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Hemmed In

From the driver’s seat of our van, I watched him walk confidently around the bus circle, his legs longer than they were just four months ago, his blonde hair forever spiked, just like when he was a baby. His bright backpack bumps up and down on his small back, and my heart catches every time, because it feels as if my heart is the one carrying that backpack – he is my heart. And just before he gets to the big double glass doors, and just before the aid opens them and ushers him into another day without me, he turns his head and searches for our van, searches for me. Once he sees that I have not left him, he grins, he squares his shoulders and confidently walks out of my sight.

Everyday is the same for the past few months that he has been enrolled in school. He listens to me talk about kindness and about being a light, and then as I pull up to the drop-off line he quietly asks, “Mommy, will you wait? Will you watch me?” Every single day. He wants me to watch him walk into his school before I drive away. He needs to know that I see him, and that I am with him. My presence gives him courage.

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I realized today, that this dance we are participating in is a small reflection of the one that I have with my Daddy in heaven. He gently urges me into something new, something that scares me, because it is new, and as always He promises to be with me – every day.  My steps are almost always tentative, but I have learned that I can take them, because every single time that I glance over my shoulder, He is right there. His presence gives me courage. I wonder if, as He looks at me, much the same way that I look at my son, does He feel as if His heart is carrying my baggage; does He look at me and see His heart? I think He must. Does He smile at me and get a lump in His throat, like I do, when I see my child doing something brave?

This morning as the sun glitters off of my screen and breaks through a few clouds to enter my home, I feel His presence, and it gives me courage. This walk around the bus circle has been hard and frightening for me. There have been moments that I walk in complete darkness and trepidation, feeling my way around, but light always breaks through enough for me to turn my head and get a glimpse of Him right there, right behind me, right with me. He always steadies my heart with His presence. The darkness still comes. I still have to walk forward when the truth is, sometimes all I want to do is turn around and run, but I am not alone. He won’t ever drive away. The beauty of this dance is that I am hemmed in – all around. My son can only see me when he turns around, but as I was driving home this morning, I realized that I can see my Daddy in heaven when I look behind and ahead. Because He is all around me. There is nowhere that I can go where He is not present. This truth gives me courage to keep walking around that bus circle, even when I cannot see the double doors to enter, because I never walk alone.

I look behind me and you’re there, then up ahead and you’re there, too – your reassuring presence, coming and going. This is too much, too wonderful – I can’t take it all in! Psalm 139:5-6

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Homesick

I think I could spend hours trying to chase words that would capture how I feel about seeing a dream that my husband and I dreamed years ago actually and finally coming true. Something that was once just captive in our imaginations has come to life, and that is beyond any words that I have right now. Jim just returned home from a quick trip to Ethiopia, and oh my was that trip productive, encouraging, and probably even healing for him. We finally have five boys, who have been selected by the government and our in-country director, enrolled in our program in Addis, and they are now beginning to receive care. These boys have no idea how long and hard we have prayed for them, and I am so excited for what is in store for their future lives. Jim came back home laden with goodies from the country that still holds our hearts – coffee, spices, incense, injera, our jobena, art, framed photos and mementos from our house in Ethiopia, and as he unpacked, the feelings of being surrounded by these familiar comforts soothed my aching soul.

But it also made me feel that familiar, and at this point unwelcome, searing pain that seems to have taken up permanent residence in my heart. Jim came home with stories, and I could picture every single one of them. I could close my eyes and know the smells, tastes, sights of everything that he shared. It was a paradox of comfort and torture mingled together. He stayed in our house in Ethiopia for the very last time, as we will rent a new location for our safe house very soon and give up renting our family’s house. The reality that our family would never, ever again be family in that home, that holds so many memories, hit me so hard. I knew that truth when we left in October, but now it seems actual, and it is hard to bear. The reality that my husband got one more time there, and I did not, makes me fight ugly bitterness. He hugged and kissed the people that I wake up daily missing. And on the very last day, he found my precious Muslim friend, Husain, and delivered love and warm wishes from me. I poured through photos of him with hot tears on my cheeks, both happy and so devastatingly sad. Jim went back to all of our old places and spaces, and I hung onto every one of his details. It was soothing, and it was torture.

It has taken me four months to really understand these emotions and this, at moments, unbearable grief  that I am feeling, and the darkness that it has brought into this season. I think I am finally able to name this, and it is so remarkably simple; I am homesick. What makes it so difficult is that this is truly the first time ever in my life that I have been homesick. I have never experienced this until now, and I was not prepared to handle it having never had to handle anything like it before. I am a grown adult, and there are moments that I am so intensely sick for my home that I cannot get out of my bed or function like a normal person. The way we moved back here, the reason, the rapidness, the lack of closure has all been overwhelming and exhausting. I miss the familiar, because for some reason here in this country now feels strange. I look around at this beautiful home that God so quickly provided for us, I go through the motions of life here most days – the motions that I am expected to go through, and yet this new life has left me feeling extremely empty and lifeless. I have felt numb and paralyzed and angry, and confused, and sad – just so absolutely sad. The acute emotional distress has taken a toll on me. It makes me question if I will ever ‘get over it’.

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But then Jim left for a week in Ethiopia, and I was forced to kind of take a deep introspective look into these feelings, and I think I have maybe finally realized that it is okay to be homesick. It is even understandable. I have felt guilt and shame over these sometimes consuming feelings, and I don’t need to feel that. But I am ready to try to work through it, to try to accept that the former life is over, but our dreams are far from over, and God has bigger things planned than we could imagine by bringing us back to the states. That Mercy Branch might look different than we had once thought, but oh my, it might look better! I dare hope that it may be beyond our wildest dreams.  I don’t want my homesickness to continue to prevent me from living this life that God is curating for me here and now. I don’t want to spend all my days wishing I was somewhere else. That is no way to live this life that I was given, and I will miss out on all that He has for me right here in this new adventure.

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I am so overwhelmed with gratitude to have lived and experienced life in a place that I truly loved with all of my heart. I am not foolish enough to think that everyone has this same experience. I am homesick, because I had something that was remarkable and special, and that is a blessing that I never would want to trade. Every part of me was attached to our life in Ethiopia, and I will always, always feel sentimental and nostalgic for that time in our lives. But I really hope and pray that someday soon, my heart can form new attachments, that the grief will fade, the memories will be less bitter and more sweet, and that someday I will feel like I have once again found home. Because I am finally in a place where I can at least say that I want this place to feel like home.

[To learn more about our NGO in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, click here.]

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