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

Return to Thailand

We (the girls and I) arrived back in Thailand last night.  Those were some long flights with lots of crying (none from me this time, thank goodness!).  I am so glad to have that travel done with for now.  The Lord provided lots of help at just the right time.

The week and a half prior to flying back, my youngest was sick.  We had two visits to pediatric emergency and we’ve had lots of doses of medicine each day (including while we were flying, which proved tricky with considering multiple timezone changes).  
But I have fallen behind in my #write31days challenge.  So, here’s to jet lag and catching up on many things, including sleep (even though they say you can’t actually catch up on sleep).  Let’s hope this next season in life is filled with as much grace as ever and keeping our eyes on Him.  Let’s run with endurance this race marked out for us!

Mom Chronicles: Traveling Internationally with Very Young Children

Roughly one month ago, my friend and former roommate from my Sop Soi days, posed a question to her Facebook friends:

“…has anyone ever done the international flight with a lap baby? How did it work out? Doable or terrible? We’re talkin’ 20 months lap baby.”


I am certainly NOT an expert of all children, and I’m still becoming an expert with my own children, BUT I have flown internationally with my littles quite a lot since becoming a Mom a little over four years ago.  And when I say flying internationally, I’m not talking about between USA and Canada.  I’m not talking about a 4-5 hour flight.  I’m talking about approximately twenty hours of flying, not to mention the layovers.

So here’s what I wrote in response to my friend:

“Totally and completely doable. I flew with Jesse at 15,16 and 18 months old, as a lap baby (also with Kate when she was 12 months and 23.5 months), between Toronto and Chiangmai and here’s what I found worked better: choose a family friendly airline like Korean Air (they are absolutely amazing and worth saving your sanity), chose normal seats and not bulkhead (and not bassinet). There is a weight/height restriction for the bassinets and Kate had maxed those out by 12 months old. Also, you have to remove them from the bassinet every time there’s turbulence. Also, those bulkhead seats don’t allow you to have bags stored under the seat in front of you (only overhead bins).  

Bring lots of go-to snacks and fruit/veg or yogurt pouches.  Cheese sticks. Goldfish crackers, etc. 

For around 20 months old, my kids were/are interested in stickers (them peeling and placing on paper), Colour Wonder markers and colouring books, Melissa and Doug water paint books (where the books are reusable and colour shows up on page when wet and disappeared when dry), playing with buckles on Ergo carrier, using plane magazines to look for things on various pages (e.g. “Can you find a flower?Can you show me a dog?” Etc)  

Walk up and down the aisles (either in carrier or walking themselves).  

Don’t worry about your kid’s sleep schedule. Jet lag will throw everything off anyhow. Just do a routine like this: eat, play, walk, eat, magazine search, snack, sleep. Then repeat and vary it up. 😉 

Let your kid watch some movies, etc. My kids at that age didn’t care about hearing the sound, they were happy to just watch a bit here or there.  

Above all, DON’T let yourselves look at the time. It will only make the trip feel super long. 🙂 Just relax, keep your expectations low and know that it will always go better than you anticipated.”

Globetrotting to Spring

We arrived in Canada a little over two weeks ago.  As we rode in the airport shuttle van from Toronto to London, Tawee’s first comment was about how brown everything was.  And it was.  It was the “ugly winter” stage – but not as ugly as the dirty slush and brown grass winter phase that would normally describe much of Canada at this time of year.

We left the outskirts of the GTA and drove past farms and the countryside of the edge of SW Ontario.  Brown and bleak – but for me I felt my heart well up inside as visions of my Canada were a reality before our eyes.

On our second day back, we awoke at dawn and looked out the window to see a very light sprinkling of snow on the grass in the backyard.  Without hesitation, Tawee grabbed someone’s winter boots, and bolted out the back door to experience this “first” in his life.  It wasn’t until later on that morning that he went out again properly clothed.

First snow

 As our jet lag diminished over the weekend, the temperatures began to increase daily until we were regularly going for walks in – get this – t-shirts and shorts!  Talk about unexpected weather in March!  Record high temperatures were being set each day and we were not cold.  What a blessing!

Checking out what’s coming up in Mom’s garden
Hard at work in Mom’s garden

 On Saturday headed to California for 10 days – a week with The SOLD Project (with whom Tawee works) and then a few extra days in the LA area with Tawee’s friends from his time at Cal State Fullerton (where he did his research for his Masters work).  Rainy and colder weather saw us off at the Toronto airport and greeted us again at our first destination in San Francisco.  We were thoroughly spoiled by the warmer temperatures in Ontario.  I seriously didn’t pack warm enough clothes for California!  Who would’ve thought?!

While temperatures have been cold and more on the dismal side, our time here in California has been wonderful – staying with good friends and having opportunities for me to connect with friends I served with in Asia (who returned home to the Bay area), and also for Tawee to connect with The SOLD Project supporters and friends.

Wine and olive country – just outside of Livermore, California.
Chilly at our friend’s family’s ranch and “cowboy town.”
Time with former roomie, Lori, and her new husband, Gabe.

We’re grateful for how God provided for this trip and our time here.  Thank you for your prayers for us!

T minus 12 hours

In less than half a day, Dear Dear and I will be taking off from Chiang Mai on a plane bound for Seoul, Korea.  After a 3 hour layover (not too painful! and we’ve heard the airport in Seoul is great!), we’ll get on another plane heading to Toronto, Canada!  Oh excitement!!!

We have this afternoon to run some more errands (which hopefully won’t add anymore more weight to our bags!) and will get a ride to the airport from some friends in town later this evening.

Please pray for traveling mercies for us – for comfortable flights, no sickness, for Tawee as he goes through immigration in Canada and for our bags to show up with us in Toronto!

Canada… see you soon!