Here we are again, in the drop off lane in front of the Delta sign. This has become routine, a once or twice a year ritual, though the regularity never makes it easier. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to the ache of watching them walk through those revolving doors.
When my parents left for Scotland nine years ago, it was excruciating, but I expected that. What I didn’t expect was for it to be excruciating every time. I didn’t expect it to actually get harder. Because the longer they stay, the more life we live, the more things we miss out on experiencing together.
There are a lot of aspects to this living an ocean away for which we’re thankful. We don’t take lightly the time we get to spend together, and we make the most of every minute, soaking it all up. We don’t ever take each other for granted or leave things unsaid. Usually the drive to the airport is full of all the “I love you’s” and the “I’m proud of you’s” and the things you’d wish you’d said if this was going to be the last time.
I am so incredibly grateful for all the time we do get to be together. I’m thankful for the trip we took to see them right after I graduated from UNO, and that we got to tell them in person that they were going to be grandparents. I’m so thankful we got to visit their first Scottish flat, meet the wonderful people who welcomed them, and see the beginnings of their life in their new home. I’m thankful they got to be here to welcome their first granddaughter to the world, and that we got to take Audrey to Scotland when she was a still a “lap baby.”
I’m so thankful for the moments where my Dad gets to be “Papaw,” swinging the girls up in the air again and again, and giving them piggy back rides like he did with me when I was little. I’m so thankful for the times my Mom gets to be “Mamaw,” reading them endless stories and singing them to sleep with Scottish songs.
There are countless times I could list when I feel so lucky to be together. But there are also a great many times when I grieve that we’re apart. When the girls were babies, I missed being able to share all their little milestones with Mamaw & Papaw in person. Now, I miss being able to sit around the table on a weekly basis and casually chat about our lives, instead of the “cramming it all in” that we seem to do when we’re together twice a year. I miss calling my mom up on a random day to go with us to the zoo or to grab some lunch. I wish they could’ve been here for Audrey’s Christmas program, and I wish they could see her dance recital. I’ve missed every single Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter that we’re not together, and I’d be lying if I said the holidays spent apart are easy. Each one seems laced with sadness.
I hate the fact that we’ve never seen their flat in Edinburgh. I feel the need to picture my people in their daily surroundings, and the fact that I’m missing that piece makes the separation seem heightened. They have people my age in their home multiple times every week: sitting around their table or on their couch, and there are so many days when I wish it could be me.
Mostly, however, the grieving appears in random waves of longing that just pop up out of the middle of nowhere. Sometimes it happens at church, when it just feels like they should be worshipping beside me. Sometimes it washes over me when I put my head on the pillow at night, thinking about them waking up and going about their day in a life that I’m not a part of. Lately, it seems those waves carry with them a sharp pain in the gut. There are more and more days when it hurts.
Now this is the part where I’m going to acknowledge how selfish and dramatic this all is. I have friends that are further away from their parents, and get to see them far less than I see mine. I have friends who’ve lost their parents to sickness and tragedy. I have friends who are separated from their parents, most likely permanently, by war. I am so very, very fortunate, and I recognize it. I don’t take it for granted. But I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince myself and others that living on different continents from my parents is not that hard for me. I’m cool with it. SO COOL WITH IT, OK?! NO BIG DEAL.
But the truth is, I’m not “cool with it.” I want to be honest about what it’s like. It’s hard. And I’m coming to terms with the fact that it’s ok if it’s hard. I think it’s ok if I cry sometimes. The tears just mean that we love each other deeply, and that it’s harder to be apart than to be together, and I’m lucky to have that kind of relationship with them.
Yesterday, when I told Willa that Mamaw had to go “bye-bye,” she got a concerned look on her face and pleaded, “But, why?” My Dad and I looked at each other with pain in our eyes as I tried to think of an answer.
“Well, she has to go back to her home.”
Unsatisfied, again she asked, “But, WHY?!”
“There are so many people in Scotland who don’t know Jesus, and they don’t know how much he loves them, and that’s why Mamaw and Papaw are there.”
“Oh,” she replied, matter-of-factly.
As hard as it is, we all return to the fundamental thing: our lives are all about Jesus. We follow him anywhere, and even when it’s a sacrifice, it’s always, always worth it.
Every time I watch them roll their bags into the airport again I pray “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” That’s our life’s prayer, and it’s why we’re willing to say goodbye. We know what our purpose is, and it’s not temporal happiness. @@Our ultimate goal is not comfort, and it’s not the American dream. It’s his kingdom come.@@ We want to see people who feel rejected begin to feel welcomed, wanted, known, and loved. We want hope for those who feel hopeless, and we want purpose for those who feel lost. Jesus is everything to us, and we want to others to experience his love and goodness, too.
I have friends all over the world who make the sacrifice of being away from their families to say yes to Jesus. I have friends who’ve given up comfortable lives to sweat and serve and do what they can in places where poverty and violence and constant danger are the norm. I know so many who choose to keep saying goodbye to their families, to their “home,” to comfort and security to do what they feel called to do. And I just want to say that I see you.
Here we are again. Acknowledging that this doesn’t get easier, but in fact harder. And saying that, without a doubt, it’s still worth it. As long as God wants, we’ll keep saying goodbye.