Sunday, January 7, 2018

Shattered Africa

Recently I was emptying out the drawers of a desk we decided to get rid of.

Very often I stumble upon things that have long been forgotten or seen since I move a lot and usually take very little with me. Though I think I get rid of everything before I go, sometimes random things get tucked away in random places in the last and final chaotic whirlwind of moving, only to be rediscovered long after.

This time, as I made my way through the drawers, I found what one might expect to find in a desk. Paper. Markers-half of which were dried out. Pencils and pens and way too many office supplies. Cards and stationary I was excited to finally put to good use after two years of snail mail not really being a thing. Paperwork and files.

And there. In one of the tiny, top, corner drawers, a handfull of broken glass.
At first I was puzzled. Why on earth did I put broken glass in this drawer. I trust my fairly photographic memory and so it didn't take me long to realize that I had in fact not put broken glass in that drawer. My mom has a habit of keeping strange things (strange to me anyways) and so then I thought perhaps she had put it there. It turns out she had. But then I knew. She had put it there on my behalf. For my sake.

Two and a half years ago I moved to Guadalajara, Mexico. I remember the morning so clearly. For months I had been preparing and still somehow there was so much to do. (Isn't that always the case!? Just me...?) Weighing suitcases and reweighing them and shifting clothes and things and making final decisions as to what was essential and how much of my life was actually going to fit into those three suitcases. I remember that I couldn't find my passport. All of those folders and papers and plans and here I was about to move to Mexico in a few hours without my passport. My photographic memory kicked in and my head flashed back to FedEx the day before where I had made last minute extra copies of my paperwork. It was there, under the copier.
 I called.
They had it and had been panicking trying to figure out a way to reach me.
 I was going.
This was really happening.

We prayed the whole way to the airport that we would encounter some sweet, lovely clerk who might be so excited about the fact that I was moving to Mexico and completely understand a few extra pounds as I was, after all, squishing my whole life into three bags.
We did not.
Perhaps she was having a bad morning, but it seemed she could care less about what my situation might be or why my bags might be less than one pound over, she just cared that they were and was not putting them on that belt until they were not.

And so it began.

The frantic resorting and rearranging on the airport floor.
Not many things make me feel more vulnerable than exposing all of my chosen possessions for anyone and everyone from anywhere in the world to walk past and see.
To judge.
And in that particular moment it was especially horrifying.
I had spent months laying in bed at night wide awake deciding which pieces of my life I would take to Mexico. Prioritizing and making cuts and fitting my life into three suitcases. Wondering with each piece put in and each tossed aside if I was making the best choices. Which things would I miss when I was there and which I would realize I should have left behind.
And there on that cold airport floor, her eyes glaring down at me, the scale unforgiving, and strangers all around tapping their toes and judging my every move, I had to reevaluate every decision I had made so carefully over the last six months. Months of wondering and calculating all mixed up in just a few frantic moments.

My African rocks.
Collected slowly and carefully one-by-one along the Namibian coast. The Pacific foam dancing in and out of my toes. The African, winter sun warm on my neck and hair. My heart fuller than I think it's ever been before or after.
A vintage glass bottle that I stumbled upon in a thrift store downtown. An old cork to close it. The perfect, forever container. A way to maybe contain just the tiniest bit of those moments that had filled my heart as I'd walked the sand in the land that held my heart.

I knew they had to go.
A pound at least, I was sure. Bringing new meaning to that age old question, "What do you have in there, rocks?"
I sure did.
It broke my heart.
The whole of it.
The symbolism.
The reality.
One less piece of home to fill my new one.
The metaphor in that moment.
The weight keeping me from moving on to Mexico.
The weight of Africa.
In my suitcase.
Heavier in my heart.
Was I really doing this?
The direction was all wrong.
Just six months earlier I was on track to be leaving for Africa in this moment.
I should be leaving for Africa...
And here I was, literally tossing Africa aside to move my life south of the border.
I swiftly wiped away tears and swallowed down the lump in my throat as deeply as I could stand.
I dug my hand down deep into the layers of clothes where we had safely tucked the little bottle of rocks.
Though time somehow felt suspended, it was actually all happening so fast and in the pressure of the moment and my shaking hands the little glass container slipped from my hands and shattered on that cold, marble floor.
Her eyes glaring, their toes tapping, Mexico waiting. My mother standing behind me helpless. The tears unstoppable now.
The clerk handed me a broom. Offered me no help or hint of sorrow. No acknowledgment that a piece of me had just shattered all over the floor of the Pittsburgh airport.
Of course, how could she have known?
I'm sure she just thought I was ridiculous for packing rocks.
I guess maybe I was.

But my dear Pastor had told me this over and over again in all of those months of deciding and so many sleepless nights:

" God called you. He needs you to be you in order to do what He's called you to do. So. Lay all of your things out on the ground and decide which ones you need to put in those three bags in order to be the most you in your ministry in Mexico."

 And as silly as it might sound to take up precious space in the very small amount I had to move my life to Mexico, I needed those rocks to keep being me. I needed those moments on the African coast to remind me how in all of the twists and turns I had ended up in Mexico. I needed to be able to remember how full my heart had been with my toes in the sand when my heart ached at the end of long days beneath the blazing hot Mexican sun.

I didn't understand Mexico yet even though I had agreed to go.
And I was going.
I was.
I just needed to hang onto Africa to get there.
And now, I could not.

She offered me a clear trash bag. That's all.
We swept it all up into that bag and my mom tucked it away in her purse.
I zipped up the bag and put it back on the scale, avoiding eye contact with absolutely everyone. Even Lincoln. After all, I was moving his life to Mexico too and I wasn't sure how he felt about all of this either.

The weight was good.
Just right actually.
She threw the bag on the belt and sent me on my way.
A lot of other things happened in the next hour or so as I left Ohio behind yet again for a whole lot of the unknown. I'm sure that little bottle of rocks was not the only thing that I took out of my bag that day.
But somehow it's all I can remember from those final moments before Mexico.
That I had to leave shattered Africa behind in order to move forward.

That was the whole point after all I suppose.
That Africa was not for then.
Mexico was.
And I had to let my heart be in Mexico and not hang on so tightly or even angrily to Africa.
Even if it had to shatter.

You know, there was a time when the word "Africa" was an instant fight between my mom and I.
That was a long time ago.
Those broken pieces of glass and a little plastic bag of rocks in a little secret desk drawer show me just how far she's come and how much she's grown. How deeply she loves me. That she understood that that broken bottle and those scattered rocks could not just be tossed into the garbage.
She took them home and tucked them away for later.
Because she knew that Africa was not going away. But she knew that it was not for then. And she knew it needed safe keeping. She doesn't want me to go, but she knows I have to and she knew I would stumble upon Africa again down the road. First in a desk drawer and eventually on a map.

And now I know that way back then in the Pittsburgh airport, He was not shattering Africa, only my idea of Africa and all of the maps and timelines I had built with them so I could rediscover it on His terms.

Africa was not for then and Africa is not for now either.
That's okay.
I found a new little jar and I placed my rocks inside.
And next month when I pack my bags and move back to Seattle, I'll tuck them down deep in the softness of my clothes. And hope they make it all the way with me.
Hope they don't have to come out.
Hope they don't shatter and scatter all over the Pittsburgh airport floor again.
If that is the case. I know just what I'll do. Maybe I'll even come with a little bag ready to scoop them up and tuck them in my purse and keep moving into the next. This time with Africa. Not shattered. Not tucked away in a secret jar.
Just not for now.
And when I finally put all of the pretty little precious things around my brand new home, pieces of me from Africa will sit near pieces of me from Mexico. And I'll smile, maybe shed some tears.
And I'll keep on becoming.

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