Thoughts about Life and Faith

Living with the Paradox of “and”

Y’all, I tried so hard to make a bookish post for this week. I started writing about how much I love public libraries, because according to BookRiot, this is “friends of libraries” week. I even took a couple of pictures for that post. Here, I’ll share them with you anyway:

Then when that post wasn’t coming together, I tried to think of a a book list I could post.

Then when none of my book list ideas seemed like a good fit, I tried to figure out how I could take my complex, jumbled emotions and somehow connect them to this blog’s stated focus of “teaching and reading,” but…I just couldn’t.

Will you indulge me this Saturday as I take the topsy-turviness inside of me and use this space to make sense of some of it?

It won’t encourage you to read more.

It won’t be giving you tips on how to help your kids read better.

It won’t be a great unit plan full of critical thinking and integrating of subjects.

If that’s what you’re looking for today, I won’t be offended if you stop reading right now. Or you could click on over to read some tips on helping your kid read, this WWII book list, or my Things Good Readers Do series instead.

But since you’re still reading past those links, maybe somewhere in this post, you’ll find an “oh, you too?” moment where my thoughts connect with you on some level, and you realize you’re not the only one in the world feeling this way, because I’m feeling it too. If so, I’ll be glad.

If not…well, at least I’ll have used this medium of writing to process my jumbled, aching heart.

Honestly, until a few minutes ago, I couldn’t even figure out how to organize my thoughts enough to make them presentable to share with the world. It would have been like listening to me spill my guts to my family where I list all the things that are wrong and hard and confusing inside of me and in my world. The type of one-sided conversation where I’m overly dramatic and tearful and they alternately nod in sympathy and point out my ridiculous exaggerations to knock some common sense back into me.

And while I’m thankful I can do that safely with them and they still love me despite my dramatic mile-a-minute talking, the rest of the world most likely wouldn’t benefit from such a reading experience.

So I’m thankful I have at least some organization now to write this – though I admit, there are still some hyperboles, just for * cough * artistic purposes.

Here goes:

My job is SUCH a good fit for me, and I’m loving the challenge of teaching something new.

I’m actually making progress on the beginnings of new friendships in ways I didn’t dare to dream of as I anticipated this transition period.

I’ve been flabbergasted by how generously welcoming people have been here, going out of their way to help me get to know people and places in my new home.

Seriously, when I’ve paused and considered all the many, many people who have invited me to things, taken me under their wings, and gone out of their way to welcome me, I feel almost embarrassed. Why would they do that for an almost complete stranger? The only explanation I have is God is loving me extravagantly through these people. I want to be like them when I grow up.

So it FEELS like I “should” be doing great on the surface.

But in my core, I have been aching.

Even though the pain is not constantly at the forefront of my mind, I can tell it’s there by the elephant that seems to have taken up residence on my sternum, the nausea I feel as a wave of sadness washes over me, and the tears that leak out of my eyes and slip down my cheeks when I’m driving by myself or falling asleep.

It’s called grief.

Grief…it sounds like such a strong word for transitions – as if someone needs to die in order to justify the sense of loss, sadness, and pain that I am feeling.

But I’ve learned that any change – wonderful though it might be – is accompanied by loss. Weddings, births, moves, job changes…they all bring loss.

And loss brings grief.

So I am grieving the changes brought by this transition.

For the last few weeks, I realized I’ve been aching for both of my homes and both of my groups of people.

I have to remind myself that I’ve only been in this new place for 3 months. Three. That’s really not long at all, yet it feels like I said goodbye to my people and life in Ecuador eons ago.

My last Taco Tuesday with J, K, and the kids seems like a distant memory.

My last look out my apartment window definitely happened a thousand years in the past.

My last dinner with my roommate was surely in the last century, not a mere four months ago.

And I hugged G goodbye outside my apartment while M told me I’ll always have a home in Ecuador way longer ago than mid-June.

Though three months isn’t very long, I guess I’ve been here just long enough that all the emotions I couldn’t handle during the initial turbulence of moving now have time to surface.

But because there’s so much goodness in this new season, and I’m feeling the grief of goodbye at the same time, I feel really torn about it. How can I feel the one and also the other?

Recently, I realized that I haven’t been letting myself feel both.

Since my days are overall good, I’ve subconsciously shoved away the less desirable feelings of grief and missing the people in my life who are far away. But I don’t want to do that long term, because then I’m not praying for those people as often as I want to or checking in on their lives as much as I’d like.

It’s also plain unhealthy.

I haven’t known what to do with the tension of the good and the sad until I remembered something a wise friend told me a long time ago. Or maybe I read it in a book or heard it in counseling…Not sure. Not matter; here it is:

It’s the importance of using the word “and” in describing one’s emotional landscape.

See, when you use the word “but,” it tends to invalidate whatever came first in that sentence.

For instance:

People here have been so welcoming and warm, but I miss my friends in Ecuador and my family in Indiana.

It’s almost like I’m invalidating the welcome I’ve gotten here. I don’t want to do that, even though the second part of the sentence is certainly true.

So instead of saying “but,” I replace it with “and”:

People here have been so welcoming, kind, and warm AND I miss my friends in Ecuador and my family in Indiana.

It sounds different, right?

The word “and” creates space for both.

I need the space to hold both, even though trying to hold both can feel, at worst, impossible, and at best, paradoxical. (Wait, isn’t that basically the same thing? Whatever.)

So here are some statements that came immediately to my mind when I remembered the importance of saying “and”:

I am so thankful to once again be experiencing the brilliant reds of maple trees, the welcome cool of brisk fall mornings after stifling summer humidity, and the smell of wood smoke in the air; and I dearly miss the stable daily range of Quito temperatures, the sight of the rolling patchwork of fields in the majestic Andes mountains and Cotapaxi out my apartment window, and the smell of eucalyptus that is always present in Quito. I miss those mountains so much.

My job is a really good fit for me. I am bowled over by how many different ways God has prepared me for it throughout different stages of my life; and I really wish I could have found a job like this within an hour’s drive of my family in Indiana.

I have been practicing initiating time with people I’m meeting, and they have been responding really positively; and I’m drained from having to put myself out there as I try to build a new community. I miss the comfort of the relationships I built with my friends in Ecuador.

I’m thankful for the freedom owning a car allows me, and I miss walking everywhere like I did in Quito and not having to be responsible for a car’s maintenance. (Anyone an expert on car tires?)

I have everything I need for now in this new season, and I have found myself missing seemingly trivial belongings I had in Ecuador like my circular wicker trashcan, my bedside lamp, and my file drawers.

I can buy anything I may need in the future because all the stores I could possibly want are within a few minutes drive, and I miss the simplicity required by the “will it fit in the 50-lb suitcase?” mentality.

I’m glad I’ve found a couple of new running routes here, and I really miss Parque Carolina and the vistas I had running through my old neighborhood.

Being back in the U.S. means I have access to foods I’ve missed, and I miss the cheap, fresh produce in Ecuador.

It’s fun to explore new places, and I miss having regular places to go where I know the place’s hours and menus without having to do a google search and use GPS directions to get there.

It’s a relief to be able to conduct business in everyday situations in my native language, and I miss speaking Spanish regularly in…well…everyday situations. (Seriously, that one makes very little sense logically. Ugh. and sigh)

There. Using “and” helps me breathe easier. It’s hard to feel both – yet oh so necessary.

If you made it this far, thanks for e-listening.

If you can relate to some of this, I hope my words encouraged you and made you feel a little less alone in your experience.

And if you’re some of the people I’m missing so much, I’ll say hasta pronto in the hopes that it will be true. And to quote a Disney song, because it just seems fitting, “You’ll be in my heart…always.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s