This past weekend my sweet friend Krystal invited me to come with she and her boyfriend, Kingston, to his grandmothers house in a tiny town outside of St. Louis. After weaving through back roads in pastures and hills we pulled into a gravel driveway and thirty pairs of eyes looked up from their Dixie plates and sweet potatoes to greet us. It was like walking into my Nana’s house on Fish Branch road back home. Flower beds were decorated with figurines of animals, and a couple of full sized plows that probably used to till their fields; the grandkids sat pulling weeds with tiny blossoms and either showed them to their mother or ate them declaring, “It’s fine! It’s just a clover!” and an uncle drove up on a four-wheeler looking for his daughter to go pet the horses. The smells, accents, sights, events, and pretty much every other little detail were just like being at home again; at one point I sat listening to Kingston’s Pepaw snoring in his recliner and, if I closed my eyes, I could see my Papa sitting there, I laid in bed and listened to the women downstairs bustling around making breakfast before church and if I had stayed there, where the names were muffled by a wall, I could have heard, “Chrissie! Karen! Lindsay! Susan! or Nana!” being called across the room when someone needed something from the outside fridge… but I had to open my eyes, and I had to get out of bed. And when I did, no matter how close to home it looked, sounded, or smelled, my family was not there. I was a welcomed stranger in their home. I’m going to summarize the feelings I went through this past weekend–Comfort, loneliness, sadness, joy, contentment, a few others, but most importantly, gratefulness.
My family, as I’ve mentioned in my last couple of blogs, is without doubt, the most cherished blessing I have in my life. I have been blessed with a family that literally rejoices and hurts together. I have been blessed with a family that intercedes for whatever one of us needs it in prayer until their tear ducts threaten to dry up. I have been blessed with a family that is so incredibly tight-knit and precious it is nearly impossible to leave. And yet, here I am, 1,700 miles away, planning to head back to Africa where last time the pain of leaving my family, of being an alien, not fully known by anyone drove me home trembling. The Lord has made it very clear to me that this year away from home is a time of preparation, a time to not only get used to being away, but to understand how much better it is. I know Jesus says we have to hate home in comparison with our love for Him; this year I’m to learn what that means. In 2 Samuel King David is in a stronghold, shielded from battle and says he really wants a drink of water from the Gate of Bethlehem, so his “mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well…and brought it to David.” It was exactly what he wanted. David was so blessed; so he tok the water they had gone to get him and, “He poured it out to the Lord,” and would not drink it. David was so grateful for what he’d been given that he in turn gave it to God to express his gratitude. I’m sure his throat still burned with thirst, but his mouth, dry and sticky, uttered praises to Yahweh and was satisfied.
The only way to really receive a blessing from the Lord is to give it away in love. As I sat watching a family that was not my own bustle around me, my walls began to rise, thinking, “I’m not part of this, I’m just a guest. I don’t need to engage here or get attached.” But then came the Whisper that faithfully softens my cold, selfish heart, reminding me that I am to learn this year how to be away from my own family in love. So I go to the table and start picking up styrofoam plates from in front of Memaw and the aunts, syrup covered plastic forks pile on top and Krystal grabs the french toast casserole pans and we begin to scrub. I look over my shoulder at Memaw and joke, “Well since you guys got the easy job of cooking I guess I’ll do the dishes! Since I’m the guest it’s my job, I suppose.” It’s a joke my cousins and I always milk after a big family meal at home. I step on the trash can pedal and the lid flies open, I drop in the plates and dramatically sigh, “DONE!” Krystal is scraping away remnants of french toast and I’m preparing a new pot of coffee in the kitchen and we can hear in the dining room, “They just fit right into our family!” followed by, “Uh-oh, I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not!” and hysterical laughter. I’m home. When we pack up to leave and hug everyone goodbye, one after another they say, “Y’all come back now! The door’s always open!” I begin to hear a lie: ”They are talking to Kingston and Krystal, Rachel, don’t get so excited; they’re the family here. You came home for a weekend. Move on.” But before I have time to believe that I hear the Whisper in the form of a grey haired woman’s voice, “RACHEL! I haven’t gotten a hug from you yet! Now when they come back you better be with them! You just fit right in here, I’m so glad you felt at home!” And then an uncle, “We’re having a four wheeler ride next month and you’re invited, we have to work cows too, so if you’re really mean on a parting gate you’re definitely invited there.” We laugh and I remember… I’m home.
When we make it back to the dorms I walk in and a sweet new friend is looking at me from the lounge, homework spread all around her and she exclaims, “There you are! Where have you been all weekend?! I’ve missed you!” I’m home. About a year ago I sat up, groggily peering through a tattered mosquito net at two little chocolate faces peeking through the crack between the steel door and mud brick wall of my make-shift bedroom; they bounce impatiently and whisper to each other in Luo, smiling and giggling, wondering when their mzungu will get out of bed to play… I’m home
“…Who are my mother and my brothers? And looking at those about at those who sat around Him, He said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” I’m home.