She inhaled deeply from a bright red hookah. She had bought it with money she earned by teaching Arabic to foreigners, and brought it on this day to enjoy on my front patio, as she told me about her recent hard conversations with her fiancé’s family. Tone staying cheerful, she switched to English for the serious line.
“I may never get married now.”
We were soaking in the warm sunlight of a January afternoon. I offered her brownies and coffee for comfort, which she swallowed along with the mint-flavored smoke. Mugs printed with hearts and the phrase “World’s Best Lover” sat in front of us. She had given them to me last year, thinking that they translated to something like “Person I Love Most in the World.”
I will never tell her differently.
She gave one final sentence in English: “But you live happy– look at you, too– and you’re not married.”
Restlessness had seized me earlier that morning. It was my day off, probably the last full day off I would get in the upcoming three weeks. But just as sleep is most elusive when most sought, the harder I tried to focus on renewing soul and body, the more restless I became.
I attempted to be still, but my mind bounced from topic to topic like a Facebook newsfeed.
- Remembering a late-night Skype call I had made the night before, and reviewing the groceries I needed to purchase that day.
- Thinking about details for the center’s English program registration on Sunday, and planning for the Young Leaders’ day camps the week after.
- Trying to get a plot twist in a movie I watched, and getting ready to console the emotional friend coming for coffee that afternoon.
Minutes piled into an hour, and still I sat on my couch, unproductive but unrested. I crabbily thought, I want You to speak– without much hope for an answer– and turned on music, a last-ditch effort at refocusing my soul before I needed to move on to groceries, and visitors, and another week. The first two lines said:
God loves His family
Like a man loves His wife. (from Ben Pasley, Chair and Microphone 1)
And suddenly I had a memory of a conference in Southeast Asia, nine years ago, and a woman named Sharon. She invited everyone to join her at 5:00 a.m. for a time of prayer. My roommate, a short-term volunteer, woke up at 4:45 a.m. saying that God had spoken to her through a dream, drawing her to go to this meeting.
I had unintentionally woken up at 4:42 a.m., with a mosquito persistently attacking my right ear.
We were the only ones there with Sharon. But what she prayed, I may always remember. I was 22, and content with being single at the time– though I had already had the privilege of being in weddings for half a dozen friends. Sharon asked God to give me joy in being loved by Him, like the joy of someone who had just gotten engaged.
Overflowing delight and irresistible desire to share it. Combined confidence in knowing that I am beloved, and boldness from the fact that nothing can shake it. Nothing can separate me from this love.
Wondering, nine years later, as I sat on the couch, is this kind of connection strong even on ordinary days– when the errands pile up, when my focus is wanting, when I am… well… crabby?
The night before, I talked on Skype with a good friend. She nuzzled her newborn, told me what it was like to be a mother of three, and said she did not have any big updates. I marveled; taking responsibility for three small lives, in addition to her own and her husband’s, sounded big to me. I talked of “ordinariness”– travel plans, language study, and sweet soul talks in Arabic. She talked of “ordinariness”– house plans, feeding schedules, and the sweetness of speaking life to her neighbors.
We are both deep in radically different streams of ordinary. But they flow regularly into the same river, requiring the same things of us: open hearts, surrender, forgiveness, discipline in little matters, love, a sense of humor, courage, and reliance on One greater than ourselves.
I got off the couch, as the song finished. Invited God’s presence into the grocery store errand. Invited Him to the table with me and my hookah-smoking friend, asking Him to be present as we processed her probable divorce (a broken engagement is equivalent to divorce here, and stigmatizing socially– especially for the woman).
I was still slightly restless and unfocused. But the blessing, given almost a decade ago on the other side of the world, was moving to a deeper level. It was starting to look less like an engagement… and more like ordinary days, with three kids. And a mortgage. And a steady fire where the heart sits.
My fingers were wrapped around the mug with its proclamation, “World’s Best Lover.” I looked at my friend. She released a puff of smoke and switched back to Arabic to ask, “What?”
“You know, right?” I answered. “You know the reason I can have a full life, even without being married yet?” She smiles. She knows this.
In my heart I pray Sharon’s blessing again, with the updates:
May you be someone for whom the “ordinariness”
of life is infused with
and boldness and joy.
May these come from knowing you
are unconditionally, steadfastly, and
I don’t always feel this. But that is why there is a second story.
Love is the most dazzling when we are the least worthy.