Waiting for Someone

sunflower

We spent a month in Hungary this summer for the first time in four years visiting family and friends. In many ways, our summer was full. We ate every single Hungarian dish we were missing in the States, and I have tighter pants to prove it. We hugged countless friends. I drank an unhealthy amount of coffee chatting with old friends at the café downtown and consistently stayed up past midnight–a feat in and of itself.

We spent hours cramming our bodies with desserts as we visited older family members, and in our sugar stupor we listened to their take on Hungarian politics and how we should be eating more honey cream dessert and they’ll get some more juice for us and when are we having kids. We road-tripped to other European countries, bowled, walked downtown at 2 AM after a World Cup watching party, took selfies with our friends at the Children’s Home. Time stood still.

SelfieswithGyermek

We stayed up late talking to our brother and sister-in-law about their boys, family, faith, and how hard it is to be Hungarian, to be human. We let our nephews climb all over us and steal our dessert and then retaliated by tickle fights and games of tag. We made food together, one of the world’s oldest bonding tricks, and took naps in the afternoon with full bellies. We went on bike rides, bought approximately one hundred $1 scoops of ice cream on said bike rides, and felt the reverberations of Hungarian techno beats rattle our brain for weeks after our return.

Fishing JDandNoel

But on the plane ride home as we ate packaged noodles and watched movies in between naps, we wistfully yearned for more time with our family and friends. One month is a long time, and yet not enough after 4 years of absence. We knew there was more to say. More hugging and reaching across the table for a hand. We felt a deep aching for a prolonged reunion.

Sunset

As JD and I talked about this, I imagined Jesus feeling this way as he sat down to dinner that last night. Did he feel like there was more to say to his friends? Did he long for one more carefree fishing trip? Did he ache for more time?

I suppose that at times we are acutely aware of the temporal quality of things in this life: funerals, diagnoses, dreaded midnight phone calls, plane rides home. This was one of those times. During our trip, I read Marilynne Robinson’s book, Housekeeping, a story of impermanence and tragedy. She makes a meaningful observation of Christ’s humanity in the context of memories of loved ones and an aching for reunion that resonated in this aching part of my heart:

“Memory is the sense of loss, and loss pulls us after it. God Himself was pulled after us into the vortex we made when we fell, or so the story goes. And while He was on earth He mended families. He gave Lazarus back to his mother, and to the centurion he gave his daughter again. He even restored the severed ear of the soldier who came to arrest Him–a fact that allows us to hope the resurrection will reflect a considerable attention to detail….

There is so little to remember of anyone–an anecdote, a conversation at the table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming habitual fondness, not having meant to keep us waiting long.”
p. 194-5 Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

This passage reminded me that in our missed family we are waiting for someone, that we do miss a person we’ve never seen face to face. That perhaps this longing for being reunited with loved ones is God-given. That the ache is a gift that points to a greater desire in our hearts. That one of the reasons we come to the table each week to drink some chilled grape juice and munch on the corner of a tasteless wafer is to wait for our Beloved, to wait for the ultimate reunion of our family, to say quietly, “Come, Lord Jesus. Soothe this ache in our hearts for each other and for you.”

Miskolc

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Making War

I remember how dark our first bedroom was. It was windowless, ventless, and dreary with its dingy walls and dark carpet. It was a campus housing, but we were newlyweds. We didn’t care. Our bed and dresser barely fit into the room, and I had consistent bruises on my shins from running into the end of our bed in the middle of the night.

Within the first few months, I also had wounds on my heart that were being reopened in conflicts with my new husband.

So as I sat at the end of the bed at 2 AM that night, crying because I felt like I was failing at marriage, I felt the weight of darkness on my bony shoulders. I felt crowded and enclosed in that tiny room. I felt like it wasn’t working. Granted, 2 AM and dark rooms do not make for clear thoughts or calm hearts. But neither does the perpetuation of the idea that conflict is harmful and negative, which is the idea I had in my head.

I felt like because we had been bickering that somehow our marriage wasn’t working like it should be. I felt as though the pre-marriage wounds I had been trying to bandage and bury were ripping apart regardless of my efforts. I couldn’t glue us together. I couldn’t make peace.

Three years later, as I was reading about Joshua at my desk by the window, I thought about that night. There was a phrase that resonated in my heart: “Joshua made war a long time…” I’m sure Joshua felt at war for a long time. I’m sure he felt weary of conflict, of battle, of death, even of life. I’m sure he asked questions late at night in his tent like When will it be enough? Is all of this bloodshed necessary? Why do these tribes want to go to war with me? Am I doing something wrong?

I thought about all these questions… especially that last one before I moved on from that phrase to one equally disturbing: “For it was the Lord’s doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction..” It was God’s doing that Joshua made war. He caused the battles. But I thought he was a God of peace. I thought he was supposed to set things right. What gives, God?

But perhaps he caused the battles so that the enemies could be defeated. So that the adversaries could be overcome. So that the foes could be cast out of Israel’s life. He knew that they would come against Israel sooner or later, seeking to conquer and corrupt. So God said sooner. So the antagonists in Israel’s life could be brought down and destroyed. I had my own questions. Did Joshua see this meaning to his battles? How did he press on? Did he want to surrender after a few battles feeling war-weary and broken?

I stared out my window, thinking of desert battles and lonely nights. I’ve learned a lot about JD, myself, and marriage since our first few months of marriage, but reading about God approving of Joshua making war for a long time illuminated that tiny, dark room 3 years ago.

Perhaps the wounds needed to be ripped apart. Perhaps our old wounds–ones that we received before our marriage–needed to be examined. Perhaps the conflict wasn’t because we weren’t working (whatever that means), but because we were two different people trying to love each other, to help each other live well.

Our first year of marriage was hard for many reasons, but one of them was that it was our first year of marriage. We were figuring out what marriage really means, how to live with another person, why we felt like our world was invaded when we loved the other person so much. I read Gary Thomas’s book, Sacred Marriage, that year and he posed a question that has stuck with me through the many settings of our lives: “What if God intended marriage not to make us happy, but to make us holy?” His whole premise is that the seasons we go through in marriage, the rubbing up against each other is meant to make us holy, to make us clean, to make us whole.

Even conflict. Even arguments. Even loneliness and togetherness.

The fact that we said, “‘Til death do us part” has provided a lot of comfort because it means we don’t have to struggle and strive to always make peace, especially false peace. It means we work through things that hurt and make us mad and make us feel human to our core.

Conflict is not inherently bad–sometimes it’s the result of two different people trying to work together, and sometimes it’s meant for enemies (wounds, lies, unhealthy cycles) to be defeated, overcome, and cast out. That takes a long time, a lifetime. But life is not all war.

Here’s how Joshua 11 ends: “The land had rest from war.”

1000 Gifts: An Ode to Saturday

I read 1000 Gifts two years ago and never finished it.  Please don’t tell Ann Voskamp.  However, I did get far enough in the book to understand how her 1000 Gifts list worked:  keep a running list of everything you’re thankful for–everything.  From soap suds to heart-wrenching conversations, she gave thanks, and she came to realize how intentionally being grateful slowed her life down.  It opened her eyes.  It made her see her life.

This is my second year of keeping such a list.  I made it to 1000 around December last year and started over January 1.  To date, I’m on #1475.  There are some things that show up on my list frequently, and whenever I read some to JD, he laughs at how often coffee appears.  And naps.  #1476:  Coffee and naps.

Along with Voskamp, I’ve noticed how it slows my life down and makes me see what’s going on.  Sometimes I force myself to write down a moment or situation I’m not thankful for just so I can see it in my own handwriting and start making a case for gratefulness.  There are days that ten things roll off my pen and onto the paper; there are days that I struggle to write one thing down.  Each day  has value.  The significance is in the practice.

I’ve also found that a 1000 gifts list is helpful in remembering.  Whenever I flip to page 1 and begin rereading what I’ve written, I walk through the months of the list.  I smile at memories or write another thing on my list:  #1477 That I’m not in that situation anymore.  It’s renewing and purging at the same time, and for someone who struggles to keep a journal with more than one entry per month, it’s a quick alternative.

Besides, or perhaps beyond, the benefits of slowing down and remembering, the daily practice of gratefulness has been transformative in my life.  Even in days of distress and depression, making myself find one thing to be grateful for is healing and head-lifting.  But more about that later.

I’m starting a series that will appear on the first Saturday of every month for the next few months.  It’s called 1000 Gifts:  An Ode.  Each month, I’ll write an ode in sonnet form (remember, sonnnets are 14-lined poems that are written in iambic pentameter, which means there are 10 syllables per line) to something from my 1000 gifts list.  The post may simply be the ode, or it may have an accompanying explanation to it.

The purpose of this series is to practice gratefulness, remembrance, slowness.

Today’s ode is, appropriately, to Saturdays.  It’s #11, 207, 459, 502, 559, 560, 696, 792, 1098, 1148, 1290, and 1438 on my 1000 gifts list.

Ode to Saturday
Warmed by coffee , the sun, today’s practice,
I stretch out my legs, and my soul, to wring
Out the week’s wrinkled forehead, to give rest
To tired eyes; my soul resurrecting.
I breathe, I write, I laugh, with them, alone,
Savoring Sabbath, the soul’s renewal,
Nodding off, no; nodding to the day’s own
Giver of new life, baptism’s portrayal.
Porch stillness only disrupted by songs
Of birds cooing to the other, to me.
Full of promise, slow, still, and before long,
I am new, an echo of jubilee.
It’s Saturday, the day of sleeping in,
Waking up, remembering I’m human.