Within the past two weeks, two dear dear friends experienced profound loss, back home in America. One lost her husband to cancer, after a grueling year and a half battle. The other lost her father, suddenly and unexpectedly. Both are unimaginable to me. And both still have young mouths to feed and little hearts to nurture, amidst the grief that must be engulfing them.
And I’m here, across the world.
Unable to attend either funeral. Unable to drop off dinner with a long hug and a look deep into their eyes. Unable to grab their kids and keep them for an afternoon or a night or two to love on them and to give their mamas some time to breathe. Unable to sit with them, cry with them, laugh with them, buy them a coffee, or pray together. Unable to walk next to them, either quietly or actively, over the months to come, or to see with my eyes how these losses shape and change them, because they will.
My friends understand these limitations. My grief about the distance is dwarfed by the grief they are living out right now. And yet this is my first bitter taste of what it means to have your heart rooted squarely in two (opposite) timezones, in two different countries, in two different parts of the world.
Even in the months before we left America, as the preparations heightened, I found myself unable to be as fully engaged as I so badly wanted to be in my friends and family’s lives: in the sticky divorce of one, the depression of another, the joyful first pregnancy of another. Someone responded that this was the sacrifice, and it was starting even before we left.
This is the sacrifice we have chosen, to be far from you, dear friend, dear family. We just didn’t know it quite so well until we got here.
To be far away, knowing that the amount of time to invest in creating a new life in Thailand is immense, necessitating that there is less time to keep up with the details of our loved ones in the States. Less time. There JUST IS. Oh, I thought, I’ll keep up. I’ll systematize it, even, (as I do), to make sure that I check in on our friends, family, and team, let them know we still think of and pray for them and don’t forget anyone. OK, secretively, I’ve not given up on that idea yet, BUT. To be present and integrated and alive in the place one is in requires that one be present and integrated and alive in the place one is in. And we just can’t do that well trying to do it in two places at once. It’s hard enough to do it in just one.
We’ve made the shift before. When we moved to North Carolina one month after getting married, we watched painfully as our Ohio relationships shifted due to time and distance and watched as life moved on with our OH community over those first couple years. They were hard changes to watch. But then we settled more and more in our NC town and over time, we came to accept and love our continuing friendships with our OH peeps. Even though they looked different day-to-day, month-to-month, the ones who lasted over time were (and are) our soul friends, who just aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, even nearly a decade since we’ve lived in the same place.
And now we’re watching it happen to the US community to whom we said farewell. But this time we have a template and so it’s not as scary (though it’s still sad, and really sad at certain moments). We trust that though we all will be changing in the coming years, though our life circumstances, jobs, and locations will change, our family compositions and the heights of our children will change, our physical bodies will change, we’ll still embrace each other (literally–I miss your all’s hugs!) and pick up where we left off and stay connected as well as we can in the meantime.
We will still celebrate when you celebrate and weep when you weep. We will still drop everything at times, to let you know we are here for you, even from here. Because we are, as we know you are for us. It just won’t be in person, and that’s the rub. We’ll miss your weddings, your baby showers, your graduations and potlucks, your funerals and being nearby when Grandma gets a concerning test result back. And just as much, we’ll miss our neighborhood walks with you, meals together in our hot kitchen (hey, we have one of those here!), trips to the library story-time and mornings at the museum, especially in the cool, crisp Autumn air you all are rumored to be having!
More than any other pang, the sacrifice of not doing life with you all, at whatever level we were at or whatever level we were heading toward, however frequently or infrequently we saw each other, is the sad factor I’m feeling these days. Does it mean we want to come home (America-home)? No (well, maybe for a week of some cooler weather and garlic fries at Tyler’s)! I’m just sharing the bittersweetness of being here in Thailand, our dream and our call, and having you send us here and support us in being here, but without your physical presence. Get it?
I once had a friend say, “Wait, I’m going to send in money each month so that you can leave me?!”
I feel ya, babe!
How thankful I am for prayer, this unseen reality, as real as the water we drink and the food that nourishes us, that binds many of us together and keeps our hearts connected. To know that when I can’t comfort you, Nikki and Alissa, sitting next to you on a couch or at our Starbucks, I can pray for you with my whole heart. Any time of the timezones. And that we have a God who is powerful enough and loving enough to hear and listen and have compassion on all of us, as we care for each other through prayer.
Blest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne, We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts, and our cares.
We share our mutual woes, Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.
When we asunder part, It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart, And hope to meet again.
–from the hymn Blest Be the Tie that Binds by John Fawcett, pub. 1782