Lost at Home (a Short Story)

She paused on the Pont des Invalides and he moved to rest his hand upon her lower back only to pause right before he touched her, momentarily frozen. The moonlight danced softly on the gold of his wedding band. Glancing at her silhouette, he slowly withdrew his hand as he said, “It’s not… nothing.” She kept her back to him, looking down into the dark water beneath them, observing its movements. The air vibrated between them and they moved cautiously, careful not to touch the other or make eye contact. An ache arose in his chest that nudged him forward. He repeated it again with a greater firmness in his voice, communicating confidence where he felt desperation. “It’s not nothing.”

She took a step backwards, angling her body partially towards him as she raised her hand, almost as if in defense. “I don’t know what you’re taking about,” she sighed. He felt his eyes fill with tears that would never fall and his hands formed into fists as he pushed his emotions deep into the pit of his stomach so that when he spoke his voice was cold, monotone. “That’s a lie. Otherwise it wouldn’t matter. None of this would matter. It matters because it’s something.”

“No… a bunch of little nothings still add up to nothing,” she stated hollowly, resignation dripping from her voice as her eyes finally met his. Tears pooled against her mascara laden eyelashes but they weren’t going to fall either. Her voice felt like a cold steel that cut through his heart. The air went out of his lungs and a shadow fell over his countenance.

And with those words he knew. Their walls were too high and their hearts too guarded for them to ever get close enough to share anything real again. What could have been something was nothing because that’s how they both had treated it. He closed his eyes and just for a second, he imagined what it would have been like if the walls were gone. Instead of her moving further from him, his arms would pull her close and he would feel her warmth as she leaned into him and laid her head against his chest. He could almost feel her hair brush against his cheek as he laid his head on hers and they shared the events of their days with each other… With a small sigh, he opened his eyes and she was gone, faded into the night fog as if she had been an apparition.

He felt alone, but no more alone then when she was standing there in front of him. He walked over to the edge of the bridge where she had stood moments before and stared down at the same spot she had gazed upon, but these were different waters, different shadows. He breathed in the night air and he closed his eyes. The cacophony of Parisian sounds had the same quality as the water that stirred below; although familiar, each moment that passed by swept away the molecules, the voices, the horns and bells, making each moment equal parts familiar and unfamiliar. He opened his eyes again. Perhaps, he thought, that is why one can feel completely lost upon returning home.

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He Gives Me His Best

In the story of the prodigal son, I’ve always only identified with the disobedient son who goes off and makes all the mistakes. Somehow, I forgot how the Father responds to this son. Upon the sons repentant return, his Father gives him his best. He throws him a party. And this reveals to the returned son not only the depth of his Fathers love, but also the humility it takes to receive such a love. This is, I believe, how God is responding to my return to him. I just couldn’t see it for a while. I’m still processing through all the amazing experiences God is teaching me through but I think I’ve figured this much out:

1. The more I trust God, the more stunning and joyful my life becomes. It doesn’t mean difficult things don’t happen, but the way I feel and respond to them does. And it’s kind of the best thing ever. Instead of woe is me, I ask myself how is God using this for good?

2. God has crazier, better things in mind for me than I could ever come up with on my own. When I took this new job, so much of my vision was full of the sacrifice I was making versus the opportunities God was creating. I thought I’d lose adventure and travel. Yet somehow I’ve got the most amazing job ever which I look forward to everyday and I’ve had more new experiences in these past 8 months than I usually have in years.

3. God is revealing how this season of singleness has been the best thing He could have done for me. I’ve had time to heal from the past and build better, healthier habits. I’ve learned to put God first rather than making my partner my idol. I’ve been placed amongst men who are protectors rather than predators. I’ve learned how to trust and what I find attractive has drastically changed. I have a blast with kids and have gotten to a place where I know I want a family someday but I can also appreciate what Gods doing here, now. I feel confident that the total transformation of my life these past couple years would not have been possible if I hadn’t had the freedom to fully run after where God was taking me.

4. God’s teaching me how to do relationships, and it’s not weird. Surrendering control and being truly vulnerable is one of the most powerful things I can do. The more I let go and have God lead rather than me, the more I discover about his heart for me. A family that welcomes me to their home and their table. An adventure in Old Jerusalem. Officiating a sunset marriage at an outdoor synagogue in Israel. The blessings of a tearful old woman. The amazing testimony of a Believer facing stage 4 cancer. The company of a friend who balances depth of conversation with silliness and hearty laughter. A roommate and friend who serves as a rock and comforter in difficult times. A closeness and affection with my family (and particularly my sister) that few people possess. And through all these relationships I learn not just what God wants for me, but from me: I continue to become a better friend, sister, daughter and (someday?) wife.

5. God wants my authenticity. He designed me with purpose and delights in who I am. I’ve spent much of my lifetime trying to be what others wanted me to be rather than who God designed me to be. That’s ridiculous. Putting others first doesn’t mean I compromise on who I am; it means I give them the best of myself. Learning the difference between this has been a powerful catalyst for building healthy relationships that leave me feeling known rather than isolated.

Reflections on “Love Does” by Bob Goff (Part One)

I’m With You

I used to want to fix people, but now I just want to be with them.

This chapter is about a super cool dude that was in Bob’s life named Randy. Although he had awesome things like a motorcycle, the most amazing aspect of his character was that he was committed to being part of Bob’s life. So when Bob decided he was going to travel across the country to pursue his dream, Randy picked up his things and went. It was only when they returned that Bob glanced around and saw partially opened wedding presents. Being freshly married didn’t stop Randy from being the person Bob needed. My favorite thing about this chapter was the response of Randy’s wife. It wasn’t anger or resentment; it was the response of a woman who had a heart for the same things her husband did, and embraced the cost that sometimes comes with it. Presence over preaching. People will eventually ask about your “why.” But they need to know who you are first.

Sniper Fire

I used to think I had to act a certain way to follow God, but now I know God doesn’t want us to be typical.

This chapter is about a guy he knew who had a sweet pellet gun, way cooler than Bob’s BB gun. One thing led to another, they began shooting at each other, and Bob got shot. It was awesome. “I liked how Doug did life. He was full of adventure and always had some wonderful mischief in mind… Doug began telling me the story of another man of adventure named Jesus, who lived a long time ago.” (12) This really spoke to me, because I sometimes feel pressure to conform to what “looks” Christian rather than the person God made me to be. Not the sinful parts of me, but the parts of me that God designed into me that don’t match the cookie cutter picture of Christ follower. “He spent time with the kinds of people most of us spend our lives avoiding. It didn’t seem to matter to Jesus who these people were because he was all about engagement. That’s one of the things I saw in Doug. I liked that Doug could be friends with Jesus and still shoot pellet guns.” (12) And this is who I have a heart for; the people the church sometimes talks about but rarely engages with in community. I need to be less worried about what Christians think of me and embrace who God made me to be.

Ryan in Love

I used to think being loved was the greatest thing to think about, but now I know love is never satisfied just thinking about it.

Young and in love. It’s a magical time full of whimsy, hope and believing that it will all work out. Why wouldn’t it? Ryan is a young man walking by Bob’s house who eventually introduced himself and proudly announced he was, indeed, in love; and he wanted to use Bob’s house to propose. Bob writes, “I was taken aback by this love-glazed kid who would approach a complete stranger and ask to use his house to stage a great caper. But that’s the way it is when you are in love, isn’t it? All he knew was that he wanted the girl and was going to do whatever it took to get her.” (18) His ask grew to include a dinner on their deck, catered by 20 of his closest friends, dancing afterwards and ultimately, a ride on Bob’s boat. Bob, swept up in the excitement of Ryan’s love, said yes to everything he asked for and planned a surprise of his own. It went beautifully, and of course the girl said yes. “Ryan’s love was audacious. It was whimsical. It was strategic. Most of all, it was contagious. Watching Ryan lose himself in love reminded me that being ‘engaged’ isn’t just an event that happens when a guy gets on one knee…Being engaged is a way of doing life, a way of living and loving.” (24) It is loving with abandon. It is fully participatory. It is a perfect example of true humility and hope. This kind of love brings us all joy and reminds us to worry less about ourselves and more about how we are loving others well. This is how I felt at Mario and Lauren’s wedding. I had the opportunity to be part of something beautiful, and everyone did something to help add to the occasion. In the end, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a more beautiful or perfect wedding than theirs and it gives me hope that someday my story might include that same kind of love and joy.

The Reach

I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.

Bob got a job and put in a lot of time to become a waiter at a super fancy restaurant where you had to wear a tux to be a server. On his very first night he described an event that had me laughing to the point of tears. In short, he was fired on the spot, not even earning enough money to pay for the tux he had put a down payment on. Failing can suck. It can be hard. But it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. “The thing I love about God is He intentionally guides us into failure. He made us be born as little kids who can’t walk or talk or even use the bathroom correctly. We have to be taught everything. All that learning takes time, and He made us so we are dependent on Him, our parents and each other.” (29) This is an expression of God’s love and patience. It is a reminder that, as much as we might like to, we can’t do it our own. And really, we don’t want to. We weren’t designed for that. “God finds us in our failures and our successes, and He says that while we used to think one way about things, now He wants us to think another way about those same things.” (30) Fortunately, I’ve failed a lot. So much. And so I’ve learned to see every failure as an opportunity to learn something new, to laugh, and to maybe not make the same mistakes again. I also know that oftentimes my failures are a result of me NOT relying on God and my community enough, that my failure is the result not of ability but of stubbornness.  #PlacesToGrow

Continue reading at Reflections on Love Does by Bob Goff Part 2

Israel, 4 am

The journey was over 24 hours to get here but I managed to steal a few hours of sleep from a couple flights. I was positive I would sleep soundly tonight, yet 4 hours later I’m wide awake and I don’t need to rise until seven. Perhaps some journaling and a sunrise with God is in order (and maybe some coffee too).

I heard children using “Abba” with their fathers today and it brought a whole new context to the word for me. This term, which Jesus used to refer to our Father, is similar to “Daddy.” But today I heard it used by small children, often accompanied by reaching arms and grasping hands. “Abba, Abba!!” they cry, unabashedly asking to be held, or comforted, or protected. Striking out fearlessly, one little one became startled and ran with arms open back to her Abba. It makes me reflect on Jesus’ choice of words and the posture of children with their Abba. Is that how I would describe my relationship with God?

Israel and Relationships

So we’ve got this group of singles, of which I am part, heading over to Israel for a couple weeks. There’s been a lot of excitement and anticipation around it, and for good reason. This is the longest and most consistently I’ve ever prayed for anything, and I’ve now had several people who have spoken over this trip that maybe “relationships” will come out of it. Please don’t misunderstand me in what I say (I would be so happy for whoever it is), but I worry that these words will seep into hearts and distract rather than encourage.

I know that we are going on an awesome adventure. We will walk where our God walked; we will pray where our God prayed. We will learn from a man whose walk in faith resembles that of Jesus’ far more than the modern Christian does. And herein lies my point: this is an once in a lifetime chance to know God in a unique and intimate way. If it is His will to bless people on this trip, by all means, may the Lord move hearts. But I pray that the idea of a potential relationship would not be so distracting that it comes at the cost of intimacy with God.

So my prayer is this: “Abba, should it be your will to bring new relationships to life in Israel, I pray that they would be relationships that honor you. I petition you, Lord, that the blossoming of that relationship would increase the intimacy they know with you, Adonai, and that it would serve as a testimony to you. I pray that you would guard hearts that need guarded, that you would bring them life and comfort in discovering your character. Above all, I pray that we would all love you, the Lord our God, with all our hearts, souls, minds and bodies; and that we would also remember to love each other. Your will, Elohim, and not ours be done. Amen.”

More Than “an Animal”

My boyfriend, now ex, broke up with me the day before I closed on my first house. This particular house was a steal because it was a foreclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a full basement and a 2 car garage which sat on a quarter acre lot. Located in a nice neighborhood with playgrounds, basketball courts, a Frisbee golf course and a dog park all within walking distance, I had thought it would be perfect for the two of us and his two children. We had been together for years, looked at houses together and then suddenly I was in this alone. In spite of all my doubt, I went ahead and closed on my house because of the sunk cost and the deal that I was getting. It didn’t make it any easier though; what had once looked like a home that would be filled with a family was now a big empty tomb where my hopes for our future together were laid to rest. Moving in was bittersweet; I was a homeowner with a place all my own but it seemed so EMPTY. It had been a while since I had a dog and I realized in this moment that finally my opportunity arrived. I saw a litter of puppies listed online through a rescue and figured I’d go get one the next day. A dog could be my companion and let me know if I had intruders. It was the answer my broken-heart needed. A puppy was a solution to all my problems (or so I thought).

When I arrived at the shelter the next day to see the litter, I was told all the yellow ones were claimed. I was also told that nobody had been interested in the brown one, and I remember thinking I understood how it felt. I asked to see it and I was soon holding a wiggly, affectionate pile of fur. I was sold, told them I would take him and not long thereafter I left with a puppy that stopped being an “it” and soon became my beloved Moose. This same puppy licked brown paint while it was wet and then licked my pale yellow walls, leaving tiny tongue marks all down the wall. He broke two cages and tried to dig his way through the bathroom to get to me when I would leave for work. He would also have accidents anytime I was out of his sight (out of panic and fear). This lead to me showering our first few months together with him stationed right next to the tub, his head occasionally appearing through the curtains to confirm I hadn’t somehow evaporated into thin air. He caught toads that made him sick over and over again and ate nine cups of food a day as he topped out at 120 pounds (well beyond the estimated 45-55 pounds I was told). At one point my vet advised me to consider getting rid of him due to his extreme behavioral issues but I couldn’t; how could I abandon this neurotic dog when he seemed just as broken as I felt?

And so I love him, deeply. He always sleeps with himself between me and the entrance and keeps himself between me and any new men we meet. He is fiercely protective of any children and always gentle. His greatest joy is being wherever I am, touching me, and it gives me joy too. He is the one I look forward to seeing at the end of the day. He quickly went from being a difficult puppy nobody wanted to my heart walking around on four paws. He has been my constant and steadfast companion, and I have been his. When he’s sick, I’m up with him. When he can’t get up the stairs, I sleep on the couch with my arm hanging off so we’re still touching. When he can’t get into bed and refuses to use the steps, I lift him up. In his old age we have arrived back at where we started in the very beginning. Some might see the amount of work and money I put into caring for an elderly dog and question it. Yet I know that there is no way I could repay him for the love, comfort, protection and healing he has brought to me over the years. I consider it a blessing to be able to care for him well in his old age.

We’re all Blind

“A Conversion,” by Martin Buber, was a difficult read. Within his writing, I struggle to discern exactly what his intention is with providing such a vague description of a moment in which he is having a rare experience with Mystery. He says at the start that “In the early years the ‘religious’ was for me the exception.” (Buber 84) However, what I believe we ultimately hear described is a conversion: Buber changes from one perspective to another. Where before Mystery was the exception, at the end of his work he says that, “I possess nothing but the everyday out of which I am never taken. The mystery is no longer disclosed, it has escaped or it has made its dwelling here where everything happens as it happens.” (Buber 84)

It is much easier to understand the difference between an “I-It” relationship (relating to another as an object, like viewing the world through the “arrogant eye” discussed previously) and an “I-Thou” relationship (relating to the other as a thou, like viewing the world through the “loving eye) when we examine it through the Raymond Carver’s “The Cathedral.” In the story, a man writes about his wife who has been friends with a blind man for around ten years. The man, this woman’s husband, doesn’t really want the blind man to come. To her husband, the blind man is summed up in his disability. At one point, while reflecting on the death of the blind man’s wife, he says, “And then to slip off into death, the blind man’s hand on her hand, his blind eyes streaming tears—I’m imagining now—her last thought maybe this: that he never even knew what she looked like, and she on an express to the grave.” (Carver 4) His understanding of the blind man is entirely constrained by the “It” of his blindness. He imagines how miserable the man’s wife must have been at not being seen by her husband, never considering all the ways we see each other without our eyes.

It isn’t until he sees the blind man as a thou that he begins to understand that this truly and fully a man, a person with depth and capacity similar to his own. After his wife fell asleep on the couch, they began watching a show together on cathedrals. At times where it wasn’t narrated, the man attempted to describe what he was seeing to the blind man. He says, “Something has occurred to me. Do you have any idea what a cathedral is? What they look like, that is? Do you follow me? If somebody says cathedral to you, do you have any notion what they’re talking about? Do you the difference between that and a Baptist church, say?” (Carver 10) The blind man answers in contexts that likely did not occur to the man: he speaks of the number of workers it took, the amount of years, the generations of investment. He shared that he understood that men would start a project knowing that they wouldn’t see it completed. Eventually, the blind man asks the man to draw a cathedral for him, and places his hand on the mans so that he might “see” what the man is drawing though the movements. This is really the point where the man truly begins to see the blind man as a thou. He put all his energy into trying to describe through these movements what a cathedral was.

At the very end, the blind man asked the man who was drawing to close his eyes, but to keep drawing. Finally, at the end, the blind man asks him to look at his drawing and tell him what he thinks. The man, now, is not quite ready to open his eyes. I think this is an expression of solidarity with the blind man, of really seeing the man in his wholeness. We witness the woman’s husband shift from viewing the blind man as an “it” to a “thou,” and the weird and beautiful things that can come out of that transition.

 

Works Cited

Buber, Martin. “A Conversion.” Meetings. London: Routledge, 2002. Excerpt.

Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” Carver, Raymond. Collected Stories. New York: Library of America, 2009. Short Story.