Praise be to … the Father of compassion … who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 2 Corinthians 1:3,4 (NIV)
The setting sun cast a long shadow behind me as I walked across the playground toward the dining hall. There’s my big brother Larry! Running over, I threw my arms around his waist.
“Did you find your room?” he asked in his grown-up, seven-year-old voice.
“The auntie showed me the way. Are you unpacked?” I replied.
“Yes. But I’m sad. D’you like it here?” Larry asked.
The sorrow in his voice touched my soul. “I want to go home!” I moaned.
Larry agreed, “I want to go home too.” Reaching up, I grabbed his neck, as my little body shook with sobs. The moisture in my hair told me he was crying too.
Earlier that morning our parents had driven us from our mission station over rough, dusty, rain-forest roads to the bush airstrip more than an hour away. A long flight in a cramped, single-engine plane, then another hot, bumpy car ride later, we finally arrived at the front steps of the girls’ dorm at Kent Academy. All day my stomach was churning, in spite of the pills Mom gave me for motion sickness.
A dorm auntie showed me my room, and I met my roommates. After I unpacked, I headed out to dinner.
As Larry and I hugged in the middle of the playground, a dorm uncle walked past. “Don’t cry,” he called out. “You’ll have fun here! But hurry to the dining hall, or someone else might eat your food. Now, remember the KA rule: Boys can’t hug girls.”
Grabbing my hand, Larry whispered, “He’s smiling, but it sounds like he’s serious.” We scurried toward the long blue building.
Sitting at the dinner table, surrounded by strangers, a vice tightened around my tummy. I only ate a few bites.
Good Night, Sleep Tight
Back in my room at bedtime, the auntie kissed us and turned out the light.
One of my new roommates said, “I’m lonesome.”
Another girl whispered, “I’m afraid.”
“I’m scared too,” I said and buried my face in my pillow and cried.
Learning the Ropes
The next day at recess, three big girls offered, “Do you want to jump rope with us?”
“I don’t know how,” I replied.
“Just stand in the middle, and when we swing the rope – jump!” The yellow cord swung around, but I jumped too soon and landed right on it. I stumbled to the side but caught my balance. “That’s okay, you did fine! Let’s try again”
The long cord zipped up and over. I jumped too late, and my feet tangled with the rope. Down I fell, landing on hands and knees. “Ouch! I’m hurt!”
“It’s just a teeny scrape. It’s not even bleeding.” The tallest girl said.
Nonetheless, tears came. Slowly at first, then an unbidden torrent.
“She won’t stop crying,” one girl said to the other. Then she asked me, “Does it really hurt bad?”
More sobs resulted, as if a tidal wave washed over me and I couldn’t get my breath.
“She’s bawling!” the tall girl stated. “Debbie, do you want to go to the nurse?”
Shaking my head, I slumped further over my knee. “I want to go home! I want my Mommy!”
One of the girls said, “Let’s find someone from her home station to comfort her.” Then bending down to my ear she asked in a low voice, “Where are you from, Debbie?”
My heart soared as I pictured home. They want to know where I live! Maybe they’ll let me go home now! “I’m from Egbe.”
“Okay, let’s bring someone from Egbe!”
Comfort from Home
They yelled across the playground, “Who lives at Egbe?”
“I do,” replied Marjorie Frame, a third-grader playing hop scotch. Running over, she knelt beside me on the tarmac and murmured, “Sweet Debbie. Oh, little Debbie, don’t cry.”
“Is she hurt badly?” the girls asked.
“No,” Marjorie replied, “I think she’s just homesick.”
“Ahhhh,” the three exclaimed in unison. The tall one said, “Don’t cry, Debbie! It will make your mom sad if you’re a baby!”
My tears dried up, as I sat on the curb by the flowerbed watching them play. I don’t want to make Mommy sad, I thought.
But that night under my covers, I pictured Mark and Grant at home in their own little beds and wept again.
Over the next couple days, tears puddled in my eyes at every reminder of home. When Sheena cried, I cried with her. During class time, I couldn’t understand what the teacher meant. Arithmetic confused me, and the numbers blurred as I stared at the paper. A tear fell, smudging the ink.
For two weeks, a lump was stuck in my throat. Every day some little memory of home popped up, then heaving sobs followed as the buried sadness was unearthed. I felt like my heart had been ripped out.
Then one day, I decided that crying was too much trouble. I didn’t like that I ended up a blubbery mess, and my nose stayed swollen and bright-red for an hour. In free time I learned to jump rope better. The other girls showed me how to play hop scotch, jacks, and pick-up sticks.
When I twisted my ankle jumping rope again, I hopped right up. “I’m fine! I’m fine!” The others cheered. Blinking back stinging tears, I promised myself, I can cry after lights out tonight when no one can see me.
That night in bed when the prickle of tears resurfaced, I reasoned, I don’t want to get all stuffed up, because then I can’t breathe.
My heart felt numb. Across my sleepy mind drifted the thought, I made it through one whole day without crying. Mom will be proud of me.
When I left home as a six-year-old, overwhelming losses — especially the loss of parents, siblings, and family life — robbed me of a sense of security. Even more, boarding school was a foreign culture. I didn’t know the staff, hadn’t heard of the games we played, and didn’t understand the slang (PJs for pajamas, TP for toilet paper). Most of my clothing was new, so I even felt unsettled with my personal items.
Finally, after several weeks, I settled into a routine. To protect myself from becoming immobilized by homesickness and grief, I learned to hide my feelings and deny my hurts.
Even now, I tend toward habits of stuffing my worries, following routines, and pretending everything is fine. I’m learning to take time to acknowledge the pain of the present problem and reach out to friends for comfort, support, and a solution.
While recording this memory, I recalled how often other kids reached out to me with compassion. For many decades I didn’t believe that God was with me at boarding school. But looking back, I realize God comforted me through the caring actions of those around me.
Link It to Your Life
When have you experienced something that you never took the time to grieve? Looking back, how was God present and helping you during times you thought you were alone?”
Prayer: Father thank you that you are always with me. Help me to recognize the many ways you provide help and comfort.