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Living apart; not desirable but doable!

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   When I think of my beloved son, daughter in law, and 2 young grandsons (one about to become a 3 year old) living on the other side of the world apart from me, I stand amazed at the work of grace in my heart enabling me to manage this. I recall those early days when my son and daughter in law first said goodbye to us and those lonely empty months afterwards. At times I felt such a heaviness I almost couldn’t breathe. But time keeps a steady pace and eventually the darkness of my grief gave way to the light of God’s grace. So, I know what you mom’s are going through when you send your precious treasures, your children, off to a land far away.

 

(If you are fresh into this life experience and you need a lifeline as you travel this painful path [no sugar coating here; it hurts], refer to my initial post, The Journey Begins, 1/4/2012. The the posts thereafter give you a transparent view of how God’s grace and comfort established my bearings. If you are having a hard time and need to communicate further, just send me a comment and I will give you my email address.)

 

   Now here I am 4 years later and in 6 months my beloveds will be returning home for a few months. No more video chats (for awhile) for we will see them face to face. No more mailing packages and wondering if they will ever get them. When we want to give them a gift, we will simply hand it to them. Ahhhh, how I look forward to that! When I want to read my grandsons a story, I will pull them up into my lap and let the enchantment begin. When I want to listen to my son play his banjo, I will simply ask him for a concert. When I want us to have some mother and son time, we will plant ourselves on the front porch swing or take a walk down the mini replica of the Appalachian trail near our house. My daughter in law loves to go grocery shopping and with a Kroger and a Walmart within 10 minutes from our house, we will shop till we drop!

   During those first few months, I couldn’t imagine if I would ever be able to talk about my son and his family without crying. But you know what, I can. Oh, I might still choke up a bit now and then. But after experiencing the constant love and care from my heavenly Father throughout these past 4 years in enabling me to live life separated from my son, I know a peace that passes all understanding. And it’s all a part of God’s plan to give us the kind of joy that causes the pain to subside and become manageable. And while I may not have desired to live so far apart from my son, I am finding that by God’s loving grace it is doable!

 

 

Together & Overwhelmed!

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DREAMLAND!
Who wouldn’t want to spend a week in such a place as this dreamy little cottage in Scotland!

   Back in August, my husband and I joined our son and his family in Scotland. It was the first time we had seen our 5 month old grandson in person and our 2 1/2 year old grandson we had only seen shortly after he was born. Our son is planning on attending a university there next year and needed to wrap up some details; thus the motivation for this trip.

   So for 2 weeks, we laughed together, ate together, talked (a lot) to each other, played together, absorbed the beauty of Scotland and her people and culture together, and enjoyed quiet moments together! The wonder of all that we enjoyed was that we enjoyed it ‘together’! Such bliss!

   The reality that we were together and living out a lifelong dream of mine to go to Scotland at times was more than my mind could take in!  It was as if I was living in a world of fantasy! I was simply and profoundly ‘overwhelmed’!  

Why do I share this?

   Because, if my son had not walked the path of obedience to God and had we not been willing to release him to that path, then none of what I wrote about just now would have ever taken place.

  Releasing our children to go and do God’s bidding is a challenge to our emotional stability but even more so when that bidding takes them far away from our presence. It wasn’t something I expected to happen and I found within my own strength no resources to handle it.

   Yet, here I am 4 years into this journey and I stand as living proof that there is life after releasing a child to do God’s bidding.

   All of us mom’s (and dad’s) who have taken the journey I have taken  know that it is not something that can be done in one’s own strength. 

 But know this!

   It is doable, and there’s sustaining joy and strength that accompanies the heartbreak of release! And on the other side of those painful moments we have the hope of knowing more joy than we could have ever imagined,

IF we,

look to the LORD and His strength; seek His face always. Ps. 105:4

 

It’s a matter of obedience!

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Me & my boy! It's a mom thing!

Me & my boy! It’s a mom thing!

     I don’t know if you have noticed or not  that while my blog never plays down the struggles of living so-o-o-o far apart from my child, I always make it clear that God’s love, grace, and mercy champions me in those struggles.  Since releasing my son to the call of missions on his life, joy and peace have been my constant companions and have made what would have been an impossibility in my own strength a glorious possibility in His. (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13)

     I write this blog to encourage other parents who find themselves on a journey such as mine. I want to assure you that releasing your child to missions or whatever God has called them to is not something to fear. (Remember, the safest place on earth is in the center of God’s will!)

     Recently, a grandmother of a brand-new missionary shared with me that she had expressed to  her grandchild her heartfelt wish that she wasn’t going so far away. Her missionary grandchild responded with, “Granma, would you want me to disobey God so I could be near you?”  That grandmother began to understand with greater clarity the priority of obedience. 

     My dear parent, releasing your child to do the work God has called them to is hard, I know! But the pain of releasing your child should not be your focus. Instead, the obedience to release your child should be.  As you obediently release your child, God’s grace, peace, and mercy will wash over you as a soothing balm. Your heart will be comforted; joy and peace will be your constant companions as you make this journey. It’s a blessed life and you will be just as grateful as I am to be living it!

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

It’s a process, so hang in there!

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The Original Six

The Original Six

     The above picture was taken only a few hours before our son and his sweet wife left to head toward a new land and a new life far, far away from us and all that was familiar to them.  You can’t tell by the smiles on our faces that our (especially mine) hearts were breaking. 
     Just a few months later, we welcomed a baby girl into our family as our youngest daughter was pregnant when her brother left. Oh the blessed distraction this little girl was during those struggling days. That was three years ago and since then a new grandchild has been born. But this time we didn’t get to jump into our car and travel to a nearby hospital. Instead, my husband and I jumped aboard a big ole’ jet and flew hours and hours to where our baby grandson, who was a little over a month, lived to hold him and rejoice with his mom and dad. That was a little over a year ago! 
     I compare my life of emails, phone calls, sparse video chats, and a singular visit with my son and his family now, to my life when my son and his wife left to live so very far away. You know, those first days (weeks, no months) there were times when I thought I just can’t do this–it’s just way too hard and it just hurts too bad. But here I am today, 3 years later and my heart has slowly grown stronger. Oh, it’s still painful. I see my little grandson growing up and knowing he has no idea of who I am or that I exist, yes that’s hard but God has equipped me to deal with that so that it doesn’t overwhelm me. 
     The peace that is constant and has been ever since my son first told me he was leaving is with me today, was with me then.  I think of dear young people I know who are heading off to distant lands to serve God and of the families that are having to release them.  Let me remind you, dear people, you can’t do this alone. You MUST hold on to God every minute because without His grace & mercy, the pain will overwhelm you.  Remember, the safest place on earth is in the center of God’s will, and that’s where you and your children must be firmly set. As you and they abide with God in the center of His will, you will be supplied with ALL that you need to see you through the initial goodbye’s and life to be lived apart.
     It’s a process but I speak from experience, it is worth every moment! If you are fresh to this process, I recommend that you go back and read my first blogs after my son left. I hope it will encourage you and give you hope, that your pain won’t always be so constant and will become more manageable. Camp down on the following verse:

Philippians 4:6-7New International Version (NIV)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Isolation and Togetherness; both are beneficial!

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I use these two words of contrast within the context of experiences known to a parent who has just bid farewell to their missionary child. It has been my reality that both isolation and togetherness have worked in tandem to bring me to a quiet state of acceptance and peace of mind with the departure of my only son and his family to the foreign mission field.

Of course, this work wasn’t accomplished overnight but overtime!

After all, it’s put pretty well in Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NIV),

There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.

My time of isolation!

My time of isolation began during the early days after my son’s departure. I poured everything out to God. I spent ALL the grief I felt over loosing the companionship of my son (And I can’t tell you how important this is). I had suffered a genuine loss and not only did I need to acknowledge that, I needed to mourn that loss.

God let me cry for as long as I needed.  He allowed me to say whatever came to mind, for He knew those thoughts and words had to be released and He was the only one I could trust to hear those words. With my Bible in hand and the Holy Spirit’s tender guidance, over time (and the length of that time will vary for each person) God lovingly led me to a time of peace and quiet resolve to accept His will. 

In time, I was able to rejoin the land of the living!

Gradually, I was able to answer questions from those who were concerned about how things were going with me and my son and daughter-in-law (for at that time my grandson was still a precious dream) without my eyes spilling forth with unbidden tears. That, my dear readers, was no small miracle.  

Then came my time of togetherness!

Recently, my husband and I were privileged to join a group of parents who’s children were serving as missionaries within the same mission organization as our son.  As we gathered together, we shared our struggles and experiences, finding understanding companions on every level.  We shared photos and identified with each others stories of our visits (of places most people only dream of) to where our children served. With these parents, I knew the freedom of honest feelings. With them I didn’t have to pretend I had it all together. They knew that as hard as it was to make this sacrifice, when it was all said and done, it was a willing sacrifice.  And being with these missionary parents, I realized a level of joy and happiness unique to that sweet fellowship.  I felt stronger (and happier) and possessed a greater resolve to focus on the abundance of positives I knew as a missionary’s mom. 

* * * *

So you see, we need both isolation and togetherness in times of struggle.  We gain strength to endure by spending appropriate time in both. Don’t stay too long in isolation and by all means don’t go there without God.  From that blessed time of healing, you will find the strength to join together with like-minded parents in coming alongside your missionary child in proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel.  We learn how to focus less on our loss and focus more on what we and our children have gained; not to mention the people they have been called to serve. And my dear readers, that makes all we have gone through entirely worth it! 

The Gift of Understanding!

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Note the AT badge on my jacket!

A few years ago, my son was preparing to through-hike the Appalachain Trail.  As his mom, this feat was not so easy to accept mainly because this was to be a solo hike.  My son had been in training for this event several months prior to setting out.  He had researched it thoroughly and interviewed others he knew who had completed this hike.  Believe me, he was as prepared as he could be.  Therefore, because of the mature manner in which he approached this adventure and by God’s grace, I finally reached the point where I was able to trust God to guide and protect my young adventurer!

I was comforted by the fact that I was going to be his contact person and while he was to stop now and then to resupply, I would be sending him his maps and various other items he would be requesting along the way.  This way I would be maintaining contact with him and  thus would be alert to his well being.

However, the night before he was to board a plane for Maine (where he began the trek) he shared some startling news with me. In 2 years time, he would be traveling to Peru where he would be serving as a missionary in the Amazon jungle, should God continue to lead him in this pursuit.

I went to bed that night with a heavy heart, not quite understanding what God had just done to me.  For quite some time now He had been preparing me to release Bobby to walk the Appalachian Trail all by himself!  That in itself was no small task; but it had been done.   Now, without warning, another bombshell had been ignited and seriously, I questioned God’s timing.

Yet as my son and I were driving around the next day gathering items he would be needing for the hike, he said something to me that became a game changer for me.  Here’s what he said in referring to his plans for Peru,

“You know, Mama, I know this is going to be harder on you than it will be on anyone else.”  

At that point, a flood of tears uncontrollably broke forth and in the midst of those tears I shared the following:

“Thank you dear son for saying that to me. Thank you for understanding my pain.  Knowing you understand my pain gives me the strength and courage to let you go.  Even though it will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done, know that I WILL DO IT, because I know this is what God would have me do and your understanding makes it possible.”

The greatest gift a child heading off to the mission field can give to his/her parents is to be sensitive to their pain.  If they feel you don’t understand the pain that your choice has been forced upon them (especially if there are grandchildren involved), then your insensitivity will only intensify their struggle and widen the gap that might be forming.  But I’ll not continue to focus on the negative but will instead remind you of the effect my son’s understanding had on me.

Because I knew my son understood what I was going through, that simple yet profound knowledge was all I needed to muster the strength required to send him off to Peru when the time came.  I had 2 years to prepare for that day and my son’s understanding enabled me to think clearer thoughts.  One of the first things God helped me to realize was that I was to make as many happy memories as possible with my son over the next 2 years.  I didn’t want to look back on that time and have it spoiled by “self-centered feeling sorry for myself” type of memories.  And thanks to God and my son’s understanding, I DIDN’T!

So, the key word here on both sides of the equation is UNDERSTANDING!  Parents, please understand how hard it is going to be for your child to say goodby.  Don’t send them off with a dark cloud hanging over their leaving.  One of the hardest things for them to deal with is the fact that life back home will continue WITHOUT them.  That leaves them feeling pretty empty. Their ministry, their lives, and your relationship with them will be sadly affected if they are burdened about how you are dealing with their leaving.  On the other hand, if they know that in spite of your breaking heart, they have your unconditional love and unwavering support, everything about what they will be doing will be enhanced and strengthened.

And missionary child, be sensitive to what your parents are feeling.  Angry words, confusion, and doubt on their part that you should be leaving may be nothing more than a broken heart crying out for someone to understand their pain.  If your parent knows, as I did, that their child understands the pain they must endure in releasing you to answer God’s call then often that’s all that’s needed to enable them to release you.  And remember, releasing is a painful ordeal for a parent, therefore tears are a normal, important, and cleansing part of the process.  So let them cry, it’s healthy!  Keeping it all in context keeps things from becoming overwhelming.

BTW, the jacket I’m wearing in the picture was a gift from Bobby after he through-hiked the Appalachian Trail given to me the following Mother’s Day–with the AT patch (the only one he got) hand sewn (by him) on it.  I couldn’t cherish it more!

Abundant Life Indeed – Even though miles apart!

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As God would have it, I am adjusting to being a long-distance grandmother.  Not saying I like it, just learning how to deal with it.  After the initial punch in the gut that my new grand baby is going to be born in a land far away, God has had mercy on me and is providing me with the grace I desperately need to accept this.

Sending my son off to this far away land is especially hard for me and now adding to an already hard situation is the fact that his sweet wife is expecting their first child.  Why is this so hard?  Well, several reasons. My son and I are close and over recent years, we have shared many memories and many heart-to-hearts.  He is my only son and came along at a time when I had given up on having a boy.  My husband and I had been abundantly blessed with 3 wonderful (in every way) daughters.  So when I realized that my cup was full to overflowing, I was able to release my desire for a son to God and peace reigned in my heart. Shortly, thereafter, we found out a 4th baby was on its way!  Honestly, I thought I was going to have another girl for I felt that was why God had conditioned me to release my desire to have a son!  Sometimes, God’s ways are past finding out! (Romans 11:33)

Raising Bobby has always been an adventure; not just for me, but for his dad and his sisters as well.  An adventure that has been downright challenging but a whole lot of fun at the same time!  When my son was 10 years of age, we moved to the family farm.  So during some very formative years, he had the privilege of growing up in an environment that reinforced a lot of what we were teaching him in our home.

And as wonderful as it was to raise my children on a farm, it sort of had an adverse affect on me eventually.  For you see, Bobby, for years, felt God was preparing him to become a farmer and that made perfect sense to me.  It gave me such peace in my heart to think that I would not have to worry about him moving off someday, but would have the joy and comfort of him being always nearby.  But that was not to be.  For when Bobby was a senior in high school, about to take up the responsibilities of farming, it was made clear to me that he was not to have that opportunity.  I had to break the news to him and he took it in stride.  His acceptance to this turn of events was my model to trust God to keep Bobby in the center of His will; even though events weren’t working out as we had expected.

After that time in my son’s life, God set him on a completely different course–working for a local industry while being heavily involved in youth work at our church filled up my son’s life.  Then while taking classes at a local community college he met and became friends with a family who would prove to be major figures in his future (his future wife’s family).  This relationship introduced him to an out of state Christian camp where he eventually went to work and live.

After that initial move, life for us became a series of goings and comings.  From camp, to hiking the Appalachain Trail, to 2 years in South America, then marriage, followed by graduation from college for both of them, leading them to replant their lives in Africa. All along the way, God empowered and enabled me to release my son to His care and keeping.  No easy task, let me tell you, but a task that by God’s grace was doable.

I think that one of the reasons I have found the strength to release my son has to do with God allowing 2 of my daughters and their 5 children to live only a few minutes drive from my home.  While my other daughter lives way off in Florida, I have had the privilege to visit her several times.  Unlike my son, we are able to email and video chat often which makes up for a lot.

So when I’m asked if I find it hard to deal with my son, daughter-in-law, and now grand baby being so far away, I have to say, “Yes.”  And for all of the reasons which I have shared with you in this post.  But like my son learned several years ago, I have learned to take things like this in stride.  When God calls your child to serve Him on the foreign mission field know that is going to require sacrifice.  But also know that when God places that calling on your life then He will equip you to be able to make those sacrifices.  Oh, it won’t be easy.  In fact, my adjustment has been characterized by a flood of tears, accompanied by an ache in my heart that I have found a way to live with, but a willingness to do what God has called me to do.  My heart is full of peace and as God continues to amaze me in how He provides ways to maintain that close connection I have with my son, I find that I can praise Him for the calling He has placed on my son and daughter-in-law’s lives.  They and we,their families, have an abundant life indeed!

Two months into my journey and my heart still beats!

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As you know, my husband and I (along with our 3 daughters and their families) recently sent our son and daughter-in-law off to the foreign mission field.  It’s been about 2 months since they left and surprisingly my heart is still beating!  I don’t say that flippantly for saying goodbye to them was the emotional equal of having my heart ripped from my body.

Back in September my husband and I attended the appointment service for our son and daughter-in-law.  The appointment service was the finale to a series of meetings held for the new missionaries to prepare them for their new life overseas.  As missionary parents, my husband and I, along with our daughter-in-law’s parents attended a meeting as well.  I will never forget the heart cry made by a missionary’s dad as he honestly and courageously spoke the words every parent in the room must have been feeling.  I know I was! This dad’s daughter was about to leave the country and take his grandchildren with her.  He had resigned himself to their leaving but in his words, “this is killing me!”

I’ve heard that it is harder on the missionary parent to send off their children and/or grandchildren than it is for the missionaries who leave.  From what I’ve experienced so far, I would have to agree.  There’s a book entitled, Parents as Partners, that gets ‘real’ close to describing the parent’s pain:

Family members left behind–parents, grandparents and siblings–feel a sense of loss when their loved ones go to a foreign field.  Someone has likened it to a death in the family.  There are often the mixed feelings of gratitude for children obedient to God and the real sense of loss when they leave.  Yes, even those who have prayed for missionaries virtually all of their lives and have asked God to send workers into the harvest still feel the hurt of separation when their own go. (p. 117)

My journey of 2 months as a missionary mom has been both painful and rewarding.  I don’t have room in this blog to describe all that God has done in my life to prepare me for this journey and to supply my every need along the way.  But suffice it to say that though my pain has been intense so has my joy.  God has proven to me over and over again that I need not fret for His grace is sufficient for my every need; not just for me but for my child as well.

So, for those of you who are desperately missing your children and/or grandchildren, I offer this advice, “Stay close to God through prayer and Bible study. For therein lies your greatest and most helpful balm for the pain you are feeling.  Be honest with God about your pain.  Cry out to Him as often as you need to.  Record those verses He uses to sooth your pain. I offer here a few that have sustained me.

Eph 3:20,  Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, (NIV)

Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD.  plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future.(NIV)

2 Corinthians 12:9, But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.(NIV)

Know that His plan is to repay you for your sacrifice AND you can trust Him to give back to you in excess of what you have given up for Him. I leave this poem with you from the aforementioned book, Parents as Partners, for your comfort and encouragement:

Give of thy sons to bear the message glorious,

Give of thy wealth to speed them on their way;

Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious,

And all thy spendest Jesus will repay. (p. 7)


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