Taking my skates off.
Something felt amiss when I woke up this morning.
The bed was crackling too much, for one thing. It took me a minute to realize that’s because the dark orange sheets I’ve been sleeping on for two years were hanging from the bannisters instead of being where they should be. My face was pressed against the mattress cover, but it might as well have been pressed against the floor. I could hear the sing-song voice of my downstairs neighbor as clearly as if she was in the room with me.
I’m going to miss that, I thought.
I lay there for a long time in the familiar single bed near the radiator. This is normal.
This is home.
But it doesn’t feel quite right today. I got up and walked around the tangle of stairs to the lounge. Other than Sarah’s voice occasionally, the flat is dead silent. I’ve come to love that silence in the past two years, the moments I get to be alone with a cup of tea and stare out at the Mary Poppins-esque chimney tops across the street.
But today, it’s just weird.
It’s extra empty to the point it even echoes a little bit.
I remember once as a kid we added on a big den to the back of our house, and it was empty and echoed like that before all the carpet and furniture went in. I saw massive potential here. I asked Mom and Dad if we could keep it that way and use it as a rollerskating rink instead.
They said no.
For about five minutes, I was devastated.
But of course, the carpet went in, along with the big couches, a fireplace, a Christmas tree and many, many Christmas trees to follow. Lots of family. Lots of memories. Lots of studying with friends while watching CMT.
Eventually it was obvious that their purpose for the room was probably a lot better than what I had in mind.
Over the past few days, good friends have asked me occasionally how I’m doing, how I feel about leaving England. And I’m not even sure what to say. I don’t really know how I feel. I’m sitting here on the couch with a cup of tea trying to absorb the empty feeling for what it is, but mostly I just feel like the 6 year old who doesn’t want to take her skates off.
Because I love this place … I can’t even express how much. I love my friends. I love the land, the language, the people, the food, the idiosyncrasies. Because, though I’ll never sound like one, in my heart I’ll always be a bit of a Briton.
Because I’ll miss the way that every other stamp in a full passport has meant getting to walk for a moment in the lives of those who are hungry and persecuted, people who are hurting but have known the faithfulness of a God who sees them and loves them.
Because God has shown Himself to me here in a way that I’ll never forget or get over. Even as I type that sentence, tears are spilling out of my eyes.
And because in my heart … I came for good.
“My bags are packed and I just sold everything I own, got a one-way ticket, hope it takes me where I need to go …”
That’s maybe a not-so-obvious reason that England will be tucked in my heart forever. After a lifetime of trying to walk with Jesus casually, a few years ago, when I finally told Him that He could have all of me for His purpose, England was the first place I followed Him to.
“Thank you, but no … I’m not buying what this world is selling. It might look pretty but it ain’t my home. I’ve been washed in the water, and He has made me a light …”
I put on my skates, and I’ve been skating with abandon. I’ve experienced deeper joy, deeper hurt, deeper rest than I ever have, and I’ve been more spent than I ever have before.
I’m so incredibly grateful. It’s been awesome. I just kind of assumed I’d get to skate forever.
But right about the time I got pictures on the walls, I learned I wouldn’t get to stay. And darn it all, there was no way to fix that. It’s almost as if He’d planned for the skating phase to end and the den to get finished out from the beginning.
I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what happened.
I was devastated.
But one of my very closest friends here asked me again last night how I was feeling. I told her I didn’t really know how to express it … it’s deep sadness, to be sure. But the one thing I was positive of is that I’ve had more peace than I’ve ever had in my life, even more than when I came here in the first place.
It’s Him. It’s the fact that when He leads, it isn’t to a place … it’s to Himself. It’s to follow Him, and when I followed Him to England, I found … Him.
Jesus, who bids us carry His cross to death … but to carry His yoke and have rest.
He’s amazing. He’s surprising. He’s Jesus who loves us infinitely, enough to bleed for us. Jesus, who went to church and got so angry at the hypocrites that He threw furniture down the steps. Jesus, who didn’t look “religious” enough to be religious at all, but who loved everyone and even got down in the middle of their mess to love them.
He got down in the middle of my mess and waited until I finally let Him have it all. How can I not trust Him when He makes it clear His purpose is something new? How can I not follow Him more?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about what I was feeling when I packed my bags in the first place to come over here. A lot of the emotions are similar … indescribable peace, being stripped of excess, astounding grace, the heart-wrenching pain of saying goodbye.
And the same thought that resounded over the pain last time shouts even more loudly this time.
He is everything, and He is worth it.
“Go tell the friends, and go tell the folks my heart is torn but it’s time I go because these feet of mine were made for foreign shores. I’m glad they understand … God don’t just love Birmingham; He’s got a big ol’ heart for the whole wide world … ” Mandi Mapes | “Let It Shine”