Funerals are a blur of faces, tears, hugs, murmured condolences and shared stories.
One of the most touching stories as my brothers and mom and I gathered alone before my dad’s casket in the moments before the visitors would arrive for his funeral was the story of a coin placed on his chest.
It was placed there by his friend. It was the coin celebrating that man’s 4 years of sobriety.
My dad struggled for many years with a destructive alcohol addiction, not finding freedom until he met the Lord when I was about 14 years old. Through the grace of God, he was finally able to successfully complete a rehab program and then– the harder part– continue to fight for his sobriety through the support of Christian brothers.
When a nervous friend of his was finally ready to go to his first AA meeting to take his own step toward freedom, my dad took off work to go with him.
Four years later, head bowed over my dad’s casket, that man wiped his tears and placed that coin of sobriety on my dad’s chest.
These were the kinds of quiet things my dad did.
I’m taking a pause in the time lapse saga (because there’s still a lot of drama to go!) to share a crumb of some of the things that were stirring in me.
Though I was home, with so much going on around me, I felt I was kinda on my own island.
I was there, but in many ways there wasn’t a whole lot I could be helpful with. As the nurses came to check on my dad frequently, I had no idea which medications were which, though my sister-in-law could tell you times and doses and the sequence of changes.
Both my brothers were married now and had their own considerations, responsibilities and whole sets of friends I was unfamiliar with.
I had not been a part of the funeral arrangements which had been a family event, and so I couldn’t be of much assistance there either… So I tried to help with the menial stuff here and there… washing dishes. Folding laundry.
As we collected photos for slide shows, I noticed my contribution was noticeably smaller. I’d been gone for years now. My heart ached looking through photos of the last months of memories created, hoarded and treasured by my family… of which I had not been a part.
Because I wasn’t there.
People talk about the sacrifices that missionaries make. The constant cycle of good-byes. Living without the things we’ve grown accustomed to. Having to maneuver through new social customs and constantly be in a state of learning after years of living in another culture. Legal red-tape, language difficulties, spiritual warfare and conflict and resistance.
Well. There’s that stuff. And that’s not easy.
But, I think there’s a deeper layer of personal rawness that maybe missionaries don’t talk about… or at least, I haven’t heard a lot of talk about. Or maybe I just don’t remember.
But it was that moment of wishing I had more meaningful photos to contribute.
It’s the pain of the faded friendships that you had hoped would last… but didn’t. The regret of missed moments. Conversations you didn’t get to have.
That sigh of another memory that everyone else except you will share.
The jokes you won’t get but will still try to smile at.
It’s the guilt of the sight of tears in the grandparents eyes as you whisk their wee little ones through security to catch the next flight, and they’ll tell you it’s ok but you know it’s not.
It’s seeing your family ache from afar and trying to find comforting words for the umpteenth time from across the screen but being at a loss for words.
Now, before everyone pulls outs the Bible verses to quote to me– it’s ok guys.
I am beyond privileged and honored to serve my Lord, and I am glad to. Beyond that, it’s my duty to obey my Lord wherever He may call. And I’ve got that. Despite all these things, I’ll do it.
But there are moments that maybe we just don’t talk about so much as missionaries. I don’t blame us. Who wants to think of these things, much less speak of them?
It’s easier to push away those pangs with the to-do’s of the day. It’s easier to let everyone think that the “sacrifices” are the headaches of living overseas. It’s easier to focus on the excitement of the mission ahead. Because it truly is exciting and important.
The day before flying back, I took a long look around my parents house, knowing that the next time I would be back, someone else would be owner of the house. Because of the deteriorated neighborhood, my mom was intending to move from this house that had been our very humble home for the last 20 years. I had lived longer under this particular roof than any other in my life. It’s too long for this post, but it was this small and constant fixer-upper that started a new chapter of restoration of a very broken family and beginning to walk with the Lord as a family.
It would be my last time there.
With all this stirring, I was melancholy and tender in spirit as I ran my final errands that day. We had buried my dad that morning, my daughter was napping with my mom and I was alone in the car, with yet another goodbye looming ahead and a pain to leave behind.
And then, as the Lord has so often done, He put a song on the radio.
I know by Big Daddy Weave:
I know that You are good
I know that You are kind
I know that You are so much more
Than what I leave behind
I know that I am loved I know that I am safe
Cause even in the fire to live is Christ, to die is gain
I know that You are good
It was the Lord’s hand on my shoulder saying that He saw those raw parts of my soul, and He accepted my offering to Him… and that though I walk with and live with those things, He sees them.
It was a wordless offering of unstoppable tears to the Lord. For all my use of words, there are times and things I don’t have words for.
And it was balm to that rawness.
I would still go, still obey and do it with my heart and with love for the Lord. As true as that was, all I could do was just show Him these tender, unspoken things that came with the obedience.
And He is so good. And so very kind.
Even in that moment, despite a soldier’s attitude of and commitment to duty, it was kindness the Lord offered me.
And that’s why I sat down to write this post. Because His kindness is unequaled. And because He knows, and He takes care of His little sparrows.