Grief is an interesting thing. If you’ve ever heard a lesson or a sermon on grief, you’ve probably been told several common things. There are steps to grief (though the number of steps varies, depending on which psychologist you read). People can walk through the steps of grief in any order. Grief affects each person differently. Maybe you’ve never learned much about grief, but that’s the gist of several lessons that I’ve heard.

A good friend warned me when my dad died that, “People are dumb. They say stupid things.” It’s not that people are intentionally trying to be malicious or insensitive. Rather, they just don’t think carefully about their words or they have no experience from which to draw. They mean to say things that are comforting in a time of grief, but instead they send knife blows straight into the heart.

I expect that most of us associate grief with death, but the truth is, we grieve many things in our human experience. I currently have friends grieving the loss of an aged loved one, the loss of a child, and the loss of an unborn child. Yet I also have friends grieving the loss of a job, the loss of a dream, and the loss of a relationship. How many people in the US are grieving the loss of their home, daily routine, or livelihood to a tornado, flooding, or other catastrophe?

In this journey to seek that which God has for me, I’ve found myself teaching others along the way.  A lot of people don’t know a full-time missionary and have never been a part of the process of getting to the field. For instance, I’ve educated people about why I must raise my own support to be a missionary. It’s also been repeatedly necessary to help others understand why I can’t leave for the field in a matter of months: “Yes, I am still in the US.” “No, I haven’t been on my ‘trip’ yet.” “Why yes, it does take a long time to raise full support, sell everything I own, and move to another country forever.” I say these things slightly tongue-in-cheek, but I have been surprised at how often I get the opportunity to help others get a broader understanding of life on mission by sharing my experience with them. With that in mind, I’d like to share with you about the grief that I’m experiencing along this journey.

You may have read a previous blog post where I lamented the fact that I might be buying my last US box of dishwasher tabs. I have, in fact, dipped into the second box of dishwasher tabs that I bought that night, but it doesn’t really matter since that blog wasn’t really about dishwasher tabs. It was about all those things that I will no longer see and experience when I move to Peru. Dishwasher tabs is just the tip of the iceberg.

On the 29th of April I left a job I’d been working in for 7 years. I posted a picture of my empty cube on Facebook. The caption said, “Goodbye cube! Goodbye Hannover!” I’ll miss you!” No, I probably won’t miss the literal cube, even though I probably spent more of my waking hours in that cube than in my home in recent times. Rather, the picture was representative of a season of my life that I’d spent in Corporate America. It represented all the people I’d known there, the projects I’d worked on, the successes I’d had, and more. For weeks I’d been giving away my plants and holiday cube decorations, passing on important files to coworkers, shredding old expense reports, saying goodbyes, and otherwise wrapping up a very important and meaningful part of my life. It’s emotionally and physically draining, and there’s a grieving process associated with it.

A couple of weeks ago I got a picture message from my sister on my phone. She sends them to me often when the nieces do something cute or funny, or when one needs a vote on a prom dress choice. I love getting them, but it wasn’t a rare occurrence. I casually opened the message and, to my surprise, was staring at a picture of my 5-year old niece in her cap and gown for preschool graduation. I cried for at least half an hour that night as I realized that I would be in Colorado at school at the time of the graduation and that a time will come when I’ll see that sweet little face in a high school graduation gown and I will have missed it all! Sure, there’s Skype and it’s nothing like the early days of life in mission, but it doesn’t lessen the grief for opportunities lost. In seeking to follow God’s leading on my life, I simultaneously chose to miss many milestones in the lives of my family. Those memories and experiences that I won’t get to create with them are irreplaceable.

I should pause briefly to stave off the possibility that someone will say one of those aforementioned hurtful things that sometimes comes from lack of understanding. Expressing these losses to this audience does not in any way indicate that I have forgotten the reason that I am choosing to move to Peru. I am whole-heartedly committed to following God wherever He leads in this lifetime. And yes, it will be worth it, He will take care of me, He will care for my family in my absence, and the journey of following Him is filled with great rewards. I fully believe and affirm those things and that’s why I am still moving forward! Yet, I still have to grieve for a host of things that are lost in the process. Yes, these losses are a result of my choice and action, but I feel the loss, present or future, nonetheless.

I grieve the loss of a good, enjoyable job in Corporate America.
I grieve the loss of opportunities to celebrate significant milestones with my family.
I grieve the loss of future holiday celebrations with family.
I grieve the loss of the small, sweet daily moments with friends and family.
I grieve the loss of easy, in-person access to my friends and family.
I grieve the loss of a home that I have lived in for 8 years.
I grieve the loss of a car that I enjoy driving.
I grieve the loss of safety and security.
I grieve the loss of the hope of a normal life!

Those are just the items that come readily to my mind and that I have already acknowledged. I’m sure I will discover more along this journey. There will undoubtedly be many joys and new opportunities along this journey too, but that does not address the hurt of the grief experience. It’s not advisable to say to someone who has lost a loved one, “He’s in a better place.” Why? Because that doesn’t address the very real, very intense pain that is currently being experienced. Your friend may be polite in response, but inside she’s probably yelling, “But I want him here with me now! You just don’t get it! If I hear that one more time…!!” The experience of grief never negates the truth of situation or changes the big picture. However, what a grieving person needs is understanding and love until they have dealt with the hurt and are ready to embrace the truth in order to move forward. Unfortunately there’s no rule for how long that might take.

The missionary life is a bit of an enigma to those who have never walked this path. I am happy to provide what insights I can to those who are willing to listen, though sometimes I still cannot express it all as well as I desire. There are parts of this journey that appear rather glamorous, but they are accompanied by some severe losses. Sure, I’m spending five weeks in Colorado for school right now, but I am missing my niece’s graduation. Yes, someone is cooking all my meals for me during school, but I am missing countless opportunities to eat meals with my friends and family. It’s true that I don’t have a job in the traditional sense right now, but a life seeped in transition provides ample amounts of stress. Part of me longs to have the seemingly mundane and repetitive life with a job in Corporate America because it would allow me the opportunity to sit with friends at the hospital who are praying for a child’s life, or to workout at the gym next to a friend who has lost a loved one, or to swing by my sister house to get a fistful of flowers from the backyard… but those moments are lost as I seek that which He has for me.