On friends that put you back together, Part I

We all like to act like we have our shit together. Yes, I write these pieces that feel raw and like I’m opening my heart and exposing its wounds for everyone to see. But even that is curated. In real, real life, I usually appear to have my shit together. If I’m heading somewhere, I arrive on time, well dressed, hair done, back straight, and speaking the Queen’s English. If I’m expecting guests, I plan an itinerary for the weekend. I put away my laundry. I cook. I make sure the house is spic and span. In one case, back in 2015, my apartment was so perfect with not a single thing out of place, that my poor friend, visiting from the UK for the first time, asked if I had rented a special flat for the weekend. I was simultaneously insulted and flattered – why would I fake-stage my living quarters? But was it really that perfect that it looked fake-staged? I still don’t know which emotion I should feel more.

So last December, when I arrived in Boston back from work (my current client is in New York blah blah) elated at the beginning of the Christmas break,  I planned to put my facade on before my friends showed up.  But I was exhausted. I walked past the books and papers on the kitchen counter. I looked away from the unpacked boxes in the living room. I got to my bedroom, took one look at the mountain of clothes to be folded and put away, and wanted to cry. Instead, I pushed the clothes to one side and napped.

I woke up in time to pick O* up from the airport, and S* up from South Station. I brought them home, apologizing for the mess. I tried to make it about the apartment – I’ve just been so busy, I said. They said nothing, and took it all in stride. Sure we can sleep on an air mattress. It’s no big deal that you still have a couple of hours of work to do. They entertained each other even though they’d barely met each other before, and when I finally got off the phone, tired and even more irritated than before I got on, they were understanding.

But are you okay? S asked me when O went to the bathroom. I’m fine, I said, shakily. She looked at me, and at the apartment, and back at me. She knew all about Let Us Pray, and didn’t have to be brought up to speed. How are you doing? She rephrased the question. I didn’t cry – not then. I really am fine, I responded. I switched the topic back to her new married life and she allowed me to, thankfully.

Cue the next morning, while S was busy elsewhere. So, how are things with you? O asked. Are you okay? I gave her the highlights of the past three months. We hadn’t talked in ages. We caught up on my life, then her life, then mine again. But how are you now? She asked when she had heard everything. I smiled and said I was fine.

I wasn’t breaking down in front of them, but something was broken. It was clear by the space – it’s a direct map to my state. And over the three days they were with me, S and O took charge. S cooked her signature comfort dish, left me a giant bowl for my freezer. O cut up the mountain of fruit and veggies I had bought the week before from the farmers’ market but had been too tired, or depressed, to process. We made smoothies and juices and a fruit salad – and still had fruit left over. They humored me when I insisted on tiny portion-size bowls for the pepper we blended – so I wouldn’t have to cut into frozen pepper when it was time to make stew. They humored me when I insisted on the round bowls instead of the rectangular, even though it made no material difference. There was a tenuous balance, an unspoken understanding. Fragile, handle with care.

The next morning, when we were done cooking, they tackled my room. Within three hours, clothes had been sorted, organized, folded, hung.  Coats were put away. Sheets were stored. Gloves, bras, work clothes, everything found its place.

On the surface, the mess had been about the recent move and work travel and having been too busy for myself. In reality, it was about depression and heartbreak, and finally finding what you thought you wanted, only to not be what they wanted (more on that later). My girlfriends understood the spoken pain and unspoken anguish. The trip had been planned before everything became unrecognizable, back when I was still optimistic and giddy and happy. They came to town as planned and found a broken mess and no itinerary – heck the fact that their trips overlapped and they weren’t the same friend circle was probably testament to my state of mind. They went with the flow and tolerated the cold at the Common and gamely cooked their own dinner at Q, my favorite hot pot restaurant.

They came to visit for fun, and we did have fun. And, in those three days, by the time they left on Christmas Eve’s Eve, they had put me back together again.


On finding comfort from Old Testament prayers that God [probably] won’t answer

This morning, I found out that Trump’s stock-tumbling tweet about Boeing and 2020 Air Force One orders “Cancel It!” came an hour after Boeing’s CEO criticized him. I don’t know why I still have capacity to be appalled by this man’s ability to be thin-skinned, self-centered and irresponsible. But I clearly do.

As I thought about all of his antics again and got increasingly irritated, Psalm 37 came to mind. I had discovered verse 1 by accident while looking for verse 4 on Sunday, and had read the whole passage, somewhat guiltily, substituting “evil men” for Trump and “those who do wrong” for Bannon.

Then I repented for praying a vengeance prayer that God probably doesn’t approve of and so probably won’t answer.

This morning, it came back to mind. “Do not fret because of Donald Trump… or be envious of those on his cabinet who do wrong. For like grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.”

I should probably be praying for their souls and for them to find repentance. But this is sooo much more satisfying… 7 ” Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him, do not fret when Trump succeed in his ways, when he carries out his wicked schemes… for he will be cut off, and those who hope in the Lord will inherit the Land.”

Well I’m not actually praying for him to be cut off literally. Just for his influence and empowerment of neo Nazis and white supremacists to stop. God I know you can turn his heart around… ooh what’s that 10: “A little while, and Trump will be no more… ” sure what I mean is he’ll be gone in four years and 14: “Donald Trump and his Department of Health and Human Services appointee draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and the needy [with their plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and roll back Medicare/Medicaid]. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.”

God forgive me – I don’t really mean any of this literally – I’m just drawing comfort from knowing that their evils plans will not stand forever- wait what 32: “Steve Bannon and his neo Nazis lay in wait for the righteous, seeking their very lives; but the Lord will not leave them in their power”

This is hard Lord. I really want to pray for our future leaders and pray for his heart to be turned towards you. But this makes me feel so much better right now, especially when I switch from NIV to the Message: 35: “I saw Wicked Trump bloated like [an orange] toad, croaking pretentious nonsense. The next time I looked, there was nothing, [like] a punctured bladder, vapid and limp.”

Somehow I don’t think this is what God had in mind when he said we should pray for our leaders and rulers. But it’s not Jan 20 yet. And I’m a work in progress.

On God’s “With” being better than his “Why”

One of the reasons I love Lagos so much is the fact that I don’t have to try very hard to not be alone.

I’ve just returned from another four month stint in my favorite city, and it was glorious. Of course there were the normal frustrations of living in Lagos – the oppressing heat, god-awful customer service, intrusive questions from near strangers. But being surrounded by family, young and old, by friends, old and new, even by strangers, on random road trips to hiking spots – all of this more than made up for it.

And then this past week I came back to Boston. I came back to my perfectly lovely apartment and went through the motions of falling in line and obeying the rules of living in America: updating my car’s registration that had expired while I was gone, paying my outstanding bills, switching my car to a covered space ahead of winter’s snow, opening mail, talking to junior partners at work about new projects. It was all a mostly smooth and predictable process, and I hated every moment of it.

I hated being back. I hated being alone. I missed my family and Lagos friends. I missed not having my 15 month old niece walk into my room saying “Hi” and rummaging on my bed for my phone, and if that was missing, a string of pearls or a bracelet. I missed saying, “No, you can’t brush my new, expensive, full lace front malaysian hair wig with your pink plastic brush” to the four-year old. I missed the food. I missed knowing that one of my oldest friends was just across the bridge and I could meet up with her with a little bit of planning. I missed having people over and hosting games nights and slumber parties. I hated the jetlag – falling asleep at 6pm, and waking up at midnight. I hated missing Let Us Pray’s calls and not getting through either when I called back. I hated the cold. Fine, I still loved the cold weather fashion and my new leather trimmed wool coat made me smile every time I put it on, but once I got outside, the temperature in the 30’s (in Fahrenheit) felt like an extra “f-you-you’re-in-Boston” directed specifically to me.

And so I had a few days where I spiraled. Once the most urgent tasks had been attended to, I took to my bed. I procrastinated the rest of my tasks, and alternated between binge-watching TV and crying. Why was I stuck in this job that would soon again require 14- to 16-hour days from me. Why was Trump getting away with his kleptocracy already – why was he even the president elect? Why wasn’t I able to complete the capital project that had been one of my goals of going home? I was miserable, and I wallowed in my misery.

But then a funny thing happened. Because I was waking up so early (see jetlag above),  I had a ton of time to focus on my morning devotion. And because I had previously decided to fast in December and recruited a girlfriend to join in,  I was fasting anyway. I finished the book of Galatians that I had started weeks before, and I started hearing more clearly. Within a matter of days, the whisper wait became a certainty, and the niggling feeling that there might be something to being okay with being away from my family and friends in Boston became a roaring crescendo that I was actually not alone. I started to see and hear confirmation everywhere – passages and music brought to my remembrance, devotionals by email and in book form, even the two Sunday evening church services I attended (still can’t decide between Park Street and Aletheia) seemed to all have been conscripted into delivering a co-ordinated message from the Most High: Wait on me – don’t rush ahead. Trust in me – stop trying. Give it to me. And the best of all: You are not alone – I will never leave you nor forsake you.

And so I have learned and I am learning. I have no answers for any of the Why’s above. God does not often give answers for that question  [see Job for a sample of his response – it wasn’t an explanation]. But he always answers with a “with.” I don’t know that I’ll get an answer to any of the why’s, but I know that he is with me. And finally, finally – after a decade of running away from learning this lesson – God with me is becoming enough.