“You have to put your coat on.”
Honestly, why is this such a battle? We’re about to step outside the Cleveland airport into a blast of snowy, chilly air (if you agree that -11 degrees is chilly), and my daughter, fully equipped with her mother’s stubborn streak, does not want to wear a coat. I’m hot, she says. It’s dangerously cold outside, I reply. She grudgingly rolls her eyes, shoves her arms into her coat, and wears it for the 23 seconds it takes to get into our friends’ waiting car, then immediately takes it off again.
I remember this kind of cold. I haven’t experienced it for almost five years, but knowing when not to inhale through your nose for fear of burning pain and freezing your nose hairs is the kind of life experience that never leaves you. We lived in Iowa for four years during my husband’s residency and fellowship years, and our first winter living outside of Texas was the coldest that Iowa had in twenty-five years. I vividly remember walking outside one afternoon in January to check the mail, and the air was noticeably warmer. It was 15 degrees that day.
Oddly enough, returning to that kind of frigid climate was like coming home. It was stepping into something very familiar. You would think after growing up in Texas and living here again for the last five years that my body would have readjusted to our mild temperatures and gone into shock in the bitter Midwest cold. But no. The familiarity was a little odd, but strangely comforting. Somehow it was as if I had never left.
Maybe it had something to do with the company. My older two kids and I spent the long holiday weekend with our very best friends – the same ones we met while living in Iowa. Our kids were all born within months of each other, our husbands share similar careers, and Gretchen and I share a love for peanut M&Ms and comfy couches. Both of our families left the state at the same time and moved to opposite ends of the country. We only see each other twice a year, but without fail, every visit is like coming home. We jump up and down and hug each other fiercely, we laugh and kiss and squeal, then each of us slips comfortably into place and immediately resumes the precious friendship we’ve shared for the last eight years. We are home.
And yet, it seems, as soon as we reunite, we must leave. Our time together is always far too short. On our last night together in Iowa, we started a tradition of marking the bitter departure with the sugary sweetness of ice cream sundaes in hopes that dessert would make the leaving a little easier. (It never does.) We linger and try to hold on as long as we can – we’ve nicknamed our daughters “The Velcro Sisters” in honor of their unrelenting good-bye hugs – but inevitably, we have to pry their arms apart and get on that stinkin’ airplane.
The days following our departures are even worse. My son wept as he lay down to sleep that night and again while brushing his teeth the next morning. My daughter prayed that God would help her not miss her friends so much. One thousand miles away, their sibling-friends moped around the house and repeated over and over again, “I wish they were still here.” Gretchen later told me that she tried to put on a happy face and remind them of how we would see each other again in a few months and how blessed we are to have the kind of friends that we miss so much …but inside she was thinking, “Man, this stinks.” My sentiments exactly.
It’s so hard to leave home. After leaving our beloved friends, I started thinking about “home.” I know that in an eternal sense, this world is not my home. I catch glimpses of my true Home every once in a while – when I lift my hands in worship, when I experience God’s inexplicable and illogical peace, when I am surrounded by laughter and sisterhood – and I taste just how glorious it will someday be. A temporary hint of what my mind and my heart cannot possibly comprehend.
The sweetness of familiarity makes the separation painful. Just as we have to get on that plane and go back to our house, those heavenly moments are all too often replaced by the frustrating and painful details of life here on Earth. Man, this stinks.
But the painful separation makes the coming home even sweeter. Someday we will be home for good. Endless welcoming hugs. Resounding laughter and squeals. Familiar faces. Only hello – never good-bye. The open wounds of our separation and sadness will be forever healed, and we will be made whole. Complete. United.
For now, however, we will shove our arms into our coats, soak in the moments of joy, dread the moments of separation, and wait hopefully and patiently for the day when we will never have to say good-bye.