Carrying My Elephant

When I explained to my friend that I felt disconnected to my Plum, that I knew I wasn’t being emotionally available to him, that I feared for our relationship but felt helpless to muster the energy to play our pretend games or create my own Lego robot to battle his, she offered many gentle suggestions but one stood out. I needed to tell him the truth. Hardly shocking or earth-shattering yet I hadn’t even in my foggy state, considered the power of offering him my truth.  Her ability to discern and deliver hard truths and beautiful insight with a softened tone and gentle words has aided me in correcting my paths too many times to count now. I trust her, I believe she has my best interests and even more, my soul, in mind as she listens to me. What if I offered my Plum the same gift of truth?

Her ideas about how to stay present with Plum, to create some space for even a few moments of engagement that would carry him as I sunk back into the fog of memories and heartache, they changed our weekend and brought me closer to this sweet child. Putting the plans in motion alleviated the guilt I was trying to add onto over-burdened shoulders. We built some Lego guys, we chitter-chatted. By Sunday though, I was exhausted and weepy and just needed some alone time. “Gran can we play our pretend game?” When life was our normal, he and I took on the role of characters, or more accurately, I did. He always stays Plum but I am a cast of friends who have different voices and attitudes and agendas. Our group tackles the concerns in his mind, we work out proper sharing and competitions and word choices and even a new crush. This play forces me into giving him my full attention and he loves it, craves this secret activity of ours (if Chef approaches, SILENCE!) By Sunday morning, I was completely unable to take on any more roles, I barely had my own voice. “C’mon here Plum, let’s talk.” Instead of playing any other parts, I gave him my truth.

“Gran’s sad is so big, so heavy, it is as if I am carrying an elephant.” Spreading my arms out wide, I showed him how heavy they were, how cumbersome this elephant actually is.  “Gran is so tired because this elephant is huge and heavy and it is wearing out my arms, making my shoulders ache, my body is exhausted.” I asked him if he noticed that I wasn’t very attentive right now, he said I was grumpy. Yes! I owned his label and told him this elephant is making it hard for me to see anything else, my view is blocked. I get distracted with the heaviness of it, I forget to be nicer and I can’t pick up anything more. Apologizing for not being more with him, expressing that I so missed our special times together, I told him I wouldn’t be carrying this elephant forever. “But Gran, I thought you love elephants?” Clarity and history broke down my metaphor, I struggled to explain that indeed, I do and yet this one was coming between us. Still, he said he understood and he offered grace to his Gran, tempered his invitations to play and met me in the light of our truth. Even as I pondered my promise to him, that this elephant carrying wasn’t forever, I realized I had no idea how to set it down. Slowly, carefully, with great care so neither of us were permanently damaged, I imagined.

“Your joy is your sorrow” writes Kahil Gibran in “The Prophet,” a work that has greatly steered my thinking for over 30 years. The words of this poem have been echoing around my thoughts as I consider the question posed by my Plum. Yes, one of my greatest joys ever was when Stella and I interacted up close with elephants in a sanctuary in Thailand.  The opportunity to side atop one as she played in the river, to be dunked under by the mahout, her tender, and gasp in delight as a baby elephant swam under us and popped up spraying water all around us, this joy is deeply connected to my daughter and my time of discovering her fully as a young woman. Why didn’t I tell Plum my sad was as big as a whale? A huge building? When the words left my mouth to this sweet boy, I said elephant and it was truth. My most joyful moments are the self same deepest sorrow, forever joined in my love for these two children. Remembering how carefully we made meals for the elephants within this sanctuary, how we marveled at their size and gentleness, I am reminded that my grief deserves the same consuming tenderness.

One day I will merely visit with this elephant, I won’t be carrying it. That day seems quite out of reach in these early dark moments. For now, I got honest with my Plum and we are both better for it. While I am weighed down with grief, we have offered each other space to feel how we are, be where we are, we are finding language to share difficult emotions. Mostly though I was to free up a hand to reach out to this child.  Joy will come again, I am confident this child will we teach me the way back. Reconnected, I release the guilt and hold my sadness tenderly.

 

 

Grocery Shopping, Driving Require More than I Have

I am that woman in the grocery store who is blocking the aisle, crying as I reach for ridiculous items on the shelf and then lose my breath completely as I spot something that used to be a necessity, a treat, a special bottle of hot sauce or a dessert mix, when I realize I will never buy it again. Going to the grocery store delivers reality when I am trying to take care of my family, taking one step toward life and seeking a respite from the grief that is seeping from the walls of my house, swirling with every dust particle. Surely the very act of driving to the store, leaving the anonymity of my car, entering a building that by its very nature means we are choosing to live, only to be reminded that I don’t care about fresh apples, that I am angered by beignet mixes, that people who are smiling are an affront, is just too much right now.  I am that woman who annoys you in your rush through the store, the one who is crying over cornflakes and makes you uncomfortable with such uncontrolled emotion.

As you travel with purpose to the next meeting, to work, to shuttle children from one activity to the next, I am the woman in a car driving too slowly, picking up speed just a you pass. What you don’t know is that I can barely muster the effort to push on the gas pedal, that I have lost the focus necessary to remember where I am even going, that my hands are gripping the steering wheel so tightly in an effort to not turn around and go back to my home where I don’t have to keep a mask in place. I know I frustrate you when  I sped up as you pass, you don’t know that you have shaken me out of my memories and spurred me to drive again, that you have shown me I am not driving safely so I follow your example, I push a bit harder on the pedal but am unable to maintain the desire or the effort, I slow down again and anger all those coming from behind.

Three weeks ago I too could shop and drive and care about mundane things. Then Friday happened, then the phone call came that would forever divide my life into before and after. Tomorrow brings the knowledge that I have survived 3 weeks without my son here in this world. How did time keep moving so steadily when I am screaming for a chance to go back? I am consumed with rage, with an anger that scares me. I am not an angry person by nature, I forgive quickly and easily because I know the destruction that judgement offers, yet I have lost those parts of myself as I refuse to speak to the God who broke our agreement, who refused to honor the contract I fully believed we had made. I was told to trust Him with my child, I handed him over for safe keeping, filled with assurance that one day he would return to sobriety, become the man I as his mother knows resided in his heart. Scripture feels empty, a hollow scrambling of letters and words that promise what clearly was not to be delivered. My feelings are too ugly to share with most, I lost my son that horrific morning and I lost my faith. Should I really be concerned with continuing to play by the rules our society expects, to stay on the right side of the aisle and drive the speed limit?

Yet I am finding that there are those who are not put off by my lost eyes, by my inability to chat or smile or behave appropriately. My church is my safe place these days, even as I reject the reasons for our gathering, because it is filled with folks steeped in grace. I explained to my pastor yesterday that I am rejecting God but not His followers. One day they will lead my back to a right relationship with the “Savior” who chose not to save my son, for now I can only believe in their belief, in their kindness as they stop to give me a hug and even listen as I say things to them I have probably already said, they don’t show the impatience of the strangers who drive by and honk. No, these people are heroes, bridge builders. I trust in them, the closest I am willing to get to God. I am grateful for their gentleness, the tenderness with which they are seeking out my heart. Somehow these are still my people.

Please be kind to strangers who are annoying and disconcerting in their odd behavior. I am that woman who is desperately hanging by a thread. You can choose to twist and snap it or join your own bit of rope to strengthen mine. The world is full of hurting people, life is just too hard for some of us to smile. You may never know my struggle, my story or that of the one ahead of you in line who forgets to keep moving forward, but trust that they are broken hearted and doing the best that can.

 

 

 

Cleaning Out Soul Space

When I had nothing, my very survival depended on my relationship with Jesus. In prison, surrounded by strangers who neither cared about my brokenness or my sanity, separated from my babies in the most cruel of all punishments, I could only breathe and walk and put food into my body because I trusted God with my life and the lives of those I loved. It became simple, minimalistic, when all my possessions fit into a tiny foot locker and my material wealth consisted of Little Debbie snacks and Ramen noodles. Powerless in every aspect of my life, clothing, visits, schedules, I could only control whether to believe or not. I relied with the full force of my body and soul on Paul’s words to the Philippians,”I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phil 4:13. Not just those words, though, I read the bible completely over and over, I underlined and made notes, I consumed it. God’s Word saved me, when I could not save me. I promised myself I would not let go of that dependence when freedom came again, when the gates opened. Twenty-five years later, I realize I have broken my promise.

These days and weeks and now years of estrangement from my daughter have become a new prison, gates invisible, guards non-existent but a prison no less. I am locked away from her again, the excruciating pain of old resurrected as I watch the clock and long for a visit. The intervening years of memories accrued are meaningless as she evaluates my worth and determines my sentence, will I ever be granted release? Yet, more than adding a home and furnishing and clothing and trips to schools and a prom and even around the world, I have added material goods and a self-reliance that separate me from my promise, from my utter dependence on He who gives my breath, gives me life, gives me hope and the grace of forgiveness that is so absent with my daughter. How could I have added so much and left what was crucial behind?

I sat on the steps in the jail pod after realizing I would have no visits with my children until transferred to the larger prison, a promise from my lawyer, the reality of my situation fully settling on my soul. I wanted to die, I begged to die, I would have died had the means been available. Instead I had to pray that my Creator take me. A desperate prayer to end unspeakable horror, a pain that I knew I could not bear, that would drive me to insanity. Jesus met me there on those steps and lifted me up, brought the “Footsteps” poem to me with a promise to carry me through what was ahead. A year later when my sentence modification was denied, another promise my lawyer had given but couldn’t keep, I gave up again. I laid on the prison bunk and refused to move for meals or activities, risking further punishments. I no longer cared. An angel in the guise of a correctional officer visited and spoke words I no longer remember but pulled me out of my depression and gave me the strength to keep going. I do remember she spoke gently of Jesus and light and a world outside of my current existence. She told me to get up and I did.

When my pain overwhelmed me, Jesus  brought relief. When I couldn’t breathe, wouldn’t breathe, Jesus brought me air. When I had nothing, Jesus was enough. Now, I have more. A husband, a home, pets, cars, fully stocked pantry and I no longer call on Jesus with desperation. Maybe I never did really but I made room for Him. Now I allow a corner, a smidge, a bit but rely too heavily on myself, on my own ability to affect change and the stir the universe to my liking. Having lost it all and found Jesus, must I really find myself there again to discover what is truly at the heart of my existence? Noticing my own prison gates again, I see that only God can bring me through this estrangement, only God can rebuild the bridges I want to erect today. Scripture floods my mind this morning as I find comfort in words of hope and past longing, as I remember that I have survived events I will never share and I will survive this as well.

I grow impatient, I teeter on bitterness, anger erupts. I am too fully me and not enough Jesus. Today I am opening the gates of my soul once again to the One who saved me, time and again, saved me for more than a life of hurt and struggle and time behind bars. Just as we celebrated my release with joy and thanksgiving long ago, one day we will again. Until then, I am cleaning out my soul space, removing extra furnishings of self-dependence and importance. Truly, today I remember He is the air I breathe. Freedom has come.

 

My Jesus and the 4th of July

***Warning!!! Contents contain my soul wrestling with the intersection of my faith and current political climate. Need to take a pass?  I get it.

I stayed quiet today during Joys and Concerns, that time during our church service when the microphone is passed around and members share what is weighing on their hearts. I felt the push to raise my hand but still I resisted. My concern was too political, had nothing to do with an ailing relative or a healed friend. As the minutes ticked by, the urge grew and still I avoided, knowing that this was not the venue, that my words didn’t belong in church. Yet the powerful message my pastor delivered barely registered, such was my aching soul. Because actually, I think it is time for our voices to be heard. I think the venue has to be our churches, the place where we worship and strive to follow a rebellious man who lived so long ago.

The Jesus I know was filled with grace and love, absolutely, but He also challenged the very systemic wrongs that surrounded Him, that created the environment where people needed His intervention. All those outcasts that He noticed, those people on the fringes of the society He lived in, those are the stories we listen to each week in our worship services. He SAW the woman who was to be stoned because of an unjust, one-sided, narrow-minded belief about the role of half the human race. He set her free, He brought her back. He NOTICED the hungry, the poor, the ones being thrown away by those who had more. He CHALLENGED the businessmen in the temple who were cheating those who had traveled from afar to worship, He CALLED OUT those men who were distorting the purpose of that place and the very message the Rabbis inside were delivering. This, this is the rebellious Jesus my soul responds to. I am the outcast, the one on the fringe, those are my people. In fact our country was created by those very folks who wanted to have freedom in their “temple” away from the tyranny.

We are just a day away from the celebration of our country’s birth, the flag waving and fireworks and picnics that unite us as we proclaim proudly that we are Americans. Every year I dressed my children in red, white and blue t-shirts, purchased the little boxes of sparklers and made potato salad but never have I given as much thought to what it means to be American as I have this year. Maybe it is only in losing something that we really begin to cherish it. Having traveled outside of the U.S., I know the freedoms we have here are precious, that we are not perfect and are still babies learning to walk as a newer country. I truly thought we were on the right track, correcting our ugly history of slavery, slowly, ever so slowly, but still moving forward. Yet only a day away from the big celebration and I am embarrassed to wave a flag now.

Regardless of political affiliation, more importantly is our faith stance. We are broken, in need of grace, all of us. We have become judgmental and hate filled, unable to listen, resorting to name-calling and prone to violence as a means to resolve conflict. If ever there was a time for the church to rise up, isn’t it now? Do we not have a responsibility to rebel in the likeness of Jesus to say what is happening is wrong? If the behavior that we see from the highest leaders would not be tolerated in our Sunday School classrooms, can we stay quiet? The silence is deafening, while the noise of sexist cruelty plays outs daily.

I write almost daily of the deep  love and crazy adventures I share with my grandson. This relationship which has been front and center in our church is not considered legitimate enough to allow for travel as an immigrant, according to the new workings of the ban. I cannot even find words to express the outrage and devastation I feel as a grandmother, imagining that arbitrary decision about the legitimacy of the value Plum and I bring to each other. Jesus calls us to open our doors to strangers, to trust in Him to protect us and guide us. We have surely lost our way.

I am a writer, I am a mother, a wife, a grandmother. I am a woman who fears for other women and those of color and those who dream of coming to our universities.  I fear for those who are trying to speak truths, for those who truly love our country and who love Jesus and those who worship differently.  I spent many years being afraid as a child, then more as a young adult. I thought those days were behind me. Yet I see that if we do not stand up for what is right and those who need our voices, we are complicit in the wrong, just as the Germans when the Nazi Regime began. This is our time, a time we will be forever judged by in the history books and most importantly at the gates of heaven.  Are we listening to the urgings of our souls that say stand up and speak or are we quietly letting someone else claim our flag for their hateful cause?

Today I remained quiet and I feel sick about that choice. I didn’t follow my rebellious Jesus and my soul told me I made the wrong decision. I know He wants me to buck the system when the system is hurting people, to feed the hungry people and to obey Him first. When we obey our own desires or our elected leaders before our God, trouble starts. We cannot trust people before our God, it just doesn’t work. So each tweet, each vote, each decision we make, we have to understand that it is a faith decision as well. I know the quote, “Let your actions preach louder than your words.” Today my inaction, my inability to say what was in my soul, preached volumes to those who are suffering. I need to do better, be better. Grace will cover me in my hesitancy for only so long, I am breaking for those who cannot be heard, who have no opportunity to raise their hands and beg for prayers.

Fireworks exploded into the night as my pets huddled around, shivering and worrying about the noise, fearful and uncomprehending that it would soon end. I could only offer comfort and wonder at what we are really celebrating. Freedom to worship? Freedom to assemble? Freedom to walk our children to school or drive a car or have health care regardless of income? How about Unity? Are we celebrating our togetherness regardless of skin color or green card status or candidate selected on voting day? Just as I didn’t raise my hand to lift up my concerns during church, my soul is telling me I have to take a pass this year as the nation’s big day comes around. Instead, I will be focusing on the work that must be done within the church to extend our grace and show our love in the spirit of the living God to those who are standing outside, awaiting an invitation to the party.

Dash

Keep Singing

Last night I tuned into The Voice finale just as the reposts of the bombing in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert were flooding my twitter feed. (Yes, I am guilty of looking at my phone while watching tv, I have many bad habits, this is not that post where I list them all.) I can’t say I am familiar with her music or even really know where Manchester is located specifically, but I understand the power of music. I was struck by the young artists on this show who were striving to get their literal voices heard, who had dreams and aspirations and felt the music clear into their souls and absolutely needed to express their gifts. Ms. Grande seems to be just such a young woman, now forever connected to a horrific act and the loss of lives. Her concert attendees seemed to be mostly other young people, many really young, accompanied by their mothers. I watched the tv and saw hopes looking for a chance as others were extinguished all as the music played.

When my children were adolescents, I took them to just such concerts, Avril Lavigne and some boy band my daughter loved that I can’t recall right now. I earned “best mom ever” credit for sitting through loud concerts with screaming girls, buying t-shirts and letting kids stay up way beyond bedtime in order to feed the need for music that spoke to where they were. I even took them to a Christian music Woodstockish festival where we camped out and got muddy and went from venue to venue for several days. The kids ran freely among other early teens who were searching for identity and safe rebellion and rap music that didn’t make their parents ground them. Toby Mac introduced us to a new way to worship, a new way to let them express some angst while still within the boundaries of our faith. It was bliss and too much laundry and terrible camp food and unexpected cold and rain and amazing memories. I understood that music was integral to shaping their choices, I wanted to help them make positive ones. I can only imagine the same was true for all of those moms at that concert last night, for those who purchased tickets for their children to go and waited outside in coffee shops reading a book, feeling so confident in the parenting choice they had made. I can only imagine the horror that they all feel now, those who ran screaming, searching, begging to find their children safe, those who did and my God, those who didn’t.

I sat in the sanctuary this Sunday while our praise band, certainly not concert level material as we are Methodist, slayed me. The music, the songs, something holy happens sometimes and I just have no ability to maintain the defenses that I walked in with. These people share the gifts they have and God takes over, my soul is broken open and real work is begun. I believe that is what happened to my children at all those concerts, even with angsty teen music. Whether they were learning to trust their mom durning the rough years ahead or they were learning to lean into their faith, those concerts undergirded them during critical times. The bombing at this concert makes it all the more horrific to me, all the more personal to me. Terrifying people at a time their souls are being opened, truly an actor evil.

Today I am hearing that the bomber was a young person as well. I can’t help but wonder about what has taken place in his life, who broke his soul to allow him to carry out this atrocity. How does one look at the joy and celebration in such an environment and decide you must kill? When I am in such places, I want more of that joy, I want more of the happiness, it is energizing and catching and electric. Only a deadened soul wouldn’t  feel the beat and want to tap toes and raise arms and begin swaying, at the very least. Who didn’t sing to this child, who didn’t tell him he could play an instrument of peace? Who perverted any of those messages his mother gave him to turn what were songs of love and hope into screams of horror?

As more information comes out, maybe we will have answers about this bombing but I know for sure that music will live on. I know someone will win The Voice, but really they all did already. I know my praise band speaks Jesus every week.  I know more songs will be written and more little kids will pick up flutes and tubas and learn to play the piano. I know moms will take teens to concerts and we will sing in our churches and temples and mosques and wherever we worship. Music is holy. The way through this horror is not more guns or wars or hate but more love and peace and prayer. I’m reminded of the old Coke commercial , oh I wish we could all sing together today. Still, we will keep singing wherever we are because music is absolutely bigger than hate.

Let our souls join with those who are mourning and fearful, let us join in prayer and song for those who are aching. Let us lift up those who are being broken right now into the ways of evil, that they may be invited back into songs of joy. Let the music of peace always win.

 

Real Pastors

I just read a piece by Anne Lamott in which she describes with total humility how she picked up the wrong passport and missed her flight for an incredibly important speaking engagement. Having shared awhile back how I did the same with my drivers license on a trip to NYC, I felt more bonded than ever to her. Her words were beautiful and real and they led me back into relationship with God like only a true pastor can. The key is that she doesn’t strive to be like God with all His power and knowledge and wisdom and super abilities that win every contest, she shows with each foray into the public that she is that part of Jesus that was human, the pieces that we recognize that are messy, that cause us to ignore parents and wander off in a crowd. She pastors us with us, not from above us, not at us, not to us. She is one of us and we follow.

I am drawn to leaders like her, folks that are not only unafraid to show that they are defective in getting to the airport fully in possession of all appropriate identification but also who know that in doing so, we are better able to find ourselves in each other. The very act of exposing our own weakness is holy, it requires such great trust and vulnerability, it can only come from a place of real faith. Social media posts showing our best moments may make us feel better and portray a beautiful story of our lives to our followers, but is it the true story? I love the Pinterest fail pictures, the real stories of folks who cannot make the cookies look like the easy 1,2,3 instructions, the “do this with your kids on a rainy afternoon” craft projects that turn into utter disasters of glue and feathers and tears. I get those people, I am those people. I can’t relate to the perfect family reunions, the birthday parties where no one gets hit with the pinata bat. I always feel less than, like I have failed before I even begin in those settings. I know I am not ever going to have a Pinterest post of my glorious DIY project, I know I will never preach from my successes. My brokenness is too great, I can’t hide all the scars. I can never compete with the ones who always win the races, why even try?

It isn’t that I am looking for all the wrong, the bad, the dirt on anyone. I am just drawn to the real. I can’t learn from a pastor who preaches above me, at me, who pretends to or even worse, really believes he has all the answers. That really just undermines the message to me, I know he isn’t God and therefore, isn’t perfect and must at some point trip and spill his drink or shout at his children or not win the first prize in every race. These are the stories I need, because that is where I live and where I can be guided out from, into a deeper relationship with God. What do we do when we find ourselves in those very human spots, every day, some days we even spend the whole day there? How do we find God in the messes we make, how do we hear the Holy Sprit in those moments?  I need that roadmap when I am especially covered in dirt and sin, not to see someone sparkling clean who seemingly has never fallen off the path into the ditch.

During this political and social season of screaming and hating and fear and anxiety, I think it is ever more critical that we are able to embrace each other as broken vulnerable humans who “are all just walking each other home” in the words of Ram Dass. It is imperative that we lose any sense of superiority and ego, those are not virtues listed anywhere in the Bible, certainly not characteristics of Jesus. Learning to listen, though, really listen to just one more person each day who has a story that makes them real, ways that may be different from our own realness, like being a bit smellier or unable to keep their kids in their pew at church or obviously eating all the wrong foods (you know the ones, those who eat too much candy and drive-thru hamburgers and rarely have vegetables), listening to their struggles may just put us in touch with our own challenges which we have been tucking away from view. Together we may find we have more in common than we knew, we might begin to heal ourselves and a tiny piece of the world. I love the new Heineken ad that brings people together who believe on the surface that they strongly disagree. What happens is holy, the kind that even includes beer, the kind of holy that allows people to see each other as real for the first time as they become vulnerable. This is pastoring from a most unlikely source and it is glorious.

Ultimately, I have come to see that my Catholic upbringing has left some ideas that just don’t work anymore. Well, many I have cast aside already, but the main issue that has stuck in my mind is that the person who stands before me each Sunday is speaking with a louder voice  because that comes from God. Their message carried more weight because of a divine calling. This may be true, I certainly have a pastor now who speaks Jesus to me like I have never experienced before. And I have to give a shout out to the Pope who is doing the most amazing God work ever, acting out of humility that makes me less anguished about my childhood religious roots. Still, I know more and more that the pastors who lead me are the ones who I find around me in unlikely places, the ones who can reach me where I am. They join me in the muck and then we both can climb out. They are all around me, next to me, speaking and listening and forgetting their important papers. These are my pastors, the ones who are broken and chipped and are listening for the whispers of the Holy Spirit as well. Together, we will all make it home, passports in hand.

Finding Stella

Four years ago I was on my way to South Korea, carrying only my new tightly packed huge backpack and enough excitement to fuel the multiple modes of transport that would take me to my daughter. I was bringing her home from her year of teaching but first we were traveling to Cambodia and Thailand. Many weeks of traveling, just us and our backpacks. Mine was pink, I sent her a green one. A constant flow of information between us as we selected our routes, planned our hostel stays, determined how little money we could get by on, and especially the detailed plan for me to reach her apartment once I landed at Incheon International and then found the correct subway and then the all important right stop to disembark. I was traveling across the world to see my girl, all alone, Chef dropping me at the local site to catch the shuttle to take me to the airport 3 hours away. Many transfers, many opportunities for me to get mixed up, turned around, lost. I always get lost. This time, though I found my Stella, I was at her apartment when she returned from work, a testament to her preparation and determination to get me there, a story of just how badly I wanted to see my daughter.

I can point to many life events that have shaped and changed me, set my path on a new course. Some are awful, just so horrific they left me wandering in the dark lost and searching for too long. Other events opened me to new lights and greater glorious fields, new ideas and realizations of my more. This trip was the good kind. The very best kind. I saw my daughter as a woman on this trip, no longer my little girl. I loved who she was, who she had grown into. Sure and confident, living in a foreign country, alone and mastering it. She took me to favorite restaurants where owners hugged her as she walked in. She showed me her classrooms where children asked us to take them back to America because they loved her so much. I met her supervisors who said she always had a place there, she was a wonderful teacher. Then we began to travel and she showed me the world. She taught me how to navigate, how to find our way when English is no where to be found. She showed me her soul as we cried over the Killing Fields in Cambodia. She showed me how to play as we laughed with the elephants in Thailand. She taught me to eat  street food that I will never be able to replicate or name. We slept in places we agreed to never tell Chef about, we rode in vehicles we weren’t sure we would survive in. We talked into the sweaty nights and laughed every sweltering day.

I think my daughter is lost now, maybe I am. We can’t find each other. God knows that I would travel on any tuktuk or midnight bus with sketchy hipsters who haven’t showered in forever if it meant I could reach her. A constant flow of apologies, beseeching, anger, crying out to remember who we are, nothing I do seems to cross the divide. My God I miss that laugh, those eyes, that beautiful woman who teaches me things. I miss how her soul, always an old soul, uses creative ways to explore and explain her insides. Her art, oh Lord, her art. I miss how she loved so fiercely that it often broke her, she loved so loyally that she had no understanding of those who left others behind. I can’t find my daughter in this big world, maybe she has lost herself.

Four years ago today I was leaving for the trip that would forever change how I travel and why I travel. It forever altered how I see those around me, those in the places I visit. I seek out their stories, I want to know them and learn how my life is connected to theirs. Because we ARE all connected, that’s what she showed me most of all. She showed me that the water we waste, the clothing we take for granted, the extra food we throw out, the stories of suffering we don’t care to learn as we buy trinkets and bargain for the lowest price, we are connected to others who suffer. Today as I look back on that trip 4 years ago, I am reminded that Stella and I are still, forever connected, once through joy, today through heartache. She knows I will travel the world to reach her, she knows I will stop at nothing once she says she wants to be found. I feel her some days, so close she could be a shadow, a hazy bit of fog, I reach out but cannot touch her.  I trust that God is with her, near her, hovering over, listening to her soul. I know that God celebrates our connections, God loves our reconciliations and seeks restoration in our broken world. One day God will draw the map that will bring us back together. Today, we remember our past travels and keep walking in the light. Soon, Stella, we will meet again and my God won’t we laugh?