Rainbow Connection—July 15, 2019
Today we completed our (mostly) annual trek to western Massachusetts. Mark’s cousin Alden has, with his amazing wife, Lissa, created what could easily be considered paradise. Blueberry and raspberries ripe for the picking, chickens and a big garden, a mile hike through the forest to swim in the Connecticut River. Oh, and beer, did I mention the beer? They brew beer to supply their restaurant, the People’s Pint. I call it our hippy Norman Rockwell vacation.
It has to be good to make it worth the 1000-mile drive.
This year we did it in stages, spending a wonderful few days with friends Michael and Teri in Frederick, Maryland. As with the best of friends, we can (and did) go a decade without seeing each other and pick up right where we left off. This time, in our case, adding two new children to the mix. Yesterday Mark and I introduced Jack and Emma to a tiny sliver of our nation’s capital. It’s been fun and hot and exhausting and new and off-schedule and delightful.
And we’re all sick of being in a car. Well, being in a car together.
So it wasn’t surprising, when I missed an exit in bumper-to-bumper traffic coming off the George Washington Bridge into New York, resulting in some swerving and honking that Mark yelled, “Just pull over! You’re a horrible driver! I’ll drive!” To clarify, I didn’t like it, but given the fact that everyone was tired and grumpy and we still had four hours of driving ahead of us, it wasn’t surprising. The GPS soon re-routed us and within ten minutes all my passengers were asleep. Plus we gained half an hour.
Still, the outburst stung. Fact is, I think I’m a pretty good driver. But this is true: I’m a worse driver when Mark’s in the car. Because he thinks I’m a bad driver. We sometimes—even inadvertently—become the thing other people think we are. And in the way of every prejudice, all good-driving to the contrary will probably not register. Mark will mainly remember the New York exit fiasco.
But right at this moment, he and everyone else are leaving me alone with a beer and a computer to write this blog, because they believe I’m a pretty good writer. Their belief helps me to believe it of myself.
This is a difficult parenting dilemma. I have really high standards and, okay, am pretty strict with my children. I know what they are capable of and I don’t cut them much slack. (Plus, it’s really fun to see their faces when I do.) But there is a fine line to walk between demanding that they do their best and pushing them for unattainable perfection. Each situation, and each child, has a different line. The balance I’m going for is to be a strict and demanding encourager.
In the midst of our vacation and joy, I’ve been grieving the loss of my cousin’s husband, Tom Livengood. That seems such a remote relationship for how close I felt to Tom. It is a measure of his character that pretty much everyone who ever met Tom considered him a friend. He had an open countenance that invited honesty, a generous listening that offered acceptance, and a childlike playfulness that overflowed from his deep faith into infectious joy. He was only 46. I can’t remember another time when I’ve felt such anger during a funeral. This man had so much to offer our bruised and hurting world, and as a hospice chaplain, a husband, a father and friend, he offered it with abundant generosity. It is a crushing loss.
My cousin Nancy wrote an achingly lovely reflection about Tom. Here’s a part I’ve kept savoring: “Truly amazing was his ability to completely trust God while questioning his faith. He had the humility to know he didn’t have all the answers and the depth of soul to seek God further. He had such depth of love that he sought to ease suffering and meet injustice where he found it…this also allowed him to sit one-on-one with people and hear their stories and share their grief, bringing comfort and love.”
But here’s the part I’ve most remembered today: “Tom was the greatest encourager, supporter and promoter of my art. He understood its importance in my life and embraced it, seeking to help it to flourish and grow.”
We often, even inadvertently, become the thing other people think we are. And it helps to have encouragers (like my husband and cousins and children) to help us love the thing we already are—the thing we most seek to become.
If Kermit the Frog can sing with deep conviction It’s Not Easy Being Green, he can also, with equal conviction, offer the hopeful Rainbow Connection. It is Kermit’s ability to accept himself as created that allows his vulnerability to become strength. It’s his quirky particularity that makes us trust in the universality of his rainbow vision.
Tom, I think, knew and embraced his role as encourager. Another friend, John, also recently battling metastasized melanoma, began writing a blog to record—and offer—insights gained during his journey with cancer. The most important insight is to be present to what is happening right now. “My experience has taught me how crucial this is, and I want everyone to be able to experience the joy of living a present, intentional life.”
What I love about both of these men is their willingness, their drive even, to encourage others in the midst of their own pain and fear.
When I’m having trouble being generous with someone, I try to picture the nape of their neck. It’s such a tender spot. When I notice the nape of someone’s neck, in church, or in line in front of me, I can see that person as a vulnerable and beloved child. And when I can see someone for the beloved child of God that they are—even in this despicable moment—then I can be generous. Because I can remember it’s not about me. Whatever the situation is, I don’t have to be defensive. I can be both a strict and generous encourager. I can be my particular, vulnerable self and still see the possibility and greatness in the other.
Strive to be the encourager.
And when you hear the voice encouraging you to be more deeply who you know you are, believe it.