I leave in 30 days. 4 hours. 11 minutes.
I have been counting down the days until I depart for Africa since my plane lifted off in Johannesburg, South Africa. I spent the flight home flipping through pictures and trying not to cry. I was homesick for Swaziland within hours of leaving. I miss the moments when my babies crawl into my lap to snuggle, braid my hair and intertwine their sticky fingers with mine because it is how I can best love them.
Even then, it doesn’t feel adequate, because my sweet babies can love unlike anyone I have ever met. There was a time on my previous trip, the day we put our handprints on t shirts: red fabric paint on the sticky fingers of our preschoolers placed carefully on brand new white shirts, so as to create a heart in the negative space. With no running water on the care pointe (yet! a well has been dug since!), we had filled bottles of water from our bathroom sinks with which to wash off the paint. I thought nothing of it, having had worked with preschoolers and living with a toddler myself–you wash the hands. You always wash the hands unless you want pieces of red hand prints on the clothes and the walls and everything in between. Small bits of paint stuck to the backs of my hands and underneath my fingernails, and again, I thought nothing of it–in a few hours, I would go back to the hotel and shower, where all the paint would be washed away. No big deal, right?
Do you see the sweet girl in the pink Crocs? She was one of the first pairs of hands I had the pleasure of washing, and for a while she braided her hair and chattered with her friends and every once in a while, she would lean over my shoulder, pat my face and giggle the word “kokolatu” (goh-goh-lay-too, which means ‘precious one’). Eventually, other little girls began to mess with my hair so she sat at my side with this shocked look on her face. I cannot, to save my life, remember her name, but she was horrified that this red paint was staining my pasty skin. She leapt to her feet and began scrubbing the paint from my hands.
This was astonishing to me, and it still is a full 329 days later. Her jeans were covered in magnificent red Swazi dirt stains; her feet were caked in dirt through the holes in her shoes; she probably only bathes once a week, and still she put my cleanliness above her own. She personifies the lesson our Savior teaches us in John 13, as he washes the feet of his disciples.
There is so much to be learned from my babies and I love it. They love over and over and over, just like Jesus did while he was here on earth. I was overwhelmed by not only the amount of their love, but the depth and agape nature: they loved with intention, but without agenda; they loved with reckless abandon, but without expectation; they all love fully and completely, with all that they have.
I think part of what makes this so bewildering is that these children are not taught how to love. Their mothers do not snuggle them before tucking them in at night or teach them how to braid hair; their fathers do not force held hands before crossing the street. My sweet babies are forced to figure love out on their own and that breaks my heart. It is a beautiful, hungry, unconditional love unlike anything I have ever experienced in the US. It is a consuming love, much like the love of Christ: once you get a taste of it, nothing else will suffice.
I leave in 30 days. 3 hours. 26 minutes.