michaelThis morning, my mom was watching a national news show when she heard that the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, is a host to swine flu. She then woke me up (it was 6 am), as well as my siblings. She had us stand out on the drive-way, and while she, my dad, and my youngest brother, Daniel, drove away the expectation was clear: we were to stand and wave until the car was out of sight.

For as long as I can remember, whenever any of us left home she made the rest of us stand out and wave good-bye. We’ve come to expect her gesture so resolutely that last week, when two siblings drove off they actually circled back two minutes later to see if she was still waving.

Today, we stood in the driveway and waved because Daniel is on his way to the MTC so he can serve a mission for our Church in Bangkok. I have to laugh just a touch, because what kind of people are we? Just when our boys get out of the difficult teenage stage and become really enjoyable to be around, we ship them off on missions. To places like Thailand where there are threats of civil war. To get them ready, we send them to a place where the swine flu—the same one that threw the whole into a hand-washing frenzy just one month ago—is presenting in three people (not to mention the 17 other missionaries who tested positive). Are we serious? We’re sending our19-year old boys off to overthrow the Devil and establish the kingdom of God on Earth?

And we are. I’d think it nutty if I didn’t think it sensible.

I don’t even think it occurs to my mother how crazy this all makes us seem. This is the seventh time she’s sent a child on a mission. This morning, our family knelt down to pray and she lamented, “Ohh, this is the last time we’ll do this until John goes.” John is my 8-year old nephew, so it’s not exactly next month.

Last week I saw all of these pictures of my mother hugging her missionaries goodbye—and then pictures of her welcoming them home. I got emotional looking at them because of course I projected myself into those pictures and tried to imagine sending little Adelaide off. It didn’t escape my notice that my mother seems just as happy to be sending them off as she is to be getting them back. I don’t exactly know how to explain to someone why we feel this way.

When the MTC called Daniel on Sunday to tell him that due to a flu virus there would be no orientation for parents of prospective missionaries, my mother was understandably disappointed. She pretended like she was most sad for the parents who only have one chance to go through this. “I mean I’ve already gotten to do this six times,” she said. And then, on thinking through her mental packing list she sighed. “I guess I don’t even need to take a dress.”

Daniel was instructed to have his parents simply drop him and his luggage off at the curb. It won’t be the same as that orientation where they put an orange sticker on the missionaries and at the end of the meeting, tell the parents to exit using the doors on the left and the missionaries to exit using the doors on the right. It’s really hard to replicate that.

I do take comfort though, in knowing that for my mother who (possibly even as you read this) is saying goodbye to her favorite son, she’s saying goodbye on her own terms. I’m not just talking about how she actually wants him to go; how she’s always wanted these children she’ll really miss to go. I’m talking about how she’s leaving our little Daniel on a curb where he can wave to her until she drives out of sight.