Dear Elder Sheppard,
I must call you that for a few more days while I still can.
I can’t believe how quickly time slips through my fingers. And yes, I realize that it is even slipperier in your case. It feels like just yesterday we were standing at the airport, giving hugs and trying to hold back the tears while watching you walk away.
OK, to be true, it doesn’t feel like yesterday. It feels like we haven’t seen you for two years. But somehow, the time has gone fast. Somehow, we are counting down, and seven days feels surreal.
I know that you are not the same young man we sent out two years ago. I know you have changed and grown in ways we cannot fully understand. I know you have only been able to share a tiny bit of your experience with us in your weekly communication, and there is so much more that we have yet to comprehend.
But, even in the tiny snapshot we have seen, it is clear that this experience has shaped you into the strong, faithful, and bold leader that God needs you to be. I know that He is smiling on you, so proud of what you have become while in His service. You have proven time and time again that you are not a wussie (I will forever thank Brother Cook for teaching you to do hard things). You are a warrior in God’s army, determined to do your part for Him.
I cannot even imagine the depth of emotion you must be feeling as this chapter in your life comes to an end. For the past two years, I have known it would be hard for you to say goodbye to your beloved islands when the time came, and now it is almost here. But the experiences you have had and the Ohana you have gained will never be further away than your heart.
So next week, when you get on that plane and look out the window, tears streaming down your face as your cherished islands fade into the distance, do so with a sure knowledge that your mission is not over. That flght home will be the beginning of a lifetime of dedicated service. It may look different than a name tage and a white shirt. It may feel different than knocking doors in government housing projects or talking to drunk Marshallese people in their native language. It may not be characterized by companionship study or zone conference or district cousel.
But what you choose to do from this point on can be a testimony to you, to God, and to the world that the change you experienced while sacrificing two years to serve a mission was not temporary. Rather, your heart and, by extension, your life, will be forever turned to Him.
Even when there are no mission rules to keep you in check.
Even when you get busy with school and work and life, and it is hard to find time to nurture your relationship with Christ.
Even when the adversary tries to distract you from what is most important or tells you that spiritual things don’t matter so much now that you are not a missionary.
Even when life gets hard and the miracles of missionary work feel like a distant memory.
If I could give you any advice as your mother, it would be to cling to the change that God has orchestrated within you while you have been in His service. Lock it in the vault of your heart, far from the reach of the adversary. Use it as a springboard into the future, where hope and love and immeasurable joy await as you continue to serve the Lord with all of your heart, might, mind, and strength.
Two years ago, we sent you off as a quirky teenager. In a few short days, we will welcome you home as a stalwart man of God. Words cannot express my gratitude.
Much Love and Aloha,