This is a picture of me in our new apartment, taken maybe a week after we moved in. Today on facebook I was asking people to weigh in on a few pictures I had taken to be my new real-life-author headshots. The one everyone liked best was the one where I was smiling, where I looked very cute and accessible (it should be noted that last week in a fit of emotions I went and got all of my hair cut off). They are pretty great pictures, and I am sure you will see the official one here soon enough.
But it made me think of this picture, which my husband took without me paying any attention. It is a picture of how I really am these days, nothing posed about it. My husband loves this picture but he was afraid that when I saw it I would find things to dislike about myself, that I would let the truth and beauty of it wash over me. He was nervous to show it to me but when I laid eyes on it I loved it immediately. I love it, I love that chubby, squishy baby and his beautiful, sad mama. I feel such a tenderness for them both.
A few months before we moved back to Portland my husband and I were discussing how difficult it would be, the transitions and all of that. We were discussing all of the upcoming changes for us, what it would be like to return home after three years away. I was very stubborn. I am never going to re-enter Portland I told him. I just flat-out refuse. Whenever we came home to visit, to see family or support raise or whatever, people would always remark on how quickly the time had passed. It's been three years already? Wow! And we would smile and nod because for us, those three years were as slow and rough as a stalagmite forming, the drip drip drips of us changing and hardening into new creations.
We've been changed, is the thing. Trauma has carved deep grooves in our foreheads and brain hemispheres and the blood vessels in our bodies. Love has stretched us wider than we thought possible. We are quicker to believe stories of oppression and injustice from people who look nothing like us. We are less knowledgeable than we were before, which sounds like a negative but it could have been the best thing to ever happen to us.
We aren't humble but we have been made low. We picked a place to live in Portland where we could sit in proximity to the outer rim of the American Dream, the place where people get caught in the vortex of spinning after safety and security and a roof over their heads. The kids play soccer at night and I hear them laughing in so many different languages. They peer into my living room when I least expect it. Men in underwear lounge in doorways and smoke cigarettes, women push strollers and bags of groceries from the store many miles away. I am one hundred blocks away from the Bible College where I met my husband, where our journey started almost a decade ago. But I could be in another country for how different it is out here, in what always felt like it was a no-mans-land, when it turns out it will now be my land, too.
But what is new to me is the depression like a fever, clouding my future days with the sheen of gray. The anxiety whispering in my ear as my baby lays heavy in my arms yet he feels too light for this earth. The feelings of intensely missing who I used to be, that naive little darling do-gooder. What is new to me is the realization that I can never go back to the girl who used to live here. She is gone, and the one who has replaced her is so fragile. The e-mails and the texts have piled up, friends and church buddies and acquaintances wanting to connect, but I don't know what to say. Just trying to keep my two kids alive and fed while my husband works to to be able to pay rent next month have exhausted all of my energies. I have nothing left, but I sit inside my apartment and hear the possibilities outside. When, oh when, will I be able to go out and join?
It is only now, a month and change after we have been back, that I count the cost of us going to Minneapolis. The pearls we have cast aside in search of that one, great, big, luminous one. Coming back was just another step in that direction, in search of the kingdom, ears to the ground. It feels very costly. In terms of money, yeah, but also friendships and mental health.
I still don't really know any of my neighbors. We smile shyly, sometimes. I feel comfortable just looking at the headscarves and the children playing soccer, but everyone pretty much keeps to themselves. I get it, I am tired too, although once a week or so I get the itch--I could easily teach an ESOL class once a week. Should I volunteer at the homework club? Should we organize a Thanksgiving meal? And my kind, sane husband is quick to gently tap me on the shoulder. You have a baby and you are writing a book and maybe you should see a counselor and besides none of our refugee friends have ever liked your turkey.
It's true, they never did like it. But still, they would eat it, because they loved us. And this is the hope that we have. We need that love now. We are the ones in need. My hands and feet are as still as I have ever seen them, but my Spirit is alive, vibrant, quick to discern, confident in a love that I am not terribly good at earning at present. We are in shock, is all. We have gotten very bad at pretending these days. I hope you will forgive us. We are struggling to re-enter, but the truth is that we can't.