O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.
Two moments in time, both involving moving and my underwear drawer. Ready?
Part One. Monday, August 1st. I had just arrived on a red-eye flight and caught very little sleep during the trek. Once I got off the plane, my director Patrick came to meet me and I was off to take a Spanish test and tour the university. By the afternoon, I was rather exhausted and grateful for my new host father to pick me up and bring me to his beautiful home.
So, I started where all unpacking begins – sorting into piles, eventually finding drawers. This particular day my unpacking was not as organized as others, probably due to the lack of energy and uncertainty as to what I would need for this climate.
As I neared completion of the sorting process, my host mom came home. Rosa loved organizing and helping me to take care of my things, especially my clothes. She also did not approve of my sorting method. So we began to re-do everything, while I caught only a fragment of her instructions in Spanish.
She re-folded every part of my underwear drawer until everything was perfectly rolled — it was probably the first time in my life my clothes were that organized. I was grateful and also confused as to how I felt not being in control of my belongings. That night, I collapsed into bed by 9 PM, uncertain of what to expect for the months to come.
Part Two. Saturday, August 23rd. Luciana, age 7, and I are digging in my hiker´s backpack to find every last sock and its partner. Whenever she comes across my underwear, she giggles and tosses it in with its sock friends. We agree that I can open a tienda, I have so many pairs.
Nothing but fancy clothes gets folded. Luciana notes when I run out of hangers, and helps me to organize my shirts by color. I am living in her brothers´ room so, to make it more feminine, she and her mom put teddy bears on my bed.
Luciana always dreamed of having a sister. That night, we go to the supermarket with our mom, Patti, and buy all of our favorite foods. Lucy tries root beer for the first time (it is not her favorite). That night, my host mom encourages me to go out with friends — much before I had finished sorting my belongings. I return home to give a goodnight kiss to my parents, while the longings in my heart for company fade into distant whispers.
I am, for better or for worse, a people pleaser. It is hard for me to disappoint others when I know that their happiness is at stake. For this reason, it was really difficult to leave my first family. I tried to postpone it, even though I was feeling lonely and uncomfortable. I learned that I did not like having to keep everything in perfect order — nor could I avoid the voice inside that was pressuring me to be the perfect guest.
Which brings me back to my underwear drawer. It is vulnerable, I learned, to let someone fold my laundry. It is a task that requires trust that I will not be judged or condemned for having clothes that perhaps are outdated, and other times could use some better care or folding. It takes giving up control to let someone in. And it takes knowing and loving myself well enough that the other cannot destroy me.
The two times that I have unpacked in the past sixteen days were polar opposite experiences. During the first, I felt fear and trembling of being discovered for my faults. I felt weakened by the experience. During the second encounter, I could not hold back laughter. My little sister and I were unpacking together, and we grew closer through it. She and I came to share part of our lives, and we learned to trust one another.
The latter story, I believe, is an experience that taught me about God´s desire for intimacy with us. God yearns for us to know and be known by Her, for all of our silliness, imperfections, and dirty laundry. God desires to sort with us all that we are too tired to do alone. And God works through the hands of others to teach us that it is safe, it is right, and it is good to receive love from those who can offer it to us. It is also safe, right, and good to set boundaries for ourselves in knowing our limits to intimacy. Only God can know all of our hearts — and only God can love us perfectly.
Sometimes it is terrifying to think that God knows everything about us. When we let God in, He sees all the demons that hide in our closets — the doors we want to remain closed to the world. God knows us in the Spanish way of conocer, the personal kind of love, not in just some cold and factual way. It is scary to stand naked before that depth of awareness, the kind that knows us from the beginning of the womb.
But this is the good news — when we do confess or run to God with open wounds, we do not have to fear condemnation. God was already crucified by human hands, and knows the depth of human evil, and still forgives. I believe that God offers us refuge no matter what and sees us as Her hijos, lovable and worthy just as we are. God does not abuse knowledge of us to manipulate or control us, but only to offer us freedom from our struggles. We can become more of who God desires for us to become — our true selves, united with others.
In Peru, I am learning that we need community to teach us of this love and real intimacy. We need community to unpack our burdens and we can be confident in sharing our blemishes. We need friends to put wet towels on our stomachs to make the fevers go down, and we need friends to share our dessert together. I am so grateful that God has given me this gift through my host family. Even though my Spanish slips and all I can do is wash dishes, I am an hija, a daughter, and that is enough.
Our laughter, our real underwear drawers, and our vulnerability weave together to form a stronger fabric. It may have some stains and some strange polka dots, but that is what makes it worth wearing and celebrating. It also takes careful hands not to tear this fabric.
Intimacy takes trust. Trust that God desires to know us and to be known by us, that we may love ourselves and others. Trust that in this mirror of relationships, we can be seen for all our gifts and brokenness. We can peer into our underwear drawers, trusting that God will not turn away.
May we each learn to see the face of God in our brothers and sisters, and to love one another (and our dirty laundry) in faith. Amen.