He holds his heart as we wait at the red line in the immigration queue.
His face has a puzzled look. Passports slide back our way and we crane necks for one last look, one wave, one jump up and down and blowing of last kisses. Then with heavy back packs we start the long journey to gate A49.
Familiar sights and sounds and tastes line the way and my tummy hurts at passing them good bye.
He holds my hand and I’m all a rush and he’s all slower and slower until we’re finally stopped in front of the Kudu head and biltong stand. My eyes are set on where we need to be so it takes me by surprise when I look down and see the tears leaking slowly out of his own in surprise.
He’s rubbing his chest. Rubbing it hard and bewildered and if only I could climb in and make it better.
“It hurts,” he says. “Mom, it just hurts so much.”
I can hardly stand to watch his face as it processes separation for the first time, since he’s not too toddler to care.
Like heart burn he keeps trying to swallow it down. But this burn, it doesn’t go out. Twelve years in and mine is still a lump in my throat that no amount of swallowing can loosen.
I put my hand over his – this unique Jackson hand that grew in my belly in this country that gave birth to us both.
“Your heart hurts?”
I get down on my knees on the cold, speckled tile floor so that I can see right into him. Watch him nod back at me over his glasses frames. Pete and Micah and Zoe are already out of sight. It’s just me and Jackson and our homesickness lost in a sea of passengers passing all around us.
I try to find the right words. He’s inherited more than my blue eyes. He’s inherited a life time of feeling lost in between countries. Would I take it back if I could?
One day I will explain the gift wrapped in all this aching. I will show him how the parts that hurt are the parts that connect him in unique ways to the God who gave up home and family to come and live here with us. One day I will share the lessons.
But that’s not today.
Today is for not being embarrassed to cry with him. Today is for hugging him hard and telling him we hurt because we have a big love.
Today is for taking off his glasses and tracing my finger down his wet cheeks and letting him see my own. Today is simply about holding his hand and his heart and his homesickness as we try to find our way to Gate A49.
As we try to map our way home.
My first born. My South African born son. Who shares the gift of homesickness with me. And the love that ties us to family an ocean away.
It’s been four years since that painful good-bye. We’re both getting better at it.
And it’s always worth it – because people are always worth it.
So, I asked him about our most recent trip home to serve South Africa because so many of you asked to see it through his eyes. This is what he said:
An interview with my 9 year old son about our trip to South Africa:
What things were you worried about or made you nervous?
Being the only kid when we were going out to the project sites.
What worried you about that?
I was worried I wouldn’t have fun, because it was all grownups.
What helped you enjoy the day?
I made some friends by helping them – giving them bananas and apples. Helping the little ones open their bananas. Made me feel pretty happy.
Because I was doing something nice for people who don’t have a lot of food.
Just seeing how everything went in their lives – and joining in stuff – like soccer. It’s one of my favorite sports and they let me come in and I felt included. I thought if I wasn’t included I didn’t have the confidence to come and play. But when the grownups were talking I had a ball and the kids came over and asked me if I wanted to play and I said, “of course.”
Was it difficult that you didn’t speak the same language?
Well, no. At times yes, but mostly no. Because you can know that you can use your hand motions, you can look at them and you’ll know what they’re trying to do. You can do lots of stuff that doens’t include talking. And sometimes you can understand what other kids are saying because we’re connecting — even if you don’t speak the same language.
What were some of your favorite moments on the trip?
Just coming in to help the other kids. I know it’s not about the Safari game rides or swimming in the pool – but how I can help. Because even though we live in the same country we’ve lived different things. And I can get to help.
What were your favorite things to eat in South Africa?
What would you tell other kids they should do if they don’t like the food?
Oh, snap! Well, they should first try it. If you don’t try it, you’ll never see if you like it. And if you don’t like it, you can say – “I’m very sorry, but I would not like to eat this. Maybe next time I could try it again.”
What’s your advice to other kids who might want to go on a serving trip like this one?
Be happy that your family can take care of people that you don’t know. Be happy that you can do the right thing. You don’t need to feel nervous even when you’re doing something you’re not used to. It won’t always work out the way you plan, but you should be happy for yourself that you’re doing something right for other people.
What’s your advice to their parents who might be nervous to have their kids serve in new areas or countries?
I would say, I made it! So if a nine year old kid (or even one that is younger or even older) wants to go – tell their parents I was safe. Because I know that I have loving family that will pray for me and help me on my flight. And don’t worry about the bad things. They should think about how to serve other people. How to bring food! Play games!
Don’t think about the things that are unlikely to happen. If you worry about the small things, you’ll be unhappy and you won’t get anywhere. But if you stop worrying about the small things you can get to the big things! The big things are the stuff like being with other people and learning new things you will enjoy in new places with new people.
What would you like to tell other kids about following God into uncomfortable places?
Pray that it could work out. Pray to Him because He is The Man that will help you in tough spots. Like in David and Goliath, He helped them in very tough spots.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share with the people who have helped sponsor the Maubane Project in South Africa?
Yes. Thank you SO much for your hard work. It’s really kind of you to do such a big thing! From small little dollars, to big thousands of dollars – and that got the job done.
~ Jackson Baker, age 9 and a half.
If you want to leave Jackson a comment – he’d love to hear from you all. Just click here.
This was his first blog interview and he was – in his words – pretty psyched. ~ His proud mom.