My First Letter to Elder Bryton Lee

by Russ Hill on September 8, 2012

Dear Elder Lee,

I hope you won’t mind that I’m sharing my first letter to you with a few people.  Some of them you know.  Some of them you don’t.

Elder Bryton Lee

I realize you haven’t quite left yet, but I’m trying to get in the habit of writing to you and so I thought I’d start the day before you depart.  Don’t worry, this is the only letter I intend to plaster on the Internet.

So, this is it, huh?

It all comes down to this moment when I get to shake your hand, give you a hug, and then turn and walk out your front door as you prepare to leave for the airport.

It’s hard to believe that’s all that is left.  Even though I have worked very hard and spent so much of my time over the last six years trying to help point you to this moment I feel a strange desire that it wasn’t here and that it would never come.

In reality, this moment has lived like a dream in my mind for years.  I’ve pictured it more times than I can count.  I have prayed for it.  I have hoped for it.  I have wanted it so badly.

Those who don’t share our Mormon faith are reading this wondering what in the world I’m talking about.  I guess I should let them in on the fact that you’re about to depart Phoenix to serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  You’ll be one of those guys.  The ones in a suit riding down the street on a bike.  One of the guys they hope goes to someone else’s neighborhood and knocks on someone else’s door.

In my first letter to you I want to tell you one thing.  And, that is I am profoundly proud of you.

I know how much you’ll miss your friends.  I know how excited you are about going to college.  I know you’re already planning and dreaming about your career.  I know how much you’ll miss soaring up the wall of the wake and somehow landing on your feet.

I know how much you’ll miss going to movies.  And hunting.  And making all of us in your neighborhood wonder if it was thunder or you blowing something up when our windows rattle.

I know how much you wish you could be there next summer when we ride the horses down the wall of the Grand Canyon and jump off the cliffs of Havasupai.  I know you’re not excited about missing out on your family’s trips to California beaches.  Or your treasured time with your dad on the snowy slopes of Utah.

There’s much you’ll miss out on.  And those of us you’re leaving behind are trying not to think about how much we’ll miss you at the lake, the beach, the slope, the campsite, the switchbacks, and the dinner table.  We’re trying to hide these feelings.  Because we know they’re selfish.  But, we’re not gonna lie.  It ain’t easy.

Some might ask why you’re leaving all these things behind.  Maybe you do too in some quiet moments.

For those of us who’ve been in your shoes and packed all those white shirts and slacks ourselves we know how you feel.  And, we couldn’t be more excited for you.  Because we know how much these next two years are going to change your life.

Those not of our faith think we go on missions to convince them to bag the booze or spend Sundays with Saints (the latter-day kind).  Those of us who’ve pedaled in suits and walked and knocked realize it’s actually about those with the black name tags trying to learn for themselves what the man in Galilee meant when he said “whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

Bryton, so many of the noises you have heard over the last 19 years have tried to convince you to not care about anything else and no one else other than you.  The human desires we are all wired with have pointed you toward selfishness over selflessness.

And yet, you have felt and heard something beckon you to realize this life is not some period of time to just pursue pleasure, profession, and possessions.  You have learned that if you seek to see it you will discover there is a grand design to this earthly existence.  And that the Babe in Bethlehem wasn’t just a good man but someone sent to show each of us the way we should live.

Bookstores are filled with pages of words written by people who claim to know how we can help ourselves get more out of this life.  None of them, not one of them, was written by Him.  He chose to teach through His choices.

And, Bryton, we salute you today for doing the same.

Those of us who live in your neighborhood, work alongside you, hang out with you, see you at church, went to school with you, and live with you are being left not with a manuscript from you about service or discipleship.  Instead we’re left simply with an image.

An image of you unstrapping the wakeboard boots.  Putting the snowboard up high in the garage.  Giving your cellphone to someone else.  Stuffing virtually all you own in a few boxes.  Surrendering your room to a sibling.  Putting some white shirts, slacks, and ties in a suitcase.

And hugging us all goodbye.

Thank you for the powerful and profound sermon.

Words simply can’t convey how proud I am of you.  How proud we all are of you.

I’ll miss you, my friend.

A lot.







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