'I can't hug you on the iPad'
October 2015

By Anna McShane — “I don’t want you to leave,” he sobbed, butting his bristly, buzz-cut head into my shoulder. “When I see you on the iPad, I can’t hug you.” I held him tightly and let him sob. Goodbyes are hard on little boys…and their grandmothers. While it is an honor to be so loved, it tears your heart apart as you hold little ones while they sob in your arms. 

We talked about separation, distance, visits back and forth. I promised to make him a paper calendar where he could mark off the days till we next saw each other. Slowly he dissolved into a puddle of almost-6-year-old mush and fell asleep. Tomorrow was school; tomorrow I would be on a plane before he woke up.

Two years ago it was his slightly older cousin, not with sobs—but with cold hostility. He boarded a plane after we had been together for two weeks and promptly threw up, then settled into his corner and refused to speak for the entire flight back to his home. Slowly, now, with multiple back and forth visits, he has figured out that distance is something that just “is” in global families. At age 7, he is not a good conversationalist on the electronic devices, but he pops in and out when we are chatting with his mom or dad, shows us his latest Lego creations, and tells us something about school.

Almost 30 years ago, it was my own youngest daughter, sobbing because her favorite, closest cousin was leaving for South America. The older cousins took it more in stride, but the 5-year-old only saw the loss, not the future. “I want him HERE!” I remember her pleading. 

I have five grandchildren, all of them the children of global nomads— while my husband and I commute back and forth to East Asia several times a year. At times, my family is on four separate countries.

Is this what God wants? I thought God designed the family to be together! Would a family together be a better witness of God’s glory and power? I wrestle with that thought at times. I look at families who can gather on Sunday (grandparents, kids, grandkids) and all have a meal together. No one is struggling with languages other than English. No one is wrestling with finding supplies for a simple birthday cake. No one is weighing the intricacies of culture to determine if it is right or wrong for their kids to participate in a school function that seems to dabble in the spirit world. There are sleepovers at Gram’s house, and the middle generation feels free to take off for a few days and leave their children with grandparents. In a world of broken families, I know that believing families who live close together are a tremendous witness of God’s grace.

Then I read in Genesis, By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out… He left family behind and he buried his father along the way. Why? Because God called Abraham to bless the nations.

Nations usually are not next door.

We too are called to bless the nations—and though not everyone will go, some of us will. Some of us will raise our kids in strange or exotic places, and may breed into them a taste for strange and exotic places so that they do the same thing in the next generation. If doctors’ children choose the medical field, it seems quite natural for global workers’ children to let God take them to the ends of the earth. After all, they have the skills and often, they have the heart.

That does not mean it is all joy and happiness. It hurts. Some days, blessing the nations stinks—the days that little boys butt their heads into your shoulder and you are soaked with their tears. The birthdays, holidays, and first-time-ever events you miss because you are not together. I do not have words to make the pain go away.

What I do have is the grace of God, daily, in my own life. I have the opportunity to cover those little ones, and their parents, with prayer. I have the choice to hold them lightly and know that God is present with them far more than I will ever be.

I look forward to the next time a small boy barrels across an airport at full throttle and I have to brace myself for the tackle or I will topple over. Some day that little guy will be bigger and feel football tackles are embarrassing, so I am going to take all the football tackles I can get right now.

They counterbalance the sobs against my shoulder and remind me that blessing the nations often includes holding little boys with bristly heads.

We appreciate the sacrifices that families make when their loved ones serve as missionaries. Prayer can help bridge the gap. Download a free bookmark with daily themes to help you pray for your missionary family members. 


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Anna McShane
Anna McShane's long career in missions included living in the Philippines and serving in other parts of Asia.