Her frosting recipe is my favorite- not too sweet and easy to work with when you have the correct ingredients available. I have to make a substitution when I make it here in PNG, but it still turns out mostly ok as long as it doesn’t start to melt in the heat before I have the chance to actually ice the cake. My aunt Debbie made our wedding cake. It wasn’t nearly as big as the wedding cake she made for a Chicago Bear football player (a cake that ended up being taller then she was). With our cake, her eyesight was declining due to blindness brought on by diabetes, so my cousins helped her do the finishing touches. The cake was of course delicious. My aunt told me that one of her tricks is to substitute milk when the recipe calls for water because it makes for a nice moist cake.
My aunt passed away last week. She had suffered a stroke this year and when my sister sent me a message two weeks ago to tell me that Aunt Debbie was in the hospital due to having water in her lungs, I knew that was not a good sign. She was just 60; my dad’s only sibling. My heart hurts especially for my grandparents, my uncle and my cousins. Aunt Debbie was someone who loved to help people. She loved to bake and she loved to spoil her nieces and nephews with gifts when we were young.
There is one gift in particular that I will never forget. It was our first Christmas back from Africa. My sister had passed away that year, and it was not an easy adjustment moving from a country where I felt comfortable to one where I had to completely relearn social rules.
That year I remember walking around in the toy section and a Barbie doll caught my eye. She had brown skin, long black hair down to her waist, bangs (who didn’t in the 90s) and her accessories included rollerblades and ice skates. I was so drawn to that doll. I loved to rollerblade. Her bangs and waist long hair mirrored mine just in a different color and her brown skin reminded me of the country that I had recently left. I didn’t tell a soul that I wanted that doll, yet when I opened my Christmas gift from Aunt Debbie there she was. My cousin had been given the matching roller skating/ice skating doll with red hair and I was given the exact doll that I had longed for. Somehow, my aunt knew. It was a sweet reminder that God saw little eight-year-old me in the midst of my grief and cultural adjustments.
Due to living on the other side of the world and still waiting for our daughter’s passport to be sorted out, I won’t be attending the funeral service this Saturday. Times like this make it especially hard to be far away, a very real challenge of the expat life. I know my aunt touched many people’s lives from her work with Make a Child Smile, and volunteering at a local food pantry to the many, many cakes that she decorated helping make sweet birthday and wedding memories for countless people. She will be missed. She touched the world in her own unique ways, and I will never forget the ways that she touched me.
Aunt Debbie with the wedding cakes she made for my siblings and me
Nothing is normal about our family of seventeen kids, three “aunties”, one “uncle”, a cat, two Germany Shepard’s and puppies on the way. We had to say goodbye to our uncle this week as Jeremy returned to the US. Goodbyes are never easy, but they are even harder for a child who has seen too many people in their life come and go. But God calls different people to come for different amounts of time. As hard as it is for the kids to say goodbye, it is beautiful to see that even though goodbyes get messy (literally) with tears, wailing, and snotty noses. It means that the kids have opened up their hearts and let in love—a risky thing to do when you’ve been abandoned, abused, and neglected.
I start to feel physically sick when I think about having to say goodbye to these kids in May even though I’ll only be gone for a short time. They have wrapped their fingers so tightly around my heart that it hurts to think about being separated from them even if it is only for a couple of months. But, I miss my family too. I can’t wait to go home for a visit to catch up with friends and to spend time with the people I love in the US. I just wish there was a way to be in both places at once. When I booked a plane ticket back to the US, I didn’t realize at the time that I would be leaving on Charity’s birthday. Charity, the one who sobbed when I took a weekend trip to Uganda and begged me not to go. The one whose eyes teared up yesterday when Richelle asked me what time I was leaving in the morning (she was asking about my trip into town to buy school shoes for the boys). Charity panicked for a second thinking I was leaving, leaving.
God help me. As much as I love my family and can’t wait to see them, I don’t know how I’m going to have the emotional strength to do this. I love these kids even with their off key singing, mood swings, and muddy shoes. We’re a family. An odd family, but a family still and every day I thank God that He has allowed me to be apart of helping raise these kids. Some day in heaven there will be no more heart wrenching goodbyes. God will wipe our tears and our snotty noses and all the pain will dissolve into joy. That will be a beautiful day. Until then, we have to survive this emotional rollercoaster of life; and get used to the fact that our hearts will often be left in multiple places. But, as hard as goodbyes are they show that love exists. If you never had to say goodbye it would mean that you never met anyone new or that you never traveled outside of your own small world. Yes, goodbyes hurt; but I’ll take the heartaches along with the adventure.
I don’t want to stay so safe and protected that I become stagnant. I want our kids to know that God brings you through the hurt of goodbye and adds new people and experiences to every day He gives you. It hurts, but it heals, and until we reach our final home in heaven goodbyes are going to have to be apart of this process we call life.