We had dinner with the team that’s on the ground tonight. Although Dan isn’t leading it, one of the many blessings of being so small is that we can all get together and share, expanding our little family one team member at a time.
I got to chatting with one of the ladies. I’m not a chatter, as most of you know, but something about her put me at ease, and I found myself talking as if I had known her for a long time. At some point, she asked my girls if they enjoy living here. The one who made the decision to return after she graduated nodded her head and smiled. The one who is desperate to spread her wings and soar smiled softly and shrugged a bit, hesitant. I winced. My automatic “Missionary mom” reaction is to nudge her under the table, wanting her to wax poetically on the wonderful life she’s had here. I stopped myself–I can’t force the children’s reactions and feelings.
My new friend then asked me if I thought there were things that the kids have missed by growing up here. I don’t remember what I said, which tells me that I didn’t say what I should have. I do think that there are things that they have missed. I remember in 2007, when we had to return unexpectedly for my grandmother’s funeral. It was the end of September, and high school football season was in full swing. I was in the marching band, and I lived at football games during high school. During our short time there, Dan and Daniel went to what would be Daniel’s first and only high school football game. I couldn’t go, and I found myself a bit jealous. I wanted to see the halftime show, cheer for the underdog and snuggle up to my hubby on a chilly night. I don’t remember Daniel being terribly impressed with the whole thing (he would have enjoyed it more if they had presented an impromptu performance of Hamlet during halftime, I’m sure), but I do remember the nostalgia for what I had, that my children won’t. On the other hand, my children have a passion for soccer and zip-lining through the rainforest canopy, so I suppose it’s a fair trade. 🙂
I started thinking about what the children have “missed”. People, most definitely. My girls, especially, are very close to my sister and my sister-in-law. I know they miss them terribly, and although Facebook is a wonderful tool, it doesn’t let you stay up late watching really dumb movies and laughing at all of the cheesy lines. Patrick has missed getting to know our families in the US. They all love him dearly and are so excited to see him, but it always takes just a bit for him to warm up–they are strangers for just that brief time until his little mind pulls it all together.
There are things that they have missed. But then…they have experienced a life that I could never have imagined growing up. For the last four years, Heather has spent four days every February deep in the jungle, ministering to the children there. She gets there by climbing into a dugout canoe and going four hours down the river. She jumps off of cliffs into the Amazon river. She spends her Wednesdays at the children’s hospital, praying with families who don’t know if their baby is going to make it through the night. More than once she’s come home in tears, because one of her little ones lost the battle.
Kristina is our “baby whisperer”. She can take the grubbiest, most unhappy little one and in an instant have them quiet and smiling. Whether it’s a baby in the nursery at church or a baby in some remote village somewhere, her magic touch is always the same. She mentors middle-school students on Wednesday nights, laughing and crying with them, walking them through the toughest years of school.
Our children may have missed out on some of the things that we consider “rites of passage” in the US, but their experiences here, whether they ever leave the borders of the United States again or not, have given them a worldview that no amount of book learning and Sunday School could ever have provided.
I can’t make the children say what I want them to say. I can only pray that when they are talking to someone, and shrug their shoulders a little, that the meaning is clear. “Yes, living here can be difficult, and sometimes I just wish I could go back to the US…but when it’s all said and done, I wouldn’t change a thing”.