June 2, 2012

Goodbyes can lead to something new, better

By MARY WHITE, Love Stories

---- — I hate goodbyes; their possibility is an albatross that hangs around my heart.

When I was very young, my family went to visit my brother and his girlfriend. As people moved quietly about his tiny apartment, the air was heavy and my throat ached. I pressed on my eyes to ward off tears. I was relieved that no one spoke to me because I couldn’t have gotten a word out without crying.

Unbeknownst to me, my brother and his girlfriend were breaking up. No one had mentioned this prior to our visit, and I am still astonished at my powerful reaction to the unspoken. But by that point in my young life, goodbyes were common, and I was overly attuned to endings.

When I left a job at my children’s school, our youngest son

became distraught because he thought he would never see me again. I understood how he felt.

Goodbyes knock my world off its axis. I become anxious about life’s cycle, questioning even the most certain fixtures of seasons and tradition and time. Nothing feels sure.

In my shock, I fixate on all that I cherish — as if a single loss can destroy normal, requiring me to rebuild it, moment by moment.

In my work with children, there was a time when I had become shell-shocked. I had absorbed other people’s pain so much that my worldview was grim. I expected the worst of mankind, and a caring Creator seemed an oxymoron.

Thankfully, I was offered a job that not only gave me more time at home, but also shifted how I worked with kids, lessening my exposure to trauma. I welcomed the chance at a different life, to rest, to be home, to refocus.

This good fortune felt unnatural. Discussing my new job, an acquaintance said to me, “Well, you’ve paid your dues.” While certainly nice to hear, the idea that I had somehow earned this didn’t set right. I couldn’t help but think of all the people who work hard, who want more time with their kids, who might never get a similar shot. I couldn’t reconcile this opportunity with something I had done.

Over the next seven years, I reveled in my new position. I got close to all kinds of kids. I was able to group, connect and organize children in exciting ways. I got to spend all of my children’s vacations with them, basking in unfettered moments with the world’s most precious people. Paradise was mine.

During this time, I finally studied God; first shunning him, then finding him and, finally, inviting him in.

Recently, the unthinkable happened. The funding for my job dried up. It had always been a possibility, but I had been sure that this was my happy ending — where God had led me. As I faced goodbyes to kids I had come to love, to a job I was crazy about, to a family life I had grown used to, I could not — would not — believe that I could bear it. I spent three weeks preparing myself and my students for the separation, probably scarring them with my sadness. In the midst of packing, one of the kids said softly, “I feel like you’re dying.”

On the other side of this goodbye was a return to my old work. I would be taking a job that involved a lot of what I had left behind, work I felt I could no longer face. Helpless, I was moving toward what I had run from years ago.

Right after starting my newest job, I listened to Jeremy Camp sing “Understand,” and I was reminded that God knows my heart. He alone has full disclosure to what I fear and what I can shoulder.

And it hit me. Maybe the job I was leaving had merely been a break so I could breathe and get strong and find him. Maybe he needed me to return to this work on his terms.

I wondered: Could goodbyes really be birth canals, corridors that link what was with what is next? As God’s peace flooded my heart, I heard him whisper, “And, this time, I am with you.”