“It was your return ticket.”
That’s what Norma said to me when I told her about my recent experience flying back to Canada.
My flight was scheduled to leave the Ohio airport at 6:30 in the morning. I have a US passport. I am a citizen of the United States. However, when I attempted to check in online the night before I was to leave, I learned that I would be required to see an agent at the check-in desk before obtaining a boarding pass. That hadn’t happened before.
The young man at the counter that next morning asked for documentation that I was a legal resident of Canada. It seems the airlines was concerned because I didn’t have a return ticket. And, like Norma reminded me, this was my return ticket. I knew when I arrived in Victoria, the customs agents would ask for my officially embossed paper that assured my easy entry. I was ready to prove my status then. But, I balked at the Delta desk attendant demanding that proof in order to leave Ohio for Minneapolis.
I don’t need to prove my worth as a parent, a wife, or teacher, or even a person of faith. So, why do I keep trying to do that?
I am not the noise—the inadequacy of the deep sleep dream I keep having—of not measuring up. Measuring up to what? That is my elusive question.
I can’t seem to break out of the breadth of ‘less than capable’ that I’ve experienced lately. When I consider the last year of my life, I see both moments of struggle or moments of grace. I just don’t see much that seems effectual—that I’ve done anyway. I want to generously be with my family and friends, while at the same time I shield myself from the risks of being less than I imagine.
Professionally, I had one project hanging on that keeps meeting roadblocks, not exactly of my own making. However, I keep wondering what I could do or have done differently to make the going smoother. In another situation in response to the Chinese church here in Victoria, I’m now filling in as the leader with an English language learners group. The participants are so gracious. The first meeting together that I planned would have been more appropriate for first graders. I don’t speak or understand their language and acutely feel my lack of practical insight about what to do in that two hours I will spend with them each Friday. What can I do differently to make this time generative for acquiring a new language in the cradle of supportive relationships? I don’t know.
Unexpectedly for February in Victoria, today the sun is shining and it is cold. And for me, a wee bit of goodness is peaking through with the sun. I’m not sure I believe it, yet.
Simone Weil, Christian mystic, who died quite young, wrote:
At the bottom of every heart…there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of all experience of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done to him. It is this above all that is sacred in every human being.
In the midst of my worry and doubt, I do desire the goodness that is lurking below the surface of every encounter, of every circumstance. I must remind myself that expecting goodness doesn’t mean a specific outcome. Expectations are a different stance and often lead me to disappointment, to those feelings of inadequacy.
In that English learner’s group, I had expectations for myself. I have the expertise, a Ph.D., in literacy, culture, and language, and even though adult language learners aren’t my calling, I thought I knew what to do. I had expectations for the three people I met previously that turned into eight eager learners in that first class I lead. I didn’t expect their generous spirits, the welcome and the safe space that we cultivated together despite my uncertain preparation. We unleashed goodness by sharing our inadequacies, whether real or perceived and our gratitude for the opportunity to be in a new city.
My heart still hurts for circumstances beyond my control in other parts of my life, for unknowns that keep surfacing. Someplace, inside of me, is that assurance that our lives are above the fray in which I often stay too long. How can I recognize God’s goodness that is deeper than my actions, thoughts, and fears?
Instead of feeling that I have to act or wondering what will work in response to living, the presence and peace of God offer me the opportunity to face what is. In surrender, I am opened to the serenity of faith, the courage of hope, and yes, the assurance of goodness.
Getting up on this cold morning, I was thankful for the quiet radiator at the top of the stairs. It’s gentle warmth unobtrusively permeates the air. I’ve taken to laying my clothes on it before I get dressed. I began the day both steeped in this warmth and agitated by a professional problem I could not solve on my own. I was grateful that I have colleagues who were witnesses to what I could do and offered their contributive presence no matter that they are thousands of miles away.
I also woke up from those all too familiar night induced worries. This time about another person’s life that I love beyond reason. I was reminded, again, that he belongs to God. Later in the day, my dark thoughts were upended –people and circumstances were unfolding that countered my imagined fears.
Indomitably expect. Trust in goodness. No proofing yourself required.