Looking back over our time here so far, and even further back to the months we spent preparing ourselves for being here, I’ve always taken a certain measure of pride in how well I handled the transitions and managed any homesickness that came up. Granted the Lord was very gracious throughout the process of preparing, and He allowed that the physical distance between us and our families grew in stages (just a few cities over, then a few states, then the other side of the country, then the other side of the world), but I still saw myself as impervious to the pull of America when such a beautiful adventure lay before us. Though I missed my family, I never second guessed our choices that had brought us to PNG.
Until this month.
We’d known Papa had cancer, but he’d had it for 7 years and had always bounced back from it with a wink and a pun. My last conversation with him, he told me that he wouldn’t be seeing me again this side of heaven, and that we shouldn’t come home when his time came. I brushed it off nonchalantly and tried to steer the conversation toward less morbid waters. It never sunk in that he spoke the truth, and that he was, in a way, sharing the most final of goodbyes that believers can have. As the months passed here and our days filled to the brim with every sort of preparation for life in a tribe that I could have asked for, it never occurred to me that I might not see him again in person. After our initial training at the coast, we moved to the highlands for a week for medical training, and we got a message from home that his cancer wasn’t looking too good. Even then, as we prepared to spend the next five weeks in the Kumon tribe, I assumed that the outcome would once again result in remission.
Our time in Kumon flew past, with very full days and very limited contact with the outside world, owing to having next to no internet signal. We did get the occasional text update, and with each one, the messages got grimmer and grimmer. We came out of Kumon at the end of August to settle at the center for the highlands province indefinitely as we explore potential partnerships and places to minister. At this point I was finally able to video message my family, and could see for myself the toll the disease had taken on my grandpa; for the first time, severe homesickness washed over me in waves. What had occasionally nudged me into a day of moodiness suddenly thrust me into day after day of increasing heartache to the point where I could barely breathe. My carefully constructed walls were being battered beyond repair and I finally reached out for prayer and consolation. I took a day off of language learning and responsibilities (not that I was doing a great job at concentrating anyways), and took some greatly needed time to grieve, not only for the looming loss of my Grandfather, but for all of the occasions when my family back home would have each other to lean on and bond with, and they would do so without me.
That day brought such peace. I was reminded by those who cared about me that it was ok to take time to grieve, and to let that sadness out. I was reminded that the Lord knew my pain, and far from ignoring it, He was mourning with me and was waiting to shoulder my burden if I could humble myself to release it to Him. He reminded me of something we were told early on after arriving here: after all He had done to bring us here, He had not changed His mind just because I was going through a rough time. He was there when we were working so hard to get here, He is here with us now, and He will be here the next time heartache strikes us where we’re vulnerable. We never have to be alone in our sorrow.
Since that day, although there have been pangs of sadness and the occasional tear, joy has slowly begun to creep in as our focus has shifted from our loss to Papa’s privilege, the fulfillment of his heart’s desire: seeing Jesus’ face; shifted to the anticipation of offering the same privilege to the people here in PNG; shifted to the promise that the same lies in store for us. One day, we will see with our own eyes the eternal weight of glory that will make all of this worth it, just as Papa can now.
Can’t wait to see you there, Papa. Save a wink for me.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. -2 Corinthians 4:17-18