by Jonathan –
After living in Cambodia for nearly two years, we’re preparing for our first Furlough/Home Assignment/Flee the Field, or whatever it is your people call it. We’ll only be in the States for two and half months, but still, I’ve noticed a sort of odd feeling. A premonition that something’s about to die. Oh yeah, it’s my first term.
Anyways, the feelings, the goodbyes, the preparation (of house, business, and kids), seems eerily like dying. Now, truth be told, I haven’t died before, but still. I can imagine.
IT’S LIKE HOSPICE
In the wonderful world of hospice (I mean it, those people are awesome), everyone knows that as folks close in on their final days, they often begin to reminisce. They ask big questions; Was it worth it? What did I do right, or what should I have done differently? Often, they realize that their relationships are their prime treasures. In end of life care, they have a special phrase for it: Life Review. I confirmed this with a friend who’s the volunteer coordinator at a large hospice organization. She said people in this stage often ask, “Did my life have purpose? Did my life have value? Did I have an impact?” Those questions sound familiar, as every missionary preparing for their “return” must ponder, “Did I accomplish what I set out to accomplish? What was gained? What was lost? Do I have any good pictures to show bored church people?” I have to prepare messages (eulogies, really) looking back on and rehashing this term. Of course, we also ask questions like “Where do we go from here?” and “What’s next?” At funerals, the answer’s almost always the Golden Corral (or its equivalent, the Church Fellowship Hall).
THE JOYS OF THE JOURNEY
We’re pretty much as far from America as you can get without coming back. Translation — we’re about 13 and a half airplane movies from America. And although we’re really looking forward to visiting friends and family, we’re not expecting the journey to be a cake walk. Incheon (in Seoul) and O’Hare are amazing airports and all, but traveling with four kiddos is just rough. Now, if Korean Air would take my advice and start putting valium in the complimentary travel bags they give kids, that’d be a good start.
I once saw a peaceful but bedraggled family with three small boys standing in line at Denver International. Turns out, they were missionaries coming “home” from a term in Africa; they had been traveling for three days and looked like it. I “blessed” their family with a large bag of Twizzlers. Hopefully the sugar comas helped with their final flight.
You see, furlough is just like heaven: I’m really excited to go, but the whole journey to get there, yeah, perhaps I could just get a pass (or a couple complimentary valium from the kids bag).
GOODBYES AND SEE YOU LATERS
When we leave Phnom Penh, we’re saying goodbye to a lot of new friends. Good friends. And that’ll be hard. I had no idea our first term would produce such good friendships with nationals and expats alike, and I’m grateful for it. But when I’m in America, they’re not. And although saying, “Hey, don’t worry, you’ll see them again” sounds nice, it’s about as helpful as telling me post-dentist, “Hey, don’t worry, you’ll feel your face again.” That really does nothing to soothe the pain or stop my beverage from leaking out my face. It’s Just.Not.Helpful. (For more on this, see Don’t Be Afraid of Me, Please.)
I’m uber excited about spending time with folks I haven’t seen in a while. Folks I love very very much. I can’t wait to throw a football with my brothers, laugh with my sisters, and eat ice cream with everyone. But while I’m doing all of that, I’ll miss my new friends in Cambodia. Sort of like heaven; before I can say hello to the people I miss very much (my late mom and dad, for example), I’ll have to say goodbye to a whole host of other people I dearly love.
IT’LL BE DIFFERENT
We know a bit about heaven, but still, there’s a lot we just don’t know. Sort of like America. I have memories of America, but I’m also aware that things will have changed. People have moved. Businesses closed. I mean, come on, our old church doesn’t even have pews anymore. It’ll be familiar, but it will be different. In fact, in the missions world, I’ve heard over and over, “Don’t expect it to be exactly the same as when you left it. You’ve changed. They’ve changed. Accept it.” Heaven will be way better than I expect, for sure, but it will be different.
Every analogy breaks down sooner or later. You see, there is one main difference between furlough and dying. You only have to die once.