Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Missing

This has been the season of the missing in my house.

My favorite fall jacket vanished into thin air the moment the temperature dipped. I've drove myself insane looking over the same rows of clothes  trying to find it. But I can do without it.

Even though it was a Vera Wang jacket that I found at Goodwill for $12. Vera. Wang. And even though it was my best thrift find of all time. I. Can. Do. Without. It. Sigh...

And then just two days ago, a brand new book that I was eating up after a long span of buying books that tasted like sawdust to my soul, Learning How to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor simply took flight from the place I put it on the coffee table. I've looked on every book shelf and in my and daughter's "library" which is a collection of randomly stacked books that she steals from my nightstand. Nowhere to be found. Just gone.

But around the same time as those two trivial things, we lost a treasure of a different kind: my son's beloved and raggedy teddy bear. Teddy has been his constant companion since he was an infant. Five years of comfort, crying, playing and being "best friends" has now disappeared into some abyss where childhood goes to retire. There's this ache in my heart over this bundle of "fluff and stuff"; it feels familiar and there's a glimmer of my own story in there somewhere.

When my son tugs on my arm and tells me how much he misses him, I just break inside. Even though I know it is just a teddy bear. I find myself dreaming of finding Teddy for him. I've looked in every place possible; I called Starbucks (where the lady acted like I was a crazy person), Home Depot and asked my parents to inspect their cars. And yet, I just have this sad feeling that he's sitting in the rain somewhere. Alone.

Teddy meant something to my son. My son gave him purpose. My son gave him a place he was needed. He gave him a name (even if it was unoriginal) and he gave him love. 

The weight of losing something we value beyond price flips our perspective upside down; it bleeds into compartments where logic can't go. We retrace steps. We whisper desperate prayers. All the while trying to explain away why we care so much about something that was made in a factory somewhere. In reality, it was just a toy. I know, I know.

Teddy was literally falling apart and had had his arms and head sewn back on. Twice. He had been devalued by the simple act of doing life with my energetic son. And yet, it was his pilled fur and saggy head that gave him worth; that made him alive to us; that gave Teddy a star spot in my son's childhood storyline.

That's what love does. Love takes ordinary, non-interesting things and breathes life into them. Gives them scars and snuggles. Our experiences become their experiences. Our memories wrap around these small pieces of our personal history and our stories become folded in between.

My son has had five wonderful birthdays, and I am thankful for every single one. However, this year when he turned five it was a harder one to throw. He wasn't a little kid anymore. Toddler-dom was gone. I had prayed for this moment. I had longed desperately for easier days, when I wasn't bogged down by his energy and his temperament, where grunts would become sentences and temper tantrums, logical conversations.

And I don't miss my son being little, I just see how much I have changed. How we all have transformed. I see how much my husband and I have changed. In some ways for the better, the deeper and richer stuff, and yet in some spots for the more ragged. We bear the scars, figuratively and physically, of bearing and raising children.

The bags under out eyes are heavier, the tension of being torn in several different directions has left us with stitched limbs and love muscles too. And yet, our love is more valuable, there has been more of an investment, there is more to protect and a harder road ahead of us; one where we have to daily decide not to check out citing the worn out and disappointed places.

And I'm reminded of the rip-my-heart-out scene in Inside Out. The one where my son and I sat sobbing together. It is when the main character's imaginary friend Bing-Bong was left behind in a sea of other "childlike" things. I feel like I was watching every child's rite of passage. I could feel the innocence burning away into the hard realities and all I wanted to do is fashion a life-sized shield to protect my son from what was coming.

But I can't. Not only is it impossible, but I  don't see God doing that either. He doesn't stick us inside a bubble so we don't feel loss, anger, oppression or depression. He doesn't construct the road so that we can detour seasons of the missing.  Because here's the secret that God has wrapped up in the taking of things or in the losing of them: it is always replaced with something better.  

I've learned that God isn't an empty god. He doesn't do exchanges with tokens of nothingness. He is a full God. Full of so many valuable things that have the marks of hard loving all over them. He is full of grace. Full of compassion. Full of mercy. (Psalm 145:8) He is full of forgiveness. (Psalm 103:8) He is full of great love. (Eph. 2:4) He gives increase. (1 Cor. 3:6)

For some reason, we oftentimes think that God wants to take away; to subtract from our lives. We distrust the benefits of obedience. We distrust his vision for us. Holiness and peace seem like wooden nickels in a metal bucket, while the American version of Christianity–accumulation, perfection, constant improvement–sparkles like a room of golden coins; one that resembles what Scrooge McDuck swam in in DuckTales.

And this is the place where some of us are okay with losing the ragged, worn out version of our lives and our loves because it means we can quickly replace it with a brand new something. To take the losses and replace them with bigger and better holds a danger: nothing will ever be good enough.

The marks of hard love, pilled fur, stitched limbs and hearts, ragged bones, and weary prayers should never be seen as valueless. In the reverse economy where God says the poor are rich, these are the choice jewels of life.

Teddy is gone and that's terribly sad. Eventually, I will get my son a replacement, because every kid needs a teddy bear. But even so, I am looking forward to the day when his new bear is ragged, worn out, tired and broken in. Love looks used, worn in and out, adored and abused.

 Just look at the cross.

We're in this together,

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