When Rebeka first came here, we had a lot of goals for her. We wanted her hair to get long enough to put a bow in with no headband. Check.
We wanted her to learn English. Check. We wanted her to eat a vegetable. No check. Of course we wanted her surgeries to be successful, and for her to learn to walk on the bottoms of her feet. At PT yesterday, she walked 640 feet with her walker, her longest distance yet. She can stand without her walker for a long time, and she’s practicing standing on bare feet, still clinging to the walker or our hands because this is a hard one.
Our biggest goal is to send her home able to walk on her feet without her walker. And yes, included in that goal is the phrase, “send her home.” We’ve always known that was part of the deal. People ask me all the time how hard it will be to say goodbye. Hard. But so far I’ve been able to stave off the reality of saying goodbye. We’re busy learning to read and walk and do math. We’re busy running to PT appointments twice a week, getting fitted for the brace for her right foot, busy achieving goals and making new ones.
Every morning we get out our calendar, put a sticker on the day, sing our “days of the week” and “months of the year” song, and look ahead to what’s coming up. We looked forward to Halloween, then Christmas, then Easter. We knew when school and PT and surgeries would happen, but until recently, there was no departure date circled. It was just out there somewhere. We knew it was coming, but it seemed like a long time away.
It wasn’t until I wrote her departure date on her calendar that it began to feel real.
June 24th she’ll be traveling home with an American family that’s moving to Rwanda for a few years. They have three young kids, and we’ve got play dates and dinner dates on the calendar so Rebeka will know them well before she leaves. They are kind and sweet and absolutely capable of caring well for Rebeka. She will be in good hands. And she is traveling home to her family, her mom and dad and sisters and a brother, who all miss her and can’t wait to see her.
That’s what I say. And then I think, when she’s gone I’ll have lots more time to write, workout, and volunteer at school. I can spend more time with my kids. Clay and I will take some trips. Our family won’t have to whisper in the morning because Rebeka is still sleeping. No more wheelchair tearing up the back of my car, and a lot less Uno. And then . . . and then . . . that’s how my heart stays far from that June 24th date. It’s all okay because . . . because . . . And honestly, life has been harder, yes. But life has been sweeter and richer, too, and my heart knows it. I have been stretched. I have learned new things about myself. Some of them aren’t pretty, but some of them are pleasant surprises. I can do what I never thought I could. And I can say goodbye to this girl we all love. Yes, there will be a big old hole in our family pictures, once Rebeka leaves.
But we will choose joy on that day, even if our hearts are heavy. She has worked so hard, been through so much, and she will walk. Our goal is for her to be able to walk two miles by then. That’s how far it is to walk to her school in Bugesera, and interestingly enough, that’s how far it is to walk to her friend Kate’s house here. It’s going to be hard, and she has a lot of work to do. That 640 feet we’re so proud of is less than a quarter of a mile, and she did it all with a walker. We’re determined, her physical therapist and doctors are determined, and she’s determined that she can do it with enough hard work. We’re convinced it will take more than that, and we’d love prayers for her, prayers that she’ll walk those two miles.
It’s a date, Rebeka Uwitonze. June 24th all of us will do one of the hardest things we’ve had to do in the eleven months that you’ve been with us. We’ll say goodbye. But until then, we’ve got some work to do, so let’s get busy.