Love and a Cuss

A year ago today we held our first youth group. You can read about it here.
I guess I grew to love them…

Pulled from the archives.

April 2013

I had an interesting little session with God this weekend. I had to go for a walk and sit on a hill throwing pebbles at a pile of dung, hoping the noises the cow over there was making were not as disgruntled as they sounded.

The last thing I wanted was to be mauled by a mad bovine in the Mongolian countryside.

When you’ve packed 26 kids and their baggage into a bus for a weekend outside the city, there is more stuff there than backpacks and sleeping bags.

No one thinks about the MK who cuts. No one knows just how much of a social stretch this is for the kid who is sitting on their left. No one knows which pair of siblings is holding the secret that their family is moving in a month. Not across the street – across countries. Across the world.

What do you do with the girl who’s grandma just died?

What do you do with the boy who’s just been rejected by his best friend and girl of his dreams?

After about lap 6 around the hasha (the typical fenced yard) in the wind it’s become difficult to talk any more, I’m shivering so hard, but that’s okay because I don’t do much talking anyhow. I’m hearing the fears of moving to America or returning from a year in Canada. I’m hearing about best friends who were supposed to come back but now plans have changed. I’m hearing about parents who work hard. I hear about families that fight, brothers that have left and left wounds.

I hear 4 kids in a row tell me the hardest thing about living in Mongolia is that people come and go, but mostly they go. Families are on separate continents. Friends don’t stay. ‘Home’ is a confusion and fantasy.

These kids are incredible. They have a grit they do not know, and unique is too cliché a word for them. I see God’s masterpieces here.

And so after holding a kid in the wind for about the seventh time and organizing an impromptu game for the umpteenth, it was about time for my own walk. So I sat on a hill and said “shit – shit – shit” while bawling my eyes out for these kids whom I love.

A Hug & Disgust

I would have let it slip had my co-worker not witnessed it.

I hated it. I hated having to bend down and quietly admonish her.

“You know, I’m not actually supposed to give hugs at work…”

With just those words I snuffed something in the brightest face in the room after she had impulsively rushed to give a quick, genuine hug around my waist to say good-bye. I still hugged back – how could I not? – and loved it, and her for it! – but I wasn’t supposed to.

The words hung over me. Protect yourself, protect the museum…No hugs, no high-fives, no touching. 

The entire exchange was less than ten seconds. From innocence to shame.

Dark and petite, her whole frame changed. It was subtle but I recognized it. She was like me when I was 8 years old. Eager to please. Looking up wholeheartedly. Exuberant but sensitive.

She cloaked the embarrassment well. It made me feel sick. I saw guilt in her eyes and it was wrong.

“I know you didn’t know. It’s okay Hannah!” I said it lightly to let her know she wasn’t in trouble. I’m not sure it worked. The damage was done.

I waved good-bye as she left with her mother and sister in their winter boots and moved right along to exchange pleasantries with a young family coming in as I cursed the rule and the world we live in.

2CAUTION

It is impermissible for me to take a toddler’s hand and turn him around to find mama.

My authority is my voice; I cannot stop a child unless it is verbal, lest my intentions be misinterpreted.

I cannot assist a child to put on a shoe without parental consent and I cannot roll a soggy sleeve up at the water table, even if the child can barely stand.

My priority is the safety of all, after that: my own “personal space bubble.”

Never mind the toddler who needs your knee to balance for half a second or the kid who steps on your foot.

That is contact. That is bad.

High fives come “at my own risk.” Next thing we know, smiles will be outlawed.

Doesn’t the world need all the love it can get? Yet we’re teaching kids to associate an expression of appreciation with guilt and shame.

I am disgusted. I am sad. I am discouraged.

But mostly I just wish I could tell my Hannah that the .75 second hug of hers was the best part of my day. And I would give her a tight squeeze back.

Chocolate Milk and a Night of Slush: Lessons on Life, Death, and What to Do

 The Superstore parking lot was slush. Disgusting. Wet.

And snow coming down. Hard.

Big flakes that got down your neck, reflected in the streetlights and melting immediately, making you squint and hope not to drop your mittens in the wet.

Puddles, ice, and nastiness. The weather was gruesome. Uncomfortable. A fitting experience for the night.

Mom and I had spent a longer time than expected in Superstore that night. We came out with bags of assorted foods – foods we didn’t necessarily see in our cupboards regularly:

Tea. Crackers. Chocolate. Cranberry juice. A lovely basket. Fruit. Grapes. Cereal. Chocolate milk. (It goes down easier than food when there’s a lump in your throat, you see.)

2 Staples in life: Tea & Kleenex

2 Staples in life: Tea & Kleenex

Because when family comes for a funeral it’s nice to have easy-access food. People drop in. They snack. And kleenex wads pile up so let’s throw some garbage bags in too. You eat at weird times.  Or run on coffee. Honestly, you only want to look at meat-and-cheese platters and miniature sandwiches with the crusts cut of for so long! And it’s nice to have a cup of tea in your hands.

My mom knows this.

And this is how we came to superstore on a random, atrociously wet Thursday night.

A coworker lost her dad. And that’s what you do. You show up. 

My mom did more than buy chocolate milk that night. This was more than the giving of her many minutes, or the amount the grocery bill came to. Those weren’t things to feel good about, a rank or accomplishment to pin to our chest like a ribbon and walk away, feeling a duty accomplished.

It was a lesson in community. Bravery. Generosity. In compassion and legacy. 

She took her 18 year old daughter along, but age didn’t matter. She would take an 8 year old. She would tell them the truth – that it hurts, but there is hope. That mourning is real and that in a culture where the protocol with death has been lost, this is something you can do.

You show up, even if it’s awkward and  you don’t know them well. You don’t have to stay long or even take off your shoes. Grief is uncomfortable, but it means more to show up.

Our society has lost our protocol of grief. We don’t know how to deal with death, we don’t remember how to grieve. So here’s what you do when you know someone is hurting and you don’t know what to do.

You take care of people. You give. Cheerfully, not chintzily.

Driving home through the onslaught of snowflakes you might expect me to say my heart was warmed, looking at these inspiring lessons, knowing I would carry this experience on for the rest of my life.

Nope. I shivered. Because it was snowing.

And that’s what you do, in reality. You shiver and drive and just do life (the day to day AND the not-so-day-to-day). There is no feel-good music like the movies. I know this. But it was good, regardless.

It was food for thought that night, those crackers and milk in the basket.  There were lessons in that night, and a memory to hold to for many nights to come. The example was powerful.

And if nothing else – please do know
that if you don’t know what to do and someone might be grieving

you really can’t go wrong with a big ol’ bottle of chocolate milk.