January 6, 2014

To Everyone Who Has Left Father or Mother

My refrigerator is covered with photographs. January after January, I cut out the photos from the stack of Christmas letters and cards, glue a magnet to the back of each one, and assemble a mosaic of smiling faces.

This has the effect of disqualifying my kitchen from any possibility of an HGTV photo shoot (unless it’s for that one where they rescue hoarders from their own clutter). No gleaming stainless-steel surfaces or appliances cleverly concealed behind reclaimed heart pine doors here. 

So, every year, I hesitate for a moment. Do I really want another year of chaos in my kitchen, an unglamorous clutter of slightly-rumpled babies and average-looking families? A hodgepodge of photos in various sizes, their corners curling with the passing months; Martha Stewart would hate it.

And I ask my husband, “Should I hang up the pictures this year?” Every year, he says yes.

We are the ones whom Jesus talks about in Mark 10:29-30, the one “who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel.” We haven’t left as much as some—we are only slightly more than a thousand miles from our family, and we are a mere Skype call away from seeing their faces. The truth in this gobal economy is that we might not be near our family even if we weren’t in gospel ministry. But the pursuit of Christ’s glory has taken us away from our parents and siblings and long-time friends.

So, I stick magnets on their photos and hang them up where I see them a dozen times each day. Every cup of juice for the kids, every slice of cheese, every scoop of ice cream brings me face-to-face with their faces. This collage may not be pretty, but it is a beautiful reminder.

First, it reminds me of the Lord’s past goodness to me. In her book, Uprooted, Rebecca VanDoodewaard reflects on the good side of homesickness. She writes, “the very fact that you are homesick means that God blessed you where you were, which is why you are sad not to be there anymore. Even though these blessings have been taken away, you are still enjoying the benefits of past experiences and relationships.”

Do the pictures on my fridge make me sad? A little bit. I would love to sit down for coffee with my brother, rather than simply see him reduced to so many pixels. But my explosion of images also overwhelms me with the kindness of the Lord. I have been given so many people to love.

Those pictures also prompt me to notice the ways the Lord continues to care for me, through his body. Jesus says that the one who has given up family for Him will “receive a hundredfold now in this time.” (Mark 10:30) I may not have my mother living down the street, but I have never lacked for anything. The biological sibling who is not here has been replaced by sisters and brothers who have hugged me through tears, taken my dirty laundry and returned it washed and folded, and driven 50 miles round-trip to buy preemie diapers when our newborn son arrived surprisingly tiny. Just as each Christmas card photo testifies to the Lord’s provision of a friendship during a specific period of my life, they also remind me of the many provisions that surround me right now in the body of Christ.

And, ultimately, they point me to heaven.

Two friends who are gospel-laborers in Papua New Guinea—and who have left children and grandchildren and friends and land for years upon years to proclaim Christ in remote places—emailed recently about meeting fellow workers at a training session in another location:
“When we were chatting about the long distance the national members of the translation team had to travel the following day to get home, one of these men responded, ‘It’s not long for us—we’re going home!’ We are strangers and pilgrims on this earth, traveling to a better country, that is, a heavenly one. The road may be bumpy, the journey long, but—we’re going home! As the new year dawns and each of us looks with new hope and determination to what lays before us, let’s not forget to lift up our eyes and look toward our destination.”

Jesus’ final promise to those who leave family is the most sweet: “and in the age to come, [you will receive] eternal life.” In heaven, I will not have a fridge full of photos. I’ll have eternal fellowship with those saints themselves, body and soul.

But for now, I hang those smiling faces in my kitchen, reminders of my fellow-pilgrims on this short journey home.


  1. Especially poignant after returning from our just-after-Christmas trip home—

    1. Yes. I admit to crying when "I'll be home for Christmas" plays on the grocery store sound system.


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