Over the past couple of weeks, we have experienced something new with our kids. Grief. Not just crying over someone they missed but deep grieving over the losses they have experienced in their few short years of living in this fallen world. I was totally unprepared and have felt utterly helpless.
Two weeks ago, we had the privilege of attending our annual mission conference. It is a great time to catch up on what all God is doing in the Philippines and reconnect with friends. Although we serve in the same country, serving on different islands makes it difficult for us to get together and it will sometimes even be a couple years in between visits. Our kids have friends here that they have grown up with since they were born, so it is a special time for them especially.
After two weeks of fun and friends, we started our long trip back to our island. And that's when the tears began. I thought it was just the normal crying when we say goodbyes and gave my normal "comfort"talk and let them cry. I knew it would go away as soon as we got home.
But as the days went by, it just got worse. Sobbing and sobbing. And that's when I knew we were dealing with more than just the normal goodbye cries. They were talking for hours about things, people, and places they missed. And the questions...the questions are what got me.
We have always been very honest and open with the whys and wheres and hows of our ministry. The kids have seen us struggle and cry, but we realized that they are not little anymore and aren't just taking our word for things. They are grappling with the whys, the wheres, and the hows for themselves.
"Why can't we tell people about Jesus in America?"
"Why were we called to the mission field and to say goodbye to our family but so-in-so doesn't have to?"
"Why can't we live near our friends?"
"How is flying a helicopter really telling people about Jesus?"
"If all Christians are supposed to tell people about Jesus, then why aren't more people going where people don't know?"
"Why are goodbyes so hard?"
"Why do we miss people so much?"
"Why did we have to move from Palawan?"
"Why do we have to move all the time?"
"Why can't we just go to heaven now so we don't have to cry anymore?"
Yeah...try and answer those to an 11 and 9 year old...
My first reaction is to try and distract them with something else so they will stop crying and maybe forget about the questions they are asking and the struggles they are having. But that's just selfish because really that reaction is because I don't want to have to deal with it and I don't want to see them hurt.
The past few weeks have driven Josh & I to our knees. I have so desperately needed Jesus because I don't have answers for all those questions. I cannot take their pain away. We have sought the Lord, His word, and the wisdom of other missionaries and missionary kids who have walked through this before us. We definitely do not have the answers, but in our seeking, God has answered in some powerful ways.
1. Grieving takes time and you can't rush it. Letting them cry. Listening to them talk. Even if it's for several hours everyday. They need to get it out.
2. Notice and acknowledge when they are struggling. Don't minimize it or "try to make it better."
Be a safe place they can come to and even seek them out when you see they are hurting.
3. Transitions take time too. A friend told us that it takes about a year to feel at home in a new place. It makes so much since even considering that a lot of things happen annually. Christmas, birthdays, things you do that create memories. I think one of the reasons it was so hard for our kids to return "home" this time is because it was the first time to return "home". They have no memories yet of coming back here.
4. What they are going through now is preparing them for what God has for them in the future. They will be able to relate to and minister to people who are walking through loss, missing people, and moving in a way that many others won't be able to.
5. Loving a lot means hurting a lot. When you love people, it hurts.
6. Everything that we do is because we love Jesus and because we are thankful for what Jesus did for us. We have talked about how Jesus left his daddy and went to a place far from His home to tell make a way for people to be saved and come to God. They are relating to this with having left their family in America and realize why we are here- to tell those who haven't heard about our Jesus that people in America have access to by almost every avenue.
7. Serving Jesus is a privilege. And they get to do so many things that most other kids don't! More airline flights than we can count, snorkeling in the ocean, swimming in rivers in the jungle, watching people open God's Word for the first time, traveling all over the world, friends from all over the world. They live a life of privilege.
8. And sometimes serving Jesus calls for sacrifice- my kids have moved an average of once a year since they have been born & say real and long goodbyes multiple times a year sometimes not knowing when or if they will see family or friends again. They also live a life of loss.
9. It's not just our ministry. It's theirs. God didn't just call Josh & I to the Philippines. He called our family and making sure that they are a part is crucial. We have tried to let them help with things they can help with as much as possible. And they often open doors with neighbors and local people in a way that would be harder for us as adults.
10. Heaven is our real home. If our life was always good here and we were never sad then we wouldn't want to go to heaven. They long for heaven like no kids I have ever known. It is very real to them. This is probably the thing I am most excited about that I see God doing in their lives. And in Josh & I's too. We live life in the here and now, so focused on the visible and tangible. But we were not made for here. We were made for a place unseen. There are battles going on right before our eyes, an entire realm exists that we can't see with our physical eyes. I want my kids to know and have a purpose on this earth and live it out to the fullest for Jesus with their eyes on their eternal destination. And God is working that in their hearts. It's hard, but it is beautiful.
Please continue to pray for us, for all four of us. Pray that we will fall to our knees before the One who brings comfort and peace. Pray that we will know our purpose and live it to the fullest. Pray that we will learn to grieve well and help others who are grieving. Pray that we will live our life on Earth but live it for Heaven.