It all began at the very end of our 40 days…
This is our own personal-experience nickname for the time period before each stake conference over which my husband presides here in our area of PA. It is a time period that is always extraordinarily FULL!!-So full of trials, expectations, challenges, demands but most of all many, many blessings that the result is lots of great pressure! Has a good effect we hope!
Recognizing it’s a pattern, just like Jonah, who preached for 40 days then saw GREAT things happen, & several other 40 day Bible examples, has really helped us deal better with this hard, happy, challenging preparation period as it comes around each spring and autumn!
We always hope and pray that the end of those 40 days, stake conference time, also brings greater blessings than ever before to each family, EVERY person in our stake! It has absolutely brought GREATER blessings to ours!!
So many that it is hard to describe in a blogpost, I won’t try, but I must absolutely share THIS story with you!
My husband woke me gently whispering, “It’s the 39th day”. A huge smile crossed my face for, much to my relief, I knew we had made it through now! And the outpouring of blessings were already here!
From Wednesday to that Saturday morning we had enjoyed a completely inspirational temple day trip to NY, had celebrated Emily and Anna and Esther’s bdays each with cakes and gifts and a family dinner (even if brief), we had gone to the school district’s concert with all 5 of our children in it, and cleaned and prepared house and beds for all the visitors that would arrive that day, of course Mike had made many preparations with others for stake conference and I had cared for my little 6 1/2 month old twins and 8 other children as well.
As for today, in just moments Mike would be gone to attend the first meetings and sessions of stake conference and I would take my 9 girls and a few of Ether’s friends to Reptileland to celebrate turning 9! We would be meeting beloved cousins there!!! We would all enjoy the small but super cool park of reptiles (& butterflies) and lunch together, then head back home to prepare my oldest 3 and my sister’s oldest daughter for PROM. We would eat crock-pot tacos, and just before the teens left with their dates, we adults would head to the church for the Saturday evening session of stake conference – always a favorite for me. Before I knew it, all those wonderful things had happened smoothly and joyfully. The stake conference evening session had filled my heart with warmth, happiness and a new commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. The day had been FULL of sunshine!!!
That night after conference friends invited us to dinner and we were hungry and would have loved their company, and then our extended family had invited us to ice cream which would have also been delicious and fun, but Mike and I decided to go home and tuck our younger children and the littlest of our visitors into bed and then snuggle our Babies to sleep.
My son had been eagerly awaiting a life changing event: his mission call.
Since Isaac was just two and three years old he had looked forward to this time, his chance to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints! I remember snuggling on his little bed with him at night reading his favorite books about the great missionaries Alma and Ammon. He had told me then with all the sincerity of his soul at that tender age that how much he wanted to be a missionary! As he grew it was expected of him he knew, but his soul was eager to serve we knew!
He and his Dad had now worked for months to have all his medical, dental, and other paperwork prepared in order for him to submit his missionary application as soon as possible. Isaac put his availability date right after high school graduation! Now he was awaiting his call. Any day he would find out where he would be assigned to serve for 2 years for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!
He had been so eager for it, watching the mail daily.
In a rush to get to a play performance Isaac had run over our mailbox the month before, squashed it flat. We had grown accustomed to the nice mail-woman dropping off mail on the porch only every few days when packages came. I had asked her this week if she would be sure to drop off mail Friday and Saturday as we were awaiting the Call.
As I lay there snuggling the Baby to sleep thinking about it all, a clear thought popped into my mind, “check the mailbox”.In his hurry that Saturday afternoon Isaac had asked if we had seen any mail? “None,” I responded chagrined myself. ‘Had anyone gone to see if it was at the post office??’ He pressed. I shook my head, hopeless, for not Isaac at work or me at Reptile land or Dad at stake conference had been able to go check the post office before it had closed. I knew how much it meant to him. And we had all hoped it would arrive in time to open with my brother’s and sisters’ families the next day. But it had not come, or it was waiting at the post office for Monday.
We hadn’t even thought of it since it had just been put up again yesterday and still needed some repair to be decent.
“Wanna go on a walk to the mailbox?” I quietly asked Mike who had been working on stake conference for the next day I believe.
He looked up and smiled, “That sounds fun” he said with a glimmer of hope dancing in his eyes as well.
We laid the sleeping baby down and checked on sleeping children upstairs then headed out into the beautiful night. Fresh evening air, brilliant stars above, a soft breeze making the forest dance gently around us.
We held hands and headed down the driveway. We actually take a date-walk to the mailbox quite often just for fun but tonight we had a mission, or at least held our breaths, only daring to hope there may be a mission call in that half recovered mailbox.
We arrived to our destination in no time (our driveway isn’t THAT long of course!) and Mike reached his hand into the black box in the night and pulled out a normal looking stack of mail. “Well, the mail came anyway” we thought with a glimmer of excitement.
Within seconds Mike was picking through the pile and there, even in the dark, the large, white envelope caught and reflected the light in such a way that we knew, THIS WAS IT!!
Ah!!! We hugged and danced and twirled I even jumped up and down. It was here!!!
As Mike and I hugged, it was an amazing moment. Almost 20 years ago we had a hug never to be forgotten under a night of brilliant stars like this! I could not believe as I saw the starry sky above him and as he hugged me just like that night that we were here, our first child and only son was going on a mission!
Isaac’s eagerness for his mission lately had been palpable. And we decided right then and there we would keep this super happy moment a secret till after the morning & last session of stake conference was done. Then he could open it with all the family that was here with us rather than tonight when most everyone was sleeping.
Just as we stepped into the house and headed up the stairs we could see the lights of the Escalade full of Prom-goers pulling into the driveway. It stopped for a long time at the mailbox and then we knew, it was Isaac checking the mail just as we had!
His moment of disappointment was worth it the next day! For the moment our absolutely fantastic and joyfully fulfilling stake conference finished it became obvious to some of my children, because of my sheer excitement, that something was up.
We finished setting up an amazing lunch provided by the dearest friend of mine who had offered a dinner since before the Babies had arrived. I felt her timing could not have been more impeccable (such a blessing and HELP this Sunday), the dinner could not have been more delectable.
All the family that was there gathered around in joy and the setting was as full of sunshine and beauty as was my heart!
After dinner we gathered in a circle under the hemlocks in the front yard, sang a couple hymns, said a prayer and had Isaac open the letter. He had been called to serve the Lord, Jesus Christ, he would labor in Bahia Blanca, Argentina.
It was an amazing moment of wonder for all of us! I’ve attended a couple of mission letter openings before – it is always an amazing moment! It is such an extraordinary thing to see a young, strong-minded, beautiful, virtuous young person go forth with such faith, willing to turn their lives, quite literally, over to the Lord – for TWO YEARS!! And more.
It was the height of our 40 days and we were heading as a family, a stake, and as our son Isaac, to new places, turning our hearts and lives nearer to Our Savior!
My husband had, just a few days prior to this event, informed me that there would be a special stake conference held June 9th (we usually have only one in the spring and one in the fall). Because Elder Bednar would be visiting the area, our dear, wonderful Area Seventy and his wife would be with us and speak to our stake for that stake conference. What a reason to rejoice!
As the tears of mixed emotions settled down and everyone started to ingest the news of Isaac’s call, I sat close to him and read silently once again over his letter. “Wow” I remarked, “Isaac, you leave really soon”.
“Wow,” I repeated, “you report to the Missionary Training Center in 45 days!” The weekend right before Isaac would leave would be high school graduation and stake conference!! 😉
I took a big, deep breath and with very grateful heart plunged into our next 40 days! We would be preparing with all our hearts for Isaac’s mission and for stake conference!!!
On the 35th day, after all it takes to prepare physically for a mission (shots, FBI clearances and visa applications, bank preparations, drivers license checks, gathering and packing all needed for 2 yrs., interviews with bishops and stake president, etc..), after all it takes to do the end of the school year with 8 busy kids & two little babies, celebrating Zoie’s bday and preschool graduation for Clara, as well as the phenomenal high school graduation for Isaac that Friday night, and spending an incredible Saturday in Harrisburg learning from Elder Bednar, an apostle of The Lord Jesus Christ, and other great leaders from our church, we had an absolutely wonderful stake conference!!!
That afternoon, after stake conference, my husband, my father, my brother and dear brother-in-laws along with our dear Elder Smith (area Seventy) ordained Isaac an Elder in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
On the 38th day, Isaac was able to go to the Temple. (I did not think anything could exceed the joy of my own first time in the temple, but this did by far! It beat the feeling a parent has at high school graduation by a kajillion!)
On the 39th day we flew the whole family to Utah.
On the 40th day we had a family reunion with the Hoffmans.
On the fortieth fourth day we enjoyed one last day as a family with all our children in our nest. We took family pictures, visited the missionary mall for a couple of last minute items Isaac would need, and then we took the children to a special dinner at The Roof overlooking The Salt Lake City Temple where Mike and I were sealed together for time and all eternity.
As the gorgeous piano music drifted gently around us, playing so many meaningful songs for us but especially one of Isaac’s favorites, “Be Still My Soul” and the children’s voices chattered happily and quietly with my husband about past memories, my eyes began to burn with tears. I was glad for the comfort of the hymn as we would say good-bye to Isaac for 2 years:
“Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side…In ev’ry change he faithful will remain..Thy God doth undertake To guide the future as he has the past…. The hour is hast’ning on…When we shall be forever with the Lord… When change and tears are past,All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.”
Isaac was set apart as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that evening in his grandparents home surrounded by loving, supportive family. A picture of his Great, Great, Great Grandpa Voss, who was called to serve a mission for The Church for 3 years, leaving his wife and 7 children aged 14 yrs and younger, hung on the wall behind him as his father, his stake president, set him apart. It was a most reverent moment.
We are forever grateful for the sacrifices of those who went before us that have brought the blessings of the gospel more fully to our lives, taken us and others to a better place!!
The next morning, the 45th day, we tenderly took the time in front of the Provo temple to say goodbye to our son and big brother, Isaac. The girls wept painfully as Isaac hugged each one and gave them big brother words to remember while he is gone. Mike and I shared tender tears too. The Babies smiled at Isaac and us in strange confusion as he hugged them also. We will post pictures so they remember.
But as I asked the girls their feelings later that morning, I found these were not just tears of sorrow. The girls felt, just as Mike and I did as we watched Isaac quickly disappear into that crowd of strong, virtuous, valiant, prepared, dedicated, shining missionaries at the MTC, that he was in the right place, the best place he could possibly be!
Here we are, nearly 20 years later from when we stood at our beginning, and yes, more than 40 days later once again! Here we are, in a new, and always better place!!!
To keep up with Elder Isaac Hoffman news, check out his own personal missionary blog here (where we will post updates from his letters): ElderHoffman.com