Arrived in Panama City around 7am, left for Houston around 9:45. Arrived in Houston, cleared immigration, then spent 3 hours stuck in the baggage claim area before customs because of a very bad thunderstorm. Proceeded to freak out a little and get into survival mode. Eventually, everyone made it through and I started freaking out about how I was going to get to Notre Dame.
When I say goodbye to my teammates, hugging each one turn-by-turn, I already feel some heartache of perfect times over. When I arrive at my gate, C11, and sit down at an iPad-equipped high table, it hits me like thunder.
“I am leaving paradise.”
The fact of the sudden removal of my shelter, coupled with the unknown I’m dealing with—flight delays, bus times, how am I going to get there safely tonight?—coupled with a phone call to Coach USA where the call receiver couldn’t have projected more hate and disgust than she did, has me crying. I use most of Tina’s tissues here, rather than in Bolivia as TP. I am leaving paradise. The reality of it sinks deeply like bullets. I flash through moments of the week in my head—doing the foot-dance with Silas in the hostel courtyard, eating BBQ while talking with Carmen about boys, Josue zipping my backpack, walking across tile to the bathroom while Janie snored, riding in the Guillermobile, goofing off with our crazy boys. Loving on God and his people. Doing his mission nonstop with people I care deeply for, with all the logistics perfect. I can’t idealize this week, but I can’t deny that it strengthened me spiritually, and that I’ve bonded with incredible God-loving people, and it’s been an absolute blast.
I also don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few hours.
So I’m sitting there, crying, reflecting on the past and freaking out about the near future. I’m crying so that my nose is full to the brim. I’m calling my dad, texting PG details, watching the time tick up and adjusting my getting-to-Chicago-and-Notre-Dame strategy accordingly. I’ve gone through tissues enough to cover the iPad’s base. A stranger, a woman maybe in her late twenties, stands across the table from me and says, “Hey,” in a really sweet drawl. “I’m so, so sorry you’re sa-ad. I’m sorry, but sometimes chocolate can help.” And she pours out three Dove chocolates from her palms onto the table in front of me.
The tears return immediately and are furiously warm. “This is – the nicest thing anyone’s done for me.”
“Can I give you a hug?”
She comes over and hugs me, and I mumble-cry, “Thank you so much,” and she’s gone.
What does it take to show compassion to a complete and utter stranger? The feeling over me, the recipient, was just overwhelming—I was overwhelmed by the force of a simple gesture. She said the exact right thing, in some way, and it was movie-like but all the more genuine. I’m incredibly thankful for this particular woman and her decision to make a drastic difference in a stranger’s life, because I will not forget her act soon. I’m crying just thinking about it.
From my experience last year, and from my experience thus far, I’m pretty sure that for me, the hardest part of a short-term mission trip is coming back from it. There are now things to do long-term. I’m no longer living fully in each moment, but devoting much of my energy towards things for the distant future. It’s a tough transition to make, and I’m praying for guidance through it.
I need to realize that Bolivia is by no means paradise, and neither is the Bolivia mission trip. Instead, the only real paradise is the one I look forward too, the paradise hand-in-hand with eternity, and the work I do in my day-to-day life is similar in the goal of getting more people there. My hope and prayer is that God uses me to carry out his mission not only in beautiful, complicated trips like this one, but also in normal life—that I’ll value both the same and treat each as integral. I’m not moving from paradise into the mundane—rather, I’m moving from one particular mission to the next, God help me.
Will work on some wrapping-up thoughts to share in the coming weeks as I reflect on this experience.
Isabella – 7/16/17,