You cannot predict it. It’s invisible. The symptoms are not obvious like a cold, a fever, a stomach-ache. It comes on swiftly and unexpectedly, overwhelms immediately. It’s the inability to control, the surprise with which it comes, and the intense pain that comes with it.
“It” is homesickness. Physical symptoms do come later – inability to concentrate, dry mouth, feeling of being close to tears all the time, not sleeping well. But initially it is invisible.
I think that’s why the Angels from the Rooftops post resonated with so many readers of Communicating Across Boundaries. Many of you know what it’s like to be homesick during the holidays. My mom’s story of loneliness and vulnerability in a strange place put into words what so many of us have felt.
For me it always happened on Christmas Eve. Suddenly our normal expat life and activities in Cairo were not enough. We needed family. Like aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, cousins — the people who aren’t allowed to not like you. The ones that stick to us with family glue whether we like it or not.
As our young family left the candle-light Christmas Eve service a catch in the throat would get us. Suddenly we didn’t seem like enough for each other. It felt like we were too small, too fragile, unable to make it on our own.
Christmas day was alive with activity and an annual open house at my friend Betsy’s house – open to so many of us who were without family. There we would talk and eat, help put together their mandatory Christmas puzzle, and sip the only spiked eggnog in the country of Egypt. Christmas day never felt lonely or alone — it was Christmas Eve.
Even as I write this I know there are those of you whose throats are catching and tears welling up, tears that you try to push back into your tear ducts.
While everyone else is home for the holidays, you are homesick.
You can just taste your sister’s mulled wine; hear your mom’s voice; picture the scene in a living room. It’s you who are making a home in other parts of the world, creating wonder in a foreign land. This post is for you.
My friend Martha has lived overseas for many years and understands the joys and challenges that come with the expatriate life. She writes this and I offer it to you:
It was Christmas 1981 and we were missionaries with CCC; I was pregnant with Jeremy and horribly ill with constant morning sickness and facing the holiday knowing that it would be three years before we would see our families again. We didn’t have a car yet (we were using a staff member’s motorcycle), had lived without electricity in our maisonette for weeks. there was a bittersweetness as Mark and I made aluminum foil decorations and tried to find humble gifts to buy each other in Nairobi. Then how happy we were when a staff family invited us over to spend Christmas Day with them with a turkey dinner and a day of great food, playing games and talking. I felt like I had been transported back to America and to family. I felt God’s mercy that day and the hope of joy and his love.
May you – you who are homesick, fighting back tears, not sure what this season will hold, feel God’s mercy, the hope of joy, and His all-sufficient, never-ending, constantly surprising love.