Extending the Hand



Our hands were shaking and my eyes blurred so I couldn’t see the screen or press the little buttons and drop-down calendar charts on my phone. My heart was racing and up in my throat. The tickets were in hand, the physical COVID tests, and we had completed the pre-registration to re-enter Colombia the night before in our hotel in Miami.

As we tried to board, the flight attendant told us we were not pre-checked. We were panicking, as the last call came over the speakers. I looked over at the girls as they hugged each other, their face masks were wet from their tears.


Pull yourself together. Go talk to the flight attendant again, and tell her it isn’t letting you re-register.


I am a mess. However, as I sit here all packed in with our family on the airplane to Barranquilla, I recognize that the tears, the panic, and the stress are not just from the past hour of getting on the plane. 2020 threw us a curveball like so many others this year.


So many have asked us in the last few weeks “How are the girls?”


“Doing well,” we reply, “and ready to get back home.”


Seeing the girls huddled together sobbing today made me realize that it isn’t quite that simple! They kept saying through tears “We aren’t going to go back!” and “We are so close”.


Apparently, 20 others were having trouble as well, and more airline workers came to help sort it out. We loaded ourselves with our backpacks, carry-ons, violin, and viola, and they allowed us to pass through.


From the check-in desk all the way to my seat on the plane I felt myself unraveling. I began allowing myself to feel the emotions of going home. As the plane revved up its engine and left the ground, gratitude and relief washed over me. We were indeed on a plane returning to our lives in Colombia.


It has caused me to reflect on the 10 months we have been in the US.


How do we deal with disappointment? What do we do when things don’t go as planned?


I think first, and most importantly is that we don’t pretend it doesn’t affect us. We acknowledge that we had an unmet expectation. We grieve what was supposed to be. This is a loss.


It’s okay and healthy to talk and cry through all of the feelings.

Reagan came into my room crying this past week at bedtime. As a parent, you never know when your child will go through this process, but in our family, Reagan is usually the most in-tune with how she feels. We hugged, and I held her as she cried and told me she wishes she didn’t have to go between different countries. This breaks my heart, and I let her have the time she needs to put it into words. I remember feeling the same things as our family lived and loved with the seas between.


There are so many things to learn, but first, we feel. We bring all these emotions and really acknowledge them. We cry out. We lament. Jesus hears us and wipes each tear.


Isn’t that what we need? We need to say it, scream it, and let it out.


I don’t know about you, but I can tend to rush to the positive of a situation and squeak out a quick “It’s fine!” before it really, truly is fine.


As a child, I remember reading the description of the people in the Old Testament when they received bad news. They would tear their clothes, beat their chests, and sprinkle dust on their heads. These images played out in my mind like a telenovela (Latin soap opera). Now, I realize just how healthy this process was.


Have we lost the ability to lament? Feeling our emotions in the deepest part of ourselves? We don’t want to sit in the dust and mourn. We want everything to be okay. Now we even don’t accept someone else mourning like this. We want it to go away. We try to brush off the emotions and “keep it together”. What for?


I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gail. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Lamentation 3:19-20

There is something profound and beautiful about lamenting. It pours out of us. Sometimes it pours out all at once, but usually, it comes in waves over time. Ours this past year has come in waves. Obviously, I had not and maybe still haven’t mourned the different stressors of this time in our lives. This year is showing me that we all are experiencing a range of emotions and it is spilling out in various forms, some unfortunately in an unhealthy and damaging way to those around us.


Anger is a part of the grieving process, but I believe so many are cultivating hate towards others as a form of coping. I must say that I have been overwhelmed with the amount of hate I have seen this year in the US. It has been scary.


Displaced grief. I think it may play a big part in the anger, hate, and lack of compassion on social media and now as we begin to gather in person.


I was recently asked what it has felt like coming back to the States this year. I was sad to respond that it has been shocking. Even before COVID, there was this underlying mounting pressure that I could feel back in January. It lurks behind “discussions” on politics where people want to know where you stand from the start. Underhanded comments here and there to see if we nod in agreement or speak up to defend. I remember thinking, “I didn’t realize I had to have an opinion about every single issue.”


“Choose. You must choose which side you will stand on,” echoes in the background of our interactions with everyone.


As somewhat of an outsider now, I understand that these undercurrents in the culture cannot fall under a clean category as we may want. Living overseas and being an outsider there has afforded me some important life lessons I am still learning about acceptance.


How often do we approach people with a label already formulating in our carefully categorized brains? It’s as if we have to know where to put someone before we can interact.


“I see you. I hear you,” we reassure one another every time we meet.

Speaking of labels...being a tall gringa in Barranquilla has been interesting. I have had several experiences where no matter how slowly I spoke or articulated my words, the person I was trying to communicate with simply could not make sense of my accent. This is an incredibly humbling experience. Communication is like an extended handshake. When I enter into this exchange, I hold out my hand to the person. Mostly, the person leans in… inclines the head to hear me through my interpretation of their beautiful language. This response is their accepting my “hand” to shake it. However, some rare times, my hand is not met. I hold it out, and it is left.... hanging.


Acceptance.


It will always be tempting and comfortable to find people that are just like me. It’s easy. It’s like those shoes I have that slip on and form perfectly to my feet, and support my walking.


What would it look like to purposefully enter into relationships with people that may look and think differently than us? Let me tell you, knowing different kinds of people has been the richest, most fulfilling gift the Lord has given me. In the beginning, I am confronted with obvious physical differences. If I am insecure in who I am, these differences take me back to middle school. Unsure, I look down shyly at the floor, scrambling awkwardly to know what to do with my hands.


When I meet the person’s eye, they reassure me they see me. We can be different. I can sound different. We can look very different. With time, the physical begins to blur and the hard lines soften. Soon we are familiar souls, listening.


“I see you. I hear you,” we reassure one another every time we meet.


Caring. This is kindness. Extending the hand, meeting the eye over and over again. Reassuring the person that we do want to know them, and not change them.


“Isn’t it beautiful that we have so many people to love?” I tell Reagan after a while of cuddles on my bed. “Imagine if we didn’t have so many people to love and who love us so well? THAT would be just horrible, wouldn’t it?” Her eyes squint into a smile as she wipes her face.


Joel & Angel Ballew

770-331-4384

joel@12degreesnorth.org

ballews@gmail.com

Joel's Skype ID: joelballew

Angel's Skype ID: angelynnballew

Twitter: @joelballew

 

U.S. Address:

1730 Sugarloaf Club Drive

Duluth, GA  30097

Colombian Address:

The Ballew's

Carrera 52 No. 90-187

Barranquilla, Atlantico

South America

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@2020 by The Ballews.