Coffee With Alyssa

If we were having coffee, I would put my hand on your arm and tell you that I’m sorry.

Sorry that we didn’t spend more time together.

Sorry that I didn’t seek you out for a quiet tête-à-tête on Friday or Saturday.

Sorry that I didn’t thank you enough for giving up the concert on the first night so you could watch me eat chicken and corn-on-the-cob (which I didn’t actually eat). Or thank you enough for the beautiful gift you gave me.

I could give you all my excuses — a whole litany of them. Regarding my dad, and my husband, and my kids, and my situation, and a dozen other phrases that begin with “my”.

My litanies do not belong in any liturgy

I used to joke that my spiritual gift was worry. I am really good at it. But I won’t make that joke anymore. It’s not funny.

Worry is a thief. It robs me of the moment I am in.

It robbed me of the sweetest part of the weekend, of being fully present with people I love, people like you.

But this weekend opened my eyes to a deeper meaning of Jesus’ words — “Be not anxious for this life… but seek first his kingdom, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:24, 33)

I’m a slow learner.

But I’m learning.

Radical Honesty

I just got back from a weekend conference that was full of encouragement and love.

Of course, the words that keep running through my mind are from a casual conversation that happened after the closing session, after the doxology and the revealing of the group art project, after more than a few hard good-byes.

In the standing around that happens as people are leaving, one person said to me, “I didn’t get a chance to really speak to you all weekend.”

Yeah, that happens when there are over 200 people present and none of them like shallow conversation. Everyone wants the deep. And deep takes time.

He continued, “Every time I saw you, you looked grumpy, and I wondered if you were mad at me about something.”

Oh, golly.

Oh. My. Goodness.

I stammered some ridiculous reassurance that I was NOT mad at him and I was sorry that I looked grumpy.

He had no idea that the weight of cares I was carrying was far beyond my strength.

To be honest, I wouldn’t have gone to the conference if I hadn’t promised to bring my daughter to it. To be radically honest, I didn’t enjoy the weekend.

Yes, that’s correct. A weekend full of encouragement and love that I didn’t enjoy.

I couldn’t enjoy.

My father had had a syncopal episode exactly one week before we were scheduled to fly out. I felt all panicky that day, running to get a chair for him because he couldn’t even make it into the kitchen. He slumped in it, staring blankly. His blood pressure dropped to 62/48 — and that was the first pressure I was able to get on him.

The next day, his doctor checked him and we talked about… um, honestly, I don’t even remember. I can’t remember a single word she said. But I remember her smiling and that I felt reassured. She gave me the business card of someone who can help me navigate the Long Term Care morass. I saved it so I could call her after I got back from my time away. It felt like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

My husband stayed with my father so I could go be encouraged. He used his vacation time  not for a getaway, not for something he wanted to do, but for a chance for me to get away. Self-sacrifice that I wasn’t fully appreciating.

My husband worked so hard to have everything perfect when I got home.

He even did the laundry.

I hate it when he does the laundry.

I opened the dryer this morning and found it FULL — and I mean how-did-air-even-circulate-through-this full. Sheets and towels, pants, sweatshirts, underwear, socks. Everything was jammed into one big load of laundry — because that’s how he does it.

I found myself grumbling as I took everything out. Irked. I have talked to him about this. I would have been happy to do the laundry. I AM happy to do the laundry.

It hit me as I was tugging apart pants tangled with sheets, that I am a grumpy person these days. The guy at the conference wasn’t wrong.

Yesterday I had to call a man about an order I had placed several weeks ago. He was grumpy. I could hear it in his voice, in the curtness of his words.

Finally he said, “I’m not aware of everything about this order. I just had major surgery.”

I knew his major surgery was six months ago. I wanted to tell him so, but I stopped myself.

We were like two heavy grit sandpapers rubbing against each other — each with our own hurts and burdens, each feeling we had the greater right to our irritability.

And isn’t that the way of the world?

If I was grumpy this weekend to any of you, I apologize.

Somewhere there is a balance between wet blanket and radical authenticity, between grumpy and happy, being encouraged and simply being.

Even though I didn’t enjoy everything, I was present.

My dry ground was watered — and that water will eventually seep to my roots.

Shimei

When King David came to Bahurim, there came out a man of the family of the house of Saul, whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera, and as he came he cursed continually. And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. …

Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.” But the king said, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David’, who then shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’… Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.” So David and his men went on the road, while Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went and threw stones at him and flung dust.

And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself.

 2 Samuel 16:5-6, 9-14 (ESV)

I have my own personal Shimei.

He walks beside me from a safe distance and throws rocks and insults at me. Some hit and hurt; some miss. The whole thing is exhausting.

He struck again the other day, a sucker punch that caught me by surprise. It knocked the wind out of me.

Whenever this happens, my emotions run the gamut of Abishai to … well, I never quite reach David. My friends similarly run the gamut of Abishai to Aaron and Hur, Moses’ companions, the ones who held up his arms.

I had wanted to put Shimei behind me.

I had wanted to reach my Jordan and find safety and refreshment.

I had wanted to focus my energies on my family.

But God, well, He had other plans.

One evening after the latest insult/rock-throwing episode, I went for a walk, griping at God — Can’t You see that I’m trying to do something good here?

Then St. Gregory spoke up (in my devotional book).

The highest, the only proof of love, is to love our adversary.

St. Gregory, quoted in Aquinas: Catena Aurea

It’s easy to love my father.

Of course, any caregiver can tell you that it’s not always easy. Sometimes he argues and is confused and doesn’t believe the things I tell him. But, at the end of the day, when I lay my weary head on my pillow, I love my dad.

Shimei, on the other hand — he’s another story. His words hurt. His stones hurt. His flung dust gets in my eyes and I can’t see.

A while ago, I began praying for my Shimei by name.  Oh, Lord, help me to love this person!

I don’t know what that love looks like because I’m not there yet.

I’m just so tired and longing for the Jordan.