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. 

 

 

Some People are Not Worthy

Some people are not worthy of our help. Or at least, that’s what we profess with our actions and attitudes. Let me throw out some hard words for you. Registered Sex Offender. Mentally ill. Homeless. Drug addicts.

Registered sex offenders deserve the death penalty. The mentally ill need to be in some kind of institution. Homeless, well, they’re homeless because they won’t work and be productive. Drug addicts? No help for them, they just want a handout so they can get more drugs.

Believe it or not, I am not going to stand on some higher moral ground and point fingers at everyone below me. These are sentiments that I subconsciously hold. Sentiments that stare me in the face every once in a while and challenge me.

I’m going to tell you a story. .

Several years ago my husband’s company moved their workshop into a new location. It happened to be in a rougher part of town. One of the first problems my husband ran into was homeless people camping out behind his shop. Somehow, in the way my husband has, he got to know one of the couples that were camping out there. He was an exconvict, a registered sex offender, his girlfriend was ex-military and was pregnant with twins. She was somewhere around the age of forty and was having difficulty with her pregnancy. They were sleeping in a tent.

Andy gave him some work and he proved to be a decent worker. Housing was a much bigger problem. As a registered sex offender he could not live anywhere near children. There was not any cheap housing that fit into the requirements and so they ended up moving into a hotel room. $200 a week. No stoves allowed.

They got married. She lost the babies in a miscarriage. I met them a couple times. She was not mentally stable and I felt very uncomfortable and unsafe around her. Registered Sex Offender, nope, you can’t come near my family. All outreaches to this couple were through my husband.

The man spent the next couple years going in and out of jail. My husband tried to help Her when he could. Some grocery money. Help with rent on occasion. He would talk to me about their problems and I would commiserate, but I really didn’t feel like there was much I could do. My ministry to people is always done in the context of my family, and this couple was not family-friendly.

While He has been in jail, Her health went downhill. She had a stroke. Had some kind of surgery. She was renting a room in a house with lots of roommates. My husband visited her and said she could hardly get around, he didn’t know how she was going to take care of herself. He had asked and she said she was working with a social worker to get help.

We found out today that at the age of forty-two, she has died. Possibly on Wednesday. People noticed they hadn’t seen her. Called the police. Her body was found on Friday. The end.

And now I analyze. Could I have done more? Should I have done more? Are there people that you just simply can’t help? Their choices have led them down a path of no return? I possibly could have helped Her, but she had married Him and so I felt like that door was closed. I have to protect my family first.

But she was a fellow human being. Once upon a time she was an adorable little baby, and perhaps people cooed over her and said, how lovely! You’re going to grow up to be a wonderful woman! And perhaps she never had that. Perhaps right now there are people who would mourn if they knew she had died. And perhaps not. What I do know is that no matter what choices she made, God loved her. I don’t know where her relationship with God was, but I do know that he loved her.

I want to share with you all the tiny sliver of her story that I know. I want to say to the world at large, this woman lived. And now she has died. Let us at least give her a moment of contemplation in honor of her life. It is all I can do for her now.

And perhaps I can issue a challenge to myself and my readers to just think about this issue for a moment…how do you help the “unworthy” ?  What can we, as a society, do to help this segment of our population that we are reluctant to interact with? Do we have any responsibility towards them? How do we be responsible and safe but still have charity for those in need?

 

 

Queen Esther and Me

My name is Esther. This has always been a special part of who I am. My mom told me, years ago, that when she first got pregnant with me she knew I was a girl and my name was going to be Esther. I was named after the Esther in the Bible. She has her very own book which tells the story of the beautiful Jewish girl who is compelled to join the Mighty King’s harem when the king puts out  a search for beautiful virgins. He is looking for a new Queen and Esther ends up being the chosen one. Later, she uses her influence as Queen to save her people, the Jews, from a genocide.

I can’t tell you how many times I have read the book of Esther. Innumerable. When I was a kid my Dad set up a rule, for a time, that we had to read one chapter of the Bible before bed every night. I would often go searching for the shortest Psalm that I could find or I would head back to the book of Esther and read it again. Esther was my hero. I was her namesake. I felt a deep connection. She was beautiful and brave, a Queen, everything a little girl could hope for in a hero.

As I grew older I found some biblical historical fiction about Esther, where authors had written the story of Esther, filling in all the unknown details, and adding their own twist to the story. I loved reading these. It awakened an understanding that these people in the Bible were real people. With real emotions. Real problems. They weren’t just a flat image on a page.

Of course, as an adult, understanding Esther to be a real person has lead me to have a much darker view of the whole story. I have a good imagination. I try to imagine what it was like to live in a harem. To not have the kind of marriage that I think is normal, but instead just be one of many. What was it like to interact with an older man when she was most likely a young teenager? To interact with the most powerful man on earth when she was just a young girl from a family with no power or prestige? How did she navigate all the palace politics? What was her day-to-day living like? Did she have children? Was Vashti (the previous Queen who was dethroned) still in the harem to cause problems? After the “Happily Ever After” ending of the book of Esther, what happened then? Did she remain on good terms with the King or did he replace her with a long series of new favorites from the harem? Did she find a way to bring meaning to her life?

I have a lot of questions. Sometimes I feel myself getting a little panicky. Like the answers to these questions are tied up in my own destiny. If Esther actually lived an unhappy, unfulfilled life in the harem, what does that mean for me? What does it mean, if you are named for a hero, to find out that your hero was actually a pretty unhappy person?

In the last couple years, I have found myself getting very emotionally caught up with the stories of the women in the Bible. I find myself angry. Why did God let that woman suffer like that? Why did God allow polygamy, despite all the stories of women being hurt by it? Hagar and Sarah. Leah and Rachel. Hannah and Peninnah. Why did God allow the practice of concubines? Why were they worth so little to the men in their life? Thinking about the story of the concubine in Judges who is murdered. Why? Yes. My brain knows that when sin came in the world, all these bad things were part of that Sin. Yes. My brain knows that God has a long term plan to deal with Sin in the world that centers around his Son Jesus. Yes. I know we have free will which means that bad things are going to happen because of the consequences of our sin. I know these things, but my heart still hurts when I read about the suffering of these women. I need to know that God cared about them. That he loved them just as much as the more prominent men who carry the lead role in the story. I need to know this.

I think I need to know this because I am Esther. I am connected to these characters hidden in the pages, surfacing in between lines. I am simply a continuation of their story. I am a woman. And I need to know if I am just as important to God as the men. Am I just as significant? Am I loved? Am I important?

Today I started reading the book of Esther again. I came up with a whole new list of questions and I started googling my questions, wondering if other people had thought about these things too. I happened upon a blog written by Rachel Held Evans. I really liked what she had to say and as I read through some of her blog posts I realized that she was an author and had several interesting books. One of them really stood out to me so I got it on my Kindle and started reading it. The name of the book is A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on her Roof, Covering her Head, and Calling her Husband “Master”. You have to admit, it’s an intriguing title. I’m several chapters in. I feel like I’ve met my new best friend and she just doesn’t know it yet. This is not to say that I agree with everything that she says or thinks, but what I love about her is that she questions things. I resonate with her questions. I resonate with her curiosity, her desire to dig deeper.

I just want to tell you one little bit in the book. The author and a friend get together and have a little ceremony where they Remember some of the women in the bible who suffered. They remember Japheth’s daughter who was sacrificed. They remember the concubine who was murdered. They remember Hagar. They light a candle for each woman, and they manage to bring it all back to the Cross. This made me sob. These women that have somehow managed to creep off the pages of the Bible and work their way into my heart and my mind…These women are important to me. And it was like someone telling me that there was going to be a funeral and I could come and mourn, and give honor to those who had died. Have some closure. While reading her book, I felt like I was there, joining in the ceremony. Mourning alongside them.

This is a journey that I am on. What does it mean to be Esther? What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be a Christian Woman? These questions. This is why I keep reading the book of Esther, and Genesis, Samuel. The book of Acts. Because their stories are my stories. Perhaps by understanding the past better, I’ll have more understanding to face the future.

Car Trips, Broken Ice, and Laughter

Today we drove about an hour north to go visit my parents. My youngest daughter had a birthday and we were going to celebrate with Grandma and Grandpa. We had seven kids in the car, our oldest three off living their own lives. We were traveling on a small country highway and I was looking outside enjoying the view: farmland, creeks and rivers, pretty little towns. We were driving along and I noticed a pasture covered in puddles which had then frozen over. I suddenly had a memory of living on my grandparents farm in Eastern Kentucky, maybe ten years old, stomping around on a cold winter day. I was wearing my old light blue tennis shoes, full of holes but wonderfully comfortable, my old worn out blue jeans, hand-me-downs from my older brother, my pink puffy jacket with decorative flaps on the front and secret inside pockets, an old knit hat and a worn out pair of gloves. I remember stomping through my aunt’s pasture where her ponies lived. The ground was covered in muddy indentations from the ponies’ hooves and each indentation had filled with water from the earlier rains and now had frozen over. I remember the sensation of the thin ice cracking under my feet, my foot bending with the frozen ridges in the ground. Stumbling along as I tried to find more ice to break under my feet. I remembered all this and then felt a pang. My children would not have those country-living memories. They were city kids. And I felt this overwhelming longing to just uproot my family and move to a farm so my kids could know the joy of running through fields in winter, breaking ice under their feet.

We spent the day with my parents and then loaded up the van to drive home again. I love car trips. I love just looking out the window and thinking about whatever random topics pop into my head. I love looking at the houses that we pass, wondering about the people who live there. Watching the sky turn colors until it’s just the stars making tiny dots of light. Seeing the dark hulk of hills looming in the distance. As we drove tonight I thought about all the roads I had traveled on in my life. I remembered driving home from Cap Haitien, Haiti to our little house on the mountainside. Laying on a bench in the back of our truck, watching the moon chase us down the road, marveling that we could never outrun the moonlight. I remember driving on sandy, gravelly roads in the bush town of Bethel, Alaska, looking out from the road into pure darkness, no lights to interrupt the horizon, only our little island of a town, floating on the tundra. I remembered driving the Alaska Highway, the vast forests of never-ending trees. And all the other roads, highways in Chile, cross-country road trips out West. I felt melancholy. I couldn’t share these things with my children. I couldn’t give them these experiences.

As we drove along I started tuning in to what was happening in the car. In the very back seat my eleven and nine year old boys had made up their own little game. The eleven year old was singing favorite Disney songs, but he would stop at key words, MadLib style, and then the nine year old would fill in a random word. In the next row up were my two little girls, seven and six. They were giggling and laughing their heads off at the antics of their brothers, sometimes offering a suggestion of a word here and there. Lots of singing. Lots of laughing. In the next row up my four year old and two year old were strapped into their carseats, the thirteen year old sitting next to them, trying to ignore them. The four year old was holding up different shells from a little container of shells that his grandma had given him. He was explaining that if you held up the shell to your ear,  you could hear the ocean. Then he held up a different shell and said, “In this shell you can hear a crab playing rock and roll on his guitar.” He studied the shell thoughtfully for a minute and then pulled out another shell. “In this shell you can hear a turtle biting a fish.” And on it went, each shell with it’s own story. The two year old was fussing and wanted to hold my hand, but his carseat was a bit too far back and so in order to hold his hand I had to bend my body backwards, stretching as far as I could. It was a position I could only maintain for a couple minutes. I would finally feel something snapping in my back and I would pull my hand back and he would instantly start fussing again. My husband started making up a lullaby with silly words for him in an attempt to distract him. And it occurred to me. My kids have these memories. These are good memories. They are worth having. Memories of outings with the family. Memories of singing and laughter. Memories of talking to Mom and Dad about your shells. Memories of being loved.

I am so happy that I don’t have to replicate my own childhood for my children in order for them to have happy, fulfilling memories. They’re writing their own stories, and those stories are good.