Leaving the Shire.

Tomorrow, I leave for a semester abroad in Ireland. I will leave behind family, friends, and home to embrace a foreign culture and people. I have never left home like this before, and I never anticipated that I would.

The last few weeks were a flurry of packing, looking up information, spending quality time with quality people, and saying goodbyes.

As I’ve said goodbye to many friends, it has dawned on me how very, very blessed I am to have the friends I have. I have been given not one, but TWO wonderful surprise going away parties by my friends and family at my parish and my friends at my university. There has been a lot of laughter, a lot of food, and a lot of tears. I am so in awe of the people God has placed in my life. They have done nothing but shower me with love and kindness and well-wishes and prayers since I made the decision to study abroad (except in those brief moments of “Kenzie don’t leave! No wait, go and have adventures!)

Although the goodbyes have been difficult to say, my heart has been overflowing with gratitude. I am so incredibly grateful to belong to communities who have helped me to grow closer to Christ through their witness, helped teach me about what it means to make Him present to others, helped show me how to love. The power of friendship cannot be underestimated and should not be under appreciated. How truly, truly marvelous it is to have so many people that make it so hard to leave.

During my preparations to leave, I’ve been watching and reading about J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The story is rife with adventures from home, the power of friendship and fellowship, learning about the broader scope of the world, and insights about how the individual participates in the story of creation. While anybody who knows me knows that I could talk LOTR alllll the day long, that is not what I am going to do. Instead, I want to focus in on a very brief quote that has pierced my heart most especially in the last few days.

At the end of Return of the King, Frodo, Bilbo, Gandalf, Galadriel, and Elrond board a ship at the Grey Havens to cross the Sea to Valinor. It is the end of their presence in Middle Earth because Valinor is essentially the Middle Earth equivalent of Heaven. Merry, Pippin, and Sam must say goodbye to Frodo whom they have sacrificed themselves for and whom they love dearly.

Gandalf here imparts some wisdom that has been on my mind often:

“Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”

The last few weeks have seen me with many tears rolling down my cheeks. But the thing is, most of them are not out of the sadness of parting. Some of them are, I will admit, but for the most part, I have found them to be tears of gratitude.

Saying goodbye is bittersweet. The leaving part is bitter because it is difficult to be apart from those you love. But the leaving part is sweet too because it offers you an opportunity to truly reflect on the goodness of those you love.

The fruits of confronting the awe-inspiring goodness of my friends and family are tears. Not all tears are an evil. These have been tears inspired by the great goodness of the people around me.

How could it be that God has chosen to bless me with so many amazing individuals who I not only consider friends, but family? How could it be that I am surrounded in the unselfish, self-giving love of these beautiful people?

I have forged these friendships on mutual faith, and a mutual understanding that encountering the other person is truly an encounter with the Divine. Each of us are made in the Image and Likeness of God. When we recognize how and for whom we are made our relationships change. Encountering the other becomes an encounter with the Creator. We are shocked and delighted by the profundity of love that we find in the other, because he is and we are sustained by Love Himself.

Small wonder that I am having such a difficult time leaving such friends!

So this post is for all of you who make leaving home so hard. Thank you, each of you, for touching my life in ways I will never be able to fully understand. Thank you for being a shining light in my life. Thank you for embracing me as I am and yet always encouraging me to grow and become more fully myself. Thank you for the assurance that I am loved and I will be missed. Thank you for daily reminding me that life is a joy and a privilege, particularly when I’m sharing it with you. Thank you for being my friends and thank you for becoming my family.

Tomorrow, this Hobbit leaves the comfort and familiarity of her Shire. Tomorrow, I begin a new adventure. Tomorrow, I cross the Sea. But don’t worry. This isn’t Middle Earth. I am not going to Valinor never to return. I’ll be back come December. Expect many blog posts to come with updates on the mountains I cross, the dragons I slay, and the people I encounter.

May God bless each of you in your own adventures in this world.

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