Friday, October 28, 2011

That Lady

I promised myself that I would not blog about this.  Actually, I promised myself that I would not talk about this or really call any attention to it at all.  There were good reasons for this.  But I am feeling compelled to share...just not for the reason that it will at first appear.

Last week, Molly (4) Caroline (1), myself, and my mom went on a flight to Massachusetts to visit some dear friends.  It was Caroline's first flight, and she did great--until the end.  As soon as the plane began to descend, she began to pull at her ears and wail.  The pressure hurt.  From the amount she was screaming, the pressure really hurt.  But we made it.

On the return flight, we were as ready as we could be.  I gave Caroline some tylenol in advance.  We had plenty of things for her to eat and drink to keep the pressure from building up.  But wouldn't you know that as soon as the plane began descending, the wailing began again.  She was inconsolable.  I felt so bad for her, and sorry that my fellow passengers had to listen to her.

A few minutes into the crying, a lady about 3 rows in front of us turned around and stared at us, shaking her head back and forth.  Clearly, annoyed.  I smiled.  My mom tried to communicate that the baby's ears were hurting.  The lady just stared at us, angry.  Throw-them-off-the-plane-angry.  She even pressed the flight attendant call button at one point, presumably to complain about us.  My heart started to race.  Anger.  Frustration.  Tightness in my chest that slowly creeps upward.  Lady, can't you understand?  Can't you put yourself into our shoes?

We made it all the way down and the crying stopped.  Magically.  Poor Caroline, all blotchy faced, just lay on me in pure exhaustion, snuffling and taking deep breaths to calm down.  We stood up and got our things together, ready to deplane.  The lady--that lady, as she had now become in my mind--had her bag several rows back.  Right near us.  You'd think she'd try to avoid eye contact, try to put it behind her and just get off the plane already.  I thought that's what she was going to do, and I even moved politely so that she could get her bag more easily.  That was me being the bigger person.

And then she looked straight at me.  And snarled.

"You really shouldn't do that to that baby."

Excuse me?  Do what?  Take her on an airplane?

A number of responses, all beginning with the phrase "How dare you", came to mind.  As rushing rage wound its way through my blood, I mumbled something, desperately trying to keep myself from shouting obscenities at her and from keeping my mom from punching the lady in the eye (which was a real possibility).  How could someone be so heartless, so mean, so...shameless?

And then she was gone.

She left me, a young mother with two tiny little girls, there to absorb the sting of her words, without giving us another thought.  We had ruined 10 minutes of her flight, and we deserved it.

I hate that this lady spoiled the end of this trip for us.  We should have come out of the airport beaming and sharing stories and shouting about all of the blessings we were given in that wonderful week.  Instead, we were weighed heavily with the cruelty of someone we didn't even know.  Even though we could brush her words off as ridiculous, it is weighty to glimpse the depravity of another.

But the heaviest weight of all?

Realizing that I am just like her.

Go with me all the way back to the beginning of this post for just a second.  As I said, I really didn't want to tell this story because I didn't want to give that lady any airtime in my mind or my heart or in my words.  I just thought she was deplorable enough not to warrant any further consideration.  And it's true.  This post is not about her.  Not really.

It's about all of us.  Me first.

As this story was unravelling, I was talking to myself (not out loud, mind you).  Wrestling back and forth in my mind:  "Who does that lady think she is?"  "What is her problem?"  "I hope something horrible happens to her on the way out of the airport."  "I hope something falls on her head."  "I hope that something falls on her head and then something else falls on her legs and pins her to the dirty ground."  "I hope that at that moment, one of those little airport cars drives by and rolls right over her."  "I hope that as all of this happens, I can be standing there to watch and laugh and tell everyone not to help her because she is such an awful human being."  "Please God, do something mean to her."

Gulp.  Guilty as charged.

And this one, the thought that I hung my hat on when all was said and done.  I said it like this in my head, "God, thank you that what goes around comes around."


It has taken me several days to unpack this thought in my head.  To realize that I really meant it.  To realize that I really believed (a.) that this is how God works and (b.) that this is how I want God to work.

If what goes around comes around, I have no desire to stick around for what is coming.  Because you know what?  Goodness and compassion and understanding will not be coming my way.  Even though I may not treat someone like that lady on an airplane, I have done things equally heartless, equally cruel, equally lacking in compassion.  And I enjoyed it.  Sure, you may say that she deserves all of this.  Clearly, I agree with you on some level.  But the more I think about it, the more I realize that she is not unique.  It is not that something in her is incorrectly wired to make her a mean, heartless human being.  It's that we're all wired that way.

What makes me think that I'm any better?

Luckily, even though my mind reverts to this "what goes around comes around" philosophy, I believe in a God who is not like this.  He sees that all of us (a world full of that guy and that lady screw-ups) just don't have it together.  We can't be kind.  We can't be understanding.  We try sometimes, and sometimes we don't.  But regardless, we can't do it.  And that's okay.  Because his justice system is not a karmic one, it's a gracious one.  It's distinctly a What Goes Around Does Not Come Around sort of system.

Thank you, God, for that.  Now I can rest easier.  Now I can be assured that my moment of meanness overpowering niceness will not come back and bite me on the way out of the airport.

Also.  Now I have the strength, the ability, the perspective, with which to forgive all of the that ladies in my life.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

One Night

Waiting for dessert, the small group of us sat in the living room and talked.  The conversation started and stopped, not unpleasantly, just people getting to know one another.  A question here, an observation there.  We asked how they had liked the tacos.  They smiled, revealing gratitude but not completely answering our question.  Our refugee friends are friendly, shy, warm, intriguing.

The conversation moved to dessert--desserts we were going to have that night.  They hadn't heard of brownies.  Only one of them had tried ice cream.  We promised that they'd only have to eat what they liked.

And then I asked about them.  What desserts did they have in their country?  What sorts of sweet things did they like to eat?
A blank stare, and then a grimace.  Slowly, an answer, as if being very gentle with me.

"Kristin, we have economic problems in Nepal.  No dessert."

That sound? That was me and my sense of reality being brought down to size.

I go on, ask the obvious question.  "So what did  you have to eat?  The UN, what rations did they give you?"

The answer: rice, flour, some sugar.  The vegetables they had to grow in their garden.  The mushrooms they hunted in the forest outside the camp.  The meat was bought in tiny shops inside the camp, where they lived in makeshift homes of bamboo, mud, and tarps with their extended families.  There was a rainy season.  There was some snow.  There was no heat.

For 20 years that's how it was.  How it still is there in that camp.  In 2011.

There were many delightful things that night.  Teaching them how to use a high chair.  Watching the adorable little girl playing with a "hammer" toy and giggling each time she made contact.  Learning Nepali words.  Showing off my yoga poses to demonstrate where I learned the word "Namaste".

But we all had to wonder after they left: what do they think of us?  Of us with our overflowing tacos, gigantic bowls of food, plentiful desserts.  Our multitudes of questions, our interest in them, our warm, comfortable homes, solemn prayers.  In no way was our meal extravagant or the night one of luxury.  It was the same thing we do every week.  Do we count ourselves blessed?  Truly?  Do we?

But one question has haunted me since they left that night.  Really, it has haunted me since I met them and heard of their plight.  Honestly, it has haunted me for 10 years--the time when the Nairobi slums became a part of my story.

Not "what do they think of us" but "what do we think of us?"

And, when I'm feeling brave....

"What does He think of us?"

I don't think these are questions I can dodge forever.  I have done a decent job for a long time.  But it's as if the universe--aka God--is conspiring against me.  I don't have answers to these questions.  Not yet, anyway, and certainly not in any tangible form.  But they are things that make me uncomfortable and make me question...things.  Big things.  How-do-I-live-my-life sort of things.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Is there room in our lives for a calling?

Do our lives have unique purposes, directions, paths?  Has God ordained for us each a road?  A road that we can take--or not.  But, nonetheless, a road that is for us only?

I think so.

God does place callings on our lives.  Callings to specific things and places and people and lives.  Our callings come from the deepest parts of who we are and what we're like.  But that's not all a calling is.  A calling is God reaching out to us, meeting us (and all of our goals, dreams, passions, experiences) and merging His direction with our own.

A calling is...most obviously....God calling the best parts of us out for Himself.  God saying, "Yes, I created that wonderful talent/passion/gift in you and now you have the choice to give it back to me and see what we can really do with it.

Weren't the disciples ones who were called?  Isn't that what happened to them?  They had lives they were leading.  Good lives.  Decent lives.  Important lives.  But God called them.  He called them to stop doing what they were doing for themselves, and begin doing what they were doing for Him.  The fishermen became fishers of men.  Their skills, their talents, their very lives plucked up and redirected.  Called.

I worry a bit about all of us, though.  I fear that our lives, while decent, good, fruitful, even Godly, have left no room for a calling.  We are planners.  At least, the ones of us that I know are.  We have a plan for the month, year, and next several seasons of life, and we are doing everything we can to keep ourselves on track to accomplish our goals.  We do this because this makes sense and we want to be successful and happy and not wind up somewhere in a dead end job with a house in foreclosure and zero prospects of retirement.  I get it.  We'd be dumb to do anything else.

But if we were called, really, called.  What would we do?

Would we be willing to even consider reconsidering?  Our plans, so nicely laid and waiting for us to grow into them--would we think of abandoning them?

If God broke in and said: Stop.  Not that way.  This way.  ---would we follow?

Because I believe that not only could this happen, but it does happen.  It is  happening.  Daily.  To all of us.

We are being called.  To something, toward something.

Question is: will we answer?