In some circles my story is really not that unique. In 2019, two days before Christmas, my family boarded an airplane to take a family vacation. Before we made it back to the city where we had lived for almost 11 years, a global pandemic struck. We didn’t realize that our carefully planned family vacation, holding the promise of much needed rest, would be the end of a chapter of our lives.
Inside these circles, our stories are all very similar. We ask each other the same questions. “How many suitcases did you bring?” “How are you going to get your birth certificates back?” “When does your rent run out?” “Are you going to turn off your electricity?” “What are you going to do for homeschooling?”
Outside these circles, my story is absolutely crazy. And the questions are different. “How can a family of five live in such uncertainty?” “Don’t you have an entire house still inside the country?” “Haven’t you been wearing that shirt each time I’ve seen you online for the last three months?” “What about school for your kids?” Actually, that last question is still the same.
Like a lot of expats, we’d been living in a world of increasing turmoil. A global pandemic was only an unfolding part of political tension around us, threatening to take away the life we had built for our family—a life we didn’t feel ready to leave. Prior to COVID-19 we knew the choice to stay or leave wasn’t in our hands, but did a pandemic really have to be the final decision maker?
Over the months as we watched COVID-19 spread to the entire world, the internal tension continued to grow. We couldn’t continue living with our hearts looking back, longing for our time to end differently than it was ending. And yet with the world living in such uncertainty because of COVID-19, how could we move on? I want to embrace looking back and wishing for a different end, but the only choice is to embrace the tension of leaving a life behind and moving ahead.
COVID-19 pushed my family into the tension of transition. A tension we had tried to avoid. The tension of remembering what was, but not yet being able to see what will come. The tension of not doubting God’s goodness, but meanwhile also being gut level honest about the ache of the situation. The tension of being with others in the middle of a transition. The tension of knowing God’s provision in some areas while watching his seeming lack of provision in those same areas for others in our circle.
We could not have foreseen what was to come as we boarded that plane, but God knew. We didn’t pack and take with us the things we wish we would have taken, but inside our hearts God had done works of love and transformation that could not be taken away. We didn’t bring our stuff with us, but we brought all that God had done in us and through us during our years in our visa country.
We didn’t pack our suitcases to live as nomads during a pandemic and even if we had, packing our physical suitcases with the stuff of this earth is not our goal. The place I’m truly packing for, packing all the unseen, all the hidden works done for Christ and His glory, is a place I’ve never been. I miss my stuff that’s still in my visa country, but I didn’t leave behind anything eternal. I brought it all with me; it’s being packed and even sent ahead to my final, eternal destination, and it can never be lost or taken away.
And so even though it aches, we will walk on.
From my perspective it feels left undone. But God has another perspective. We feel like we can only take so much, but we will walk on, knowing that God goes both before us and behind us. We can leave it behind and walk into this next season, embracing the tension of a bad ending with the full confidence that God is building up an eternal story with a beautiful ending.
What are ways that God is asking you to walk on in the new year in the tension that 2020 has created?
Are there places where your heart is breaking as you have to leave behind people, places, or maybe a season of life that you loved? What are the works of Christ, either in your heart or the hearts of those you have loved and lived life with, that can be celebrated?
These thoughts are inspired by the song “Walk On” by U2. Album: All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Copyright 2001.