Today has been exactly one month since my first born, Casey Scott Lewis, left home to serve a service mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have so many thoughts and feelings to share. Before I do, I want to share Casey’s story leading up to his mission.
In the summer of 2022, as Casey’s senior year drew near, I was wondering what his future would look like after high school. We had talked off and on about him serving a mission, but he hadn’t committed. Rather than pressure him, I helped him research and tour schools. We felt really good about two schools, UNCG and SVU. Casey applied to both schools but didn’t know if he would be serving a mission. Jad and I hoped he would want to, but we never pushed him.
I am grateful to say things changed in Casey’s own time. Here is a Facebook post I wrote on November 3, 2022:
…in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, young men are encouraged to serve a 2-year mission to spread the gospel of Christ through teaching and service. This typically happens just out of high school. Casey had not spoken much about going on a mission, and I felt inspired not to push or pressure him to go. I did talk to him about it occasionally but was never overbearing about it. That’s one of the reasons why I started the college touring process – so that he could be better equipped to figure out his future on his own terms. Well, one day after church, maybe 2 months ago now (or less), he sat down with me and told me he had decided to serve a mission. He said he had felt the Holy Ghost testify to him that there were people on this earth that he could serve and teach who needed him personally. Oh, how I cried tears of joy. There were many events and experiences that helped lead to this final decision, but one thing he told me was that he had taken so long to decide partly because he didn’t like to be pressured to serve a mission, and he had been pressured by many family members for quite some time. He expressed appreciation for me not pressuring him, and once again, there was concrete evidence that mother’s intuition is real and divinely inspired.
…I’m so grateful to be a mother and I’m grateful that God has entrusted me to help lead and guide my children to their full potential. I don’t always answer that call successfully, but through these experiences, I feel so much more content that I can do it, and that it can help change my kids’ lives for the better.
Casey’s senior year continued, and I got excited about preparing for his future. I ordered a sign to post in our yard, honoring him as a senior in high school, and a future missionary! Here is the sign I put in our yard on January 19:
We waited a couple of months, and then Casey and I began diligent work on his mission paperwork. It was quite the process, but it felt so satisfying to submit his mission papers on April 16. I wrote this on Facebook that day:
In a few short months Casey will be a missionary! We submitted his mission papers today. We are excited for what’s next.
Our Bishop reviewed Casey’s papers a few days later, and then set up an interview with him. Casey’s papers were soon submitted to church headquarters. We were told that mission calls usually take two weeks to receive and come on Tuesdays, so we expected he would get his call on May 16. He didn’t, which was a bummer, so we waited as patiently as possible until the next week, and the next week, and you get the idea.
Time went on without his mission call, and Casey graduated high school on June 10. I wrote that morning:
I’m feeling a little emotional this morning. My baby is graduating from high school today! I have been really good at holding back the tears, and just being excited all this time, but there are definitely tears in my eyes this morning. I am so blessed and proud to be Casey’s mama. He gave me a long, tender hug last night and it felt like he was telling me thank you for being his mom and for helping get him to this point. It has been my honor. 💛💚🖤
And then later that day I wrote:
My first born is a high school graduate! I cried so much at the end. I am so proud of my baby and I’m so excited for what is to come. I’m also sad about the inevitable changes but I know he will go far and be a success whatever he does.
The next evening, Casey graduated from seminary (a scriptural class he took his four years of high school). I posted on Facebook that night:
Seminary graduation was tonight. It was such a thoughtful event and so special. Casey and five other senior students graduated. Studying the scriptures daily with other high school peers during all four years of high school was a sacrifice but so worth it. Casey gave a little talk about how seminary has helped prepare him to serve a mission. I love how much he is growing as a public speaker. I can’t wait for him to be a missionary.
Then on June 14, Casey turned 18! I wrote:
Today my first born turned 18. Casey made me a mother one week before I turned 21. I felt so strongly that I was supposed to be pregnant and I’m so grateful I did. It was a sacrifice to be such a young mother, especially with the trials that would come, but I would not trade it for the world.
Casey has his moments when he’s not always a picnic to be around, but he is honestly such a wonderful young man the vast majority of the time. He’s smart, mature, spiritual, compassionate, a good friend, a great listener who also gives great advice, a lover of small children and babies, a great helper, and so much more. I love having deep conversations with him. I love seeing him be friends with people of many ages and backgrounds without judgment. I love that he tries so hard to see the good in others and to reach out to the marginalized. I love how he understands spiritual matters with such insight. I love seeing him in love and thinking of someone else above himself. I love seeing him gush over his baby brother over and over again. I love thinking about him as a new adult and all the possibilities that come with that. He has a plan and it’s a good plan. He’s still waiting for his mission call and we are waiting as patiently as we can until that next step comes.
We are all so blessed to have Casey in our lives. I am so happy to be his mother.
So many wonderful things were happening that increased my love for my boy, but still no mission call. Finally, six weeks after he thought he would get his mission call, he finally got it on June 27.
We planned a get-together with friends and family under our church pavilion for the next night, with a Zoom call for all those who couldn’t attend in person. I was surprised by his call, and a little disappointed – at least at first. It didn’t take me long to change my tune as we talked to friends and family who had experience with, and love of, that mission, or ones close by. That night, I wrote on Facebook:
Casey finally got his mission call! He will be serving in the Salt Lake City West mission for the next two years. He reports to the missionary training center (MTC) on September 11. We are so excited for him!
On July 11, Casey wrote a little testimony to post to our congregation’s social media pages. He wrote:
I have a testimony of his Savior and his atonement and that I know the church is true and through my service during my mission I can help others come to the knowledge of that truth. I know that while it might seem hard at times I will serve and teach to the fullest of my ability.
I spent quite a bit of time after Casey got his call reading about his mission, following a Missionary Mama page on Facebook where I learned so much, instructing him on the preparations needed, and shopping, shopping, shopping. I shopped for weeks, ha! On July 13, I wrote this on Facebook:
Shopping for a 2-year mission is very time consuming and expensive. I have enjoyed it though. I love finding the best bang for the buck and checking things off lists.
Two of the most important things to do in preparation for Casey serving a mission were planning for him to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and be ordained to the office of an Elder, and then for him to go through the temple to make sacred covenants with God.
Casey had to be interviewed and found worthy to participate in both sacred events. On July 26, our Stake President interviewed Casey and found him worthy of both. We also made the plan for Casey to be set apart as a missionary the night of September 10.
On Sunday, July 30, Casey was ordained. Here is my account of that day:
It amazes me as Casey goes through the steps to become a missionary how much more love I have for him. It’s a love of admiration and a new level of attachment.
Today my eyes were wet more than once because of my son.
During our second hour meeting today, the youth and adults were together. Casey was one of three youth asked to share spiritual experiences from recent camps or conferences. Casey shared about an experience from FSY where that Tuesday evening he got really overwhelmed and felt an intense sadness and darkness without real reason. Finally by Thursday he prayed for help to overcome this sadness he couldn’t pinpoint. It went away instantly, and he was able to participate in a discussion with other young men about our church’s young men theme. The first line says that “I am a beloved son of God.” He said (paraphrasing) that the reason it’s so important to know and internalize this truth is because it never changes. Life is full of difficult changes and uncertainties, but as long as we know that God loves us and that we are His children, we can get through all of them. I felt so much love for him as he spoke because he was speaking with the Holy Ghost. I also loved other comments he made in the meeting regarding bullying and how we treat others. My mom remarked that he will be a great missionary. I can’t wait to see how he helps others on his mission feel God’s love for them.
After church, Jad ordained Casey to the Melchizedek priesthood to the office of an elder. Here is more information about what that means: https://newsroom.churchofjesuschrist.org/…/melchizedek….
Jad gave a beautiful introduction about the oaths and covenants involved in this office and then ordained Casey, adding in a beautiful blessing and words of council. I felt the Holy Ghost so strongly. At the end of the blessing Jad talked about all those who love and support Casey. He saved me for last as the most influential person in his life as he has grown up. I felt so honored and felt such a strong connection to him.
After the ordination, there were many hugs. Mine was extra long and sweet. I’m so grateful for the journey Casey is on and how we can be along for the spiritual ride. I’m even more grateful to be his mother now and forever.
The next sacred day was August 6 when Casey made sacred covenants in the House of the Lord. Here is what I wrote about it:
Yesterday was such a special and sacred day that I will always cherish. Casey attended the temple and made sacred covenants with Heavenly Father yesterday in what is called the endowment ordinance. You can learn more about it here: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/…/what-is-temple…
We felt the presence of the Holy Ghost as we were able to worship in the temple with Casey as he made these special covenants.
We are so grateful that my parents and much of the Christensen family could be a part of it, either by attending the endowment session or by watching Asher. My mother-in-law and her sister watched Eve, Kamren and Rigel all day for us as well.
After the temple we took photos and went to a nice lunch before heading home...
I will never forget how I felt yesterday. I am loving seeing my Casey grow spiritually and mentally as he prepares to serve his mission.
Everything was so wonderful as Casey was moving closer and closer to being a missionary for the Lord. Unfortunately, not long after Casey went through the temple, I started to notice him slowly withdrawing from the family. I first thought maybe he was just studying his scriptures more, or trying to get used to what life would be like away from home, but it kept getting worse where he rarely showed himself to the family. One afternoon, I went upstairs to his room to talk to him about my concerns. It was that day Casey and I realized that he was depressed. He told me he had been having some thoughts of self-harm, had not been sleeping well and was tired all the time, was more irritable, and was experiencing vomiting and even hyperventilation at times.
We had him go see his psychiatrist who put him on medication that didn’t work at all. It made the vomiting worse and didn’t help with the sleep or his mood. Casey tried another medication, which would ultimately be the right one, but it took quite a while to get the right dosage and for it to work.
This was a very difficult time in our family. Casey’s moods were difficult to navigate. I had to tell the kids to stay away from him as much as possible so as not to bother him. He didn’t have much of an appetite, and mostly he just stayed away from everyone and stayed in bed (when he wasn’t irritable about something).
I was so worried about Casey, and by the third week of August or so, we were worried that Casey’s mission would have to be postponed. I even called Missionary Medical to ask if someone with depression could serve a mission. I was told yes if the medication was only for depression and not psychosis. I was also told that we needed to keep our Stake President notified of all that was going on. We did notify him, and he was kind and hopeful.
The next week our Stake president told us that Casey needed to have a pre-mission health assessment to confirm that he could serve. I prayed and prayed that Casey would be able to get better quickly so he could serve his mission as planned.
The phone call happened, and unfortunately, Casey was not better by that call. Casey was honest with the counselor, telling him that he didn’t feel ready to serve at that time. Casey did tell me that he knew that it would be okay and that he would still serve a mission, even if it had to be delayed. **One thing Casey told me is that his depression had nothing to do with anxiety over going on a mission. He wanted to serve and knew it was the right thing to do. He never did pinpoint what caused his depression.**
A couple days later, on September 3, we had a conference call with our Stake President to talk about a possible delay in Casey’s mission call. Our Bishop was with us during the call. The Stake President told us that most likely Casey’s mission would be delayed 6 months to a year because of medication changes/additions he had recently had, and that he may be reassigned as a service missionary. Casey then got a blessing from our Bishop with my husband assisting. As we left our Bishop’s office together. I was sad, and Casey was too. Imagine being depressed and then being told everything you had been working so hard for wasn’t going to happen for maybe a long time, and it might not even be the same.
A lovely woman in our congregation, who I am blessed to call my friend, saw Casey’s forlorn face as he walked in the hallway after that phone call. She sat down with him and spoke to him for a long time. That afternoon, I sent her this message:
Thanks for being an angel on earth. Casey came home with a peaceful look and a smile after speaking with you. He really is so grateful you spoke to him. It will be a journey but having compassionate friends makes it easier.
She replied and said: He’s a wonderful human being and this trial is only going to teach him more about himself so he can minister better to others.
I needed her words as much as Casey did, I think.
After the update about Casey’s mission, we were a bit antsy (or maybe it was just me). Three days after the conference call, I contacted our Stake President and asked for a mission update. By that time, I felt that Casey would be better off as a service missionary. I had read about them and felt good about the idea. I asked, though, if Casey had to live at home. Things had been very hard with him at home, and I was thinking that maybe he needed to serve elsewhere for everyone’s well-being. Jad agreed with me.
The next day, on September 7, the Stake President wrote me back saying that Casey’s mission was on paused status and that his mission call updates were going to be reviewed by an apostle within the next two weeks. He also said that Casey would indeed be reassigned as a service missionary. He had found out that it was a possibility that Casey could live somewhere else, but it would have to be with family who were active members of the church who didn’t have kids in the home.
My first thought was to contact my parents and ask them if they could take Casey in. Keep in mind at this time Casey was still depressed and very hard to live with. He had also blown up at me, I believe the day before, in a way that crushed my spirits and rocked me to the core. Our relationship was really strained, and at that point I was ready for him to leave. Now, I knew before my parents answered the phone that Casey living with them probably wouldn’t be a good fit, but I think I just needed to talk to them to feel comforted about the situation.
For the next two days, Casey and I talked a lot about everything. We had a very difficult heart-to-heart about our relationship, complete with a lot of tears and then hugs as we made amends. We also talked about what a service mission would entail and talked about some things he could do while he was waiting to leave (like maybe work, take some classes, volunteer, etc). We also discussed possible people he could live with. He made some phone calls, and the consensus was that Casey would request to live with his father and great grandpa in Cedar City, Utah. I provided this information to the Stake President so he could submit it for approval.
It is kind of miraculous to me that during those two days of trying to figure everything out, Casey started to improve. He was finally on the mend, and that brought me so much hope and comfort.
September 10 and September 11 came and went. Those were the days Casey was supposed to be set apart as a missionary and then begin his home training with the Missionary Training Center (MTC). That was a bit sad, as well as other personal events that happened around that time, but we pushed through with faith.
And then, after days of checking Casey’s missionary portal multiple times a day, I finally saw some changes on September 14. There was not much there, but I did see that Casey was going to be a service missionary and he would begin his service on October 16. This was shocking since we were told his mission would likely be delayed much longer. I was a little concerned that he wouldn’t be back to his old self by then, but I had faith.
The following day, our Stake President asked Casey to submit reasons why he wanted to live in Cedar City, UT for his mission, and not at home. He and I talked about his reasons, and ultimately, Casey wanted to be near his dad and be a support to his great grandpa. He knew that it would be easier to focus on being a missionary there because staying home would mean being around friends and other distractions. He wouldn’t have as many things around him to bring worry, overwhelm, or irritability. He felt his mental health would be better in a place that was familiar but also quieter and disassociated from where his depression began. He also loved the idea of being close to a temple. I also added to the email that Jad and I felt individually that Casey should serve outside of our home (at first those feelings were from frustration, but they remained with us even after life improved).
Casey’s request to serve in Cedar City was quickly approved. I was thrilled with this arrangement. I had always hoped that Casey would be able to spend more time with his dad and that side of his family. I had even thought maybe he would go to college in Cedar City. That wasn’t going to happen, but a mission was another perfect way to accomplish the same goal.
Just a couple days later, on September 17, Casey gave his missionary farewell talk. He gave it several weeks before leaving, but it just worked out better scheduling wise.
Here is the recording of the talk that Casey did that afternoon:
I said this on Facebook about the experience:
My dear first born gave his missionary farewell talk at church today. His mission is going to look a little different than originally planned and he explains all about that as well as his faith in Christ and his desire to serve the Lord. I was wiping my eyes the whole talk. Afterwards, he was overwhelmed and teary. We hugged for a long time. He will always be my baby no matter how old he gets. I love him so much and am so proud of him. (I didn’t add this to the FB post, but one of my church friends touched my arm while I was hugging Casey. She told me later in the bathroom that when she touched me she could literally feel my love for Casey through my arm. That was such a touching and profound compliment. I don’t ever want to forget it.)
Casey is so grateful for all those who have been such a support to him. He was blown away by all the sweet comments he got today as well. One of my friends also brought him warm peanut butter chocolate brownies tonight. He is so loved. I’m so grateful for his angels on earth.
Three days after his talk, we got more instructions from our Stake President (we were so grateful for him, by the way. He had been doing so much on Casey’s behalf). We were told to get a plane ticket for Casey anytime, as long as it was before October 31, and to establish a doctor for him in Cedar City.
I don’t like to delay anything, so the next day on September 21, we found him a doctor and made a doctor’s appointment, and also got a plane ticket. Casey wanted to fly out October 16, the day that was originally showing on his missionary portal. It was a little strange that his missionary portal was never updated with any other information. Proselyting missionaries have tons of instruction and information in their portals, but service missionaries do not.
One thing that did help was being able to speak with the service mission leaders in Raleigh as a sort of service mission orientation. We spoke with them on the phone on October 1. Casey initially didn’t think it was necessary, but we all left the call excited. It was so cool to find out some of the things Casey would be able to do as a service missionary, and also that starting in January, he would be able to go out proselyting sometimes with the regular missionaries.
It didn’t take long for Casey to start throwing himself into preparing to leave for his mission. The things that he had no desire to do before, he began doing willingly. He started going through all of his stuff, organizing things, getting rid of things, etc. I was proud of him and happy that he was excited.
We did our last family outing on October 7. I wanted it to be a nice fall activity and decided to go to Camp Chestnut Ridge. I feel like the fact it was our last family day hung over our heads – well, at least mine.
Things started to get more real about a week before Casey was set to fly out. On October 9, I wrote:
Exactly one week from today we will be having our last dinner together as a family before Casey flies out to his mission. I am so excited for him but will miss him terribly.
On October 12, Jad took a day off work so we could spend time with Casey. I wrote this about the day:
Jad took a day off work so we could spend the day with Casey. We had breakfast at NC Jelly Doughnuts and then headed to Greensboro to the International Civil Rights museum. If you have never been there, please go at least once in your life. I had tears behind my eyes the whole time and felt such a reverence for the brave souls who stood up for justice and equality sometimes at the cost of their lives. After that we went to Sams Club to have lunch and shop for Casey’s open house on Sunday.
Two days later, we had Eve’s birthday party with friends. It was still two weeks before her birthday, but she wanted to have one birthday party while Casey was still home. He gave her a Princess Peach Amiibo for her birthday.
October 15 was Casey’s last Sunday at church with us. Since he wasn’t going to be giving his farewell talk that day (since he already gave it), I asked him a couple weeks before if he would like to sing a duet with me. I was so happy when he said yes. We decided to sing his favorite song, “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.” We don’t have a recording of it. We did try to record it the next day, but Casey decided it wasn’t good enough to post and we would just have it for ourselves. It was so special to sing with my baby. He was emotional at the end. I gave him a squeeze before we sat down. It was a very full day. You can read all about it from my Facebook post the next day:
Yesterday was a very special yet exhausting day (emotionally and physically). It was Casey’s last day at church and last full day in NC.
At church, he and I sang “A Poor Wayfaring man of Grief” together. It’s his favorite hymn and we wanted to sing together as a way for him to say farewell as well as share a bit of himself with everyone.
After church Eve went up to Jad and gave him this giant hug where she sobbed in his shoulder saying she was going to miss Casey and didn’t want him to leave. It was so precious and sweet. The only thing that calmed her was realizing she left snot all over her dad’s shirt, which made her laugh. Soon after, we rushed home to finish preparing for his open house from 2-5 (Jad and I had already stayed up until after midnight the night before to clean and prepare but we had to clean some and get the food out). We were ready right before 2 (phew).
For 3.5 hours straight, friends, family, and church family came to visit with Casey and wish him well. Many brought cards and gifts too, for which he is very grateful. Casey is an introvert so big crowds drain him. It was hard, but he felt so loved and supported by all who came by. He was also happy to have notes written by friends and loved ones in a little notebook. One of our church friends, Kay, touched my heart as she said she admires Casey so much because he is kind, a quality we don’t see as much nowadays. I’m so happy that we had this event for him and that so many came to wish him well.
We had just about half an hour to tidy up our very messy house, haha, before our stake president came over to set Casey apart as a missionary. First, he spoke to us, then we said a prayer (which Casey asked me to offer). I cried of course. Then we read some scriptures about serving the Lord and the qualities one needs to do so. We also all gave him a piece of advice. Here is what we said:
Rigel – if you listen to other service missionaries that have been there for a bit, think about what they post and learn from them
Mandy – try to find one thing to love about each person you serve and pray to find something if it’s hard
Kamren – be good
Eve – think about your own family when you are with other families and feel the spirit
Jad – hold onto your testimony of Book of Mormon and Joseph smith – gospel is true even if all the people aren’t
Finally, Casey was set apart. It was such a sacred experience. We all hugged him after that, with Kamren giving him the most tender and longest hug. Kamren had been quietly crying that day as well. Casey then put on his missionary name tag and we took photos.
The moment our stake president left, Casey’s best friend from school and his family showed up to eat dinner with us. Thankfully Jad had prepared most of dinner the night before. We were completely exhausted by then but were so glad to have our friends over to eat our last dinner at home with Casey.
And then everyone left and it was quiet. There was a reverent, anxious, and somber mood in the room as we all sat down to sing a hymn, read scriptures, and do family prayer for the last time in the same room for two years.
After the kids went to bed, I felt like going upstairs to give Casey a good night hug for the last time. He was journaling so I didn’t get to “tuck him in” but I did get a good night hug and kiss and that was enough for me.
So much love all around for my first born. 🥰
The next day, October 16, was the day my first born was going to leave our family to serve a 2-year mission for the Lord. He spent most of the morning packing. Seeing his suitcases ready to go was so hard.
I presented him with a gift that morning. It was a piece of bumblebee decor and on the back I pasted some thoughts I wrote in this blog post years ago: More than just Terms of Endearment | Making Life a Bliss Complete. Bumblebee was his nickname when he was a baby. I accidentally put the words in the back upside down, but Casey loved it anyway and said it was okay and that I didn’t have to fix it. 😉
Casey also spent some time with Asher. I had noticed that as his mission drew near, that he was spending as much time with Asher as possible, looking at him more tenderly. I knew that he would miss his baby brother with all his heart.
I wrote more about this bittersweet day after we all took Casey to the airport that night:
My first born, Elder Casey Lewis, just boarded a plane to begin his 2-year service mission. There have been many tears and there will continue to be. We know he is doing something wonderful and we are so proud of him. Adjusting to life without him will be so incredibly difficult, though.
To tell a little about our day, I helped Casey finish last minute packing. We also shipped two giant boxes and picked up his siblings from school early. They were so thrilled to have time with Casey where they could play video games and a card game. He and I also recorded an a cappella version of the song we sang at church yesterday so we could remember it.
We were all starting to get sad as we loaded the van with his bags and left at 4:30. We had dinner at Bojangles, drove to the airport, and then took a sad walk to the terminal. After Casey checked his bags, everyone got hugs and pictures. It was so hard to let him go up those stairs and out of sight. One nice moment happened as he did, though. A couple saw him leaving us and they started asking him questions. He got to start sharing the gospel from that first moment. It gave me some comfort.
Walking to the van was really hard. We were all in tears. I prayed aloud for Casey before we drove off. Goodness, that was an emotional prayer. We were all sobbing. Rigel wanted to watch his flight take off but it wasn’t leaving for over an hour. Kamren sat in Casey’s seat on the way home to feel close to him and Rigel moved over to sit next to Eve to comfort her as she cried a lot on the way home.
I told them that Casey had left behind some of his stuffed animals. They were happy they could have a piece of him with them always, and they all took at least one.
We love you, Casey!
I also want to express my sincere gratitude to Casey’s dad and great grandpa for taking him in for the next two years. It helps to know that Casey will be in a place where he will be safe and well loved.
That is the whole story of Casey preparing to go, and leaving for his mission.
He has now been gone exactly a month, and I think this has been the longest month of my life, truly. It feels like Casey has been gone so much longer than he has. To give you a little idea how I was feeling the first few days after he left, I wrote this on October 19:
I’m really missing my boy today. I miss two things the most: being able to talk to him every day about anything and everything, and seeing him interact with his baby brother.
I know it will get easier but it’s really hard right now. I sure love him.
I had a conversation with a good friend of mine that day too. She always wants to know how I’m really doing, and it means so much. I said this to her:
I’m feeling pretty sad and missing being able to know how he is and what he’s doing. He doesn’t talk much so I know I won’t hear from him nearly as much as I want to. But I know he’s doing fine.
Speaking about the other kids I said: They are sad he’s gone. It is really hard on Eve and Kamren. Rigel is quieter about it. Asher probably doesn’t realize but I show him pics and videos of Casey.
I was suffering without my oldest son, and it had only been three days. But then we had our first video chat with him that night and it healed my broken heart. I wrote:
We had a video chat with Casey and it was so good for my soul!
That first week and half was the hardest by far. I was sad a lot, had tears in my eyes a lot, and just wanted so badly to talk to Casey and hug him and look into his blue eyes. It has thankfully gotten a bit easier over time.
On October 25, I wrote a little something for our church so they could know how Casey is and what he’s up to. It said:
Elder Casey Lewis was set apart as a service missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on October 15,2023 and set off for his mission in Cedar City, Utah the following day. He is staying busy joyfully helping his great grandpa around his house, and serving the Bishop’s Storehouse and the Family Search Center. He also just got ordained as a temple worker in the Cedar City Temple. Elder Lewis will also be making toys for needy children at the Happy Factory and volunteering with local children’s musical theater. He is really enjoying getting to know the other service missionaries and loves his mission so far. He will return from his mission in October 2025. His Dad is Jad Al-Bjaly and Mother is Mandy Al-Bjaly, they are in the Mebane Ward in the Durham, NC Stake.
Every time Casey has told me about something he is doing, I have lit up like a Christmas tree with pride and joy. I am tearing up just thinking about it.
On October 28, we had an oddly warm day and I was able to put Asher in one of Casey’s baby outfits. I wrote on Facebook:
I didn’t think Asher would ever be able to wear this outfit but we had a very hot day on Saturday. I almost cried when I put him in it because it was Casey’s.
I have noticed that I am more sentimental than normal about Asher using and wearing Casey’s baby stuff. I am so glad that I saved my favorite clothes, toys, and blankets of Casey’s. It makes me feel close to him.
I was thrilled beyond belief to receive a mission update email from Casey on October 29 (it’s still the only one he has done, ha). Here it is:
The past two weeks have certainly been interesting and a really good experience.The first week was spent meeting other service missionaries and working with Elder and Sister Nakken (my service mission leaders) to figure out a schedule that will work and that would allow me to serve in ways that would be fulling to me. On my first Wednesday as a service missionary Elder Price invited me to go out to the Bishops storehouse and work there for a couple of hours. For those who don’t know what it looks like to serve there it is essentially a small grocery store and a warehouse full of food. When serving there you have to stock, bag and take out orders, and clean. It’s really fun and pretty much all of the service missionaries work there on Wednesdays and saturdays. Also that day and every wednesday there is district council which is where we go over the goals from last week and have a small devotional which was pretty nerve racking the first time as i knew pretty much nobody but it is really nice to have those discussions with the other missionaries. The next big thing was that I got to go to a YSA devotional with Elder Neil A Anderson on that sunday which was super cool and it was nice to see him more as a person and not just a figure in the church. He was really personable and funny and he talked about the conference talks from the first presidency from this last conference. This last monday I got to go to the Zone Conference — there are currently two zone conferences that take place for the service missionaries and one for the teaching missionaries but that will change in january– and it was really cool to meet all the other service missionaries from the saint george mission. The topic was how we can become more like Christ and how important repentance is in our role as missionaries. Tuesday I was interviewed and ordained as a ordinance worker in the temple and that was a great experience as I know how great of an opportunity it is for me and my personal growth as well as what a great service it is to the temple patrons. That evening I worked in the Stake family history center from 6-9 pm and it was really fun. Tuesday evenings are normally when they have youth groups come in so they need workers during that time. This service opportunity helps me get experience and knowledge as well as helping others to find their love for family history, I once again worked at the Bishop’s storehouse and I will be doing that every week Wednesdays and Saturdays. My favorite thing so far was working in the temple on Thursday (I’ll Also be working every Tuesday) . There’s something special about going to the temple as a worker and it’s nice to have no distractions and just to be completely away from the world. I’m still working on completely finishing my schedule but what I have been doing so far is certainly fullfing.Also i have a companion named Elder Price. He is really cool. I don’t have a picture of him or any pictures at all actually which I will remady otherwise my mom will end me. But anyways it’s been a great start to my mission and I am really excited for all the other opportunities I will receive. I was asked by my new bishop if I wanted to perform or give a talk so I gave a talk today and sang with the choir so I ended up doing both. That’s all for now everybody. Thank you all for your love and support. It’s been very nice to know that I have so many people supporting me back home. – Elder Lewis
My first reaction to his email, beyond being so happy to get one was, wow, my son doesn’t like to use punctuation. Then I laughed because he said I would “end him” if he didn’t send me pictures. I laughed because it was only kind of true. My response to his email was in part:
I will end you, lol? What a reputation you are giving me haha! But seriously, send pictures!
I was definitely thinking about Casey on Halloween night. One reason is because Asher was wearing his pumpkin costume from when he was a baby.
As a bonus, that night Casey also sent me his first picture from his mission.
I was ecstatic and also laughed! Here was my reaction:
Casey Lewis just sent me the first picture he has taken since starting his mission. Can you tell he’s not much of a picture taker? 😛
These are toy cars he helped make at the Happy Factory yesterday. They will go to underprivileged children. He said they are very fun to make.
Casey promised me more photos next week, maybe even some of himself ha.
On November 7, Casey did his first two Facebook posts. I was so proud of him. They even had pictures! On one of the posts, he said “there’s a picture mom.” I was over the moon.
I have only gotten one more picture since, on November 8, but it has made me happy to get any picture I can.
I also was thrilled to get a photo from Casey’s dad’s cousin, McCall, on November 10, showing me a picture of Casey with a new haircut. Goodness, I smiled. It made my day. I mean, look at that smile!
We do a video chat with Casey once a week. Normally he talks about what has been going on with him, and then he talks to everyone else one by one. I have cherished the times that he has stayed on the chat with me and talked to me longer than everyone else. It makes me feel special. Just this past Saturday, after everyone walked into Lidl to shop, I stayed in the car and talked to him as long as I could.
There is a light in Casey’s eyes that brings joyful tears down my cheeks. I have seen such a change in him in such a short time.
I am so grateful that he’s happy. I’m so grateful that he is bonding with his dad’s side of the family and that he’s making new friends. I love how he talks about his missionary companion and other fellow service missionaries. I am filled with such peace as he tells me how much he adores serving in the House of the Lord.
Casey has never been much of a texter, phone caller, picture taker or picture sender. He’s super introverted and only communicates when he feels it’s absolutely necessary. That was really hard for me when he first left because I felt this huge need to talk to him every day. It took quite a while for me to realize that’s not realistic for a busy service missionary, and it’s also not my son’s personality. But I have definitely seen effort on his part. The few pictures he has sent mean so much to me. The email he sent and the social media posts – I know he’s doing that more for me than anyone else.
I think about Casey every day, multiple times a day. I do not worry about him because I know he’s being well taken care of and he is being protected while he is on the Lord’s errands.
I still wish I could talk to him every day, but I’m getting better at not texting as much. I can wait patiently and I can settle for little sentences here and there until our video chat once a week.
I am 100% confident that Casey is where he needs to be. Is it hard for me and for our family not to have him around? Yes!
It’s hard because our family never feels complete at mealtimes, on family outings, at church, in the car, during scripture study and family home evening, or any other time – because he’s not with us. It’s hard because I don’t get his amazing hugs or hear him playing piano anymore. It’s hard because his baby brother no longer has his biggest brother with him to nurture the strong bond they have. It’s hard because we no longer have someone who can babysit or run errands when life it too crazy and we need help, or a break. It’s hard because we are missing his testimony, his wisdom, his wit, and his perspectives on life. It’s hard for so many reasons.
Yes, it’s so hard, but it’s so worth it! I think because of the distance, we all have come to appreciate and love him even more than before. The kids are always talking about him and want to make/write things for him. We have sent him many things already, from letters to packages. We will continue to do so because it brings us joy as we bring him joy.
Casey told me recently that he is having some homesickness. I have been sending him videos and pictures of our family to help with that and am looking at some ideas of things to send him to help him feel closer to us and home. He suggested the other day that I make a cookbook of family recipes. I have been working on that for him.
I am a mom who is really invested in my kids. I teach them to be self-reliant, but I also want to be involved in helping them make right decisions, feel comfortable in their surroundings, succeed in their endeavors, understand their emotions, and grow spiritually, all the while showing them as much love as I can. I know I’m not a perfect mom – I’m not nearly as patient as I should be, and I have high expectations for my children.
But what I have realized about myself since my first child has grown up and left home, is that I truly adore and cherish my children. They make up so much of my heart and my reason for living. Even with all of the frustrations that come with parenting, I wouldn’t trade my time with my children for anything. I have been a mom almost half of my life, and I can’t imagine my life without any of my babies.
Casey is my first born, and I am so grateful that I have had the opportunity to raise him for the first 18 years of his life. I will be his mother forever, and I feel so much tenderness for him when I speak to him and hear how he is doing. My motherly influence is changing, but our relationship will only grow over time. His mission is going to bless his life and his family’s lives more than we can imagine.
We have now made it through the first month of Casey’s mission. There are 23 months to go. Each and every day during those months, our whole family will continue to think of and pray for him. We will not stop missing him until the day he comes home, but we will be his biggest cheerleaders as he continues to serve God and His children. I’m grateful for the example Casey is setting for his siblings and for all of us.
I thank God above to be the mother of Elder Casey Scott Lewis.