Monday, June 30, 2014

Tangle of Tears

Dear Jenny,

Why do you think God created us with the ability to cry? Each time I cry (which has been more often than not recently), I think
This is the worst pain I've ever felt.

I even went so far as to tell a boy somewhat recently that his not making a presence in my evening was the meanest thing anyone had ever done to me. Sure, it felt like that in the emotionally-driven moment. The accompanying tears confirmed my pain. But as soon as I communicated those words to him, I knew it wasn't true. I was merely being selfish in my hurt.

You, my dear friend, have cried--I imagine literally until there were no more tears--over your newborn baby girl's life and death for over a year now. I have witnessed your irrevocable loss and journey via the stumbled-upon exchange of our letters over time and oceans. You wrote transparently and explicitly about your pain. I read, I discovered, and I learned true suffering second-handedly, vicariously. And then I began my own journey of loss, completely blind and ignorant to how deeply I might eventually mourn.

You wrote about the invisible stick of righteousness you used in the beginning, measuring others' painful circumstances to yours. My sister confessed to doing the same in the midst of her miscarriage. You have often found that, compared to your daughter's death, other people's mountains are, in fact, molehills. This is my molehill, but it is sorrowful loss reducing me to tears nonetheless.

What did I lose, again? Well, put that way, I'm not really sure. I don't exactly know. Perhaps I am losing something as little and insignificant as a great time, having had my fun, and now it's time to be an adult and move on. Perhaps I am losing a significant friendship, someone who cared for me but life's cruel circumstances have us in different times, different lives, forever separate. Perhaps I'm losing the one I'm meant to love, the man I've dreamed of one day marrying and being companions with for the rest of our lives. I don't know. And that is, without a doubt, the hardest part of the process from my limited view.

I know crying doesn't make it any better. And my grown-up self is totally judging the teenage hormones expressed through tears over a boy. So why? Crying so hard and so long that I become physically ill? (Go ahead, I'm not offended if you judge me, too.) Does the expression of sorrow mean anything? I want it to. I want to be my six-year-old self again when crying earned my parents arms holding me tightly and rocking me back and forth in the squeaking rocker until I could breathe again. I want someone to see my tears and empathize with what I'm going through, seeing how what I'm feeling on the inside is so strong that it cannot help but show outwardly.

I cannot think of a more vulnerable expression of emotion than crying. Crying due to a loss is a message to the outside world that pleads for help with coping with internal sufferings, a way one comforts oneself. It is here that your experiences become so much more real to me. I fully understand now your desire to be met in your pain. I'm here; meet me in mine.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

You May Never Know

Sweet Rianna,

       Your quiet disposition, small frame, and hugely curious eyes caught my attention first. You would walk timidly through the door into my corner of a classroom, almost holding your finger to your lips as if whispering sshhhhhh while your brown eyes searched for unspoken permission to enter. You came with the curious masses in the beginning, stepping aside as the bigger, more outgoing students won the prize of participating in Miss Wright's puzzles, books, coloring, or games. When another student came in, you scooted over on your already small chair, making room for another person to sit and participate in whatever was going on at the small table for that moment.

       Then my novelty wore off. The masses stopped coming, learning quickly that I am a firm and strict (albeit equally kind and silly) teacher. Some were offended that I would not grant them permission for certain activities on certain days. Others bored easily of the same books over and over or lost interest when the bracelet thread ran out. But you stayed. You continued to walk quietly and respectfully into that corner, touching things gently and practically whispering permission, taking care of and respecting that which was not yours. Your toma, Rhianna McCarty, and you enjoyed solving the cardboard puzzles together, personalities begging for praise at a collaborative job well done. Your tiny hands eagerly reached for the fallen Uno or Old Maid card without hesitation, even if you were not the culprit who dropped it. You never left my sacredly organized space without making sure things were back in order and put neatly away. The way you treated your friends, peers, and surroundings caught my attention next, proving the age-old mantra that actions speak louder than words.  

       I did not work directly with you, pulling you out of class to improve your reading skills or because your teacher simply needed a break from behavior. You are a smart girl, as the Jamaicans say. You came to me on your own merit and on your own time, leaving play time outside to the birds. I cannot recall a single time that you complained or shrugged your shoulders when I said no to a certain activity, unlike many other students, perfectly content to simply be and enjoy. Your naturally agreeable, trusting nature had a calming effect in the midst of an unpredictably noisy and chaotic environment. 

       And then you stole my heart. You, Miss Rianna, made every suffering through Jamaica and Peace Corps worth enduring through. You may never know, but you certainly let me know. Tears brim my eyes as I write and remember this, a story that I shared with one or two Jamaicans while still on island, and a story that has become the answer to What was Peace Corps/Jamaica like?.

       I was weeks away from departing Jamaica as the local Peace Corps Volunteer. Apathy had set in as I worked to complete paperwork, wrap up projects, and prepare my house and classroom for the volunteer following me. My head was full of and focused on the boy and potential relationship I had recently started investing in. A teacher's yelling broke me out of a said trance one morning before school started, and I eventually rose from my table to see what the commotion was about. There you stood, quiet and wide-eyed as the teacher scolded and kissed her teeth at the boy who tore your uniform clear across the back. Having taken on more than my assigned role of Literacy Intervention Specialist (what PCV ever doesn't?), I offered to sew your uniform back together.

      I placed my tin of sprinkle (sparkle) crayons and haphazardly torn pieces of scrap paper on the table in front of you as you sat in your blouse and shorts. After a few quiet moments I looked across the table at you, creatively coloring away.

"You know you're a pretty girl, Rianna?" I inquired, attempting to redeem the moment for what I grew to care about most in the students' lives: character.


you replied, barely glancing up from your paper that now contained 2nd-grade sketches of two girls and the words I love you on it.

After another set of quiet moments  I asked, 

"What makes a girl pretty, Rianna?"

And without a second of hesitation, you replied,

"her soul."

I was speechless. Thoughts ran through my head faster than I could process them to exit my mouth. 
She is thinking critically! 
Who are her parents? 
I want to go meet them and praise them and learn what they are doing differently and right. 
What a wise, wise girl at such a young age. 
She is more beautiful than I ever imagined.

Eventually, I managed to mutter out,

"That's exactly right! Who taught you that, Rianna?"

And, again, without skipping a beat, you looked up through your long lashes and said with the most confidence I ever witnessed in your being:

"You did."

Monday, June 23, 2014

On Settling, Compromise

Dear Surrogate Father,

            As you are very well aware, I don’t use the word love lightly. As a college student, I worked as a camp counselor alongside an older, wiser man who shared his thoughts about our inclination to over use the word. When we understand the importance of something, we take care of it, protect it, and are mindful of its value. Mr. Battenfield shared with me his habit of valuing the word love by using it only in reference to his family and his God. He doesn’t love frozen yogurt. He wouldn’t love to see you. As awful as it sounds, he doesn’t love his friends. This is challenging in more than one way, having to come up with creative ways of expressing deep gratitude or passion. But, in the name of love, is worth it to be able to whisper or pray I love you and truly mean it. Because of Mr. Battenfield’s humble example and challenge, I have adopted the same practice. Yes, it is challenging. But it’s so worth the effort and sacrifice.

            That being said, I really, really appreciate your concern, your perspective, and your sharing thoughts about my life and how I am choosing to live it. We jive. You get me, even in ways that I don’t get myself. You blame having the same birthday, fellow 6-14ers. God knows that I need you to shoot straight with me, not being embarrassed or awkward or dancing around the real issues. Telling me what men really think and helping protect me from making bad decisions. I am grateful for our relationship, to be your “other” daughter. Deeply grateful.

            I know that you want little more than to see me happily and passionately married to a man who will provide for me, protect me, spur me on to being more Christ-like. To see me bear children and raise them in a godly home, praying all the while that they, too, know their Creator and go on to do likewise. To see me experience life in a way that you have and are experiencing, challenges and joys intermingled with an unshakable faith that one day we will be in a perfect world and in perfect union with each other and our God. And to be vulnerably honest, I yearn for it as well.

            Yet another yearning exists deep inside of me. I wrote a text in response to your ongoing suggestion to find a good, family-friendly career and “settle down” to have a family with a good man:

I don’t wanna be a nurse. Can hardly bear to see people suffer with physical wounds. Don’t wanna settle down for the sake of settling down. It’s not…me. I know I would be living the life of wiping runny noses and load after load of laundry, always looking forward to the next cool thing or vacation or season of life regretting that I wasn’t doing something to help make society and our world a better place. Sure, I want a companion, someone to lean on and love passionately and let protect me. But I’m not willing to “settle down” for that if it means compromising my calling to cross cultures and be a light and a resource and haven to places and people who don’t know what that is. There are plenty of genuine Christians in America with big hearts making a difference. Not so many willing to leave.

For a long time I didn’t think the two could mix: living a life serving others while simultaneously raising and serving a husband and family. I still am not certain that the two will ever intermingle in my life. But I move onward in pursuit of what I cannot deny in my heart, hoping and praying that someone comes along beside me and content knowing that I am not settling if that person does not come along.