"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Hebrews 13:8
I am facing something in my life that has forced me to relive emotions I first remember experiencing the spring I turned fifteen. The spring of 1983 found our family preparing to go back to the Congo after twelve months of living in the United States. I had become deeply attached to so many people in my youth group. I thought the agony of leaving would literally tear my heart right out of my chest. Does anyone else over twenty years old remember how the highs were so high and the lows were so low during adolescence? The return to Congo meant a new school over four hundred miles away from home for my sister and me. With the exception of my seventh grade year at a mission school in northwestern Congo, I had never lived away from home. The thought of not having my parents' daily love and encouragement as I faced this new environment loomed over everything I did those last few months before we returned.
Every night I would journal the day's events in my diary, realizing the thoughts I penned would be all that I had left to remember everything I was leaving behind. The months before that spring afforded me the illusion that this perfect time in my life would never end. Now, as the day of our departure approached, bitter reality was setting in. I would consciously try to remember colors, expressions on faces, or the sound of my friend's laughter to live on in the lonely months of adjustment that I knew were ahead of me. It was as though I had to experience daily the agony of saying goodbye to a kindred spirit that had suddenly appeared for a brief moment, like at summer camp, and then was gone at the end of the week. As much as I tried to push away the voice in my head, it would shout to me, "You only have 3 months left, two months left, one month left, one week left...one day left..."
I would not trade my experience as a missionary kid for a billion dollars. It has made me who I am today. But I would have to say, hands-down, the worst part of living overseas was saying the continual goodbye. Every high school graduation in June was like a death. I still cannot hear the song, "Pomp and Circumstance," and not get a knot of dread in my stomach as I remember how many people have gone out of my life as those notes have played on in the background. I decided somewhere along the way that I needed to "toughen up", to learn to deny myself the raw emotion of pain that came with the loss of each beloved friend as he or she left my world. I tried to shut away my heart in order not to fully engage in those relationships in an effort to try to push those feelings away.
Somehow, I came to believe the lie that nothing and no one is forever in this life. I did a pretty good job of convincing myself that I could never count on anyone to be there continually. I convinced myself that to survive, I had to shut part of my heart away from the pain. I could not bear to live with the panic my heart felt each time someone I loved never came back. Without ever being conscious of what I was doing, I transferred that belief onto Christ . My finite human mind believed that He was just the same as anyone else, that He could leave and never come back. And so I did what I thought I had to...I did not fully give myself to Him, even though I desperately wanted to.
I am unable to express the relief that is mine in realizing how wrong I was in my perception of Him. Jesus came for me one cold day in Chicago. Since that day, I have realized that He never left me at any time in my life. I just did not have the eyes to see Him. He is God, infinite, all powerful, and eternal. He has never made me feel ashamed of not being able to see Him before that day. He has treated me like a favorite child, even though I withheld parts of my heart from Him for so long.
We are shaped by our experiences and the lacks we felt growing up. All the goodbyes in my life have made me feel a certain sense of rootlessness. My husband grew up in the same town and graduated with most of the same people with whom he started kindergarten. Although his parents have since moved out of state, Rob continues to identify himself with the small New York town he grew up in. I have envied the fact that he can return at any time, that the majority of his memories are with the same people in the same location. That is something I do not have. Even if I returned to the Congo, the city in which I lived out my high school years is one I would have trouble recognizing now.
The constancy of Christ is a truth that comforts my heart like almost nothing else can. It satisfies my deepest longing for permanence and belonging. My roots are firmly established in the One that will not change. No matter where I go or how many times I have to say goodbye, He will always be with me. I cannot say the same for any other human being. Thank you, Jesus, that You are the same today as You were yesterday. You will be the same in all the tomorrows to come.