Back when I used to write ... (sigh)
Darkness blanketed the ground outside her window of the 747. Runway lights soon came into view at Jomo Kenyatta Airport. One bounce and the pressure of jetliner brakes told Melissa she had finally arrived in the land of red dirt and dreams.
Not many years before, she dreamed of this night; recurring dreams.
“I had the most beautiful dream last night,” she told me while filling her cereal bowl. It was the first day of school, and she was entering sixth grade.
“Tell me about it.” I tried to use the same phrase every time she mentioned her dreams.
“You ‘member Mr. Tanis’ from 5th grade, well I was in his classroom ... but it didn’t look like my school at all ... then I was floating in the air and everyone was like---whoa, Melissa you can float ... then the moon came out ... but it looked like a globe and it just kept spinning and stopping ... and everything was so beautiful ... and then it stopped spinning and guess where it stopped?” Melissa grasped for air and the milk carton.
“Africa,” I said, knowing for certain it was the right answer.
Every so often I try to recall a time when her heart did not beat for Africa. Her elementary Paper Mache project was shaped like Mt Kilimanjaro. When it was time for country reports she had to wait through the whole alphabet, fearful someone else would choose Kenya. Her worries were unfounded.
“Why can’t God just send down food from the sky to feed the starving children?” Her questions came out of nowhere and always as her older sister was drifting off to sleep.
“I know, Lissy,” Jen would whisper. “Maybe we can go to Africa someday and help them.”
It was the fall of 2007, when I knew for certain, she would make her dream a reality. She was touring the country with a cast of young Americans. Their group held 3-day workshops for 3rd-12th graders, with intentions to keep the arts at the forefront in public schools.
“Maybe I’ll try to take a sabbatical and travel to Africa next spring," she told her Australian born director.
“No more 'maybes' luv," her director-friend said in her lazy Aussie accent. “Stop saying words like ‘maybe’ and ‘try’, the time is now.”
I spent the next few months scanning the Internet for tickets, while Melissa started, from scratch, to find a place to serve.
“I’m still worried about you going alone,” I said.
“You shouldn’t,” she said and then proceeded to quote back to me a slew of Psalms I had made her memorize.
“The safest place for me to be is in the center of God’s will and guess what?" She reassured me, "Jen is thinking of going with me."
Great! Now I would have to worry about both of them.
By the time the leaves had fallen, orphanages were chosen, references checked, and reasonable tickets were on hold. The leaves obeyed, why was it so hard for me to let go? On the eve of finalizing their journey, my weak faith stumbled, as my daughters’ grew stronger. I wanted to let go. Or did I? What if they got hurt? Or worse? But then a small still voice spoke to me. What if they did not want to live passionately? Or follow their dreams? What if I was the one to stand in their way of being abundantly blessed? What if their creator designed them to hold helpless, abandoned babies, and I tried to persuade them to stay safe and comfortable?
What kind of mother wants the status quo for her children? I would take the leap.
Thanksgiving was bittersweet. The tickets, in hand, read Chicago to Nairobi January 30 through March 28, 2008. The prayer before turkey dinner was laced with tears and grateful hearts. The family pictures were taken and framed.
Two days after Christmas, the unexpected happened. The national presidential elections were held in Kenya, the most stable country in Africa. For the month of January the world, and my girls, watched as yet another African country descended into the depths of their man-made hell.
We hoped and prayed for the best, but for me, the 'not knowing' became almost unbearable. Melissa and Jen's faith never wavered.
By the middle of January, Northwest offered them a one-time 'civil unrest' change to their tickets. With heavy hearts, they pushed their departure date to February 27, 2008. They would spend one month in Africa instead of two.
By the end of January, Kenya grew quiet. In fact, after January 30, the original departure date, not once was Kenya on the front page of the BBC. My fears started to seem manageable and the girls remained undaunted. Prayers went up and the baby supplies rolled in.
I hugged them hard at Terminal 5 and promised not to cry. The simple Northwest text message came at 11:30am on that cold and gray Chicago morning.
Flight 8611: Departed.
My promise forgotten, I cried out to God.
On February 28, 2008, while their flight was in the air somewhere over North Africa, a peace agreement was signed by Kenya’s opposing political parties.
Just yesterday my cell phone rang and interrupted a quiet
summer reverie on the porch.
"Hi," Melissa said. “I dreamed of Africa again last night.”