Last night we got Katie home from the airport, from college where she's been since August. She has come to appreciate, having been away from home, the soft comfort that doesn't exist in the dorm environment; the solitude she can have when she wants it; the home cooking--though she admits the cafeteria food is good there (they have what I've been told is a "world class chef") she says home food is just different; the ability to sleep in; and we went to the grocery store on our way home and she said, "real apples!", and at home she was amazed at the size of the bananas on our counter. She notices odd little things that I never would have expected. But she appreciates it all in a new way and that's good to experience from a parent's point of view.
There's a parallel world going on next door. Derek, the 18-year-old son of my friend Stacia, recently moved out to live with a friend and his single dad, and has come to realize what he had at home and had not realized until he had rejected it. Now when he comes home there's none of his stuff in his room, and there's a whole new set of rules. Stacia loves to relate the different ways that his homesickness is showing. He ate well when he came home to visit for dinner tonight, like he's not eaten for many days. He offered to do some jobs around the house.
Though it hasn't all been a fun separation for Stacia, she's enjoying many aspects of being at home without having to consider the cares of a teenage boy. I was over there today. On the way out, I just had to tell him something. "Derek, if I was your age, I would never have moved out from your mom's house." He used to compliment me for what kind of neighbor I was, but I think that outspoken comment changed his mind--I've never seen that particular look on his face before. He knows he blew it, but he's not particularly ready to admit it, or to have others recognize it. Maybe I shouldn't have said it. I asked Katie and Tim on the way home, "Should I not have said that?" They both thought Derek had blown it, and that it was okay, he needed to hear that others saw the truth of it.
It's amazing how we don't realize how great we have it until something we took for granted is taken away or we see something to contrast with it. We have it so unbelievably good throughout America. Most adults, most teens, most all of us are pampered to pieces and really have no concept of how good our world really is and how tough it is almost everywhere else. It's been good for Tim to see what Katie's and Derek's new perspectives are. Even if it makes him appreciate a tenth of what he should, it's a good thing.
When Katie was 7, we took her along on a very short-term missions trip to Floritos, a community just a few miles south of Tijuana. (Now that I write about it, I think, "Was it really only three days?"And yes, I think it was. I don't think I've ever heard of any other missions trip that short.) We were there to help people by building shacks for Mexican families to live in temporarily so they could commute across the border until they could get a more permanent place to live. There was no electricity (except what people pirated from overhanging electric lines) or running water. It was truly a third-world type of environment. The wonderful side of it all was that the people were incredibly sweet; they had a great love of their children that they could hardly afford to raise, and they were so thankful for a one-room shack with no floor that they all squeezed into as a shelter from the night. They had nothing and they were so thankful for the questionably beneficial work that we had done there.
The soil dust was about a foot deep; it flew everywhere and covered everything as we walked through it. We found out later that a man we thought was dying of cancer later got re-diagnosed as being infected with an amoeba from this soil. When it would rain, the soil would turn to a sticky muck. Nothing grew there, it was dry and grey and ugly. After only three days, I understood the idea of wanting to kiss American soil upon one's return--only God's provision would ever provide me with a better staying power to persevere like so many missionaries do for years in those places.
Katie learned more about appreciation there in three days than she could have learned in a year any other way; we all did. Oh, to be able to take Tim along on such a trip, to be able to do it again. But developing our appreciation is not the reason to go; to share the love of Christ with those in the countries of the world is the right reason. Our enhanced appreciation was just a great side benefit of the whole scenario.