On Friday afternoon, the kids and I went on a playdate to the home of one of Owen’s school friends, Suzuka. Her mom and sister and another family had come over to our home the week before (see what we had for lunch!). There were four moms, their kids, and us all gathered at Suzuka’s for lunch. Atsuko, the host mom, and Yoko, one of the other moms, have been friends since high school (and had even gone to Hawaii together on a school trip!). Now they have the wonderful opportunity of living in the same neighborhood with their families. As we were all preparing lunch together, I noticed the ease in which they worked together, spoke to each other’s children; knew what each other needed without it being said. Yoko knew where all the dishes, pots, and silverware belonged. She and Atsuko had twenty years of history — the best kind of friends.
Suddenly, as I was boiling water, I felt the little tears fill up in my eyes. Please God! Don’t let me start crying! I was really enjoying this time, and continue to be so thankful for the new friends God is bringing into our lives through Owen’s kindergarten and our neighborhood. But I felt myself longing for the OLD friends – the ones who know what I need without me having to say it. The ones who can guess where I keep my silverware because they’ve been in enough of my past apartments and homes and KNOW ME. I knew I couldn’t explain this to my new friends without them feeling bad. Thankfully, the boiling water and my sleeve helped hide the tears, and I pushed the thoughts aside to enjoy the rest of our lunch together.
This week I read a fellow missionary’s blog as he reflected on their family’s returning to Japan from a home assignment in the US. Michael Oh wrote about the bittersweetness of coming back to the land where God has so clearly called them, but needing to leave their beloved family and friends. He likened this leaving to the concept of fasting…choosing to remove oneself from something one loves. Oh wrote: In missions, we fast the blessings of family, friends, and all the blessings and opportunities of life in the US – because there is something even more essential to life – our relationship to Christ whom we follow and seek to make known. And we fast these blessings – because there is something more urgent than even our family and friends – the Gospel going to the perishing among the 2.5 billion who have little or no chance to hear the Gospel.
Eric and I feel blessed over and over to be in Japan. I often say we have the best job in the world! But the part of being far away from the “old” friends and our families – this is the part that doesn’t ever seem to get easy. I pray that with time and patience, Atsuko and Yoko might become the kind of friends who know where I keep the silverware. God has a way of weaving new friends into our lives when we are grieving the old ones, and we never quite realize when they, too, become old friends. But I keep special places in my heart for those who are part of me and our history, who know my kitchen, my children, and my weaknesses; and yet still love me.
When I was growing up, we used to have a framed cross-stitch in our dining room that said, “Make new friends, keep the old; one is silver, the other gold.” How thankful I am for new friends; but oh, you old friends are as pure as gold to me!