Tuesday, June 16, 2015

He is a gift.

I am getting married in 11 days. To say this still feels unexpected and surprising is an understatement. Sometimes I look at that tall, dark-headed man with the cheeks I like touch and the hands I like to hold, and I wonder where he came from and when. Sometimes I look into his kind hazel eyes and wonder how he sees me as he says. How does this man I adore not see or mind my long list of flaws? Or how does he embrace the me-ness of me and dare to love me anyway?

It is a great mystery.

Sometimes I think about those sixty years we've promised one another, and I sober. I remember our life is fragile and fleeting and know the likelihood one of us will leave earth before the other is great. It is a big undertaking to think you vow how you'll live with and love another. Knowing that one of us will likely die without the other feels ginormous.

I sit there looking at him, thinking that at that point I hope he will know how much he is loved. I hope he will have felt and seen care, respect, encouragement, and big love. I hope I will have helped him see more fully the greatness of God.

God has given me such a gift in this unexpected beautiful and terrifying life-sharing. It would certainly be easier (in some ways) to walk away to avoid any hurts we may cause one another, avoid growing stronger and closer together because this increases vulnerability and the potential for heartache. But knowing the love I've experienced, I cannot imagine just walking away. I cannot imagine talking to God again if I were to turn away from this gracious gift I do not understand.

So, in 11 days, when you see me walk to the front of the Chapel I have loved since first visiting this town, which seems like a happy middle ground for our lives, and I see so many faces staring at me...when I see his face and walk toward him, know that I have considered the great responsibility and privilege I'm walking toward. Know that he is absolutely a gift, a mysterious gift.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

When not seeing all the things means seeing the important things

When I travel, I like to see the places others have popularized, maybe take in a museum, or go on a tour. But what I really like to do when travelling, particularly if on my own, is just take in the surrounds and life. What makes a place is its people.

While in Luxembourg, I spent most of the time doing very normal things. I slept in a bit (okay, so jet lag also hit me days after arriving in Europe, their sun stays up until nearly 11 pm, and I've been up way too late and very tired), showered and went down to breakfast, went back to my room and did a little work, took a nap, then walked out to go ride a bus around town. I got off of the bus, had a look around Notre Dame (of Luxembourg, not Paris), decided to walk back. I stop where I want to stop, stroll outside of the main thoroughfare, and basically meander the streets. It was lovely, and the weather was perfect. I did more work in the evening, went to a local eatery, lingered over dinner and my computer. It was pretty great. It's not exactly the thrill of SEEING ALL THE THINGS, but it's one of my favorite reasons to travel--to participate in another world and see how others live.

How many people? Are they out during the day or at all? Do they walk or bike or skateboard or take public transportation? Do they talk on the phone in public or stare into screens when at restaurants with their family and friends? Are they hurried or pokey? Do they use cash or credit? Do they dress up or wear workout gear around town? Do they dress in neutrals, dark colors, bright colors, patterns? What kind of expressions do they wear on their faces? Does it look like they are native or other tourists? When walking with others, do they link arms, hold hands, hug, etc? Do they walk dogs, and if so, what are the breeds and sizes? Do they smoke? Do they toss the butts down or litter? When they take their meals, do they take beverages? Soda or water or beer? How pleasant are they when talking to others? Do they carry purses, messenger bags, grocery bags? Which languages do they speak in or do they talk to those around them at all? Do they walk about mostly alone or with others? Do they chew gum or listen to earbuds when walking around or sitting on a bus? Where are their police and stations located? What kind of alarm do they have on ambulances? How do they wear their hair? What is in their newspaper? What are ads on the street and commercials on TV? Where are their homeless and what is the general sentiment to them? Where are their churches and post offices? What does the market look like or the library? Are the residences near businesses and are the buildings cared for? Are the lawns  maintained...are there lawns? Are bushes and grass in a pattern and trimmed? How are service people treated? Are there gardens in residential areas or large farms? Do the cows and horses look content? Has there been a drought, flood, or a catastrophe? What do strollers look like and how are the children behaving? Do they seem to prefer natural or artificial light?

These are all important questions. They tell you much more about the people who live in a place and about their culture than simply going to the top ten sights for your destination. So, sometimes when I travel and people ask what I saw, it's hard to put into word. How do you say you saw life, how another culture lives, and express your gratefulness for the experience of another part of the world? A part of the world that will only be as it was in the one time you were there, and next time might strike similarities but never sameness. Interacting with the present becomes your memory, but it will not be the same the next time you visit or when someone you know stands in the same place with different people in a different time. Memories etch, but often context is needed. How can I tell you how blue the sky was or describe that temperature and gentle breeze or the way the sun shone into the upper deck of the bus that made drinking it in so pleasant? How can I tell you the way someone smiled at me or describe the pride I felt as I figured out my way around a city that doesn't speak my language? How can I tell you of the simple delights as I watched someone reading a book in the cafe or the child surprised at his own hiccups or someone sitting on her back porch with her cat just enjoying the sun and watching cars go by?

It doesn't show in pictures and words do not do it justice. But this is why I go and see people and places for myself. The experience.

This is one of my favorite pictures from my strolls around town. I loved their train station. I have at least 10 pictures of it. This was across from my hotel too, where I arrived, and where buses depart so I spent a lot of time people-watching, though I actually caught this picture after cars had passed by and no buses were driving around. The picture was taken around 11:15 pm.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The right people.

For so many years, I dreamed of a man who would be my husband. Like most people, I hoped for a spouse who is nice, funny, smart, and attractive. Like others, I had many ideas of the "would be nice" characteristics. He'd be musical and play an instrument or sing; he'd enjoy traveling and adventures; he'd love to read and learn; he would be manly and handy and have great relationships with his parents, sibling(s), grandparents. Like most Christians, I hoped for someone who attends church, shares values and beliefs, loves and serves others, all stemming from time spent thinking deeply about the world and a Creator. To him, Christianity would not have been a naively accepted idea or religion practiced because of family tradition.

Now looking at the person I get to marry in 26 days (TWENTY-SIX DAYS!), it amazes me how God provides. All of the must haves he has. All of the "would be nice"s too. He even has many characteristics I didn't even know or hope to dream for that are just well-suited for me. Oh, ye of little faith.

As I got older and dating would more likely lead to a relationship and eventually marriage, I had one other issue I knew I would hesitate to bring up. My story. (If you have not read it before, it's in 10 parts. I know it's long, but please do read the whole series. It is important to me that people read beyond post 1 because God has done so much here.)

I had such hard experiences when I revealed my story the first six or seven times that I clammed up. After about seven years after the incidents, finally sharing caused me a great deal of courage. Vulnerability always does. Then the shame I had felt alone was echoed by my confidants, those closest to me. I don't know if you've ever experienced a dagger to the heart quite like that, but mine forced me into silence once again for another six years. This is a loneliness I wish no one knew.

Eventually I began telling others again. I had grown a lot. God had been healing me. This experience was not fully cathartic but was so much better. Slowly as I learned to trust others again, I softened. I sought to control people less, I was less judgmental and harsh. I didn't have to keep the wall up. God had been and would be my constant companion, and He had helped me learn to discern who I told, who I trusted with my story, who I became vulnerable with.

I remember one evening talking with a friend who had been through a similar experience and was married, I asked at what point one should tell someone she's dating. If the couple was friends before dating, does it come up when they talk about dating, while dating, while engaged? If Christians don't have sex until marriage or talk about sex until nearing marriage, when is appropriate to discuss abuse? When is appropriate to bring up the issues abuse provoked? When is the right time to mention that you may have lingering effects and flashbacks and you aren't sure how it will affect your relationship or marriage? Can you bring them up before engagement or marriage, especially to know whether he'll run or shame you? My friend told me it shouldn't be in early dating but otherwise I'd know.

About eight years later, it turned out the right time for me to tell my boyfriend was while on a long car ride across Nebraska. I almost brought it up before, but it was never the right time. This had to be the right time. I had not allowed myself to entertain the big L-word or think much of the future until we had this conversation. (I'm sure subconsciously I already knew and entertained plenty.) Do you know what happens when you tell the right people about something that damaged your heart and mind?

They pull the car over into a vacant lot. With tears in their eyes, they listen as long as you want to talk. They don't probe for information or interrupt. They grab your hand, give hugs, and cry for young-you. They tell you they hate what happened and even more to someone they deeply care about. They promise they will never harm you, never make you feel like what happened was your fault, never make you feel ashamed, always listen when you need to talk about it or just want a hug or to sit in silence. The right people make you feel safe; they care for your heart. The right people allow you to be vulnerable. They are one reason you can trust people again or walk confidently into who you are and might be without constantly identifying as who you were or what happened to you. The right people are sent to help redeem and restore.

With every remembrance, every thought of him (and some others of you who have been my right people), I thank God for His very good gifts and ways of healing bruised hearts. Though you didn't know it, you've allowed me to trust and love and to rely less on myself. You've stilled my fears. You've rekindled my hope. You are such a gift.