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 …
If words carry the weight of intention and illumination, presence breaks the sound barrier.
Not long ago I had to undergo some surgeries. The doctors wanted to see if they could improve my hearing with repair to my ear canal. The recovery was unbelievably slow. My sister came to stay with me for both surgeries. She accepted no arguments. I didn’t even know she was there, really, or that my niece had tag-teamed with her for a few days. The two surgeries, both failures, occupied an entire year of my life. How deeply I needed the warm touch of friends. How much I needed to know all was going to be right again.
I think it was this experience that has heightened my awareness of presence. Following that experience, I’ve not been able to know someone was in the hospital, having a baby or a health setback, without just showing up.
I’m reminded of the way my aunt and cousin drove 400 miles to be with my family when my Dad passed. Time and again, they have quietly set aside their own lives to be.there. No fanfare. They’re just standing in the doorway every time something major in my life occurs. Over and over and over again. And every single time I think to myself, “They get this. They understand presence.”
We have such ability to change the atmosphere when we enter a room. The Godhead lives inside of us. Wherever we go, we have that choice to usher in love and goodness, kindness and laughter; or we can scowl and bring judgment, create schisms and cliques. I choose love.
I want to be that person. I want to be a person whose presence carries the weight of Heaven, the gentleness of “I get you.” And, “I can’t solve it, but I’m here.”
Worry comes naturally for me. If you ever need me to worry about something for you, just let me know. I’m already up until the wee hours wondering if I have enough air pressure in my tires? Was the truck making a funny noise this morning? Pffft. That’s the easy stuff in comparison to the relational worries that create cobwebs in my brain.
– What if someone has subtly conveyed judgements concerning me and I’m unable to defend myself?
– Or worse, what if I said something hurtful and we never got a chance to work through it? Maybe I was jealous or spoke out of frustration and yet those words are lodged in the foundation of our relationship now. I have a few of those scattered around the world so don’t tell me I’m being ridiculous.
You’ll have to agree that neither of us lives our lives in such a way that everything we say is lovely, and every bit we contribute is graceful.
Oh be real, would you? I am over here plowing my way through this life trying to avoid bludgeoning people with sharp objects when I don’t get my way. It’s not polite to scratch people’s eyes out when they are not nice. Mama told me to be a lady. And so that is what I am. But it doesn’t mean the “want-to” goes away …
Maybe you are a better person than I, but it’s there in the midst of that heap of words uttered and opinions undefended that I finding myself longing for God. Big G-o-d. He has to be big because life is messy. And I crave the fresh air and Father-will-sort-it-all-out kind of care that I find in the presence of the Lord. Plain and simple, the stuff that keeps me up at night is just too much for me. I have to trust Him.
Only He can make heads or tails of all that we bring to Him. Only He can cause us to wait quietly for justice, or gently send us back with an apology when the time is right.
He is a God whose nature it is to make all things new.
Sorting through conflict is my least favorite activity. Yet as a corrosively analytical-type I spend significant quantities of time revisiting conversations and interactions that didn’t go the way I thought they should. I don’t believe its a waste of time to analyze. I think it can be a source of wisdom if we are willing to take a dispassionate view of ourselves and the person with whom we were conversing. The problem lies in the fact that I’m usually powerless to turn a situation around to the point where I feel jubilant about things. Spoken words have that effect. And some conversations are so botched – yes, I’m capable in that way – that its pointless to revisit with the person at all.
How does this relate to art, beauty, hope and the pursuit of God?
Relationships can be beautiful, sometimes. Most of the time they are just a tangly mess of funky, dissatisfying conversations. They mirror our imperfections and unless I believe that there is beauty in the process, moreso than in the end result, I am without hope.
One of the most beautiful things that can happen in a relationship is that business of humility and deciding mid-conversation that I don’t have a horse in this race. The conversation won’t be about changing this person’s perspective so that it matches mine. At the risk of sounding rather competitive, it’s a conscious effort on my part to state my perspective and then ever so gently back off so that the other person is free to think or conclude whatever they wish…even to the extent that they might become arrogant and want to teach me a thing or two. No matter. Humility in relationships means engaging in the dance of dialogue without running away or demanding that I’m right. Close enough to get hurt but offering enough space so that they are free to adopt my perspective or maintain their own … that’s art. I wish I engaged in it more often.
There are sights I’ve seen as I’ve travelled through life that simply could not be replicated with a camera or words. No matter how hard I would try to show you what I saw and how I felt when I saw it, the breathtaking Caribbean sunset or the snow-covered Swiss countryside would remain truest in my own mind’s eye.
Something unexplainable happens when we perceive a thing of beauty, and attempt to capture its image or our thoughts of it on paper. Expression of its beauty is mostly about me … what I felt, what I saw, what I was thinking when I saw it. It’s an entirely different thing of beauty when you see it, and capture your own thoughts.
This is also true in one’s journey with God.
No one can have that relationship with Him for you. Each of us stands alone before Him. With regard to my journey, I can show you what I see, what I hear, what I say, but in the end it’s still my experience.
I have had the pleasure and challenge of walking with the Lord through many decades. I recall learning to be in relationship with Him as a very young girl, and then coming to understand the thoughts and intentions of His heart. Then of course there was the tricky bit of letting Him see my heart, my thoughts … and being real with Him. There was nothing sophisticated about it and no flashy terminology to describe the priceless exchanges between us.
Even as the years have flown by, I find that nothing has really changed from the time I was a little girl. The most important things remain. He speaks. I listen. I speak. He listens. He acts on my behalf, and I’ve been learning to obey Him. There is no one closer to me than He, and that won’t change. When I look into His face I can feel, and even see what is on His heart.
It’s my desire to share with you, as I write, my glimpses into the realm of the Holy Spirit, the realm of God. I find He makes His home among ordinary things, a stable, a manger, a cross. And so we have to look twice sometimes to see things the way He sees them. It takes courage to see the unseen, and to walk with God. My challenge to you then, Friend, is that you would look around you and begin to see things as they really are.
Do you ever stop to think about your adult siblings, and compare them with the awkward, pimply teenagers you grew up with? (Note to self: do not alert family members to this post.) It’s really hard to believe that those adults-in-the-making became the professionals that I interact with today. Seriously? You’d hire my brother as your engineer, or let my sister near your baby with a needle? Why, exactly? And when did they become experts in their field, and where was I? Believe me, they’re saying the same thing about me. “That’s my little sister! You’re not going to let her consult on anything, are you?!” What was really happening while we were so busy coping with one another?
My intent in focusing on family is not to define what a family is. As a single, I’ve been adopted into a family or two, and I’ve been incredibly grateful to have the lines re-drawn to include me at the table and, in some years, under the Christmas tree. I know the quiet desperation, at times, of wanting to have my own family, so I do not take any relationship lightly. But families are different from friendships, even the best of friendships. As adults we are in a family paradigm as a result of choices we’ve made. We choose to stay relevent to one another, or we allow our loved ones to be cast aside like a paper boat, listing and taking on water.
I have had the amazing and wonderful blessing, in these last few years, to connect with my sister’s family now that I live here in the Midwest. As the interactions take place, I see family from a different perspective. There is simply nothing to prepare you for what comes next: a crisis with tears; a question; a deeply profound insight from an unlikely source; two more questions; an argument over an undetermined, yet coveted item interrupted by the bleating of an abandoned toy and the repetition of the first question, only louder. There’s nothing extraordinary about repeated questions, howls of distress or the “Shh, I’m on the phone.” What’s extraordinary is that before we have the chance to ponder it twice, these family members will be conducting teleconferences in the middle of La Guardia and flying stand-by in order to get home for Thanksgiving. They’ll be doing our dishes and reminding us of doctor’s appointments because we’re not as razor sharp as we once were. Oh, believe me. I’m thankful for the moments.
My growing up years were more about relationship than I realized. I learned how to live with my siblings, in spite of their inane, absurd, highly annoying, arrogant or antagonizing ways. And they with me. It’s true that my parents taught a great many life skills, e.g., cooking, and gardening, etc. but maybe those were the superficial lessons after all. Is it possible that conflict resolution, forgiveness, patience, listening-while-frustrated, and peacemaking were the lessons they were modeling but not really discussing? I wonder if there was anything else they were saying?
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.