Have you ever visited a ghost town? The abandoned buildings and discarded pieces of a life in the past. The strange quiet in a place that used to be bustling and filled with life. There are moments nowadays where I feel like I’m living in a ghost town; except I’m not visiting an unknown place of fascination. I’m living in a place swarming with memories as I walk the empty halls of uninhabited houses, picking up the abandoned pieces of a life lived before.
The laughter and love that used to fill these homes and ring down the hallways echo only in my mind now. The cobwebs that gather in the corners, the overgrown and unattended gardens, the curtains blowing in the windows that fool your mind that someone is still there. Even driving by the homes of those who will one day come back to live there pulls at your heart; some sooner rather than later but for now the houses sit as empty reminders.
A reminder of what was, what you had and what you lost when they left. The security, wisdom, guidance, love, examples, friendship, support, accountability, laughter, routine and family. I can no longer ask parenting advice from a calm and steady woman who I admired so much and looked up to like an older sister. I wont get to look out my window and just know its 5 o’clock because another family just walked by to go for their nightly walk or they are around for guideance. I can no longer enjoy the calming and reassuring presence of another friend who is one of my heroes. I no longer get to daily discuss life with and listen to another amazing woman who refreshed my soul and honored me with transparency. I don’t get to just sit across from a couple who I trust with the life of my son and know that its going to be alright as they examine him and share their struggles of life here with me.
The life that was lost to those who left was not just lost to them, it was lost to those who remain as well. Those of us who remain dont have the joy of seeing family and friends, moving on to a new chapter in a life that is so different to temper the grief and the loss we feel. We are simply left over and over again as each family waves goodbye and looks ahead to their destination. There are tears all around, promises to write and even some promises to return but there is a significant difference between the pain of leaving and the pain of being left. I have experienced both and the goodbye while remaining hurts the most.
The goodbyes in a missionary’s life are different. Saying goodbye to your family and friends when you move a continent away while knowing you wont see them again for a couple of years, if ever again, is in a completely different realm than the “goodbye, I’ll see you tomorrow and call me if you need me to come over.” I can’t just get in my car or hop an hour flight over to see them again. If there is an emergency I wont be there to help and support. If a life event like a funeral or wedding is happening there’s a good chance I might not be able to make it. I don’t get to grieve and rejoice over these things like I would if I were there. It is a reality. Goodbyes are a huge part of a missionary’s life; and I would also say they are the hardest part.
Is this a pity party? No. It’s an insight into probably the hardest part of missions – a part that isn’t openly talked about enough. The part that changes you and makes you question each time “Are the sacrifices worth it? Did we make the right choice? How can God call me to this? How do I get through this again? What will life be like now?” Sometimes there are answers, sometimes there are not. It’s the part of this life that you either walk through and process while grieving or it’s the part that makes you shut off your emotions, close your heart to survive because you can’t deal with it anymore. It’s the part of missions that isn’t talked about with the recruits because they just might change their mind if they knew . . .
We have entered a new season in our lives here; a lonely and difficult one. A painful one. Every journey has its ups and downs and this is a season of “down.” Living in a ghost town will hopefully be a short season. New families will fill the empty houses and with them hopefully some new friendships will form. Our friends from before cannot be replaced and life will never be the same but we will find a new normal here now. Even if that new normal for the moment means living in a ghost town. An empty, too quiet ghost town.