Late Night Adventures and Little Girl Kisses

There’s no better opportunity for sharing random memories than a 15-hour road trip, and nobody better to hear them from than my mother.  So this one is hers.

“One night, when I was about 5 or 6, a couple of years after my Daddy died, I was mad at Mama about something. I guess I had gotten in trouble or something — I don’t remember, and I doubt she even remembers this — but anyway, I was mad and wouldn’t kiss her goodnight.  But after I had gone to my room in a huff, I looked out the window and saw the flashing red and blue lights of a police car down the road.  I guess I kind of forgot that I was mad, and I called her in to come look.  She asked if I wanted to drive down the road to see what it was.  [My older sisters] were already in bed, so we left them at the house and went on a little adventure, just the two of us.  I don’t remember if it was a car accident or what, I just remember that we had our little adventure and that when we got back I gave her a goodnight kiss, and all was right again in my little world.”

It reminded me of one of my own earliest memories, when Mother was already aggravated with me and I was supposed to be in bed.  I called her from my bedroom for probably the 2378th time, and she marched in threatening to punish me if I didn’t go to sleep.  Tears welled up in my eyes.  “But Mama, you don’t understand…see, there’s a bunny in the yard, and it’s hopping closer and closer to my window.”  She immediately softened and came to look out the window with me, exclaiming in delight.  At least, that’s how I heard it.  It occurs to me now that she was probably still really annoyed and not at all interested by the bunny, but she pretended to be interested, and I beamed with the pride of sharing my discovery.  I wasn’t punished, and I gave her a kiss goodnight, and I went to sleep happy.

My grandmother doesn’t remember driving down the road to look at police lights, and my mother doesn’t remember the bunny-watching.  So I can’t say why these memories stick out so vividly for us, except that perhaps while bunnies and police lights are meaningless, it’s those little (yet oh-so-big) moments of validation that define our sense of self.  It’s the fact that our mothers, our role models, were willing to pause their important adult lives and be fascinated alongside us.

What is of little consequence to you, may be one of those snapshot moments your child remembers forever.  So remember to slow down enough today to make memories.  Take your child out for ice cream and ruin his dinner.  Stay up late playing and having big girl time while your youngest is in bed.  Think twice before time-out and show a little unexpected grace.

And don’t forget a goodnight kiss.

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Lessons Learned: Miami Edition

Here’s the alternate and longer title of this post: What a Nondenominational Gringa Learned at a Hispanic Church of Christ.

As many of my readers know, this summer I spent 10 weeks in Miami, FL, working with a youth group. And the church wasn’t entirely Hispanic, but I’d say over half of its members speak Spanish as a first language and tan much more easily than I.

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I was a misfit in a lot of ways. First, although I hate to admit it, I’m a gringa through and through: blonde, pale, and of European descent, born and raised in the southern part of the USA, with no knowledge of Spanish. Second, as could perhaps be gathered from my undergraduate institution and church affiliation, I tend to be a bit more theologically liberal than traditional churches of Christ.

How did this work out?

Well, it took some adjustment.

But this misfit gringa was welcomed, accepted, and loved in a way that makes me terribly homesick for what I now consider my Miami church family. This summer was a huge opportunity for growth and shaped me in so many ways. Here’s what I learned:

1. Spanish. I hardly knew anything when I first came to Miami, but a little more than halfway through the summer, I really started trying to learn. The love I had for these kids provided the motivation I never had in high school. I googled verb conjugations and studied them. I read beginner books in Spanish. I went to Spanish church services. And the last week of the summer, I went to Spanish camp. My vocabulary consists mostly of ministry words and sappy phrases – “I’ll miss you,” “Talk to you soon,” etc. I had some embarrassing blunders, such as when I was texting one of the college guys – I was trying to say that it was good to see Mark (my boss) again when he got back from North Carolina, but it was too mangled for him to make sense of it, so he asked me in English what I meant to say. Turns out I had said “it was good for look Mark another time.” I also had to learn that te amo is “For boyfriend! Not for me.”

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2. Terms like “black” and “white” are actually pretty meaningless. One of the youth group guys told me that I was white because I was born in the US. I was trying to explain that it’s a matter of heritage, not birthplace, and that if I were born to white parents in Honduras, I would not be Honduran but white. He clarified with a look of surprise, “I’m not talking about your skin color, I’m not racist!” Although I’m not sure if “white” as a cultural stereotype is much better. When I got home, someone asked me if Dominicans are black or Hispanic. I was like…”I have no idea. They’re Dominican.”

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3. Undocumented citizens, a.k.a illegal immigrants, are people. They’re not a group, or a statistic, to me anymore. They are names and faces. They are people I have hugged and kissed and shared meals with. And within the comfort of our middle class American bubble, it’s pretty easy to say what they should have done, or should do, or what should happen to them. But it’s not so easy when you know where they came from and why they came here. It’s not so easy when you look into their eyes and see them as unique individuals.

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4. After you have spent one-on-one time with a student, they are about 75% more likely to come to the next youth group event. If you want good turn-outs, invest more in the kids than the activities. Relationships are what really matter anyway.

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5. God’s love transcends racial differences, cultural backgrounds, and language barriers. Hugs and laughter mean the same thing everywhere. Love is a universal language. And there is nothing more beautiful than a dark hand holding a fair one. One of the most memorable moments of the summer was the last night I was in Miami, saying goodbye to the family of one of the youth group guys. His mom tried to tell me thank you in broken English, and I responded that I would miss them in hesitant (probably grammatically incorrect) Spanish. It was kind of a Spanglish struggle. We looked at each other, shrugged, smiled, and hugged each other. That was all we needed to say.

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6. For a long time, my identity was wrapped up in my outspokenness, my opinions, and my beliefs. But I’ve learned that I can have deep and meaningful relationships with people without vomiting every doctrinal thought I’ve ever had about eschatology and substitutionary atonement. I don’t always have to be right…I just have to be me. And I know now that those are not the same thing.

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7. Just because there are things that frustrate you about a church, doesn’t mean you give up. No church is perfect, but for every reason to leave, there are a million ones to stay. And I say this as an exhortation to you as well: Relationships are worth working through differences, giving up preferences, and getting over pride. If I had given up and gone home the first time I felt like it, I would have forfeited so many incredible experiences and relationships that now I wouldn’t trade for anything.

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Adventures and Goodbyes

I’m sitting here with a cup of hot tea, missing bonny Scotland.  This is not unusual.  Not a day has passed in the last two months that I haven’t thought fondly of Scotland and missed it.  Most of the time, it’s a conscious thought, like, “Oh, I miss Scotland.”  But at other times, it manifests itself in a very tangible, even physical way, in an odd sort of pressure on my heart and an ache deep in my stomach.  At times like this, it’s hard to think in words.  Instead, I catch fleeting glimpses of my own heartache and can only sigh as every part of me longs to be there.  In these moments, I am emotionally present there while physically present here, torn in two different directions 4000 miles apart.

I can almost feel the brisk and exhilarating chill of the snowy air, almost hear Bernard’s familiar greeting of, “Hello, love!”, almost feel Adam’s hug and see Amy’s smile light up her face, can almost hear that adorable accent calling, “Love yoooouuu!”

Scotland was a beautiful adventure, but with all adventures come goodbyes.  While you say goodbye, though, you never really leave.  The memories take root in your heart and last a lifetime.

Now I’m getting ready to embark on a different adventure for the summer as I head to Miami, Florida, to work with a youth group down there.  I’m crazy excited, but to begin this new adventure, I have to close another chapter and say some more goodbyes.

I’ve finished out my junior year of college, and with that came the necessary emptying of the dorm room which I called home for a year.  The pictures came down from the walls, the carpet was torn out, and every trace of its uniqueness was swept away to make it clean and cold and white once more.  I’ll never see that room again.  I hugged my sweet roommate Morgan goodbye for the summer and tried to hold back the tears — the first of many.

The next round of goodbyes was to my small group at Grace Chapel.  It’s been an incredible year, and it’s been such a blessing to be a part of these girls’ lives and watch them grow.  When one of them buried her head in my shoulder and cried, it nearly broke my heart.

The family goodbyes were even more difficult.  Last night my family met in Nashville to have a last dinner together before I leave, and I hugged my big sister goodbye knowing that by the time I come back, she’ll be gone.  There won’t be any more trips to the thrift store or random movie nights.  Everything is changing.  Adventures are beautiful…but also heartbreaking.

At the end of two months in Miami, I know it’ll be just as hard to come back as it was to leave.  I’ll spend every moment I’m there forming new relationships, knowing that I have to say goodbye at the end of the summer.  I’ve left my heart in pieces all over the globe, and I know more pieces of it will be scattered far and wide as I live and love and adventure into the unknown.  Yet somehow, I know it’s all worth it.

Adventures come with goodbyes, but they also come with new beginnings and new experiences and new relationships.  They come with laughter and hope and youthful idealism.  And often, they come with an entirely new perspective on life.

You see, there’s one last goodbye I’ll have to say before I begin a new adventure, for one never comes back from an adventure unchanged.  I’ll have to say goodbye to myself.  It always feels a bit odd, really, realizing that I won’t come back the same person I was when I left.  I never do.  But it’s all part of the adventure.

My heart is heavy tonight, but not in a weary or burdened sort of way.  It’s in a very full sort of way.  I’m full of memories from my previous adventures, and full of excitement for what is to come.  I’m full of love that I’ve poured out and received back tenfold.  And perhaps most of all, I’m simply full of life.

Published in: on May 29, 2013 at 1:37 am  Comments (4)  
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