As I type, I sit in the front passenger seat of a 12 passenger van crammed just about as full as is physically possible. We’re cruising along an amazingly wide, smooth highway – I70 west, just a bit east of Effingham, Illinois. It is a trek I’ve made frequently over the past 45 years, not as frequently as I might have wished ~ but often enough that no matter how much time transpires between this time and the next, it always feels a well-known, well-worn, comfortable path… a home-coming of sorts. In a few minutes, we’ll exit I70 for I57 south and that coming home feeling will escalate until the tummy butterflies almost overwhelm… just like when I was 8 years old and on my way to Nana and Pop-pop’s.
Two days ago, we sat in the waiting room of Glasgow International Airport, very ready to board our plane and head home to the land of cousins, grandparents and McDonalds. Yesterday, we finalized the beginning stages of our cross country trip from Michigan to California for my niece’s wedding, looking forward to stopping by and visiting old friends as well as meeting some new friends along the way.
But then the phone rang.
“But then…” ~ nothing more than two rather mundane words – a subordinating conjunction and an adverbial. Yet saying them often means that something of great import or impact has occurred.
My grandfather’s health has declined this year; that phone call informed us that he wasn’t doing well. We’d originally planned to head south to visit Pop-pop and Nana after the wedding, when we’d have more time to spend with them. But more than anything, we wanted to be sure we spent a few hours with them… So we rerouted, re-planned and re-organized our trip, and now we are on our way to see my grandparents ~ both of them, I’m hoping and praying.
My grandparents are amazing people. They are hard-working, big-hearted folks and ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved listening to their stories of growing up – one room cabins, no electricity, fishing, hunting quail, WWII as a paratrooper…
They’ve always been among our most faithful supporters, prayer warriors, encouragers, spoilers of our children, bed and breakfast runners ~ Yes! hosting our larger-than-average family implies you must be capable of running a B&B. God has blessed them with long lives and they’ve served and loved and sacrificed consistently and well in their many years. When the Lord does call them home, they will leave behind a legacy and many who will miss them so very much. They are two among a very small group of people whose contribution to me, to my family… well, without them, their influence and gentle reminders of Who was to be my Lord while attending university… I’m not sure I would have kept my little girl promise to Jesus to serve Him someday on the mission field.
Yet I know it breaks their heart every time we say goodbye and we prepare to board the plane back to Africa: they fear for us, anxiety about all those great-grandchildren plagues, and then there’s always concern about the political strife rampant in our region to poke and prod their hearts and minds.
Additionally, there is the nagging wondering: Will this hello also be a final goodbye… in this world?
Reality? That could be the case for any one of us at any time. It is just so much more in your face when you are saying goodbye to aging, fragile loved ones to travel great distances away for extended periods of time.
As we make this trip, I’m not sure how sick my grandfather is…I don’t know if his situation has deteriorated to a point that my last hello was also my goodbye… or if this hello will become a final goodbye and he’ll be with the Lord before I make it down to see him again…
Every missionary, every international worker, every person? They probably have similar types of stories and live these emotions every time they travel.
It is hard, isn’t it? But hard isn’t bad… or wrong… or something to hide from and avoid.
Thankfully, my grandfather was doing better than I expected… and now I’m hoping and still praying we’ll be able to “re-make” this trip as originally planned in another few weeks… to spend a little more time without the pressure of knowing we had to keep right on moving along.
My grandfather held me close when we said goodbye this most recent time – not with the teasing, strength or playfulness of years gone by – but perhaps with more emotion than ever before… and he whispered something about how leaning on Jesus was his most important job… and reminded me that it was mine, too.
That’s one more lesson to learn from Pop-pop.
How do handle that hard reality – that some hellos are also goodbyes?
Who in your life continually inspires, encourages or sacrifices for you?
Who gives you those hugs from heaven or always pushes you towards the Lord, allowing you to keep on serving, strengthening by reminding you on whom you must continually depend? Will you share a bit about him or her in the comments?
– Richelle Wright, missionary on home assignment from Niger, W. Africa