We have been overseas workers for sixteen years (thirteen in Senegal, West Africa, and three in Chiang Mai, Thailand).
I have been a mom for thirty-three years. I am not the best mom in the world, but I am passionate about being a mom. My children are forever on my mind. When they are hurting, or unsettled, or missing out on joy with God; a quiet ache settles over me. They occupy a permanent room in my heart (and in their dad’s heart too).
I am not sure if my prayers are “typical” mom prayers, because I pray for God to help my children realize that friends disappoint, that this world (and its “toys”) does not bring lasting joy, and that an average “Joe Schmoe” life does not satisfy. I pray for them to find their life and joy in God.
Whether living in the United States or Africa or visiting from Thailand; I have had a blast being a mom. I have loved being involved in their lives—being the classroom mom, watching every sport possible, fearing for their lives (football, diving, wrestling), cheering madly at their softball games, enjoying school plays, and helping our daughter plan class parties (including photo-scavenger hunts and re-enacting the “Amazing Race” TV show in Dakar).
For the past three years, we have been twelve time zones apart, and it is rough. Cross-cultural workers need to hear that their grief and loss are legitimate. Here is a picture from our lives…
Our son Joshua graduated from high school in 1999, and in the last fourteen years, we have been “home” on furlough for three years. We were able fly home or he flew to us for Christmas three times, total. We have lived across an ocean from him for eleven years. That is a lot of Christmases and a lot of time to be away from your son—and it is not like he moved away from us! We did the moving.
While in Africa, we got a call one April that Aaron had fallen down some stairs at college. He had a concussion and amnesia. When we finally could talk to him, he did not know us. The college insisted that he leave by that weekend, because of liability issues. However, because we had purchased tickets for him and his brother to come to Dakar in May (for his sister Melissa’s high school graduation), he stayed with relatives in the States until flying to Africa. This was extremely stressful for us all.
Leaving Melissa has always been rough. Being the youngest, she was with us the longest—and she is our baby girl (even at age 24)! She wants the comfort and security of having her parents around even more than our sons do (they are 31 and 32). After she graduated from college, we got her a kitten to lessen the ache of our departure.
Stuff we missed: special moments with Joshua. Every so often he shares with us his heart. One time it was late at night—he was at the house, and he chose not to go to a movie with his siblings. Instead, he honestly shared struggles and dreams with us. We felt privileged. How many times did we miss his heart in the quiet times when he wanted to talk? Aaron was a cheerleader in college, and we would have loved to have gone to all of his games (we only caught one)—he was amazing at throwing those girls around! We missed Melissa’s first year of teaching at an inner city Christian school. We would have loved to have met her kids. Furthermore, she was uncharacteristically ill over forty days, with a persistent viral infection. We had many Skype conversations with her all alone in bed (chills, severe aches, crying), trying to help her pass the time before she fell asleep.
Stuff we enjoy when we are home: meeting Joshua’s various girlfriends. We enjoy having Joshua come over to grill. Daddy helped both sons move a couple of times. We loved to watch Aaron play softball and interact with his church friends. We visited his church a couple of times to be better able to Skype-chat with him about events/people there. I accompanied Melissa and her “charges” to the lake when she was a nanny. Dad enjoys playing sports with all of our children (tennis, racquetball, softball).
Adjusting to the grief: every time we leave, we buy gift cards and write personal notes to our children. A friend sends them every other month. Christmas presents are purchased and wrapped in the summer (or sent via amazon.com). Skype is great. Several times during Melissa’s college years, we would call Pizza Hut from Africa and have pizza sent to her (for a birthday, RA week, or just a general pick-me-up). One time when Melissa and a friend were driving to Florida for spring break her daddy walked her through checking and adding oil to the car (she was in Tennessee; he was in Africa). We love to Skype-chat.
We are not alone in our grief and loss. Every cross-cultural worker who lives across an ocean from one or more of their children feels the hurt. It is not easy for a single one of them. The other day I was preaching to the choir, but I explained to my husband that all I wanted to hear were the words, “Your grief is legitimate.” I am losing a role I have played for over thirty years, as well as missing children whom I dearly love. This is real; it is hard, it hurts, and it is going to take time to adjust.
I want to end this article with comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-9) and truth from our Father. Our children are in God’s good, strong hands (Joshua 4:24); He is taking very good care of them. Our prayers for our children are powerful (James 5:16). We hurt, but we have no regrets; God has clearly called us (Mark 16:15), and we have followed Him (hands down). We are thankful that, due to the hard times of separation, our times together are even sweeter and more precious. The big picture is very clear—it is the day-to-day ache that is so very hard.
Question to consider: How do you deal with the day-to-day ache of being far from your children?