I’m not sure why there are knots in my stomach, because it feels like everything else is unravelling.
It started three weeks ago. My entire class was in Ottawa for a week of training before we split off to three different continents. We had spent our final evening together crammed into a hotel room, if crammed is a word you can use for just eleven people. We ordered in pizza and dumplings, watching Miyazaki’s “Howl’s Moving Castle” as we ate and talked.
I had the privilege of learning alongside this cast of divers, gardeners, dancers, protestors, advocates and foodies for three and a half years, and we’ve become a strange sort of family. Like Ocean’s Eleven, an unlikely cast of characters, each extremely talented in our field, and equally quirky in our interactions.
I didn’t cry when I gave them final hugs, or as I left the room; but walking down the street, out of the hotel, I was awfully close.
The knot tightened at a question from an eight-year-old girl: “Wait, you’re not leaving too?”
She lives two floors below our apartment, and over the past few months of summer, has been one of the ringleaders of the gang of kids that shout up to our balcony asking if we can come out and play. I rarely feel like soccer on hot Sunday afternoons, but I haven’t regretted it yet. We started a Kid’s Club for this crew, and they have absolutely loved it. On the evening of our last Club, I came home to find the field littered with trash. When I came out an hour later with our balls and stickers, three eleven year old boys announced that they had seen the problem and taken care of it.
You don’t find kids who volunteer to pick up trash in too many places. I’m going to miss them a lot.
The feeling of departure felt distant until Ryan left. Ryan is one of my roommates, and his perspective on life is one part baffling to two parts inspiring. After cajoling me for a year and a half, he finally convinced me to move into Kingswood, a high needs neighborhood at the south end of our city. Over the course of this year, we have spent hours praying together, asking that we would start to see our neighbors with the same kind of love that God has for them. It has been an amazing journey, and I leave with so many stories to tell. I face six more goodbyes to equally precious teammates this weekend.
Ryan is leaving to go and do the same thing in the Philippines, this time moving into a squatter community in Manilla. When Ryan drove away— with his Value Village running shoes and torn hiking backpack— reality hit home again: you don’t get too many friends like this.
At 4:16 yesterday, an email arrived. It held an itinerary: September 6- Toronto to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Nairobi, Nairobi to Lilongwe. The message was no surprise to me, and yet I couldn’t stop staring dumbly at the screen. I found Tess, my fiancé, and we sat on the couch and cried together. The sick feeling at the pit of my stomach grew as we sat silently next to each other, pondering the hours we had left.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.
The pain of each goodbye I face reveals the depth of the relationships that I have been given. Each is a treasure, and parting requires wrenching off a piece of my heart.
But I dare not stay. I remember with vivid clarity a moment walking down the halls of an English Bible School. It was the feeling of being caught up in a strong wave, my feet leaving the ground as the water deepened around my neck. A though entered my head:
“If you will follow me, it is going to be too much for you. It is going to be more than you can control. Are you in?”
In that moment, I gave in. I told God that my life is not my own and that the best way I can spend my life is to abandon my strategies and give myself over to His purpose.
As I take another step in that journey, I can feel my feet leaving ground again. It is scary, and it is painful. But I follow one who abandoned every comfort to bring hope to the hopeless. How can I not do the same?