Monday, August 12, 2013

When things are more complicated than they seem


My tan lines are already fading. The boys lament how black they turned, and I hold my arm next to theirs while we compare skin tones, mostly using terms involving candy - ranging from caramel to dark chocolate. We’ve been home from the beach for just over a week, and life continues full-tilt. School starts back up and we bring donuts for an early morning bus-stop-party, grinning at the kids who run with backpacks bouncing, desperate not to miss the bus on their first day of school. The bus driver smiles and honks, and we obligingly hand her a donut too. Our own little ones go back to school, and we forget Jayci’s backpack on her first day, effectively setting the bar low. Life goes on, and vacations quickly slide into the realm of reminiscence.
A week at the beach, it turns out, with two small children and three large teenagers cannot be considered relaxing in any sense of the word. Looking at pictures posted on instagram, I read over the comments and emails we got during that time: “you’re an angel,” and “I want to be you,” and “I love the way you live your life.” And I recognize that life is always more complex than it looks. People are complicated, relationships messy, and sometimes figuring out right and wrong, good and bad, feels like untangling an overcooked pot of spaghetti.
I could share a post chock-full of pictures of our time at the beach, and you would probably think we are such a GOOD family doing the RIGHT thing by taking some black teenagers from the inner-city to the beach, where they played with our (clearly well-behaved and beautiful) blonde children; we read books and our Bibles; and stayed in a beautiful house which was generously offered up for our use by the most wonderful Christian family we’ve never even met. In fact, I’m tempted to think the very same thing as I watch these young men we love so dearly letting the sand sink between their toes (once we finally convinced them to take off their socks), and stepping foot for the first time into the salty surf that seems to stretch into infinity.

But the truth leans hard and infinitely more complicated than a snapshot of children in the sand could ever adequately portray. Because toddlers and teenagers alike defiantly declare “NO,” and we look at each other with raised eyebrows, because now what? And Jayci hears foul language from the boys, and she and Caden stand utterly entranced by whatever choice television program the boys refuse to turn it from. The boys laugh loud and tease ruthlessly late into the night, Jayci boycotts sleep, and Caden remains permanently attached to me. We get a call from the homeowners that they received noise complaints, and the boys respond angrily to our pleas that they keep it down.
We take the boys to Seaside beach one day, a place I remember finding absolutely perfect when I visited in college. The boys whisper to me that they are the only brown skinned people there. That they feel like a circus act, like the collective eyes of the perfectly manicured town are trained on them. I wonder what I found so perfect about an expanse of monochromatic skin and socioeconomic status.

Caden’s constant chorus of “mommy hold you,” begins to wear on me. His small hands shove sand into my armpits and I am certain my crevices will never be sand-free again. Finally, I grasp his hand and pull him gently into the surf. Our toes both curl around the soft sand and suddenly he decides the ocean is fun rather than fearful. We jump over the waves until he tires, and requests to ride my shoulders. I stand on the sand bar, with Caden on my shoulders, his sandy fingers entwined in my hair. My feet sink ever-deeper into the sand with the current, while waves gently lap my calves.
Yook mommy!! Caden orders, pointing insistently at Jayci and Adam and the boys. We watch them swim, listening to the mingled chorus of surf and seagulls and their laughter. The sky gleams brilliant blue under a beating sun, and the waves are too small to ride the boys declare, exchanging their boogie boards for a football. Despite the gently rippling surface, I feel the current strong, tugging my feet and moving our group further left down the beach than we realize until we look and find our rainbow umbrella no longer directly in front of us. Appearances, I realize, can be deceiving, everything inclines more complicated than it might seem on its surface.

I guess my point is that nobody's perfect, least of all us. And obedience to a calling, and to live our life in solidarity with our neighbors, is more complicated than it might appear. This internet thing, it inclines dangerously towards a tendency to oversimplify, I think. Or perhaps something in us rushes to conclusions, when reality lies infinitely more complex. The pregnant sixteen year old living in poverty? Complicated. The mom who homeschools all five of her kids, not to mention keeping her house immaculate in the process? Complicated. The single dad, the drug-dealing teen, the prostitute, the pastor: complicated, every single one. And I hope and pray that I will respond with grace and mercy to this complexity, recognizing the space to both encounter and share Jesus in each.

As for me, I will do my best in this space to somehow portray and share the complexity of living missionally in the city. Because so many of the complicated issues we encounter here, and in Florida on vacation, seem very hard to draw out in terms of black and white. Race, prejudice, poverty, friendship, motherhood, marriage . . . All profoundly complicated. And in sharing our week at the beach, I somehow couldn't let yall think that we were angels, or that our life was perfect. Because I wouldn't want that assumption to stop any of you from living your own missional life.

And so looking back on our time at the beach, I am grateful for grace that covers complicated. That obedience and missional living doesn’t mean perfect. That motherhood can somehow be both beautiful and the-hardest-thing-I’ve-ever-done, and that vacations can be the opposite of relaxing and still be absolutely delightful.

18 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing! I'm a city dweller too. Thanks for sharing about the imperfectness. But I still say - well done. You choose obedience. That is good. You share it with us, and we can learn. This is good too.

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  2. I love your honesty. I know that life is very complicated and if it seems easy for someone, it's usually because I don't know all the facts. Your pictures are still beautiful. All of them.
    ~FringeGirl

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  3. You have a beautiful heart! Your honesty is refreshing. You are doing what the Lord has called you to do and you are both doing a mighty fine job. Praying for you always!

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  4. This is really speaking to my heart tonight, I am feeling the same way, I am not perfect, this gift God has blessed us with is just that a blessing, but sometimes so hard. As I lay in my bed tonight wishing I was some place quiet, I am thankful for the grace and mercy that God has for me and my neighbors, even if they don't know it yet. Thank you for sharing your heart.

    Praying for you...

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    1. I LOVE YOU! Also, I'm excited you're coming to Atlanta!

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  5. Grace that covers complications.
    Isn't that a beautiful thing : )

    A very, very beautiful thing.

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  6. Good golly, you are one heck of a blogger who knows just how to put your words together to say something so many need to hear. I love your honest heart and your way with words. What a great post, Becca.

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    1. Thank you my sweet friend! Hope you're doing well :-)

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  7. Yes, your ability to write so beautifully is surely God's blessing to you... and, as always, I love your honesty. And, to me, it sounds very much like you had a vacation much like many other family's with 5 kids in tow, 2 little ones and 3 teenagers! I find it difficult to discipline other people's kids,(like getting them to tone down the noise) so I admire that you are able to do that as I am sure it is very necessary as often as you have kiddos in your home. Hope Jayci is enjoying her first year at school and that your are enjoying some quiet time with Caden. LOVE all your pictures... another talent you have!!

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  8. I really get this, Becca. Usually those well-intentioned comments make me feel even more guilty for my own "not loving every single minute of it" or it being harder than it seems from the outside. I admittedly get really prideful and annoyed when things are oversimplified from the outside and the view i have, in the middle of it, is one of chaos and crazy and complicated and difficult difficult difficult. the only way i know how to keep doing it is with honesty, like you have again and and again in this blog (and probably in real life too). thanks for that!!!

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  9. Your photography is beautiful!

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  10. I'm a houseparent at a children's home for boys (Boy's Farm in SC) and I totally understand your description of your vacation. We took our 3 kiddos plus 8 boys to the ocean this summer and it was far from relaxing, but absolutely wonderful. Thanks for putting my perspective into words that escape me, and know that there are others like you feeling the same call, and blessed by the opportunity to learn from the complicated young ones we love.

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    1. 8 boys!? plus 3 of your own?! I would have flat-died. Seriously, never would have made it :-) haha . . . thanks for sharing girl!!

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