A Better Burden

I’m on my second cup of coffee and it’s well before 7 a.m.  I’ve woken up at 5 without an alarm for the second morning in a row.  This is unusual.  My stomach flirts with the idea of rejecting the scalding black liquid I keep sending down into it because it wants to be asleep like my teenagers are, but I keep on sipping.

Being awake turns out to be what I need.  Now I can think in straight lines.  The breath of the box fan tethers my brain to the real, though, if I’m honest, the real isn’t strictly better than the dreams.

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The world has lost its mind, like I’m sometimes sure I’m losing mine, and this forces me to ponder Things That Matter. Should I have had another baby, I wonder, now that the kids are stretching toward adulthood like the potted ivy on my side table?  (There is nothing like housing a human in one’s core to realign everything).  But there’s the self-destructing world–that giant live coal that blisters our souls as we walk on it.  There’s us.

And that’s when I realize I’ve been tired for a long, long time.

I reach for my coffee mug, but this time my stomach is not playing around.  I need more than caffeine can offer anyway.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” he says to me, to us.

I fill up my lungs, let the air out slow.  I close my rusted eyes and choose to believe Him again.

(This).

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Since Then

June was insane.  I finished a draft of my third novel by writing every day for thirty days, no excuses, including weekends (I logged about 40,000 words).  During ten of those days, my husband was singing in California, leaving me to parent our 12, 13, and 14-year-old on my own (read: forage for brightly colored foods like pop ice and cheese and binge-watch old episodes of House while the kids played too many video games when they should have been sleeping).

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(Photo by my son, Ivan)

By the time my husband finally came home in early July my youngest sister and her three kids were already visiting our home to celebrate Independence Day.  Then, suddenly, my grandmother passed away, and my middle sister and her three kids drove thirteen hours to join the rest of us during that hard time.  The last seven days are a smear of lipstick and tears.

And, to quote Sarah Mclachlan, I’m so tired that I can’t sleep.

A few things come to mind: 1). Life happens in contractions.  There’s the normal we get bored of and there’s the pain we resent.  2). We don’t appreciate the respite without the strain in-between, and 3). You can still get a lot of stuff done in chaos, but you’re always glad when you managed to work ahead and can somewhat avoid that I-can’t-feel-my-feet feeling.

And then there’s this.  God is always good, even when life isn’t.

Greater Love

The airport in Addis Ababa is an oversized square and smells like people and duty-free snacks.  Storefronts with headless mannequins line its walkways and vie for the attention of braless Europeans with money to exchange.  Listless travelers dogged its perimeter in the sleepy hours of that morning, schlepping worn backpacks and pretending not to notice us.  We felt nauseous after a night of air travel and there were miles yet to go.  We spotted what looked like glorified lawn chairs lined up against a section of drywall in the center of the square.  We moved our carry-ons up against it and sank, one by one, onto the chairs without debate.  I tried not to think about the general dinginess of the headrest as I felt my hair press into it.  I closed my burning eyes for a moment, savoring the thin coat of salt liquid that baptized them.

I’m not one to sleep in public.  I rolled my eyeballs around under their skin coats for a moment longer and then lay watching the world’s people go by.  Commotion and color from the corner of my right eye seared through my brain.  At the far end of our line of chairs three travelers had stopped to rest.  Two of them were men in their mid-to-late 30’s.  Both wore faded jeans and button-down shirts, untucked.  Three days of beard growth shadowed their faces, and sleeplessness had left traces of gray under their eyes.  Between them sat a misshapen man in a wheelchair.  He might have been 25 or 50.  His back curled him forward, a scientist hunched over a microscope.  One of his hands nuzzled his chest and the other gripped the armrest of his chair.  The taller of the two men spoke to the other in rapid Portuguese.  His friend nodded and replied in steady, low tones.

I hate to stare.  Rather, I hate to be caught staring or to think of myself as someone who stares and gets caught.  I looked away from the three men at the end of the row for a moment so that it would seem that I had other things on my mind.  But I was surprised.  The two men were clearly traveling in Ethiopia with a man who couldn’t walk.  They’d come from where?  They had to have flown to Addis.  Why, I wondered.  It was enough of an ordeal to fly by oneself and with only a backpack.  I imagined the wheelchair man wedged in a 787 aisle, trying to make his way into the folding bathroom.   I let my eyes wander back to where the three men stood.

In a moment the two friends (?) flanked the wheelchair between them and leaned in.  They seemed to count and then they lifted the man in it.  His shriveled legs hung below him, cherry stems that had long since given up hope.  The men’s biceps bulged as they struggled to convey their lumpy cargo.  I swallowed a second of horror as I watched them suspend him in the air.  He was Gregor Mendel but they were not afraid.  Like ballerinas, they lowered him to one of the lawn chairs closest to them.  He shuddered as they stretched him out.   His curly arm rebelled, springing back, slapping his chest.  He let out a low moan of pain.  One of the men adjusted his greasy glasses, leaning over him like a mother.  When it was clear that he wouldn’t roll out of his chair, the two men settled themselves on chairs on either side of his.  One pulled a book out of his pack and began to read.  The other rolled up a jacket, tucking it under his head for a pillow.

The three of them lay on their chairs for some time, two of them resting, one of them existing.  I lay in my chair, small and tired, until I knew I could no longer avoid the bathroom at the end of the hall.  When I returned all three men were gone.  I never saw them again.

And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”  Matthew 9:2

Africa

I am back from ten days of stepping through the looking glass.  Africa was magical and difficult as I knew it would be.  I am thankful to have been a part of something truly special during the time I was there and hope to be able to return soon.  Somehow–and really, I know it was grace from God–I managed to endure heat, humidity, different foods, travel, sleeplessness, and culture stress without so much as blinking.  This was not the case when I lived in Asia where, for the first six months, every rumble in my belly was a portend of doom, and constant power outages felt like God’s divine discipline.  Of course, this was a short-term thing and I did not have my children with me.  Now I love my kids, but I could not BELIEVE the ease of traveling with only myself to worry about.  It was ridiculous how streamlined everything felt and I think I wore a bewildered grin on my face the entire trip.  I was probably a little obnoxious.

I am in my bed at the moment, eating Grape Nuts which are my passion.  The dogs are at my feet, both of them curled like medium-sized caterpillars.  I think they’re glad the lenient owner is back.  Daddy has his rules, you know.  Apparently, I slept hard last night.  I don’t really know as I have no memory after eating welcome-home-cake for dinner.  But they tell me I slept.  My daughter came in this morning and informed me that she’d carried on a conversation with her father about emotions in the middle of the night.  She said she looked at me lying there on my side of the bed and could tell I wouldn’t wake up, whatever that means.

It’s good to be back.  I will never stop loving the world and its corners.  Each time I travel I leave my heart on some shore.  But I know that this is my home for now.  I am thankful to be reunited with my family, my church, my dogs, and Grape Nuts.  Now I think I’ll drink some East African coffee and take a little nap.  Talk soon.