Playing the Stranger

I found this old dress, a relic from high school senior pics, a few days before traveling to Minnesota for my cousin's wedding. Though more than ten years old, it seemed appropriate to wear. The posture of this photo is one I took at the wedding: background.
I found this old dress, a relic from high school senior pics, a few days before traveling to Minnesota for my cousin’s wedding. Though more than ten years old, it seemed appropriate to wear. The posture of this photo is one I feel I took at the wedding: a faceless photographer–capable of participating only as outside observer.

I should have brought Kleenex. I always cry at weddings; I knew this. But I was not prepared for the emotions unleashed at my cousin’s wedding Saturday.

Not only the customary tears for a budding union, but I cried regretful tears for all that I had missed over the years. You see, I moved 1,000 miles away from all of this, and all of them, eight years ago.

Faces from my past swarming around me, coming at me in waves, breaking through some icy barrier I’d built. There were old classmates, old classmates’ parents, and even a former teacher. I wanted to cry just for seeing them. I did.

In the past, what had I imagined of such a reunion? In my teen years I was very conscious of at first having to hide things. Later on, when it would have been okay to share, I still mostly hid, out of habit. To the point that I disappeared from people’s lives.

Standing with two former friends at the wedding and hearing them banter like they were not just past, but present, friends, hit me in the gut.

“Yeah, next time on the fishing trip you’ll have to come with–and bring your brother, too.”

“Billy* couldn’t come to the wedding—we’ll have to see him next weekend.”

“So, there’s no alcohol at this wedding? You must have a flask stashed in your tux, huh?”

Soon I wasn’t even standing there. And I realized I had done it. I had erased myself from memory.

I excused myself for the bathroom. But then, selfishly, wondered if maybe, just maybe, they were talking about me.

Sad to say, I’m just beginning to realize how self-centered I’ve been all these years. Always thinking about my feelings—protecting myself.

The fewer people I’m close to, the fewer who can hurt me—was my unwritten, unspoken motto.

What have I done?

As I see faces from my past swimming at me, I now feel it was all a lie.

The face of an old teacher’s aide—from my first grade classroom, nonetheless—exclaiming, “Is this Lindsey?! She’s turned into such a beautiful young woman!” A mother of a classmate, gasping, exclaiming my name, and enfolding me in a hug.

My sixth grade teacher’s face lighting up as she asks, “Are you writing?” Yes. “Oh good; I always thought you should!” An ex-boyfriend’s mom even engaging in friendly talk as she never did while I dated her son.

My cousin’s, the groom’s, exclamation: “Lindsey, what an awesome surprise!” My old friends, C and T, who married each other, taking time to talk with me over an hour as if they had nothing better to do. “It’s so good to see you!” they say (and mean it, I think). It has been about eight years.

Another old friend looking in my eyes and, to my small talk, saying, “Being away from home must be the hardest part.” Understanding for the words I could not speak.

What have I done?

Desperately I snap pictures of my young cousins and their spouses and children, laughing and talking at neighboring reception tables. They too are familiar, comfortable, with one another. And like my classmates, they have passed through many of the same coming-of-age events as I, only together.

There’s something comforting about a shared heritage.

But I have refused to be comforted.

This visit has once again touched me where it hurts…still, thankfully, it has been different. Like the Minnesota snow I left behind last night, something in me is thawing.

As much as is possible from 1,000 miles away, in the future I’ll try to be less of a stranger.

Going Home

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My dad called last night to check on me. He’d been reading my posts from last week and wanted to make sure I was “okay.” Also to confirm travel plans for this week when I will go see him.

“So you’re feeling depressed? Are you feeling better?”

Since another family member has long been diagnosed as bipolar, I think Dad is extra sensitive to signs of mental illness. It’s understandable. And though I didn’t appreciate these inquiries when I was sixteen, today I think they’re sweet. He and my mom are the only ones who really ask about my mental health anymore, since I’ve been off medication for about eight years.

Thankfully I am able to answer, as I did last night, “I’m feeling much better, thank you. It was just a bit of the blues, and some female hormones getting the best of me.”

Thank God, I do feel better.

But that’s the thing these days. Even when something painful triggers bad feelings, I know they’re just passing feelings. None of that abysmal stuff of the past.

Like with visits home.

Used to be these visits triggered deep depths of anger and sadness.

Because of the divorce, I always miss half of my visit time with each parent and my little brother. The ‘rents live hours apart (and both are far from the airport), so though I buy a plane ticket for a week, I only get to see each for about half that time.

Needless to say, visits are complicated.

For years, when I was about to make a visit, I would typically spend the days leading up to it grumbling about the inconvenience. Anger bubbling up again at the awkwardness left over from divorce. Sadness that the awkwardness would never go away.

And, oh, I can get pretty low rubbing my nose in the past—and I have. Sometimes, in the past, returning from a visit was even worse, as I got to thinking about how a few days were not enough—and how long it would be until the next visit (usually six months to a year).

Maybe some of these thoughts were unconsciously playing in my head last week as I felt the illusion of the abyss, though I didn’t acknowledge them.

But over the weekend, something happened to remind me: my life is not that bad.

After church, I found myself talking to a new couple from Romania, the first real conversation I’d had with them since they’ve started visiting our church.

The woman is pregnant, and due this very week, in fact. Because I knew they were from far away—and I am sensitive to being far from home—I got to wondering: Does this lady have any friends or family nearby to help with the baby?

So I asked her.

After describing how miserable the pregnancy had been in the beginning—constant vomiting, dangerous weight loss, and inability to eat or sleep—she told me she’d lost both parents at a young age. Now she has only one or two family members left…and they are still in Romania. In the states, her husband is really all she has. Still new to this area, she doesn’t even have a church family yet.

“That must be hard,” I said, over the lump growing in my throat.

“Oh, it’s not so bad,” she said, eyes bright, face brave. “We’re always seeing and hearing interesting things; we get to meet a lot of interesting people.”

She proceeded to tell me about the groups of people they’ve met at various churches they’ve attended over the years, moving from state to state for her husband’s job.

Through it all, she kept a smile on her face.

Does she really mean it? I wondered. If I were her, all alone and pregnant in a new state without so much as a church family to call my own, I think I’d be depressed. Perhaps she really is. But she carries on, as we all must.

Readers, I have to apologize. I want this blog to be positive and godly and uplifting. But sometimes I find myself hovering a little closer to melancholy than I want to.

Though it’s not an excuse, my parents tell me I was a melancholy child. My husband agrees that my personality still drifts that direction.

I want to show you how far I’ve come from depression and sadness, but sometimes, with a personality that tends toward the negative, it’s hard. And I’m not going to lie.

So I write about sad feelings hoping you realize I’m just being honest—to show that, though one’s life might, overall, be “re-set” from broken and despairing to hopeful and healing—that doesn’t mean all sadness leaves.

It just doesn’t stay like it used to.

But knowing, recognizing, and acknowledging when bad roots are stirred up allows me to take them to God once again. Allows me to open my heart, once again, and say:

“God, it hurts. And I don’t ask you to fix everything just today (because I know you will in the future). But for today, here’s my heart. Thank you that Jesus died for my broken heart. Thank you that His heart and Your heart were broken as He carried all my hurt and pain to death on the cross, as He suffered and died for me, and rose again in victory over the death and decay of our mortal bodies and wounded hearts, so I could claim my inheritance as Your daughter.”

Though I have to pray this way daily, He delivers daily. Fresh batches of grace every time I need them. And I’m sure I’ll need them again, soon.

This week I’ll get to my dad’s and have a jolly good time laughing and talking over Scrabble and coffee—and at Mom’s I’ll enjoy the home-cooked meals and those mother-daughter conversations I can’t have with anyone else. It’ll be a good time, and infinitely more fulfilling than past visits, when walking over the old family threshold used to bring tears.

I’ll probably battle some more resentment when I have to part from Dad on day three—then I’ll face it again as I wave goodbye to Mom and little bro at the airport on day seven.

But I will recover quickly, as I remember that it won’t be too long until I go home for good—my real home—where there will be no more tears, no more regret, no more long car rides, limited visitations, or broken families. This is the hope that heals—and brightens bad days.

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Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Rev. 21:1-4, NLT)