Recently I found myself in a discussion with friends where my words evoked a response that left me feeling 11 blocks from the intersection of Heard and Understood. “Meh…“, I thought, and let it go.
Yesterday while talking with a friend a red-headed man came up and randomly commented about us both being redheads. I couldn’t be bothered so I blew him off. He chided me in that he was merely socializing. Global Warming had not yet occurred in my heart so I’m sure he felt misunderstood … no matter that his drink was likely a smidge stronger than mine.
Late the other night, I visited a friend in the hospital. It was a last-minute text. The need was urgent, so I went. It was a moment to connect, to invite Heaven into her room, to comfort. Yet late at night, in a sub-zero, sterile hospital room, there is nothing that says, “Stay a while. Take off your jacket and put up your feet. How’s your family?” But because I’d chosen to be there I ignored the atmosphere and played the love card that was in my heart.
The contrast of these moments is vivid to me. And we only have moments, even soundbites by which an interaction is sealed into our minds. We can choose to connect or disconnect, and it’s often our sense of person hood that guides us. We can choose to remain emotionally available or check out. Our culture stick checks us, “They’re not worth your time, Samantha. You have other things to focus on.” But truthfully, there’s nothing that says, “I cherish human life” more than appreciating what we have with someone right in front of us. Living with our walls down makes us vul.ner.ab.le to rejection ever and anon. But no matter what my failure rate is, or how often I take a bruising for being misunderstood I want to master the art of really seeing people, and embracing their words for what they are.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” ― C.S. Lewis,
Got to get back to running the world from my sofa …
I recently heard someone say that parents form their children’s identity by reminding them of who they are, moment by moment, day after day. This is such a mystery to me. At what point does a young girl or fellow grasp what’s been instilled? And how does this feedback manage to so vividly shape the who of our identity? I remember well the verbal instructions, “Ladies don’t slouch. Stand up straight.” Surely my brother and sisters remember the imaginary plumb line Mother would draw from the tops of our heads. At what point does a parent stop saying the words and begin twinking their brow, a telegraphed message across the room, to pull yourself together? Yet my parent’s instructions were mild compared to my grandmother’s.
An expert seamstress and cook, Grams taught all her children and grandchildren a myriad of skills. My earliest memories were of watching my Mom and Grams cook and quilt together. They would nod sagely, wordlessly consulting one another, dismantle, re-assemble until a beautiful masterpiece was born. Their tireless work always seemed so effortless. Year after year, I would prepare my 4-H sewing projects beneath their watchful eyes. My wobbly seams were doomed. “Rip it out, child. It must be straight.” Heartbroken and frustrated, I would tug out the stitches and then battle with my temper and the sewing machine until a worthy outcome was produced. I basked in their hard-won pleasure with my work.
Grams always kept a charming home. It was where she wore her heart on her sleeve, with momentos and photographs of treasured places in Germany. The nostalgia and tchotchke always left you feeling like you had visited a place in her heart. That time had stopped for a moment and you had really lived. I did not realize that Grams’ standards for me would endear her to me. Her lectures I endured wordlessly as I learned she just needed a snuggle from me to stem the tide of words.
Though I’ve lived in many places through the years, it occurs to me that the walls of my kitchen have always resounded with the rumble of Grams’ deep German voice. Growing up, I perceived her to be stubborn, opinionated and, above all, outspoken. Yet she loved me. Deeply. I memorized the look in her eyes, her beautiful skin, and the wrinkles on her hands. I would hold hands with her just because I could and, over a cup of heavily sugared tea we would discuss all the world’s problems. Though she enjoyed people very much, it was in the quiet moments together that she showed me who she was. She would talk about her family in Germany, and history, and about her sons, and her daughter, my Mother. She would talk about the neighbor boys who had tragically died in the war, and how she taught herself to drive. While I wish that I could remember the stories, for I did not write them down, it occurs to me that it is not so much the historical accuracy that matters. What matters is that she told me, and I listened. And I carry within myself a part of who she was.
It’s been a while since I’ve taken on a sewing project. Yet, it’s pretty safe to say that the work that I produce today as a software developer bears a strong resemblence to those straight seams that Gram required. I think what surprises me even more is the motherly manner in which I exact straight seams from those I mentor in the office. Stubborn? Outspoken? Surely you jest! Let’s have a cup of tea.
There are women and men who stand like sentries around the periphery of my life, with whom I share an uncommon depth of relationship. Some have been there from the beginning of time, and some have only recently taken their place on the wall of my life. This is not an exclusive club with costly membership dues. Days turn into weeks, and they tirelessly listen to my dreams and breathe hope on them. They believe in me and remind me of who I want to be. The visceral strength they infuse is not something I can extract from them and, as a result, I cannot control who stands on the wall. You see we make the choice to love another unconditionally. We make the choice to shout down the mountains in their life, to stand with them in the floodwaters, shoulder locked with shoulder.
You might think I’m a relational ogre following this, or if you’ve known me for many years you may try and understand where you fit in to the schema. Nevertheless I must tell you that there have been times when I have tried to decide who would be my closest confidantes. I have intended to trust only those that seemed incapable of hurting me, only to be bitterly betrayed. I tried to care and feed for the few that seemed most advantageous to me with the result that I was left alone. To pour salt in my own vicious wounds, I wrecklessly wounded those who loved me dearly. You know who you are.
Why this confession?
Most of us want to arrive at the end of our lives with the confidence that we have loved deeply and been deeply loved. To be loved implies that we are known, for you cannot love someone without really knowing the ugly parts of them. If our life-goal was happiness we’d be sorely disappointed for happiness is merely a by-product of being fully known, and fully accepted. Some of us misunderstand the objective and clang around the countryside ‘looking for love in all the wrong places’. I know. I’ve done it. It’s as though we’re holding out a beggar’s cup with the words “LOVE ME” taped to the side.
There is only One who perfectly loves. Until we allow Him to know us fully, to see inside the crevices of our lives, even the uglies, we will always wonder if we are truly loved. Not only do we fail as friends and lovers, but our friends and lovers will fail us. It is not in our nature to perfectly love as the Father perfectly loves us. Even our best efforts will fall short. I’m reminded how the Perfect Lover knows when He’s been in intimate relationship with a man or woman and to some, with the deepest regret He says, ‘Depart from me. I never knew you.’
There is simply no mistaking intimacy, whether with the Father or a person. It’s intentional. We choose to maintain a soul connection with someone or we choose not to. But when we choose to make this step, the cost is paid from the heart. I was looking the other day at the story of Jonathon and David. “…the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him [David] as himself.” The king’s son put himself on the wall of David’s life, with complete disregard for what others might think as to rank or motive, timing or propriety. He stripped himself of his robe and armor, his sword, bow and belt, and placed it on David. Talk about making oneself vulnerable, I’m not sure that he had much else on after that. Jonathan knew that David was to be king one day and acknowledged it long before David’s time.
There is a grand lady who is in the latter seasons of her life. Though her memory is not what it used to be, its evident that her heart is given over to selflessly care for others. I want to be like that. I want to be known for “…loving [one] another deeply from the heart. For love covers a multitude of sins.”
The movie, The Untouchables, might not be to everyones’ liking in terms of entertainment and yet it teaches valuable lessons about life. One of my favorite movie quotes is by Jimmy Malone, the Irish beat cop, played by the one of the darlings of my parents’ era, Scot Sean Connery.
In the very violent scene depicting Malone’s death, he is discovered by his protege, Elliott Ness (Kevin Costner) and George Stone (Andy García). Seeing Malone stopped in his tracks is heart-wrenching because it is not just the death of a friend and colleague, there is an un-premeditated passing of the mantle from one generation to the next. Enforcement of the law is no longer an assignment that Ness can walk away from. Losing Malone makes the battle become personal. Malone’s last words contain the answer to Ness’ conflict as well as a missive to become fully engaged in this fight. Malone, with a raspy voice, challenges Ness, “What. are you. prepared to do?” This is the second time they’ve had this conversation. And this time Ness is prepared to do an end run for justice.
If you remember the movie, when Ness and Malone first have that conversation, Ness is very philosophical about his involvement. He’s prepared to do anything within the law; yet the objective of his mission is to enforce the law. He soon learns that his oppponent doesn’t operate within the confines of the law, and Malone instructs him to bring a knife to a gun fight, and so forth. Somehow this movie says a lot about our western culture. We’ve been taught to color inside the lines, to drive the speed limit, to make a career with a single company, and dream about a home with a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, a 52″ television, and a dog. Yet, like Ness, we are completely unprepared when it turns out that the rest of the world doesn’t think the same way. Seriously.
I can’t help but think about destiny these days, and calling. What kind of a legacy will I leave? What kind of a mark will I leave on the world? Will I have told you about the things that compel me? Will I have told you how much your Heavenly Father loves you? Will you know a journey of your own with the Father? Will you know about the orphaned children in Africa, and how they sing before daybreak? Will you weep with me as I tell you about the Mozambican babies scandalized by AIDS, left hanging on fence posts in a plastic grocery bag, abandoned by their mothers?
Engaging in this war we call life is not an assignment we can walk away from. It’s deeply personal, and our opponent doesn’t operate within the confines of the law. Yet neither do we. Our most powerful weapon is love. And it changes everything. Love beckons us to lay down our lives, sell our possessions, and live life on the edge. Dare to look. Dare to be affected.
“What. are you. prepared to do?”
This morning I had a picture of myself dancing before Michelangelo’s David. The high ceilings and marble walls of the gallery proved an amazing setting for perfect pirouettes and pas de bourrée. The beauty of my dance was perfected in my thoughts, and it became something akin to Viviana Durante in the Rose Adagio of Sleeping Beauty, … a wordless contribution of beauty for beauty.
It wasn’t long before I pondered not the perfection of my dance ~ this is my dream, after all ~ yet why dance before The David? An online travel guide for Florence, Italy so aptly reviews the sculpture, “Its position, though expressing perfect balance, alludes at movement, … The attitude is strong, arrogant and, above all, filled with inner life like no other similar classical statue.” 1
Balance. Movement. Attitude. Inner Life.
Isn’t it interesting that the reviewer detects these qualities, in a sculpture? That is part of the mystery of beauty. Just like a masterful pirouette depicts the paradox between strength and delicacy, so a marble statue depicts movement and inner life.
Reviewing the flawless dance in the presence of unparalleled, sculpted beauty, I was reminded of the nearly spontaneous combustion that can occur when individuals come together, in unity, to produce something more significant than they can produce individually. Musicians demonstrate this when their skill takes them collectively away from the written score to a breathless improvisation. Each one has submitted their skill, even rescinded their individual identities, to the greater purpose of the collective. Only mutually agreed-upon, non-verbal expressions lead to a change in key or tempo. Each musician not only participates, but also cooperates. No one person leads throughout, and no one hides. Eventually, each one takes his place to lead out into the unknown with precision. 2
2 Bents, E. Identity
I’m a girly-girl at heart. There’s nothing that makes my heart flutter more than a tiny bit of bling. Shiny, swirly, rings and things that go round and round and catch the sunlight, and make me smile for a while. Even better when that little something is accompanied by a word or two, an “I love you” or “I’m sorry”.
It’s a story worth telling since it still makes me chuckle. A former boyfriend erred by spouting words that were less than complimentary to me. Clearly, the memory is blocked due to trauma, but it involved a reference to a barnyard animal. Perhaps I was munching or crunching something with a bit too much enthusiasm. I hope I never recall. But he was rewarded with the opportunity to restore my smile that day with jewelry. We wandered into a sterling silver shop, picked out a bracelet, and together decided it was a bit of Barnyard Bling. Whenever that bracelet manages to spin about my wrist, I don’t recall the offense as much as I recall the apology. It was sincere.
I don’t own a lot of jewelry, but I treasure some of the pieces I’ve collected. A periodot from an antique shop at Five Points, NC. An amethyst from Basel, Switzerland. Two wedding bands from my Grams. A swanky 60’s necklace from my Mother comprised of blue glass ‘fingers’… fabulous. None have much financial value, and needn’t have, for the pieces I like the most are those with intense or unusual color.
The emerald-cut peridot is of the palest green. I like to flutter my hand in the sun and watch the room glitter with refracted rays piercing through it’s planes. The amethyst has a triangular gold ring band. It was one of the first pieces of jewelry I purchased for myself. When I wear it, I’m reminded of my jaunts to Europe. The old, yellow-gold wedding bands are chock full of family history, and remind me of my darling grandmother. She always wore one of them on her middle finger, and it seemed so classically handsome to me. Mother’s blue glass necklace speaks for itself as one that enters the room before its wearer. It’s dramatic and heavy, but lovely.
Color is provacative. It’s characteristics, whether brilliance or pallor, demand a response from their observer. Our minds make mental and even emotional connections with colors. The beautiful thing about color is that we are forced to engage with it, to really see it, and to let it affect us.
A man is never more masculine when his boyish grin flashes at the sight of a bright yellow biscuit joiner. They make power tools in canary yellow for a reason. A woman is never more feminine when she utters that childlike, “Ohhh LOOK!” and flutters over a proffered daisy with petals to ponder, “He loves me. He loves me not. He loves me….”
Have you ever been close enough to a person that you can feel the next topic of discussion before you hear it?
I think that is often how the Lord speaks to me. I can feel what He’s saying. I just know.
So my friend’s reminder the other day really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me. Yet, she gently mused about the way in which we sort squelch the Lord’s desire to talk to us in the night hours, by either demanding our sleep or suggesting someone else to chat with Him. It’s true. Somewhere along the line, I’d told the God of the Universe, “Go away. Can’t you see I’m sleeping?” Upon realizing my gaff, I apologized to the Lord and what do you suppose He did? Of course! He woke me in the middle of the night! When it finally dawned on me that He wanted to speak to me, I looked at the clock and it was 2:22 a.m. So I looked at Psalm 22:2, thinking it was a decent place to start…
“O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest.”
Well, aren’t You just the funny One?
And yet, taken more seriously, I realized that He wanted my complete attention when He told me that He hears me crying out for breakthrough for things in my life, for my family and friends. It’s true that I do not see fulfillment of things in the natural realm just yet, but He so wanted me to know that He hears me. After I giggled through the latter part of that verse I realized that He’s serious about wanting the opportunity to speak with me – when He can have my complete and undivided attention – and He’ll make up for the gaps in sleep. He can. He’s the God of the Universe, and the Lord of my life.