Sunday, January 08, 2006

An Epiphany on the Epiphany

I have suddenly realized something. And it’s not so much that I just now suddenly realized it. Because, truly, it’s a thought I’ve had all along during this process, but the reality of what it means has come to light for me and Chris during the past few days and I feel it’s worthy of a mention.

Many years ago Chris and I decided that we were going to Africa to be missionaries. It was a decision that the two of us made with much deliberation and much discussion between he and I . During the process, we have never gone to our family and friends and asked their permission to do this. We have asked advice. We have asked for blessings. But, like people do in major life decisions (marriages, moves, pregnancies), we just made a choice and moved forward with our plans.

Today (or over the course of the past couple of days, actually) I think Chris and I really started to understand the sacrifice that our friends and family are going to be making when we finally do go abroad. As I said, Chris and I made this decision about our life, but in so many ways, we made a major decision on behalf of everyone who cares for us. Because while we are gone in Africa, we are not at home with them. I know this may not translate to the blogosphere so well. But what I mean is that our friends and family will miss out on having us as a major part of their lives for the 2 years that we’re gone. We will not be there for holidays, celebrations, funerals (God forbid), accomplishments, etc. It is not simply that WE will miss these occasions, but we will not be there for THEM during these times. And in most cases, (as much as it may baffle me:) they seem to want us there. I don’t mean to sound egotistical or anything here. Bear with me.

My sister went to Italy for a year in college. Even all these years later, I still remember the Christmas she was gone as one that just was not right. It was like a piece of me was gone because she was not there. I was so used to her being around on holidays that I did not realize how much of ME resides with HER and how much of that comes out when we are together.

THAT is the sacrifice that we are asking our families to make. And that, in many cases, is a huge sacrifice for them. A sacrifice that they had no say in.

Now, I must say for the record that ultimately I don’t think that we should have asked anyone’s permission. And I am not necessarily apologizing for the decision that we have made to be missionaries. I am not apologizing because in many ways I think that the feelings of loss that some might actually have a purpose.

For one, that sense of loss that will be felt by our family is a microcosm for the loss and pain that the people we’ll be helping feel every day of their lives. Certainly I don’t mean this in terms of family and friends, because I am sure that they will have that. I mean in terms of equality, justice, sanitary conditions, basic human needs. The people in the part of the world that we look to serve are missing a whole lot more than we can ever imagine and I think that it is important for people to think about loss on a global scale, as well as a personal scale.

A second way that I think the feelings of loss can serve a purpose is in that it shows how connected our world is. When we speak of our world in terms of its global scale, we often think in terms of technology or environment. But I like to think of it this way. As I mentioned previously, while we are gone small pieces of our loved ones will also be gone with us. But we will be bringing those pieces of our friends and family with us to Africa. That piece of you that may be missing on Christmas when I am not there…that piece will be with me when I am in Africa as I am telling my story to those I meet. So even though our friends and family may not physically be present with us while we are gone, you will be there. And you will contribute to our service in a very real way. And when we come home, we will be bringing pieces of Africa with us to share with you. We will be bringing the world closer together as we try to make this planet more livable. It is an amazing way that you all will be sharing in our service.

I know you all did not ask to share in our service. But you will. What greater sacrifice can there be than to give of one’s own? And, essentially, without a choice. I cannot think of any greater sacrifice. And so to our family and friends, I say thank you.


pritcher said...

wow, katie, that's beautiful and right on.

happy epiphany.

discipleassisi said...

wow :)

St. Izzy said...

It's the truth of life in the Body, life in communities: every decision we make affects everyone around us.

Very nicely said.

Theresa said...

Katie, I stand in admiration and in awe of what you and Chris do and plan to accomplish. *I* am the one that gets to tell stories of you.

Waldie's World said...

thanks, friends, for reading such a long post. and then saying such nice things! i think there's a reason why you're my friends!

St. Elizabeth of Cayce said...


I read this a few days ago but havent had time to make comments.

I think that this is the 1st time I'd seen (heard?) you use the term "missionaries." Usually, folks talk about volunteer service, or some other word that doesn't consign them to the stereotype of folks wandering around in outdated clothes and shoes, awestruck at the "vast selection" in the local A&P now that they've returned from the bush.

I'm glad to see you embrace the "label"--taking your faith, not just your works, with you to Africa.

It's also interesting to see your musings on what your family will miss when you're away. Yes, you won't be there for events, but if every single event required your presence, you'd never be able to leave town, get married, etc.

Bits of your families' gatherings and celebrations and times of grieving will be different because of your absence. Bits of your lives will be lessened because of times you're missing out on even now.

But, and this is WHY you plan to go, those absences from family will be present moments with those whom God is calling you to serve. They didn't get any "say-so" in the decision either--but they'll be blessed.

For you guys and your families, SO MUCH of the rest of your lives will be blessed by your service. Your families' stories will now include "the one when Chris & Katie were in Africa and X happened..."

Written on the day of St. Palaemon, an early hermit who left everything, heded off to Afric (Egypt, in this case) and help found monasticism.

Gashwin said...

Beautiful post Katie! Wow.

Love = self-emptying.

Heather said...

I got your link from Paula, and as I am spending a year abroad, I completely understand what you were saying. This week has been hard for me in particular, with alot going on at home. I even offered my family that I would come home. My mother absolutely refused. I think that even though she didn't have a choice in me being here (and strongly expressed wishes that I stay state-side), she wants this for me as much as I do. So, good luck in your travels - and don't fret, because although home won't be the same, it will be waiting for you when you get back.

Waldie's World said...

welcome, heather. and thanks for your comment. i wish you luck abroad (in france is it??) and with home life.