I’d brushed past it before. Yeah, yeah, it’s the night before Jesus was delivered over to be crucified– his last night before betrayal, torture, death. Dad once told me that John 13-17 was worth paying attention to– because wouldn’t you say some of the most important things to your friends the night before you left? I instantly remember growing up on a YWAM base. You’d see well dressed, snazzy young adults posing for Commissioning photos, clutching a packet of tissues for the thank-you speeches, and the tearful I-don’t-know-when-I’ll-see-you goodbyes as the white van pulls away. I’ve brushed off those moments countless times. Nevertheless, important things are said on the last nights before a departure, and I for one should know it.
Chloe was cross-legged on her quilt, beckoning me to come listen. Meanwhile, after four weeks spent in Newcastle during the birth of my niece, I was emotionally trying to prepare myself that I was going back to New Zealand within the next two days. My last year of university was ahead of me, I tried not to think of it. I just happily remembered today’s Boxing Day road trip to the sand-dune enclosed Anna Bay, and watching the Call the Midwife Season 2 season finale with cups of tea. Yet, come listen to what I read today… and I see her new Message Bible creased open on the bed.
When a woman gives birth, she has a hard time, there’s no getting around it. But when the baby is born, there is joy in the birth. This new life in the world wipes out memory of the pain. The sadness you have right now is similar to that pain, but the coming joy is also similar. When I see you again, you’ll be full of joy, and it will be a joy no one can rob from you.
I’d brushed past it before. But somehow, in the Message translation– John 16:21-23 grabbed me in a way I could not ignore. When I see you again, you’ll be full of joy… and the tears did not come that night, but they sure did in those following days. I cried when I read Chloe’s farewell note, I cried when I thought of my family all in Australia, I cried not knowing when I’d see them all again. Because isn’t that the hardest? I mean, yes, it’s difficult when you love someone a lot and have to be in a different place, but it’s nothing compared to the… I don’t actually know when I’ll be back here again.
Sure, you also have the flippant “when I see you again”s… which, living in a world of ins-and-outs every three months, I might despise more than the honest “we might not see each other again”. We don’t know! But I’m glad people hope. Loss of hope is probably the more deadly to our hearts. But what I want to also ask is, don’t you even care that this is hard? I want to hear how people are actually feeling, because I’ve seen too much fluff over the years– participated in it myself. Because maybe the worst I’ve seen is the over-reliance on social media to suffocate the actual sadness I’m feeling, the “oh we’ll keep in touch”. Oh, they’re all great! I’m so glad I have Facebook– even today, Hanna is in Cambodia and I am in New Zealand, and we chatted for at least an hour as she packed for her upcoming trip to Newcastle. I’m so grateful, it filled my joy-tank incredibly! But nothing can replace the touch of a hand, the flash of a smile, the joy of just being together in the same place– which is what Hanna and I look forward to this year.
How on earth did Jesus deal with goodbyes, then? It’s the ambient room of a Passover meal, laden the soft air of remembrance and weight of heart importance– did tissues come out? I suppose his twelve friends had no idea what was about to happen– so could they even cry? Yet Jesus says it plainly, simply, and with incredible tenderness. You’re going to have a hard time… there’s no getting around it. But remember how labour can’t be avoided? But remember the look of absolute awe on your mother’s face as she held your sibling, or as I’ve seen, your brother holding his daughter… the pain is washed away… and the joy remains? Remember, remember? And then comes the clincher, the promise, the hope: yet I will see you again.
For the past year and a bit, I had to hold on to that. Yet I will see you again. When I squeezed Chloe and Abbey goodbye early that morning, and then it was one of those “I have no idea when”s. I had little hope: life was on a very clear path– university for a year, Christmas in Hawaii, full time job for a year or more. Newcastle wasn’t in the picture for at least two years.
Then, oh, as I called it on Facebook when I announced I was in Newcastle: #sneakyauntietrip. This year, instead I found myself teaching YWAM kids, being involved with a family very much connected to Newcastle, and hopping on a plane for a two-week trip because I told God I wanted to and a friend offered to pay my ticket the same day.
In the preceding weeks, I clicked FaceTime with Daniel and Jess, and giggled at Lilly’s one-year-old antics with absolute joy because I would be with her soon. I followed PhotoStream as David and Marisa arrived in Newcastle for their own trip, posting adorable pictures of our family along the way. And the night before I arrived in Newcastle, just a few weeks ago?
I cheekily texted Chloe, who was clueless that I was about to surprise her the following afternoon.
“When I see you again, you’ll be full of joy, and it will be a joy no one can rob from you…”
And I can’t fully describe what it was like to be slouched breathless, high on adrenaline, in the corner of their living room couch.
“What’s going on?” I heard from around the corner.
All I can say is– I now can imagine what Jesus must have felt like in a small, small way– that Easter morning.
“Your hearts will rejoice… “
What He didn’t add in that moment was this:
When you surprise your best friends who don’t think they’ll see you for a long time,
your heart will rejoice, too.
So yes, it was hard to leave Newcastle again, to not be able to tell Lilly-in-pig-tails that I can’t wander around the Warehouse with her tomorrow. It’s hard that laughing my head off with Jess or seeing my brother be an amazing father is not everyday life anymore. I didn’t want to come back to New Zealand. Chloe has been faraway for long enough. But in my last couple days, everyone in Newcastle kept throwing me a curveball– me, the one inebriated and intoxicated by fermented goodbyes. This curveball? It’s a phrase that I thought had lost all meaning, yet it’s something that I deeply need to hear:
“See you again.”
I love New Zealand and the people here to bits. However, I am learning that I cannot ignore that I care about another place, too, and therefore I miss it. I brushed past Him before– so often. With every return home, I missed Jesus trying to show me that it’s okay to feel, it’s okay to hurt, and it’s okay to cry– because it means I love, and an alive heart is far better than a dead one.
Yet what gets me every time is this:
When I see you again, you’ll be full of joy, and it will be a joy no one can rob from you.
For every tearful departure?
There’s an inexpressible amount of joy coming for us.
I like that.
Photos: Train from Newcastle to Sydney, en route back to New Zealand; March 2015.