January of 2015 stole my words and broke my heart. For three months, our little family drew in tight together and stripped life down to the essentials: be together, be kind, be safe. No more, no less.
I am not free yet.
In late April, Curt and I found ourselves hours away from a trip across the ocean that had been planned for 2 years… South Africa. It was a massively orchestrated ordeal involving 8 plane tickets, 5 caregivers, color-coded schedules, power of attorneys, and 2 weeks of vacation. My suitcase was still empty with 6 hours until boarding. Campbell said, “Go. You can stay here and hurt or you can go and hurt. Go.” I packed half-heartedly for a trip I did not want to take.
My anxiety began leaking out of my eyes at midnight about 18 hours later. We were 30-thousand feet high somewhere over Africa. ‘We are too far away,’ I thought. ‘It would take days to get back to my Littles. IT IS TOO FAR. It’s not familiar and it’s not safe. I’m not funny and I’m not sure. I don’t have anything left. I can’t small-talk my way through a week of riding through unfamiliar territory with strangers. Give me my kids, my farm, my space. Let me be in the weeds, but at home. This… this is a mistake.’
But the plane continued south over the equator and I wrestled with God above the clouds.
After 2 days of traveling and changing gates and navigating grumpy airline employees, we found ourselves standing at a check-in desk 9,000 miles from home. “Be out front tomorrow at 6am,” Angel said. “Your guide will be waiting for you.”
The sun was inches from the horizon as I climbed into the back of a truck with 8 other guests. Our guide began to ramble down the road, and I saw the land shake off its sleep. Shadows became green leaves and brown bark. I saw a zebra and her calf scoot across the main road. I sat for 30 minutes and watched a cheetah look for a place to sleep.
As we drove, the gray sky swept into pink and orange and red. ‘This looks like Texas,’ I thought. ‘Sharp aloe and rocks, cracked earth and endless sky… this looks like home.’ I saw the woman in front of me lean over to her neighbor. “This looks like home,” she said, “This reminds me of Texas.”
Something inside me broke. It was Africa, but I was not in strange country. “See?” God whispered. “This is familiar ground.”
The truck rounded another corner and we found ourselves staring at giraffes. “A bunch of giraffes is called a journey,” our guide yelled back to us. “A leap of leopards, a pride of lions, a crash of rhinos, a journey of giraffes.”
“Or a trip if there’s just a couple… like now, right?” I heard myself throw out there. Our guide caught my eye in the side mirror and started to laugh. “Oh, but see?” God whispered. “There is still some mischief left in you.”
Our group would prove to be instant family. We represented every generation from retirees to middle-school… and we were very much able to laugh. We would voluntarily eat meals together, yell at each other to duck down for photos, carry each other’s beach gear, and beg to have schedules changed so excursions could be taken together. Our guide would prove to be an expert in land-management and conservation, and I found myself dusting off my outdoor education muscles again after 10 years of time-out. “Oh, but see?” God whispered. “These people are safe.”
And that was Africa.
Familiar and brand new and chaotic and easy. Why would God bring me to the other side of the world at the most difficult time in our family’s life? To show me how far He would go to bring me back home. To let me laugh again. To give me space. To have me see impossible animals in unbelievable proximity. To stand in awe. To prove, in ways I could completely understand, that He never changes.
We are never prepared for what we expect.
[I feel like I’m teaching myself to tell stories again.
It’s going to take a bit to find my rhythm again.]