"Ten years?!?" I said. I couldn't wrap my mind around those two little words that began to rip my comfortable, familiar world to pieces.
I always knew she would go back to India, but I tried not to think of it. I pushed that pesky little thought to the back of my mind, far, far out of reach. My big sister had gone to India for a few short months (that seemed so much longer) this summer and I knew (deep down, we all knew), God had used that visit to place this country and these people on her heart forever. In this city, only 0.58% of the population are Christians. My sister had seen dirty streets, shabby lean-to's, and the hungry eyes of barefoot children huddled together. She had heard the loud shouts at the marketplace and the piercing honks of grimy rickshaws. She wouldn't, she couldn't, forget. Now she was on the phone late one night telling me that the Lord was calling her to go back. She knew He was inviting her to live among them and tell anyone who would listen of the Great Story of the One who loves without end, who washes our filthy hearts, adopts us, cleanses us, and makes us new creatures who want to love Him back. But deep down, I wished she would stop. I didn't want to hear anymore of the country that was robbing me for a very long time of my sister. A little part (maybe a big part) of me hoped for just a moment that she might say she was mistaken, that she might say that God was certainly calling her to stay here in a small town in Northeast Mississippi where we had spent most of our lives and where we knew people and had a precious church family and we were happy and things were good.
But she only said she was certain this was where the Lord was leading her: to India. And she would, she must, follow.
If I were the good, selfless Christian that I wish I could say I am -- if I really looked like Christ, I would have thrilled at hearing this news over the phone. I would have felt that heavy, sweet weight of joy that my sister would happily obey God's call to sell all of her livelihood, and leave her home, her church, her family, me, and all that she had ever known, to go and share Jesus with a people who do not know Him.
But I only felt weak. My hands shook a little and I looked around for a glass of water to wet my suddenly dry mouth. I couldn't get those images out of my head: one less chair in the dining room for our Christmas eve dinner, that sense of something, someone missing at the birth of my brother and sister-in-law's baby or my birthday or my little sister's high school graduation. All of those milestones, those events, those things that make life -- well, life. Katie wouldn't be there anymore. How could my sister no longer be a part of my life, of so many lives?
She was the one I had watched go from an eye-rolling teenager who didn't want much to do with God into a woman full of gentle kindness who pored over the worn, marked-up pages of her little Bible and worshipped the Lord with her entire life. She loved - and she loved well. She loved well in her serving in the church, in her quietly reaching out, in her giving, in her painting, in her pottery-making. She did not love Jesus only on Sunday, but on Monday morning on her way to work, on Tuesday night when there were dishes to be washed, and on Thursday afternoon when there was someone who needed a word of encouragement or a listening ear. No, she is not perfect, but she strives every day to be more like Jesus even in the small things. And I can see that. Everyone who knows Katie can see that.
I watched this transformation of hers and I wanted to know this God she served and loved with all her heart. God, in His great mercy, showed me Himself and I was changed, too. My sister was always pointing me back to Jesus and encouraging me never to slack in my walk with the Lord but always to strive to know Him more, to love Him more. She is like a second mother, a best friend. She listened to my complaints and rejoiced with me in my joys. She loved me fully. She was always one of the first ones I called when I was upset or crying or frustrated and she would always be patient, listen, and gently, sweetly remind me of what Jesus says, of His goodness, His faithfulness to keep all of His promises.
And now she is moving to the other side of the globe. I don't know for how long and I don't know when I'll see her again. I won't be able to reach by phone at all times of the day. She'll be 10 1/2 hours ahead of my life. I can't drive home and give her a big hug around the neck. I won't be able to.
The Lord calls us to hold all things with an open hand. Nothing is ours, but has only been leant to us for a time. Katie is not mine and my time with her may be very short. I don't know. But I do know Who holds her. She is the Lord's and if the Lord has told her, "GO," then I will not stand in the way.
I know and am really thankful for the loving people who gathered around and assured us that God goes with her across the ocean. And that He loves her far, far better than any of us ever could. I know that that should make me feel so much better. But, honestly, right now it's just so very hard to wrap my selfish mind around it. My heart cries out, Yes, yes, but couldn't God use her to do great things here, with us, where it's safe and comfortable?
Corrie ten Boom, the woman who lost everything, father, sister, brother, friends, in the Holocaust during World War II said, "Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open."
I can't tell you how much it hurts. It hurts to watch the sister I love so much sell her life -- her clothes, her desk, her dresser, her books, nearly all of her worldly possessions. It hurts to see price tags on everything she owns and watch people pick through it. It hurts to watch her pack everything she owns into one tiny blue suitcase. It hurts to even think about saying goodbye to my sister for who knows how long. It hurts to think of watching her taking her one way ticket and her life across the ocean to a busy, dirty city in India where people don't want to hear the Gospel. It hurts, God, it hurts so much.
But, oh, He is worthy. The God she is moving to India for is so, so worthy. He is worthy of all - my possessions, my time, myself, even my sister.
God, give me grace to hold things lightly.