I write a lot of letters. Sometimes, I'll snap a picture of one before I send it off to fly. I'm not sure why I don't do this with all of them, but I think I will start. Reading back through old letters, written in my own hand, is like watching a still-motion picture of what used to be. Old letters serve as unwitting journal entries. When I sit down to write, I'm never sure what will come out. The letters are never edited and rarely re-read before their envelopes are licked and sealed in wax. Writing is good therapy for verbal processors like me--and I wonder if half of the reason I keep a dozen pen pals is because I need them to help me help myself process. These pen-pal friends are extraordinary. It's like we've made an unspoken agreement that's something along the lines of: I'll be a vessel for your life-processing; you grab a pen and write your crazy down on paper, and I'll mull it over for you. I promise to continue to give you a reason to write...to continue to be a sure-fire acceptor on the other end of your thoughts and hopes and fears and dreams and book-learnings and inspirational quotes.
What a gift!
Anyway, I was flipping through old pictures the other day and came across one of my rare photographed-letters. I'd like to share it, here.
My dear Friend,
NOTE TO ALL MY PEN-PALS, PAST AND PRESENT:
I would like to begin to compile all the letters I have *sent out* over the years. "That is quite a daunting and fairly impossible task, Jordan!" Yes, I know. But I'm going to give it a shot. I have put a lot of thought into a future project, and the project can only be completed if I can compile the vast majority of the letters I've written.
SO, if you have saved even a single one of the letters I've written you, you have the capacity to help! I am requesting a copy of every letter of mine you have saved. You can either take pictures of them (front and back) and email/text/FB them to me, OR you can make a hard-copy copy of it and mail it to me. Be sure the date is visible--I need to be able to arrange them chronologically.
If you haven't saved any of my letters, don't feel bad. For the love. I just happen to know that some of you *have* saved some of them, and therefore you can be of assistance. Love you forever.
It's the eve of your first birthday--tomorrow you will have survived this world for one full year. Your parents are therefore superheroes. Today, a bunch of "your parents' friends" and your aunties and uncles gathered at your house to celebrate you. Well, really, it was just a good excuse for us to watch football, pop some tops, and eat cinnamon rolls and bacon together, because you won't even remember we were there. Which is why I'm writing you this letter, come to think of it. We also gathered because we really love your parents, and we really love you, and we wanted some cute pictures with you and thought it'd be fun to watch you smash screaming-blue frosted cake in your mouth and play with balloons. We were right--it was fun. Thanks for cooperating for 10% of the pictures. I know we were asking a lot of you, but you look really cute on our Instagram feeds.
I was going to write you a letter by hand--I even brought the paper in my duffel bag--but when I woke up this morning (before the sun) to get the cinnamon rolls rising, I decided I'd write to you on here, instead. You quite liked those cinnamon rolls, by the way. You see, you have a lot of people all over the world who love and like you a whole lot. I'm especially thinking of your Mojo and Tito and aunties and uncles in Haiti, but you've got grandparents and great-grandparents and aunties and uncles (and those of us who call ourselves Honorary Aunties and Uncles) all over America too. And I thought some of those people might like to see these pictures and read my words to you. By the time you're old enough to read this, blogs will probably be "tooooootally passe" and I'll be "that weird friend of Mom's" who wrote you a "weird thing called an Open Letter," which was a "thing they did back in the old days." Whatever. Your mom will like it.
Speaking of your mom, I'm really writing this to tell you a bit about she and I because I think our Friendship Story is important, and I've learned so much from all that's happened between us. I want to pass some of the things I've learned onto you. I hope that's alright. As I sat there on your parents' couch today and looked around at all the "people my age-ish" in the room, it suddenly occurred to me that WE ARE THE ADULTS. You're probably thinking: "well, duh," but you must understand that we were sixteen just yesterday, and now we're Moms and Dads and Wives and Husbands (and friends of people who are) who pay our own rents and drive our own cars to the grocery store to buy our own groceries. We even cook our own meals--and good heavens some of us are now cooking for our CHILDREN. We do things like "run to the store to grab ice" and smoke cigars on the back porch "after we put the kid (that's you) to bed." G-baby, what you've gotta understand is we're just kids ourselves. When I look around and notice all of us wearing "grown-up clothes" like Dad Shorts and Dad Shoes and Mom Shirts, I get super confused. I still like to "call the backseat" on road trips, and I keep being forced to reconcile with the fact that I am now The Driver of The Road Trips. This is madness. You realize your mom is grown-up enough to DRIVE YOU TO THE CLINIC to GET STITCHES, right? Those are Adult Tasks. We are Adulting, Graham, and I realize you think we know what we're doing, but we're really still trying to Figure Things Out, like we were at sixteen. We're not qualified for this "Driver of The Road Trips" title. And yet, here we are: making children and keeping them alive. Suffice it to say, we're learning Some Stuff, and I guess it's time we start passing some of that stuff on to you. So, here goes.
I need you to know that your mom and I haven't always been friends. In fact, today was the second time we've seen each other in person. Hear me out.
A few years ago, when your mom was still living in Haiti (and hadn't even thought of you yet), I was across the ocean here in Texas spending a lot of time with a boy your mom was dating at the time. The boy and I were really just friends and hung out in the same friend group, but because your mom was so far away, she saw things a little differently. In my defense, she wasn't hearing "the whole story," and in her defense, I was spending a lot of time with a person she really cared about, and I'm sure you can see how that would have made her pretty sad. I ended up doing some things unintentionally that really hurt your mom. She sent me a message expressing her pain and said she had no interest in being my friend.
Her message made me really sad, Graham, because from what I knew of your mom, she was someone whose friendship I really desired. Your Mojo was (still is) doing the exact work that I have wanted to do since I was just a little girl, and I had followed your mom and Mojo and Tito through their blogs and instagrams and Facebooks for a couple years. I genuinely wanted to spend time in their clinic--to learn from them and be under their tutelage. I had always imagined them to be the most incredible sort of people, and because we shared that midwifery-heart, I wanted to meet them. A few times, I had reached out to your mom on Facebook, expressing my heart and telling her I was in awe of the fact that I knew of people (them) who were doing the sort of things I think God has been asking me to do for as long as I can remember. I didn't even know people like them existed, until I did. But your mom is an introvert (I bet you're learning this), and I probably seemed rather...foreign and pushy to her. And rightly so. She was just living her normal life in Haiti--she didn't want to be spectated-at.
Anyway, when she sent me that message, I was sad for a lot of reasons. First, I knew she didn't have the whole truth. Second, I thought "well, now I'll never meet the Livesays because they'll all hate me" (they really love your mom and probably wouldn't want to spend a lot of time with someone who had hurt her like I did). Third, I figured your mom and I would never ever get to be friends.
I want to tell you something, G. I could have responded with a long explanation about why "things aren't really the way they seem!" and defended my position and proven to your mom that my actions were "just fine." That's what I wanted to do when I first read her message. But before replying, I thought about it all for a night. I went to sleep and chose to wait until the next day to write something back. Anytime someone sends you something that makes you get all hot and angry and sad and confused inside, read it a few times and then shut your computer or your phone. Come back to it once you've cooled down. Our knee-jerk reactions are usually pretty...jerky...and they're usually ALL ABOUT US. When we take some time before replying, it's easier to have compassion and try to see things from "the other side." So when I replied, G, I didn't try to defend myself. I said two very important words: I'm sorry. If you can master any response in all of life, master that one. Another important one is "you hurt me," because that gives another person the chance to say they're sorry to you.
I told her I was sorry. I also told her there was "more to the story" and that if she ever wanted to hear it, I'd tell her. But G, she was in a lot of pain. And because I knew that, I didn't shove "the more to the story" down her throat. Throat-shoving doesn't make anyone at all feel loved.
And then three years passed. For three years I read every one of your Mojo's blog posts and saw every single Instagram picture your Mojo and Tito and KJ posted. I was very, very careful to never "like" anything because I didn't want them to know I was still following them. I assumed they hated me and would block me if they found out. But I wanted to "keep up on their lives" because (I know this sounds silly) I really really cared about them. I prayed for them and asked other people to pray for them and their work.
Your mom and I have a lot of "path-crossing" connections, and one time a year or so after our email exchange, she was in Texas for a visit and we nearly bumped shoulders in the library. I remember my palms got all sweaty and I prayed she wouldn't recognize me. Another time, I saw my friend playing guitar on stage under this bridge where they hold church services on Sundays. I asked my mom (who was in town visiting) to pull up on the curb so I could run out and give him a hug. I ran to the stage to find your Mojo and mom and Aunt Liddie and Uncle Isaac talking to my guitar-friend. I sprinted back to my mom's car and told her "Paige is in town, mom!" and asked her to leave QUICKLY. I don't know why I was so afraid of your mom, G. I think it's because I thought she had so much disgust for me, and so I was afraid to meet that (presumed) disgust head-on.
There was another time when I was sitting on The Suspension Bridge reading for class. It was another Sunday. Low and behold, your Mojo and Tito and Aunties and Uncles went running by me. I remember watching them go and praying they wouldn't know who I was. I'm not really sure why I thought they'd know me from Adam, but I did. I felt like the girl with the Scarlet Letter.
I read the post your Mojo wrote about the night your Mom told her she was pregnant with you. Seven months later, I read your Mojo's post about your birth story. It would probably gross you out, but I thought it was the coolest thing EVER. Us midwife-brain people are weird.
So, I kept tabs on your life, little G, and no one even knew. I just wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to love on you and give you kisses, and I wanted to give your mom a hug and be her real friend. But because of our history, I reconciled with the fact that I'd be a Far Away Observer forever.
And then one day, not too long ago, your mom left a comment on a status I posted. She disagreed with the things I had said and wanted to try to help me see a different side. It had the potential to be one of *thoooooooose* Facebook comment threads, especially because it was a disagreement between two people who had NOT WRITTEN A WORD TO EACH OTHER IN THREE YEARS and whose last words to each other (three years ago) were "we are not friends." There was a dark and horrible part in my heart that was excited, G. It felt like "the perfect chance" to get back at your mom and "slam her" publicly. I thought of all the "smart things I could say" to make her feel inferior so that I could "finally have the last word," since she didn't let me have the last word all those years ago. I figured our not-being-friends, originally, had been her call, and so this was my chance to make our not-being-friends MY call.
But then I had a different thought. It was a thought that said: "sweet Jordan--maybe there's a different way...a better way. Maybe this public disagreement doesn't have to be your final line in the sand. Maybe this can actually be used for Good. Could something so obviously disagreement-oriented be made into a platform for...friendship?" God usually gives thoughts like that, G. Whenever my first thought is to make myself The One Who Comes Out On Top, God gives me a second thought, which usually looks a lot more like Figuring Out A Way To Lift The Other Person To The Top. Listen to that second thought. I don't always, but when I do, things turn out Best.
So, I sent your mom a private message. This is what it said:
And do you know what your mom told me? She said yeah, I hurt her three years ago and yeah, that was pretty painful. But then she said that, believe it or not, she hadn't given "me" another thought since then. So here I had been--hiding behind my screens and assumptions--terrified to reach out to your mom for THREE WHOLE YEARS, and it had all been absolutely silly. And duh! Why in the world I would have ever thought myself "big enough" to take up space in your mom's life and emotions for all those years I cannot tell you. She obviously had much bigger things to be spending her energy on (like you and your dad). Graham--all that time we were crossing paths in the same city, WE COULD HAVE BEEN FRIENDS. Had I messaged her sooner, I am 99% sure her response would have been the same.
So, I told her I was sorry. She said she forgave me. She said she was sorry, too.
That's it. That's all it took. A couple "I'm Sorry"s and a couple "I forgive you"s. And then we figured out we live less than an hour apart, so I came and met you for the first time a couple weekends later. Here, look!
And let me tell you, Graham, your mom is one of the best friends I've ever had. In our few months of friendship, we've spent hundreds of hours on Voxer (you'll have no clue what I'm talking about--that's okay), talking about and sorting through LIFE. She Voxed me the day she took you to the ER to get your little head glued up (you're pretty top-heavy, kid), and I've Voxed her through a handful of different "boy-issues" and she's both provided a listening ear and given sound advice like a champion. When I screw up (which I do), I Vox your mom. Sometimes, she'll tell me I screwed up, and sometimes she'll tell me I need to "chill out" and not be so hard on myself. Depending on the occasion, I've needed both responses from her. A lot of times, she'll play my messages to your dad, and then she'll hand the phone to him while they're standing in the kitchen and he'll give me some guy-advice. He's so helpful.
I met your uncle Andrew and honorary Auntie Cassie last night--and Britt and Chris and Rupert, too. They're all such wonderful people, and they love you so much. Your uncle Andrew made us all try some of his MRE, and he taught your dad how to clean his gun with shaving cream. He really loves you, you know. I loved watching him pick you up above his head and "wrestle" with you. You've got good men in your life--they'll teach you to be a tender warrior. Listen to their words. Pay attention to the way they love you and their wives and your cousins. Chris and Andrew and your Dad and your Tito and your uncles Isaac and Noah are God's men. And they'll teach you to love Jesus and love people, which are the two most important things anyone could ever teach you.
Think about the wonder of it all, Graham. Had I not listened to that God-voice--not been courageous and reached out to your mom even though I thought she'd want nothing to do with me--not said "I'm sorry" and allowed her to say it, too--I would still be looking at you through Instagram feeds and Facebook updates. Had your mom not found it in her heart to forgive me and *then* invite me (a person she'd never even spoken to in real life) to your house, I'd be over here an hour from you (and her, and your dad) seeing you all through a camera lens.
G, forgiveness is real. I know you read about it in the Bible and you hear about it in Sunday school and from your parents and your Mojo and Tito, but I'm here to tell you one more time. The reconciliation of Christ is a real live thing. It actually works. Relationships don't have to stay broken and estranged forever. "I'm sorry" and "I forgive you" can go a really, really long way.
But those are big, brave words. It takes a lot of courage to say them. I want you to know that Jesus will ALWAYS give you that courage. He really will. You'll have to take the first step, and it will feel a lot scary and BIG and like you're stepping off a cliff into the great unknown. But then you'll find His hand. And you'll hear His words. And He'll help you figure out how to navigate those scary waters. This I promise you.
Fear is powerful. It keeps us chained and keeps would-be relationships at bay. It can cause a person to spend three years tip-toeing around another person, all the while desperately wanting friendship. But you know what, G? Fear really isn't all that Big and Scary. It just likes to make itself seem like it is. Big Scary things are usually like that. They're actually quite small and miserly, and they know they are--which is why they have to try so hard to make us think they're SO BIG AND BAD. Courage is so bright. When you expose the Big Scary things to the light, you find that all of a sudden you can see them for what they really are--crumbs. The Light is always bigger, brighter, and more powerful. The Light always, always wins. But we've got to do the hard work of dragging all the Big Scary Stuff out into it, first.
Graham, thanks for letting me--all of us--love on you. I bet you've had at least a hundred thousand kisses in your long year of life. You've got a bright light, little one. Let it shine. And when it doesn't--when the Big Scary Stuff seems too big and scary and bad--there's a bunch of us here to help. We're your fellow Light Bearers, and sometimes you'll need us. You'll need us to be on the frontlines with you, dragging that Dark Stuff into the Light to be exposed and healed. And, you already know that we all need you. But when you need us--when you need an ear or a hug or someone to teach you how to throw a football--just ask. Like I said way up there ^^, we all still feel like kids ourselves, so we're all in this together.
And we're really glad you decided to join us.
hey, i'm jordan.
i write here because i think our words are worth sharing.