Practice makes natural

A quote from Henri Nouwen popped up on my Twitter timeline a few weeks ago:

As disciples of Jesus, we are sent to where there is poverty, loneliness, suffering of any kind.

We are given the courage to be with suffering people. We can trust by entering into places of pain, we will find the joy of Jesus.

A new world grows out of compassion.

He’s right—in my experience, Nouwen usually is. But here’s a thing we need to remember: being with suffering people, entering into places of pain takes practice. Practical practice, not role-playing. Getting knee-deep in the muck, not standing near it.

Here’s another thing we need to remember: it won’t get easier with practice. But because we are humans, and because God made us to be together, it will feel more natural.

Like a new, challenging exercise. Or parenting.

Eventually you stop feeling like you’re walking around with your legs on backwards.

She lets silence bloom

No one would describe her as chatty. Fun? Yes. Friendly? Absolutely. But she’s not one with the need to fill open spaces with her words—although it probably would be welcomed because her central North Carolina accent is as charming as all get out.

When a person’s rambling comes to a stop, she takes the moment most would use to get a word in to just…pause. She usually smiles. A nod—she’s just making sure you’re finished. That moment can build you up or completely undo you. Maybe both.

Sometimes you’re not finished and keep going. Sometimes you are, and after that pause you get a gentle but eye-opening wallop of truth. It’s not unlike what I imagine being smacked in the face with a big magnolia blossom would feel like.

I wonder if she knows how much power she carries—and wields—in that pause. All because she makes the decision not to talk.

Unorthodox McDonald’s

The way my next door neighbors ordered McDonald’s fascinated me as a kid. In my family everyone told my mom or dad what they wanted and then the order would be placed. One meal per person—no more, no less.

Their family did it differently. Their mom or dad would go to McDonald’s and just order a bunch of stuff: a few burgers, a few boxes of chicken nuggets, several containers of fries, a couple milkshakes. And then they just put it all on the table, and everyone would graze. Maybe you’d have a few nuggets and then split a burger with someone. Milkshakes would be split into faded Tupperware cups.

It felt wildly, wonderfully unorthodox to me. The handful of times I was invited to join them, I would stare—wide-eyed and amused—as I timidly helped myself to the piles of food in front of me.

At my house you were handed what you specifically asked for and then you ate it. I imagine my parents did this to avoid fights, which worked. Come to think of it, other than the haphazard McDonald’s ordering, the other thing I remember most about our neighbors’ house was how much screaming went on over there.

But it might’ve been fun to order their way one time.

Opening, cleansing

It was like a rubber plug was ripped from a drain and water gleefully glugged through this sudden and new opening.

Accept the water was tears and they were glugging all over my face.

I’ve cried a lot of tears in my day, but these felt different. Simple. Clean.

Not unlike the tears I cried when my mom called me to say our dog, Buddy, had been hit by a car and died. I was 22. We’d gotten Buddy when I was 12. He was a good dog, and I was sad.

Only sad.

Not mad-sad. Not disappointed-sad. Not hurt-sad. Plain, old sad.

The tears I cried in this moment felt like those tears. Free from layered emotion, they just flowed. I didn’t feel the need to stifle them or justify them or replace them with another response.

I was sad. And I cried. I wept—but not bitterly. No wrong had been done. No guilt exposed.

Tears of spring water, not vinegar. Cleansing, not burning.

Just sadness and the response to sadness that God gives us.

Maybe not holy tears, but something close.

Quote harvesting: A Grief Observed

I’m in the early days of a new writing project which, for me means reading what lots of other people have already written about the thing I want to write about and then filling many pages with quotes.

(I call it my “quote harvesting” phase, hence the title of this post.)

I read C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed a few weeks ago and spent some unexpected free time on Friday transcribing the passages I highlighted during my first pass through the book.

Here are some that just wrecked me—with a little commentary, if I may.

“I keep on swallowing.” (I love that he found this notable.)

“I almost prefer the moments of agony. These are at least clean and honest. But the bath of self-pity, the wallow, the loathsome sticky-sweet pleasure of indulging it—that disgusts me. And even while I”m doing it I know it leads me to misrepresent H. herself. Give that mood its head and in a few minutes I shall substituted for the real woman a mere doll to be blubbered over. Thank God the memory of  her is still too strong (will it always be too strong?) to let me get away with it.” (The “clean and honest” part cut deep. Feelings—even if they are painful—that can be categorized easily are so much more bearable, in my opinion. Once emotions are layered they are suffocating.)

“It’s hard to have patience with people who say, ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn’t matter. I look up at the night sky. Is anything more certain than that in all those vast times and spaces, if I were allowed to search them, I should nowhere find her face, her voice, her touch? She died. She is dead. Is the word so difficult to learn?” (JUST SAY THE WORD, EVERYONE.)

“One flesh. Or, if you prefer, one ship. The starboard engine has gone. I, the port engine, must chug along somehow till we make harbor. Or rather, till the journey ends. How can I assume a harbour? A lee shore, more likely, a black night, a deafening gale, breakers ahead—and any lights shown from the land probably being waved by wreckers. Such was H.’s landfall. Such was my mother’s. I say their landfalls; not their arrivals.” (I had to look up what “lee shore” meant, and it took me a long time to understand—I don’t have much nautical context from which to pull. Once I got it, wow. I’ll leave you to look it up yourself so you can experience that wallop yourself.)