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just write {83}

April 30th, 2013 | 9 Comments »

Warm sun quickly filled my bedroom that morning, and I was struggling to put on clothing that felt right for the sudden jump in to Spring. What if the church where I was going would be air-conditioned and cold? What if I looked like I’d spent too much time on this? It was only a short conference, only a group of women, immersed in faith, coming together in the flesh to adhere as a body, to understand community and relationships and trust in one another.

It wasn’t that big of a deal, really. I kept telling myself that. My bare legs felt odd. My shoes felt odd. I felt odd. I wanted to shrug off the skirt, the clothing that wasn’t yet right, the feeling in my chest of my heart jumping in anxiety and just stay home. Stay safe.

The smiling faces of two dear friends greeted me in the parking lot, making my anxiety less acute. I knew a dear friend waited inside. Why did I feel apprehensive? All of us that day live our lives in faith and attempt to seek grace on a daily basis. We are not so different.

But we were the one thing that most of us fear; we were strangers.

I thought I would be safe, seated with people I knew and trusted, who’s faces gave me comfort, smiles that made my heartbeats calm. I could breathe among their energy, feel safe and secure there but the dreaded icebreaker came along and everyone started talking. The room closed in immediately and heat rose within me, breaking beads of sweat on my face that made me want to cry. I wanted to flee, run as fast as I can away from the fear and into the safety of myself.

I hate feeling so uncomfortable, so vulnerable and wide-open and yet so closed off and insignificant all at once. What did I have to offer them? What could they possibly gain from me? Who did I think I was bringing myself among strangers, to try and let down my guard and climb over my walls and in to another garden to see what life is growing there?

I wanted to run, to withdraw and disappear and not smile and talk and exchange knowledge and information or anything that would remove the bricks I had placed, one by one. Among friends I am at ease. I am soothing and comfort, hugs all around. Among strangers I become the old and broken, the one left behind too many times, the one forsaken. I won’t extend myself or reach out. I will stay shrouded in my own broken self.

I listened when the words began to flow, when the voices spoke out from the screen about community and relationships. I listened when the voices spoke of staying through the turmoil and hardships, through the dark valleys and tears that don’t stop and time that feels sluggish and muddy. Through times of hurt and misunderstanding. Through days that aren’t crystal clear, bright, and perfect. When we commit to one another in friendship, in marriage, in God and hope, we commit to stay, regardless. We have time to heal ourselves and others; time to build and understand, time to grow and accept and appreciate. We don’t have to be in the same places as those we choose to sit with on our friendship benches. We don’t have to have children the same age, be at the same stage of life, or live within the same neighborhood.

We don’t even have to be the same age.

And I have lamented endlessly that I seem to be the grand dame of my friends, the oldest one, sometimes by far and away over what feels like too many years. How can I relate to them when ages make them young enough to be my children? But the words spoke clearly to my heart that God draws those together who can most learn from one another and age, time and distance means nothing when the heartstrings are bound with His love. I’ve crashed around on rough seas and been thrown, tumbling heels over and over, sandpaper roughed up with life’s cruelest touches and maybe, just maybe I have something to say that they need to hear.

The room was stuffy and the coffee was good. There were cupcakes so delicious that I may have eaten more than one. I may have stayed in my chair and not ventured around the room to meet many others, but my heart was filled with words that spoke with razor-sharp truth to exactly what I needed. I’m home, in this world, with the people God has placed in my life, just for me. And I needed to climb over that fence of apprehension, drive across miles of concrete, greet friends I’ve never met, sisters in Christ and stay, regardless.

Just for us. We’ve found our bench where we can gather. And all we have to do is show up.

This is the 83rd installment of Just Write, hosted by Heather of The Extraordinary Ordinary.

{{sponsored by (in)courage- home for the hearts of women, on Saturday April 27th, 6,000 women met in 590 places in 20 countries around the globe to connect beyond the computer screen and embrace community and friendship. This is the 2nd year I’ve gone and despite my anxiety, it was clearly the place I needed to be.}}

this kind of love

February 13th, 2011 | 18 Comments »

It’s Valentine’s Day again. And again, we aren’t really celebrating. We never do. It’s a Hallmark holiday, and love, any good love deserves celebration 365 days a year.

Instead, I’m going to tell you a story; a story about a man and a woman, who met each other with a little help from God, and a website called Match dot com. In this story, the man and woman lived a block away from each other, and she was raising a nice little boy all by herself. She liked his smile; he liked her red hair. And little by little, they fell in love and decided that they should marry and when they told their families, there were loud shouts of excitement. Everyone was happy.

And on a mild summer day in a tiny quaint town on a picturesque and majestic river, they held each others hand and said ‘I will’ when the pastor asked them about the divine love, and the journey ahead of them. Then the little boy joined them, they all held hands again, promising to be good to one another as a family, and to love each other, even in their imperfections. They never got to just be a couple. From the moment the rings went on, they were a family, all three of them. And afterwards, they held hands once again -it was a big day you know, for hand holding- while a prayer was said before the first meal they’d share as husband and wife. On that beautiful day, everyone ate a picnic lunch at colored tables, topped with glitter and balloons, while happy children in smart suits with ties and beautiful dresses ran around the room, and leaned in anticipation on the table that held a cake, because it was a celebration, after all, and celebrations meant cake. And the cake was good. Everyone was so happy.

And soon enough, the man and the woman decided they wanted a baby, so they crossed their fingers, prayed and tried, but there was no baby, month after month. They prayed more, and they hoped hard, and everyone they knew prayed with them. The little boy was happy and excited; he’d wanted a brother or sister ever since he could remember, like from the age of 4 and he was eager to be the best big brother he could possibly be. But there were problems, it seems. There were terrible pains in the woman’s belly; pains that scared her and made her fearful that maybe she couldn’t make a baby like God had designed her to do, and so she went to a doctor, and listened as he talked about tests, and listed names of things that sounded odd and scary. And the man held her hand to soothe her (see? more hand holding), and he held her shoulders tight against him and comforted her because all of it was so scary, and there were serious faces and lots of ‘Hmmm’ and ‘Huh’ when the doctor read her charts. On the night before a surgery that would give them all the answers, she wept from the uncertainty and cried to the man’What if you don’t want to stay married to me if I can’t have children?’ The man laughed because he thought that was so silly. But the woman was very serious. The nurses soothed her as she wept before the surgery again. She was very scared. What if she didn’t wake up?  The kind doctor, his eyes crinkling as he smiled through the mask that covered his face, assured her that she would be fine, and soon she was deep in a sleep so black and solid and thick that it seemed like only two minutes passed before she opened her eyes again. There was so much pain, and her mouth was dry and she really, really wanted to see the man. So she waited, and took her pain medication, got up and moved around and did everything she was asked in hopes it would get her to see the man sooner. It took forever for the nurse to wheel her into a room where the man was waiting for her.

But nobody was happy. No one was smiling. There was no joy.

Right away her eyes asked him the question, and he knelt in front of her, grasping her hands tight in his like he always had while he carefully said ‘We can’t have any babies.’ and then when the woman fell into his embrace sobbing and apologizing, he held her close to him, stroking her back and said to her  “I still want to be married to you.” and even in the hardest moment of her life, through a pain she never felt like she deserved, she knew that the only thing that mattered was that one sentence, and the love that had been sealed with a kiss in front of a hundred people in that lovely river town, under a prayer on the wall of the church with a ring on her finger and a vow to hold fast forever. The happy had been stolen.

There would be no shouts of joy in their families for them, announcing that a new life was on the way. Instead, there were tears, a lot of embraces and sorrow, and life moved on for everyone but the woman and the man. They faced a challenge now in their married life that they never expected, and certainly not this soon, still in their newlywed phase. The woman had no idea that she could cry so much, that she could experience such a pain within her heart. She learned to move, stepping one foot in front of the other and exploring her new normal, but the pain within her clenched hard and left her in agony. She leaned on the man, and he leaned on her and the life that they’d started together sometimes slowed down a lot in those moments, shoulder to shoulder, fending off a world that had turned hard and raw. They tried to remember all the good in their lives; the beautiful home, the love between them, the young man who was growing in front of their eyes. But she learned how deeply she could miss someone she’d never even met. She learned to smile when someone announced they were expecting. She learned a lot of things, like how hard God cried along with her, how to lean on Him, her faith and her need to move forward despite the desire within to simply lay down and never stir from that spot.

But moving forward was agony, and it was slow and for so long it felt like the happiness would never return.

So finally, the most painful part of this season passed, but now almost 8 years later, it isn’t gone. It never will be; it still simmers below the surface of her heart. But the love, the one that started on that mild August day, in 2002, with hand holding, the shouting children and the cake and celebration, it’s strong and powerful and seems to get better with every year that passes. The woman feels the inevitable ups and downs of sharing a life, a home and everything with the man, but knows that the hardest peak they’ve ever had to climb came early, a journey that was so difficult and treacherous that they learned quickly how to lean on each other, how to guide each other through, how to survive against what very well might have been an insurmountable sorrow. The man still grasps her hands when she needs the support, his embrace is still warm and soothing. And on occasion when the inevitable pain of loss rises to the surface of her heart, she can turn to him and whisper ‘I miss our babies so much’ and he knows that all she wants is her shoulders drawn to him in silent understanding. The happiness has returned, but tarnished in too many spots that will never again feel shiny and new and full of promise.

And on Valentine’s Day, this kind of love is the only thing she needs. ‘Happily Ever After’ was suspect from the start and really, it only exists in stories of impossibly perfect people with straight white teeth, but what comes in real life is actually much better, far deeper, more powerful and with meaning that dashes the perfection of fairy tales to bits. She learned that happiness comes when the pain is hardest, even when you can’t see or feel it, when the only tether you have to life is a hand in the darkness. Happiness is never found in some box of chocolate, or a special dinner or a frilly card with a red heart, but in the blood and guts of life, of a real, honest, and hard life, the life that forms after the bomb drops and the smoke clears. Because this kind of love isn’t celebrated only once a year; it’s a feeling worthy of a daily toast, a celebration every night with a kiss before sleeping and the assured grip of warm comforting hands on the rough seas.