27 May 2015

Her name was Tarra

I came home the other night to find a woman sitting beside my driveway. She seemed confused, and so I asked if I could help, even if I didn't really know how. I used to know - but I had left behind all of the contacts and resources I once knew in Amsterdam. But my time in Oudezijds 100 (and with the vrouwenpastoraat [women's pastorate]) had left me with the conviction that one helps, even if only through reaching out.

I offered her a ride somewhere. As I went in to tell Matthijs, she came in with me. She sat on our couch and told us a bit of her story. She seemed confused and conflicted; furthermore, she had a black eye and had been drinking. We listened. I prayed. When I went out with her for a smoke, Matthijs called Catholic services to see if they knew how we could better help her.

Someone was sent. We gave her food while we waited for help from outside. The help turned out to be the police, perhaps the only option on a holiday weekend, but probably not the best fit for someone in her shape. When he came he asked immediately for her name, and it was only then that I discovered it was Tarra. I felt bad, having forgotten that learning someone's name is as much an act of hospitality as inviting them in.

The police tried to convince her to go to a nearby women's shelter, which I also thought good. And she was ready to go, but she got spooked. Perhaps this is not surprising, as she seemed more willing to trust me, whom she'd just met, than the police. She admitted her life was messed up because of her own decisions, but wasn't sure how to make other decisions, or even if it was safe to. And as for other solutions? The police refused to take her back to Kalamazoo Street, which she requested, as he believed this to be an unsafe place for her. Even Tarra, who is not from the area, understood the problem: Kalamazoo street is where prostitution happens. How could he bring her back to that area, even if she claimed it was where a friend had an apartment? What real friends give black eyes, anyways?

And so the police left, without her. And Matthijs and I were left confused about how best to help Tarra. I didn't feel comfortable inviting her into our house to stay the night, although perhaps we will find a way (through community?) to be able to do that in the future. So instead I walked down the street with her for awhile, let her talk to her mom on my phone, wished her well and continued to pray. Pray that perhaps the next encounter with someone will go better and she will seek and find more lasting help.

25 May 2015

My own awkwardness with Mother's day

This year marked my first year living in America on Mother's Day. One of my hopes for the day was to attend a church service that was not too overtly focused on Mother's day. I didn't want my feeling of awkwardness related to Mother's day to overshadow my interactions with others. More so, I didn't want to detract from the deep thankfulness I believe all people, especially all Christians, should have towards the love and dedication of mothers (and fathers).

But Mother's day makes me feel awkward, and saying I'd prefer not to talk about mothers and mothering is probably not helpful to bring up in a conversation. But I can't imagine that mentioning that my mother has passed away or that Matthijs and I are inexplicably childless is more helpful. I think the biggest challenge is that each of these things brings feelings that are difficult to understand without the experience. At the same time, each person experiences these challenges in her (or his) own way, and these responses vary significantly, so it's hard for others to know how to respond well. 

To me, the feelings found in the loss of a parent is one I feel like I share with others, as this article from the New Yorker indicates: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-unmothered. Despite knowing that I am not the only one feeling this way, I still don't know how to talk about it. I don't know how to describe the vague feeling that something is missing in my life, like conversations and support from my mother, nor do I know how to talk about the sadness/ mild depression that I went through in the year after she died. At the same time, her absence has become a part of life, and I have adapted to this new reality, finding good in how my relationship with my whole family has grown through this and delighting in how my father has become more involved in his grandchildren's lives.

Our experience with infertility, on the other hand, feels much more complicated. I've always wanted to be open and honest about our experience, but it's not an easy topic to bring up. Most of us know people for whom being unable to conceive is a source of deep sadness. In light of that, how do I bring up my somewhat ambiguous feelings about having children? I do not really know how to relate to that deep sadness about not being a parent nor respond to others who want to empathize with me about that sadness. Instead, my journey has been trying to answer how, if I am content with not having children, not conceiving can cause such disappointment? No one had warned me about the difficulty of learning to anticipate only to be consistently disappointed, nor the sense of failure that my body is incapable of doing something that so many others can (and often without even trying). And the solution? No one knows, except to say that using hormones and IVF increase our chances.

I am thankful that Mother's day passed quietly here. I didn't want it to be about me, especially as I clearly have some extra baggage when it comes to mothering. At the same time, I hope that my own experience has helped increase my compassion for others for whom the topic of mothers is complicated. My prayers go out to those who have been hurt by how we talk about mothering, especially those who have experienced the pain of having a miscarriage and the misconceptions people have with that: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/05/08/404913568/people-have-misconceptions-about-miscarriage-and-that-hurts

17 May 2015

Deacon Ordination Ceremony number two

Today I attended the ordination ceremony for deacons within the (Catholic) diocese of Lansing. It was a delight to be present to see the men that we had gotten to know this past year take the next step on their journey. At the same time, it felt a little bittersweet. Despite Matthijs having joined with these men in their training for much of this past year, he is not yet allowed to become a deacon.

This is now the second time this has happened. When we decided to move to Lansing, Matthijs was no longer committed to Amsterdam. Because one is ordained to a specific place, the bishop could no longer ordain him in and to the church in the Netherlands, despite having been approved and trained there. Last year around this time he witnessed his fellow classmates become ordained.

The hope was that he could "transfer" into a program here. Yet, once again, the question has not been whether Matthijs would be able to serve God and the church well in the capacity of deacon. Instead, place is still an issue: our visas are only temporary. Perhaps there is still a way to make it happen, especially as we do intend to stay here for the next five to ten years, but nothing is certain.

One of the things I am growing to love about the office of deacon in the Catholic church is how much the wife of the aspiring deacon plays a role. A man cannot become a deacon unless his wife is fully in agreement, recognizing that the work of deacon can take a man away from his family and that it is a burden (and joy) that both husband and wife will share. It is not uncommon for a wife to request that the process of becoming a deacon be delayed until the children have left the house. I, too, am playing a role in Matthijs not yet becoming a deacon, although in a different way: our choice to move here to allow me to do campus ministry has caused Matthijs to be without place.

I am thankful for how patient and gracious Matthijs has been about the waiting, especially as I know it remains difficult for him to know how best to serve God and the church here in Lansing. At the same time, the wait has allowed me to witness his dedication to serving God, his enthusiasm and curiosity about so many different possibilities, and his desire to find a good fit, which has led to much deliberation and contemplation.

We are not sure about what is next. I am learning to be okay with that. It helps that (like a good Protestant?) I consider the words spoken to the deacons apply to both Matthijs and I: "Receive the word of God, of which you are a herald. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach." No matter what one's ordination status is, these are powerful and encouraging words to live by. 

01 May 2015

Vacation and distancing myself from work

I'm not entirely sure what I should do about work while I'm on vacation. Because I like my normal life and my work and I feel that things are fairly balanced and I'm doing well, I don't feel like desperately need to "get away from it all." But generally balanced and fairly well is hardly the ideal (neither is being frequently annoyed with others), so some healthy distancing from work is definitely in order. The question, though, is what the healthy balance is.

During vacation, I learned that having internet on my phone at all times was great for exploring the area and not having to stress about getting lost. It was not great for all of the times that there was a little icon on my phone saying that I had mail. Disallowing my gmail to update itself automatically would have been wise, as would a better "out of office" message. I don't mind looking at my email on vacation (it makes returning a lot less stressful), but I don't want email to get in the way of my being able to create a healthy distance and rest.

At times I felt guilty for thinking about work and taking the struggles that I had there with me on vacation. It wasn't until I was sitting in a church (the fourth or fifth one by then - churches are an essential part of my concept of vacation) that I realized that I had been mistaken about taking my troubles along with me. The challenges I have at work are part of my life, and I do not have to squash that part of me. Vacation should less be about ignoring these challenges and more about finding a way to put them in perspective. Spending time with God - a natural response to visiting churches and walking too much and delighting in the wonder of the world and the goodness of vacationing with Matthijs - allows the stresses and challenges and worries to become less overwhelming. Giving space on vacation for work helps me to remember to trust God more with the difficulties and allows me to remember and dwell on all the wonderful things that I love about my job.