I am not proud of it, but I can remember as if it were yesterday.
I was a 16-year old MK ("missionary kid") in 10th grade on furlough, and I was not happy about it. The school van had dropped me off at the end of the long drive leading to the rambling farmhouse we rented as a missionary home that year. The backpack I carried wasn't the only heavy load on my shoulders; rather, it was my attitude that really weighed me down. My mother met me at the end of my trudging walk up the front steps with a hopeful look in her eyes. "How was your day?" she kindly asked.
My response was to throw down my pack in disgust and reply with gritted teeth, "Terrible. As always. I want to go HOME!"
Ah, yes. The elusive home of the MK. Today I am a 42-year old adult MK and mom to six MK children on furlough, and I still stand as witness to the conflict both without and within. The children we brought "home" to the States came tentatively, sad to leave their familiar friends, church and neighborhood behind. Now nearly nine months later, the tables have all but turned. Recently my 15-year old declared, "My plan was just not to make friends here. That way I wouldn't have to say any more goodbyes. It didn't work. If only I wasn't so stinkin' social!"
The neighborhood we arrived to in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania was new to all of us. But the drive that at first seemed so confusing, now is comfortably familiar. Several nearby houses that once seemed stark and uninviting, we now recognize as home to regular playmates of our kids. The unfenced yards and quieter streets and fresh green grass have afforded a relaxing environment day by day. Early this Saturday morning I drove two of our boys to practice for the upcoming AWANA Games and as we returned home and crested the hill leading to our furlough house, the panoramic beauty of the widespread fields made my heart sigh. At the same time a familiar sickly feeling twisted in the pit of my stomach as I thought, only three more months of this.
It's not so much a reluctance on my part to return, but the huge transition it entails. It's restoring a rental home to its right condition while simultaneously living in it with eight people and packing twenty-four suitcases (including carry-ons) while determining what must be left behind. It's sorting through the sharp feelings of family members on sensitive days when emotions spill over into cries such as, "You and Dad need to go back! I don't. Why can't I just stay here?" It's determining when a heart needs sympathy or when an attitude needs straightening up. (Not just the kids' but the parents', too!) It's an ever-increasing list of to-do's and don't-forget's that ratchets the anxiety levels a bit higher every day.
Perhaps ironically, the movie Inside Out has been looping on repeat in our house these days. Even my less-than-sentimental husband commented on its uncanny accuracy in capturing the emotions of coming and going and saying goodbye. He observed that for all its funny parts, it leaves him with a feeling of melancholy each time. (For a better understanding and a great written review by another TCK - third culture kid - read this blog post: Inside Out and Jumbled Up.)
It has been sweet to hear from the adults have been a part of our children's lives at church this year, sharing how much they've enjoyed them in their classes. But it's true as one leader stated, "It's like they are finally getting to be known and making friends, and now it is time for them to leave already. We'll really miss them!" It does take awhile to settle in and make those connections, only to disconnect them once again.
It is not only this reality of winding down and saying goodbye, but also so much turmoil and trouble in the world at large that continually draws my heart to its moorings of an eternal home. Knowing that in the big picture of things we are only passing through this world, makes "just passing through" another year of furlough more bearable. Knowing that those relationships we cultivate which are grounded in Christ cannot truly be broken even by time or distance, creates a measure of peace in the midst of emotional chaos. And to think that our Savior amazingly chose to do this very thing - leave Home, live as a stranger moving from place to place, establish close relationships, and ultimately say not goodbye to those who loved Him - just takes my breath away.
"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,
Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses,
but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence,
so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."