Spending time with my sister Sarah involves a lot of everyday tasks, lately. Taking a child to the doctor, folding laundry, cleaning out the refrigerator, grabbing coffee together – but these ordinary things are precious to me because Sarah is leaving the country very soon. Her six months in the United States has whittled down to a couple days with shrinking hours of precious time.
Sarah and her family return to Portugal on Tuesday. This time it will be four years before they come back. In that time, toddlers will become elementary students, and new teenagers will be entering adulthood. In four years, Sarah will be older than I am now. And I’ll be nearing the end of my forties. At this stage of life, things can change a lot in four years.
So, I grab all the fleeting moments Sarah and I have left. Spur-of-the-moment, I drove over to help her clean the mission house yesterday. We folded sheets and scrubbed bathrooms and talked and talked. We analyzed ourselves, our other siblings, our marriages, our ministries. We laughed with and listened to each other while we got that old house looking better than when Sarah arrived.
Last week, I drove two-and-a-half hours to spend two-and-a-half hours with her. That time, I dropped my youngest kids in Sarah’s big yard, then jumped in the van to go with her to a doctor’s appointment. At least, I reasoned, we could talk on the way, talk in the waiting room, and talk on the way back. We did, and it was wonderful.
As I cherish each of these last times together, I also berate myself for not making more of the time we had. I think back to weekends I didn’t see her, of times I didn’t include her, of work that kept me busy elsewhere. And I’m sad, wondering if I’d feel any different if I’d been with her more. Probably not. Saying goodbye to a precious sister doesn’t get easier.
The ache I feel at Sarah’s going is countered by the conviction I feel for her work in Portugal. And even as I cling to her in my heart, I know Sarah’s face is already pointed toward her city across the sea and the many people who wait to welcome her back home.
So, I count the cost and once again learn to let go.