The secret to caring for people

I wake to the lonely sound of freezing rain pelting the window, and it is mere minutes later that a knock is heard at our bedroom door.
“I’m scared of the rain, can I sleep with you?”

I move over to make room. And as she settles in with her pink blankie underneath our warm quilts and Brunswick sheets, I think of how very much I want to protect this Little One. She is vulnerable, needing me. And I am willing to fill the gap. Willing to care.

Care is meant to be responsive. How very much I am realizing this as we deal with outside agencies. Hospitals, staffing at healthcare facilities, schools, public agencies. They are all the same essentially when it comes down to it: systems that, the bigger they get, the more impersonal the interactions seem to be. Yet, the more that care is fundamentally needed.

When I think of my belief in care and the power it holds to transform and change, I realize more and more that its evidence must be seen and its influence must be felt within the relationships we encounter. Those that span the range from the micro to the macro. We all desire to be heard and responded to.  We all long to be cared for in responsive, empathic ways.

How can we learn to care for people- especially for people when they are not especially likeable? People outside our circles of influence that we encounter in day-to-day interactions?  People inside circles of influence that challenge us, defy and oppose at every opportunity?

I think the secret starts with gentleness and a desire to remain open. Open to the possibilities and open to the fact that there are differences. And the secret continues by remaining soft in our approach- being gracious in our interactions; this is the complement to the quality of openness that brings it full circle.

Open arms and grace-filled hearts always lead the way toward love.

Christian philosopher Jean Vanier affirmed his conviction in the power of love to be a transforming force in our lives when he wrote a recent communiqué posted to his website that states simply: “we are all children who need to be loved, to be a source of joy, to live relationships full of joy, through communion and mutual presence” (Vanier, 2015).  Might be never forget that love is kind- and so must care be too.

Reminding ourselves that the people we find the most difficult to like/care for are probably the ones who need it the most is certainly useful in this process of learning to care for difficult people. If we can allow ourselves to see each person we deal with- especially the most difficult ones we deal with- as people who deep down have vulnerable, fragile selves, we can then appreciate that the defenses they have set up and the walls they have built are there for protection. People with walls up are people with fears.

But they are still people nevertheless.

We can learn to care for people even when they come with baggage. Even when they come to relationships both personal and formal with issues and things we don’t understand.  And believe it or not: we can care for people even when they don’t treat us with care.  We can find ways to care for them anyway.

Because the secret to caring for people is first determining that we will care and then finding something within people to care for. From there, the care will grow.

I can smell her hair on the pillow beside me. She smells of everything that seven-year old little girls do- a jumble of all that makes her beautiful and sweet. And my heart is full. Filled with love.

She sleeps peacefully until the morning light- knowing that I care.
Knowing that I always will.

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On secrets and toppling walls…

I watch him build the wooden walls of his tower, painstakingly. One by one.  They stand in solidarity for mere moments, only to topple before even I can add another brick. This is child’s play, and it is fascinating to watch him. These walls are made for crashing, in his view. In his mind’s eye. This is amusement and discovery and cause-and-effect. This is pure delight. His sole reason for creating is to therefore demolish. To knock down, tear down- flatten. He is happiest when things fall over. When walls come down.

And so am I.

These walls we’ve built up to protect us- they are false protection. We build them high and bolster them with whatever is at our disposal. We claim we haven’t enough time to explain the reasons for their existence- we’re too busy. And no one would even understand their purpose anyway. That’s what we say. We say they’re necessary- we need these walls. They are protection. It’s a cruel world out there- someone is always trying to attack. To assault. And we’re always on the defensive. We need these walls, or so we think- we’d be devastated without them. We’d be naked. Wide open for onslaught.

Our walls. Built to shut the world out. To keep the world from knowing. Knowing our little secrets, that is.

Those shameful, little secrets.

Secrets…that we are trying to keep hidden.

About marriages which are failing.

About struggles we’re having with anger. With doubt. With depression. With disappointment. Fear. Anxiety. Disillusionment.

Secrets about our struggle with abuse.

Secrets about our addictions.

We keep these secrets because we are afraid. We’re scared.

Petrified that someone will find out.

Because if anyone ever knew our secrets, they might come to discover our frailty. Our weaknesses. Our imperfections. We’d be exposed and heaven help us- what could happen then?

No one ever enjoyed feeling bare and exposed.

Wide open for humiliation.

But what if in toppling those walls, we were known. Truly known.

Known for our humanity. For our beauty. For our uniqueness.

What if we were known and loved for our imperfections. Known and loved in spite of our flaws and failings?

What if telling- what if sharing secrets brought us freedom? What if speaking our truths allowed us to breathe again?

What if we were lovingly held, even in our brokenness? And rebuilt anew?

Again and again and again.

Because that’s what living sometimes entails: a process of starting over. A renewal. A chance to have a new beginning. A chance to say, “I’m not hiding anymore.”

What if beauty were to come from ashes.

Sometimes it takes feeling scared to bring us closer to the Sacred. And while we might falter, while we might fall- we are held. In Arms of Love.

May we never forget: Our secrets are merely precious stories waiting to be told.  And walls are meant for toppling so those stories can be re-written. Retold.  Time and time again.