“I have to tell you something, but you can’t tell anyone, because I am not supposed to know this yet.”
I receive this text from my teammate and good friend.
“Oookaaay…. What’s going on?”
“The Smiths* are leaving.”
I immediately shoot back a bunch of crying emojis.
The Smiths have a daughter who is best friends with both my daughter and my teammate’s daughter. Their trio is about to be broken.
Our mama hearts hurt for our daughters.
Goodbyes have been a painful thing for us in our life overseas. My daughter wrote a poem a while back about all the friends she has had to say goodbye to. She had prayed often (and so had I) for a really safe friend here. So when I find out that this dear, much longed for friend in this country is leaving, the tears flow freely. Not again, Lord.
For a few moments that night, I feel ready to quit this life altogether. Why choose a life where there is this kind of grief, that is both frequent and also unexpected? Unlike diplomats or the military, who know the length of their terms, we are never sure when we will have to say goodbye to those we love or when it will be our turn to be the ones who leave.
A few weeks later, I host a goodbye party for this sweet friend with all the girls in her class. I tell them we’ll start with a more serious activity and then move to more fun.
I create space for them to feel whatever they are feeling about saying goodbye. These precious expat girls know the pain of constant goodbyes. I ask them to breathe in deeply and to think about what is on their hearts. I give them a few minutes to get in touch with where they are.
Then I read Psalm 84 to them, a psalm about pilgrims longing for the presence of God as they travel. My voice breaks as I read, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” No good thing. He is our sun and shield. A day with him as our best friend is better than a thousand with our dearest friends. Oh Father, this is so beautifully true. Thank you.
After this, we listen together to Christy Nockels’s song Home. They all have blank paper and markers, and I ask them to draw, doodle, write, whatever they want as they listen to what God has for them. We go through the whole song. They ask to listen a second time, as they creatively process with the Lord. So we do.
It feels like a sacred space, as I see them sprawled all over the basement, under stairs, behind couches, in corners, listening to the Lord. I pray the Spirit will come and meet them in ways he only can.
He meets me too. Isn’t that so like him? I am captivated by the phrase Nockels repeats over and over: “Further up and farther in.”
That is when it hits me. That even though our paths are going in separate ways, the invitation is the same for all of us: to go further up and farther into the love of our Father in Christ. We are all still traveling home, just on different paths. It fills me with so much hope for my daughter and her friends. Jesus will from his own fullness give them “what he takes away.” It gives me a sense of purpose in this nomadic life and its goodbyes. Each one is producing an eternal weight of glory — in both us as parents and in our kids.
Later, we laugh and play with water balloons and dunk cake and marshmallows in fudge and munch on lemon bars . . . because Christ is in all of it. In both lament and feast.
Friend, if you too are going through heart-wrenching goodbyes, may you accept the invitation from our Father to keep journeying further up and farther into the fullness of the Son. Christ is the God who journeys with us in the mountains and valleys. When he brings us through the valley of tears, we experience more of his heart, more of his presence, more of his goodness. May the very presence of Christ buoy your soul in all the farewells that this life calls us to. And may He transform the valley into a place where we taste more deeply the love that never lets us go.
*name changed to protect identity