The Eye in the Storm

*For the optimal experience, play this while reading…

Sigh. There are those days in the throws of a hectic week, when you have to fight to carve out much-needed time for yourself, sans little people. So, you dutifully drop them off at school, and make your weary way alone to a coffee shop, order your favorite drink and a lightly warmed chocolate croissant. You miraculously find an unoccupied corner with three comfy chairs, and one table between them. You plop yourself down, unpack your stuff, journal for a bit to clear the clutter in your mind and heart, and then… pull out your laptop. This is the real treat – uninterrupted writing time, all to yourself. A highly-sought after treasure in the land of parenting.

As you begin typing and begin to unpack all that weighs within, you find the snappy jazz ensemble playing overhead is…fun, but a bit chaotic in the moment, and the last thing you need is more chaos swirling around you right now. No. So, you put in your headphones and put on the delightful soundtrack to the movie, The Words, turning it up a few notches to drown out the clinking and the chattering that’s steadily rising as the morning unfolds.

The sweet, inviting, flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg descend down your throat as you waft in the aroma… You begin to submerge yourself further and further into this world you’ve diligently crafted for yourself. The deeper you go, the more the words stop peeking and begin pouring themselves out, and the more your soul finds itself again. The moments are becoming sweeter and sweeter, refreshing your spirit like nothing else. You watch the wintery wind, brisk, unrelenting, whisk the leaves, trash and twigs to destinations of obscurity all around your tightly forged, glass-encased corner of solitude and tranquility.

And then that moment pauses and as it inhales, in walk 4 adolescents, roughly 11-13 years in age. No parents, just the bejeweled bikes that brought them here. One of these little people in particular stands out to you- black hair cropped in the back, with long, bleached oily strands in the front, draped “stylishly” over her eyes, with giant, sparkly heart-shaped sunglasses, dressed all in black and ready to prove her point, whatever it may be. They choose the table adjacent to your corner. As they loudly drag extra chairs over, they giggle and squawk at the noise they’re making. You subtly turn your music up and focus more intently on your screen, tightening your grip on the given moments you need so desperately. It doesn’t take long for them to notice you. All children have a sixth sense about these things, after all.

They start talking to themselves and looking over their shoulders at you. Then Sparkly Heart Girl stands up and defiantly walks over and plops down in the chair next to you, in “your” corner and looks directly at you. She sits on the furthest side of the chair closest to the window, not exactly courageous enough to sit right next to you, but bold enough to sit there in the first place. Her comrades look shocked and in awe that she would be this bold. After all, everything about you says, “I’m in my precious space, please do not disturb.” But Sparkly Heart Girl, has a point to make. She does a stare down with your lowered forehead as you write a mere 3 feet away, adjusts herself on the chair, moving closer to the middle. She bumps your crossed ankles with her scuffed and frayed Converse sneakers and stares at you to observe the inevitable reaction. When there is none, she does what any self-respecting pre-teen making a point can do, she reaches over your bag on the floor, definitively puts her cup on “your” table, right next to your cup, napkins, headphone case, and charger. Gasp. Her fan club is aghast. But then when there is yet a reaction to be observed, she grabs her sugary drink from the table and immediately jumps up to rejoin her group. Oh, but not before plopping down on the other chair next to you and promptly falling off the corner of it onto the ground because in her newly minted defiance she misjudged it’s location. Fits of squeaky laughter fill the air, circling around you, but you remain in your sphere. Still, unmoved, absorbed in the music and moments you’ve fought for.

They suck down the dredges of their whipped cream laden drinks and leave to mount their bikes again. But not before Sparkly-Heart Girl makes her last stand. She leans in on her bike, just outside your glass-encased world, and does a stare down with your forehead one last time, for posterity’s sake, you presume. Yet, this time… you look up. And lightly smile.

Yes, I see you Sparkly-Heart Girl, your eyes say. Yes, I need to be seen and heard too. But unlike you, this morning, I do not need to be heard by anyone around me. I am heard by everyone around me all day long. By my own children, by my husband, by those I work and live life with. In fact, those around me count on what I say to them daily. For guidance. For affirmation. To be molded, to be released. But this morning, this moment, I do not have to be heard by them, nor do I need to be heard by them. I need to be heard by my own self. I need to hear what I have to say. And as you continually press your presence up against the glass of my world, an act of youthful desperation in a way, you infringe upon my own act of weathered desperation.

So, thank you, Sparkly-Heart Girl, in your desperate defiance of social norms, you have helped me define something for myself… The storms will never cease. This much is certain. But there are ways to find the eye in those storms, to grasp at that peace, to reach out and cling to that hollowed chasm that the chaos can dance around but never touch. Sometimes, this peace is brought in by others but then there are times, times when no one can bring it to you. You just have to buckle down and be that chasm encased by chaos yourself.

 

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Facing the Foreign Familiar

selfie within a selfieAs I’m nearing the eve of our departure for the States on our first home assignment, I must confess, I’m a bit shocked. In some ways, it feels like yesterday that we were getting our bags unpacked and our little house outfitted here in Kenya. But to be nearly two years in, and looking now at closing up our little house for the first time, is mind-boggling. Where was all of that time spent?? In reflection, it was spent traveling, training, getting malaria, making multiple hospital visits for various ailments, enjoying quality conversations over steaming cups of Kenyan chai and mandazi with newly acquainted friends, learning Swahili, failing at Swahili, trying out new areas of ministry to fail and try again and again, hanging the laundry up to dry in the African sun day in and day out, crying tears of exhaustion and tears of elation, and above all coming face to face with a new self. A self well known and a self still to be known.

As I face returning to the familiar, I own that I am not the same as I was when I left it for foreign lands. I own that when I step foot on the soil of my homeland, it will not feel quite like the home I knew and once invariably belonged to. I own that I will be a foreigner in the familiar, treading lightly on old, well-worn paths. I now understand this byproduct of living abroad, that I belong nowhere, and yet feel that I can now belong anywhere, in a sense.

What will it be like to be “home” but to realize in a new way that “home” is what I carry with me? That as a wife and a mother, I.Am.Home. to three hearts. This is my cherished burden to bear and my blessing to bestow. I own the trials of this first season, allowing the lessons within each one to chip away at the rough edges. I own the triumphs as well, allowing the hard won victories to propel me forward in fierce Hope and carefully crafted perspective.

Yes, nearing the eve of our departure, I face the foreign familiar. But when  I stop to reflect on this, I see that I’ve been facing the foreign familiar all along, it’s been staring back at me in my own reflection.