Blest be the Synergy

We gathered under the trees and around salads and grilled kebabs and before prayer, our host said, “Be thinking about how to answer this question: why did God put you here in this place and time? What were you born to do? We’ll talk about this later in the evening, so this is your heads-up.”

Then we ate wonderful food and cuddled the baby and stirred the fire and talked on high for hours. We were seven people joined by common experiences and passions, and there are always stories to re-tell and howl about, and new parts of our lives to share, and there is never silence between us. When the darkness settled and the children were put to bed, and the coals glowed, I thought it was time to wrap up and leave, but our host brought up his question: “What were you born to do? We’ll go around the circle and hear from everyone, and I’ll start.”

The fire became an altar, and the circle a sacred place, and time stopped while we heard each other’s dreams and goals and affirmed what we heard.

“Yes, you ARE a shepherd. Hey, I want to tell the rest of you about the time he was a shepherd to me.”

“The way you love on troubled children is the way you show them Jesus. You WERE born for that!”

I was the only single among the three couples, and they prayed for a husband for me, and we prayed for each other’s visions and unanswered questions and quests. Sacred is the only word I can use to describe it, and even the next day I still felt hushed in wonder at the beauty and power I’d witnessed.

This was one of several small groups I’ve been part of. Various times and incentives shaped the groups. Similar interests. Common training. A work team. Sitting at the same table for supper in the cafeteria.

The synergy that rises out of asking questions and brainstorming and bringing one’s whole self to a group energizes me for several reasons.

  • It is an adventure, because there is no predicting what will happen.
  • It is empowering to be heard, to be given space and time where your voice matters.
  • It provides shared experience that becomes a reference point for further interaction.
  • Life and death are in the power of the tongue.

Sometimes a group has to wrestle with a dilemma that has no easy way forward. If one person were alone in a room wrestling with the sticky problem, they would get tired and despair and make a bad decision. But in a group, with more ears tuned to what’s being said, and more than one heart engaged with the issues at hand, good and beautiful things happen.

What happens in group is not limited to the time in the circle. Sometimes Often I perceive or say things in the moment that I would see differently if I had time to mull over it. But it gives a starting place for more thought and change. Group work also pushes me to ask God for the most pressing need of my whole life: wisdom.

Here are some life-giving words I’ve heard in group:

“When you said that, I got this picture of…”

“I really like that idea!”

“Can you tell us where those tears come from?”

“You’re being quiet over there. What are you thinking?”

“What would happen if…?”

“I see your point, but what about…?”

“That took some courage to say.”

One group was so sacred that I can’t talk about it here except to say it involved snowballs in the dark, and honesty and courage shimmered around us in a way that would hardly have happened had we stayed around the table in the dining room.

So setting is important. A bonfire helps. Or a chalk board. And snacks–at least chocolate.

There are no guarantees for resolution, and there is always risk.  Risk that my words will be misunderstood. Risk that I’ll fall apart. Risk that I’ll walk away with fewer answers than I want. Risk that my heart will break.

But risk is the price you have to pay to keep walking toward wholeness and a full life.

I am deeply grateful for the groups I’ve been honored to be part of. They shape me into a person I could never become if I would try to wing it alone.

Home Goings

I had already cried quite a lot that day. Easter night, I had walked around my old haunts–the fountain, the Palace, the little pond. Walking down Warszawska, tears kept falling out of my eyes. Tears leaked into the pillow that night, and into my coffee the next morning in the place where I had always had coffee and watched the light coming in the windows. I cried to Lolita in the van, and when our friend met us at her door, she said, “Oh Anita, are you sick?”

I said no, I’m just sad. I’m so happy where I am, but so sad not to live in Poland anymore. Then we drank coffee and ate chocolate blok, and who couldn’t be uncheered with this on Easter Monday?

Then Lolita and I took the train to Warsaw to revisit more old haunts and imbibe the atmosphere that I miss so much. We lingered long over lunch and E. Wedel drinking chocolate and stories and joys and worries, and were nearly ready to leave. When she came out of the restroom, she was crying, asked me to pay while she goes outside to call someone, because she doesn’t want to tell me in here. So I did, when the waiter finally brought the check.

Out on the sidewalk, she could hardly get the words out: Our… sister Beat…is home.

Incredulous. Stunned. Shaking my head. We cried on each other’s shoulders, and I kept shaking my head. Then it occurred to me: she’s healed, she’s healed, she’s dancing. But why was I shaking and crying?

There was no point in looking at sights. The shock had suddenly chilled us, so we found a coffee shop, warmed up a little, read the terse news article. Beat’s car had hit a horse and she was killed instantly. We got the next train, went to friends of Beat’s, and talked and cried and prayed together.

The next day, my friend and I returned to the US as planned. It was hard, hard to leave, and harder to come back to a surreal atmosphere. All week, a fog seemed to cover the place and I kept pushing through jet lag and emotional numbness. Thursday my mom had surgery to remove lymph nodes for analyzing and determining treatment for stage 2 breast cancer. It was a yucky week, all around.

Saturday was the funeral. Finally, I could let myself be sad. Even though it was still surreal. The form I saw in the casket wasn’t Beat. I couldn’t believe that she wasn’t around a corner somewhere, chortling and chatting. Someone so alive can’t be gone for always. Singing “Under His Wings” in a Faith Builders group helped me feel I could DO something with my grief. Telling my favorite story about her at the open mic at dinner helped take some weight off my heart. But it still felt surreal.

It seems to me that this fog of grief is two enormous things: loss and shock. My heart can’t accept what my ears are hearing. Yesterday all the staff and students gathered in the chapel for a memorial time to remember and celebrate her life.  I knew I wanted to be there, but I kept thinking this is just a weird kind of exercise because we all know she’ll show up again and we’ll laugh together at how ridiculous and impossible it was that we thought she died. I cried when we sang “safely in His bosom gather…such a refuge ne’er was given,” because I’m sooooo glad she’s safe and healed and radiant.

I remember Beat’s soft heart and gentle love. How could she possibly remember everyone’s favorite food and make sure I’d gotten my favorite bar that last week? Her irreverent, shrieking howls were part of the reason I loved her. Her honest tears were beautiful to me, not weakness.

In the memorial time, it was fitting that there was more laughter than tears. We ended with some little howls ourselves. I did, anyhow. My favorite story recounted is this: Someone complained to her, the head cook, about the food. “Just put more Ranch on it,” she said.

The layers of complexity and wisdom and understatement in that line is priceless and howl-worthy and so Beat.

She was a queen in God’s Kingdom, and in the kitchen, and she is a hero.

What a Woman Needs

Last year in psychology class, our teacher spoke briefly one day of gender differences. We girls all looked knowingly at each other when we listed the stereotypical things about us: emotional, verbal, soft-hearted, quick to cry.

Then the teacher shared a vignette of a marriage counselling session. He was encouraging a couple to understand their differences and be aware of what the other needs. (Live with your wife in an understanding way, the Bible puts it.) The husband could love her best if she could talk and feel heard. He doesn’t have to explain it away or find solutions for her, just hear her out.

In typical human fashion, I only heard what I wanted to hear from the teacher’s lecture. (I didn’t hear what the wife should do!) I heard an acknowledgment that women function best when they can talk. I did two things with that: 1) winced because I don’t have a husband to talk to and 2) took it as permission to knock on someone’s door to talk when I need it.

Those of us with opinions and fears and ideas and wishes and falterings need a place to get outside our own heads, have someone else look at what is jiggeting around in there, and sift through the stuff. Untangle the spaghetti. Bring to mind what’s been forgotten.

So this morning I was troubled about something I heard yesterday. I was out of my depth and didn’t know how to think about it. I needed perspective and it suited my mentor to meet over lunch. We met, I talked, and she talked. She gave balance and wise perspective and encouragement, and when my scalloped potatoes and salad was finished, I was good to go. I thanked her soundly, and hardly thought about the troubling issue again.

I’m saying this for any woman out there with spaghetti muddling her tired, clever brain: you need to talk with someone.

I don’t mean that you tell someone EVERY time you’re bothered, because that could be every five minutes or every five hours. Life gives bumps and questions and riddles. That’s normal, and we have to roll with the punches. But when there’s a niggling that won’t go away, a worry that festers, an unrest that simmers, find someone who can hear you talk about it, and then you can go on.

No one can do life on her own. Not even the independent ones who know their own minds. (And most of them are independent only because they have to be. But I digress.) We function best in teams, families, communities, small groups. The sum of the whole is worth more than the individual parts, and each gives to and benefits from the others, and we lose more than we realize when we isolate ourselves and try to push through on our own.

Bouncing ideas off someone or sifting through the things that simmer inside is a big part of staying emotionally whole and healthy. It isn’t a right to demand or be selfish about, but something to be honest enough and weak enough to admit need. I think there are a lot of women walking around who are slowly withering inside because they haven’t found a safe confidante or mentor or counselor. And that saddens me because bottling things up is not how we were designed to live, and there are options and better ways of living.

Some options:

  • journal
  • go on a brisk walk around the block
  • email someone if you can’t talk
  • curl into a ball and cry and talk to God for a long time
  • text or call someone to ask if they have time to meet

Burrowing into a book or scrolling through Facebook are not good options for a bothered brain, usually.

I’m unutterably grateful to be writing from a place of wealth, not want. I know loneliness. I know the ache of friends far away and confidantes too busy. I also know the little bit of courage that it takes to ask to talk gives huge payback in equilibrium and peace.

The tissues and tea help too.

Image result for willow tree heart and soul My Willow Tree figurine: “Heart and Soul”