Even the Skies Cried (Chronicles of Belizean Adventures)

9:17 AMHeather

Departure day from Belize.  Funny.  Just a few short days prior, I was counting down to this day, looking forward to it.  But it had all changed.  Now that I was staring it down, it felt daunting.  To say good-bye.  To go back home.  Because I was and still am desperate to hang on to this experience.  To be changed by it.  To allow every nuance of revelation and lessons learned to take their full effect.  I once feared coming here.  As departure day dawned, I feared going home and acting like it had never happened.  

I jumped out of bed that morning, rather frantically getting ready because I did not want to miss any of the kids.  I walked out of our bunk room, and there was the van.  The few kids who are driven to school had already climbed in.  I waved to them, and they waved back.  I was mindful of how I had prayed for every child by name the night before when sleep eluded me.  So, I spoke through the open door to tell the oldest boy, Nathan* that I was so proud of his dreams and I believed he was a talented graphic artist and would be praying for his ability to go to college.  

Suddenly, Keisha*, the one who had whispered "I love you" the night before, was grabbing me from behind, wishing me a good-bye.  She put me through it as I searched and scrambled for words with her, and then she laughed because she knew the joke she'd played on me...she was not leaving yet.  She actually rode the bus.  She just wanted to see what I'd do when I thought the good-bye was imminent.

The van pulled away with the first few kids, and we were surrounded by a sea of children as our team gathered with them.  We were taking photos endlessly and chattering with them.  Rich -- or "Mr. Rich-man" -- was pulled into one last "sass-off," otherwise known as a clapping game with three of the girls. 

We had seen a couple of passing showers during our visit, but had not really experienced the rainy season as I had expected.  But this morning, the moisture was thick in the air with a coming storm.  And the result was a sweltering and sticky heat.  I thought about how the heat and the good-byes were equally insufferable.  While saying good-bye was too much, I was eager to get it over with, like ripping off a band-aid to avoid prolonging the pain of it.

There was Shauna*, the oldest girl, stubbornly announcing that she wouldn't remember us at all.  Because teams come and go all the time.  But we saw it for what it was.  Her bravado.  Her armor and defensive coping skill.  We all said that we would never forget her or any of them, even if they forgot us.  It must have been what she hoped to hear, because she suddenly grabbed her composition book for school and said, "If you all sign my book, then maybe I won't forget you!"

Other kids followed suit, and we found ourselves signing book after book, adding little hearts and hug and kisses signs.  And then, one girl asked us to sign AND write out our favorite verse or song lyrics.  One-upping each other with the best book signatures.  

Anna*, a melancholy little girl, had been intially very happy and affectionate that morning.  But the book signing, a sign of good-byes, pushed her away.  She went and sat with her back to us, refusing to speak to us.  And I was reminded once again of the depths of pain that these kids tend to cover.  

Of all the days to be late, the bus was running about twenty minutes late that day.  So we continued to take pictures, all of our team members desperate to capture every child in a photo.  We laughed and hugged and worked hard to keep it all light.  I think our entire team was trying to soak in these last minutes without adding too much weight to it, for all of our sake.  

Because we cannot post their faces on social media, I had determined I wanted to take this picture before I left Hopewell.

Because I was felt so desperate to share these kids with you.  To be sure that I commemorated and honored these incredible kids in every public venue possible.

Another team member came up with this photo.

That's Shauna with Joana.  They are standing at the entrance to Hopewell. An American mama and a Belizean beauty whose mother can't care for her.  Joined together.  Because that is what these few days in Belize did.  It brought us all together.  Regardless of age or race or socioeconomic class or any other difference.  Hopewell became our common ground.  Where our hearts were knit together.  

When the bus finally rumbled up the gravel road, my stomach churned.  I kept mentally repeating my promise to not cry in front of the kids.  I could not open the flood gates.  

There were last minute hugs and smiles and promises to never forget them and to pray for them.  I was careful to not promise to come back.  Although I have every intention of doing so.  I wanted to be careful to only promise what I was confident I could do for them.  So, I promised to write them and to pray as they walked across the road and climbed up on the bus.  

As the bus pulled away, they were all hanging out the windows, waving frantically as we waved just as frantically back to them.  Until the bus and the children were no longer in sight. 

I bee lined for my bunk room so I could have a moment to cry.  But, I was careful to not give into it completely, lest it overwhelm me.

Over a quick breakfast and team meeting, a team name was announced.  Someone had come up with the name Team Mullet.  Because we were all business in the front and all party in the back.  There could not have been a more fitting name.  We were, as a team, all about getting our business done.  Accomplishing our goals.  Working through our homesickness or discomfort.  Pressing on for the sake of these kids.  Because I think they were always our motivation, and that only intensified once we got to know them.  And indeed, party in the back.  Because we had, as a team of nine people from four states, mostly strangers, formed bonds through laughter and making fun memories.

As we loaded into the van to make the drive back to the airport in Belize City, the skies opened up and a downpour came.  We joked that even the country of Belize was crying about our departure.  

The dreary skies and constant rain reflected my mood.  I was homeward bound.  Praying for wisdom about how to reconcile all my emotions.  How to tackle the re-entry and the next steps.  How to do these kids and this experience justice in relaying its significance.  How to steward this experience well as I moved forward.  

After lunch and waiting with some of the team at the airport, I thought the weight of the emotions had passed and my resolve had kicked in.  So I was surprised to feel intense tears and sadness as I boarded the plane to Miami, along with two of my teammates.  I realized that I felt a finality.  I really was leaving these kids.  Leaving a bit of my heart with them.  The weight of these emotions felt palpable throughout my journey home.  

The only other time that I can recall feeling anything similar to that was when my dad died.  And I went to run errands to make funeral preparations and felt a sense of injustice.  How could the world just go on about their day and not recognize the significance of the moment?  

I sat in the Miami airport on my layover and texted my husband about how overwhelmed I felt.  He sent me an email with an article about coming home after a short term mission trip.  

What a relief to normalize this strange and new experience.  To hear the advice to retreat and reflect initially, and then debrief.  And by debrief, the article advised, to be careful to recognize that when people ask about your trip, they generally want a quick answer.  Not everyone wants all the details that you might be eager to relive. So, be mindful to answer questions and not unload it all on every person that asks.

So, hey--thanks bloggy friends, for letting me completely debrief here!  It's been cathartic beyond words to process it all.  And prayerfully, I have hoped that my posts have had something in them for you, too.

When at long last I got on my last flight, the tears came again.  This was the last step.  I was leaving something behind.  Someones.  So I prayed for them each by name.  For specific things for each child and adult at Hopewell.  From Miss Eleanor, the housekeeper, who lives up the river and daily takes her canoe to get to her bike, which she uses to get to Hopewell.  To the youngest child of the house parents, their one-year-old daughter.  And everyone in between.  I prayed for myself.  That I would be changed and marked and never forget.  That it would somehow all stay fresh and shift and mold me.  That I'd know the next steps.  That I'd know how to re-enter my life and to move forward, integrating the lessons I'd learned by the experience I'd been so privileged to enjoy.

The children.  The ponds.  The jungle.  The animals.  The tasks.  The adventures. The people.

Belize.  So far from home.  A world away.  Yet a place where I am forever connected.  

So I climbed into my own bed in the early morning hours, after a long day of travel.  I knew I had gained far more than I had given, as I drifted to sleep, once again praying for every single blessed Belizean I had come to know.   

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