It was the kindest question anyone had ever asked me.
Our family had only been in Australia for a few months, and I had invited a new friend and her kids over to swim. We were sitting poolside, the Australian sun blazing from a cloudless blue sky. Massive cockatoos perched on the fence, and just the right amount of breeze filtered through the patio as our children laughed and played in the water.
If someone had taken a picture and posted it on Instagram, I’m sure there would have been numerous, “I’m jealous!” comments, because really, it looked like paradise. It kind of was.
She turned to me, eyes kind.
“Who do you miss?”
The tears came.
Somehow, she knew. Yes, we lived in a beautiful place. Yes, most people would give their right arm to be able to visit, let alone live in a place so stunning. Yes, we had been welcomed and were making new friends, and yes, God had provided for us in amazing ways. But the grief still stood on my chest, and she sensed it. With one simple question cradled in gentleness and care, she gave me permission to talk about my past life—to grieve, all while surrounded by incredible Australian beauty. She gave me permission to live in the both/and: beauty and grief; joy and sadness.
I now find myself in a similar situation. There is so much I have to be thankful for…things like lazy Saturdays spent with family that lives just down the road. Cousins who can now actually know each other. A house that’s been provided for us. Snow—even if only for a few minutes. The anticipation of grandparents attending birthday parties. Chick-Fil-A on demand. Being able to call my sister in the middle of the day and lament the impending loss of our beloved Jack Pearson, because we’re finally in the same time zone. The launch of a book, radio interviews, podcasts with fascinating people across the continent.
I’m grateful. I am. But if you were to turn to me and say, “Who do you miss?”, the tears would quickly come. And then I would tell you.
I miss my friend Bek. She’s one of the wisest people I know. I miss eating cookies (sorry, Bek–biscuits) and drinking tea in her garden while we solved the world’s problems…or tried to.
I miss Jenny, Alissa, and Joni. We laughed in my basement every Monday night, and usually at least one person cried. We encouraged each other to stay in the fight for faith and holiness, and we also watched Taylor Swift videos and critiqued her “dark era.” We even wrote a rap song together one fateful night. It was mostly about Jesus, but also about cross stitching. It’s complicated.
I miss Sally. She was the calm to my crazy. I miss being able to swing by her house for a cup of tea while the kids played. I miss the way she helped me think through things from another perspective, and how she loved me in our differences.
I miss running each week with Karen. I miss hashing through the previous week’s dramas and then pausing our stories until we reached the top of the hill, because we knew we wouldn’t be able to breathe and laugh at the same time.
I miss Catherine. I miss her beautiful tea pots and hilarious stories and how she knew just how to make me feel special. I miss our soul-baring chats. I miss the safe place she was for my ugly.
I miss Petrea, Erin, Liz, and the Sarahs. I miss telling stories together around our dining room table, and Brian always taking it a little too far…
There are more that I miss—too many to name them all here.
If you and I had this conversation, I would cry through my reminiscing—mostly because of my grief and longing, but also because of your kindness in asking. I would be so grateful to again be given permission to live in the both/and. I would be relieved to be able to say, “I’m grateful. I am. There’s beauty all around me. And I’m also hurting.”
I have a book launch party to go to tonight, and it’s going to be fabulous. My co-author Julie and I will celebrate the release of a book we really weren’t sure would ever get written. We’ll celebrate with people we love. And in the midst of the festivities, I’ll wish my Australian friends were there. It will hurt that they’re not.
We’re all living in the both/and of joy and grief…not just me, not just missionaries recently returned “home,” but stay-at-home moms and working singles; empty nesters and everything in between. Perhaps we could give each other permission to own that. Perhaps we could gently say, “Yes, there’s much to be thankful for. God is good. And also, who do you miss? Are you hurting today?”
You might be surprised at how quickly the tears come.