We’re warned about it before we arrive; they covered it in Gateway, articles are passed around and discussions are encouraged about how to deal with the ever present, low-level grief you can feel in such a transient community. The only constant here is change; we move from country to country and project to project, with people coming and going every day. Part of me wonders what kind of crazy we all are to live like that… And then part of me thinks it’s actually, in fact, the healthiest place to be.
I’ve been with Mercy Ships for a year now (total), and I can honestly say this last six months have been the richest of my life. I am surrounded by some of the most incredible men and women one could ever hope to get to do life with. I have found a fulfillment in my work I had only dreamed about in the past; not only am I doing something I’m good at but my heart is alive and passionate about the mission and calling. I have found myself not just surviving the community culture but thriving and growing, with a circle of deep, sweet, treasured friendships that truly is an embarrassment of riches. I’ve loved Africa ever since moving here nearly four years ago, and this year in Guinea has only increased that love.
In the last week I’ve had to say goodbye to Guinea; to the French speaking world, plantain chips and running in sewage and the joyful songs of patients and malaria ridden mosquitoes. I’ve had to say goodbye to friends I’ve come to love dearly – some I will reunite with soon, and some I may never see again. In the next few weeks I will say goodbye to the ship and Europe and my work here… if only for a short, but significant, time away on vacation. And when all of this is gone, when I’ve said the last goodbye, there is only one thing that remains: God. His calling on my life – wherever, with whoever, doing whatever.
My life is richer because of the relationships I’ve had and the people I’ve worked with and walked with, danced with and cried with; and my life is richer because of the places I’ve seen and lived and experienced. My story is well flavored with cultures, languages, stories, smells, accents, colors, tastes, and journeys. And I am so very grateful for it all - but my life is not defined by those things. Those things are wonderful, but they are temporary. Some are more temporary than others – but ultimately, my story is not defined by them, it’s defined by God, and choosing to walk in the freedom of that life to the full.
I’m blessed this year because I don’t have any hugely dramatic, heart-wrenching goodbyes. But I’ll be blessed next year, too, when I do have them; blessed because those treasures have flavored my story, blessed because I knew them, and blessed to be able to send them off into the next chapter with love, knowing I will see them again if not in this life in the next.
I no longer dread the goodbyes – I choose to bless those who are leaving into the next great thing. Some of them I know it’s unlikely I will see them again… but that doesn’t make the relationship any less valid, or our time together any less special. It was a special gift for a season – and while I might miss that, I know and trust God to fulfill all my needs – so instead of holding them, and myself, back in grief, I can release them with joy into the next season. Some of them I know I will see again, there’s no getting around it – and those are the special ones. Special friends like Becky, Rachel, Emma, Josh, Lisa… People who I have met all over the world who I knew within the first few hours together that they were someone I wouldn’t ever have to say goodbye to – it would always be ‘until next time’.
Lest I sound arrogant, let it be said that I don’t have this thing figured all out. I know I will cry and grieve and miss my friends and ship and job and continent… saying goodbye is still hard. But instead of sitting alone with my grief in the dining room for the next three weeks, I want to embrace the season and sit with someone new, a treasure waiting to be discovered; embrace and experience the joy of new friendships unfolding and stories being told and flavors added to this incredible masterpiece God is writing.