Masterpieces in Progress

I take my daughter to Nashville tomorrow morning to send her off to Alaska for a year. I have been thinking about what to write today, but have drawn a blank. As I was driving in the car, I realized why I can’t think of anything to write. All weekend and this week I have been systematically shutting myself down emotionally. My oldest kids are leaving the nest and this is a good thing for them. It’s the natural next step in our parenting journey. And it’s painful and I hate pain and I hate goodbyes, so I seal myself off. I’m a missionary kid. I’ve been saying goodbye to people on a regular basis since I was two years old. After a while, you just naturally learn how to distance yourself so that it won’t be as painful. 

 

We’ve been living in the same city for almost 16 years now. I haven’t had to say nearly as many goodbyes. Mostly it’s just saying goodbye to friends of mine who have moved on to other places. You would think that I would have softened my approach over the years. Allowed myself to feel some of the emotions. Let myself cry. You would think. 

 

But, even though I have not reached the place of emotional honesty, where I allow myself to feel the emotion, experience it, and then move on, healthier because of the experience…even though I haven’t reached that place yet, I am at least at a place where I can recognize what I’m doing. Oh look, I am shutting down because I’m about to say goodbye to my daughter. It’s progress. 

 

In the meantime, I will drive my daughter to the airport three hours away while it’s still dark outside. I’ll walk her to the security gate. I’ll hug her as long as I can, pray over her, bless her, and send her on her way. And I’ll shed a couple tears which I’ll quickly sniff away, go get back in my car and make the long drive back home. 

 

Then a couple months from now, I’ll suddenly think about her and burst into uncontrollable sobbing and then have a day-long depression while I finally start processing all the emotions. And then I’ll feel better. 

 

This is the way I deal with emotions. I’m going to make a guess that I’m really not the only one who does this. So, for all you other emotionally awkward people, it’s ok. Fortunately there is no set mold on how to to do life. We all have our stories that have shaped who we are and how we interact with the world around us. It’s been my experience that as I have explored these stories and spent some concentrated time analyzing my behavior, it’s helped me to change some of my negative patterns, some right away, others very slowly. 

 

We are all masterpieces in progress. 

 

 

Tears in Honor of You

It’s Tuesday evening. Time to write my blog for Wednesday. All afternoon I’ve been wondering what to write about. My mind circles around the thought and then instantly turns to something else. I think I’m going to read a bit more of my book. I think I’m going to practice piano a bit. I think I’m going to wash the dishes. And of course, the children are a constant presence of distraction, look at this mom, watch me mom, Mom he hit me, Mom I’m hungry. I allow myself to be distracted all day. And then, this evening I think, I need to go write my blog. And the thought comes to me, in order to write a blog, you have to think about something. Ah yes. There is the problem. I don’t want to think. Thinking is painful right now. A very good friend of mine’s grandbaby died this weekend. She was just a baby. A sweet wonderful baby. I didn’t know her, but I had heard all about her from her proud grandparents. I’d seen the occasional pictures scattered across Facebook. And I still feel paralyzed by the thought that such a loss has touched people that I know and love.

I don’t want to think because every time I let my mind focus on something, it comes back to this pain. Feeling pain and mourning are not things that I am good at. I am a missionary kid. I spent my entire childhood moving from one extreme place to another. Studies have been done on missionary kids and it seems to be a universal experience that we all struggle with mourning. We uproot so many times, have so many goodbyes to say to all that is familiar, and we rarely take the time to properly mourn all that we have lost. Mourning is painful. I think we naturally try to avoid pain. I know that for myself, my coping mechanism is to suppress it. Ignore it, push the thoughts down until they stop resurfacing. Drown it. Except that the pain doesn’t go away, it just lingers below the surface, waiting for a chance to reappear. And then it shows up in strange, unexpected places. Like the time I had my first miscarriage.

It happened while we were out of town, camping in another state. I was staying at a campsite in our camper with our children while my husband was working nearby, 14-16 hour days, working on a construction project. It was a couple weeks long project and the kids and I had gone with my husband so we wouldn’t be separated for so long. I was in a campground trying to take care of six children on my own and I miscarried. It was early on in the pregnancy. There wasn’t anything I could do. And I didn’t have time to mourn. I cried a little, but I was in shock and overwhelmed and trying to put a brave face on for my kids and my husband. And then, a month later, we were back home in Tennessee and I was sitting in church, the service had just ended and something snapped and I started sobbing. For a long time. And I am so relieved that this particular grief rose to the surface so I could properly mourn.

My friend who lost her grandbaby, she is special to me because many years ago she started me on a long journey of healing. I don’t know how to describe her relationship to me except as a co-therapist. We listen to each other. We provide a safe place for each other and other women as we dig down and resurface these stories that haven’t been properly mourned. And it seems that the only way I can honor my friend and her grief is to not let myself run away from the pain, as peripheral to my life as it is. To let myself feel it, mourn alongside her. Not suppress, let myself be sad. Give myself permission to grieve.

So, My dear friend, this is how I honor you and your ministry, your family, your devastating loss. I will allow myself to grieve with you.

A Little Trot Down Memory Lane

acul

I was a missionary kid who grew up in Kentucky, Haiti, and Alaska. I was born in Kentucky and then moved to Haiti when I was 2, back to the Kentucky when I was 6, stayed for 5 years, then back to Haiti when I was 11. I lived in Haiti from the age 11 to 15 with a 9 month break when I was 13. And then when I was 15 we moved to Alaska. It’s confusing. I know. I don’t expect you to remember all that.

I’ve been remembering the 11-15 yrs old stage when I was in Haiti. We lived for a year in Cap Haitien and then moved to a mountaintop home that had a view of the entire Northern Plain of Haiti, including a view of the Bay of Acul, a place where Columbus was reported to have landed. The house and its surrounding property was a child’s paradise. The house was a concrete block, 2 story, flat-roofed home with a balcony and a narrow ledge that went around the entire house on the 2nd story. There was an abundance of fruit trees. The driveway had been cut out of the mountainside and so there was a high cliff on either side of the driveway, and the peak of the mountain above that which was covered in tall grass and scattered with large boulders. There was a patch of jungle/woods/forest that had a wonderful old cashew nut tree in it, it’s branches all twisted and curlicued, making it an awesome climbing tree. There was a separate building a little farther up the hill from the house that housed a generator and there was a bench next to the that little building where you could sit and stare at the ocean off in the distance. It was an amazing home. The windows were all covered in metal grates and so we could easily climb up the windows, and get up on the ledge that surrounded the 2nd story. From there you scooted carefully along the narrow ledge till you got to the railing around the balcony, you could then climb onto the balcony. On the balcony was a ladder that took you up to the flat roof.

Occasionally my brother and I would get home from school before our parents and occasionally we wouldn’t have the keys we needed to get onto the property or into the house. We would first climb over the tall, locked,  wrought iron gate that went across our driveway, go down the driveway and then we would climb up on the balcony or roof to wait for our parents.

During that time period in Haiti there was a lot of political upheaval and the infrastructure of the country was not good. There was an electric company, but the power was rarely turned on. We had a generator but later, when Haiti was put under an embargo by the US, there was little fuel to run the generator. We had a well that gave us good clean water, but the well required an electric pump. By the end of our time in Haiti, we were turning on our generator every 3 days for about an hour during which time we would fill an entire room full of buckets and containers of water to hold us over for the next 3 days.  We would quickly run some laundry through our agitator/wringer washing machine, and then quickly turn the generator off to conserve the fuel. I took a cold bucket bath every morning before I headed out to school, mastering the skill of making a 5 gallon bucket last for a complete bath, including washing and conditioning my long hair.

My teen years in Haiti were spent going to school, attending a Haitian church on Sunday mornings, and then an English church on Sunday evenings. The occasional Saturday was filled with going to the beach or getting together with friends. During the summer I would accompany my mom into Cap Haitian for a day of shopping the market places, getting in a supply of basic groceries. We regularly visited friends. A big chunk of my time though, was spent simply at home, left to my own devices.

My brother was trying to graduate early and so he spent much of his time holed up in his room, working on his high school correspondence courses. My father was out doing his work and my mother was busy doing all the work that is required when you don’t have electricity, or convenience stores, or even well-stocked grocery stores. She also worked in medical clinics a couple times a week, and held medical clinics at our home for people in our neighborhood. I helped my mom with her medical clinics sometimes, wrapping pills in paper packets we made from cutting up magazines, handing her the right pill packets as she needed them.

I need to make something clear. I was not a missionary. I was simply a missionary kid. I did not feel any special calling or burden for the Haitian people. Haiti just happened to be where I lived. My parents did their work and I was caught up with school work and friends and daily life. My grandparents had been missionaries in Haiti for 40 years. My father grew up in Haiti. My mother came from England as a young single missionary, met my father, and they married and had my brother there in Haiti. For me, Haiti was not a mission field, it was simply where my family lived.

While my family was busy with their various pursuits, I focused on reading books, practicing music, journaling, and simply sitting outside, taking in nature, daydreaming, trying to sketch pictures of the view, trying my hand at writing poetry (unsuccessfully). I loved to get to a high perch, stare out at the ocean and just exist. I loved to sing and I would often sing loudly, giving it all I had, confident in the knowledge that no one was listening. I would sing hymns and praise songs, not really understanding the concept of worship, just knowing that the earth around me was so beautiful, I had to acknowledge the beauty and the creator of the beauty somehow. And so I sang songs.

I liked to write in my journal, just putting down the every-day occurrences of a young girl. Which friend had a crush on who, what my current crush had said to me the last time I saw him, stories of my life. Looking back through my journals it’s interesting to see how I gradually became aware that I wasn’t speaking into an empty void. Someone was listening to me. As I grew older my journals started becoming a conversation with God. A prayer. A place to vent and rant when I was upset, knowing that someone safe was listening to me. Through journaling I slowly learned the art of expressing my emotions and then learning how to be thankful anyway. I learned how to turn a complaint into a prayer request, a difficult trial into something that made me think and ponder and grow in my understanding of God and life.

Music took up a large chunk of my time. I was blessed to live close by to Laurie Casseus, who, in a fun turn of events, ended up becoming my aunt-in-law. Laurie was a singer and pianist, a missionary kid who had grown up knowing my father. She had married a Haitian, Jules Casseus: pastor, academic extraordinaire, author, among other things. The two of them assisted in the running of a Bible Seminary/University that was only two kilometers away from us. Laurie loved to share her talents with her community. She took the missionary kids under her wing and taught us piano lessons, voice lessons, had a children’s choir, and had us highschoolers working on duets and quartets and other ensembles. We sang popular songs, spoofs, hymns and classical music. I also had a full-length, weighted-keys keyboard my parents had bought me. My father had it hooked up to a car battery so that I could always play whether we had electricity or not. He also had a little lamp hooked up to the car battery so that I could see my music at night. I played that piano constantly, it was one of my only ways of expressing myself, the emotions I was feeling. I honestly don’t think I would have survived my tumultuous childhood without music. I am forever thankful to God for giving me a musical talent and to my parents for fostering that talent as much as they could and to Aunt Laurie for giving me so many opportunities to learn and grow in my music.  

One of my favorite memories of music was one night when there was no electricity, the entire valley was dark except for the small flickers of lamps and candles. There was a full moon and it was shining brightly on the ocean bay. I remember, in the silence, playing Debussy’s Clare de Lune and the music spoke to my soul. I knew what Debussy meant when he wrote the music. He meant this, this dark, moon lit night, silence, calm, peacefulness. It was a glorious experience to become one with the music and moon and the night. I remember it vividly to this day.

This past week I had been contemplating some of the more difficult aspects of life in Haiti, and I wondered if really any good had come out of me growing up there. God’s response was to flood me with memories. Memories of a childhood that was full of quiet moments and contemplation. No distractions of tv and internet and plugged-in entertainment. A childhood of music and book reading and journal writing. A childhood of nature and beauty. In the midst of the chaos God nourished my soul. I am thankful.