Sometimes the absence of something tells as much as its presence could. When I receive my email from Lisa Jo Baker about Five Minute Friday and the prompt is “beloved,” I draw a blank. I mean, I think of Kay Arthur calling me “beloved” through some inductive Bible studies I’ve done. And the line of a song by Caleb Caruth pops into my mind: “I’m your beloved, your creation and you love me as I am.” But really, deep down, I draw a blank. I could write about my kids because they are deeply beloved by me. I could write about my husband’s handmade Valentine reminding me how beloved I am. Neither of these resonates. They are true but they don’t ache to be written; if I’m going to write, I want it to come rushing out of me, unstoppable. Beloved just doesn’t do that.
This memory haunts me. I’m riding a bus in an African nation, floating between the worlds of Western meetings and African community, processing this day-long meeting with a roomful of people I love but don’t always like. I think of the personality clashes and the conflicts and the ridiculous number of miscommunications that can happen when colleagues and friends gather to pound out their vision and reflect on their week and gripe about their challenges and eat. My head aches. I’m hot and I’m exhausted because people nap from one in the afternoon to three here but not when we are being our foreign selves, scheduling meetings through the hottest part of the day. The smell of fried street food and the sights of dresses billowing and the sound of horns honking incessantly recede in my mind as I reflect. The thought comes quickly and stays solidly, a mostly sure sign that I didn’t think it myself. What if we knew we were loved? Deeply, completely loved and accepted. What if we knew that the first thing on our Creator’s mind wasn’t our misdeeds or our limitations or how disappointing we are but our beauty and purpose and goodness? He created and declared us good. And marred though we are, his continuing interaction with us has not been that of a disappointed and angry judge but a father who gathers up his robes to run to meet us. What if we lived there, in that love, truly beloved?
What would become of these conflicts and clashes and the contempt and criticism? Would it all melt away? Would living out of this belovedness smooth our ruffled feathers and soften our sharp edges? Somehow in that moment on that bus ride, I am confident that yes, it would. But years later, when beloved strikes no chord with me, I’m still not living there. Oh to enter into His loving acceptance and find myself beloved.
Writing with the ladies at Five Minute Friday is such a gift. http://lisajobaker.com/2013/02/five-minute-friday-beloved/
Yes, I feel bare these days. People-peering-into-my-life bare. I-read-my –journal-entry-at-spiritual-formation-class-through-muffled-sobs bare. My-third-culture-kid-goes-to-play-therapy bare. There was something relatively easy about staying hidden, staying clothed, staying safe when I lived with people who were different. There was so much we couldn’t understand about each other. So many times when my culture and their culture bumped up against each other and instead of baring more of my soul, I hid my true self behind language insufficiencies and walked away. But now I’m here with people who call me “sister” and bare their hurts and dreams and aches and call me to do the same.
The realization dawns as a surprise in my mind that when I chose to veil myself in respect of my Islamic host country, I veiled pieces of my inner life. To be sure, that veiling was appropriate at times. Restraint is not always the correct posture but it doesn’t mean it never is. That veiling began when I was misunderstood. When my grandmother died and a neighbor asked how old she was as I wept and I said that she had lived eighty good years and the neighbor said, “Khalas.” Enough. No tears for the woman who lives eighty years. No tears for the mother who lost her mother. No tears for the future, knowing that you will one day bury your mother. Enough.
The veiling began when another colleague told me that I’d just have to get used to that when the shock of seeing a man hit another man with a large piece of lumber in my first few weeks in-country made me gasp. The tears fell again and again I was told, without being told, that I needed to not bare my heart, not bare compassion, not bare tenderness. Enough of the tears, dear. You’ll need to get used to a little violence.
The veiling began. I felt it; I embraced it; I lost some of me.
Now I find myself here. Exposed. And I feel these tender hands unveiling me. Showing me to write again. Asking me to walk into bare naked tears and cry them, for myself, for others. Gently pushing me into the spaces I wrapped up because the rawness of leaving them bare in a broken world was too much. He unveils me, leaving me bare and I see him, full of grace and truth, baring himself for me.
Let me tell you, if you start with Five Minute Friday, you will be changed! http://lisajobaker.com/2013/02/five-minute-friday-bare/
I remember landing in the tiny desert country in the Horn of Africa, a balmy 90 degrees in winter and learning that a long-sleeved blouse even made from linen was too hot for this place. My skirt—a Goodwill find—was uglier than sin and the same muted brown of the dust and sand. I was hot, tired and fearful of what it meant to move to this tiny Muslim republic single, female and Western. I was afraid.
The man who picked me up and tucked me and my suitcases into a large white Toyota Landcruiser brought me to a room with a bed freshly made with the thin film of dust that would be my normal in the next five years. He and the others, they gave me a day to find my feet and started showing me around. This is the bus line you want and here is the best place to shop for groceries and this is the classroom where you will teach and over there is the clinic where you can pierce vaccines into bony arms and legs for the poorest of the poor.
As I had prepared I tasted my fear and swallowed hard. I wondered if I would see dead bodies at said clinic and I wondered if there were guns in the hands of everyone as my beloved fiancé saw just across the sea. I feared and worried myself tired, then left the freeze of Boston to arrive in the unglamorous heat of “hell’s waiting room,” as she is called.
When they pushed me out the door and onto the bus and I was cut off from everyone by this wall of noise called language I was afraid again. Could I even make it home? Could I find the groceries and count out the money and resist the temptation to flee to the comforts of my barren and dusty room?
Days passed and I left and returned. With a husband, then with sons. The walls of noise beckoned me to find the door and beautiful women nurtured me into their story, their world. I started to listen and learn and laugh and even make jokes. I was named and participated in a whole different world. They would tell me that yes, I was white on the outside but on the inside my heart was theirs and really, they were right.
My Muslim best friend and Jesus were the ones I cried out to as I started to miscarry my first baby and they both showed up—one to bring me water and books and tell stories on the edge of my bed and one to heal with power and stop what an American nurse had said was definitely a complete pregnancy loss. Now I am afraid again. Afraid I will never hang on her neck and cry and kiss because we missed each other so. Afraid that I will never hold her third baby who was named with my name. Afraid that those neighbors who named me “complete, whole” will never yell to me down the street again. Afraid that I will be lost in the land of monolingual monoculture and lose myself in the process. Afraid that those men who laughed at me as I tried to skirt around a bull camel claiming his territory on my road until I lost all hope and—like so many men of old—girded my loins showing more white skin in my conservative neighborhood than was appropriate and ran yelling past him—and they laughed and laughed and laughed—that those men who will still remember my name years later will never have a chance to call to me. To embellish that story in the way only a nation of poets can. Afraid that I lost the self I found when I lost myself the first time. Afraid that this chapter could be over.
Loving my Fridays with http://lisajobaker.com/2013/02/five-minute-friday-afraid/