How We Belong to Each Other

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Nov_KelliAfter the accident, I roll him on his side to help get the brace off so he can sponge-bathe. I’m queasy because my stomach was not made to stand up under broken bones and blood blisters, but love is as love does. And so we wash.

He has an appointment with the doctor in an hour, and we will find out some answers there. But right now it’s time to put on the shoes. I hold his left sneaker open in a yawn and he wiggles his foot inside. My mind goes back over the seven pregnancies when he has done the same for me and I tug on shoelaces and then ask with a lump in my throat and a quavering voice if it’s tight enough. He nods and smiles.

Later, my parents come to visit. My sister and her husband come, too. They bring dinner and presents for recent birthdays and even though my husband can only handle so much of the party before he has to go lay down, it feels like a bit of normalcy returned. A big sigh of relief escapes my lips for all that is familiar and comforting. A deep breath of thankful, really, for those who meet needs whether I would have asked them to or not. Oh, how we belong to each other.

And those are the words that keep pulsing a steady tempo in my mind since this crisis has erupted in our family. How we belong to each other. How we belong to each other.

Because there’s the holy work of sacrifice that can only enter by the door of weakness. Whether it’s weakness of the physical kind or weakness of the emotional kind (me, raising my hand slowly). There is Living Water that drips from the sponge as I help him bathe. And when I bring him a sandwich in bed, I feel how the crumbs all lock arms together to form Bread that nourishes. These acts of service are forms of prayer. They are part of learning to live out “For Better or Worse …” in the daily grind, the nitty-grit. They are love in action.

But I don’t want to leave this post at that, beautiful, though it is.

In the spirit of rigorous honesty, I must admit that as a caregiver, I have needs, too.

The truth is that I have been every bit as needy as he has. I have shoved tears aside because there seems to be no time to cry them. I have listened to the shame talk of my piled up dishes and heard Laundry Mountain taunt me. I have been so low that the morning light offers no hope and so destitute that all I can whisper through mascara-stained cheeks is, “I can’t … I just can’t.” And I have believed that these things define me. I have let them swallow me in their graceless jaws.

Friends, this is not the end.

It is a dry place, it is a hurting place. But it is not the final place. These moments are stops along the path, and they can (and should) be honored as process, but sometimes (okay, almost always) relief comes from places least expected:

The text message that warms my heart.

The card I find in the mailbox, sandwiched between the bills and ads.

The generous checks and fist-fuls of waded cash pressed into my palm.

The ginormous bag of Qdoba tortilla chips my sister stocks my pantry with.

Every time these things find their way into the downcast view available from my eyes, they are reminders that others bear the burden with me. They are means of grace.

Because sometimes the best gift you can give a caregiver is the knowledge that they are not alone.

Sometimes we need people who believe for us when we cannot seem to muster up the faith ourselves. Sometimes we long for those who will speak to us of life outside of our severely narrowed little sphere and remind us that there is a world in which every need is not dependent on us to be satisfied. Sometimes our hearts ache to know that we are not invisible to someone, somewhere. And if we are bumping our heads hard against the obvious fact that we are but human and have needs, too? That there is someone who will give us the break (or the chocolate or the laugh or the shower) for which we pine.

I have not always been brave enough to listen to what this pain has to teach me. To accept the peace that passes understanding. I have screamed loud and long. I have hid my face from the uncomfortable emotions, choosing the facade of going around them rather than through them.

But Truth and Peace are of the sort which chase me and keep turning up like a bad habit. They want to be found. And I most easily recognize them through sundry ways of “each-othering.” Like when I pour out all the ugly to a friend’s listening ear and feel the warm squeeze of her hand. Or in the smile I receive from a stranger as we pass in front of the cornflakes. Last week, peace showed up in the kitchen as my daughter and I baked apple pies and sang showtunes. These are means of becoming human.

And the unexpected healing in such sacred encounters causes me to glance over my shoulder, knowing I’m being followed by nothing less than Goodness and Mercy.

They, indeed, are chasing me Home.
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Image credit: Marya

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