Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Forward From Today

"Rise to her knees in the morning again
Giving herself to the sky
Searching for answers to all her regrets
Wondering, should she even try
But the hope it shines like pearls in her eyes
She asks are you giving up on me
Not today, not today"

 - Not Today, by Andra Day 

This past May, one of my closest friends nearly died. I've known Lindsey for over 12 years now. She's seen me through the whole process of going to the mission field: learning a second language, raising support, moving to Ecuador and starting a life here. I've seen her through engagement, marriage, building a home, and becoming a mother to three children.

After a rare and serious complication following the birth of her son, Lindsey went into a coma and was unable to breathe on her own. From over 2,000 miles away, I wept when her Mom posted a photo on Facebook of Lindsey, unconscious beneath a network of tubes. My friend Rachel, who has seen me cry countless times, told me over and over, "She's going to be okay," not as a platitude, but because she believed it. She was right.

Though Lindsey has fully recovered, able to breathe on her own at last and slowly waking and regaining the ability to speak and walk, it still makes me catch my breath, thinking of loosing her. It's the same with thinking about my brother HJ who was born blue, or who had a sudden febrile seizure when he was three. Or when my sister was caught on a boogie board in a series of waves which slammed her against the ocean floor, nearly drowning her if she hadn't been able to gasp for breath and call for help. Or about the Casa Adalia girl, Ana, who attempted suicide. Even, sometimes, about the car accidents siblings and friends have been in which could have ended in death. My heart stops, then races, full of thankfulness that they are alive, along with a shot of fear-based adrenaline at the thought of them being no more.

I don't want to live in fear. That is one of my biggest mantras. Be brave. Be strong and courageous. But feel the rest as well; the grief and sadness, even the fear, as long as it doesn't paralyze but spurs onward towards thankfulness. Not that I can help feeling these things. I'm wired to cry when I see someone cry, to cry at a kind gesture or compliment, to cry at a moving story, to cry for no other reason than that I feel the ache and beauty of the world mixed up in a way which doesn't make sense. Some people understand, some people assume something is wrong, yet always I find it's easier to apologize than fully explain.

In thinking about Lindsey, I picture it in two halves: the grief and fear of losing her, of seeing her in the hospital and not knowing if she'd speak or walk or live, and the flood of thankfulness and joy that she recovered and is fine. The truth is, the second can't come without the first. For that reason, I don't want to forget. I'll take the painful pause of remembering, simply because it accompanies the rush of relief. I hope too, to be reminded of thankfulness for everyone in my life, whether or not I know of any near-death experience they may have encountered. I think that in this life we don't know of all the times we may have been spared, just as we don't know why others were not. Had Lindsey died last May, a lifetime of people would have begged, "Why?" in confusion and grief. Yet when someone lives, no one asks why. We are merely grateful; normally, no answers needed. May we then be thankful without near-death experiences, and within the most painful ones. May we be brave, strong, and courageous, knowing what there is to loose and stepping forward anyway. May we learn from fear and not be shaped by it. May we be okay to cry when needed. May we remember well, hold onto joy, and live with hope.

Monday, October 17, 2016

To Deserve A Name

"The house of my soul is far too small, still I will sing
I hear You softly speaking secrets that enclose
Words that softly linger with sweet repose"
 - Enclosed By You, by Josh White

During the week this summer when I was volunteering in a very poor part of Quito along with the team from Holland, I saw a mural which has stuck with me. It was painted on a cement wall along one of the dusty roads, and showed stick-figure children, smiling and playing. In large Spanish words, the mural proclaimed, "Children deserve - " and then went on to list things such as "education", "love", "hope", and "respect", all painted in individual little bubbles floating around the wall. The one which struck with me was this: "a name". The mural was reminding people that all children deserve a name.

I've been to more baby showers that I can count. I've known numerous friends and co-workers who became pregnant, excitedly announced the news, and were then asked the same things over and over and over again: "Boy or girl?", "Due date?", and of course, "Name?"
Many people decide to keep the name a secret, announcing it only at birth. It is special, important, and personal. A child's name is a large part of their identity. It is cultural, familial, meaningful in different ways.

Seeing the mural made me think once again of the things which, growing up in the US, I take for granted. Here, some people have enough "unwanted" children they may not even bother to give them a  real name. My friend Rachel worked out in some very poor areas and, seriously, she once met a family whose children were named "Primero, Segundo, y Tercera." Or in English: First, Second, and Third.

I quoted the song above because I love how it talks about softly spoken secrets from God, encased in our souls which can seem too small for such glorious things. I believe that even if a child has no earthly name, God knows their eternal name. It is not a number, or a repeat of other siblings names, or anything less than chosen by our Creator.

What does one need in order to deserve a name? Love. Hope. Enough respect to say, "You are a human being coming into this world; you are alive, with a future unknown except by God, and you deserve a name."

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Moonrise Morals

"It's been proven by history: all mankind makes mistakes."
 - Captain Sharp, Moonrise Kingdom

My favorite director is Wes Anderson. The more I watch his films, the more I adore them. "Moonrise Kingdom" was one of the first I saw. Initially, I liked it very much. By about the 7th time I saw it (recently, and having by then seen all his other feature-length films), I loved it so much it made me cry. Between laughing at the ridiculous hilarity of most of the characters and marveling over the beautifully detailed scenery and costumes, I was once again invested in the plight of two misunderstood children and the adults who champion for them in the end.

I believe that as a child, much of the world is a bit frightening in it's enormous reality and permanence. There is make-believe, and then there's the real thing; consequences coming one after another like a long string of dominoes. Adults learn to be chess players, anticipating results of actions. Children roll the dice, or have it rolled for them, and hope for the best.

There's a scene in "Moonrise" where the protagonists, Sam and Suzy, wish to get married before running away together. They are only twelve years old, but they love each other with all their childhood hearts and they wish to escape the confines of a dysfunctional family and impending orphanage. During their planning, they meet a camp counselor who states that he is able to perform a marriage ceremony, upon hearing Sam say, "She's my wife. Well, actually, we're not married yet." Instead of dismissing the runaways, the counselor tells them that though the ceremony won't actually carry any legal weight anywhere, it will carry 'a moral weight within yourselves', and subsequently instructs them to deeply consider their decision before proceeding. The two children talk it over and agree; they wish to be married, if for nothing more than the promise to each other of faithfulness as they begin a new life together.

I remember playing marriage as a child. My siblings and friends and I would go through the whole thing: dating, proposal, wedding. It all had a certain sacred feeling to it. It wasn't real in that moment, but was a rehearsal for the future. It is so terribly disheartening as a child to have any type of imaginings crushed. To be told, "That's not real. Do you know how that actually works? You're too young to understand," hurt with a deep-seated ache. Instead of feeling like you have more of a grasp on the world, you feel tiny and unimportant.

The counselor in "Moonrise" was comically over the top. Yet - in taking the children seriously, he gave them dignity. Les then, were they an orphan running away because his scout troop disliked him (and unbeknownst to him, that no foster family wanted him) and a girl who discovered that her parents though of her as a troubled child. They were instead husband and wife; a title solely symbolic, more than they could truly understand, yet which gave confidence and meaning to two overlooked children as they continued forward.

Quickly after the ceremony, the runaways were once again chased by parents and authorities, until the scout master and sheriff, who had become allies of the children in need, stepped in to protect them from any forces which could cause them harm.
"He's not going to juvenile refuge!" they insist to the coldly factual woman known only as Social Services. That is when I cried.
"He is not getting electroshock therapy," the sheriff declared, referring to a possible plan mentioned offhandedly by Social Services as a way to treat a troubled orphan. (Far from troubled, the character of Sam is endearingly earnest). Gathered in a church while a storm raged outside and the two runaways clambered to the roof to escape, the sheriff and scout master stood up for the children, championing them. Because of the two men, Suzy's parents rallied, giving their support as lawyers when the sheriff offers to adopt Sam. Believed and aided at last, the children turned to the adults with hope. Not knowing just what the future holds, Sam tells Suzy with heart-wrenching sincerity, "I just want to say: Thank you for marrying me. I'm glad I got to know you, Suzy." In the end, Suzy is back with her family and Sam is the Sheriff's son. Finally he was in a stable home and able to see the girl he cared about, each of them able to grow up and figure out life with the support and dignity of the adults surrounding them.

It's a theme I've seen many times while working in childcare: children simply want to be believed and not dismissed. They want to grasp and understand the world around them and play a part in it. For me, "Moonrise Kingdom" is meaningful (as well as hilarious and colorful) because of the people with power who took two children seriously. Not only the adults: Sam ran away from the camp to find Suzy because the other boys strongly disliked him, yet eventually those same boys had a change of heart and banded together to help Sam and Suzy. They had the power to continue to dislike Sam and dismiss Suzy, so when they chose to acknowledge that they were in the wrong and make amends, they further empowered the runaways to not give up hope. As wonderfully ridiculous as the story is, I love it completely because of the themes of trust, hope, love, and belief, all coming together to change the lives of two children and everyone around them.