“Welcome Home, Ma’am.”
The stone faced customs agent slides my passport back across the desk and politely nods me back into the country. It only takes one long hug on the other side of baggage claim to know that I am indeed, home. This is my place.
Almost two weeks later I’ve remembered how to cook my own meals. Without the water restrictions we faced in South Africa, I’m back to taking regularly timed showers and immersing my entire head at once. But each time someone asks me if I’m back to normal— I hesitate. Reentry is such a strange thing; getting back to normal is an odd combination of moving on but not forgetting. I still find myself holding all the things I held there– balancing the beauty, holding the hardness, and allowing certain things to slip through my fingers with the quiet reminder that I am not in charge.
The day we left for Africa, I kissed two tiny shampoo scented heads and his freshly shaven face and said goodbye. A suitcase that was barely under weight added to all that I carried inside. Anticipation. Joy. Remembrance. And a fear of not being able to hold it all well.
Because, to be honest? Last February I lost it. I lasted three whole days before I fell crazy sobbing wet-faced apart. A complete and total embarrassing mess of body-shaking sobs. I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t look at those babies who had walked through things I’d never known myself and stand there as anything but— a Mother.
I cannot divorce my identity as a mother from the girl that travels there in my shoes. I kiss my people and go, holding what I think is only courage and resolution. But somewhere in my carryon is my motherhood and it gets in the way of my bravery.
It’s true, the stories we take within us can make it difficult to hold the stories we learn along the way. The children are the hardest for me. Mine, theirs, and the ones in between. The babies who only belong to their Creator– the forgotten ones He will never forget. I simply can’t hold it all well with grit alone. I have to be broken. I have to feel for them as my life as a mother causes me to — completely.
I cannot see them and not see my own little lookalikes. I cannot watch them walk alone together, and not wonder who is tucking them in at night. Do they have a safe place to sleep? Does anyone tie their shoes? Button their coat? Does anyone?
Often I learn a piece of the story and then want to know every single detail ends in a pretty, eventually happy package.
And it’s hard not to see a hard story turn into a pretty package before my unhardened eyes.
This year I steeled myself for the wave of helplessness. For the staggering paradox of turquoise water and dry hot sand being too clear a picture of the opposite extremes of South Africa. I braced myself.
Be strong this time. You’ve seen this before. Pull it together.
But deep inside, I hear a whisper and it calls me back to a place of dependence, not resilience. Strong is not the goal.
Compassion is the goal.
The goal is absolutely to be affected by the pain all around us because, friend?
Pain. is. all. around. us.
The moment we stop feeling their pain is the moment we lose the benefit of our humanity and our motherhood.
So instead we take the deep breath we need and we quietly ask, if only in an uncertain whisper,
Break our hearts for what breaks Yours, God.
Knowing that strong is not the goal, I chose a hunt for hope instead.
In the deep dark, I want to hear hope like birdsong ringing.
And in His mercy that was there before the South African sunrise broke the horizon, He showed me so much hope.
He showed me redemption around so many corners.
A church that keeps going back. That keeps showing up in hard and beautiful places.
A people that thank God for a handful of raindrops when what they need is a deluge.
He showed me a glimpse into a township we couldn’t even enter and in it a boy about eight, dancing in obstinate joy against all that surrounded his steps.
He showed me an organization that has changed the landscape of the orphan in Cape Town.
We saw the no longer motherless in loving arms of belonging.
And big sisters caring for little brothers; both living in safety and smiles.
There were children who know who Jesus is. And eyes that light up to hold a Bible in their own language.
We saw a sweeping narrative of HOPE; and stories that aren’t even close to over.
He showed me that last year’s disbelief was necessary for this year’s amazement.
He showed me He is still at work.
It’s not any easier to bear sad things as a mother; I believe it may be just a bit harder. But now I know my inability to stay at arms length is a gift and not a curse.
I won’t lay my motherhood aside when I drive by places I wish didn’t exist. I will lean into the questions. I want to walk bravely without seeing how the story ends— willing to be a small part of what God is doing.
As much as we might want to, we cannot remove the mantle of who we are.
Even when the threads of our past seem to be a tangled knot that keeps us from helping, they are sewn together in a puzzle we must not discount.
We can still hold an aching kind of bravery. We can be broken hearted without despair. Even when the hurt is too heavy to hold and the pain slices through what we thought the world looked like. Stopping our ears doesn’t help them, and it doesn’t help us. Seeing brings empathy and empathy brings hurt. And hurt brings us to that spacious place of asking with open hands,
“Here we are; use us?”