Sometimes, it’s hard to pretend you’re okay. It’s hard to keep your smile fixed firmly in place, pretend that your eyes are sparkling from happiness rather than unshed tears, and keep your chin up. It’s hard to look up when you feel like your heart is spiraling slowly downward, when you clench your hands where nobody can see and grit your teeth to keep from breaking down.
It was hard last night.
I was sitting in the back row at a Shelter Them fundraiser, where I and one other member of Driftwood Cross had come to sing and support the team who will be traveling to Rwanda this November. During the course of the evening, all the team members who would be traveling to Rwanda were asked to stand and come forward. I thought I was ready… I thought I had prepared myself for this moment. But nothing could prepare me for the clench in my gut when the team members filed forward… without me.
As I sat stiffly in my seat, with my gaze trained towards the front, I smiled and nodded while my heart screamed, “What about me? I belong there too!” And as I listened to our team talk about how excited they were to visit Rwanda, my heart kept insisting, “But you have no idea. If this was a trip to Sudan or Ethiopia or Uganda, you would feel the same. Cute children and great need. None of you can possibly love Rwanda like I do. You don’t know the language, the culture, the customs, like I do.”
It was hard again today, as I re-watched the video of my friends meeting our co-sponsored child, Isimbi. I always tear up when I watch the video of Isimbi… always have, probably always will… but it was always a “I love you so much and can’t wait to see you,” kind of cry… not a “I love you so much and may never get the chance to meet you,” kind of cry. As I watch her lovely dark eyes flicker from one person to the next, watch her shy smile when she is handed a gift, see her shy pride when she presents the team with a present she picked herself, note her interest as she intently studies a photo that she is given, see her slim brown arms reaching for a hug, watch the blooming confidence in her precious face… my heart crumbles into bits and rains down to the floor. Oh, my sweet child… will I ever have the chance to know you?
It gets still harder when I re-read the letters from my darling sister Shakira in Rwanda… She promises that she will teach me to dance “Rwandan dance type” and says, “I will be so happy when you come and visit us in Rwanda.” Jules (The director of Shelter Them) has assured me that “Shakira is a good girl, she is sad to hear you are not coming but she understands.” That doesn’t stop my heart from breaking… Shakira has no mother, her father is in prison and she has only met him once. She had five older siblings who are all deceased. Her aunt abandoned her. I recall her words, “The love you have for me really amazed me,” and I look at her smiling photo and think, “Am I one more person who has let her down?”
It gets harder still when I see the bubbly posts on Facebook… “Can’t wait to see you guys in a few weeks!” “The countdown is on!” “Can’t wait to visit Rwanda again!” “So excited!”
At times I must come off as annoying or desperate, as I beg the team members again and again; take lots of pictures of my babies. Bring them presents from me. Tell them how much I love them. Tell them how much I wanted to visit. Tell them how proud I am of them.
All the while my heart is asking, “When will it be my turn?”
Yes, it hurts. It aches. It burns. I won’t pretend that it’s easy. I can’t pass it off and say, “Oh well, next year.” I can’t pretend that my heart doesn’t break a little more every day. It will be hard to watch the team set off on their journey… it will be even harder when they return, overflowing with stories and photos. I don’t know why this had to happen… that for the third time, my trip is cancelled. I won’t pretend that I don’t have my moments of asking, “God, why?”
Sometimes, on those days when I can almost feel the heat of the Rwandan sun, can almost smell the rain-scented air, can almost feel the red dirt road beneath my feet, all I can do is stretch my hands to Heaven and say, “It’s Yours.” I don’t understand why, and maybe I never will... I can only hope that I will be there someday, in the homeland I’ve never been to, holding my beloved children in my arms. Until then, I will trust my Father to hold my children tightly, to protect them, keep them safe, love them, and guide them; until such a time as I am able to hold them in my physical arms. And until then, I will hold them in my heart.