My maternal grandparents were very courageous people. They prayed for something most people wouldn’t dream of asking for. They prayed that all four of their children would become missionaries. And guess what? They all did. One to Zambia, one to Guatemala, one to Japan, and one to Papua New Guinea. As a kid, I thought this was normal. I thought it was normal to go five years without seeing your grandparents, to barely know your cousins.
In December of 1977, I arrived early at my grandparents’ mobile home in Florida in advance of a family reunion. The morning after my arrival, I sat with them at the breakfast table and watched tears stream down my grandmother’s face as she talked about the joy of having the whole family together for the first time in 15 years. Until that moment, I don’t think it had occurred to immature little me what a sacrifice my grandparents had made in encouraging their children to go out to the ends of the earth to serve the Lord.
My prayer for my own children has been less specific—just that they would find what God wants them to do and then do it with all their heart, no matter where in the world it might be. I have tried to raise them with the notion that there is a big, wonderful world out there, and anywhere in that world can be a possible place of service for them. Unlike some of my friends, I have not begged or demanded that my kids stay close by once they leave home. This does not mean I don’t delight in their company, because of course I do—it just means I wouldn’t dream of standing in their way or making them feel guilty if God is calling them somewhere else.
I might also have forced them to take my geography class, which generally has the effect of making my students want to visit every single country in the world. And it doesn’t help that I regale them with stories of my own youthful travels and how much I enjoyed them. (My kids are very envious of all the traveling I got to do when I was young.)
So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that my kids are adventurous. I raised them that way on purpose. I actually put effort into teaching them to boldly go forth and experience new places and cultures.
When you teach your kids that the whole world awaits them the moment they step outside the sheltering walls of their childhood home, you can’t be surprised or dismayed when they take flight; when they soar on wings of love toward distant shores, hoping and believing they can make a difference there.
Still, it’s not easy when the day comes, even if you knew all along it was coming. As of today, my offspring will be in three states and on three continents. We have three still here in Texas, Mary and Jordan in Tennessee, and Flynn in Colorado. Lina, of course, has been in Africa for the last seven and a half years—and now Mercy is on her way to St. Petersburg, Russia, where she will be living and working for the coming school year. We had our last phone conversation yesterday. I am so happy and excited for her.
At the same time, there is a new ache in my heart. For the first time ever, she won’t be with us for Christmas. She can’t show up and surprise us with a random visit. She is there, and we are here, and it seems likely to be the new normal from here on out. I am so proud of her.