My heart is tired.
For the last three weeks, I have been saying goodbye to so many people I love. After a while all those goodbyes start to take a toll on the soul. I can only stuff down the sadness and the tears and the longing for so long before they spill over.
Our parade of goodbyes started in Haiti. We concluded our nine weeks of living in Pignon and serving with Christian Friendship Ministries. In those final days, I finished up my last meetings with the ladies of The Haitian Bead Project. Over time those women in Pignon and Savanette became my community. And that's saying a lot considering how we started. We went to some hard places together and persevered to see reconciliation, even progress.
I remember sitting in a circle on the last Thursday with our new group of Savanette artisans. These ladies (pictured below) were truly an embodiment of joy for me. I started from scratch with them in May: teaching them how to form the beads from strips of recycled cardboard, talking through our business model and values, pouring over the Bible together in search of wisdom and truth.
On our last day there was no breeze, no rain. Our faces glistened with sweat. We shared melting chocolate truffles (brought from a friend in the U.S.) and joked in Kreyol. One by one they sent me off with hugs and heartfelt gratitude. We said goodbye but it was accompanied by a "see you soon."
That weekend our family had many other visitors at the mission house in Pignon. Friends brought goodbye gifts - roasted cashews, pineapples from their gardens, hand-scrawled letters. Some asked us to leave behind flashlights, batteries, shoes or other items that are expensive to buy in Haiti.
Our sweet friend Dartiquenov came to offer a helping hand with the baby while I cleaned the house and strategically packed our suitcases for the journey back to California. This summer he was like a dad/grandpa for my family. We joked about getting him in the suitcase too. He kept telling me how he would weep for days when we left.
My kids, too, were preparing their hearts to leave their friends. Over those nine weeks the kids at the orphanage next door had become their siblings. Meilani, who is now 6, burst into tears on Sunday night before bed. "I don't want to leave," she whimpered. I let her cry and kick, rubbed her sun-tanned shoulders. "It's ok to cry," I whispered.
We talked about how exciting it would be to see Nana and Papa, Nama and Grandpa and all our friends in Fresno again. We tried to ease the pain with thinking about the future.
On the Saturday before we left Haiti, we went to go visit our dear friend Madame Degloire (Degwa) in the hospital. She is another Haitian friend who has become like family to us. She started working as a cook for Ericlee's grandma and grandpa at age 16. Through the years, she has welcomed teams of American friends who have visited the mission in Pignon. She has prayed for Ericlee since he was born. She has been a close friend to Ericlee's mom and even befriended my own mom a few years ago when she started coming to Haiti. She was the master chef for our engagement dinner 10 years ago when we returned from the Citadel where Ericlee proposed. No one - I mean no one - makes Haitian rice and beans the way she does.
When we saw her in the hospital bed that day, I knew deep in my gut it would be the last time. I was so grateful for the chance to pray with her. She had a look of recognition on her face when I squeezed her sweaty hand. My Giada and Meilani neared her bed and bowed their heads too.
Monday afternoon in the airport in Fort Lauderdale en route to California we received word from her youngest son (Ericlee's godson) that she died. Another goodbye. A hole in my heart. What a legacy she left behind. I imagine she's up in heaven right now cooking up a massive pot of rice and beans for Grandma and Grandpa Bell and all the angels. We will see her one day.
Last week my sister, niece and nephew met us in Fresno for a week of family time. They had already planned their trip to California but in the midst of it we also had to make a trek to the Bay Area for my uncle Erwin's funeral. He died at 52. This seemed an early goodbye. A goodbye we certainly were not expecting. We remembered his jokes, his laughter, his love for the barbecue.
Parting is always such sweet sorrow, they say.
On Friday night, we all hugged Caron, Sophia and Giovanni goodbye. I tried to focus on the sweetness of our visit: watching the Olympics together even though we were bleary-eyed and exhausted, rising early to steal away on a sister walk, playing Scattergories, making lemonade stands and shopping the sales on back-to-the-'80s clothes at Forever 21.
We've already synced calendars and made plans for a Christmas visit but it's still hard to part. I wish my sister lived closer. I long to share the day-to-day with her - not just a text message here and a phone call there. More than just two visits a year.
We have known Jeremy and Marcy even before they got married. We have watched their family grow through biological kids, foster kids and adoption. We have walked the missionary journey with them. They have traveled to Haiti with us. We have raised our kids together, cooked together, worked out and run marathons together, studied the Bible together, prayed over each other, faced the daunting task of support raising together. Last year we even enrolled in the Perspectives World Missions college class and spent every Monday night together.
We've known for more than a year that the farewell party was inevitable but it didn't really make it easier. It's hard to open your hands and let someone you love fly away.
Our little rental was filled to the gills with people who wanted to say goodbye to the Puseys. Their lives, their journey has inspired so many. Some 25 kids raced through our living room and backyard as we celebrated for and mourned over our friends leaving. We laughed, we ate, we embraced them like family.
I couldn't help but smile when later that night I caught my 3-year-old Giada "reading a book" about her friend Hannah and her new house in Germany. (She's also frequently on her pretend phone talking to one of the orphans in Haiti and inviting them over to play at our house in Fresno.) It's how she copes with goodbyes and to this mama heart it is beautiful.
And I found myself asking this:
Why must I always say goodbye?
Why risk loving someone deeply when parting will be inevitable?
It wasn't until later that I found my answer:
I could draw back. I could avoid goodbyes altogether. I could keep to myself, shelter my kids from friends. I could stay put, never travel, never follow my dreams.
I could turn my back on my calling.
I could keep my relationships surface so it doesn't hurt so badly when people go away.
But is that what I really want for my life? Is that the mission? Are those the values I want to teach my kids?
I know the deepest love because I've risked that pain.
I know Moise and Genise and Angeline and Dartiquenov and Madame Degloire and Erwin and Caron and Marcy and Jeremy because I've said yes to the goodbyes. My kids love Astrude and James and Bethia and Amanda and Judelene and Nathanael and Corban and Hannah and Giovanni and Sophia because we've said yes to goodbyes.
We've said yes to goodbyes.
We've made them into see-you-soons and meet-you-theres.
We've promised letters and blogs and photos and Skype dates. And when we promise, we follow through.
My heart might be tired, but my heart is full.
When life is full of goodbyes, life is so much richer.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)