Mom In Missions: Left and Leaving
There is at least one thing Southeast Asia and Jamaica have in common: they’ve stolen our friends.
I hesitate to actually say it that way but- that’s how it can seem in missions. You trade your comforts as well as your companions for the cause of others and, when it enters the arena of those you are close to, it gets a little painful. Throughout the years, we’ve become accustomed to it; we say things like: “see you on the other side” and other such lame-sounding-but-I-don’t-know-what-else-to-say phrases.
But, of course, my kids don’t really comprehend it the same way we do as adults. What’s interesting is that sometimes they seem to “get it” more than the adults do. Every once in a while they make statements that suggest they recognize the situation: “Eli’s leaving tomorrow, mom. He won’t be here anymore.” But other times, it seems like no big deal, like a fact of life: “You know, Hannah who moved to Asia, she told me…” Or just as others have left, they figure we will too eventually: “When we move, I’m going to…” And in fact, we too have been the ones to leave.
They’ve traveled a lot in their short lives and grown close to many we’ve met along the way. Especially being in YWAM, they know what it means to have people in and out of their lives constantly.
None of us are very good at good-byes. Maybe because we do it so often, we are actually pretty terrible at it. In this case, practice makes it worse. When we get together for the last time, we fumble awkwardly around the person and mumble stuff until they actually do leave and we’ve crossed the gap between “when they were here” and “now they’re gone.”
My kids don’t say goodbye anymore at all. They don’t hug, they don’t cry, they don’t cling- they just say “see ya!” and run off to play. I know they deal with it in their own way; I am not naive enough to think it makes no difference to them.
My kids have seen people leave their lives but also return. Bouncing around as much as we do, we have gone back to the same places with the same people. We have run into old friends in the most random places. People we thought were gone for good have been led back into our lives. There is always the possibility that those who have left will come around again. Or that we will go to them. My kids have become used to people leaving for three months at a time on outreach or going home only to return for another school. That gives our kids hope in each circumstance that they will see these people again.
The other day, Haillie asked one of our staff,
“So when are you leaving?”
She wasn’t upset about it; it came out as more of a nonchalant curiosity. She assumes people won’t be in her life forever. She understands the way things work around here and she accepts it. I can’t ask for anything more than that. But I don’t pretend to like it; neither should they.
When Haillie finally does cry because someone she loves is no longer in her day-to-day, I don’t gloss it over with excuses: the pain of missing people is real. I know that because I’ve felt it over and over again in my own life. My job, as Mom, is not to make sure my kids don’t feel that pain; I am the one who makes sure they can feel it well. I am called to make sure they don’t become calloused but remain soft. I am called to know their pain and teach them to walk through it. I want them to feel what it means to love someone even when it hurts, what it feels like to let someone go. I want my kids to know that it’s okay to feel the hole that’s left; I don’t want them to ignore it.
People are precious and they are unique; every individual is going to leave a mark on our lives; we must allow room for that. The ability to love means openness to loss; we embrace it even though we don’t like it. We have to. We have to move forward and sometimes that means leaving people behind and, sometimes, that means we are the ones left.
My kids have learned that people are transient; they come and go and there are no guarantees that who is here now will always be. I don’t think that only applies to missions- maybe we just notice it more. The truth is, we are all at any time capable of leaving this world. When we recognize that, we can resolve not to toughen our hearts toward people. We can love them with all we’ve got because they’ll soon be gone. We can appreciate them while we have them, knowing the investment is ultimately eternal.
Haillie and Isaac are young. They will face much more loss in the years ahead. My intent is to culture a world for them where grief can be accepted and walked through because there is hope in the outcome: one day, the pain you feel now will end.
This is what we instill in our children, as people pass through our lives and we, in turn, pass through theirs: time is fleeting in the scope of eternity- which is something to look forward to and not fear. Jamaica and Asia can borrow our friends, but they won’t be there forever. Eventually, we will pass together into the place where there is no one left and no one leaving. As missionaries, our lives are built around bringing as many with us as we can.
This is why it’s okay that we must be separate for a little while: because it will have been worth it when we come back together for good. The cost has been weighed and we accept it because it doesn’t mar our hope; we will gain so much more than we have given. “See you on the other side” is easy to say, but that’s not entirely why we say it. We say it because it’s true.