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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Tears Falling

My sister is gone. She stepped out of the car, I handed her the suitcase and backpack, we exchanged a quick hug, and then she was off to catch her plane. I cried the first 20 minutes back, driving in rush-hour Beirut traffic, not caring if anyone saw the tears running down my cheeks. I raged at God. Why? Why did He allow us to live such separate lives? Then I begged and pleaded with Him to keep us all safe for heaven. I know there is no guarantee of safety in this life for the Christian but if only God keeps our hearts true to Him, then we can wait for heaven where the tears will stop flowing.

Saying goodbye to those I love is the hardest thing in the world for me to do. This is why I am cautious in who I allow to get close to me--I can't afford to go through this many times. Each time I say goodbye, there is that panicky feeling, that I won't ever see them again. Logically, I know it likely isn't true, but emotionally I cannot connect the logic to my heart. You see, there were times I said goodbye and it was a true goodbye. My house in Burkina Faso. My Opa before he died. My special place to sit where I could see the night lights on the Mediterranean Sea. My father more than 8 years ago.

To grieve is to open up a part of your heart that you sometimes forget exists. I've become adept at saving emotion for Hallmark movies, a sappy YouTube advertisement, or a particularly touching sermon illustration. At times, I will cry out of nervousness or worry at work. But I don't cry often out of loneliness. That isn't allowed. We had to learn early on that you buttoned up your heart and put a smile on your face, wave goodbye, and leave.

I've started crying at airports now. When I left my mother and brother in chilly February, at the Sacramento airport, I sobbed while I stood in line to show my boarding pass. They were bravely smiling and I was crying. All of a sudden, all they meant to me and that panicky feeling that I might never see them again overwhelmed me and I cried. I didn't know how else to handle the depth of emotion that I was feeling.

I cry in planes, I cry in the car, I cry at airports. I've stopped closing up my heart to feeling and started allowing the grief to wash over me so it can cleanse my soul of the many goodbyes I never was able to grieve. I think the older I become, the more I see how fragile life really is and I worry because I cannot control it in any way. I cannot hold my loved ones physically close beside me always, just as I could not keep my family from splintering 18 years ago or keep my dearest friends in my life. I have had to learn the hardest lesson of all--that love holds with open hands even as the pain of loss grows stronger.

Sometimes, when I'm quiet, I hear my heart asking Why? Why did I allow myself to be vulnerable and love so much when I knew eventually I would have to say goodbye? It is a question I cannot easily answer. I love easily but I feel deeply. This is the other lesson I am still learning. I must keep loving even though it may hurt.

My sister has landed safely at the first of 3 airports she will hop to in the next 24 hours. I can sleep knowing she is busying herself getting connected to friends, working on lesson plans, and getting something to eat as she waits for her ocean crossing. But tomorrow, she will be in Asia and I will be in the Middle East--worlds apart. She will be sitting on a bus headed home while I will be sitting in an office typing a work email. We will exchange virtual messages and carry on with life.

It will still hurt though. I may still cry for a bit. Especially when I see the empty place where her bed was and drink water from the 10-liter jug she lugged up the stairs for me. As I gently put away the beautiful souvenirs and eat the delicious pineapple pastries she brought for me. Now she's become a part of my memories here and it will take time for the beauty to replace the pain of loss and the reminder of loneliness. I will be forever grateful that she came but for tonight I must cry just a little.

I miss my sister.

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