Saturday, August 9, 2014

Volume X, issue vii. July 2014 (Strangers in a Strange Land)

The collective prayers that rose up to the heavens to get this boy into the outstretched arms of his parents are only matched by the amount he is now loved by those same petitioners. Our house is the headquarters of the Matthew Fan Club and we are devotees nine times over.

When Matthew came for a visit in July, you’d have thought we were expecting royalty with the way we planned and scrubbed. Madame Secretaire (aka Eve) carefully created a list of about twenty activities that we hoped would be Matthew-approved and with old toothbrushes in hand, the kids labored over our baseboards til they shone “like the top of the Chrysler Building!” 

When our red-headed cousinly cherub appeared, however, the rest of us melted into pleasant invisibility and only Marie seemed to exist. After his first evening surrounded by nine ardent admirers, he said, “I want to see that brown-eyed girl again.” Knowing the rest of his were at the bottom of the familial totem-pole, we just happily orbited around the two playmates, enjoying their grins of utter at-home contentment.

Our sweet M&M duo were even able to have their first sleepover when Matthew’s parents whisked themselves off to Jackson to celebrate their 10th anniversary. We had planned on having Matthew sleep in Caleb and Peter’s room, which had been freshly de-junked and organized, and while Matthew didn’t complain about his roommates, his sad baby blues made it clear that he didn’t really love the set-up. When I asked him if he’d prefer to stay in Marie’s room, his face brightened with such freckled glee that I couldn’t stop myself from granting him a transfer to the other side of the basement.

 Unfortunately, this cousin-related bliss couldn’t last forever and there were some inevitable good-byes that had to be endured.

After we said goodbye to Matthew and his parents, my normally independent Marie lingered by my side a little longer than usual and said quietly, “Mom. . . my heart feels funny.” 

Assuming that she was talking about her elevated heartrate caused by gobs of recently inhaled ice-cream, I casually told her that she probably just needed to relax a little and she’d be fine.

A full fifteen minutes later, she found me again and softly touched my arm. Her big eyes searched mine and she struggled to speak. She finally said, “Mom. . . I think I know why my heart feels funny.” She had clearly spent the last few minutes involved in some concentrated introspection.

Why, Marie?

Because,” and she paused to catch her breath. “It’s because I. . . miss Matthew.

The mere pronunciation of those last two syllables caused huge tears to start flowing down her cheeks. It didn’t take long for my tears to join hers as I tried to explain to her that missing someone means that you love them so, so much and that it’s okay to feel sad when you say goodbye. I’d never seen a six-year-old with a broken heart, but my girl’s lips were shaking as she tried to translate her grown-up sorrow into a child’s words. 

“I’ve just. . . just never. . . felt this way before,” she whispered to me as I clumsily gathered up pieces of my composure so that I could offer up some maternal comfort.

Moses lamented that we are “strangers in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22).  I have a sneaking suspicion that he wasn’t simply feeling the strain of culture shock as much as he was aching for home and for comfort and for the loving and endless embrace of godly love.

And that’s what my tear-stained Marie was trying to say as well. We don’t belong in this land of goodbyes and temporary emotional medicine.

We belong in a land of unity and togetherness and healing and eternal home.

These goodbyes are foreign to us because they don’t belong to the most essential parts of who we were designed to be. Marie’s whole being was rising up inside of her tiny body in closed-fisted resistance to the idea of goodbyes because it recognizes that goodbyes aren’t what her existence is for. She was made to create, not to destroy. She was made to heal, not to hurt. She was made to bond, not to divide.

Marie reminded me in that aching moment that I need to recognize this “strangeness” in my temporary earthly habitat instead of grappling to normalize it. She reminded me that I’m not supposed to be “at home” here. The tapestry of neuroses on which my personality teeters is meant to nudge me closer to God, so maybe I should stop trying to get comfortable and should just get moving.

So many of my moments are spent nursing my needs that sometimes I forget that maybe it’s actually neediness that’s next to godliness. How can I seek for God if I’m constantly trying to replace Him? How can I hear his voice if my days are ruled by the voices trying to quell my hunger? In our age of constant entertainment, boredom becomes an easy enemy, conquered by easily accessible, weak-willed fillers. But maybe boredom isn’t an enemy as much as it is an invitation to feel strange in this strange land.  If I get overly integrated, if I start to feel like I belong to this world of goodbyes, I might miss out on the wide-stretched true love that caused Marie’s funny-feeling heart and her tears.

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