Editor’s Note: Missioner Maeve Gallagher reflects on her dwindling time in Guatemala as she prepares to return to the US and live out her definition of home.

Since I discerned to return to the United States several months ago, I’ve been on the receiving end of the question, “Are you excited to go home?” countless times. Despite the frequency that this question is posed to me, I still haven’t landed on a good answer.  Yes, I’m excited to see my friends and family.  I haven’t seen my brothers in nearly two years.  My friends are now spread out around the world, but I’m very excited to visit them.

More often though, I feel a deep sadness when I think about leaving Guatemala.  I’m prematurely grieving the loss of my Guatemalan family and the beautiful country I love.  

How do I explain this to the kids at Valley who hug my waist and beg me not to leave?  “Are you going back to study?  Study here! Are you going back to work?  Why can’t you keep working here?” These comments make me burst into tears, probably (definitely) scaring the child hugging me.  It’s safe to say I’m not handling this transition well.  

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Maeve with some of her students

In the song that launched a thousand car commercials, the band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros sings in their aptly-titled song Home, “Home, let me come home / Home is wherever I’m with you.”

The first two years of my life were lived in a country I don’t remember.  The subsequent 16 took place in a suburb of Chicago that, by my mid-high school experience, I couldn’t wait to leave behind.  So, I settled in at a college I considered home for four beautiful years, nestled in between the Shenandoah mountains.  But the second I stepped foot on that campus, an invisible clock began counting down to the day I would graduate.  

My experience here in Guatemala has always had a time stamp on it too.  “Minimum two year, maximum six year commitment.” I signed my contract and didn’t think much of it until the email came saying I needed to start thinking about either extending my mission or coming back to the US.

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During Christmas preparations

If home is “wherever I am with you,” then I’m homeless.  The people I love aren’t contained in one convenient place.  Some of them I’ll never see again. And that hurts.  It makes my heart ache in a way I didn’t think was possible.

“Think of how lucky we are,” my best friend once told me. “That we have people we love so deeply it hurts this much to say goodbye.”

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Three of Maeve’s students

My heart has been broken open by my experience in Guatemala.  It stretches a little wider with each sad, beautiful, funny, or difficult situation I encounter.  I have stretched it beyond its limits in these past two years so I know I can push it a little more when I say goodbye, and be comforted by the thought of reuniting with the friends and family waiting for me in the US.

Reflection Question: What makes a place home for you?