A far away love

I handed her the paper in the living room after dinner, “You need to read this” I simply said.  I’d been waiting for hours to give it to her, knowing full well what it would mean to her, how the words would make their mark, knowing I had no choice but to show it to her.  She glanced at it and knew right away.  She didn’t even finish reading it.

Rylee has been writing Fatuma, her sponsored Compassion child,  for seven years.  They almost share a birthday but they’ve shared many words, colored pictures and family photos over the last several years.  In the beginning I wrote the letters.  She dictated to me what to say and I wrote.  She would color or sign her name.  But these past few years, she writes herself and shares life and love with her precious “sister” in Kenya.

A year and a half ago she came to me and asked if she could forego birthday and Christmas gifts and save money towards her years long dream of going to visit Fatuma and meet her face to face.  And that’s exactly what she’s done.  She opened a bank account and together with her brother also started an egg selling business to save enough money for a ticket to Kenya.  She is close to the amount required for a ticket.  Next year was the year we planned to go.

So when the letter came, the one that said Fatuma’s parents had taken her out of the program and she could no longer be our sponsor child, it absolutely broke her sweet heart.  She started to cry and she did not stop for the rest of the evening.  I even made her favorite cookies.  She tried to smile and said a quiet “thank you”.  But then returned to her spot on the couch where she rested her head for the evening.  On her own initiative her little sister brought her out a birthday gift, one she’d bought with her own money, three weeks early, to give in hopes it would ease the sadness.

Who will make sure she is ok?  Can we still go see her next year?  The questions came through the tears.  Will she have enough to eat?   Why did they take her out of the program?  Is there any way we can find her?

Hard questions.  Ones I couldn’t answer.  It took me two days to think I was ready to call Compassion and ask them for any more info they might have.  Turns out I wasn’t ready at all.  Our hearts are so intertwined with this sweet girl far away.  I choked out questions and the young thing on the phone had no idea what to do with my tender heart.  She read from the file on the computer.  She answered the same questions twice.  She listened.

There was nothing that could be done.  The workers had gone to her house, she was well but her parents simply had made a decision.  We could write one final letter.  And that would be all.  Rylee’s trip in September of next year that she had painstakingly saved for, would not look like the in-person reunion she had dreamed of.   And she would have to wonder if her friend across the world was finding her way all right.

As we brushed shoulders in the kitchen and she crumbled in my arms again,  I got this beautiful, heart-twisting glimpse of what real love looks like.  And just like I wrote in my last post, it hurts.  It hurts to love hard.  There is cost beyond what you can possibly calculate to loving with abandon.

“God’s still good right?”  I whispered.  Yes.  All the time.  Always good.  Not the good I’d choose of course.  But always good.  “If we didn’t care about her so much, this wouldn’t be such a loss.  Don’t doubt for a minute that God has a plan for you, for your journey, for everything.  We just have to ask and wait.  He’ll show us.”

Love and loss go together.  Today at lunch as kids admired my pendant necklace, the one with one of Grampy’s ties encased in it, they asked about him.  It’s been five years this month.  Five years since my husband returned from the search and rescue mission to find his father in the mountains.  Audrey was a baby then.  She asked lots of questions and pondered how very hard it must have been for her daddy to find his father frozen by the lake.  I’ve held the necklace between my fingers dozens of times today.  Wishing he were here to do silly things with our kids, to be proud of who his son is, to love my cooking and pour me another glass of sparkling cider.

The cost of love

I couldn’t see well enough through the tears to even make sure I was picking up every single piece of china shards off the floor.  At first I could only stand there and hold the kitchen towel over my tightly shut eyes.  Knowing that when I opened them, I would see the shattered tea cup saucers in pieces strewn across the hardwoods.  The box had been too close to the edge of the counter and had tipped onto the hard floor before I knew what was happening.  Fragments of delicately painted flowers broken into razor sharp angles all over the place.

Every month we host a girls’ tea group at our home.  We delight in setting beautiful tables and making delicious food and providing a place for friendship to grow and hearts to knit together.  For my friends who come and bring their daughters, they’ve come to know that they will be lavished with love here.  I’d like to think they anticipate being served and loved because I’ve done just that for them month after month for many months.  We use my grandmothers wedding crystal and my mother’s tea cup and saucer sets.   Each one of the thirteen, a unique and beautiful piece of bone china.  I pour their tea or cider after we’ve talked some about life and Jesus and the other important things.  The girls talk and laugh at their table while the mamas share tea and encouragement at ours.

To say its been a highlight of our month, is understated.  There can be a dismal week (a little like this one) with a child on crutches after a trampoline injury and four other kids with fevers and coughs and grumpy hearts and a worn down mama who’s doing all her normal work plus the chores of all the sick ones too.  There can be all sorts of un-wonderful-ness.  But then there is tea.  And despite what the week (or month) held, we get this precious respite from normal.  Instead of salsa and jelly stains on the tablecloth, there is a clean white lace one.  Instead of piles of school work at each seat, there is china and crystal and candles and beauty.  Instead of carrots and cucumbers and too-healthy-somethings, there are raspberry vanilla topped chocolate cupcakes.

Mind you, there are still hand prints all over the slider to the yard.  When the sun beams in, I’m blinded but still manage to notice the smears from wet dogs anxious to come inside all over the glass.  The bathroom is orderly but it bears the constant smell of “boys use this bathroom”.  The spoons are mismatched.  The wallpaper is peeling.  A piece of molding fell off the wall.  It is not perfection.  But it is a welcome haven that beats with love.

Much of my life is not easy, does not come easy or easily.  Life with a half a dozen children is many (wonderful) things, but certainly not that.  But this – this tea, the hours long hand washing of dishes that follows each gathering and the flurry of every tea morning to get everything in order and the lull of feminine chatter ringing around every corner?  It’s the deepest kind of delight for me.  It flows in the most natural, instinctive way.  To get to give love in this way, is rich and priceless.

So, when the box tilted and the dishes went flying, the loss wasn’t really about the tea sets.  I know good and well they are just dishes.  It was about what they were a part of, what they helped to provide.  And as I stood there speechless staring at the box of brokenness, something made sense in a new way.

This is way I live and love.  I spent many years with the fine china and my heart tucked away safe.  And no one knew the beauty of what I had to offer, at my table or from my heart.  The decision, whether its’ reached in a day or a year, to wear your heart on the outside, to love people like crazy, to bring out the beloved dishes and use them, its a risky one.  Loving people, really loving them with all you’ve got, is immeasurably perilous.   The likelihood that your heart will break into pieces that feel sharper than any knife, is a million to one.  My heart and my dishes would be safer locked away, if you don’t use them, they’re highly likely not to break.  No one could argue with that.  And were they to stay there, cherished young girls wouldn’t get to sit by candlelight and feel treasured as they eat on plates my most beloved grandmother received at her wedding in the 1940’s.  Were I to stay safe, love safe, love guarded….well, my life and relationships would look wildly different than they do today.  In a thousand different ways.  There would be emptiness where there is fullness.  There would be scathing poverty where there is abundant richness.

Choosing to be daring, to live out love, pays the deepest kind of dividends.  And in the very same instant, it means knowing the searing pain of absolute heartbreak.  The two go hand in hand.  I suppose what’s struck me today is simply that its worth it.  Taking your heart, and your gold-rimmed china, out of the box and giving pure love lavishly to others – it is worth it.  Worth the mess, the cost and the pain.  Even though you know they might break.  It’s still worth it.