…Goes without saying that it was MAX.

Oh man were we ever giddy getting ready to talk to that kid.

We had a little prep with one of the gifts I was most excited to give that I set up late at night on Christmas Eve after Santa came:

Cardboard cut-outs are not overrated I have to say.

I set him all up ready to give us the gifts he sent through the mail.  Ha!

The girls were pretty excited to have their brother around to share in all the festivities 🙂

We loved the gifts he sent:

(little backpacks, notes, a t-shirt and a Chinese scroll with the Plan of Salvation which is really cool)

It felt good to have him with us for our post-church family Christmas picture:

Ha!  Yes we are cheesy like that 🙂

The time he scheduled with us was 9:00 on Christmas evening, which was a little weird since his Christmas would be over (he’s 16 hours ahead over there in Taiwan), but we weren’t complaining because that would give us a perfect time to really focus after all the other Christmas hoopla was done.

We got all the skype connections checked and ready, the computer charged and just like that, there he was, beaming his smile on over to us from all the way over in Taiwan.

There is nothing I can say to describe the spirit in that room and how much my cheek muscles hurt from talking to that boy we adore so much.  How swollen my heart is still now from loving, and how our jaws dropped at his Chinese.  We got to ask so many questions, laughed our guts out, he asked each of the girls to say a little something about what they’re doing right now.  He bore his testimony to us in Chinese and here’s the recording Grace got…it’s kind of quiet but if you listen close you can hear it:

(Dave is translating a little bit at the end.)

We all shed a few tears as Dave asked me to offer the “closing prayer” before we had to say goodbye.

We only got forty-five minutes which was way too short, but he left us all glowing with happiness and the satisfaction of feeling connected.

No words can describe how it felt in that room, but hopefully our faces show it all.

Best Christmas gift ever.


  1. Certainly a GREAT gift!! I'm so happy for you! I'm really curious though (and sorry if you covered already, but if you did I missed it) about why you only have so little time to speak with him, and only on Christmas and Mother's day. Is this part of his "sacrifice" as a missionary?

    1. That's a good question. It kind of depends on the mission president where they are serving how long they get to talk. Although I would have loved to talk all day, I do think it helped Max not to draw it out too much…and for us too, it's good to get to really focus for as long as we got. The girls had some really great questions all ready for him and he asked them great questions too and although it was short, it was totally sufficient to feel "connected."

      It was fun to get Max's letter yesterday telling us how energized and happy he was that he got those 40 minutes to talk. And that's what's most important in the long run!

  2. That cutout was a creepy gift from an overly obsessive and possessive mother. I think you need counseling Shawni, and I say this as someone who has followed and loved your family for over 6 years. That money could have been spent on something so much more worthwhile.

    1. Though I am not LDS, a great many of my friends are. I can say, the cardboard cut out is not specific to Shawni and her family. It is generally regarded as a fun and playful addition to family events and shows how missed the loved ones away on a mission are. It's lovely to live in a world to express our own opinions, but crossing the fine line to passing judgement is just ugly.

    2. I think this comment is quite out of line and ridiculous. The cardboard cutout is meant to be funny and fun. And it is. Please be careful with throwing around such damaging judgements toward others. Especially on a public forum.

    3. Wow that cardboard cut-out comment kind of derailed what this post is really about (talking to Max). I know it's a little distracting but we sure love it. Thank you for those kind comments, dear readers!

      The "gift" I'm talking about in this post is that we got to talk to that boy of ours. And man, it was pretty wonderful.

  3. I remember when her sister went on her mission, she gave a cardboard cutout of herself to her parents. I think that's how the story goes. I've been following her so long, and they took pictures with it at Shawni's brothers wedding and at their summer reunion. It may seem strange and creepy to others, but don't make it out as though they're crazy. My family has inside jokes and we have traditions and things that others probably think are stupid. That's ok. I would venture to guess that ALL families have something that would seem super weird to others.

  4. A lot of missionary families get cardboard cut outs of their missionaries. I love it!!! I don't think it is weird at all. I thought the Christmas card was creative and fun.

  5. I don't see how anyone can judge a cut out or anything similar! I am not of the same faith and my son has only gone away to college but I can't imagine what it would be like if I was only able to speak to him twice per year. If this give the family comfort and maybe some smiles, then leave it alone.

  6. Oh wow! So fun!. My oldest daughter is preparing for a mission hopefully by fall of 2017. I must admit a little scary. My husband and I are the first members of our family, so this is new territory for us. We've watched a few close friends and their family with missionaries but as it draws closer I feel the pangs in my heart. We're pretty close too and the thought of not seeing her and speaking to her everyday, needless to say there will be tears! But I am so happy that she wants to serve the Lord by sharing the gospel with others. Sacrificing her time and proximity to family. I've seen so many young men and women come back matured mentally and spiritually. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I've been reading your blog for five or six years without commenting, but today I just had to tell you what's on my mind.

    I stumbled upon 71 Toes after years of in-depth study about Mormonism. I started reading out of curiosity and kept reading because you are an optimistic voice in a world of rants. Over the years, there have been times when I walked away frustrated or overwhelmed by the picture-perfection of it all; I worried that either 1) it was all for show, or 2) that it WASN'T, and that I was somehow missing the broader picture of the purpose of parenting. There were days that reading this made me feel not good enough. There have been days when I walked away inspired and with a sense of inspiration and camaraderie (which seems strange, since I don't know you at all). There were also days when reading the comments made my stomach hurt for you. People are mean.

    But, you know, as time has gone by, I now look at this blog for what it is: One mom's determined, dogged effort to do the best she can raising her kids–to give them opportunities and skills and experiences that will enrich and enhance their lives. I see you as a beautiful, normal person who is just trying her best to do all she can with the blessings she's been given. I respect that. Fiercely.

    People can be so condescending and rude, and as a writer, teacher, and mother, that scares me. I have kept my words and my life offline out of fear of encountering what you encounter here (with so much grace, to your credit–though, I'm sure you don't always feel gracious). Still, month after month you make yourself vulnerable in an attempt to capture the magic that is family life in a way that will endure through the years. I admire that. Keep it up.

    I appreciate the purposed intentionality of your life. I appreciate that you try to do things well and right and to the best of your ability, even if they don't come off that way. And, most of all, I appreciate that you look for the best moments in the midst of the "not so beautiful" and spotlight them. We could all focus on the imperfection of it all–so much of the world is devoted to the 'pinterest fail' version of life–but I understand the value in looking for the good. Yeah, sometimes it might seem a little Pollyanna, but who cares? Pollyanna was LEGIT! She encouraged and blessed those around her so much that, when tragedy struck and threatened to steal her joy, she had an inspired community of believers around her to lift her when she was down. What a worthy investment of time and energy. She blessed others and reaped the benefits. I love that.

    Anyway, I don't know why today is the day I need to say this. Maybe today is the day you need to hear it. Regardless, thank you for being you, Shawni. Thank you for striving to be a Pollyanna in a world full of Debbie Downers. I need to see it modeled. I need to feel it, authentically and flawed as it is. Thank you for taking the risk and enduring the criticism (and keeping it public! bless you for that), because, whether we get it right or we don't–whether it's Pin perfect or a total flop–if we fail to be intentional, we will never experience ANY of our hopes as reality.

    Keep dreaming the impossible dream, Shawni.
    May your vision be unto you according to your faith. (Matt. 9:29)

    1. Very well said….I agree completely. Who are we to judge? Thank you Shawni for opening yourself to others. you are a brave and beautiful soul….

    2. Thank you for this very kind comment Mrs. Terry. It was so well-written and thoughtful. I think you're right, I did need to hear it and I really appreciate your kindness and honesty. It means a lot.
      Love, Shawni

  8. His Mandarin is so AMAZING!!! I can say this because I speak Mandarin (with the Taiwanese accent)! Skypes with your missionary is the BEST! My husband and I got to Skype his brother for Christmas. He's serving in Korea!

  9. I laughed out loud at the cardboard cutout! I think of making one of myself every year for a white elephant gift for my family and may just do it after seeing yours. I can't believe how quickly he learned mandarin!

  10. So so great! So grateful for the sacrifice those boys make to bring happiness to so many people around the world. I come from a family where Lds missionaries like Max have blessed our lives in so many ways.

  11. I love cardboard cutouts! And it totally made me laugh seeing it in all the family pictures because it looks so real! What fun way to surprise the girls on Christmas morning and to remember Max! Such a special day with the family!

  12. I'm not LDS, nor do I know any missionary families, but the cutout is just a fun, silly thing! Great idea! When my daughter left for college this year, my first one to leave home, I would've found it hysterical to be gifted that! Thank you for sharing your life Shawni, it gives me great inspiration to be a more intentional mother. My four teens think I get a bit corny, but I do try to teach them to see the good in the world!

  13. Our son is also serving a mission (in the Marshall Islands). He was recently called to serve as a branch president on one of the islands so we got to speak to him 2 weeks before christmas…& you are so right! 45 minutes wasn't nearly long enough haha. Such a blessing though! And for the record…we also have a cutout of our son (not as big 🙂 ) but we take fun pics with him in it & send them to him. Thank you for your wonderful blog!

  14. Our son is also serving a mission (in the Marshall Islands). He was recently called to serve as a branch president on one of the islands so we got to speak to him 2 weeks before christmas…& you are so right! 45 minutes wasn't nearly long enough haha. Such a blessing though! And for the record…we also have a cutout of our son (not as big 🙂 ) but we take fun pics with him in it & send them to him. Thank you for your wonderful blog!

  15. My son leaves for his mission in 57 days. He's headed to Colombia. I would love to do this kind of thing next year for Christmas. Wear do you get such a marvelous cutout printed.

    And I should also say thank you for sharing your goodness with me and many others. Your light shines throughout your blog.

  16. I'm a fellow reader going on five wonderful years in Colombia. We've had two children there and we really consider it home. Your son will have a wonderful experience! We have lived in five countries and nothing compares to the happiness and optimism of the Colombian people. I am not LDS but love what the church is doing for Colombia. Hope it's a great experience for all of you!

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