Monday, July 11, 2016

The Missing Years (Martha's Furlough Reflections)

The subject of grief is talked about a lot in the missionary world. We live a life of perpetual goodbyes that take it’s toll on the heart, but I think the thing I grieve the most are the missing years.

When we arrived back into the states after three and a half years I didn't realize how much I would expect everything to be the same. I knew in my head that people and circumstances had changed, but not in my heart. In my heart I believed that time had stood still. We would come back and just carry on as if we had never left. But that is not how life works. The missing years are gone and you never get them back.

I can remember a time right before we left, when my son said, "I want to be the same age when I get back." Those words haunt me at times. They were the words of my six year old son Jacob before we left for Papua New Guinea in January 2012. I was stunned when I heard them. At his young age he completely understood that he was about to lose three and a half years with his best friend that he would never get back—experiences that would never happen because they would miss those stages of life together.

Jacob with his best friend Jerry in 2011
My children met many cousins that they barely remembered this year. I have beautiful memories of watching them make instant bonds with cousins they hardly knew. It was extraordinary to watch them play together like they’ve done it their whole lives, and it was heartbreaking when I was hit with the reality that they don’t get to grow up together. I could have stayed in that place of sadness and loss all furlough long, but I didn’t. I chose to embrace a gift.

Living the missionary life makes you more awake. You become keenly aware of how fleeting every moment is. A few nights ago I watched my family tightly squeeze into my Aunt Ruth’s kitchen. It was roaring loud with laughter, teasing, and story telling. It was a moment I wish I could I freeze forever. And in a way I did. I stood back and watched and memorized. That is the gift a missionary gets. We don’t get to rely on 'See you next holiday' or even 'See you next year'. We know it will be a long time before we can recreate it and that we may never get to recreate it all, because next time someone might be missing. And so we make the decision over and over to sit in the chair a little longer, to put the kids to bed a little later, and to linger in the moment. We understand that the moment may be all we get, and we live, more awake.

That is the amazing thing about furlough. No moment is taken for granted. I am fully present with every gathering, every meal, every conversation, because more often than not, it will be the only one I have with that person. And there is something really beautiful about that. You have an intense appreciation for people who were once taken for granted. This awareness is a beautiful gift, and it has allowed me to replace the missing years with great moments and memories.

This has been one of the hardest years of my life. But instead of focusing on the loss, I am choosing to focus on the gift. The gift of being more awake. I can choose to believe in a God who never wastes our pain, who redeems all people, and who turns our loss into gain.

Those two boys with the three and a half missing years picked up right where they left off. God is our Redeemer and he restores all things. He turns my mourning into dancing. He always has and always will.

Jacob with his best friend Jerry now
I worry all the time. My Aunt Ruth once said to me, “Martha, it is a sin to worry.” Well, I guess I am a great big sinner. But really it is worse than that. When I worry I am choosing to believe that God is not capable. In my mind I think I am more capable of fixing things, and there are so many things that I want to fix.

Not too long ago I went on a walk to the store alone. It was a cloudy, miserable day and I felt like the weight of the world was on me—a dark heaviness that had been there for weeks. I was angry—angry at the circumstances of life that I couldn’t fix. I walked to the store listening to worship music, but not really hearing it. I daydreamed about fighting some bad guy and rescuing someone. On the way home I had a view of the mountains that were covered with dark, menacing clouds. All I could see and feel was the dark heaviness that sat on my chest like a ton of bricks. And then I began to listen, to hear the song that was playing on my head phones:

It’s only in surrender that I am free
It’s only in surrender that I am truly free
All that I am for all that you are

And that’s when I understood. Surrender. That is all I can do. Surrender. Surrender to a great big wonderful God—a God that is far more capable than I am of fixing anything. A God who will be faithful to complete the work He began. A God who created me for a purpose.

Saying goodbye this time is harder than the first because, as a good friend recently wrote, “We love you more now than we did before.” I have loved every minute that we got to spend with friends and family. Thank you to all of you who rearranged your schedule to make time for us. That meant everything.

All year long we have visited with people and spoken at churches, and we have heard the words thank you, over and over. Thank you for all that you do, thank you for your sacrifice, thank you for following the call of God. We are put on pedestals that honestly, we don’t feel like we deserve. We are honored and made to feel like heroes at times. But there are other people that also deserve a thank you. Our family and close friends who let us go. We are not the only ones who grieve and sacrifice. Our family and close friends grieve too. They lose something too. They sacrifice something too. And it is no small thing to miss Christmases and birthdays and never get them back. The memories are missing for them as well. So we say thank you. Thank you for letting us go with grace and not bitterness. Thank you for your sacrifice.

This year it feels like the entire world turned upside down, both personally and in the news. I am not sure that I will ever feel like anything is home again. But I am not discouraged. I know that God is in control, that He loves me unconditionally, and that my true home is waiting for me in heaven. Our only answer to all the turmoil is to call on the name of Jesus.

Yeah in this wasteland where I'm livin'
There is a crack in the door filled with light
And it's all that I need to get by

Yeah in this wasteland where I'm livin'
There is a crack in the door filled with light
And it's all that I need to shine

Oh if God is on my side
Who can be against me

Friday, July 1, 2016

Furlough by the Numbers

As our time in America comes to an end, we thought it would be interesting to look back on our furlough by the numbers:

Places We Called Home: 3

Nights Away From Home: 71

Miles Traveled: 25,530

Hubcaps Lost: 1

States Visited: 30

Cousins Visited: 34

Churches Visited: 29

People Receiving Christ: 50-75

You know you are a missionary kid when...
The number one highlight of your trips to New York City, Niagara Falls, and Washington, DC is seeing squirrels.

What we will miss most about America:
Friends and Family
Convenience of Life

What we look forward to most in Papua New Guinea:
Being Home
Simplicity of Life

We want to thank all of our friends and family for making us feel so welcome and loved during our time here in America, especially our parents: Bob & Heather Boyd and Charles Zimmerman. We love you and we will miss you dearly!

We will be at Covina Assembly of God on Sunday, July 3. If you would like to say goodbye to us, please look for us in the lobby after the 9 and 11 a.m. services.

Please pray for us as we transition back to life in Papua New Guinea.

Asher, Jacob, and Bella with the Grandpa Zimmerman and cousin Somaya

The kids with their Grandma and Grandpa Boyd