By Curtis K. Shelburne: Religion columnist
I have no business writing this column right now. First, it’s due right now. Columns I write “under the gun” tend to look that way. Second, I’m too tired, sleep-deprived, and emotional to write rationally. But …
We left No. 3 son Stephan at the airport this morning to head back to Uganda, East Africa, where he’s been doing mission work since 2004. He was home for fundraising and furlough, and home for the holidays, which was a real blessing.
My wife and I have done this before — watch sons walk down toward the gate at the airport to head halfway around the world. Each time we’ve been awed by the Lord and his people who have made this work possible. We are utterly amazed at the doors God has opened.
But watching the young man or men walking toward the plane never gets much easier.
Oh, some of the physical preparations do. Practice helps. Packing is an art. It’s also work. And the airlines, along with the bureaucracies who give us the illusion of security, can’t make up their minds about luggage contents, weights, etc. But my master packer wife knows the drill and experience helps.
And, yes, it’s easier sending a son (or daughter) off when you know it’s not his first rodeo.
But the operative words that don’t change no matter how often you do it are: “sending a son (or daughter) off.”
And, yes, I know I’m a wimp. Knowing it doesn’t help.
I know my parents sent my oldest brother and his family off to Malawi, Africa, a number of times spanning more than 20 years during a time when the communication we enjoy across continents today wasn’t even dreamed of, and when life in Africa was even more primitive than today.
Most missionaries are now able to come home somewhat more often than in the old days. And the Mbale team has encouraged their team members who are single to come home more often than the families. Yes, in many ways, the world is much smaller than it once was.
But we’re thrust again into that now-familiar stage where I head home and see the vehicle he’s been driving, the winter coat he left behind (it’s pretty much useless in Uganda), and a jillion other reminders that he was just here and isn’t now. And I get a lump in my throat.
Some separations are infinitely worse. My heart breaks for parents who’ve had to go home and see such reminders and know their kids weren’t coming back. Not in this life.
I also think of parents sending kids to Iraq or other such places. Africa’s not safe. (Neither is the U.S, by the way.) But I’d pick Africa over Iraq or Afghanistan. Usually.
Bottom line? God loves our kids even more than we do. No matter how we feel, we have a Father who always cares. No matter how serious the separation. Miles traveled apart. Worse, hearts walled apart. Or even hearts separated because one no longer beats in this life.
In Christ, no separation is permanent. In that, we should, we do, find great hope and deep comfort.