Lenten Reflection 1: Embrace and Exclusion



The bed is back and better than ever with a very fancy new mattress.  So fancy is this new mattress, that we have had to order little stair steps so both Sherod and I can get in and out of bed safely.  Right now, the maneuvers to get in and out of it are fall on the floor and laugh till you cry pathetic.

The string of starlight will probably not last long.  But when we put our bed in María’s room the first time, when she was about 7, I think I was as entranced as she by the string of twinkling lights we strung all around the bed.  I’d lie with her each night to tell her a story about the adventures of Spot the cat, comforted by all those little points of light.

A few weeks ago, I said I’d be reflecting on Miroslav Volf’s book, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation as part of a conversation with my friend James whose son has been diagnosed on the autism spectrum.  James and I share a curiosity about theology and now, our children challenge us with all kinds of theological questions.  I had read enough of this book in the past to think it might give us a foothold into good conversation.  I had not anticipated that I would be so absorbed by the grant proposal I was preparing, so emptied out of words.  I am coming to the project very late, but at any rate, here I am, and it begins with the bed.

In my last post I wrote about this bed, wrote about it on a day of considerable rawness.  Late last night and early this morning, I lay in it and finally got back to Volf’s book.  The following sentence just jumped out at me:

The will to give ourselves to others and “welcome” them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying them in their humanity.

It was wasn’t hard to welcome María.  We had spent two years, and literally, tens of thousands of dollars working to bring her home.  There is a lot about those two years that’s a blur but this isn’t:  When it was clear in January of 2001, that soon and very soon, she’d be home, I finally allowed myself to do what I had practiced hundreds of times with my baby dolls.  It started with the baby showers given in our honor and any number of absolutely delicious outfits we were given.  Then I went to Target and bought these teeny-tiny little girl panties, t-shirts and socks, so small they truly seemed made more for a doll than a child.  I washed them and after laying all the new clothes out on her freshly made bed that waited patiently to receive her, I hung the outfits and dresses in her empty closet. Carefully, reverently, I folded her underwear and put them in their drawers.  For days afterwards, I’d go in and open the drawers, pick up a little t-shirt and smell it, put it back and close the drawer, only to open all the drawers all over again.   No, we had been waiting for so long to welcome her. That wasn’t hard.

Giving myself to her, readjusting my identity to make space for her–that has not been so easy.  After an initial “honeymoon” period, she began to challenge, to oppose, to resist, and especially, to rage.  It wasn’t just her behavior that astounded me.  I was far more disturbed by my own responses, my own insistence that I should control and dictate and determine what she should do and be.  My own behavior was magnified and laid bare by the extreme tantrums and rages our daughter brought with her.  Had I given birth to a child, raised a little one who did not have all the issues María brought, I suspect I might never have had to confront so directly all the ways in which I resisted being changed by my daughter.  Most of the changes I had to make, almost all of the pieces of myself I had to let go of, were surrendered not as a tranquil act of a generous will, opening me to the preciousness of a new life.  They were wrenched and torn and ripped away from me by the desperate love I had for this little girl.  It was brutal. It hurt. It had nothing to do with the fairybook story that was implied in all those beautiful dresses, the delicious little wisps of sturdy Hanes underwear I put in her drawers.

Now that she is gone, now that part of my task is regathering some of the pieces of my life and carefully glueing them back in place, I am surprised by the extra bits and flotsam left in the wake of the past twelve years.  One is a far deeper appreciation for the darkness than I ever had before.  And right there, with that new comfort in the places where I can’t see or know things with any real certainty or clarity, is the awe I feel when I see a tiny little light shine bright.  The bed is ours again, and not María’s.  I would gladly return it to her in a heartbeat and I know that I can’t.  Instead, what I can do is let that string of insignificant stars have its place in our room, strung on our bed.  Lighting the darkness in my heart.


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