Friday, March 23, 2012

wishing stars.

"Ashley?" Her voice fell softly on the mysteriously breath-taking black glass, rising just above the melodies of the spring peepers and nameless frogs. .."Do you think that world is becoming a more beautiful place?"

Her question landed on my ears with a thud, uneasy and yet equally firm - much like the canoe paddle seated precariously on my bare knees. From the middle of the pond, my mind reeled. The air smelled like summer; the canoe ride proved to be spontaneous. Eating lukewarm chili (because I was too lazy to heat it again) after a long day, she asked if I would be up for a canoeing study break. The question she barely spoke, knowing I might be too tired, but her eyes sparkled with anticipation in a way that I could not ignore. At first I hesitated - and then made the best decision all day...YES.

As we pushed the canoe into the water an eery yet equally enchanting sound danced across the water: a flute! Fully enamored by the scene: a flautist accompanying our night time canoe ride...with our tender winter toes dipped carefully in the cool water, we pushed off into the smooth black glass pond. A little out of practice, my first few strokes sent water droplets onto my shorts. We paddled first towards the wandering flautist, then on towards the geese. (Unfortunately our attempt to say hello just startled them away.) From the center of the pond I wondered what the animals must think of our shimmering buildings on the hill...A symphony of night time creatures filled the air and one by one the stars came out to listen.

Overwhelmed by the weather pretending to be summer, the creatures performing their night-time symphony, my mind's ability to think, the stillness of the water - the vastness of the sky, the beauty of friendship and this world teeming with life ...

"I hope so." 
I replied.

Or conclusively, peel an orange. Do it lovingly - in perfect quarters like little boats, or in staggered exfoliations like a flat map of the round world, or in one long spiral as my grandfather used to do.

Nothing is more likely to become garbage than orange rinds, but as long as anyone looks at it in delight, it stands a million triumphant miles from the trash heap. 

That, you know, is why the world exists at all. It remains outside the cosmic garbage of nothingness, not because it is such a solemn necessity that nobody can get rid of it, but because it is the orange peel hung on God's chandelier. 

Robert Capon 
The Supper of the Lamb

Saturday, March 10, 2012

out of the mouths of babes

This semester I took on a new job, a job I was hesitant to accept - nervous to begin. I agreed to serve as a companion for two young girls with autism. Although the high hourly rate may have been one of the first things to catch my attention, I also knew that this kind of work would teach me much and probably serve as good experience for an aspiring social worker. Beyond that, I wanted to learn, to expand my knowledge of disabilities and how they affect people. I wanted to practice loving people very different from me in some ways. (and in other ways, just the same as me.) 

So last Saturday morning I found myself driving to work in the rain. I did not feel like working, it was Saturday after all - normally I spend Saturdays in the library. I did not feel prepared for the mental and emotional toll of working with the girls. As I opened the door I was told that J had gotten sick and only L and I would be spending time together that morning. The three hours ahead of us seemed like an eternity until their mom informed me that she wanted me to take L to the library. With an uneven mix of anxiety and gratitude, I accepted the challenge. Prior to that morning the only time I had gone out with L in "public" was to stroll to the beach and dig in the sand. Thinking of going somewhere like the library with her stressed me out - I worried about how L would act, I worried about being able to make decisions, and shamefully, I worried about how others would react to us. Nonetheless, we drove to the library. 

A space opened up directly in front of the library and I was glad that we would not have to walk far at all across one way streets in the rain. As we approached the door to the children's room I quickly noticed signs advertising a special event celebrating Dr. Seuss for that very Saturday. My heart sank, I had no idea how L would respond to a crowd full of people, as loud noises and chaotic spaces can stress her out. Walking into the main section of the library however, it was apparent that for the time being the celebration was taking place in another room. Filled again with gratitude, L and I sat down at a table to color. (one of her favorite activities.) 

We colored for a short time and then a little girl and her father wandered over to join us. Again, my heart turned in my chest. My mind anticipated questions that I would not know how to answer. What if she asks why L does not speak? Or what if she asks why she is not coloring inside the lines? Or why her hand occasionally shakes? How do I explain a condition that I really know little about, let alone how to articulate it in language that a child would understand?

Just as quickly, my fears disappeared. "What's your name?" asked the little girl in the blue hello kitty shirt. I told her our names and from there the conversation soared, "What's your favorite color, L? I like purple and white. Do you like blue, L? What about red? My dad likes grey..." On and on she chatted with us and not once did she ask why I responded for L, or why L did not make eye contact or seem engaged. She did not question anything. When L grew tired of coloring we got up to walk around the library and not soon after we left we heard a little voice behind us, "L! You forgot your picture!" The blue-shirted girl held out the picture with great concern, not wanting L to leave without it. Later, she ran around to find us again saying, "WAIT! I have to show L my picture!"

This interaction with the little blue shirted girl fills me with such hope. She did not see L as someone to be treated differently, instead she saw her as someone valuable with thoughts, ideas, and favorites. She did not approach the conversation hesitantly or with uncertainty, she approached L as a human being - as a friend. This whole experience has had my mind reeling - I am thinking about humanity and beauty, value and worth. 

It occurred to me that so often we attach value to people based on how well they speak, or what they accomplish... we define ourselves by our actions, or how well we dress, what grades we get, or how many places we have traveled to.

But we are not our actions, our words, or our attitudes. We are not the clothes we wear or the thoughts we think. We are not our to-do lists or our hobbies. 

We are not valuable because of the labels people tack onto us. 

(and we tack onto ourselves.) 


We are valuable because we are made in the image of God, fearfully and wonderfully - and the very fact that our heart is still beating, means that God is preserving our bodies another day and that is worth celebrating. Celebrating with gusto. Fully and lavishly. We are valuable because we are alive.

These are words I do not claim to understand completely, but I am trying to let them turn over in my mind until they are engraved upon my soul, written on my hands, seasoned in every conversation. I want to learn to see people, all people, as treasures. I want to enter conversations knowing that people are fragile and delicate and full of beauty untold - that they have favorites, (favorite colors, favorite foods, favorite moments...) they have ideas and thoughts that could change the world if I let them. I want to live a life that welcomes other people to be who they are created to be  - and not who I want them to be or think they ought to be. 

So little blue shirted girl, thank you. Thank you for re-teaching me a lesson I needed to hear. Thank you for filling me with hope, and for helping in the transformational process of my heart from stone to flesh. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

the invitation

This week I remembered the following poem as I have been re-reading Henri Nouwen's book Reaching Out and thinking a lot about solitude and loneliness. The last line is the one that originally drifted into my mind again, but the whole poem never ceases to inspire me. It was written after Oriah attended a party and found herself answering all of the "usual questions" all night long - where did you go to school? what did you study? where do you live? etc. The whole situation felt empty, as though she were just going through the motions of relationships. Wanting anything but that, she sat down and penned this poem in attempts to articulate her thoughts and emotions.

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain! 

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it's not pretty, every day,and if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.