Tag: Love

7Dec

The Gift of Inclusion

My word was “read.” I’d dipped my hand into a whole bag of self-care verbs, and this was the one drawn by chance or metaphysical mischief to kick off my personal Advent experience. Read. I almost scrapped the whole concept right then and there.

Not that I’d been sure what to expect in the first place.

Advent has never meant much more to me than a religious term for the countdown to Christmas. I tried to absorb its significance even as a child, pressing my little-girl fingerprints into purple wax and burying my nose into poinsettias on the church altar, attempting to infiltrate myself with the sacred significance of these long December days. I never felt it though, the holy hush of expectation that draws so many people to the heart of the Nativity. My skeptic-mind never made that mystic-connection, and I’ve spent many holiday seasons standing outside this brightly lit soul-window wondering why I can’t just escort myself in.

With my daughters, I’ve held onto the countdown aspect of Advent without trying to force it to mean more. They open calendar windows to find chocolates or Legos, and it’s a fun component of our family tradition. Still, there’s the wistfulness of finding myself a stranger to my own religion and the longing to feel more, to explore the mysterious nuances of Christmas spirit and rediscover wonder.

That’s why I joined Mandy Steward’s #adventwindows experience this December, albeit one week late and more wishful than hopeful that it would be my missing link between Advent-as-a-countdown and Advent-as-a-spiritual-journey. Mandy created this series of self-care prompts as a way to be “intentional about discovering wonder,” which, yes please. If anything could draw me into deeper appreciation for the season, it would be this guided dance between the practical and the intuitive. And then, as if years of seasonal loneliness weren’t hinging on its significance, the first word I drew was “read.”

Let me just tell you what “read” means to me:
It means guilt for how I lose myself in the pages of a good book and crackle with resentment if responsibilities pull me away before I can finish.
It means overwhelm when I look at my want-to-read list, the many, many, many inspiring books that hold pow-wow in my friends’ hearts while I slip further behind.
It means jealousy for those with access to well-stocked libraries and unhurried hours.
It means the heartsickness of looking back on an old love.

I didn’t realize any of that until I drew the word though, and I was caught off balance by my reaction—the sudden punch of tears, the impulse to throw away my little Advent experiment and forget I’d ever tried. That reaction more than anything is what told me Wait. This is important. One innocent verb meant to nudge me in the direction of wonder and self-care had triggered a sister strain of loneliness, and my goodness. When “read” affects you like a weapon? You stop, you take off your shoes, and you pay attention.

And here is the truth hiding under all my defensive reactions: I fail miserably at self-care. I don’t treat myself to books—even those old favorites growing dust-beards on our shelves—because I don’t feel like I deserve to. I don’t feel like I’ve done whatever arbitrary and impossible feat would earn me the pleasure of curling up for an hour and immersing myself in story. I haven’t once checked out the English shelf of our local library to see if they have anything of interest because there are so many other books to which my interest already feels indebted… and even if I did check something out, I would run straight up against the problem of merit again.

This isn’t limited to books, of course. You may be familiar with this quote by Anne Lamott: “Every day you need half an hour of quiet time for yourself, or your Self, unless you’re incredibly busy and stressed, in which case you need an hour.” This quote has always given me truth-hives. On the one hand, doesn’t St. Anne know that my Self needs to earn a reprieve from busyness by acting extra busy?  But on the other, don’t I know that’s rubbish? Self-care is not something to be earned or quantified or stolen or withheld. It can only be received, and only once we recognize our own deep worth. 

This is part of the intentional discovery of wonder, isn’t it? Facing hidden loneliness head-on and extending the gift of inclusion to ourselves? For me, today, that is going to mean pouring myself a hot tea, wrapping myself up in a far-too-large blanket, and getting lost in the pages of a good book. Tomorrow, it might mean ignoring the dishes and sitting down to build Lego cities with Dan and the girls. It will mean going to bed when weariness first tugs at the corners of my thoughts and then tiptoeing to the kitchen before dawn with my Gorey journal on the contrail of dreams. It will mean painting my toenails even though they rarely leave the refuge of fuzzy socks these days. It will mean cooking one-serving gourmet when my husband’s away on business. It will mean standing a long moment outside at night to drink in the ice-studded sky. It will mean making room in my day-to-day life for amazement and joy… room for the true heart of Advent to invite mine in.

~~~

What does self-care look like for you? What do you wish it involved?

13Nov

Epicenter

The rain is a vertical river, thunderous and steady against our gabled roof. It’s my favorite kind of storm; its intensity and intention speak to the part of me that is always craving more movement in my life, and I love the way the water envelopes our house, the lamplight by my bed its epicenter.

The girls crawled under the comforter with me a while ago, and now they’re curled together like kittens, the older one reading softly, the younger one listening more softly still. Without really intending to, my mind wanders back to the night before Natalie’s second birthday. Some secret blossoming instinct had compelled me to take a pregnancy test, but I’d been too nervous to look at it, because what if it was negative? And what if it was positive? I simply couldn’t get the edges of my imagination to meet on the other side of that possibility—my tulle-haired toddler becoming an older anything, the cells of my own mama-heart dividing and multiplying into a new species of love. It was like glimpsing my face in a sci-fi film and having to work out if I was dreaming or if the laws of the universe really had just staged a coup.

I had Dan look at the test for me while I stood tiptoe on the line between before and after. When his eyes turned into carnival lights, I knew, and my mind spun tilt-a-whirl into this new now. Two children, two—double the territory of motherhood I was still exploring with the caution of a foreigner. I thought of my own childhood relationships with my siblings and imagined rivalry and manipulation sown like minefields across our family’s future. At the same time, the slender, precious hope of sibling rapport was already gestating in my conscious. I hoped and feared in equal measure and didn’t sleep well again until the day we brought Sophie home from the hospital and our family of four clicked into place.

This evening, the circle of lamplight by my bed glows off of the unimaginable—two colors of hair, two brilliantly diverse personalities, two hearts galloping headlong in their own directions but always, somehow, linked to the other. The longer I watch my girls, drinking in the curve of their cheeks, the earnest trajectory of their eyes, the tender nonchalance in the way their legs pile on each other under the covers, the less I am stirred to restlessness by the storm outside, and the more I am pulled into this epicenter of light and sweet familiarity. Sci-fi no longer—we are home.

~~~

How has the concept of family stretched your horizons, sent you whirling, or redefined your sense of place?

5Oct

Purple

She’s one of the most likeable women you’d ever meet—sweet, positive, and so down-to-earth that you forget to be intimidated by her ridiculous beauty. She gave birth to her first child while her husband was deployed overseas, and she continues to raise their babies with enthusiasm while maintaining a fairytale marriage and caring, deeply, for her friends and extended family. I haven’t seen her in several years, but we keep up[ish] through Facebook, and I’d love to have a coffee with her (or run a marathon, which is more her style and might have something to do with the ridiculous beauty factor).

That is, I’d love to have a coffee with her if I could be certain that politics would never enter the conversation. Regularly since the 2008 election, she’s been posting hate-laced statuses about our current American president, and not just pointing out policies she doesn’t agree with, but defaming his character, blaming him for everything she sees wrong in the world, claiming that his presidency is literally making her sick, and viciously insulting anyone who wishes him well. And see, that anyone happens to include me.

She’s not the only one either, and according to my Facebook home page, some of my friends—all good people who would never say the following to my face—indirectly call me an ignorant commie, heretical, devoid of common sense, a jaw-flapping liberal, anti-American, a fool. Keep in mind that this is before the election; votes have yet to be cast, and the vitriol loading down friend feeds across the world is directed solely toward… well, belief.

I honestly don’t know how to shrug off the weight of that. I haven’t voted yet—I haven’t even decided which candidate will get my vote—but I know that my thought processes about government and standard of living are enough in themselves to attract poison-tipped backlashes, even if I never try to propagate those thoughts. Just the fact that they’re different from some others’ is enough. I want so badly to believe that we as a humanity have matured, that the people of today would never put Galileo on trial for claiming that our planet revolved around the sun, that we would never imprison Dostoevsky for discussing Western philosophy with his friends or condemn Socrates for encouraging free thought in his students or launch inquisitions to force orthodoxy on the populace… but I don’t know if it’s that we’re more mature now or if we simply have less power to turn hateful opinions into hateful actions.

I’d planned to keep my blog a politics-free zone this election season, to stay far out of the various lines of fire and [fingers crossed] avoid any combative holiday dinners. I’m still hurting from some of the things said about me, my husband, and even our sweet little girls back in 2008, and I don’t want to open up my beliefs again to that kind of derision. On the other hand, I know deep down that it’s not enough to step back and passively disapprove. I can’t hope to see change by refusing to engage any more than I could by dashing off snide critiques of the presidential debate, and I don’t want the better part of my identity, the part that stands for rather than against, to atrophy simply because I’m afraid of criticism.

So here, friends, is what makes my heart beat stronger in this election season, what I believe in enough to brave the often-toxic political climate and speak up:

– Respectful, curiosity-fueled discussions meant to better understand another’s way of thinking rather than bash that thinking as wrong or stupid. I know the Presidential Debate isn’t likely to become the Presidential Win-Win Relational Learning Hour anytime soon, but interviewing a friend with a different outlook could be a great start. (Rachel Held Evan’s “Ask a…” series is a fantastic example.)

– Open-mindedness and sincere consideration of all sides. Our political affiliations are so often determined by our family backgrounds rather than our core values, and even though honest reflection will probably lead us right back to our original positions, we can hopefully come back with more personal conviction, a deeper regard for those who arrive at other conclusions, and a sense that our nation is not red and blue so much as it is purple.

– Love across party lines—when we put down the pitchforks and snarky e-cards and choose to see people’s worth apart from their political leanings. Dan is not one microspeck less the man I love because we sometimes vote differently, and despite our many conversations about politics through the years, he has yet to realize he’s married to an anti-American commie heretic. I’ve lost out on so much goodness in the past by letting political fervor cloud my view of the people in my life, and I can personally attest that there is no victory in making a point at the expense of relationships.

– Grace toward those who make us angry, either by their differing beliefs or through their harsh words. This is the hardest one for me, but I recognize that my adorable military-wife friend needs me to take her cruel words with perspective and forgiveness just as much as I need her to take my support of the president with understanding and respect. This grace thing, it goes both ways.

You know, I was thisclose to bowing out of Facebook this morning. I had the status box already filled in with a quippy explanation of how all the political posts were driving me away, but as my finger hovered over the “Post” button, I caught a glimpse of my words as others would see them—as a conversation-ender, a slammed door. I might not have been posting vitriol or preaching what I think you should think about economic reform, but it was graceless all the same, a 180° deviation from the open mind and heart I so want to cultivate.

I don’t have an exact picture of what my role should look like, now that soap-boxer and head-buried ostrich are out, but I’m willing to explore the possibilities in between. I might just stick with listener (and occasional blogger) for now. Like so many other Americans, I want change, but the change I’m craving has less to do with policies and more to do with people, and people aren’t something to be argued away. We’re all roommates on this planet, charged by our very design with caring for each other, and the fact that we’re each wired to see the world uniquely doesn’t have to be a curse. I’d much rather take it as a gift, these purple-colored glasses for election season, these opportunities to stand for my belief in understanding yours better.

18Sep

Schooled

Today marks one week back at school for the girls. Summer lasts long in Italy, and I can no longer contemplate freshly sharpened pencils in the same month when all our neighbors are headed to their beach homes, or apples for the teacher when we’re still in the syrupy peach haze of August. No, the backpacks come out of storage with the skinny jeans here, and this, my fifth back-to-school as an expat mother, is the first time I haven’t been afraid of it.

You have to understand that few personalities are less suited to the learningcoastercrazyspiral of expat life than mine. Two words: shy perfectionist. I’m easily intimidated by the challenge of opening my mouth in my own language, much less a foreign one, and I desperately want to do every last little particle of life right. Moving to a new culture where I am 100% guaranteed to make mistakes every time I a) step out my door, b) open my mouth, and c-z) try to pass myself off as a confident, capable adult who knows what the hell she’s doing in line at the post office has been an ongoing exercise in recovering from mortal embarrassment and pinning my worth on something other than social finesse. (Baked goods, perhaps?)

The girls’ back-to-school transition is particularly prone to trial and error because parents are expected to know through a combination of telepathy and strategic neighborhood networking who to register with, where to order books, how to stock up on supplies, which uniform is required, and what day and time of day school starts. I am inordinately grateful each year when we manage to show up before the bell and with a majority of the right supplies. This year, however, my gratefulness was due less to beating the telepathy game and more to having a great group of friends we can hit up for details. I didn’t have to worry that my child would end up the only second-grader without 5-millimeter graph paper or that my other child would be kicked out of kindergarten for lack of a sun hat. I really didn’t worry at all, which was a welcome departure from tradition.

This lack of anxiety was significant for another reason too, another kind of cultural divide overcome. See, I was raised in a hyper-fundamentalist Christian lifestyle based almost entirely on fear. First and foremost, we were afraid of God; he was demanding, judgmental, and vindictive, and he dangled the threat of hell above our heads like a sword hanging on the gossamer strand of his patience. We were so afraid of incurring his wrath that we accepted every passing religious do and don’t at face value and left critical thinking to those damned (literally) liberals.

We were almost equally afraid of “The World,” the term we used to describe any society or person who did not share our beliefs. The World was the government who collected taxes and redistributed them as welfare and failed to enforce our country’s founding values. The World was secular media, with its television programs and feature films and news bulletins all designed to glorify sin. Most of all, The World was public school, Satan’s greatest ploy for corrupting young hearts and minds. The only times I set foot in a public school as a child was when my parents went there to vote, and despite the empty classrooms and quiet halls, I was terrified that the godlessness of the place would seep into my pores like an airborne disease.

I’m a parent of school-aged daughters myself now, and I understand more than ever what my parents feared about sending me off to school. When I pass my girls into the waiting arms of their teachers, I relinquish a very large measure of control. I no longer act as filter and gatekeeper to my children’s minds, and yes, it is incredibly scary to imagine what ideas and mannerisms they could absorb away from home. My kneejerk reaction would be to protect, protect, protect, to turn our home into a bunker of parental-approved thinking and only let in whatever wafts of the outside world won’t disturb our family ecosystem.

I know from deeply personal experience, however, that mind control is a losing game for everyone involved. Discernment can’t grow in an environment where only one side of an issue is ever presented. Conflict resolution can’t be learned where conflict is never allowed. Grace can’t thrive in a relational or ideological vacuum, nor can compassion, courage, or humility. We were designed to live in a multifaceted world full of wonderfully unique people who hold diverse opinions, and I want my children to experience the horizon-expanding beauty of this design instead of hiding from it in fear.

Beyond the fact that I would be a terrible homeschool teacher (seriously, the worst), I don’t actually want to be the only adult my girls look up to or learn from. I don’t agree with everything that their teachers and Sunday School leaders and even relatives tell them, but those differences in opinion have a way of sparking great conversations with the girls, conversations we wouldn’t get to have if they were getting a single-minded stream of information from me. Besides, facts aren’t everything. The girls also get love from the “outsiders” in our lives, and part of the joy of their return to school this year was in their reunion with much-beloved teachers and classmates.

How could I be afraid of that, I ask?

First grade done

(I can’t.)

11Jul

Re-stitched

One one hand, the ER was not where I’d imagined spending the evening of our 9th anniversary. Sure, the colored reflectors on the operating room lights scattered a certain romantic sparkle through the air, and we had some special moments answering the doctors in two-part harmony. “Which one of you is Bassett?” “We both are.” “Yes, but which one is here for treatment?” “We both are.” Still, we probably wouldn’t have handpicked the emergency room for our anniversary getaway.

On the other hand, how better to commemorate this perpetual adventure of a marriage than to get matching stitches for our matching arm wounds which will be matching badass scars by this time next year?

Yeah, I’ve got nothing either.

It started at midnight, the first moon-slivered seconds of our anniversary, with a tremendous crash just beyond our bedroom door. We (I) were still skittish from the night before when our television had started blaring in the opposite end of the house leading us (me) to imagine burglars hiding in every sock drawer, so I felt totally justified in jumping up and brandishing the first weapon available. Which was… our sheet. I must have looked very fierce indeed, terror-frozen at the foot of our bed with a fistful of linens.

Dan, possessing all of our collective presence of mind and movement of limb at that moment, dashed out of the room to investigate and soon reported that, contrary to popular opinion, we were not under mortar attack. I surrendered my sheet and came out to see what would only ever under those exact circumstances be considered a welcoming sight—a bathroom covered wall to wall in foamy brown liquid and shards of glass.

To those of you still reading, it’s not as gross as it sounds. Promise. My husband brews artisan beer as a hobby and had recently bottled a batch of lovely dark stout to finish fermenting on a bathroom shelf, not realizing that the temperature would creep up to dangerous levels. A bottle had exploded, and despite making a royal mess, it smelled delicious and wasn’t a grenade-launching burglar. I’ve never been so happy to scrub down a bathroom at midnight.

Exploding beer 1

We crawled into bed an hour later, kissed sleepily, and closed our eyes just in time for another explosion to rock the house. Crap. We checked on the damage—at least three bottles this time—and decided to just cordon off the crime scene for the night. By the third explosion, we barely even stirred on our pillows. Any number of home invaders could have blown down our door that night without encountering so much as a single belligerent bedsheet. Prospective villains, take note.

We didn’t really want to spend our anniversary cleaning double malt off the bathroom ceiling, but sometimes life requires maturity. Which is why we waited until nearly suppertime to start. (Why else did God invent second bathrooms if not to allow for slovenly cleaning habits?) Now, some people might have reasoned that walking into a room full of spontaneously exploding glass necessitated flak gear or at least a healthy sense of caution, but then again, some people don’t get to experience unforgettable 9th anniversary bonding moments like the one just ahead.

It happened while I was kneeling over the bottom shelf of bottles hosing away glass chips and yeasty goodness. I didn’t realize that the shelf above it was getting nudged off its pegs until I suddenly found myself trying to catch a dozen beer bottles as they exploded. In my face. Demonstrating the same quick reflexes and superior thinking that I had the night before, I froze in place… that place being a front row seat to my own dissection.

Fortunately, survival of the fittest is trumped by survival of the married, and Dan yanked me onto my feet and toward the door. Just as I was registering that my arm kind of maybe really hurt, he made a sound indicating that some part of his body kind of maybe really did too. We stumbled into the other bathroom where the following half hour remains a bit of a blur. At some point, a pair of blood-splattered jeans ended up in the laundry, and we found a red scatterplot across the mirror the next day, so you know it had to be fun.

My arms, legs, and shoulders were peppered with tiny nicks, but there wasn’t a single splinter of glass lodged in my skin—a mercy. Even more remarkably, my face was untouched. Not a mark. I didn’t recognize the miracle of this until much later because that was about the time Dan realized that a few Angry Birds Band-Aids and wishful thinking were no match for the slices on our biceps. Always a people pleaser, I myself was reluctant to head to the hospital. In my mind, the ER is for head injuries and heart attacks; wouldn’t the doctors frown on us for taking up their valuable time with something as mundane as cuts?

As it turns out, there’s a generally accepted rule of thumb about this very situation: If you can see your own muscle, get thee to the ER.

Exploding beer 2

A mere hour and a half later (I know!), we were sewed up and headed back home, five stitches apiece and gratefulness all around—for the neighbor who took in our girls with thirty seconds’ advance notice, for the friend who cleaned up every bit of broken glass in our absence, for the spouse cracking jokes and grimacing in sympathy across the triage room, and for the divine current of goodness carrying us not only through our 9th anniversary but to it as well.

This last year has been one of our hardest as a couple, and I know that probably sounds worth an eye roll or two in light of the marriage letters and the Dear Nearlywed and the happy Instagram feeds. None of that is an act; we are happy, but some days, it’s a happiness hard won. Some weeks, life pressure turns into a geyser under our feet and we jump in opposite directions without meaning to. Some months, we can’t really tell whether the intensity we’re channeling is primarily push or pull, both instincts being so strong and our minds so weary. We’ve spent so much of the last year facing obstacles and scanning for miracles that we’ve often forgotten how to look at each other, how to look and really see.

This is why our 9th anniversary came as such a gift. Fresh out of the emergency room, twinges of pain reminded me of the pain avoided—the deep mercy of an untouched face, of blood beating soundly inside our two skins. And then this interpersonal rawness after an intense year… it floods me with gratefulness for the new bonds we’ve forged throughout, the promises kept, and the sacred still of forgiveness.

I’m not used to picturing us with scars, and my mind keeps reverting back to the way we used to be like a dog who can’t understand its owners have moved. I can never adjust to new realities without a ridiculous amount of head-swiveling. However, the new us is quickly growing on me. This is the year we start rocking the scars, and honestly, I love that we share these testaments to coming undone and being restitched. Even the ones on our arms.

Exploding beer 3

(All pictures by Dan, who had the presence of mind to take them)

9May

Trumped

I decided years ago that I was done with the creation vs. evolution debate. As a Jesus-follower, I often hear earnest sermonizing that God created all life forms in six literal days and that science is trying to undermine the truth of our Bible, but I no longer take on that conversation. My personal belief is that the creation story in Genesis is highly figurative and that God in science are on the same team, but I could be mistaken. Honestly, I don’t care. I see a divine fingerprint on the world around me, but the method of its origin has no bearing on my faith. It’s simply a non-issue to me.

I’ve taken the same approach with the sexual orientation subject too. Nearly all Christian denominations openly condemn the homosexual and transgender, but I never saw the point in getting worked up over it. After all, I’m straight. I can hardly claim to understand, much less consider myself an authority on those with other sexual orientations. Yes, there are passages in the Bible decrying homosexuality, but the Bible is a complicated book, and I didn’t see a personal need to delve into the linguistic and cultural nuances behind those passages in order to polarize my stance. The issue simply didn’t affect me.

That was before someone very dear to me shared the story of her husband—a conservative pastor and Quiverfull dad—admitting that he actually identified as female and of their transition to a same-sex marriage. I was stunned. My lack of a position on the whole subject left me in a philosophical no man’s land as I tried to wrap my mind around their story, and my own longsuffering spouse can attest to the many hours I spent talking myself through it. I kept trying to put myself in Melissa’s position, but I just couldn’t imagine finding out that my husband had always felt his deepest identity to be female. More, I couldn’t imagine coming out myself and continuing our committed, affectionate relationship as he became a she.

It finally dawned on me that I was trying to understand things from the wrong angle. My body and soul genders match each other, and my romantic inclination is as conventional as it comes; I’m not going to be able to conjure up the transgender or gay experience any more than I could picture myself a tsar. But I don’t need to. I don’t need to feel what my friend is going through in order to hear the emotions of her story, see the awe-striking love she and her spouse have shown each other throughout, or understand the way people’s reactions affect them. I don’t need to twist my mind around in search for empathy. It’s been right here all along… and so has my stance on the issue:

Love matters most.

Jesus said that when a religious leader asked him for the greatest commandment, and it’s one of my favorite things in the Bible. All those lists of laws and thou shalt nots are both summed up and solidly trumped by love. You would think, according to some sermons I’ve heard, that Jesus accidentally forgot to exclude homosexuals when he said “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But this same Jesus met with scathing criticism from the churchy crowd for his habit of hanging out with prostitutes, cheats, and other flagrant sinners. He had dinner with outcasts and approached people considered too vile for interaction, and you know, he never once remembered to launch an anti-gay campaign. He was too busy teaching how to cultivate peace, live authentically, and stop burdening our fellow human beings.

I realize that unconventional sexual orientation has become a huge moral issue to many people, and it’s often seen as grounds for terminating friendships. In the case of Christian communities, many adopt the strategy of trying to shun the offending person into repentance. Bullying can take the form of anything from hate crimes to prayer meetings to constitutional amendments, and we’re only kidding ourselves if we claim that our repugnance is rooted in the Bible. The Old Testament puts pride, eating pig meat, and doing things to gain popularity in the same category as gay sex, but the cultural stigmas on those actions have long since been lifted. If you pick up a clam on the beach today, you’re not going to face a religious firing squad even though touching shellfish is listed as an abomination in the same section of the Bible most often used to bash homosexuals. Like it or not, every single Christian interprets the Bible through a cultural filter, so I think it’s about time that we acknowledge our prejudice for what it is.

I imagine that some people are ready to jump down my throat right now with theology books in tow, but I’m less willing to join in the debate now than I was during all my years of disimpassioned neutrality. It really all comes down to this one truth beating in my heart:

The Bible says homosexuality is an abomination!
But love matters most.

God intended marriage to be between a man and a woman, period!
But love matters most.

If I remain friends with gay people, they will think I’m condoning their behavior!
But love matters most.

They’re unnatural and perverted and mentally unsound; they need to be cured!
But love matters most.

What if my child turns out gay?
Love matters most.

No matter our fears or aversions, our power as a majority group to put others down, or our arsenal of theological ammunition, love matters most. Jesus summed up centuries of religious law in this, and I don’t believe for one second that he meant “love” as an abstract semantic device that we can claim over the people we’re shunning. Jesus’s love was always hands-on—touching the sick, embracing muddy children, tearing off hunks of bread for the hungry, washing his followers’ feet—and he charged his believers with carrying out his heart for people. He charged us with grace, freeing us forever from the responsibility of judging or condemning each other. His is a legacy of radical community, beautiful in its unconcern with convention or religious respectability, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be a part of it… right alongside my friend.

~~~

I’ve linked to this before, but it’s worth a second read: A Mountain I’m Willing to Die On

4May

Do-Over

The tips of my ears burst into flame as I hustled the girls across the sun-baked parking lot and into the car. I felt sure that everyone in the store was staring at me, the foreign young mom who had just tried to do a good deed and spontaneously combusted. I couldn’t bring myself to look back, I couldn’t, and a new wave of heat billowed up my cheeks. What had I just taught my girls? Patronization? Irresponsibility? Penance, maybe? Were they learning cowardice from me in that very moment? I hoped they wouldn’t tell Dan. Really, my only coping strategy was to pray that we’d escape notice, and I wished with all the fervor of the shame-flushed that the woman we’d left on the curb would forget my face the moment we drove away.

That morning had unfolded with the sticky sweetness of late summer. The girls and I had breakfasted, hung the laundry, and headed to the grocery store to pick up some essentials. I was working out just how many ripe watermelons I could justify as essential (considering the one already taking up half our fridge, my husband would have said none; I would have said five, so I figured a compromise was somewhere in the two to three range) when I saw her. She wasn’t selling anything that day, only standing in the parking lot like an uprooted willow swaying in the heat. That she was there at all, trading in her time for the kindness or indifference of strangers, showed a heartbreaking kind of hope. It pierced me to remember how I had judged the spectacle of that hope in the past, how I had brushed away her courage and vulnerability as an annoyance. I knew this was the do-over I had prayed for.

She’s thirsty. A heart-nudge, one of those whispers of intuition that I’ve come to recognize as divine grace notes, steered my cart to a shelf of water bottles, and I tucked one among the watermelons. I felt instantly self-conscious—tampon aisle self-conscious—as if the item I’d just slipped into my cart would end up on the evening news and provoke international shock… but why? Even if I were to announce over the store’s loudspeaker that the bottle of water was meant for the woman in the parking lot, no one would care. Why was I so thoroughly discomfited?

I dawdled over checking out and putting groceries in the car, but finally it was just me with a water bottle in my hand and two little girls following me uncertainly toward the woman. She sat on a curb now, deflated, and I felt ridiculous in my sunglasses clutching the key to my air-conditioned car. Our disparity nauseated me with guilt. I felt a wild need to apologize for being born into a different life than she was, for buying watermelons while she begged, and for walking up to her now offering what she had not asked of me. Instead, I stammered out, “Here’s a bottle of water for you. I thought… with the heat…” I couldn’t meet her eyes, not even when she said a timid thank you and began to drink, and the only other word I could remember in that moment was “goodbye.”

My do-over was done, and as I hurried back to the car with flaming face, I couldn’t figure out at which aspect of it I had failed the most. According to insistent voices from my memory, I was damaging the economy by giving hard-won resources to a freeloader. All the You don’t work, you don’t eat philosophies I’ve ever heard converged to berate me for encouraging this woman’s lifestyle, and somewhere in there, the old adage about teaching a man to fish groped around for a point. From the other side of the spectrum, hyper-compassionate ideologies blasted me for not having done enough. Only a measly bottle of water to a woman who in need? My actions had made a mockery of her situation. The ostrich part of my personality mumbled from deep in the sand that I had presumed far too much, involved myself in something that wasn’t my business. My polite Southern roots chided me for my horrible attempt at conversation. I shouldn’t have done anything, I should have done more, I should have bought an umbrella back in December and cleared myself of any further obligation, I should have at least asked her name. My ears burned.

~~~

The water bottle incident happened last summer, and I still haven’t figured out where to assign my feelings about helping the down-and-out we encounter on a weekly basis. I know that poverty can be a politically charged minefield, and even though I prefer to stay out of those debates—like, continents away—I still tend to see a lot of issues in the epic scope of The Common Good. And it makes me crazy. (See above.) Of course I’m going to over-think a bottle of water until it becomes an economic and moral crisis; that’s how I’m made. It’s not how I want to be, though, subjecting the needs of my fellow humans to a gauntlet of opinions as I combust with guilt. I just want simplicity, the freedom to follow my heart-nudges with a whole mind.

That’s where people like Erika come in. Erika is the kind of soul-sister who would have snuck me out to go dancing had we known each other in our teens (maybe we’ll sneak out of the same nursing home together one day?), and she posted a story yesterday about a homeless man and a trip to Froyo World that undid about a million years of politically-correct anxiety in my chest. Loving with intention—that’s it. No expectations or grand schemes to change the world. No pressure to manage others’ lives. No political formulas or lines in the sand, and certainly no cost-benefit analysis. Just love plus intention.

Since that bungled parking lot encounter last summer, I’ve been waiting for answers, rows of watertight logic to categorize my debate so that I can make a clearly informed decision next time I see a beggar. What I wasn’t expecting was to realize that the debate no longer matters to me. It really doesn’t though. When I read that Erika and her family are buying an extra coffee each time they go to Starbucks so they can share it with someone who needs a lift, my heart jumps in recognition. This is it, the versatile beauty of love packed into cup, and maybe it’s not meant to feel comfortable, but I can finally let go of needing it to feel reasonable. Love has never followed the rules of reason anyway.

I’m not saying that it’s suddenly going to be easy for me to walk up to strangers and offer bottles of water. I still have the self-consciousness thing working against me, remember, and I’m guessing the should/shouldn’t debate will try to make itself heard again. But goodness, if any kind of intentional living is worth practicing on a regular basis, love is it. All I need now is another do-over.

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