Heartbreaking change.

All of 2010 has been all rolled up with change. A slow, methodical kind of change – the kind that’s let gratitude run deep, packing go slowly, goodbyes happen gradually and junk be shipped off to Goodwill one small box at a time. For the most part I’ve cherished its pace, letting the benchmarks come but having ample time to take a good, long look at things that passed as they became the past, then saying “thank you” for them. I mean — who gets blessed enough to have a nine-month-long farewell tour when they decide to move to Europe?

But let’s be real. At times I’ve been a little emotional about leaving this friend, or that amazing situation, feeling jipped, like the time wasn’t enough.

That all changed today, when I was reminded that change doesn’t always come on a schedule (at least not ours), that it doesn’t always give us a chance to wrap things up in a way we feel makes sense or gives a good, satisfying sense of closure. And that broken heart I might feel at times to say goodbye — temporarily, in most cases — pales in comparison to true heartbreak.

My dear friend Brittany’s brother died.

This morning.

While I was at spin class.

Brittany just turned 24 this week. She’s been packing and saying goodbyes, too, at almost the same time and pace that I have. We’re leaving the paper within three weeks of each other, her headed for North Carolina and a new job and marriage, and me headed for the UK and rain boots and more hot tea than I could ever dream of.

This morning she was packing up her car to take a load of stuff to North Carolina, and I was doing jumps in a spin class to Lady Gaga.

That’s when she got the phone call.

That’s when everything changed.

Moments later, as we were riding up I-59 toward her family, I was struck by the grace with which she dealt with such deep grief. Sadness over her brother. Humble gratitude for the outpouring of love blowing up her BlackBerry. Sobs when she thought of her brother’s wife and 1-year-old daughter. Concern for the souls of the three other men in the accident, all of whom survived. All of whom he’d shared his faith with, passionately and recently.

Horrible grief. Grace, beautiful and thick. And in the face of it, I struggled to find words. Sorry doesn’t even begin to cover the heavy, heavy heartbreak I feel for her and her family tonight. But I’m challenged, too.

May I never forget that grace, how to love deeply, hurt desperately but let go beautifully.

Reproduction.

It was dark in the tiny apartment living room, except for the florescent desk lamp, cocked upward to face the room’s occupants like an interrogator’s light looking for answers.

If it was seeking out the truth, it found it. The room was full of it.

It was full, period.

Leaving their shoes in a neat heap at the door, barefooted people packed in the place, sitting reverently on mismatched furniture provided by strangers before the apartment’s residents ever set foot on American soil. A few spoke English well. A few spoke it somewhat, others not at all.

All spoke Nepali.

Just months ago, they were refugees, living on the border between Nepal and Bhutan until the UN decided to bring them to Georgia.

“We say we don’t have citizenship anywhere — we are citizens of Heaven,” 27-year-old Suresh says. They were Nepalese, then Bhutanese, then American. They were refugees first. Then believers. Then disciples.

And now disciplers.

Bill — a Georgia boy — faced the small group of Bhutanese believers, his head silhouetted by the desk lamp, and began to share with them the story of Nicodemus, the idea of rebirth, the glorious message of John 3:16. They knew going in that they would hear this sermon three times — re-preach it themselves, even. Bill told it to them, and Suresh translated. Then Suresh taught it himself to the group in impassioned Nepali. Then they all helped retell it a third time.

The repetition wasn’t just for good measure.

Sarita, Suresh’s sister, would be teaching it the next night in the home of a Hindu priest where two women had recently accepted Christ. Suresh also led a house church for Nepalis. Two others in the room taught groups of their own.

And in the small, fledgling group of believers, there was still need for one more tonight.

“We’ve had the opportunity to have another Bible study in someone’s home, and I want you to be praying about whether God is speaking to your heart about you being the one to lead it,” Bill said.

What if church was always like that? If we listened to the sermon with the intent that we’d be repeating it to others later? If more than half the people who came to church went out and led churches of their own after the service was over?

“What did you learn from the story of Nicodemus?” Bill asked them.

Suresh said he thought the story would speak especially to people with Hindu beliefs, who might have burning questions inside like he used to before he met Christ. Questions like how, if people have to buy things to get right with their hundreds of millions of gods, how poor people could ever afford to get to god? Could Jesus, who loves the whole world, be that easy to get to?

A young Bhutanese boy raised his hand and, pointing at the desk lamp, said, “I learned people live in darkness until they get in the light.”

Bill broke into a huge grin. I couldn’t blame him.

It’s a dim apartment – but the Light from it shines pretty amazingly bright.

Superheroes.

Yasin’s only 9, but he’s been around long enough to know.

Long enough to know he shouldn’t be looking at the pictures of naked women that someone at his school keeps texting him.

Long enough to know that Jesus is important. “If I were a superhero, I’d be Victory Man – like ‘victory in Jesus.'”

Long enough to know that if the church people show up to do a Kids Club at his Atlanta-area apartment complex, he should call all the kids in the neighborhood to come.

But don’t assume Yasin really knows.

“I want you to paint a cross on my arm,” he says determinedly and so everyone could hear him, after all the girls have asked for hearts and flowers and butterflies. After the boys have asked for tiger stripes.

I dip into the brown paint and start a simple cross, painting slowly on purpose.

“You were talking about Jesus’ cross earlier,” I asked him. “What do you know about Jesus?”

“I know that He was a really good man. I know that He died on a cross and that there was blood and chunks and stuff everywhere.”

In Yasin’s mind, that’s where it stops.

But thankfully for him, he’s in a blessed place – an apartment complex filled with a kaleidoscope of nationalities, single parents, chicken-factory workers, Hindu priests, abstract artists, political refugees. A place where reggaeton thumps in the parking lot, curry wafts out the windows and face paint marks adults’ devotion, not just kids’ play.

A place where dozens of languages are spoken but one in particular is speaking louder than the others in recent days.

Love.

As Yasin’s getting his cross, students from an Alabama church are singing songs about Jesus with south Asian kids, painting the nails of Indian and African-American girls and chatting with Nepali refugee parents. One teenage girl holds a little girl on each hip, clumsily engaging in a game of freeze tag. It’s not the first time the church has been in the complex loving on the people there and it won’t be the last.

Superheroes.

A south Asian boy walks up and says, “I want my arm painted.”

“What do you want on it?”

He thinks about that for a minute.

“Jesus.”

I start to paint. “Do you know who Jesus is?”

He timidly shakes his head – he doesn’t know.

But he knows he should know. And he knows that the people who come from the church love him.

And that’s a great, great start.