Open When Letters–Missionary Edition

Back before my dear Elder left on his mission, I was pinning things like crazy to my Pinterest board.  I found all kinds of crazy over-the-top things that I thought were worthy of my time and effort.  I was bound and determined that I would be the ultimate supreme-o missionary mom out there, winning all kinds of awards and whatnot.  This was before he actually got his call, of course.  When the call finally came, we discovered that he had only five weeks to get ready to go and that left us in a time crunch.  All my plans for what I would do before he left sort of went sailing out the window.

He’s now been out a year and, sadly, most of the things I pinned and planned have not happened.  It’s funny how time works.  I barely get an email written to him and BING BANG BOOM it’s time to write another email. Time is flying!  That’s the good news.  The bad news is sometimes I feel like I’m doing a less than adequate job supporting him the way I wanted to.  I know it’s just me beating myself up needlessly, but let’s face it, sometimes Pinterest does that to a person.

One of the things I saw when I was madly pinning things were Open When letters.  Most of what I saw were letters written by girlfriends to their boyfriends leaving for college, but I did see examples of letters written for missionaries as well.  I LOVED THIS IDEA!

What is an Open When letter?


If you’ve never heard of or seen this idea, here’s the premise:  You write a series of letters that are meant to be opened under a certain circumstance.  If they are having a bad day, there’s a letter for that.  Feeling unmotivated?  A letter to help get them motivated.  You get the picture.  I saw a lot of ideas and even found a huge list to choose from.

Some of the ideas I didn’t love—like “open after your first baptism”.  Since we all know there are many missionaries out there that will serve a full two years and never baptize anyone, that feels a little risky to me.  I also didn’t want to concentrate on him MISSING things and end up making him homesick.  One letter that I ran across was for after you’ve done something successful, and it went on to talk about the dangers of being puffed up with pride and how being boastful is bad. Seriously?! I REALLY hated that one–I feel like every missionary out there should feel good about the work they are doing and bask in the glow of even the smallest success.

My Own Personal Failure

As much as I loved this idea, I didn’t get them done.  They were supposed to go with him in his suitcase when he left.  The idea and the fact that I didn’t get them done has kind of haunted me since.  Especially at those times when I hear that he’s struggling and think that I might have done something to lift his spirits.

(Now, before anyone decides to tell me I’m being ridiculous to beat myself up over this, I totally get it.  I’m the Queen of putting too much pressure on myself and my expectations of myself are way, WAY higher than they should be.  Some days I say I’m trying to change, but that’s kind of a lie.  I don’t change…it’s just who I am.  Sometimes I think I revel in the chaos that I create for myself.)

Regardless of the fact that I have been sad about not getting this done, I still never did it.  Until now.

A few short weeks ago, my daughter decided to write these for her boyfriend that was leaving on a mission.  It reinvigorated me, and I realized that it was not too late to write them and send them.  After all, he still has a whole year left!  I’m sure he will still encounter disappointments and discouragement (not that I’m hoping he will, but per my experience in this life so far, it seems inevitable…).  Together, the two of us came up with a list of topics and started writing.

The Topics

As I said before, I found a list a mile long of ideas for the letters.  I whittled that list down to the following ideas:

  • You need a spiritual boost
  • You need some inspiration
  • You are lonely
  • You are short a few cents
  • You are discouraged
  • You are missing home
  • You are experiencing trials
  • You’ve had a hard day
  • You need to feel loved
  • You need something sweet
  • You need a good laugh
  • You are struggling to feel the Spirit

Savannah wrote a few more:

  • Your first night in the MTC
  • You reach your one year mark

So what’s in the letters?

Most of the envelopes had a personal letter, a card with quotes pertaining to the subject, and a talk from General Conference that tied in.  A couple of them had extra things too, if I found anything that went along with it.  Like this handy “Spiritual Directory Assistance” list that I included:


I also printed this cute reference card, attributed to Stephen Covey, about how to be happy:


I printed both of them on a sheet of cardstock together, small enough that they could be cut out and would fit in the envelope.  I wanted them to be small enough that he could carry them with him tucked in his scriptures, so that was the goal when I sized them.

Just For Fun

One of the topics, “When you’re short a few cents” might seem like a letter that would include money.  I’m pretty sure that’s what my Elder expected too, if he’s opened it already.  I figured since I am funding his debit card, I already know he’s never short on money and sending him cash didn’t seem like a great idea.  So I turned this envelope into “short a few sense”…as in, common sense.  This was not so much a letter as it was a list of common sense rules to live by.  Some of them were funny, some were serious…for example:

  • You should not confuse your career with your life.
  • If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.
  • Your friends will always love you anyway.
  • Doing nothing is very hard to do because you never know when you’re finished.
  • No one is really listening until you fart.
  • Never lick a steak knife.
  • There is a fine line between “hobby” and “mental illness”.
  • There is always one more imbecile than you counted on.
  • Experience is a wonderful thing. It enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.
  • It ain’t the jeans that make your butt look fat.

For the “Need a Good Laugh” letter, I threw in some sticky mustaches, some jokes, and some cartoons that I printed on small cards that could be carried around or hung up somewhere.  One of my favorites was something I found that some might not think is funny, but is SO appropriate for my son there was no way I could not include it:


Here are some of the others:




(This last one is only going to be funny if you’re a fan of The Last Air Bender, a show my children watched, and are still watching with a religious furiosity.)

And then there is the letter about something sweet. It’s pretty hard to include candy, cookies, or any other sweets in an envelope, especially when you aren’t sure when it will get opened.  Instead I included pictures of kittens like this:


Aren’t they sweet? Ha ha!  I’m sure he’ll have a good laugh about this.  Then he’ll probably go use that debit card I gave him to get dessert, just because he feels slightly disappointed.

In Conclusion

I included this pack of letters in with his Halloween package, only because I was shipping it anyway.  He wrote me the next P-day and told me he’d had a few rough days and had already opened two of them, and he loved them!  It made me feel a little bad that he didn’t have them earlier, but also glad that I finally did it.

Not only did I get to inspire him with the letters, but getting to write them was good for my own spiritual boost too.  I read through countless General Conference talks, found quotes that fit, and all the reading, typing, and bundling helped with my own testimony.  I have been so blessed to have a son on a mission, and this is just another way that my testimony has grown as I support and serve him.





Why I Choose to be a Mormon

book-of-mormon-jpg-kqk1nq-clipartWhen I was growing up I had a good friend named Alana.  She lived across the street from me.  Never were there two people so completely different, and yet we were amazing friends!  We had some great times that mostly involved Spanish class, and we went to Spanish camp together.  Oh, the stories I could tell!  I was raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and Alana was not.  Her background was Catholic, but I’m not sure if her family attended church or not because I never really paid attention to those things.  While Alana was outgoing, gregarious, loved to party (and did so often) I was more the quiet type. She couldn’t wait to grow up and leave our tiny town for places unknown, she wanted to get married (but not right away)  and never wanted children. She had dreams way more lofty than me.  I planned to go off to college, but never really yearned for the wings that she wanted.  I wanted to be a writer, knew I could be content with a good place to call home and a family, and couldn’t wait to someday be a mother. As I said before, we were polar opposites when it came to lifestyle choices but we were always good friends and I loved to talk and laugh with her and neither of us ever spent even a moment of time judging the other because we weren’t the same.

Now, thanks to the miracle of the internet and Facebook, Alana and I can still be friends even when we live worlds apart in more ways than one.  We enjoy a good online discuss now and again, keep up with each other’s comings and goings, and even occasionally talk on the phone.  We are still different in more ways than we are the same, but I can still say that I love her like I always did. I had one of these conversations with her several nights ago and hearing her voice from the other side of the country took me back for a minute to when I was sixteen and we laughed about the past and wondered about Senor Mansfield and where he might be these days.

During my conversation with Alana that night, she asked me some tough questions that I never expected her to ask me. Considering we’ve been friends (even from a distance) most of our lives, she’s never asked me these types of questions before.  They weren’t tough as in “I have no answer for that” but tough in the sense that I absolutely know the answer but trying to get it from my heart out of my mouth is challenging.  I know my answers at the time were less than adequate, and I have been thinking about it ever since. Maybe not so much because I need to give Alana a better answer, but I guess when someone, anyone, takes the time to ask us why we believe what we believe or why we choose to live like we live, it’s best to have a response so it doesn’t look like we don’t know.

Obviously I believe in my religion.  I willingly sent my son off to spend two years of his life sharing it with others (granted, most of that decision was on him, but I still went along with it) and I’m paying for it out of my own pocket.  I sacrifice all of my Sundays to worshipping and attending church services, choosing not to participate in other activities that I enjoy in an effort to keep the Sabbath day holy.  I take on jobs in the church for which I never get paid, but that eat up my time, cause stress occasionally, and create work when I have a million other things I could be doing.  I willingly part with 10% of my income in tithing.  The list could go on and on.  Ours is not an easy religion to live.  It requires time and effort and WORK every single day.

I know this doesn’t sound like much of an advertisement for joining up, but it does lead me to explain why I choose this life.

Sending my son off on a mission was difficult to do, but these last two weeks I have had the opportunity to watch my daughter prepare to send the boy she loves off on a mission as well.  It has been really hard for her to do it, but she supports his decision to go. There have been a lot of tears shed (by both of us).  But then I got to watch her get lost in doing some projects for him during his time away.  She created a little photo album filled with pictures, quotes, and memories, all designed to encourage and lift him when things got tough.  Then she wrote him a series of letters, all intended for him to take with him and open when he needs them.  They included talks from church leaders, scriptures and quotes, and, of course, her own words of love, support, and encouragement.

She delivered these things to him the Sunday before he left and said her last in-person goodbyes to him.

Tuesday, in an effort to keep her busy and not let her dwell on his leaving, she and I spent the day together.  We just happened to be passing the airport when his flight departed, and she watched as it slowly became a tiny dot in the sky.  As the day wound to a close and I was taking her back to her apartment, she told me that she knows she’s going to be okay.  She talked about what a great missionary he is going to be, and how caring he will be to the people he is serving.  I’m proud of her for her strength, and she’s right—she’ll be okay.

So why do we do these hard things?

Because, ultimately, it makes us happy.

For all of these hard things that I do, each time I choose to do them, I receive blessings without measure.  Those blessings make the sacrifices worthwhile, and, in the end, I am happy.

Many people look at the life of a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and see nothing but restrictions and rules, wondering why we are forced to live a life with no fun, no freedom, and no choices.  I never look at it like that at all—so when asked why we have so many restrictions, I’m not quite sure how to answer.  All I see is a loving Heavenly Father that gives us guidelines to follow, promising that if we will follow, it will bring us joy.  So far, that has been the case for me.  There is nothing out there “in the world” that I feel like I am missing out on—not one thing.  There are, however, an abundance of things that I have gained by living according to the standards that God has given me.

I have seen more miracles in my lifetime than one would think a simple girl like me would ever deserve.  I haven’t seen an ocean part, but when the small miracles come in your life that give you exactly what you need in that moment, it might as well be the parting of a sea.  I have no doubt in my mind that the Lord knows my name, He knows what I need, and He will perform miracles in my life at exactly the time that I need them.  By comparison, all that He asks of me seems so very small.

My faith provides hope

To sum it up, I have faith that if I do what I am asked to do, I will see the promised results.  So far I have never been let down.

faith_0I could go on and on about the reasons why I choose to live my life as a Mormon, but I think I will sum it up with words from my daughter, who posted the following on her Facebook page last night:

This Tuesday the love of my life left to serve our Heavenly Father, and help bring His perfect gospel to others. I am so very proud of the wonderful man I’ve got to see him become over the past two years, and I can’t imagine my life without him. He is so loving, and he always does his best in everything he does. I have never met anyone as loving and caring as he is, and I know he is going to be so great out there. Our relationship has brought me closer to where I need to be in my life, and because of Spencer’s help, I have grown stronger. One thing I can now say with complete surety is this:

Christ lives, and he loves us. He experienced all the pain and torments of the world, and he did this in order to save us and bring us back to our Father in Heaven. Heavenly Father loves us, and nothing can separate us from that. Romans 8: 38-39 states:

“38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I know this is true, and I feel His love every moment I take a breath. And I most definitely feel this love when I see the wonderful gifts that Heavenly Father has given me in this life. My mom, my dad, my brothers, my friends, Spencer… These are all wonderful examples of gifts that Heavenly Father has sent me to help bring me closer to his love. Yet the perfect example of God’s love for us is in Christ. He sent His only Begotten Son down to this world out of his pure love. He sent Him to save us so that we can all return to the love that dwells within Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. In October of 2009 Deiter F. Uchtdorf gave a talk on the pure and all-encompassing love of God, stating:

“[God] loves us because He is filled with an infinite measure of holy, pure, and indescribable love. We are important to God not because of our résumé but because we are His children. He loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken. God’s love is so great that He loves even the proud, the selfish, the arrogant, and the wicked.

“What this means is that, regardless of our current state, there is hope for us. No matter our distress, no matter our sorrow, no matter our mistakes, our infinitely compassionate Heavenly Father desires that we draw near to Him so that He can draw near to us.”

I am so grateful for all those around me, whether past or present. You all mean so much to me, and you are all examples of God’s pure love. Though these next two years will be hard, I am so glad that Spencer will be spending it sharing Heavenly Father’s love with others.

I love my Heavenly Father. And I love His perfect son. I know that I can always turn to Him, and I know that He will always be waiting with His pierced hands outstretched.


Every Missionary Loves Hump Day!

This week I have been working hard getting ready to send off a missionary package for Dylan because guess what day it is?  That’s right….HUMP DAAAAAAYYYY!

Friday morning I got up and saw a memory on Facebook.  I saw pictures of us dropping him off at the MTC.  It was a weird sensation, because I was thinking about how it seems like he’s been gone forever, but at the same time it seems like he barely left.  Some days I really miss him a lot (okay…so I miss him a lot all the time but I don’t sit and dwell on it most of the time), but I’m not the type that sits around and cries about it.  Until Friday.  I cried a little bit.  I’m not sure why, but I think it’s because I looked at the picture of me hugging him and I could actually remember in detail what it felt like.  I remembered the texture of his suit coat, and the rough feel of his hair on my face.  It seemed like a lifetime ago…and yesterday.

True to my procrastinating nature, I put off getting his package ready for this momentus event until the last minute.  It’s not like I had a year to plan for it or anything…  It left me scrambling a little bit (especially since the van thing happened on the same day I was supposed to be shipping it) but I got it done.

Hump Day naturally calls for camels…and lots of them!

I intended to fill a box with goodies and things, but Dylan is trying to eat healthier and the last time I sent him a box filled with candy he wasn’t all that happy with me.  So my goal when I went shopping was to pick things that weren’t quite so bad, but weren’t boring either.  The other requirement was that I would need to open them all and reseal them without him knowing.  This is what I got:


Now…I’d like to pat myself on the back a little here and tell you that those packages all look new and unopened in that picture, but they are actually NOT.  Using an exact-o knife (and being very, very careful) I opened them all and emptied out half the contents (halfway done…get it?)  I threw a camel joke or saying into each one and then resealed them with rubber cement.  I tell you what–I could be a first rate food tamperer if I wanted to be because to look at those packages, other than the fact that they looked sort of empty, you could not tell they had been opened.

A special warning about camel jokes

I’d like to pause here and throw out a warning about camel jokes.  Please don’t go searching for them on the internet unless you want a serious eyeful of distasteful humor and downright vulgarity.  Apparently, the word “hump” is pretty conducive to foul humor.  Who’d have thought.  I managed to find about five that were suitable for a missionary (or halfway decent human being) to hear and that was about it.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Here are the strips of paper I printed out with the clean but stupid camel jokes that I found:hump-day-notes

I can almost feel the strain of Dylan’s eyes rolling as he reads them and shakes his head.

How missionaries are like camels

I found this really great comparison of missionaries and camels and printed it like a story:


Hopefully he will find it  encouraging and useful because I loved it!  I’m hoping he will hang it on his wall where he can read it often.  I was going to buy him a stuffed camel but decided against it.  I’m trying not to send him a bunch of things that are bulky and take up room in his suitcase.  Instead, I made him this:


I cut him out using my Cricut and he’s pretty big.  I sent him an email and told him I expect to see some “Flat Stanley” type pictures showing up with him and his new friend.  I hope he will comply.

Then came the cookies::

camel cookies

When I started out making them I had grand visions of them wearing those fancy rug type saddles on their backs, but it was midnight and I was tired.  They ended up just being a basic brown camel.  Hopefully they arrived fresh and edible.

Let’s keep it positive!

Last but not least (for the camel portion of our package) I wrote a poem about Hump Day.  A lot of emphasis gets placed on the whole “halfway done” part of hump day, and I was looking for something a little different.  I wanted to concentrate on the year that’s left and the amazing opportunity that it provides.  There were poems on the internet, but nothing that really caught my eye so I decided to just write one myself.

missionary hump day poem

And, of course, we have to include some more halves of things

A while back as we were getting ready for a yard sale, I wrote Dylan an email and joked with him about selling his precious guitars while he’s gone.  I was joking of course, and Dylan, of course, was not amused.  His response was classic and I’ll never forget it.  He said “Regardless of distance or time, this relationship is never going to change, is it?”  My answer:  “Nope.”  So I just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t include some dorky things just to make him roll his eyes at me.  I opted for a new partial wardrobe:


In case you can’t tell, that’s a half a shirt (let’s just call it a halter top, shall we?), a half a tie, and the bottom half of a pair of black socks.  After contemplating whether or not to send just one full sock, I decided cutting both of them in half was just way funnier.

Half a letter to a missionary is a cruel, cruel thing

The other thing I sent him half of, was an envelope of letters.  Everyone in the family wrote him a letter.  I folded them up, cut them in half (the long way) and stuck them in an envelope.  Not wanting to be completely cruel, I put the other half in a separate envelope to mail later.  I figured he doesn’t really have enough frustration out there in the mission field, so why not provide some by sending him letters he can’t read?  So I threw all this in the box along with a sign on top with the camel from the commercial making his hump day announcment.

Many better moms than me decorate the box flaps.  I’ve done it before, but as I stated earlier, because of the van thing I was a little under the gun.  I chose not to worry about it and just hurry off to get it shipped.  I was so proud of myself that I actually got it out the door when I planned I almost wanted to throw a party for myself.

Fast forward two days

This is the part where I tell you what a complete dork I am.   Friday morning bright and early, I woke up and the first thought to pop into my mind is… THE LETTERS!  I had intended to send the other half the next day so he wouldn’t be left waiting for them and I had forgotten.  I jumped out of bed to get the envelope addressed and get a stamp on it so I could get it off right away.  The only problem is… where were they?

After getting home from the FedEx office, I had been getting ready for the van thing and decided to clean my house up.  That meant cleaning off my junk counter.  It was the last place I remember seeing the envelope.  I SWEAR I didn’t throw it away. Why would I throw it away?  I would pick it up and know exactly what it was and NOT throw it away.  But it was gone.  I have scoured my entire house searching for it and it hasn’t turned up.  I can only come to two conclusions:

  1.  In my haste to run off to the FedEx office, I accidentally put both envelopes in the box.  Which is super lame.
  2. I threw them away.  More lame.

I will not know until I hear from him whether or not the second half of the letters was in the box.  For the letters from his siblings, it’s an easy fix.  They typed them, so it would be easy to reprint.  Patrick’s, on the other hand, was written.  He said he’d have to have Dylan send it back so he could reconstruct it if we can’t find the other half.  Either that or just let him wonder for the rest of his life what the letter said.

Almost There

So that’s the story of Dylan’s Hump Day Package.  It was delivered exactly on time.  I wish I could have included some kind of audio device that played that camel’s voice from the commercial because that would have been awesome!  But I think it turned out pretty well either way.  Even though I didn’t want Dylan to dwell on the “halfway done” portion, I’m kind of dwelling on it myself.  I’m so happy that we’re more than halfway done and I can’t wait to get that hug again when he gets home…one year from now.