Here are some of my reflections as I say this hard, hard goodbye:
...the roommates harassing each other about how clean or not clean the bathroom was on their assigned cleaning week.
...Evan having his own personal soccer coach (Adam), who came to cheer him on in the championship soccer match
...laughing at the sight of two students huddled around a laptop in late into the night watching Iran vs. Iraq in soccer.
...Adam and Janyl teasing each other like long-lost brother and sister
...discovering the nuances of the English language along with my students as they ask me the difference between words like "commitment" and "promise" or "look" and "search." Once, Yousef asked me what the word for "a memory that makes you feel a little good and sad at the same time" and I said, "nostalgia." Mohammed from Iraq added that nostalgia in Arabic means "a memory with a sweet taste." I will also miss hearing Samuel be the best English tutor--explaining things in a way the students could really understand.
...messages on our whiteboard. It's like we were secret pen-pals. But not secret.
...spending a Sunday with my mom, a brand new mom from Dubai/Egypt, and my special tutoring family who have memories of their mom on Mother's Day. (And the moment when Annie held a terrified-looking baby with glee for the first time)
...soccer games in the cul-de-sac and volleyball games in the backyard and falling down because I was laughing so hard.
...worrying about them when they came home late (which is preparing me for having my own college-aged children).
...the food. Cross-cultural experiences always involve lavish spreads of food. Don't blame me for the 10 pounds I gained this year, it's our international friends' faults.
...that one time when I had the terrible idea of preparing curry for the Indian students who came over to eat and watch Bollywood movies. Um, yeah, hostessing fail. But we still had fun.
...funny things these guys say, like my concern that they don't properly refrigerate their food and Adam responding: "Kaci, I brought my stomach with me from Pakistan," or Yousef (after I scolded him for leaving a mess in the kitchen): "Tomorrow I will get a wife and be done with this problem." The next day, I asked him if he had gotten a wife and he said, "No, that is my mother's job. She chose wives for 4 of my brothers and they all have happy families." I warned the students one day that many children were coming for a birthday party and Yousef (who comes from a family with 26 children) shrugged and said, "Oh, it sounds just like my family."
...listening and watching these two sitting at the counter being sweet together.
The end of our time here at iHouse Fullerton is bittersweet. It is an upheaval for our students who were comfortable and happy here together, but good things do have to come to an end in order for us to grow and make room for more good things in our hearts. In this last month here, our two car batteries died, a child of ours puked terribly and repeatedly inside the interior of the one vehicle we are taking with us, my phone fell in the toilet and died, Sam broke his arm, and it rained on our goodbye party. Yousef said "The house is angry at you for leaving." I am sad that we only went to the beach for less than two hours, that I didn't get to take the students on a day trip somewhere like I promised, that there is no more time for silly games and family dinners, that I won't get to annoy a sleepy Adam in the kitchen in the morning, or tease a cheerful Yousef about his messes, or answer Mohammed's questions about life in America and what I was like as a child, or try to eavesdrop on Mohammad as he makes secret plans to take over the world. Janyl is coming to help me clean one last time...for old time's sake, but I already miss her laugh and cheerful disposition. Man, she sure covered up for those boys by always cleaning the kitchen those first few months!
I don't know if the kids totally understand the uniqueness of this year but I could see it in their sad reaction to us realizing we couldn't host students next year in Chicago. It has been hard to see this passion of ours for living life together with "strangers" shrunk away as we realized what we could afford during the next phase of our life and recognizing the way that God seemed to be leading, but over the past 2 weeks, I have quietly realized a deeper vision. Even if we don't have students officially living with us (which we still hope to do in the future), we have a passion for people and for hospitality. A few of our students and even some long-time friends have shared with me (in uncanny timing, of course, as I was pondering these things) that they are lonely and want a friend. Two of our students within days of each other confided in me that they want American friends, but everybody is too busy. "How will I make a friend?" they asked. So that is my new vision, as I go off to a place with no known friends nearby: to be a friend to those who need it. It may sound simple, but to me, it is a battle-cry that moves my heart. So even though our new house has outdated flooring and a tiny kitchen and no extra bedrooms (said the American woman who lives like a queen compared to most), we will open our doors and invite outsiders in. Always.
You, yes you who are reading this post, can experience the joy of hospitality like we have. You can invite people to your imperfection and pray that God will show you someone who needs a friend. You can inquire about American friendship programs at your local university or start one yourself. You could even rent out your spare bedroom to an international student who wants to do a homestay. One of our wonderful, responsible, conscientious (I taught him that word because it describes him perfectly) students still needs a room ASAP. Yes, they will cook in the middle of the night and misunderstand you and something might even get broken, and you will annoy them, too. But great things will happen, things the United Nations doesn't even comprehend (countries and religions who can't seem to get along in the world see eye-to-eye over food prepared with love. The UN needs to start baking cookies together). You will learn each other's differences and even disagree but love each other fiercely. You will never read the news the same. You will experience their joy as you take them to the beach or the mountains for the first time. They will wear their nicest clothes to your Thanksgiving dinner and suddenly your traditions will gain a new richness as they eagerly listen to you explain them. You will be blessed more than you know. You will eat good food and learn new things and see the ways other cultures are funny and beautiful (really, you will laugh a lot!).
And hanging out with international students opens up the possibility of receiving really rad gifts.
This year has been one of the richest and best years of my life. Maybe because it was only a year and it ended while it was still sweet, maybe because we had wanted it for so long, maybe because we got the best students in the world...or maybe because God loves giving good gifts to his children.