I'm not sure when or how the mantra "Leave a place better than you found it" formed into the grooves of my cerebellum. Maybe my Mom? Or was it my second grade teacher? Or was it just a general agreement of the village that raised me? Anyway, its there. And it's good.
Because leaving somewhere, someone, or something is inevitable. I suppose in this hazy, sleep-deprived,emotion-laden cloud of early motherhood, I feel like I'm always leaving. I've left a lot in order to be the one here with my son. And since my husband started his PhD, I feel like I've already had to leave some roles I've taken on since my son was born because that is the kind of balancing act we've been playing. When you have a small child and a PhD child, there is not much room for anything else. I've left my job, more than that, the kids I worked with and the coworkers I loved. I've left ministries at church, things and people I've loved serving and showing Jesus. I've said no to coffee dates outside my house and being out every night of the week so I can actually see my husband. I've left the idea that I can do everything, be everything for everyone. I've left the idea that I'm God. That I can save people by the acts of my own hands.
In my heart, I know all this leaving is also inviting. Inviting a season to be all-in with my family. To see and support my love through an opportunity that may never come again. To watch him thrive and to cheer him in the specific way that God has made him. To spend this short season witnessing every part of my son's young life, his milestones, the way his one tuft of morning hair won't stop saluting the world and the way he bops up and down in his baby dance whenever he hears any music whatsoever. I'm inviting being all in. Being undistracted. Being there.
Yesterday I left my childhood home after a visit. I was helping my mom recover from her shoulder surgery. I struggled leaving her because I felt she needed me. But I know there are other people who can care for her and I trust that God has lined those people up in her life.
There is no one else that can be a mom to Titus. No one else to be a wife to Tim. Those? Only I can do.
So instead I asked myself as I pulled out of their driveway in tears, "Did I leave her better than when I came?" I think the answer is yes. I wouldn't change what I did. I left their laundry done, their dishes clean and put away. I left having given her frozen peas after frozen peas every twenty minutes on and ten minutes off. I left her with the most loyal partner who never left her side, my father, who hasn't slept in his own bed for days because he has slept on the couch next to her in the recliner. I know there is food coming from their church and three other siblings within a half and hour to come to her in need. It is out of my hands now. And she is better with me having stayed for what I could.
Are you a loyal person? Do you feel like you abandon others when you say no? When you leave them? I do. I admire those stories on the news of people that have worked diligently at a place for 50 years without a sick day. Every time I see those stories, I think, "Wow. I am SO not them. I haven't kept a job or a role for more than a couple years. I suck. I suck and I'm not loyal. I suck and I'm not loyal and I will never be on one of those news stories."
This is laughably unrealistic, yes? I'm not God. I'm not unloyal, I just can't give the same degree of love and care to everyone. I choose to give that love and care to my people who just happen to need a lot from me at this exact moment. There aren't many mamas who make the news for being there to change diapers, sing to their babies, and make sure they eat something green every now and then. (Who is running these news shows anyway??? Not moms with young littles that's for darn sure!)
So I ask now, when I leave, as I often do. "Have I left them better than when I met them?" This is my new goal. And while I'm at it, this goes for Tim and Titus and any other children we are given. One day, my kids will grow up and as I drop them off at college (because they WILL go to college) I will ask, "Did I leave them better than when I met them in that hospital ages ago?" And when Tim and I meet our "death do us part," I will ask him, "Am I leaving you better than when I met you backpacking in the woods once upon a time?"
I let God be God and I give those people, places, roles back to Him who gave them to me in the first place. And then I go home, to love my people whole-oatmeal-heartedly.