Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Living in the Twilight Zone (or knowing the day of your death)

“Another photo?! Come on!” some friends teased one of my overseas colleagues as we sipped cider and laughed in their US apartment living room. “I mean, why do you constantly take so many pictures?!”

He grinned, then shook his head. “Because,” he said softly, “it’s all I can bring back with me.”

If raising support before you go to the mission field is like purgatory, then coming back to your home country for home assignment is like living in the Twilight Zone, knowing the day of your death.

Camp counselors and youth group leaders love the question, “If you knew you’d die tomorrow, what would you change about living your life today?” I had always hoped my answer would be “nothing”—I wanted to live in a way that believed the mundane was important and who saw the holy in the daily and who was willing to spend her last hours washing dishes if that’s what God asked her to do.

But, of course the question was always hypothetical and then, after a few moments of uncomfortable introspection, the kids would jump up for a game of volleyball or four-on-a-couch. No one actually expected to follow through.

Except now, my entire life is demarcated by departure times on plane tickets.

The second night that I spent back with my family in the US after years away in Papua New Guinea, I remember huddling on my bed-that-wasn’t-my-bed and trying to stop the tears from pouring down my face as I realized that I was now one day closer to leaving again.

One day less before I died...or they died. Again.

And, then we return to our field and live until it's time to leave and so we grieve...and arrive back in our home countries....again. And again.

image courtesy of Google
And so we live as if we are dying—not avoiding the mundane (laundry happens whether you like it or not) and yet trying everything, attempting  to redeem every minute, pouring out and filling up and cramming it all in, reveling in the moment, and drinking life like concentrated grape juice. We live knowing when it will end, but the rest of the world continues merrily on, oblivious, and so we take more photos and try to memorize the laughter lines on their faces and hear about their dreams for the next couple of years, and somehow try to make this holiday, this experience precious, because we know that what we absorb now must hold for the those years when we only have blurry skype images and typed emails to form them into people—those years when second, third and fourth babies are born and children become college students and nursing home friends move into eternity and I slide further and further from the world I knew.

And then, time runs out, I make that trip to the airport, and we grieve this new death, where, in the midst of sorrow I rejoice in new life: starting the process over again as I return with delight and wonder to my other spectacular home in Papua New Guinea....

where I then live until the next death.

where I then live through the next death

rejoicing that my Savior, who for thirty-three years ate with friends and drank with sinners and hammered nails with His father and knew, always knew He was walking that long and lonely path that would ultimately deliver Him to a cross and plunge Him into the most horrific separation and loss that could ever exist

and pass through it, victorious.

"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"

And so, with death in sight, I choose to live in the knowledge that is hope—that such sorrow is temporary, that such loss is brief, and that one day I will be met at the gates of eternity by my Savior, and He will wipe away those tears and whisper, “welcome home.”