As I sat staring at the overcast sky, my mind wandered back to the first day I stepped foot into the suite of offices. I had been so excited to start a new chapter in my life. After years of chasing the almighty dollar, I had entered the world of nonprofit. It had been a good chapter. I rifled through the pages of my mind, stopping now and again to re-read various scenes. Some were filled with joy and achievement, and others well...not so much. Yet overall, it really had been a good chapter.
She was coming in at some point during that day to meet with me. The hours seemed to drag on and on as I waited. I knew why she was coming. I had seen the budget, the same as her. There wasn't enough money left to justify my position.
I heard footsteps making their way down the hall toward my office. I wiped the tears from eyes and took a deep breath, exhaling all the stress and worry that had occupied my mind. I had taken vacation, knowing this day would come soon after. I spent my entire vacation preparing for it. I was ready. I turned in my seat to face the moment head on - fully present and aware. To my surprise, the footsteps in the hall hadn't been hers, but a long and trusted friend's, whom I had met in the years of my service to the nonprofit.
He was a tall man, with a commanding presence. His eyes were always bright and joyful, even in the darkest of times, accenting the broad smile that stretched from ear to ear. He had come from half-way around the world ~ sometimes I fancy just to make sure I was going to be okay. He lowered his large frame into the chair across from me, leaned on the desktop with his chin resting on his hands. "What's happening?" he asked, knowing by the look on my face that something was amiss.
His simple, yet compassionate, words unlocked the flood gates of months of worry and fear. The tears flowed like a river rushing to the ocean of despair. My heart gushed out all of the hurt and disappointment, as he gently took my hand and squeezed it. "No worries," he said, handing me a tissue from the box on the corner of my desk.
I dabbed away the moisture from my eyes and cheeks, and feigned a half-sincere smile. I told him it was over and I wouldn't be there anymore to help him or his community. I wouldn't be there to help anyone at all. I told him that I had given all I had to give and there just wasn't anymore.
"I know," he said softly, patting my hand in reassurance. "Times and people change. One day you are here, and one day you are somewhere else, but you are always where you are necessary." He was an Episcopalian pastor from South Sudan.
We talked for a while, and he prayed for me just before he had to leave. I watched as my long and trusted friend paused in the doorway. Before turning down the hall he smiled at me, that old and familiar smile of knowing that somehow always brought a sense of relief to my old and tired soul.
Not long after he had gone, I heard the true footsteps that carried the words of truth. My position would be eliminated by the end of the year. My heart sunk into the abyss of betrayal, but my friend's words stayed with me. I was going to be okay. I would always be where I was necessary.
Sooner than expected, I found a new position in another city [somewhere else]. I typed out my email of resignation to my boss. For as much as I had felt betrayed by her, somehow clicking send on that email was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I felt like the betrayer of the thousands of people that had come to our city to live and work. I felt like I should have fought harder, or conceded on things that did not agree with my soul, but I clicked send anyway.
Sometimes we are where we are necessary, not to teach others, but to become the student. In my new position, I found myself in the depths of the meaning of the word betrayal. It had been a horrifying experience that I would not wish on my worst enemy. The steely knives that were thrust into my back and the backs of others burned deep into my soul, coming out on the other side in my spirit. The hurt was so deep, the will to live and keep trying bled out of me more and more each day.
One afternoon in the depths of winter, I sat alone, and a car pulled up in front of my house. I brushed the curtain aside to see who was there, and out stepped my long and trusted friend from half-way around the world. I bid him to come in and warm himself, and asked what he was doing in a city so far away from home.
He had heard rumors and stories, the kind that did not sit well in his soul. He had come to see if they were true. He found truth in what he had heard. I had become an empty shell, my spirit holding hands with death. He hugged me tight, so tight I could barely breathe. It was almost as though he was trying to share the abundance of love in his spirit, to rekindle the smoldering ember that sputtered and sparked at the bottom of my soul.
We talked late into the afternoon, until the sun began it's northern descent toward the horizon. He reiterated that we are always where we are necessary. Sometimes it is to teach and other times to learn. The irony of his words is I was working in higher education. I had definitely come there to learn. I learned when to say when. I learned to recognize when my own strength was no longer enough to hold me together. I learned to ask for help, and accept the help that was offered. I learned to face my own demons, and to conquer fear. It took five long years to learn all of these, and as I look back, I learned to accept that we are always where we are necessary; no matter the circumstances.
My friend has since returned to Africa as a Lutheran pastor, where he is necessary. I wonder if one day his shadow won't once again come over the hill, and his commanding presence find itself in the midst of my life. Perhaps it will. Perhaps here he will be necessary once again.