Holding on

You don’t need to spend a lot of time around a toddler before you realize that they have much to teach you. Young children need consistency, routine, so we provide them with that structure, and in doing so, we find ourselves oddly comforted by the predictability of this schedule. They are deliberate in their movements, conscious of how their limbs work and constantly trying out new things: “Can I climb onto this chair? Can I pick up this toy and still hold on to this other one?” Watching them, we go through our day and are a little more conscious of our own movements, aware of the intricacies of our body’s movements that we too easily take for granted. Spend enough time with a toddler, and you may even find yourself making exaggerated facial expressions as a way of expressing yourself, even when you aren’t talking to a child.

And sometimes, though they are entirely unaware of it, little children teach us something so profound that it almost takes our breath away . . .

Elijah loves stairs. He is always delighted once we get to my house, because he knows what is coming next. Stairs up, stairs down. When we get ready to leave again, he eagerly scales the first set of stairs, carefully holding on to the railing, but proud to do it on his own.

When we reach the landing, though, it’s another story. These stairs are wider; they require bigger steps, and there is no railing for him to rely upon. This is the moment that melts my heart every time it happens. We both know the routine–Elijah reaches for my hand, and together we tackle the big stairs, me with the strange, loping gait that is a remnant of my ankle surgery, and him with some combination of determination to make it down this set of stairs and a simple joy at the act of doing this, together.

We were already well into this routine before I realized the profundity of Elijah’s simple act of reaching out for my hand. At not-quite-two-years-old, Elijah knows what he can handle on his own, and when he needs to reach out for help. He is not  embarrassed to ask for help when he needs it, and yet he doesn’t ask for help with things that he knows he can do on his own. More importantly, though, he knows that when he reaches out to me for help, that I will gladly take his hand; indeed, it gives me more joy to have that precious little hand reaching out to me than he will ever know. I take his hand gladly, knowing that far too soon he will no longer need me to support him as he takes these steps, and I will be left there, waiting until the next challenge he faces that is bigger than he can handle on his own.

And so it is that with the simple act of reaching out his precious little baby hand, Elijah is teaching me about the importance of community, and the fact that there are times when every one of us needs a hand to take that next step.

He is teaching me about the importance of asking for what you need and accepting the hand that is reaching out to you to offer that help.

Most of all, he is showing me that our Father God is always by our side, cheering us on as we take each step, and holding on to us when we just can’t do it on our own.

2am angst

(wondering if this is what a mid-life crisis feels like?!)

the questions that are currently getting in the way of my falling asleep:

  • how is it that a person can be so convinced that things are heading in one direction, to feel in the deepest part of their being that this thing is going to come to pass, but then have that certainty shattered in a few short hours by an equally intense pull in the opposite direction? To “know that you know that you know” a thing, but then to be confronted with a sense of being equally certain of another thing that, if true, would make the former thing, that thing that you were so sure was about to come to pass, an impossibility?
  • how much does a person choose to give up out of love for someone else? This is where I know that I am quite clearly NOT as much like Jesus as I would like to be . . . because a selfishness screams out of me, and the words I’ve heard so often echo in my mind . . . is it a lie, something the world tells us, or is it a healthy level of self-preservation that brings the advice, “you need to take care of YOU . . . you can’t live your life for other people”? even in this, there’s confusion, because the reasons I want to do this thing “for me” have so much to do with this calling I’m convinced I have to “do” for others. . .
  • how do I let go of my desire to feel like what I’m doing is “important”, as I define that word? (part of that definition involves a rejection of any other person’s attempt to convince me that my idea of “important” is too limited.)
  • is my dissatisfaction with my life a flaw in my character, or is it a catalyst that will bring me to a place where I can assuage this intolerable, unrelenting restlessness? really, will I ever have a life that I don’t despise? it’s not even so much about having a “Spark-worthy” life as it is about feeling like I am doing what I was meant to be doing. is the problem really in my circumstances, or am I doomed to be restless, dissatisfied, and feeling like an underachiever for the rest of my days on this earth?!

The crazy thing is that all of this middle-of-the-night speculation is based upon two things that I don’t know at this moment. In other words, neither has come to pass as of yet. There is this thing that I feel so certain is going to come to pass, but there is also this new bit of information that would wreak havoc on that certainty.

In a few days, I will know about the latter, and in three weeks or less, I will know about the former. But in this moment, I have zero knowledge that either thing will even come to pass . . .

I am just so afraid, though, no matter what the outcome, that my life will not be any less unsatisfying than it was before this journey.

And now, having spewed up some lovely self-serving, too-much-informationing ranting, I am finally feeling sleepy enough to try to go to bed . . .

buenos noches . . .

Hospitality

When last we met, I was talking about my awkwardness, my fear of being a houseguest, and the discomfort I feel while staying with friends and family. In my brief trip to NY last weekend, I had the most wonderful experience of being pleasantly surprised by an unexpected feeling–the feeling of being welcome in a place.
 
In planning my long weekend back “home”, I knew that I was overdue for a visit to my dear friends Theresa Tess & Ken. I had missed connecting with them in my visit last August (and what a lovely visit it was 😦 ) and knew I was long overdue. Connecting on Facebook had only piqued my interest in seeing them, and in getting to know their two kids. Gracie was probably two years old the last time I saw her, and Kate, who was then “Katie” to me and a precocious and sweet little girl, is now teetering on the edge of adolescence. It was way past time to reconnect with them.
 
Ken’s status updates on FB had often had me drooling on my keyboard. I knew that they had recently completed a kitchen remodeling, and that he works magic in the kitchen on an almost daily basis. So it made sense that I would “conveniently” plan my arrival for dinnertime. (I’m no fool!!!)
 
However, my usual anxieties surfaced, and no matter who it is, I do not like staying over at someone’s house, because I never know if I will feel welcome, and safe. Nonetheless, I planned to spend the night (and was ready to keep going on to Brooklyn the next day–which also made me feel rude because I wasn’t staying very long) and was eager to see them again in spite of my fears. And when I got there, I was blown away by the outpouring of love and hospitality that I was shown . . .
 
Kate gave up her bed for me. Ken slaved over a hot stove (okay, a crockpot) all day. meatballs and two kinds of sausage in the sauce. The girls set the table–with the good linens!–the day before, and Kate even arranged a centerpiece of candles. I was blown away as I realized something. They were happy to see me! They were excited that I was coming, and they made it clear in both word and deed that I was a welcome guest to their home. Now, the kids didn’t really  remember me, I’m sure, but Mom and Dad set the tone, and they followed suit.
 
I think that the one thing that really struck me was when Ken told me that, had he not made pasta (hello?! as if I’d ever say “no” to Italian food from real Italians?!), he would have made roast beef, with “potatoes that don’t taste like potatoes”. Why did he know this? Because he had cared enough to read my “25 things” meme on Facebook, and had remembered my potato quirkiness. He cared enough to know who I was, just as Theresa did when she called me sometime last year to say hello and to tell me that she had been reading my blog. (one of those times when I didn’t realize that my despair was showing through quite as transparently as it was . . . )
 
When I was a kid, the reason I loved my godmother, Irene, was that she was ALWAYS happy to see me. She was one of the few people in my life who made me feel like I was special, like I was loved. Even at my grandmother’s funeral, she reacted with joy when she first saw me. Feeling loved like this was precious to me because it was so, so rare.
 
Today, with the Beckster and her crew 2500 miles away, I do not often expect to experience that sense of belonging, of being part of something. I do not expect to be surrounded by love, by home, by family.
 
But in Eatontown last Thursday night, I once again experienced what it feels like to be among family . . . to be with people who make me feel special, and welcome, and loved. And through the hospitality of friends, and in the glow of the evening light, my fears melted away, and I thought I got a glimpse of “home”.

going “home”, part one

five days, and at least as many blog posts. This one has to be written as sort of a prequel to the next one.
 
The children of some of the missionaries that I work with were part of an awesome missionary kid video titled, “Where’s home?” This is supposedly a malady that is unique to third-culture kids (TCK’s), but I suspect that most of us struggle with this question in some shape or form.
 
For me, “home” is a loaded word, not just because of my ongoing (and perhaps irrational) fear of homelessness, but because I don’t feel like I really HAVE a place that is truly “home”. I’m pretty sure that it’s not “normal” to ring the doorbell when you get to your parents’ house, but maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know–I have no point of reference with which to compare it.
 
If I had the kind of money available to me that would allow me to stay in hotels, things would be much easier. Especially because I actually noticed something like THREE hotels on Staten Island when I was there this time. (two of them actually REAL hotels, if you can believe that!) But instead, every time I head “home”, I am faced with the stress of trying to figure out where I will lay my head. Max’s place, for the most part, is the most “convenient”, particularly if I’m doing most of my visiting with folks in the city, but I still feel slightly uncomfortable and slightly nervous. What if I break something?! What if I’m too loud? It helps that they are no longer living in a 450-square-foot place where I am right underfoot, but I still feel slightly “in the way”.
 
If I have to stay in Staten Island, things are worse. I basically have three choices:
 
1) Stay with my brother in the house I grew up in. There are two problems with this; well, maybe it’s more like one problem that has two facets to it. a) my mother is there, and I really have nothing to say to the woman. If I stay there, I have to be civil to her. I managed to go more than ten years without saying a word to her, and have since really only spoken to her briefly when I’ve been visiting my brother, or at funerals. Last year, I spent one night there, and realized right away that I wasn’t eager to do that again ANYTIME soon. the b) is that staying in that house requires that I stay in the bedroom I spent the first eighteen years of my life in, which in itself is just über-creepy. The memories are bad enough, but the horrific “early American” decorating style, barely changed in the last thirty years, does not help matters at all. Nor does the far wall in the front porch area, the spot where my piano once stood before my mother had my brother take an ax and a chainsaw to it because my father wasn’t moving it out of the house quickly enough after the divorce.
 
2) Stay at my dad and stepmother’s house. Hmm. I am not sure I have yet considered this to be an option. This is the house in which, two weeks after I had first moved out, the room that had been mine was being referred to as “the spare room”. The three years that I spent living there were awkward and uncomfortable, and I did everything–from getting out of the shower to opening/closing my closet doors–wrong. It seems to me that, even if it was offered (and I think there was an offer when my paternal grandmother died), that the ghosts of that place would haunt me just as badly as the ghosts of my former house would, even though the length of time spent in the latter place was far less.
 
3) Sue’s house . . . ah, Sue . . . an old, dear friend whose “kitchen feels more like home than your own” . . . although I always feel uncertain, and although I feel like a “bad friend” for showing up at random intervals after not staying in touch, staying at Sue’s house is still always safer than staying with my “family” . . . and if I have to stay in Staten Island (which I avoid, even to the point of driving through the night so as to have one less evening’s lodging to worry about), it’s Sue’s house that I normally gravitate towards. The last time I spent the night there, we had only an hour to talk, and yet it was, as the old cliché goes, as if no time had passed. We had a million things to talk about . . . she was glad to see me . . . I was welcome there.
 
I don’t expect to feel comfortable or “welcome” in the home of another. I actually am quite frightened of staying overnight with just about anybody, even my “safe” people, because of that fear of doing the wrong thing, using the wrong towel, being a burden, being in the way.
 
Which leads us to our next blog entry . . . about unexpected hospitality, about feeling welcome, feeling loved. Stay tuned!

I didn’t know what to say . . .

As much as I am FIENDING to snark about the arrival of the 18th Duggar, at this moment there’s something else on my mind . . .

I’m at the hospital with Mona and baby Elijah . . . spending the night so as to give her a break from the every-three-hour feedings and to keep her company. Sara is heading off to Boston, so I’m settling in for the weekend.

Our nurse tonight just came in a moment ago, while Mona was sleeping, and asked, “so are you from her church?” When I said yes, she must’ve said something about “it’s great that you help her out” or something along those lines–the kind of thing that people say that ALWAYS makes me cringe. I think I responded with, “she grows on you” (ain’t it the truth!!!!!!!!!) and something about being rather fond of Little Man as well . . .

Then she said, “Does she have a lot of people who help her out?” I stammered answering that . . . said something about, “well, yes . . . and there are different people involved with her older boys”–I’m not sure where it went from there. The nurse proceeded to say something about how that was a wonderful church family . . . which of course I couldn’t disagree with . . .

but here’s the thing. I struggle mightily with the whole concept of my relationship with Mona, particularly with the fact that the relationship is almost always perceived by those who see it from the outside as an unequal one .  .  . with me as the “helper”. And I don’t WANT it to be uneven. I don’t WANT to think that I’m in this just so that I can pat myself on the back and say, “look at me! I’m such a good person!” I hate hate hate hate HATE when anybody so much as says two words to me about what a good friend I am to her . . . as if there was absolutely no balance–as if I was doing all of the giving. I already struggle with the fact that, in some very real and tangible ways, there IS an imbalance of power. I struggle, too, with the fact that I can’t trust my own motives . . . I am very well aware that it is quite likely that everything I do for Mona, I do out of some pathology.

I don’t want to be told that I’m some kind of saint when I’m really just screwed up. I don’t want to feel like I can’t trust my own motives, but who really ever has pure motives in doing good anyway?

This is the thing I struggle with the most when it comes to my life with Mona. And I’m not sure I’ve figured out the answer yet.

One question haunts and hurts
Too much, too much to mention
Was I really seeking good
Or just seeking attention?
Is that all good deeds are when looked at with an ice-cold eye?

(“No Good Deed”–from Wicked)