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Mourning My Losses: The Last Christmas

We contacted our travel agent this week to book our one-way flight to SE Asia.

One-way flight. What. Is. Happening.

We’ve been planning this phase of our lives for eight years. Before my husband and I were married or even said I love you, we were planning for this.

Please pardon me while I reminisce.

I remember a night in 2007 when Gavin and I were on a date. He pulled out a map of Southeast Asia and said, I want to show you something.

I remember 2008, when we met with some friends and dreamed about the future of working among the unreached in this part of the world.

I remember looking into the eyes of my groom in 2009, vowing to walk hand in hand with him as we followed God on this journey. I think there was a part of that vow where I promised to always be okay eating PB&Js when we were poor. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t said that.

I remember boarding a plane in 2010 to explore Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos. We had no travel plans, no hotels booked, and no vaccinations. The Lord guided our steps in unimaginable ways.

I remember quitting my first grad program in 2011. I felt like a failure. But when my husband asked what I really wanted to do, I surprised myself when I said, I want to work to develop the poor. And now I’ve completed the coursework for a doctorate in international studies doing just that. {By the grace of God, I might add.}

I remember when we visited our future home in 2012. We walked the streets and prayed over the city…the government building, the schools, the businesses, and the homes. We reached out to a family of Americans we didn’t know, and they invited us over for dinner. That family is now a part of our team and will be working to supply our visas.

I remember 2013, when we moved to work with a very special body of believers. They approached us and committed to fully support our work, financially and prayerfully. We never asked a single person for a dime of financial assistance. God is so gracious.

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It goes without saying that this journey has been led by the One we praise. It’s obvious that He has put all things into motion to bring us to this point. I’m so thankful for His providence!

And yet, I mourn.

There are things that I grieve because there are things that I’m losing.

I took this picture last week: My beautiful Christmas tree with my homemade ornaments and matching wrapping paper from Target.

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I cried as I put it up and I cry now thinking about taking it down. My Christmases in Asia will look nothing like My Christmases here.

I’ve never seen an evergreen in the tropical land where I’m moving. I’ll be lucky if the cheap wrapping paper there covers any boxes without ripping to pieces. Who knows if I will have room to pack my homemade ornaments in the few bags we are able to take with us.

And there are no Targets in Asia. That’s enough for anybody to weep over.

It seems so trivial, what with all the persecution and war and starvation and injustice in the world. I’m crying over my Christmas tree.

But loss is real. And anyone who has moved overseas has to have felt it.

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My husband and I went shopping yesterday to finish up some last-minute gift buying. I just realized this is another Target story.

I walked past the home décor aisles and had to physically turn my head the opposite direction. There were beautiful dishes and cushions and baskets and rugs. I wanted it all.

No, really. I wanted to buy it all and decorate a new big house and set up camp and live the American dream. What was all this for anyway??

This is Kingdom living, my husband reminded me. We aren’t called to have all these things.

Man, I love that man. He speaks truth into my life when I’m not strong enough to lean on it myself.

When we came home, I spent the evening researching the best option for moving our belongings to the other side of the planet. {I’m starting to think that digging a hole through the center of the Earth really could be a good idea.}

It just felt wrong. This whole Christmas just feels so wrong.

Usually, I am addressing Christmas cards and inviting people to our home. I’m making goodies and taking care of others.

This year, I’m opening Christmas cards and people are inviting us into their home. They’re giving us goodies and taking care of us.

I’m thankful for this last Christmas at ‘home’ for a while, whatever ‘home’ means anymore. I’m thankful for bowl games and egg nog and twinkling lights.

But inside I feel a part of me dying.

I think of our families graciously rearranging years of traditions in order to spend some final days with us. I think of my daughter who hasn’t even sat on Santa’s lap yet. And I want to climb into a flying sleigh and jump down the chimneys of everyone I love and say, Thank you & I’m sorry.

Instead, I sit here and write. I name my losses and I give myself time to grieve.

And my Redeemer reminds me yet again that I’m not alone.

If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. {Psalm 139:9-10}

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 How did you cope with missing special holidays overseas? What memories were the hardest to miss out on?

Comments

comments

Matt CookDecember 21, 2013 - 9:13 pm

This is a great post Lauren…I have actually found myself several times this month reminiscing on the things I miss about Christmas in Peru. They, of course, celebrated Christmas in Peru, even if it was much different than in the U.S. My guess is that Laos doesn’t sell Christmas trees in the market like they did in Peru.
You’ll miss things about Christmas in the U.S. (primarily being with family), but you’ll come to love the new traditions that you create and spending holidays with your teammates. As glad as I am to be spending Christmas with family here, I genuinely miss Christmas in Peru. It’s funny how we are looking at this from completely opposite points of view…you looking ahead and me looking back.
Thanks for your honesty and sharing!

Bethany McGillDecember 21, 2013 - 9:27 pm

It was hard for me when we found out I was pregnant and I thought my family would never meet my new baby (fact is this year I have seen them less living 3 hrs away in Tennessee than when we lived thousands of miles away in Shenzhen). Jeremy and I both lost a grandparent on each side we were close to and had to grieve by phone and it felt lonely not being able to be with family for those funerals. My brother’s wife had a miscarriage just to find out a couple days later it was bc she had leukemia.. It was TOUGH dealing with loss while we were so far from our loved ones that were hurting. The fear of losing loved ones was my biggest fear while in china. Milestones with Journey as a baby, and stupid as this sounds lack of delicious American food bc I was craving everything china did NOT have…luckily going to Hong Kong every few months helped the food situation.

BUT then when we had times with people in villages and Jeremy got to go back and take bibles to the men who carried him out if the jungle after his elephant attack, we remembered that our sacrifice of the other stuff was nothing. God was our GREAT COMFORTER in our tough times and through the culture shock times (where when I thought I was so well traveled and the pits Of Africa trips, to the dumps of Cambodia when I taught there for a summer, to living with the Lords people in Honduras temporarily working.. It didnt prepare me for living away long term when the culture shock really hit and I thought I was able to avoid it)

Jeremy and I were closest in our marriage when in China, compared to before. Way closer.
Holidays weren’t bad bc you have a whole other set to celebrate there. But I didn’t get the chance to miss thanksgiving and Christmas bc we came back earlier than planned to the states.
Skype was a big help. Well..When we had Internet access.

But by far, you already have the best cope for every trivial or hard thing that comes along. The ALMIGHTY and prayer! And you’re awesome husband and your sweet baby girl. And friends there. And if family sends a package that makes it through that always helps too!!

And know its ok to cry :) And it’s ok to get mad. Cause you laugh a lot and love more and Eliza is gonna have such awesome culture to learn from!

Joanna AshlockDecember 21, 2013 - 10:21 pm

Thank you for sharing those very real feelings. I didn’t feel so sad last year, our last Christmas in the states, probably because our move was such a whirlwind and our friends and family works very hard to make it so special. My sadness comes this year, our first Christmas away. Partly because China doesn’t celebrate Christmas and although you can find a plethora of decorations, it looks like you’ve been transported back to the neon tackiness of 1980. And I honestly don’t feel that homesick, but I feel a desperate need for normalcy. I want to walk into a store and be blown away by all the gift ideas. I want our income back so I can spend money on all those who won’t get much Christmas. And I want a regular oven so we can have monkey bread (our toaster oven is sufficient all year except Thanksgiving and Christmas!). I want two weeks off instead of the one day we get with a Saturday work day to make it up. Deep down I’m ok. I’m surrounded by great friends and a community of Americans who miss the same things I do, and together we make the best of what we have and laugh together. I just wasn’t quite prepared to give myself permission to focus on our family and get through this first Christmas. This may not be overly encouraging for you except to know you aren’t alone just as your post reminded me of the same thing.

Kim EdwardsDecember 21, 2013 - 11:23 pm

Lauren, your friends have all shared wonderful words of encouragement, so I will just add one short comment. When you have made the difficult choices, be it becoming a transracial family, or raising your children in a foreign land, there are losses that you must grieve over. But along with those losses will come immeasurable joy. “Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” You will add to your family memories. We have are Italian memories, and our Greek memories, and our Alabama memories, now. And we are able to see how God continues to bless us.

Rachel KyleDecember 22, 2013 - 3:17 am

Thank you for putting into words what so many of us have felt. I have been there and sometimes I find myself there unexpectedly. I have no words that will bring you instant peace. I do, however, welcome you to the world of perpetual homesickness. When you are in Asia, sometimes you will want to be in America. And sometimes when you are visiting and surrounded by friends and family in the States, you will desperately want that one thing that you can only get in Asia. It is hard moving and changing everything. The greatest help to me was to realize that the things that matter [people and relationships]…you don’t lose those. Everything that you are doing now, will only add to your life and faith. I know you have not asked for advice but I am going to give it anyway.

Find a moment before you leave and pause. It may be in the middle of the floor on Christmas morning or after you put your girl into bed for the night. Sit and look at what is going on and tell yourself to capture that specific moment. Think of your brain as a camera and capture how that very moment feels, looks and smells. Store it away for one of those days when you are feeling sad. You can pull it out and feel the happiness and snuggle into it like a blanket of familiarity. Cry. Feel it. You are doing what some dare not even dream. Own how you feel because you don’t want it all to bubble out one day in the middle of the supermarket. :)
It is totally understandable to feel overwhelmed, to second-guess and to ask God if He is REALLY sure you are supposed to go…but go anyway. He will bless you in more ways than He already has. Life without Target is possible and there are special lovely things that you can bring back or can be sent to you. it’s surprising how much more special they will feel than if you bought them by yourself. Make sure to take a candle that smells like home. :) Love you, praying for you and cheering you on from way down under!

Megan SheltonDecember 22, 2013 - 3:18 am

I’m crying with you, praying for you, and loving you dearly.

Tina HickmanDecember 22, 2013 - 3:22 am

Bless your heart Lauren you are gonna make me cry. What you and Gavin are doing will be a wonderful work I hope and pray but as a mom it touched my heart. I know how much your family and tradition has made you who you are and filled your heart with wonderful memories. HOWEVER, I truly feel that once you get to Laos and get settled it will be a little easier. The last I heard this was a five year commitment and who knows what the future holds. I think time will pass quicker than you think. I will keep you all in my prayers for much good to come from your work there. I know this is something you both have always wanted to do and I don’t think you would be satisfied otherwise. Who knows maybe you will have visitors from Tennessee while you are there! Love you :)

Johnnie Marie EllisDecember 22, 2013 - 4:35 am

Your soul is so honest & beautiful, Lauren. Please keep writing. I’ve been drawn to your blog like a magnet from the very first one I read. With every post, I find myself nodding my head and saying, “YES! Exactly!”
You make me want to be a better missionary in my everyday life and for that, I thank you!
Not wishing your life away…but, I can’t wait to read your post a year from now. I would bet that it will be so much better than you would ever imagine. I remember going to Aruba on one of our mission trips, thinking, I have GOT to bring my son here, so that he can meet these people & see God move. I know that Skylar can see God move here at home, but I wanted him to experience the simplicity of the gospel. In Aruba, I experienced that. We’ve made the gospel into such a complicated thing, by adding a list (that is forever growing) of do’s & don’ts and sometimes, I get so frustrated with the church. I want my children to see what I witnessed in Aruba. Someday, I just may pack those boys up & go on a mini mission trip of my own. 😉 Your kids will have a front row seat in that everyday, Lauren! THAT is better than any Santa with a fake beard & ill-fitting suit. I don’t mean to make light of your worries. They are real & the only thing I have to compare to what you are feeling is when I moved 1200 miles away from my family. I will pray so hard for you guys as you go through this transition. Anything new is scary. But, I know that God will bless you and your family on this amazing journey.
God bless you, girl. <3

Sara @ GaijinMomDecember 22, 2013 - 6:33 pm

First, I’ll give you some spiritual encouragement: Regardless of what we do or don’t teach in our home Sunday school, Christmas is a perfect, ready opportunity to share the Reason, especially in nations that don’t know it. Two of my friends learned who Mary is last week, purely because of an interest in what Christmas has to do with church. (In Japan, Christmas is basically just a time to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken with your significant other. Seriously.) They never knew there WAS a reason for it. When you watch someone learning the Story for the first time, your mood will be significantly lifted.

Second, things that helped me:
– Music. Anywhere that Hanson: Snowed In is playing, it’s Christmas. I also bought jazz albums that my dad always plays so I would feel closer to him. iTunes is your best friend.
– Movies. I didn’t think about it ahead of time, but try to stock up on your favorites now, OR just get them on iTunes as you think of them (that’s what I’ve done) (you can rent a lot of them without buying, too).
– Your mom’s decorations. I have a small box of decorations from my parents’ house, and that definitely helped me. Ask her which she’d be willing to give you.
– Christmas lights. Again, I didn’t think about it ahead of time, but grab a couple packs to add to your shipment. Cheap and easy.
– Carry on your traditions in your new country! My family always bakes loads of cookies on Christmas Eve and spends the evening delivering them to all of our friends’ houses. I did the same for my entire apartment building last year, and plan to do it again this year. It will be a little different (in Japan they don’t answer their door unless you say who you are… which is hard when you have no clue about that custom and can’t speak the language) (we also ended up with a reciprocal gift of a bag full of beer from our neighbor), but the general family feeling will still be there.
– Paula Deen eggnog. Girl, I may never drink eggnog from a carton even when I move back to the States. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/mamas-eggnog-recipe/index.html
– Candles! My mom always has candles burning in her house, so I found a tart warmer and brought as many tarts as I could.
– Care packages. Don’t be afraid to ask people to send them, and to specify things that you really, really want. People WANT to help you out, and knowing that a small box of candy canes just made your entire Christmas season blesses them as much as it does you. :)

I don’t know anything, really, about where you’re moving to. We’re very blessed to live in such a developed country as Japan, but I was still surprised by what I could find. We actually have an IKEA here, and were able to buy an American-sized Christmas tree. (I still cried over the fact that I’d never had a fake Christmas tree before. Yankee Candle Balsam and Cedar to the rescue!) We use Japan’s Amazon site frequently, and have been pleased by their inventory. I’ve even found decent decorations at our equivalent to a dollar store.

And you can always write sobbing emails to friends. I do this at least twice every holiday season. 😉

Deborah Brown WilsonDecember 22, 2013 - 10:58 pm

Boy, can I ever relate…… Thankfully, I am blessed to be able to visit my child, her husband and my grandchildren at least once a year in that far away place where they serve. I am so proud of them all, even as I know your parents are also proud of you and your commitment. Blessings on you as you complete preparations to make this move. And, I cry (mourn), too…… but there are so many joys in getting to ‘share’ in what you and they are doing 😀

AprilDecember 23, 2013 - 9:31 am

Hi Lauren! You probably do not remember who I am but I used to live in Adamsville and my parents were friends with your parents when I was little. My Mom is Cathy Smith and she was married to my Dad (the late Randy Smith) at the time. Anyways I remember seeing you in Christmas cards they sent us each year and I know we met one time that we visited when I was a teenager and attended your church. Anyways I stumbled on your blog and just wanted you to know I am praying for you in what sounds like is going to be a very big change in your life. Looking forward to keeping up with your journey.

Kimberly Rowe WasherDecember 23, 2013 - 2:18 pm

Even though we didn’t live out of the country for too terribly long we did miss the holidays that year. We kept pretty busy because we went and visited some family friends who are missionaries in India, so I can’t say that the holidays were the hardest part. The hardest part for me was seeing (or hearing) my friends and family doing normal activities; going out to dinner, spending the night at mom and dad’s, just hanging out with each other. Those types of things really got to me. Gary would remind me constantly that even though I was missing out on that stuff, I was getting to experience even greater things! Things that none of them were getting to see or do. He would bring back to the moment so that I could truly enjoy the time we had over there. I pray that you stay ‘in the moment’ and don’t wish to be anywhere else. Y’all are going to do awesome and I can’t wait!!

Tricia CherryJanuary 4, 2014 - 12:30 am

Lauren I cant even begin to imagine the different emotions you must be facing at this time. I can tell you that in 1999 I spent Christmas in Laos mourning the loss of a Grandmother. I was with my Father, Mother, and Twin brother at the time while my 3 younger sisters remained in the states with family (actually they spent their christmas just a couple houses down from Gavin’s parents at my Aunt’s house). As hard as we thought it would be to be without the rest of our loved ones during this precious season it was and probably always will be the Christmas that I will never forget and will cherish in my heart for the rest of my life.

The majority of my father’s family is from Louangphrabang and that is where we spent our Christmas. No electricity after dark without the use of a generator, sleeping under misqito nettings, eating Pho for breakfast lunch and dinner not to mention the lovely concrete hole in the ground for the camode! With all that how in the world could it not be a Christmas to remember? But it was! It didnt matter where or how we celebrated the birth of Christ it was and still felt like Christmas even in this third world country with only half of my family.

My father’s family did not and probably still dont understand the signifigance of Christmas and what it means to us as Christians but they still went out of their way with what little money they had to ensure that we had a gift to open that night. That night I opened a little christmas ornament of a doll in a wicker basket that to this day sits on my tree at home. There was no Christmas tree there that night but yet they managed to find a Christmas ornament for me within that small city’s marketplace!

I guess what i’m trying to say and get to is that as bittersweet as this moment in your life may seem soak it up and cherish every moment at home with your loved ones this season, and get ready for the adventure and new memories that you are about to embark on with your beautiful little family. Eliza is one blessed child to have such wonderful parents!

Sending all my love and prayers to the Pinkston Family!!!

Tricia Sychantha Cherry

Sarah CJanuary 27, 2014 - 5:01 am

I’ve felt this. I still feel it sometimes. I’ve lived in SE Asia for 2.5 years and have been here for 2 Christmas seasons now. This Christmas was easier than last, but still I yearn for parts of the “Christmas” I left behind… that includes Target. 😉 I’m totally a party-thrower. I love planning and executing good times to be had by all my loved ones… that was a hard one to give up. And the cold, I miss being cold. Ha. No boots, scarves and sweaters in this tropical paradise. Tanks & shorts for the holidays… it’s just weird.
It’s interesting how you realize you are mourning things and situations and places right along with the people you’ll be missing too. It feels silly sometimes, but it’s still very much real. Thankful His grace is more than sufficient – in the big and small things.
Thanks for writing. Nice to know I am not alone. I wish you are your family all the best in this exciting new journey you are about to embark on!

Lauren PinkstonJanuary 31, 2014 - 9:53 pm

Thanks for sharing, Sarah! I’m always thankful to hear from someone in our part of the world. This has been the coldest winter I remember experiencing in the Southeastern US…so I’m partly excited to step off a plane in March into the tropical heat. I’m sure my excitement will last about 15 minutes, but it’s still something to look forward to!