September 28, 2012

a lady eating soup

[A re-post. Because she is on my mind today.]

I am sitting in a big comfy chair in the corner, happily bouncing my feet to the bluegrass pouring from my headphones, indulging myself in some adolescent literature. I look up for a second, only for a second, to see if they've refreshed the coffee yet, and I see you. You, a lady eating soup. You catch my eye.

There you sit, in a booth all alone, slurping soup in slow, deliberate spoonfuls. Daintily dipping your baguette, when the mood strikes. You don't speak. You don't have any company, today, as you eat soup in the afternoontime. You don't read a book or listen to music or even really look around much. You just eat soup. Legs folded neatly under the table, cups and bowls and utensils lined meticulously in front of you, napkin gently resting on your lap, you eat soup. You are still.

At first you make me sad. I think, oh, how sad, to eat alone. How upsetting, to have nothing to do while you eat your soup. But I realize upon further study that the sadness is mine - I don't think you are sad at all. The discomfort is my own, it must be, because I think you are content. I think you are peaceful and graceful and lovely in your Reebok sneakers and sky blue sweatshirt. Your hair is unruly and your eyes are soulful and your skin is wrinkled in ways that let me know you've lived and loved and laughed in your lifetime. Maybe even just today, right before you came here to eat soup. I wonder if that's what you're thinking of now. Or if you're thinking of anything at all.

And I think, I could learn something from you. I could stand a lesson in stillness, in contentment, in grace. I bet you play bridge with your friends and laugh until you cry, sometimes, but today you are just taking a moment to eat soup. By yourself. At 4:00 in the afternoon on a Wednesday in an unseasonably warm November. And you seem to be just fine with that.

I watch as you don your jacket, probably the same one you've worn for years, gather up your things, and shuffle out of the place. I think a little thank you to you, the lady eating soup, and then I return my gaze to my book. My feet pick back up with the rhythm of bluegrass, and I sigh a little sigh and sink a little further into my big comfy chair in the corner.

Just ever so slightly stiller than before.

[also, this.]

September 20, 2012

not one single part

Not long ago on a Sunday, like a lot of Sundays, I was at the Well. The first woman I met with was a regular, and we know each other well. She has been unemployed for a very long time, and it seems her request is always the same - always, we pray for her to find a job. So that particular day she presented me with the same request, the same problem, and I felt so frustrated for her. I felt frustrated for all of us, for the things we struggle with for so long and the problems that, in spite of what seem to be our best efforts, never let up. Few things in this life irk me more than that kind of redundancy. I felt mad and discouraged, and I reflected that to her. But she looked at me, almost surprised, and said she was fine. Things were good. She really couldn't complain, because, she said to me, there's not one single part of my whole life that Jesus doesn't fill.

I want to have that cross-stitched on a pillow or tattooed on my forehead or something. Because I complain a lot. I'd like very much not to struggle with the same things week after week, day after day. There are a lot of things about my life I think could be better and many I wish would just go away entirely. I get discouraged and frustrated and even a little bitter, sometimes. And maybe thats fair, to an extent. But this delightful lady, who lives in the same broken world I do, struggles just like me, I think she has it right. We will always be in need, in some way or another. We will always struggle. Some of us with the same things for a long time, apparently, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but thank goodness for it. Because if nothing else it will keep pointing us back to this:

There's not one single part of my whole life that Jesus doesn't fill. And it's enough. Plenty, even.

September 13, 2012

everybody needs an audience

Here's something about me: I'm kind of a talker. As evidenced simply by the fact that I do this right here, where the basic premise is I write things and expect you to read them, you probably shouldn't be surprised. I was the kid who came home from school every single day -basically from elementary school on - and recounted moment by moment the ENTIRE day for my mother. I'm speaking literally. I remember when I went to college how surprising it was to realize no one cared to hear me recount every event in my day. I thought my roommate would, but she spent most of her energy yelling at me for waking her up, day and night. I swear all that girl did was sleep. And yell at me about it. But whatever, point is, she didn't much care what I was doing. Since that time I've had a few roommates who enjoyed a good debrief after a long day [Alli pie, I'm looking at you] and I've appreciated them ever so much. Because, to recap, I like to talk. And in order for a talker to get the full satisfaction of talking, someone has to be listening.

What I'm telling you, essentially, is this: I require an audience. For survival. I feel sure it's on the hierarchy of needs somewhere.

I'm a lucky little chatter in that throughout my lifetime, I've always had an audience. Even if they were only pretending, someone has always listened to me talk. About My Little Ponies and playgrounds, braces and boys and bff drama and even now about boring grown up stuff like saving for retirement and crock pots. So, yknow, I keep talking. I've always been this way, and probably more so than most; but I think I'm not entirely alone in it. Not everyone would openly admit they want a constant, captive audience [it's fine, I'm secure enough to stand alone in it] - but everyone needs one sometimes.

I can't imagine a world where no one cared about listening to me, is my point, but all the time I meet people whose worlds look like that. People who didn't have a mom who listened to them talk about their day, not a friend or a roommate who cared to hear about how they were doing. I don't know if it's because it's such an important thing to me that I am so sensitive to this, but it breaks my heart pretty much on the daily. Yes, sure, maybe there are worse things. But take away the theatrics and hyperbole [which, sorry, I can't help but bring to the table] - and process for a moment the reality that there are people in this world who consistently feel invisible. Like they are unworthy of an audience. Like their story is completely and totally un-captivating. Few things make me sadder than that.

Once I had a kid referred to me for therapy and the first time I tried to meet with her she refused to talk. I mean she flat out would not sit in a room with me and say words. She was tough - cool and unemotional and a little mean, honestly, which she clearly wanted to make sure I knew right off the bat. I remember feeling defeated as she turned back into her classroom. But then she turned to me, eyes ready to roll, and told me that maybe if next time I brought her "Cheetos or something," she would consider talking to me. Now, I had met with lots of kids who were more interested in getting out of class and the possibility of counselor candy than actually wanting real help, so I knew it was a long shot that this would actually be productive. But something in the way she asked, a glimmer of timidity shining through her nastiness, made me wonder. So the next week, same time, I showed up at her classroom. She followed me back into my office, arms crossed, loaded for bear, and I handed her a bag of Cheetos. She took them, and she sunk slowly into a chair. She opened the bag and she didn't look at me for a long time but she said I'd gotten the good kind. I wish I could do justice in words to the way she transformed right in front of me, with that stupid bag of Cheetos in her hands, but all I can tell you for certain is that girl needed an audience. She was aching to tell her story. She just needed Cheetos to do it.

I think the Cheetos were a test. To see if I'd listen. To see if I thought she was worth the trouble. To see if I'd show up again. To see if I could handle her, if I was really in, before she shared. I think they also served as a buffer for her. It would have gone against everything in her carefully crafted adolescent persona to just accept counseling. Cheetos made it ok for her. Cheetos were a safety net, something to look at instead of me while she unfolded her life for someone she barely knew. I have no idea where or how that girl is today, if it made even a lick of a difference in the longrun, but I know that for the low price of a bag of Cheetos, I got to hear a story I'm not sure had been told before. People need space. And the thing is, whether you're a therapist or not, we all have the opportunity every single day to make that space for someone. They won't need it every day. They may not take you up on it when it's offered. I think that girl desperately wanted an invitation and completely lacked the awareness of how to accept it when it was offered, which was where the Cheetos came in. And she made me wonder how many people I dismiss as demanding or mean who are just that same way; hoping for the space but clueless about what to do in it. I don't know that everyone you meet will be as easy as Cheetos, but I just think the availability of space, the knowledge that if we need it, it's there, is a necessity. It's how we are. Create it in your life and watch people thrive in it. Maybe you already do, and maybe you're great at it. But if you talk a lot, like me, just make sure you're paying attention to the times when you need to shut your mouth and be the audience. You might be the only one they get that day, so you'd better be a good one. A captive one.

And on the days when you're tired, when the last thing you want to do is be the audience, remember you're not just listening. Without saying anything at all, not one single solitary word, you're communicating to another person that you see them. That they're worthy of your time and maybe even a bag of Cheetos. They will hear from you, maybe for the first time ever, that their story is captivating.

I promise you it'll be worth the $0.99 every time.

September 6, 2012

an inescapable reality of my very existence

Summer is a unique time of year in that it pretty much always seems transient. And even now, when I don't get even a semblance of a summer break, the summer brings out in me an attitude of transience, of general whatever-ness. I stay out too late and feel footloose and fancy free because, yknow, it's summer. In the winter I would never do these things, heavens no, but in the summer anything is fair game. I can sit on porches and rooftops til all hours, or go to an Iron Maiden concert and a midnight Grease singalong in the same week, should I see fit. No matter that in terms of the logistics of my life, nothing is different in the summer that should merit such shenanigans. That's neither here nor there. Not where summer is concerned.

This summer has felt excessively transitional though, which we all know makes me uncomfortable, and I haven't been able to quite put my finger on it. I moved at the beginning of it - oh and then I moved again at the end of it, so that's pretty major I suppose. But even beyond that, things have felt more changey than I like. Then the other day someone started talking about being in a season of pruning. [They used words like good, if I remember correctly. Healthy, or something stupid like that.] Anyway, there's actually no getting around that this is what's happening. Hearing it only defined what I already knew. Only here's the thing about that - I don't remember ever signing off on it. I don't actually have any real interest in being pruned at this point in my life, in fact, and as such, I would very much like to call off the shears and promptly put an end to this nonsense. I just moved into my fourth house in a year. Now's not really a good time for me.

It's not that I can't see the long-term benefit of a season of pruning, because I can. I know stuff. I read what John said about pruning and I get that no real change is going to happen without it. I can even recognize that the parts being cut aren't bearing any fruit, but that doesn't make the cut not sting. It doesn't make it less scary to be naked and branchless while I wait for new stuff to grow all up on me. Knowing it's for the best doesn't make it ache less when it seems like every time I turn around I'm watching pieces of me fall to the ground. I'm an attacher. I get attached to people and places and seasons and when they are pruned from me, for better or worse, and whether it's rational or not, it feels sort of devastating for a while. I know change is a process, I know grief and hard things are a part of it and I know it's good and healthy, if stupid. Doesn't mean I want it to happen to me. I know the parts being pruned from me are dead and ugly and fruitless. Doesn't mean I won't miss them when they go. They're my dead and ugly and fruitless parts, thankyouverymuch, and aren't they better than nothing at all?

I think the tricky thing about pruning is that the timing is always right and never good. So I went back, fairly cranky about the whole deal, to consult John about this. I wanted to see if I could figure out a course of action for myself. Maybe I even hoped I could find some kind of a loophole out of it. But instead I discovered that in the midst of my pity party, I managed to forget some pretty basic botany. You see, I am not some kind of magical, free-floating branch. I am part of the vine. Though I am sometimes nakeder than I'd like, I am never disconnected. I read: apart from me you can do nothing. I feel shame for just long enough to recognize it, which is when I feel hope sidle in gracefully, knowingly, to take it's place.

I am not free-floating. I attach because I was first attached. I love because I was first loved. And I will continue to love, to attach, to bear fruit in those loves and attachments, in new ones and maybe even old ones that can yet be salvaged, if I can manage to remember one thing. Jesus says, as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now [finally, instructions!] remain in my love. 

It doesn't say I lost it and I better go scurry to get it back. It doesn't say shame on you, which is what I default to when I screw up. It doesn't say I better figure my mess out, or pull myself up by my bootstraps. I half expect it to tell me that I'd better get to work in the aftermath of my epic fail to try and grow something worthy of the vine. But no. All Jesus says is remain in my love. Remain. Which is literally defined as continuing to exist. 

What this communicates to me is that even when I do it all wrong, God's love for me remains. It will continue to sustain me through cuts and aches and devastation, because it's just a thing that is. An inescapable reality of my very existence. And in the midst of what seems to be perpetual transition, there's nothing at all transitional about that.