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Memories and Tears

This is a guest post from my friend Brittany. She is an elementary teacher in the Indianapolis area who has a HUGE heart for Kenya.

I close my eyes tonight and I let the memories wash over me. I haven’t allowed myself to do this in so long. I’ve locked the memories up and tucked them away in a safe place. They try to creep out from time to time. It usually hits me when I least expect it. Something will trigger my memories. Tonight it was something as simple as the song “Ring Around the Rosie.” Suddenly I am there again. Holding the hands of little children, hearing their voices sing the song, and seeing the joy and laughter on their faces. It brings a smile to my face and a pain to my heart. I long to be there again. To hold those little hands. To hear their joyful voices. To see the laughter in their eyes. So tonight, instead of pushing this memory back into the recesses of my mind, I let it come forward and I let the rest of the memories come. The faces, the sights, the smells, the noises, they all come flooding back. For a moment I feel like I’m there again, until I open my eyes again and reality welcomes me back like a cold splash of water in the face. I’m not there anymore. It’s six months since we returned and those memories seem as far away as the distance from Indiana to Kenya.

The author playing in a circle with Kenyan children

In six months, I haven’t allowed myself to dwell on the memories of my trip too often. I haven’t allowed myself the time to sit and process and write about my trip. Case in point, I wrote that first paragraph for this blog weeks ago and have avoided finishing it ever since.

When you go on a mission trip, so much time, energy, prayer, and preparation is put into the process of going, but what is often neglected is how to process coming home. I always thought that going on a mission trip would always be the hardest part. I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle the sights, sounds, and smells of the slums. Over the course of my three trips to Kenya, I’ve seen some of the worst poverty that would bring most people to tears. Yet, there has only been one time in all of my trips that I have outright cried and it was six months ago on the night we drove to the airport to return home.

I don’t like crying because it makes me feel like I’m not strong enough to handle whatever is pushing me to tears. I view it as weakness and therefore try to avoid it as much as possible. Each time that I have returned from Kenya has been difficult, but the emotions that accompanied my return on my last trip caused me to fear that I wasn’t strong enough to handle the sadness that followed the goodbyes. After three trips, I had grown too close to this place and the easiest fix was to lock the memories away so that the tears wouldn’t come again. Those memories would still be locked away if it wasn’t for a devotional that I read recently that spoke about tears. I was struck by this quote:

“Tears are tiny messengers sent from the deepest part of who we are. They whisper – here is where your heart beats strong. This is a hint as to what makes you come alive.” – Emily P. Freeman

I’ve never thought of tears before in this way, but as I let that statement resonate in my heart and mind, I realize it’s truth. My tears that night as we left Nairobi six months ago were because Kenya has become such a deep part of who I am. I interpreted my tears as weakness, when in reality they were revealing the deep love for a people and place that makes my heart beat the strongest. For six months I have resisted listening to those tiny messengers and the avoidance has only made me more miserable.

Is it painful to be so far away from so many people who have touched your heart? Yes. Is it difficult to feel like you are only one person who can’t even begin to solve the problems that are facing these people you care about? Absolutely. It’s painful and it’s difficult and it brings me to tears, but instead of rejecting them, I need to remind myself that my tears are pointing to what matters most to my heart.

Over the last four and a half years, working in the schools and developing relationships with the people I’ve met in Kenya has become my passion and a part of who I am. Pursuing that passion makes my heart come alive and while it may bring tears along the way, I’ve realized those tears are to be embraced as a reminder of how strongly my heart beats for each of those faces in my memories.

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