Home-makers

One of the unfortunate realities of life is that the best time to really think about something is often when you no longer have access to it, the oddly formed hole it leaves behind an easier way to understand its shape.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship recently.

I wasn’t so naïve as to imagine that I would arrive in Los Angeles, step out of my car and magically be surrounded by a glorious cabal of soul-mates. (Well, ok, wasn’t so naïve as to seriously believe that would happen.) But I think I’ve been a little bit surprised at how intimidated I am by the whole process of making new friends, of weaving together the fabrics of our existence in profoundly life-giving ways.

Now, this isn’t to say I don’t have friends here. I do. And I am sure, over time, they will become good friends, and best friends, and lifelong friends. But it takes a while to be truly known, and in the interim I’ve become weary. I find I forget who I am. Not in some amnesiac-crisis kind of way, but in the quiet moments of fury when I screw up an important task or fail, again, to really devote time to nurturing my relationship with God or simply lay on my couch and mentally admire how well I wear labels such as failure or hypocrite or whatever.

Those struggles aren’t novel by any means – in fact they’ve been faithful companions throughout most of my “adult” life – but as I’ve most recently encountered them again on my high-wire of existence it has distinctly felt as if there were no net beneath me. It’s just me, the monsters, and the empty, beckoning air.

It’s been in those moments that I have started to understand what the presence of intimate friendship had meant to me, and I’m increasingly convinced that one of the greatest blessings of friendship is that it reminds me who I am. And I need to be reminded.

After having only lived in Los Angeles for two weeks, there was a night when all I wanted was a hug. And yet, as time wore on, I realized that it wasn’t the hug that I wanted so much as the reminder that I was enmeshed in community, that I was known and still worthy of love; just any old hug wouldn’t be able to communicate that.

When I lived with my two closest friends, every interaction was based upon a deep understanding of each other, an enduring web of shared experiences. They had seen me in almost every conceivable light, so when they talked to me, joked with me, played with me, prayed with me, they did so while knowing me better than anyone.

It’s one thing to be known generally, but it’s another thing to have yourself made known in every hug, every word of advice, every conversation about global politics or God or vegetarian Dementors, every disagreement, every affirmation of love and support. And so, in a way, I continued to be reminded of who I was because of how they simply were with me. As someone who is prone to fits of doubt or low self-esteem, it is these small reminders that make all the difference.

I don’t think I really appreciated how much these friends had become home for me.

@$^%$ ninjas and their onions.

@$^% ninjas hiding onions around my house.

It takes a while for someone’s words/eyes/arms to become filled with those kinds of memories, and I honestly don’t know how long it will be until my friendships here in this utterly bizarre land of Los Angeles take root.

But I must admit, re-experiencing what it means to be a “stranger” has allowed me to witness embarrassingly profound displays of hospitality from innumerable people. It has made me hopeful. Not just hopeful for myself – that one day I’ll find that fabled soul-mate cabal – but hopeful for churches and the life-giving communities they are supposed to be.

So even as I mourn the absence of those few who make me feel the most like myself, I will happily repeat the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, that

“Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”

And sometimes I think that, maybe, this creeping growth of friendship is really just learning to see the way each person uniquely embodies that welcoming presence. And then sometimes I think that such a thought is unforgivably saccharine and my life is probably forfeit, but I still kind of hope it will be proven true.*

I’ll let you guys know when I find out.

Peace.

_________________

*And then I think about how badly I wish I could control the elements with my mind because honestly three consecutive thoughts without a wild flight of imagination is beyond me.

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Just Three Months…

One of the nifty things about being me is that I don’t wait until sad things happen to feel sad about them. Not wanting to waste a moment in which I could be sorry for myself, I start the mourning process as early as possible. This is why, two days ago, I could barely handle the fact that three months from now I would be back in the States.

See, the day was just too good, too much fun, too full of that thrilling peace of being included. And, of course, when things are so fantastic I am obliged to reflect on the fact that they will come to an end.

And they will, at 8:30 AM on Monday, April 1, 2013.

Maybe it’s just because I’m craving stability and the freedom to really put down roots, but the act of leaving is starting to wear me down. And I’m only twenty-two. Kyrie Eleison. Seriously.

I imagine my life here in Guatemala will follow a similar path as my time in South Africa: I’ll be surrounded by a community of kind, inclusive men and women who fill me with warmth and a sense of belonging, I’ll develop a comfortable fondness for the country and realize that I would enjoy living here, I’ll begin to open up and experience the life-giving rush of new friendships, and I’ll slowly become a part of the furniture – an assumed part of the daily routine. And then I’ll have to find a way to live without any of it, and I probably won’t be totally successful.

There is, of course, a way around much of the pain; disengage, pull-back, reserve a little bit of myself, dissuade my obscenely affectionate heart from its usual exuberance. I could turn down invitations to impromptu worship and prayer sessions, go to bed early and neglect late night conversations with the kids in their rooms, care less about others, reveal less about myself, and generally convince myself that “it” simply isn’t worth the trouble.

But then what would be the point of even coming here? So, really, there’s no way to avoid it: I’m going to dig deep for as long as I’m in this beautiful country, press hard into this place even though I know I’ll lose a bit of myself when I peel off and board that airplane.

I’ve found in my limited experience that there is a blessed encouragement in the fact that it hurts so terribly to leave: it means that I managed to encounter a vibrant community into which I was welcomed. It means that, for all my fears of rejection and loneliness, I have never once left a place in which I felt unknown and unloved. It means that, when I head off to Pasadena, CA for seminary, I can happily expect to discover a community that makes my heart turn to ash at the thought of being without it.

And, I think, that’s a really good thing. (Or it’s psychotic masochism – I’m often confused.)

So even though it’s inevitable that I’ll be sitting in another spontaneous worship session or running around worthlessly in another game of soccer and sense that all-too-familiar twinge of panic, I hope it will only inspire me to sing loudly and play passionately, for my time here is too short and too precious to waste on fearful apathy, and the greatest tragedy would be to leave here and feel nothing at all.

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