I Can’t Hug You on the iPad!

Posted on: September 22, 2015 Written by
I Can’t Hug You on the iPad!
Photography by: romrodinka from iStock          

“I don’t want you to leave,” he sobbed, butting his bristly buzz-cut head into my shoulder. “When I see you on the iPad, I can’t hug you.” I held him tightly and let him sob. Goodbyes are hard on little boys…and their grandmothers. While it is an honor to be so loved, it tears your heart apart as you hold little ones while they sob in your arms.

We talked about separation, distance, visits back and forth. I promised to make him a paper calendar where he could mark off the days till we next saw each other. Slowly he dissolved into a puddle of almost-six-year-old mush and fell asleep. Tomorrow was school; tomorrow I would be on a plane before he woke up.

Two years ago it was his slightly older cousin, not with sobs—but with cold hostility. He boarded a plane after we had been together for two weeks and promptly threw up, then settled into his corner and refused to speak for the entire flight back to his home. Slowly, now, with multiple back and forth visits, he has figured out that distance is something that just “is” in global families. At seven, he is not a good conversationalist on the electronic devices, but he pops in and out when we are chatting with his mom or dad, shows us his latest Lego creations, and tells us something about school.

Almost 30 years ago, it was my own youngest daughter, sobbing because her favorite, closest cousin was leaving for South America. The older cousins took it more in stride, but the five-year-old only saw the loss, not the future. “I want him HERE!” I remember her pleading. No iPads then. In fact, no email.

I have five grandchildren: two in Southeast Asia and three south of the United States border—while their grandparents are commuting back and forth to China several times a year. At times the family is in four separate countries.

Is this what God wants? I thought God designed the family to be together. Would a family together be a better witness of God’s glory and power? I wrestle with that thought at times. I look at families who can gather on Sunday (grandparents, kids, grandkids) and all have a meal together. No one is struggling with languages other than English. No one is wrestling with finding supplies for a simple birthday cake. No one is weighing the intricacies of culture to determine if it is right or wrong for their kids to participate in a school function that seems to dabble in the spirit world. There are sleepovers at Gram’s house, and the middle generation feels free to take off for a few days and leave their children with grandparents. In a world of broken families, I know that believing families who live close together are a tremendous witness of God’s grace.

Then I read in Genesis, By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out… He left family behind and he buried his father along the way. Why? Because God called Abraham to bless the nations.

Nations usually are not next door.

We too are called to bless the nations—not everyone, but some of us. Some of us who will raise our kids in strange or exotic places, and who may breed into them a taste for strange and exotic places so that they do the same thing in the next generation. If doctors’ children choose the medical field, it seems quite natural for global workers’ children to let God take them to the ends of the earth. After all, they have the skills and often, they have the heart.

That does not mean it is all joy and happiness. It hurts. Some days, blessing the nations stinks—the days that little boys butt their heads into your shoulder and you are soaked with their tears. The birthdays, holidays, and first-time-ever events you miss because you are not together. I do not have words to make the pain go away.

What I do have is the grace of God, daily, in my own life. I have the opportunity to cover those little ones, and their parents, with prayer. I have the choice to hold them lightly and know that God is present with them far more than I will ever be.

I look forward to the next time a small boy barrels across an airport at full throttle and I have to brace myself for the tackle or I will topple over. Someday that little guy will be bigger and feel football tackles are embarrassing, so I am going to take all the football tackles I can get right now.

They counterbalance the sobs against my shoulder and remind me that blessing the nations often includes holding little boys with bristly heads.


Question to consider:  What are some creative ways you keep in touch with your loved ones who live a plane ride away?


©2015 Thrive.

About the author

Anna McShane* directs an English program and lectures at a large public university in China. Over four decades with SEND International www.send.org, she traveled as a journalist in all of SEND’s 20 areas. She can also be found speaking to women’s conferences and sharing her life with college students. In addition to writing for THRIVE, you can find her at: www.themissionsblog.org/author/anna-mcshane/ and www.whileiwasgoing.blogspot.com *for security reasons, this is not her actual name.

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  • Jill Clark

    Amen from another grandmother. I have tears as I write. I have sometimes wondered if the personal transformation and fruit we experience on the field is God’s gift of hundredfold blessing promised for leaving family behind.
    I have observed that geographical closeness to family does not guarantee healthy emotional closeness with family.
    So I to welcome the young boy’s run across the airport to hug his most often seen on a computer screen grandparents. That itself is a compensation for a LONG plane trip , and joining God in His work in the world.
    What if God knows the distance from family is the perfect springboard for us in learning to run to Him in reliance? He celebrates our embrace.

    • Anna McShane

      I love that line, “What if God knows the distance from family is the perfect springboard for us in learning to run to him in reliance.”

  • Claudia

    An excellent article, Anna. I so relate to what you wrote. Interesting that you lecture at a public university in China. My dad lectured English teachers in China when the doors were just opening (1977-1991).

  • Martin & Cheyenne Hoffmann

    Thank you! I am typing this with tears on my face. This post so expresses our feelings. How did missionary families in the past ever manage without Skype or FaceTime? Our daughter’s family lives in Hungary. They are missionaries there and we miss them dearly, especially our 3 grandchildren. Later this month Cheyenne will visit them, God willing, and experience what you write about. We are so grateful that our other daughters and the other 7 grandchildren are able to spend almost each Sunday afternoon with us and, yes, that is a testimony about how faith in Jesus Christ can build strong families. Don’t let the appearance fool you, though, we have to forgive each other our many flaws daily. Praise to God’s endless love and grace!

  • Grace

    This certainly resonates. We just celebrated a grandchild’s birthday via a very poor
    Skype connection. Not satisfactory, but far superior to aerograms that we used35 years when we headed overseas with a 6 week old baby.

    To paraphrase Heb 12:2 ….for the joy set before me endured … separation from our families. The joy of seeing lives transformed, people experiencing the light of the Gospel and thirsty souls gratefully receiving the living water.

    At our granddaughter’s dedication service, my heart was grieving because we were leaving the next day, but I was comforted by the words ‘His grace is enough’.

  • Anna McShane

    So true, Grace! Every time I push a button and talk face to face with one of my daughters in some other part of the world, I remember driving into the city, arranging an appointment for a call room at the telephone company, and making the once a year Christmas call to our families at home. What a difference to, even with bad internet connections, see faces, hear laughter, and be a living part of my children and grandchildren’s lives.