When You’re Homesick for a Place or People who are No Longer There

I’ve been reading my way through the “Anne of Green Gables” books and earlier this week I came across a great quote from L.M. Montgomery in “Anne of the Island.”  It was the scene when Anne and one her good friends and roommate from the past three years, Phil, were taking one last walk through their rental to say goodbye to the house. 

Anne wondered if old dreams could haunt rooms – if, when one left forever the room where she had joyed and suffered and laughed and wept, something of her, intangible and invisible, yet nonetheless real, did not remain behind like a voiceful memory. 

“”I think,” said Phil, “that a room where one dreams and grieves and rejoices and lives becomes inseparably connected with those processes and acquires a personality of its own.  I am sure if I came into this room fifity years from now it would say ‘Anne, Anne’ to me.” Montgomery, L.M.. “Anne of the Island.” Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.. 1943. pp. 221-222.

There was something about that house and those rooms and the lives they lived in there that made it seem like their happy little existence would go on living forever, despite empty rooms and absent friends.

I feel the same way about my mom’s house.

Before my mom had passed last September, she told us that she wanted us to sell her house.  There were many reasons why she felt that way, and, at the end of the day, she would let us decide what we would do but she wanted us to know how she felt.  In the end, we did sell it and it sold quickly.

The new owners have been busy making it their own, so our former neighbours and dear friends tell us.  They’ve been tearing out flooring, bathrooms, a chimney, redoing the electrical system, getting rid of all the brick downstairs, and the wooden panelling, converting the kitchen to a mud/laundry room and moving the kitchen back to what used to be our old kitchen before our family renovated the house 24 years ago. 

While I’m sad that the house will have changed so much, I am curious to see the finished results.  I like knowing that new life has been breathed into it.  I’m also relieved.  My mom’s house is no longer the same and forever it will, in my mind at least, be the last place where our family lived and loved and pressed on despite the sorrow that enveloped us.

I can’t go back to her old house.  She’s no longer there.  And the house is no longer the same.  Life has changed.  But there’s a conversation I dream I can hear from the other side of the hedge and fence.  I dream there is laughter and a face full of joy.  I’m homesick but it’s for a place and a person who are no longer there.

As I think about my situation, I’m sure there are others, involved in missions work and or in secular vocations, who can identify with me, as well.  For those serving cross-culturally and preparing to go back to your passport country for the summer or longer, you may be facing the reality that loved ones are no longer in your hometown.  Friends and family may have moved away or, in some cases, have passed away.

So what do you do when you’re homesick like this?  What do you do when you’re homesick for a place and people who are no longer there?

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1. Grieve your loss(es).

There’s so much that could be said on this point that I could write a book.  And maybe I will.  But not today.  For now, I’ll suggest that you give yourself space, time, and self-care as you grieve the loss of your significant people or person and your special but changed places.  Be kind to yourself in this season.    

2. Take time to pause and express thankfulness to God. 

Thank Him for your past, present and future and for the people He’s put into your life and will put into your life.  When I thank God in this way, I’m able to grieve with hope and joy.  Despite what seems like an oxymoron, joy and grief can and do co-exist.

3. Redeem a place with new memories.

The pain of your loss may be overwhelming and paralyzing, at times, and may be heightened when you are back in that place and your person or people are no longer there.  Don’t be afraid to enter those spaces again, but, when you’re ready, begin to make new memories there.  Initiate creating community and new adventures.  Invite friends to meet for a picnic at a park where you used to go for walks with your loved one.  Start a new Christmas tradition, while infusing some of the precious traditions you shared with your loved one.    

4. Create your pile of stones.

In the Bible, God’s people often built or did something to cause them and their descendants to remember a specific act of God.  In the book of Joshua, chapter four, the people of Israel constructed a pile of twelve stones as a testimony of what God had done to bring His people into the promised land.

“And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” (Joshua 4:2-24, ESV)

There are a lot of ways to remember how God has helped you, provided for you, counselled you and shown his love for you.  You could make a physical object, like a pile of stones, or a painting or sculpture.  You could take a picture of a place, person or event, frame it and place it somewhere in your house where you would take notice of it frequently. The bathroom?  The kitchen near the sink? On your bedside table?  Choose what works for you.  Another way of remembering is through words – journaling or writing a poem or even a book.  Ask the Lord how to show you how to commemorate your loved one or place.

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This list has no time limit and there is no one method for accomplishing each of these steps.  They do not need to be done in chronological order and may even be done simultaneously.   

I suggest that you invite a friend to journey with you in the process.  Find someone who can listen well and love you as you share about your loss(es).  You may find it helpful for them to keep you accountable for some aspect of your journey.  Try journaling as a way to process each step.  I find writing a cathartic experience and I appreciate looking back and seeing how I’ve grown and what I’ve learned along the way.  Maybe you will too.

But most of all, know that you’re not alone in missing someone who is no longer in your life.  You have good company with people who are also grieving various losses.

We may be homesick, and that’s okay.  May it not end there.  Let us look to the future, into Christ’s face.  

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:16, ESV

Unassuming Rebels

 

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Photo credit: @fotografie_thomaswilken

In my mom’s backyard garden, there was always a persistent patch of Forget-Me-Nots.  Those tiny blue buds were a happy sight each spring, bursting forth with jubilation and triumph over their successfully large plot in a non-garden area in the yard.  They were planted, with good intentions, in the middle of a grassy spot and they did their thing – they spread.

 Every spring after my dad died, my mom would dig up a fistful of Forget-Me-Nots, roots and all, and would take them to the cemetery where my dad’s ashes had been placed in a columbarium.  There was a small, orderly garden plot directly across from the plaque behind which my dad’s urn sat and my Mom would faithfully replant those Forget-Me-Nots in new soil.

The cemetery had strict guidelines for items placed at graves, in front of columbariums and in the garden plots scattered around the grounds.  They were firm that you were not allowed to plant anything yourself but you could pay the cemetery to plant trees in memory of your loved one.  We did that one year with a black walnut tree – much like the ones in the yard where my dad grew up on his farm, outside of Wallaceburg – and they stationed a small plaque at its base identifying that it was my dad’s tree.

While the tree and the plaque were nice, there was something to be gained that was satisfying for the soul through the act of replanting these flowers. My Mom would defiantly plant those Forget-Me-Nots each year, without fail.

Yesterday, was the anniversary of my dad’s death.  Twenty-one years have passed and my mom, after her own Cancer diagnosis, joined him in heaven last September.

I may not be in Canada this spring, but when I’m there in the future, I hope to continue not only the small rebellion of planting Forget-Me-Nots, but also little acts of love that will help me remember and honour my parents.  They were quiet protesters in their own right, advocating for the voiceless, the poor, the sick and the oppressed.  Their names may never enter history books, but they left a legacy of kindness and love and of sacrificial giving of themselves.

Those tiny blue blossoms.  No matter how hard the winter, they are resilient, persistent, and multiply joy.  May we weather storms of life in an equal manner.

Keeping Your Eyes Open

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Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

Ever since that snake incident many years ago, when I was out for a walk outside of my village in Mae Hong Son, I’ve tried to be very aware of my surroundings.  As a deep thinker, I easily get absorbed in my thoughts and I’m not as aware of what’s around me as I should be.  My husband jokes that I am not a keen observer, which I vehemently deny, of course!  But, all joking aside, I have made a point of watching where I’m walking (I can’t tell you how many trails of biting ants have I accidentally walked through!), what may have come up through the drain in the shower in the bathroom (that story’s for another day) and keeping my eyes open for whatever else may be around.

It’s easy to fall into a navel-gazing perspective when you experience hardship, no matter your context.  Whether it’s visa challenges, discoveries of ant nests in your washing machine, interpersonal problems at work or with your neighbours, or sickness in your family – even terminal sickness – there’s value in keeping your eyes open for a shift in perspective.  Is Satan out to discourage you?  Maybe.  Is it your own sin that contributed to the trial?  Possibly.  Is the Lord at work in all circumstances?  Most definitely.

Keeping your eyes open means being aware of what is going on around you physically, but also spiritually.  It means to take notice of circumstances the Lord allows you to experience, and to rely on Him to help you persevere.  It means to trust that there’s a bigger narrative at play than what is simply in front of you.

In 2 Kings 6:8-19, Elisha and his servant found themselves surrounded in Dothan by horses, chariots and a great army from Syria.  This took place as a result of the King of Syria having learned that Elisha, the prophet in Israel, was informing the King of Israel of classified intel – “the words that you speak in your bedroom” (verse 12, ESV).

What is significant in this passage is that there are several narratives going on simultaneously.  We read of what is typically seen to man’s eye (the servant’s perspective) but we also get a glimpse of something else.  Someone else’s narrative.  God’s narrative.

Elisha could peer into that narrative and knew God’s army was there to fight for them and protect them (verses 16 and 17).  It wasn’t until Elisha prayed and asked God to show the servant what was really there that the servant could see this spiritual army.  But, it had been there all along.

What narrative am I listening to regularly?  Do I ask God to show me, tell me, reveal to me His narrative?  Do I really and truly believe that there is another narrative?

Keeping my eyes open means to not just be aware of my surroundings – what I may step on or into – but to believe wholeheartedly that the Lord is not only present but that He is defending me in ways that I will never be able to fully comprehend.  It means faith in the midst of darkness, hope in the midst of confusion, and joy in the midst of suffering.

What do you need to believe about the Lord’s presence in your life?  Which narrative do you need to put aside so you can take up God’s?

Day 4: Hope #write31days

“I remember after my Dad died,” I told a friend at the Mom’s Bible Fellowship this morning, “that the depression was so bad and it was so hard.  And I’m afraid of that happening again…”

I went on to tell her that I wanted my people back in Thailand to know that we will need support for the days ahead, and I can’t go back without that in place.  When we live in a small village, with few close friends nearby, I barely can think about going back.  But yet I know we have to go back.  And get on with life and live the life we feel called to live there.  And I know Mom would’ve wanted that. But it’s still hard to go back. And I desperately hope that my grief journey is different this time round.

I want to permit myself to feel what I need to feel as I grieve, but I really want to keep the perspective that I KNOW, without any doubt, that my Mom is in heaven rejoicing, is fully healed and is with Jesus for eternity.

Five Minute Friday: Accept

There’s a book that a friend photocopied and gave to us that attempts to explain eternity to a child.  It’s about a baby who begins in her mother’s womb, and also an old man who is sick.  They are both in the hospital and they are both expecting a major life change.

There is one page that my four year old kept wanting to return to last night as I read her the story again.  It was the one with two pictures: a doctor with waiting hands on the left, and a figure, like Jesus, on the right, standing there with open arms.  She kept saying it out loud, “It’s Jesus, Mommy!” Just like Grandma had experienced.

She was so happy to know that this was the welcoming committee for her Grandma’s home-coming.

Kateful 2.0 – Spicy?

Last night we had green curry with chicken (and mushrooms instead of eggplant because that’s what was in our fridge). We added extra coconut milk to dilute the spice so Kate could eat it too. She is a big fan of green curry. 

But last night I wasn’t sure if I had diluted it enough and so I kept asking Kate, “Is it spicy?” She would pause slightly from shoving the food in her mouth and shake her head and say, “No.” Then she started asking herself, “Spicy?” “No,” she’d answer in response. Every few mouthfuls, “Spicy? No.”

old windows and reflections

77. Time with new and still newish friends over food and laughter.
78. Time to remember the past with gratefulness to God.
79. A full heart.
80. Loving arms to be enfolded within.
81. The miracle of life.
82. Our first year of blessed marriage.
83. Our covenant of marriage – first with God and then with each other.

84. Fun projects to do together.
85. Exploring new areas together.

86. Old windows.
87. Metal twisted pretty.
88. Faded paint.
89. Wood with a face of a happy and long-lived life.
79. Reflections of sky and tree lines.
80. Popping in to visit friends just on a whim.
81. Provisions that bless.
82. Sweet baby smiles being big brothers’ favourite thing of their new sister.
83. Excitement of new bugs and their unexpected movements.

84. Boys running, jumping, leaping up, down and everywhere they can find space.
85. Discovering new community.
86. Palates overwhelmed with scrumptious anniversary food.
87. Spontaneous dance parties in our living room with just us.
88. A saved treat shared at last on a fitting occasion.
89. Friends and mentors who have spent time with us and encouraged us in how to grow.

creation rejoices with a new season – One Thousand Gifts

I don’t know their story and why they soar and dip and dance around the waiting vehicles but these birds come and play games and cause wonder to me sitting there in my truck with the engine idling.

Praise the LORD from the earth,
        you great sea creatures and all deeps,
     fire and hail, snow and mist,
        stormy wind fulfilling his word!

    Mountains and all hills,
        fruit trees and all cedars!
     Beasts and all livestock,
        creeping things and flying birds!
 (Psalm 148:7-10 ESV)

New buds have burst forth in the weeks I’ve been at home sick in bed and everywhere around me (except the sky on smokey days) the world has become a colourful pop-out book where blossoms can’t help but jump out and call you to admire their beauty.  Bright yellows in the trees, orange, red, pink and purple bougainvillea everywhere I look.  Even in the unmowed grass on my small front lawn pale purple flowers spread their petals broadly and announce their arrival.  It’s a new world on a new day.

This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

6. Birds swooping and diving in delight with an audience stopped at a traffic light.
7. Vibrant, new colours popping out from trees and bushes lining busy streets and highways.
8. Unexpected and joy-filled encounters.
9. Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting eaten with Dear Dear.