language? Could they tell just by looking into his eyes how strong his testimony is and how eager he is to share it? Who knows? Maybe it was “all about the picture” …….. or, maybe, it was all about the Spirit.
I will admit that when I found out Kyle would be giving his farewell talk in Sacrament Meeting on Mother’s Day Sunday I thought the bishopric might be trying to get me to change my mind about sending him on a mission. Then to top it off they gave him the topic “Mothers” for his talk and I started to cry about what he might say even before he had a chance to think about it. As usual, my fears turned out to be unfounded, and his talk was one of the best Mother’s Day Gifts I have ever received. Instead of making me sad, anxious or reluctant, Kyle’s talk only strengthened my resolve to encourage him. I know that he is doing the right thing and has a testimony of Jesus Christ that will touch others lives if only he has a chance to reach them. I thought I might share Kyle’s farewell talk and testimony with you:
“Good afternoon brothers and sisters and Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms out there.
In about ten days I will have the opportunity to serve a mission in China. I hope the people of Hong Kong will be more kind to me than the people of Alabama were to a young Elder back in the 1800’s. Elder Frank Croft was serving a mission there and while preaching among the people, he was attacked by a mean and vicious gang. They were going to whip him across his bare back so they ordered him to remove his shirt and coat before they tied him to a tree. As he did so a letter he had just received from his mother fell to the ground. The leader of the gang picked up the letter. Elder Croft closed his eyes and uttered a silent prayer. The attacker read the letter from Elder Croft’s mother and here is what it said:
My Beloved Son,
…remember the words of the Savior when he said, “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my name’s sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for you will have your reward in heaven, for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” Also remember the Savior upon the cross suffering from the sins of the world when he had uttered the immortal words “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Surely my boy, they who are mistreating you… know not what they do or they would ot do it. Sometime, somewhere, they will understand and then they will regret their action, and they will honor you for the glorious work that you are doing. So be patient, my son; love those who mistreat you and say all manner of evil against you and the Lord will bless you and magnify you. Remember also my son, that day and night, your mother is praying for you.”
Elder Croft watched the guy as he studied the letter. He would read a line or two, then sit and ponder. Finally he came over to Elder Croft and said, “Feller, you must have a wonderful mother. You see, I once had one too.” Then the guy turned to those that were with him and said. “Men, after reading this Mormon’s mother’s letter, I just can’t go ahead with the job. Maybe we had better let him go.” Elder Croft was released without harm.
His mother’s love saved him from a lot of pain. I think I will carry my mom’s letters with me wherever I go!”
Fifteen years ago Elder Holland gave a talk in the April 1997 General Conference. You can read it online if you are interested. In it he talked about a letter he received from a young mother. Quoting Elder Holland from that talk
“One young mother wrote to me recently that her anxiety tended to come on three fronts. One was that whenever she heard talks on LDS motherhood, she worried because she felt she didn’t measure up or somehow would not be equal to the task. Secondly, she felt like the world expected her to teach her children reading, writing, interior design, Latin, calculus and the Internet all before the baby could even say something terribly ordinary like “goo, goo.” Thirdly, she often felt people were sometimes patronizing, almost always without meaning to be, because the advice she got or even the compliments she received seemed to reflect nothing of the demands that sometimes are required in trying to be and wanting to be the mother God hopes she will be.”
And then, as an Apostle of Jesus Christ, Elder Holland said this.”May I say to mothers collectively, in the name of the Lord, you are magnificent. You are doing terrifically well. The very fact that you have been given such a responsibility is everlasting evidence of the trust our Father in Heaven has in you.”
May I add my testimony to that. All of you, no matter what role you currently hold here on this earth are doing a wonderful job. I see it and I know it with all of my heart.
In my life I feel very fortunate that six wonderful women who have all at one time or another played the role of mother to me are here today.
Colleen Allen – my grandmother – my dad’s mom, who is always kind and fun-loving, making sure that everyone has enough to eat and a place to sleep.
Carol Allen – my mom’s mom – yes I have two grandma Allens, who is thoughtful of everyone in her family and a geat cook.
My three sisters Julie, Katie and Sarah – two of whom are mothers of their own children and one who has a baby on the way, that often loved and took care of me as one of the younger children in the family just like I was their baby. They are patient and thoughtful toward their kids. They always encourage them and make them think that they are the most important people on earth. They are strong, beautiful and opinionated women who give everything they have for their children.
And then there is my own mother – but before I tell you about her I would like to tell you a story from the Bible.
During the time of the Judges when there was a famine, an Israelite family from Bethlehem immigrated to the nearby country of Moab. They were Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their sons Mahlon and Chilon. The husband Elimelech soon died leaving his wife a widow in a strange land. The sons had married two Moabite women Ruth and Orpa. Not long after the death of the patriarch, Naomi’s sons also died. With no husband or sons Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem. She tells her daughters-in-law to return to their own mothers and remarry to make a life for themselves. Orpa reluctantly leaves but Ruth stays with Naomi saying, “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people and thy God my God. Where thou diest I will die, and there will I be buried; the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”
The two women returned to Bethlehem. It was the time of the barley harvest, and in order to support her mother-in-law and herself, Ruth goes to the fields to pick up the scraps of the harvest. The field she goes to is owned by Boaz, a relative of her father-in-law and who is kind to her because he has heard of her loyalty to her mother-in-law. Ruth gleans in his field through the rest of the harvest season. Ultimately, Ruth and Boaz get married and Ruth ends up with a great-grandson named David, the shepherd boy from Bethlehem, who kills a giant and who, later, becomes King of all Israel. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, could trace his earthly genealogy to David. Ruth refused the opportunity to return to her family and stay in Moab. That would have been the easy thing to do. But Ruth was incredibly loyal and faithful and chose the hard less easy life. She was devoted to Naomi and was willing to serve her for the rest of her life and even die with her.
My mom, Carie, is an incredibly smart and talented woman who could have been a taxidermist (a word a friend challenged him to use in his talk), a doctor or as a graduate from law school, an attorney, politician or judge. Like Ruth though, she chose a route to which me and my sisters and my nephews and nieces will be forever grateful. She chose to serve her children even though it meant foregoing some great oppportunities for her. Like Ruth she is selfless.
Like many moms here today, my mother has driven thousands of miles to practices, schools, and events to watch my sisters and me. She has had to sit throught the heat and cold to watch baseball and soccer games that I have long forgotten and I am sure were pretty boring. She has attended hours worth of concerts just to hear the song that my gorup was playing and then tell me what a great job I did even though she couldn’t see or hear me on the second or third row. That is what being a mother is all about.
I am not exaggerating when I say that she has put in enough hours of homework and tutoring to complete several more college degrees. She has waited for too many doctor’s appointments to count and most likely caught all the colds we brought home from school but never showed it or complained about it. She has captured everything with her camera from the first day of school to Christmas mornings, from vacations and trips to Disneyland to parties and proms all in an effort to preserve our history and always because she is so proud of us. Her kichen is always open to my friends and me. I am gladly taking advantage of her emotions over the past few weeks as she makes me all of my favorite meals before I leave.
My mother has done all of this because, lie Ruth to Naomi, she is devoted to us. She loves us. She doesn’t have to say it (although she often does) she shows it. My mother, like yours, has given so much for my sisters and me. I like the line from Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, “She broke the bread into two fragments and gave them to her children, who ate with eagerness. “She hath kept none for herself,” grumbled a sergeant. “Because she is not hungry?” asked a soldier. “No,” said the sergeant, “because she is a mother.”
Thank you to the Colleens, Carols, Julies, Katies, Sarahs and Caries of the world.
Mother’s Day has become an important holiday in the United States since 1914 and is an important way in which we honor our mothers. And because mothers essentially work hand-in-hand with God for our happiness, the best thing we can do to honor them is to serve and be kind to others. King Benjamin reminded us that when we are in the service of others we are serving the Lord. On Mother’s Day we can change that scripture around a little bit to say that when we are in the service of our fellow beings we are in the service of our mothers. Ultimately, the best service we can provide someone is to help them learn of Jesus Christ and his redemptive offering for us all. We can live the kind of lives that will make us worthy servants of our Savior. If we do so I know our mothers will feel as if they have been well-served.
Thanks to all of you who have changed your plans and traveled so far to come and hear me talk. Thank you for your example and support and encouragement. Thank you to all of the teachers and home teachers in this ward and in the stake. You are all part of the reason why I have the testimony I have today. (Kyle then bore his testimony and closed in the name of Jesus Christ.)”
Like all good speakers, Kyle added to and occasionally departed from his written words. Two particular examples of this stand out to me. The first was when he mentioned our frequent family trips to Disneyland and how his friends had questioned him as to whether or not he would rather go to Disneyland with them. Kyle says he decisively told them, “I don’t want to go to Disneyland with my friends – I want to go with my mom.” The second was when he told the story of how I had prayed – after having four daughters in a row – that I might have a son and that if Heavenly Father would bless me in this way I would do all that I could to make sure he would go on a mission. Kyle testified that he felt it was because of this prayer and the blessing of his father while he was in the neonatal ICU shortly after his birth, that he was speaking in church and leaving on a mission. I have been tempted at times to say that I regret that promise to my Heavenly Father but I know in my heart that I don’t. My life has been blessed by the association I have had with Elder Kyle M. Allen for nineteen years now and it is time for me to let him go to bless the lives of others. God be with you my son – your mother is praying for you.