Revolving Door, Revolving Heart (Looking Back on a Year in Asia Part 5)

by Elizabeth

Missionary culture is very transient. People are always arriving; people are always departing. Arrivals and departures are never on the same schedule. The fluidity and inconsistency of this relational landscape reminds me of the military culture in which I grew up. And although I “knew,” coming in, about the mobile nature of expat workers, I am still surprised by what it does to me on the inside.

I’ve only been in this country one year. In that time I’ve met plenty of people who moved here after me. I’ve met other people to whom I’ve already had to say goodbye. People I had just barely started to get to know. People I had started to pour my heart into. People with whom I had hoped to build a relationship. Poof! And one day, they’re gone.

And that’s only in one year. I dread this happening to me over and over again, for years on end. I say this because I do not like Goodbyes.

And in addition to my excessive fears and worries, my dislike of Goodbyes was actually one of the reasons I didn’t want to move to Cambodia. I didn’t want to MOVE, period. Growing up, I moved a lot. Moves (nearly) always entailed traumatic Goodbyes, and they always entailed traumatic Hellos. So now I just like to stay in one place. After we moved to the Parsonage in 2006, I told Jonathan, “I am never moving again!” That didn’t exactly pan out for me.


Leaving America — and the Parsonage — in January 2012

I lost a best friend once, during an Army move. I didn’t have another best friend for three years. And for reasons totally unrelated to being a TCK, reasons I’m still not quite sure I understand, I eventually lost that best friend too. The loss shook my world – a double whammy in the middle of my Year of Anorexia. (More on that in a future post.)

When I was heartbroken over this friend — and I mean heartbroken — my parents assured me that high school friends generally aren’t lifelong friends, but college friends can be. I must have internalized that pretty well, because I didn’t have another best friend until college, five long years later. It was then that I was finally able to form a lasting female friendship. (Hooray! We’re still friends.) When she got married and moved away, my new husband learned just how unexpectedly unstable I can be when faced with a Goodbye.

During some of our missions training, an adult TCK shared that there was such a revolving door of people in his childhood that he eventually closed his heart to new people. He just flipped a switch, and turned it off.

I have not yet closed my heart to new people . . . because I really like people. But when you really like people, saying Goodbye is something you really don’t like. And in this transient missionary community, no Goodbye is ever your Last.

I have a remedy for Goodbyes. It includes copious crying and hugging and hand waving. There is a prescription for Getting Lost in Jane Austen. On occasion a secondary prescription for Anne of Avonlea or Jane Eyre might be filled (as there is a Hierarchy of Needs which takes into account the depth of sorrow, time available for mourning, and whether or not the husband is out of town).

You may have a more effective remedy for Goodbyes; this is mine.


Implementing our “I’ll be waving as you drive away” philosophy.

For all of us, though, friendships are seasonal. And as we edge ever closer to the date of our death, we must all say more Goodbyes than Hellos. For military and missionary wives, and their husbands and third culture kids, those Goodbyes are simply accelerated and multiplied. In other words, we bid farewell early and often.

The task of the human heart, then, should any of us choose to accept it, is to open ourselves fully to new people, with the certainty that we will, at some time in this earthly life, have to say Goodbye.

15 thoughts on “Revolving Door, Revolving Heart (Looking Back on a Year in Asia Part 5)

  1. So very true. We are missionaries in Honduras and in the almost seven years here we seem to be always saying goodbye… But then are blessed to have some new people move into our lives. I do the devotion at our English church often and will borrow most of this to use next time. May God bless you abundantly. Shari Sorah, Manos Unidas en Cristo, San Pedro Sula, Honduras
    Happy to be a servant in the Kingdom

    • Shari, your statement confirms my suspicions — that we will indeed always be saying goodbye. It is the nature of this life, and not any one person’s fault, or else, we would all be at fault! But really, though, we are just following God’s leading to and from places. And He doesn’t have any of us on the same timetables 🙂 May God bless you richly in your hands-on service to others.

  2. Another touching blog, Elizabeth. Your writing brings me back into those times we were having to leave and say good-bye and the pain and sadness I think I buried somewhere, kind of like “this is your life and it’s what happens, so just be flexible and get on with it.” I was told that you get your next assignment,usually, 6 months out, which gave your mind time to adjust to the idea and actually make you excited about where you were going to next. and I’m wondering now if I just focused on that and didn’t let myself feel the pain and sadness. And I probably didn’t comfort you as I should have. But I can see how God is using that part of your life to minister to others now.

    • Mom, I never thought our family was doing anything “wrong,” only “hard.” I think it’s hard to pay attention, and say, yeah, that hurts, because then, it might hurt worse than you were expecting. I do know one thing — that everywhere you went, you were deeply loved. You were always getting those honorary lifelong PTA memberships! I love you too, and am grateful for a mom who was always there when I came home from whatever school I was attending at the time, and needed to unload.

  3. I believe my 94-yr old grandmother was fed up with saying goodbye to literally all of her friends. Saw the sparkle leave when the last one died before her…and when it was her turn to leave this world…the sparkle returned.

    • Deb, when Jonathan was in nursing school, they did this assignment where they had to list all these things they enjoyed in life. And then they had to start crossing them off. 10 here, 5 there, until it was down to 3. Then they had to cross off 2 more, leaving only 1. It was supposed to simulate what happens to us as we age, and there are fewer and fewer things we can do, and we attend more funerals than weddings, and even the things that are most dear in life — people — start to disappear. It made such an impact on him, and he shared it with me at that time. I look around at older missionaries at church, and I think, they are facing that, and my time is coming too. Time to say many many goodbyes, until that Very Last One. . . I’m sure your grandmother taught you a lot, in both her life, and her death. And thank you for keeping in touch with us, way over here in Asia.

  4. Thanks for this post Elizabeth. I am pondering the last paragraph. You see, I completely identify w/the man that just flipped a switch and turned everything off. I’m sure the struggles I have w/my FOO family of origin weigh heavily in this!! I appreciate this post. It’s given me a lot to think about. As always, thanks for being an example and encouragement to me. I’m blessed because of you!! 👼

  5. Hey Elizabeth. Meg and I understand what you are talking about. We go through the sorrow every time we have to say goodbye to our children or our grand child(ren). Whether they visit us here or whether we are in the U.S. All of this was expected, but it doesn’t make it easier.

    What we didn’t expect were the goodbyes that we would have to say to the people here in Jordan. Since we work with Syrian refugees, we didn’t know how close we would become to some of these families. Although our backgrounds, nationalities, religious beliefs, etc, might be very different, even small things like similar senses of humor can bring together very different people in a very short amount of time. How Syrians who have lost everything can maintain a good sense of humor is beyond us…

    However, we still grieve when these refugees have to leave for one reason or another. Sometimes, we don’t find out until the day that they are leaving. Such is the life of a refugee, we guess.

    This uncertainty provides us with motivation to be as bold as the Holy Spirit will allow to proclaim the Good News. Even in our broken Arabic. Because we don’t know how much time we will have with these families. Maybe the whole reason they lost everything in a bombing in Damascus was to have to move here to Jordan so that they might be able to hear the Gospel–just once.

    Thanks for your continuing blogs. We appreciate them, and we pray for you all.–Dan & Meg

    • Wow, Dan. You face so many goodbyes. . . Jonathan and I treasured our short time with you and Meg. Thank you for your faith in following God around the world, even though you are separated from your children and grandchildren, although in the beginning, I remember you didn’t think you would be leaving them! ~Elizabeth

    • I still don’t like goodbyes! I had to say another one at church on Sunday. No fun. But it’s been interesting to read your blog. I especially liked the “You Remember You’re a Repat When . . .” series. Laughed about those — and said Ouch! a few times.

  6. Pingback: On Your High School Graduation: A Letter to My Third Culture Kids

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