For a while it was just us, me and Leah, drying up the reluctant tear that trickled out after those last hugs and kisses and watching every car expectantly. The early morning sun washed over us, lighting up like a funky incense the smell of hot asphalt and the lingering aroma of a hundred countries from the clothes of those passing by. A pigeon puffed by, his neck feathers glittering green and purple, in hot pursuit of a French-fry nabbing fiend. Leah laughs liquidly, and as it spills over me, my heart gives a leap and I realize that I will be There soon.
There. Where the scorching sun has baked the soil into a clay pot, trampled and cracked to a fine dust that covers everything.
There. Where warm brown hands wait to hold mine and I can see my reflection in glistening black eyes.
There. Where voices singing words I don't even know give my very soul wings.
And this time, I get to share it.
The students I teach every day, the ones who never get tired of my Dominican stories (or at least are too kind to say so), the ones who notice the new child whose face ends up pinned to my bulletin board, it is these who are coming...coming to the Dominican Republic, the country of passion fruit juice, potholes, parties in the street---and soul-crushing poverty.
They come in clusters, one family at a time, their bags weighed down with love in the form of jump ropes and coloring books, lotions and flip flops, Bibles and lollipops. The Wagners are first...Japeth, with the jungle eyes (or so it has been reported by many a love-stricken middle school girl) and the stickerless guitar case, and big brother Joshua--new, quiet--I wonder how long it will take to get to know him. Leah breaks him in with a pounce.
Then black-haired Daniel, already applying hand sanitizer, half-Hispanic with only the Spanish vocabulary I gave him...
The sun finds a kinship in the long blonde hair of Lauren as her family crosses the pick-up lane in front of the terminal. The jungle eyes glow a little greener as she drops her backpack next to the guitar case.
As we stand in a cluster, passing out Chick-fil-a's, chips, and the little brownies with candy chips on top, our final few join us. Ashleigh, still in some ways the six-year old niece I've known for so long, and Jennifer--my team leader, co-teacher, fount of wisdom--with her sweet Cambria...ready to see God turn ashes into beauty.
It is an unlikely crew that I herd in front of the only patch of green for a mile, the scraggly potted plant that lives off cigarette butts and jet-fuel fumes. The moms and dads stand to the side and look a little scared, a little longingly at the odd little family that is about to leave life as they know it in Atlanta to get their first taste of the road less traveled. We all smile, once, twice, twenty times at the cameras and iphones all anxious to capture a last-minute image of the pre-traveled loved ones.
And now it's time. Time to check our pound-overweight bags and get our passports mixed up at check-in. Time to stop at the escalators, time to rip of the world's most painful Band-Aid, time to say goodbye. And as we stand, the escalators humming in the background, the parents waving with tears, we know and they know that when see each other again, we will all be changed, both the traveled and the untraveled.
I get ready to lead them through the sluggish security line and I wonder...
Is this what discipleship looks like? When Jesus called out His disciples, did their families look on and know that life was forever changed?
Many times over the next days I would think about this. Sometimes the disciple-life seems romantic, heroic...did it have moments where the peanut butter got confiscated by homeland security and the flight got delayed overnight?
Did it have aching feet and short tempers, heavy carry-ons and green, sick bag faces? Is all this the stuff that disciples are made of?
Did Jesus' unlikely crew have the blond beauty, the teenage heartthrob, the shy guy, the germaphobe? The shutterbug, the glass-half-full girl, the impetuous baby, the single mom? Did His crew have a misfit like me, straddling the fence between the first and third worlds, heart at home with my husband, my littles, my students...and yet somehow in 30 pieces scattered around the globe?
Jesus' words for the Unlikely crew..."Follow me..." (Matthew 4:12). I don't think that the "who" matters as much as the "where" in the end. Are we following Him? The destination unites the Unlikely crew. The unlikely gifts and talents somehow get used on the road-less traveled, the road where you can almost see the hem of His robe whipping around the next corner, where you can almost swear you saw his sandal-print in the dusty road, where his face flashes familiarly in the eyes of that hungry person you are feeding.
Buckled in seat 15A, speeding toward the skies, following Jesus at a cruising altitude of 25,000 feet, watching uncertain eyes and chalk-white knuckles gripping the seat handles, I wonder, "What can Jesus do with the Unlikely?"
I reckon the same things He has always been doing.
He can feed the hungry.
He can sing away the hurt.
He can heal the sick.
He can lavish His love.
He can do away with divisions.
He can give hope.
He can love his neighbor.
He can save the lost.
I'm glad He uses the Unlikely, the foolish clay vessels that we are. And I'm glad He puts us together to do His work. God chooses the Unlikely so He gets the glory.