The Cloth [We’re] Cut From (Part 3)

If I plan to spend time with someone cut from the same cloth as I, I prepare. Mentally, I rid myself of distractions in order to be able to engage with the waterfall of dialogue that is coming. Emotionally, I check in to be sure that my boundaries are stable. Physically, I get my workout in early because when these folks are in social mode, exercise isn’t the priority.

Connection is.

What we have loved, others will love, and we will show them how. ~ Wordsworth

I had the privilege of traveling with a friend from college named Dolly to her homeland of Puerto Rico in 2016. It was an intimate trip as her three young adult children were there, and we visited her (Puerto Rican) parents more than once. Her kids slept in & were glued to their phones nearly every morning. Dolly & I, however, being Cut From the same Cloth, woke early, excited for the day.

One day, she & I get in her rental & drive to a beach. On the way we attempt conversations in Spanish (my Spanish at the time was very broken), & then I ask questions to lead the conversation somewhere deeper. Once started, she sermonizes about her Capstone paper about Spanish literature. Her long, twisty hair is tinted with blonde highlights, & her voice melodic. The conversation–like most of our conversations– veers toward the spiritual. The passion rises in Dolly’s voice as she speaks of the Divine, of God, & of the relationship she has with “him”. Her perfect fingernails & the thin bands on her fingers reflect the light that sneaks through the trees along the Puerto Rican backroads. She is an intensely beautiful person & I revel in this time together.

That night, we are in the car again, & she talks about motherhood. Yet rather than cookie-cutter, her attitude is comical. Her words are along the lines of: “My son tells me everything about his sex life. I’m like, honey, I don’t want to know this. And then he says he doesn’t have a good relationship with his dad so who else is he gonna talk to.”

She says she doesn’t want to know, yet I see that she is holding space for that information from him. People like me don’t shut others down, especially not those who look up to us. Dolly didn’t want to know about her adult son’s sex life, but she never responded to the information by shaming him, or becoming angry. That’s not how we roll. I love us for it.

While in Puerto Rico I didn’t worry about using her space, her car, her food budget. I knew she wasn’t keeping score–because of who I am, & who I knew her to be. That’s a rare relief to experience: having your needs met in a foreign place without concern of racking up debts or resentment in the hostess.

That ability to be no-strings-attached generous, passionate about spiritual conversations, & a safe sounding board for young people to talk about issues that are often responded to with shame, show a commitment to preserving connection no matter the personal price. It is a skill common in people Cut From the same Cloth as I. 

We live to love & be loved. 

We are sensitive.

We are present (on good days).

We are unique.

We are undercover leaders.  

“…I keep dying because I love to live.” ~Maya Angelou

 

 

This Twilight

 

For the first time since we all found out that the man whom everyone should have known was a pedophile, is in fact a pedophile, I am allowing myself to be true to my memories. He was, of all the wealthy white men in the community where I spent my adolescence, one of the nicest.

When I first heard I guess my memories were buried deep & the shock of considering the abuse from the victim’s perspective kept me from remembering what I do, in fact, remember. The man was mildly interested in my life, far more interested in the lives of the teenage boys in my peer group, but never unkind to me. I remember that he was fun to be around, for the most part, & eccentric. One time when we were on a “mission trip” to Jamaica a little deaf girl was prancing about in front of him, mouthing words to an unknown song or the storyline to a drama played out in her head. Her flip-flopped feet kicked up dust in front of his perch on a concrete curb. Eventually he sat up, brushed off his bum, and said, clipping the end of each word, “this girl is beginning to annoy me.”

I don’t know why but that memory has surfaced & resurfaced in my mind since we heard the news of the sexual (I’m not sure exactly what they are) charges against him. Some part of me wants all my memories to serve as road signs that point to his perversion. I think it might be my ego, striving to reduce him to a sin, an other, rather than a complex human. But that memory is simple, clear, & could have been anyone. Plus, when I look through the photos from that trip, I see him there, talking to a chicken (Henrietta) with a bad leg in one image, holding a large insect & smiling in another.

I went to Jamaica three times as a teenager & each time was enlightening, & impacted me emotionally & spiritually. The second time I went there was a young boy named Ramoye with whom I formed a relationship (children with open hearts can form bonds surprisingly quickly–especially with adults–or almost adults, as I was–whose hearts are equally open). He was probably 11, with a broad nose, heavy brow, &, at the time I was there, a deep scar on his forehead. Just the look of him told me he was one of those beautiful boys who has yet maintained the emotions that society will soon convince him to bury & numb: compassion, shame, surprise, empathy, happiness, etc. (the full spectrum of human experience which males are not socially allowed to display, at least not publicly, after a certain age). We spent hours together, silently, as he was hard of hearing (if not deaf–I can’t remember which). We communicated via wordless yells, chalk drawings, & verbal cues. Our bond was sweet, deep, as were many of the bonds that I formed with students each time I went there (we visited the same school for deaf children 2 consecutive Januarys, & then returned two years after, for another week trip).

The last day of my second trip to Jamaica, those bonds felt like grappling hooks in my heart. I felt that there was more to learn, more connection to feel, more hugs & laughter to share. I was devastated that I had to leave.

The man who we now know is a pedophile–a man who has destroyed years of boys’ lives with exposure to unspeakable inappropriate things, creating wounds of festering shame & pain in them–was the last adult to linger with me near the children before we left. His wife wasn’t far ahead. The bus full of the other white travelers was at the top of the hill that separated the school facilities from the visitor’s quarters. I imagine them all watching me make my way up that hill, my eyes noticeably red. Halfway up I remembered Ramoye, the boy with the scar, & turned around to find him. I hadn’t said goodbye.

There in the school courtyard, he was perched on a metal step, his legs wide, his elbows on his knees, head hung low, great tears falling into the dust. I don’t remember now what I signed or maybe said to him. I’m sure it was “good bye”, “I love you”, “I’ll miss you”, or some combination. We embraced & I ran up the hill behind the man whom we now know has done unspeakable things to young boys.

When I boarded the bus, no one said anything. I felt embarassed by my emotion, but also proud. Proud that my heart was alive. Proud that I felt seen by these children & that they felt seen by me. I felt the treasure of connection in my heart & did not take it for granted.

I remember that the man looked at me & said something truly empathetic. I think it was, “Oh, Lydia,” with a sad face. I can’t remember exactly, yet I knew it was sincere. He acknowledged my emotion, which is more than anyone else did, then, or numerous other times when feelings poured down my cheeks around that group of people. It made me feel connected.

A red-headed man from this same group of people once gave me a warm embrace, the hearty, Santa Claus-esque kind, when I was feeling sad about leaving the children there in Jamaica. That is a sweet memory for me, even though I do not speak to that man or his family anymore. Those gestures of support shown toward me were few & far between. The man on the bus that day, the man we all now know is a pedophile who had lied to his community to cover up his pedophilia for decades, showed me compassion in a way that made me feel just as connected as the hug from the red-headed man had. They were both genuine beacons of support & acknowledgement. Both meant a lot to me.

I miss the children from Jamaica, but I do not wonder about their lives so much as I wonder about the swirl of good & evil that can exist in a man. I wonder whether anyone is all the way bad, or all the way good. I wonder if we have all been victims & abusers, or if abusers are a certain group of people that should be kept away from society’s children. I wonder how long it takes a child who has been abused to become the abuser. I wonder if anything can ever undo the evil that a man can do inside of one life.

We all seem to have darkness & light inside of us.

Isn’t it a breathtaking responsibility to live in this twilight?

 

Unforced Grace

You, Lord, are enthroned forever.

In my little life, You have already done so much.
You raised me up in Your word via loving parents.
You ignited that knowledge of the Scriptures by Your Holy Spirit.
You took me to Jamaica to break my heart for the nations.
You led me to a Native American Reservation in Washington state to set me face to face with the choice of who I will worship. In a fierce competition between me and You, You won.
Blessed be Your name.
You broke my body and wholly took control, though I fought it tooth and nail.
You shattered my pride and claimed my heart for Your own.
You led me to Mexico to discover grace and peace.
You drew me to North Little Rock to glimpse Your heart for the marginalized.
You allowed tragedy to strike as close to my heart as possible outside of my nuclear family.
I don’t know Your plan but I can see Your hand
Moving, shaping, preparing, making.

Few delights can equal the mere presence of one whom we trust utterly~George MacDonald

When I take a moment to reflect on the road I am walking,
I quickly become overwhelmed by what an eloquently written story my life is.
This God–His way is perfect. (Psalm 18:30)

Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythm of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.~Matthew 11:28-30 MSG

Sunday Lullaby

Another one of God’s surprising paradoxes: one’s hometown becomes more precious and magical after a visit to a foreign place.
Little Rock is my playground.
There are no places that are better, only places that are different.
Humans are naturally jealous and I must be one because I have wasted innumerous moments wishing I was somewhere else.
People talk trash of my city and my state, forcing me to wonder if they have ever been anywhere else. All these places are exquisite in their own way. No need to trash one in appreciation of another.
I will not be here forever and somehow that knowledge serves to endear more acutely to me the present time.
I take eighteen years of built up, worldly security for granted. There are small struggles here that I will not face anywhere else; the difficulties will be foreign and seem insurmountable when I leave.
There is celebration in the up and down of the yo-yo.
God enables me to love both sides of the pendulum and to rest when I swing in between.

We are not to give up the world, nor retreat from it-just the opposite. We are to reclaim and redeem the world for Christ’s kingdom.~Richard Stearns, The Hole in our Gospel

Childhood obesity is as much of a problem as parasites carried by muddy water.
But to not have the Gospel?
This is the greatest problem. It is a difficulty that leaves the rest behind. One can’t surmount it any more than a Gospel-less person can sense his or her need for a Savior.
I love my story and I love your story.
The parts where our dramas overlap enthrall me.
I find it difficult to walk away.
When his arm is around me I see no need to move forward.
Stagnation is a grand waste of time. My life is long but also short.

Form in me a heart of divine beauty.~Rend Collective Experiment

Waves of injustice, oppression, and opportunity carry us whether we know it or not. I follow the rip tide by choice for it I prefer to hopeless wishing and washing from open sea to sandy shore.
Beauty hides in the sky and in the homeless man behind me. He is frost bitten and senile but his rattling cough is a piece of humanness no physical anthropologist can truly digest.
At times it will seem as though I have wasted my life. The cause for which I sell myself is not one with clear accomplishments. Some people will not respect what I have done. I understand that. In those hard moments, far away from sweet, quaint Little Rock, (the place I once knew intimately,) the Light will shine as He always does.

This park is perfect. This sky is immaculate. Those children are unique and dear.
The warmth in my heart which is the presence of the holy, eternal, faithful God is…
Unspeakably sublime.
Everyday I get happier.
Yet everyday the longing for every person of every nation to hear of Your glory grows more poignant within me.
Will these two always walk hand in hand?
Use me to shelter your little (and big) children here until I am ready to go.
Allow me to be a member of the team who takes the Word to unreached brothers and sisters. May my spiritual offspring be extensive, not that I may be glorified, but that Heaven may be filled.
I submit it all to You.
Enable me in spite of my (sinful) disease.

You are the Father of mercies.
You are the God of all comfort.

Precious Lamb, receive the reward of Your suffering, and my gratitude for a perfect day.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.~St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:58

Soul Trouble

“Do you think you can do a better job with your life than I can?” God asks

God’s voice, it comes, calm through stormy thoughts and emotions. Like the moon on a lake, His voice glances off every ripple, all the waves. And it’s peaceful. He calls me to go, I know not where. He promises grand adventure, I insist on knowing how I can get myself there.
But it’s not about that.
It’s about my obedience. Keeping His word. Loving the unlovable. Telling the Truth. Dying a little bit here and there.
“And I will give them one heart, and a new Spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people and I will be their God.”-Ezekiel 11:19&20
Phew. All I have to do is tell Him that I love Him.
“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has Himself given me a commandment-what to say and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”~Jesus
I’m not here to figure out what is going to happen next. It is my joy to follow Him around this corner, to listen, obey, speak the Good News. That never changes.

Ask Him for a some peace. Feel it wash over you, erasing the trouble from your tired tired soul.

Empow’r

The odd thing about right-now-in-my-life is that it is a time of definitions. People are watching me, my friends, all the other just-out-of-high-school-ers, to see what we do. Now is when we decide who to be.

I never thought that there was a choice: my beliefs are set; the person I want to be is in my mind’s eye, now I’ll step into that personhood. My belief system is not going to change drastically, so of course I will be a good worker, friend, student, citizen. Things will pan out….Wrong wrong wrong. One does not simply step into anything. Everyday decisions reveal to me that the girl I want to be is years away, separated from me by piles of lessons to be learned.  Contemporary choices can seem so insignificant: an unwashed shirt, a unanswered email, a gift withheld, but it is obvious now that they shape the bigger decisions. An unwashed shirt becomes habitual dirtiness, an unanswered email is a loss of opportunity, a gift withheld snowballs into chronic greed.

We will die in this wilderness but death will not separate us from the love of God.~Dr. Mark E. Ross

Not only do I want to be an upstanding citizen; I have chosen to live by a radical moral code. Wealth? Never. Clean, boxed-up, air-conditioned religion is no reality of mine. Scraping a living, thriving purely by the Spirit pow’r, it’s the plan. Yet suddenly I see, none of this is going to come easy. The idealistic world that I foresaw in my high school naivety is being disrobed. Knowing what I believe does not make me special. Convictions do not say “yes” or “no” for us. Deciding to live by these convictions is what shows true color.

Listen…has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?~St. Paul

traveler. cigarette smoker? not-pothead. hostel stayer. hard worker. too hard? No frequenting clubs. Bars will be OK. Who decides these things? Since when am I in charge? How come I choose what is right and wrong? That is not how it works. That is what my daddy does. But I never wanted him to. Now he’s not. Good. Deep breath. Smile. Sway to the music.

Only one desire that’s left in me, let the whole damn world come dance with me.~Edward Sharpe

You never wanted to be worried. You never wanted to bring lines to your cheeks. So don’t. This is the relax-if-ever-you-will time. Now, as actions shape and form to reflect my worldview, the time for no-worry is here. No such time as the present to be smiling. To be loose, to be fit and funny. To take responsibility for  mistakes and to laugh at them.

The Water is free but I should warn you, it costs everything. ~Kendall Payne

All I Can Say

After a week on the beach with some of the most beloved people that have ever entered my life, all I can say is, it is well with my soul.

I am terrified of the future, but it is well.

I am in pain; it is well.

I had a wonderful, super, fun, fabulous, hysterical week. It is well!!

Nothing is certain in my life except for the love of God. I feel nothing so poignantly as I do the call of Christ to serve Him by telling others what He has done for us.

I will go, send me.

Which of the childish habits must be left behind? What steps are mandatory, and what steps into adulthood should I think twice about? What is coming? Who will I become?

My mind reels with uncertain thoughts: the good Spirit within me keeps my heart from the same.