I've been away from my little African village for a pretty long time now. To get specific, it's been a year. Maybe I'm too fixated on dates and anniversaries, and that's just me, but this anniversary of sorts drew me mentally and emotionally back to Manguo village into the arms and smiles of countless children in a way that I found to be unexpectedly overwhelming. It hit me hard. The intensity of those memories seemed to demand to be shared, in what may be the last post on this blog.
So, I sent Henry a Facebook message. As I wrote, all I could think about was this teenage boy sobbing into my shoulder on that horrible morning when I said goodbye to my African village probably forever. Henry stirs a long list of memories- leading games at parish picnics, hours of studying together before finals, on the regular Henry would pick the fattest passion fruit in his garden and bring it for me after school. Calling him one of my besties would not be an overstatement.
A subsequent cardiac arrhythmia took place when Henry actually wrote back to me. Not only did he respond, but his brief words were piercing. I will loosely quote him, so the grammar and vocabulary choices don't distract from the message. What he shared was this:
Missing you so much! I pray for you daily.
There is one thing you taught me that I will never forget in my life.
Before you came to Maridi, I was different. When you came, I saw you always smiling. From that moment, I learned how to smile too.
Thank you for that.
I'm glad we are able to talk with each other, my heart was longing for it. Send my greetings to all of your relatives and friends. God bless you!
So what now? I spent a long time battling with purpose and fulfillment after departing from an experience that was saturated in it. It was easy to return to my home routine, and it immediately proved impossible to live the simplistic life I once had. Becoming a pediatric nurse was a new opportunity to love in that intentional way again, and my life has been beautifully unfolding since my return. I have been blessed and am so grateful. Yet I have been blatantly aware, and today more than ever, that it's been an uncomfortably long time since I've played with, prayed with, sang to, held hands, nursed, taught or loved on any of those precious African children who taught me so much about how to live.
In the sadness of moving on, I find incredible hope in Henry's words, as they express everything I want and desire, everything I am capable of and called to in this life. The beauty and truth in what he shared is that my smile is universal, and that joy is something I'm called to no matter the conditions in which I am living. His words convict me. Every Christian is called to be a missionary, we are called to spread love wherever we go, no matter the physical location. I have tremendous peace and solace in this truth, and I challenge every single one of you who ever reads these words to embrace and live that call, wherever you are now and wherever you may go in life. No matter your occupation, marital status, vocation, dreams or plans, you were made to change this world. There are a thousand hearts that can never be the same because they have known you. Your presence impacts the lives of those around you, and you make a difference. Life doesn't always hand out sweet consolations from someone like Henry, but that doesn't mean there aren't a countless number of past or future Henry's in your life whom you have touched in profound ways. Let us join together and start a revolution in our country and world, by choosing to smile today.
Let us love, since that is all our hearts were made for.
-St. Therese of Lisieux
Thank you to all of you who have followed this blog over the past few years; your encouragement and prayers for me had a far greater impact than you will ever know. I pray you feel the joy that you have shared with me.
You are loved.