I was one of the lucky ones, one of those who had parents who prayed for me and always prayed the will of God over me. When I left in 2010, my dad ‘knew.’ He knew it wasn’t going to be a temporary thing. But my mom, as supportive as she was, could not reconcile this news to the promise she felt God had made her.
My sister and I were raised far from family. Our grandparents and aunts and uncles were always a full day’s drive away. There were always people in our congregations who loved us as if we were theirs, but there was always an acute sense of other-ness when I saw other kids live in close proximity to extended family. It was never in the cards for us.
From when we were young, my mom’s bargain with God was that she would bear being far from family support if we could stay close. That was all she asked – that my sister and I would raise our families near her. So when I called her and told her I was planning to apply to be long-term, this was a direct hit to what she had trusted God for.
A few months after that phone call, my parents came to visit Paris for the first time. As we sat and talked about what career missions might look like for me, my mom, who had always been my biggest cheerleader, was reminding me of every potential obstacle. She counted off the hurdles to this life, the challenges of it, the awkwardness of asking for financial support. I was almost sure I was supposed to do this, but was finding my worst fears and hesitations confirmed.
She loved Paris. It was her first time to Europe and my mom was never one to play cool when she was excited about something. She wandered around the Notre Dame like a kid in a candy shop – sitting on the dark pew with tears streaming down her face, taking photo after photo, visiting the gift shop. (“Mom,” I said. “We don’t buy things in cathedrals. This is heresy.” “Be quiet and let me buy a nativity,” she said.) I took them to the Sacre Coeur, my favorite cathedral. I caught her lighting a candle (“Mom,” I said. “We are Pentecostal, we don’t light candles.” “Be quiet and leave me alone,” she said.) She sat there too, the tears streaming. She sat for a long time. I watched her from behind the seating area, letting her take time to drink it in, to pray in this gorgeous place.
After the Sacre Coeur, things were different. She never spoke again about what the challenges might be – from that point on, she was all confidence that I could do this, that I was made for it.
After they left, I received an email from her, composed in the darkness of the morning, amidst their jetlag. She confessed to me that from the phone call on, she had begged God to bring me home. In the Notre Dame, she had begged God again to bring me home. In the Sacre Coeur, as she lit that candle, she steeled herself to pray it one more time. But out of her mouth instead came Psalm 40:8 – “I desire to do your will, O God. Your law is within my heart.”
I was surprised to find that God didn’t just have to move on my heart for this calling – he had to move on the hearts of my parents as well. My dad got ‘notice’ from God when I was a child that this would be our reality. My mom heard from Him in a cathedral on a hilltop. But He called them just like He called me. He didn’t leave them without a word, without a promise. It’s easy to pray God’s will over your kids, but when that involves sobbing goodbyes and powerlessness to come at the first sign of heartache – it takes more than a simple prayer. It takes calling. It takes surrender and faith and radical obedience.
This life requires faith from so many. Not just those who sign the paper and buy the tickets – but from their parents, their children, their grandparents, their best friends. All of those who stand at the airport security check for too long, craning for the very last glimpse. All of those who are on the receiving end of text messages during the layover – “Am I making a mistake? Can we really do this?” All of those who desperately want to ask us to stay, but who instead offer us with an open hand to those to whom we are called.
God is faithful to speak to those who need to hear from Him. I am thankful He remembers those we are leaving behind, He speaks to them, He reminds them that He goes before us who are leaving, but He also holds those who are faithful in staying.
What were the reactions of your family members when you told them you were leaving? How has God spoken to those you ‘left behind’ who love you?
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