Goodbyes—The Summer of the Left-Behind
It is May, again. We find ourselves on the porch saying goodbye, again. Their suitcases and duffle bags are packed and closed for a night flight. They are about to leave for a long time, most likely forever. We have already said TWO tearful goodbyes to a couple different dear families on this porch! It does not matter how long they will be gone—one year, 15 months, or forever. It is still a long, painful goodbye, to another friend made and lost.
This time it is my nine-year-old’s heart that is breaking; he is losing another playmate and close friend. Unfortunately, they are just the beginning of this summer’s soon-departing friends. At least three more times during the next month, we will say goodbye (forever) to even closer friends.
We have lived on the field for almost twenty years now. I have watched all of my four children say gut-wrenching goodbyes to best friends, close friends, and everything in between. Just a few months back we left our first-born at college—that was a painful goodbye for the rest of us.
Last week my nine-year-old wanted to spend time with a girl who was about to leave. I refused. I tried to explain to my youngest child that the week before her peripheral friend (someone she only knew from church and other social events) was to depart was not a good time for a play date.
I find myself thinking of friends in concentric circles at this time of year. How close to the inner circle have I allowed them to enter?
This is how we live here; we are expatriates who dare to make friends and to care about other expatriates. We make friends, they become part of our lives, and then they leave us. They may leave us some of their furniture, but they do leave us—forever.
I remember in our training that there was a lot of talk about THOSE kinds of global workers who never made it work with the local people. I believe we were warned against spending too much of our precious time with other expatriates, as other westerners were considered a distraction to integration.
The reality I found on the field was quite the opposite. Many global workers did not get along with each other at all. Then there were the global workers who not only did not spend time with expats, they preferred (in their introverted-ness) to be left alone! They spend their days making their own rules, and they become known as “The Maverick Global Workers.” These are the ones who passionately follow their own mission to save the lost. They (seemingly) do not have the need to make close expat friends. Then, finally, there were those who were too proud to reach out, invest in others, or ask for help.
So here is how I see it:
God created us to be unified, interdependent beings. The way we will glorify God is to love and work together. We are to work through our differences and help support each other through our challenges.
It is the price we pay.
I am like a square peg in a round hole out here on the field. I am in fact an extrovert. People give me energy. I like sharing myself, my time, my family, and my bad cooking with others—expats as well as the local nationals. I also am passionate about Third Culture Kids. I spend much of my ministry investing in the children around us along with my own children.
I cannot help but invest in the people around me. I lack the self-discipline to hold back when I see people, within my sphere, needing help. The world is over-flowing with needy people. I know, because I am one of them! I need people to be happy.
We all need each other; consequently, it is almost always a symbiotic relationship that I experience. All of these friends leave a little piece of themselves here with me as they have blessed our family in one way or another. We invest in our friends, and they leave me their leftover American food as a parting gift. So, after a year, or ten, together they leave us with a shelf or a rug or a bit of butter and a broken heart.
As I drive my baby home, trying hard to distract her from her broken heart and fighting back my own tears, I know we will do this again next week with some other dear friends and again a few weeks from then and so on and so on it goes. Then, the dreaded summer of the left-behind will begin. Sometimes it hurts so badly that I am not sure I can keep on breathing. So many goodbyes! It is my reminder that we are not yet home. We are but visitors here on this planet. We look forward to no more tears and no more goodbyes when we finally stand face-to-face with our beautiful Savior: when we say our final “Hello.”
Meanwhile, we are reminded we must pull in as many “friends” as we can. Invest! Then our final home will be filled with all of those souls we have known and loved!
Questions to consider: How do you do goodbyes? How do you help your kids do goodbyes?
About the author
I am a global worker mother of 4 from Boston married to an African MK. We have all been living in Burkina Faso for 19 years working with SIM. I am teaching first grade at a small Christian school in Ouagadougou and home schooling my 8th grade son. My passion is to see global worker and third cultured kids grow up to serve and love Jesus Christ.View all articles by: Karen Gray
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