This is strange, I know. But I have been thinking about Katie lately, and can’t NOT mention it… Also, I think things are cyclical, and most of the time we realize things internally before we process them mentally. Almost one year ago exactly, after bawling my eyes out over not getting accepted to UNLV, after plans for moving to California fell through, Lisa and I had our first conversation about me and Belize.
What a year.
There are moments here, in Santa Familia, when I am the happiest I have ever been in my whole life, almost like I was born half Belizean and raised with an invisible compass pointing me here.In those moments, I look around and think: how did I get here? How did I cross the bridge from—well, maybe I should go to Belize—to actually quitting my job and moving here?
It had always only been a threat. Like, when I got so fed up with life or work in Fort Wayne, I’d say, I should just move to another country. My mom has friends in Belize, you know. I could work in the schools, paint, teach—whatever they need.
But then I would get wrapped up in things like Taco Bell and Grey’s Anatomy and the GAP and would totally discard the stirring until the next time I felt bored or useless or unmotivated or overspent.
I only knew one girl personally, my age, who had actually picked up and moved to a developing country. Katie in Haiti. The tagline on her Myspace was: My heart belongs in Haiti. I always wished my heart belonged anywhere besides the Target dollar spot.
I have done lots of short-term missions trips—built churches, visited orphans, constructed wheelchair ramps for disabled seniors; I did a three-week stint with the Red Cross after Hurricane Katrina and loved it—but I could never figure out how to cross the bridge from vacation pay to unpaid leave to actually quitting my job and starting a new life. I didn’t even know how to take the first step. And the not knowing scared me into complacency.
Whenever Katie came in town, I would sigh and say, I wish I could do that in Belize. And she would say, “You could.” Then I’d shrug and keep eating my Molten Chocolate or Cookie Monster thinking I could never make it in Belize without hot flowing chocolate at my fingertips.
A week later, she’d go back to Haiti, and I’d go back to entry-level social work (which I loved, by the way) but I paid attention to her updates and support letters, and I began emailing little questions like: But what did you do with your car? What kind of phone plan do you have? Do you live with a family or on your own? How do I defer my school loans?
Those easy little questions and answers nudged me to a logistically comfortable place. It was always important to me to have a plan.
The great news is, a couple years earlier I had been run over by a semi.
In the hospital, the nurse looked at me and said, “God must have something really important planned for your life.” And though I was humbled and inclined to roll my eyes and insist it was just coincidence (I do believe my greatest fear sometimes is that God actually does believe I am valuable and capable of something very important), I nodded and whole-heartedly believed her.
Then I thought I should probably get on with things—figure out how to do something important and extraordinary with the life I’d been lent. So I explored a bunch of crazy interests I’d always wanted to pursue. (You can never know where God might use you, okay? It could have been in the theater classes at IPFW or at The Paul Mitchell School in San Diego, or in an MFA program in creative writing. Who’s to say? The important thing is I looked.)
And, actually, that 14th rejection letter from UNLV last February led to my first consideration for Belize Team 14—almost one year ago, exactly. The rest is history. I said goodbye to the MFA and Paul Mitchell school, put myself on spending freeze, and used the summer to prepare.
I remember how amazing my last day of work felt in September. Remember the crispy white Anne Taylor pants story? I could feel it in my bones—something great was ahead. Something important. And it HAS been, both great and important.
In October, right after my first trip to Belize, Katie died in her sleep. In Haiti.
It was a terrible shock, and heartbreaking for all of us. I felt like I had just burst into the room excited with my brand new Belize, thinking it could be friends with her Haiti, and she was gone.
Not to mention the fact that she was gone.
It was just hard to understand.
So hard, in fact, I flew home in the middle of a six-week trip to Germany, ready and prepared to never leave Fort Wayne again—to skip Belize, defer grad school, hang on the couch with Sprinky for life.
But sometime later, I wrote this:
The miracle, I have realized—the exception, not the rule—is that we are alive. That our skin comes together and holds everything in. That our blood flows and our hearts beat. That we breathe in and out and are given a certain number of days to complete a certain task in the world, and that we think somehow all of this is our doing. That our lives belong to us. We are created, and we exist so long as our creator continues to breath life into our frail, fragile, pile of bones and skin and muscle. Each time we breathe in and out, we are experiencing a tremendous, fantastic, unbelievable miracle.
When I am here, I feel like God’s finger is on my pulse. I feel him breathing life and purpose into me.My heart belongs here, in Belize. And I can’t tell that to Katie, but God knows, and all he has to do while I am riding in the back of a pick-up truck with a bunch of Belizean kids sucking limes, is nudge her and say, “Look, Kate.You helped plant this seed.Well done.”