Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Cost I Didn't Count

It's been two years and four months since we've been to America, and it will be at least another four months before we do go.  This is new territory for me.  In my entire life, I've never been overseas more than two years without visiting home.

For most of this year, our plan was to go home for November and December.  According to that plan, we should be there right now.  But we still don't have a passport for our sweet boy, and so we wait.

This is not the first time we've had to change plans because of one of our kids.  It's happened more times than I can remember, actually.  But Gil and I took turns traveling during those instances, so each of us had at least been able to visit for a couple of weeks.

I don't usually get homesick anymore.  But this season, I am.  I now have three nephews I have yet to meet. We would have been there for three birthdays and Gil's folks' 40th anniversary. When you imagine yourself spending the holidays with your family, and you think it's going to happen, and then it doesn't, somehow it hurts more.  My parents are coming out again for Christmas, and I am thrilled, but it's not the same as going home.

The weird thing is that this is home.  It's home for us, and home for our kids.  I can simultaneously long to be home and yet be home at the same time.  There's just not any other way to explain it.

Lily came home with this page last year.  It was part of a lesson about staying safe, and the kids were supposed to fill in the blanks with the people in their life that they can trust.

Lily wrote, "Dad, Amy (aka Mom), Uncle Mark, Aunt Alyssa, Uncle Ben, Aunt Lauren."  Mark and Alyssa and Ben and Lauren are some of our dearest friends here, and have crossed over into the family category.  Lily has known all of them for as long as she can remember.  She loves them, and they love her, as family.  I was simultaneously deeply touched and utterly heartbroken by what Lily wrote.  

In Between Worlds, Marilyn Gardner writes, "Our parents felt the ache of distance from blood relatives, but as children we were perfectly content with this version of family."  Yes.  It was true for me as a child as well.  I missed my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins, but I had dozens of surrogates, and I was happy.  It's only now, as an adult, that I truly understand that pain.

For so long, I thought only of my own sacrifice in moving overseas, of what I was giving up, of what I would lose.  Now I have a deeper understanding of the sacrifice of those left behind, of their lost memories of first steps and birthdays and Thanksgivings and Christmases and family vacations.  As Marilyn poignantly describes, "Most of all there has been the daily life that had to readjust to the absence of the ones who left, daily life minus extra spots at dinner tables and extra voices in conversations."  I hurt for them.  I hurt for what we have done to them.  It is a cost I didn't fully understand when we signed up for this life.  

It's ironic how so much about cross-cultural work is all about adaptation.  Because that's always the goal, isn't it?  And we celebrate when we have adapted, when we aren't homesick anymore and we do feel at home and we have put down roots.  But then comes the stark realization that with that adaptation comes more pain.  And it's a pain that you can't just get over or work through, because there is no solution for it.  It feels like a betrayal of those you love.  You're thankful that you and your kids have fallen in love with people and places in your new country, but you realize it comes at the expense of those you left behind.  

We can't live two lives.  Whatever happens here, doesn't happen there.  It's loss, and there's just no other way to describe it.  We gain, but we lose at the same time.  And more importantly, so do the people we love.

Jesus said that everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for his sake will receive a hundred times as much.  Is that also true for those left behind?

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