Willow Wonderings

on love, twenty one

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In the South, there is no such thing as a half-way rainstorm.

I was sitting on my host family’s back porch this afternoon while eating lunch when, in one moment, I looked up and realized it had begun to storm. I mean really storm – raindrops fell like bullets being heaved down from the clouds until a flood formed on the back patio. Each rain drop caused a small vibration in the growing puddle, and I was memorized by the dancing rhythm. I moved to find a better view of the storm’s action closer to the screen, where the humid breeze could sweep across my bare arms and legs. I felt the warmth of camomile tea enter my body while cool water drizzled upon my forehead, as if I were an infant receiving my first baptism. My thirst for the raindrops deepened.

Without thinking, I leapt to my feet, lifted the latch and swung my way through the screen door, then stood in wonder as the storm washed over me. I spun in my purple lace church dress as the water drops danced upon my skin. It was a moment of childlike freedom, soaking in the forgiveness and goodness that God continually showers upon us. God, like the rain, does not discriminate where love falls. By grace, the rain took me out of the security of the back porch and enveloped me in the storm.

Even when the rain falls
Even when the flood starts rising
Even when the storm comes
I am washed by the water

– Needtobreathe

I began working this week at a supportive housing community for formerly homeless adults. On my first day, I ate lunch alone because I was too afraid to approach anyone and ask to sit with them while I took my lunch break. I felt a deep social anxiety surface as I realized I was afraid that the tenants would not like me. This barrier started to come down once I learned to put names to faces, and I sat down with people who were ready and willing to share their stories.

On Friday afternoon, I returned to the same tree to have my lunch when I saw a tenant walking toward me. His disability required him to move slowly, particularly in the heat of the mid-afternoon. Once he reached my table, his smile was big enough to cover both of our faces. He told me that he wanted someone to start writing a book of his life’s stories. Naturally, as one who has a passion for writing, I was eager to listen. I told him to begin wherever he felt comfortable, which for him, was the death of his father at age four.

My friend, who I will call Edgar for anonymity, poured out the trials and periods of suffering in his life before me. I regret having interrupted him with questions – it was humbling just to sit and listen to his story, his years of hanging with the wrong crowd and struggling to find a place of belonging. The hardest part of Edgar’s story was the twelve years he spent in prison, including six months in solitary confinement. I told him that this is the worst punishment that could be done to a human being. When I said this, he lifted his eyes with a surprised look on his face. “Why do you say that?” he questioned.

“We are born to be social,” I told him. “We are made for relationship, and we need others in order to stay sane, to share our burdens, to know God’s love.” Edgar nodded in agreement, and a pause emerged in our conversation. I told him that I was so grateful he joined me, as I had felt alone all week. He smiled, and continued with his story. When we reached the present, he began to speak about forgiveness. “I ask God for forgiveness each day for the things I done to cause people pain,” he said. His voice was filled with deep remorse and desire for reconciliation. I told him that I admired his honesty and prayer, and that his story was worth more than I could ever express to him.

For the past year, I have been wrestling and praying about forgiveness. What does it mean to live by the grace of God in a broken and fragile world? What does it mean to let ourselves burst through the screen door of our judgments, and let ourselves be cleansed? How do we find our way to this greater openness?

The beauty of Edgar’s story, to me, was that it was filled with his love for others and the depth of his relationships. He found his grounding through connection to community, where too often in my life I have searched for security in self-reliance or achievement. He was the first to admit his sin and need for God’s forgiveness that I too frequently try to hide. By listening to him, I felt a greater acceptance of my own brokenness spoken through his voice. By the end of our conversation, I felt my soul lifted by a hidden lightness, a feeling of expansion that emerges only through authentic connection.

Though I have only spent a week at Moore Place, I am amazed by the way many of the tenants are open and eager to form new relationships. It seems that when one lives without a home or material goods for many years, the screen of “security” between the human life and the edge of death is removed. People learn to trust and depend upon God above all else. Perhaps this is the heart of Jesus’ message when he says “Blessed are the poor,” for they have learned to value true connection and relationship.

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Today, as I look forward to celebrate a 21st birthday, I am reminded that relationships are the sole (and soul) purpose and foundation of my being. Without my family, both kin relatives and kindred friends, I would never know what it means to be human or to be faithful. I find God’s presence through relation to people, through connection to the Earth, through the exchange of my breath with the sky and stories with others that remind me we live all as part of a greater Body. I find God when I am most hungry for love, and learn to trust it is always available as a gift to be received. The task, then, is to open and let grace do its transforming work, to become a vessel of love for others, and to share our gifts unconditionally.

Spinning in my backyard as grace flooded my veins this afternoon, I realized that thanks to my friends at Moore Place, I have fallen more in love with the world. I felt love for (to name 21 or so): the strangers that greet one another on the streets, love for our twisted roots and interconnected life stories, for the nights spent sharing poetry and howling to the moon, the midnight heat of grief-filled tears that draw us closer to the Divine. I felt love for fireflies, bizarre dreams, sharing hot tea, middle school camp songs, handwritten letters, songs sung in dorm rooms and over bonfires, ribcage tickling laughter, long drives, mountain top silences. I fell in love with the many pilgrimages in our lives to many homes, to all the languages we pray in, for ancient forests, for back porches and, especially, for summer storms.

Here’s for a year filled with gratitude for the gift of relationships, trial, and resilience. Thank you, friend, for being a beautiful human being. May you find your way into many spontaneous dances in the rain, locking eyes with the one who holds you so as to never get too dizzy. May you celebrate this day and never forget to open your porch screen door in the storm. Amen.


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