I Woke Up at 3am This Morning

I woke up at 3am this morning. I’ve been trying a new thing where I wake up stupid early to read and write and just have at least an hour to collect myself. So I knew my alarm was set for 5am and I needed to go right back to sleep. But I also knew—I just had that sense—that I wasn’t going to go back to sleep anytime soon.   It often happens when something is bugging me, or worrying me. So I tried to read my 1920’s detective novel…sometimes that works to get my brain relaxed enough to sleep within a few minutes. Not this time. Then I tried the usual lie-there-and-try-to-ignore-all-the-thoughts-pressing-in-and-get-all-anxious-about-how-tired-I-will-be-the-next-day routine….Nope, that didn’t work either. So at 420am I got up and decided to just call it a morning and go downstairs to my books and journal. But first I checked on the kids to tuck them in and shut their doors so hopefully they stay asleep just that bit longer.

I went in to my 6 year olds room and saw that she wasn’t in her bed and then realized she was standing at her bookshelf. Scared the bejeebers out of me. And her. After we calmed down she said she had had a nightmare and then realized that a book was off her shelf so she was putting it back (she is obsessive about her room). We lay down and talked.

Usually when this happens, when she wakes up in the middle of the night and needs us to talk her through her dream, I’m in a dead sleep and quite reluctant to want to talk about anything. I can be grumpy. Which I am sure does nothing for her sense of well being in the middle of the night. But tonight, I was already quite alert so when she asked if we could talk, I said yes.

I asked her what she dreamed about and she said she couldn’t explain it.   So then I asked how she felt about grade 1 starting next week. She was quiet for awhile and then said, “It’s really hard to explain.” I said I was awake so she could just try if she wanted to but she didn’t have to.

She said, “Well, its like sometimes my brain says, “You can do this! You can do this grade 1! “ And then sometimes it changes and says, “You can’t do this—it will be too hard and you might be getting meaner.” And then it goes back to “You can DO this! You can do this!” And then just back and forth, back and forth “

I was quiet for a minute, then said, “Well, that is exactly what every human brain does every day. Its very normal. Especially when you are about to do something new. “

She talked a bit more about how we have different parts of ourselves that sometimes say opposite things to us with her weird knack of knowing stuff about herself that is sometimes quite beyond her years. (She also has a knack for great and loud consternation about slightly dried out food and reverting to great and loud “tiger-mode” when she doesn’t get her way.  So…you know….)

Then I was struck by what was transpiring that night. I couldn’t sleep myself because I was stewing over terrifying things I read on the internet. I have been getting so overwhelmed by fear lately—fear of getting sick, fear of violence, fear of kidnapping, fear of war, fear of the tremendous anger and meanness everybody seems to have, fear of what watching tv does to our brains, fear of our environment turning against us (I just watched Interstellar with its no food/dust storms/earth dying themes so this crazy smoke we’ve been having this week was striking me as particularly apocalyptic), fear of the entire internet being hacked and the whole world falling apart……seriously, my brain is not a safe place right now. I try to tell myself that there is good and love and redeeming things in the world but then my other self tells me that it is scary out there. And back and forth, back and forth.

As I was talking with my child, I was struck by how we were both up in the middle of the night, thinking about scary things and kind of stuck in the middle place between all the voices. And the words, “There is no fear in love,” and “Perfect love casts out fear,” came to into my head. I lay there and thought, “The only thing we can do, in the midst of ALL this stuff and ALL the voices, is to love each other.” To build each other up, encourage each other, to share and provide and lend ourselves to each other, to see good in each other. Getting out of my head and interacting with love, with real people. It seems a very small offering in the midst of the tidal wave of awfulness. But, God? Seriously, what else is there. The pulse that lies underneath this world, connecting it, is also the low voice that loves it. That calls us, and heals us, in often overlooked and always unsuspecting ways. And always in ways that are real, with real people.

I was about to share this quite profound insight with my kid( too bad you can’t see my sarcastic face here), not totally consciously thinking “wow, this is great—maybe she’ll get this concept and then she’ll take it with her—this could change us! Wow, cool, great!” when she said to me, “Mom, I have a joke. “

Uh,… ok…..

“What part of the body is in charge of the whole body? The HEAD-quarters!! Hahahahhahaha…..” I laughed. I love weird kid jokes. Then she wanted me to tell one and the only one I could think of was “Why was the 6 afraid of the 7? Because the 7 ate 9!” And she laughed and said, “ Ok I got one…..Why was the 4 afraid of the 6?   Because the 6 ate the 2!!! Hahahahahaha!!!!”

She went on with that theme for awhile, I guess not entirely getting my joke 😉 But then she said, “ Oh that was great mom. I feel way better.   I should always tell jokes when I’m afraid. “ And then she rolled over, gripping my arm and fell asleep.

Each of us learned something this morning.

Me-that love helps, and her, that laughing helps.   When I came across this little kid in the middle of the night, got out of my head and showed a bit of love, I was lifted back into the space of normal. And she laughed and released that tension of fear that’s been gripping her in the recesses of her brain the last few days.

I was glad for this bit of grace, this weird middle of the night encounter. So normal—Grade 1, nightmares,  yawns, jokes, sleeping while holding hands. But it was a big moment in a way too.

And so now I get to start the day—with that tired-eye, already-coffeed-out feeling. And maybe with a bit of apprehension about how much an idea can change me. I’m reminded of what I wrote in my last post about how ideas don’t change people but actual love might.   So I guess I’ll wait for everybody else to wake up, and just be with them, see that bit of love that happens in this house from time to time, and maybe that will be enough for today.

And then I’m going to look up some knock-knock jokes.

And then I’ll take a nap.

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Real Rabbits

I saw posted on facebook the other day, an excerpt from The Velveteen Rabbit:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

 “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

 “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

 “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

 “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

 “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

I’ve heard it before and maybe there are blog posts abounding about it but it’s a sweet story and powerful in its way. A friend had this part read at her wedding—no scripture or anything traditional, but this. And it was perfect.

The week I saw this posted, I also heard a sermon on love. On 1 John 4:7-17. The guy speaking did his own transliteration of the text from the original Greek. And one thing caught my ear especially. What we normally read in the text as “anyone who loves, comes from God,” was worded, “those who love, comes-into-being from God.” It means the same, but the words “come into being” evoke a much broader and more beautiful picture to me. And it reminded me of the Velveteen Rabbit.

In the book, the boy loves this stuffed rabbit. He takes it everywhere, he sets up games with it in the bushes. He lays with it beside him every night, and the rabbit is hot but gets used to the heat and starts to need it. In the book, the boy will drop everything else to find the rabbit. He cannot be at peace until it is close and safe. The rabbit’s fine sheen is eventually rubbed off and his seams beg open.   The rabbit is loved and cherished and in someways that makes him less than his former self—but like the skin horse said, it is in this state—the unglorious wear and tear that comes from of a life lived with another person that makes that little brown bunny real.

Love is something in our culture so abstract and idealized, unformed but worshipped. We sequin it onto pillows and tattoo it on our shoulders. We recognize that there is something in loving a person truly that does go beyond what we merely want to aquire and gather for ourselves. There is something in “love” that we need and we follow after even if we don’t know what that love will do to us if we truly find it.

In both the scripture and the book, it is said that love, when you love and when you are loved, pushes you into this trajectory of “becoming.” Like we aren’t fully here without it. Like we uncover something of who we are when we have to negotiate what it means to love another “becoming” person. We come into being when we get close to love. We gradually become more real—we exist more, we are more concrete and we have to live in reality more. When we love anyone—friend, spouse, mother, father, brother, child—and when we experience love in return—we become more of who we are, under all that we thought we had to be.

Love makes us real. Its not a fix all—finding someone to love will not make you better or perfect by a loooooong shot but will set you on the path to uncover something bedrock about yourself. Not your pretty, sanitized, self-actualized self, mind you. If anything, this real love will show that self for what it is—more of a shell than a heart. The self that loves beyond itself is a self that is as honest as blood and dirt. That self that can’t hide anymore and doesn’t want to. The self that longs to be known and longs to be present and longs to be taken in finds that it is when it chooses to know and take in another.

And do you know how love does all these amazing, high-falutin’ things?

I just wrote that question and laughed to myself—like I have any complete idea what love is capable of. How does it make us? How does it bring us into being? Certainly not with big words and fanciness. Not with ideas and blog posts. But maybe it makes us by setting us up beside another. Where we have to push and tug and learn about how to be with another. Where we have to listen and then we have to speak. Where we have to not charge ahead like a bull all the time and also have to not hang back like a mouse along the edge of the room all the time. Where we have to take another’s view into consideration and then we have to value, and encourage and delight in that view—however different it is from ours. And we have to do it while not letting go of ourselves. And none of this will go according to plan.   And we will be hurt. We will get poked by the bushes and our seams will open. We will be bruised, most likely. And, just like that rabbit, we might even love and be loved so thoroughly that we will have to walk with someone through their dark and fever and disease and it might threaten to burn us up in the end. Love can do that.

As I’ve been writing I’ve been thinking about all the different kinds of love. I could write about what loving a spouse does to your heart. The good and the hard and how the heart becomes less a mushy, plump, rainbow dream and more a toned but tender muscle when you live and choose to love with someone. I could talk about what loving your children does—holy flip, that love is fierce and exhausting. I could talk about loving your mom, or your dad and learning what it is to let them be real people too.

But what I was thinking about the most today was…..well, church. Loving church. Loving THE church and all its stinky parts. All those people. What does it mean that we “come into being” when we love all those weird people that show up alongside ourselves, looking for something greater than themselves. And seriously, church people are weird.

I hold on to church lightly. Or at least I’ve learned to. Like most people, I have had a run-in with some churchers that left me hurt and damaged. Confused and angry. Alone and not sure where to go next.   And then I have come across some church people who healed me—who spoke wisely and thoughtfully and honestly.   They showed me the good parts of this faith that actually do make people more whole. I have come across people who attend churches who make me fearful and those who make be brave. In church, you will find every sort of human imaginable—and every weakness and falliability and pretension. Churches are so susceptible to fads—to ideas that seem so powerful but peter out because….well, there are probably a million reasons why, but they do. They never seem to settle down into the hearts of people. Probably because nothing ever does without love.

And church, THE church, is not like anything else in that it not only is a community of people to work with and learn from, it also exists as a function of an urge in our deepest selves to know God. To connect with that Pulse that we can no more define than control. So the hurt that we receive from those in church will deeply impact how we know and want to know God and how we know and want to know ourselves—it will sit in us in such a way that will grip us to our deepest parts. Because at church we open our deepest selves up to God and sometimes hurt and broken and maybe even awful people walk in and make big mistakes there. And maybe we’ve done the same in others.

The little church we go to is going through some changes. Big changes. Not bad ones, but ones that will definitely change how we ARE together. I think everyone involved in this church will have experienced some discomfort and some apprehension as to what it will mean to have our community stretched in ways we don’t actually know yet. I was thinking about this “come into being” idea when it comes to how we love the people in church. This is one of those times in the life of a community that we might become a little bit more shabby but a whole lot more real because we are living hard questions out WITH eachother and working VERY hard to get things done. I think it might be anyways.

I’m not sure what that means in the particular, everyday sense. It might mean patience when someone else is talking—and remember what I said before—Church people are weird. And I am one of them. It might mean listening with your own thoughts held back. It might mean stepping out and doing something new and scary. It might mean saying, “well…yes” again. It might mean setting boundaries on your time and energy.   It might mean setting boundaries on someone’s bad behavior. It might mean challenging someone, asking them questions, not speculating in silence but inquiring of them and speaking out if you have something to say. It might mean sitting with the discomfort of what love actually is, and who these people actually are and not how we idealized it and them to be. It might mean praying a lot.   It might mean letting go a lot. It will mean a lot, A LOT of grace.

At the core of love is—well, honestly, I probably don’t know.  But what I sense from here is that the hard parts of love come when the illusion is gone and the reality of a completely Other person stands before you. How do we love the whole of the other person and not just what we need from them? This is community done over time. It’s a tall order and I have not always done this well in my life. But I take heart in knowing that as I “come-into-being,” my whole self is being at once undertaken and unearthed into something that is real. And so is everyone else’s who loves. Imperfectly, haltingly, but always “becoming.”  And together we are the “becoming” church-born of love and knowing love.

And so I, and we, will enter into this time of change trying to remember:

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become.”

“Everyone who loves, comes into being from God.”