|Preparing for the first goodbye, 2001|
I read a blog post recently in which a woman wrote to her 15-year-old self. She reassured her past self that the awkwardness of teendom would give way to a more relaxed adulthood. It’s an interesting concept, writing to your past person, but I don’t find myself reflecting so much on the past as I do pondering the future, and I often find myself making mental notes to the future Natalie.
It’s been on my mind lately because we are going back to the U.S. this summer for a short furlough. Making the transition from one country to another can be a tricky time for me, and it’s usually the trip coming back to Indonesia that gets me. It can cause me anxiety, and to calm myself I sometimes mentally reassure my future self. It goes something like this:
Dear Natalie of mid-August,
By now, Lord willing, you have enjoyed a few months of all the wondrous things that the Land of Plenty has to offer. You have spent time with your beloved family, visited friends and supporters, attended your 20-year high school reunion, eaten way too much, bought clothes for the next few years, etc. etc. And now, the dreaded moment has arrived.
It’s time to say goodbye, again. It’s time to wrap your arms around your parents and in-laws, kiss them, thank them for the good times, and say the awful goodbye. You will cry. Blubber like a baby is probably a more accurate description. You will think, ‘what the heck are we doing this for?’ You will have moments of questioning if you can really do this yet again and you will wonder why you choose to straddle two worlds.
Years ago, you’d watch older, veteran missionary ladies and think, “Look at them – they’re okay; obviously, it will get better, easier with time.”
But now you know that, at least for you, it doesn’t get even a smidge easier. It’s just as heart-wrenching as it was 12 years ago, maybe even more so because now you know exactly how far away the airplanes will take you. You couldn’t be any further away from home and still be on planet earth. The moon seems closer, maybe because you can still see it in the sky, while Savannah, Georgia seems as far away as Pluto.
You will perhaps struggle to remember the good about where you live in Papua. The stressors will loom large in your mind: malaria, inconvenience, distance from everywhere, lack of good medical care, the draining heat of the tropics, the drunks, just a general feeling of vulnerability.
And so I want to remind you, Future Self, of the good you have experienced in Papua: the friends you have, your home, a fulfilling ministry, the school your kids love, the beautiful places. It’s hard to remember this when you’re sobbing your eyes out, climbing onto a plane that will take you 10,000 miles from your passport country.
But you just have to remember the good; turn to the kids and David, and remember the good. Speak to your Father, and thank Him for the good, and thank Him for giving you such family and friends that make it so hard to leave.
And then sit down, put on your seat belt, and go.