Changed

Posse I stood in Chrissy’s kitchen and cried. The house was still warm and sweet with the scent of cinnamon rolls and snickerdoodles from our afternoon of baking. The last afternoon together, at least for a while.

The tears came suddenly, like the rainstorm that was beating against the windows and soaking the parched ground. I cried with gratitude for the rain and for my friend. But mostly I cried because I was leaving.

This was another in a string of goodbyes over the last few days, each one leaving me breathless and aching.

I did not ask for this. It was not part of my plan. When I arrived in Papua New Guinea, I came prepared to pour myself out, to encourage, to listen… but not to get attached.

Hellos and goodbyes move like the tide, sweeping us up in the ebb and flow and sometimes rocking us to the core. In a community as mobile as the missions world, refusing to put down roots or really love others is a common temptation. The constant farewells can wear us down until we feel we have nothing left to give. It’s easier to just put up walls around our hearts. I have done this. I still do.

I am used to being the caregiver, seeing the rawness of other people’s hearts without really revealing the depth of my own needs. But in Ukarumpa, I was sideswiped. Being somewhere that reminded me of my childhood home in the Philippines left me more vulnerable than usual, I suppose. Without seeking it, I found myself pulled into a community of friends who drew me out, spoke truth to me, and loved me with laughter and gentleness and grace. We stayed at each other’s houses late into the night, talking about everything under the sun. We cooked in each other’s kitchens, celebrated the little things, shared our time, tea, and tears.

I have to admit that when I realized these women were beginning to slip beneath the outer layers and lodge themselves in my heart, my first impulse was to backpedal. I was leaving in a few weeks, and it hurts to say goodbye when you love people.

And then there were the teens. This beautiful, multi-cultural rainbow of kids from all over the world. I wanted to care for them, to love them just enough but not too much. Because with deep love comes a real risk of pain, and it’s likely that my path will not cross with most of theirs again.

So, I had a choice. I could open up to everyone just enough to make them feel comfortable, to let them know I care. Or I could throw caution to the wind and allow them to affect me viscerally, to change me forever.
Choosing to go deep while a goodbye is on the horizon feels like falling off a cliff. But then, every real relationship is risky. There can be misunderstandings and conflicts, selfishness and frustration. Even the best relationships can drift, leaving us wishing we could turn back time.

Authentic community is messy.

But I guess so are many of the best things in life. Playing in the rain. Making chocolate cake. Building sand castles. Birthing children.

KodiakAs we took off last Friday and I watched Ukarumpa shrink and fade away, I was glad that the small plane’s engine noise gave me privacy to let the sobs surface.  I was glad for the box of tissues, a last-minute gift from a dear friend. I was glad for the notes from heart-sisters and students, letting me know I was not alone in grieving the separation.

But mostly I was glad that it hurt so much to leave. My heart was pulled and stretched and heavy with the golden fullness of having loved well.

I will never be the same.

I don’t want to be.

I choose to let the tears and gratitude sweep over me, to throw me hard against the mercy of God.

Because, like my friend Chrissy says, “His mercies are new every morning, and it’s always morning somewhere.”

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