As I get ready to leave the country tomorrow for a trip of a lifetime, I struggle to sort through all of the thoughts and emotions that race through my mind and heart— gratitude, excitement, hope and, of course, some anxiety. Tomorrow will mark the beginning of two journeys for me. The first is the opportunity to travel to Peru with Kim Valentini , founder of Smile Network International, two other women friends, and a team of doctors from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester to assist 50 children with their cleft lip surgeries. These surgeries are completely funded by Smile Network. The patients and their families pay nothing, as they have nothing to pay. The surgeries will give these children a fighting chance—a chance to live “normal” lives instead of living as social outcasts. I will have the chance to meet the families of these children as we input all of their information into our computer system, and subsequently hold the babies and toddlers, change them into their surgical gowns, take them to the docs in the operating room, observe the surgeries, and return them to the arms of their loving families. I feel honored to be able to take part in Tikun Olam (Hebrew for "repairing the world"); to be able to give of myself and to know that I will be a part of something that will change lives. As much I know this work will enrich the lives of the 50 children and their families, I am certain that these experiences will significantly impact my life as well.
Ever since my daughter befriended Kim’s daughter at school ten years ago, and I heard about Kim’s work, I knew that I wanted to be a part of a Smile Network mission, but had a tough time finding the “right” time to go. This past spring, my husband and I attended a Smile Network benefit and sat at a table with Kim and a few other parents of our daughters’ friends. Kim took the stage and began auctioning off three mission trips. My husband’s arm immediately shot up. I looked at him with surprise and excitement as he continued to raise his hand until the trip was ours and he said to me, “You’ve dreamed of doing this trip for a long time. It’s time for you to go.” Within minutes, my two friends at our table both bid on mission trips as well, and we decided to venture off together, with Kim at the helm.
As soon as we began to talk about trip logistics, my nerves took over and I convinced myself that I needed do the “express” mission trip so I wouldn’t be away from my family for too long. My mom advised otherwise, “You can’t go to Peru and not see Machu Picchu,” she told me, as I explained that I was planning to skip the “sightseeing” part of this trip and just attend the mission portion. “You don’t know when or if you will ever go back there, and this is really something to see,” she said. “I just don’t think I can be away from the kids for almost two weeks,” I told her. “Yes, you can,” she stated clearly and convincingly, and promised she would help with the kids.
So began the second part of my journey—preparing to leave my family for 10 days.
To sum up this part of my journey, I will share a few prophetic messages from two of my children. This past Friday night, my son seemed upset about something but wouldn’t or couldn’t explain why he was acting crabby. “Honey, are you anxious about me leaving for Peru,” I asked him, thinking that my leaving must really be affecting him, and that I should definitely continue to bombard myself with guilt. With conviction and certainty in his voice, he shouted (which he doesn't do very often), “Mom, YOU are the only one feeling anxious about you leaving and you are making the rest of us CRAZY!”
The next day, I was texting with Sophie and telling her that I was feeling a little nervous about flying and being away from the kids. Her response was, “Mom, don’t be a baby.” She soon followed up with “You can do this. You are a strong, independent woman who can be away from her kids for 10 days.”
Okay, then. Out of the mouths of babes.
So, until the weekend after next, other than an “I love you and miss you” via skype or face time, I will not be involved in my kids' day-to-day lives. But as my son so articulately reminded me, this is way harder for me than it is for them. It is me who is afraid to leave.
I am afraid:
- to let go of control.
- that something bad will happen to me and I will have abandoned my children.
- that things won’t be done the way I do them and the kids will be upset.
- that things will slip through the cracks.
- that they will need me and I won’t be there for them.
As I finalize the countless details of the kids’ schedules, which are different each day for each kid, and I put the last articles of clothing in my suitcase, I realize that I am already feeling an internal shift. Heading to Peru tomorrow has made me realize that in order for me to be able to practice Tikum Olam, I have to release all of the above-mentioned fears and turn to TRUST—I need to trust that my kids will be well cared for and that they will be okay without me. I also need to trust that I will be okay, and that I will do the work I set out to do, find appreciation and joy throughout the journey, and then return home to my family.
I don’t know if this is the “right” time for me to go, or if there is ever a perfect time (probably not). But for me, the time is now. I pray that all will go smoothly, on the home front and in Peru. I am excited to take in the wonders of Machu Picchu and to comfort the children and their families before and after their surgeries. And I am extremely grateful for my community of supportive friends and family who will step in over the next few weeks to help take care of my children, and to my husband for giving me the push I needed to turn this dream into a reality. (And hey, Minnesota friends, if you happen to see a Burton kid wandering around looking lost, just point them toward my house, please.)
Adios, amigos! Hasta Lavista!