This was my eighth time re-entering American culture for a short period of time, five of those occurring during the five years in which I have lived overseas – which means five of these trips I arrived on American soil recognizing that I would soon be leaving it again. Each time I have felt differently, struggled with different aspects of transition and culture, and found joy in different peculiarities of American life. This time I was traveling alone with a soon-to-be-toddler, which left very little time for processing. From morning to evening (and sometimes all night long!) my little kept me occupied as we traversed through the United States together.
Undoubtedly this time was marked by gratitude for the accessibility to things to help care for an entertain my little one. Never before have I understood the incredible gift of changing tables, playgrounds, individual sized snack packs, and sidewalks. Yes, these are all “conveniences” completely unnecessary for survival or even to thrive, but I feel no shame in having taken advantage of them during the last three weeks. Of course, the greatest gift was the people that we shared time with. From a few moments, to several days, our time was short, but oh so sweet.
I have heard more than one long-term missionary remark that the only sacrifice she felt like she really made to serve Jesus overseas was to be far from grandparents. Now, I understand. Affordable disposable wipes, consistent electricity and food that can be ready in a minute are great conveniences, but they are not very hard to give up. Having our child get to experience the love of those who we love, and watching them delight in getting to know her, is something we can only experience once a year, at most – more often two or three years at a time. “But there is Skype,” people may say, which is true. But anyone who has been apart from those they love, know that there is something about being present together than technology cannot yet replicate nor recreate. The space together is sacred.
As my favorite fictional Father would say, “There’s the rub.”
But again I remember that though our time together may be irregular and short, it is always full and rich. When you know that there is a limited amount of time together, you work your hardest to be kind to one another, to honor each other, and to savor every giggle, snuggle and wink. A dear missionary friend recently passed away here in the town we live in. Her death was the epitome of shock to our small and very connected community. And of course, we all were left wondering, did we say everything we wanted to? But more than that, just wishing for more time to spend together. Present.
And of course, this is a reality each time we say “see you later.” Hoping beyond all hopes that yes, we will see each other later.
In the meantime, we are challenged to come up with creative ways to nurture life-long relationships, and have pictures of family around the house so that A will grow up recognizing names and faces. We are thankful for family and friends that have made the sacrifices and the effort to come and visit our daughter (and us I suppose!), and spend concentrated and uninterrupted time being present.
And, in response, pray that we would give the same gift to whoever we are with wherever we go – fully present in the sacred time we have been given together.