Warning: Relational Acceptance May Lead To Surrender, Trust + Tripping Over Joy

If you’ve been (happily) married, you know it’s practically impossible to choose a favorite photograph from your wedding day. Consider:  the people you love best, all gathered together. You and your beloved, both radiant with happiness. A beautiful location, a day of dancing, singing, laughter and celebration.

That said, I won’t choose a favorite…but I will share with you a photograph that definitely makes the top 10.

This is a photo of me, my husband Jonathan and Leo*, our friend and former housemate.

Aside from the miraculous sunshine (it had rained for days on end prior to our big day), the happy faces and the formal wear, this picture speaks to me about acceptance. About what happens when you are open to the strange, beautiful life before you.

Letting Go Of Expectations

As you’ll recall, when I arrived at L’Arche DC in 2007, I wasn’t too thrilled at the thought of accompanying Leo. In fact, I felt frustration and fear, as though I’d been assigned to the ‘wrong’ person. We didn’t seem to have much in common, and we didn’t expect the pairing.

What you may not know is that I felt the same way about Jonathan when he moved into L’Arche in 2008.

In this picture, I’m sitting with two people I cannot imagine living without. Yet when I first met Leo (and later, Jonathan), I thought, “How is this ever going to work?!”

In both cases, I had to let go of expectations. I had to let go of the assumption that– just because these men were quiet and hard to get to know– they disliked me. I had to let go of the belief that I’d connect immediately with the person I accompanied (and the person I married!)

Choosing Your WorthinessTrust vs Fear

In hindsight, I didn’t connect with Leo and Jonathan initially because I was intimidated. In Leo’s case, the idea of our accompaniment intimidated me; in Jonathan’s, the idea of our coexistence. I felt as though I’d never measure up to their standards…that I’d never be enough for them.

And yet, through small acts of kindness and patience, those relationships grew. And I came to realize:  my fear of not being enough was coming from inside me. It came from old hurts and rejections. The fear was clouding my judgment, distancing me from the people who actually did want to know me.

I remember the day I started to look at Leo differently. It was L’Arche’s annual Beach Day in 2007, and Leo had brought a book for us to read. We’d discovered reading as a point of common ground, and I was determined to read until we’d built a small bridge across the divide between us. He was quiet and attentive as we turned page after page of historical text. I started to feel a bit more at ease, as Leo seemed much less intimidating when he was listening to me read. I thought, “Maybe. Maybe we can do this.”

That first maybe moved us forward into more shared moments. Seeing Mamma Mia live onstage. Traveling to Springfield, Illinois and climbing over 100 stairs in the Dana-Thomas House. Moment upon moment, until the point when I couldn’t imagine my wedding day without him there.

I also remember the day I chose to look at Jonathan differently. For months after he arrived at L’Arche, I thought, “He’s so together. So smart. (So handsome.) He’d never want to be my friend.”

Then, after a few pleasant interactions (and one hilarious incident involving a spot-on Alvin and the Chipmunks impersonation), I thought:  “Maybe I was wrong. He has a sense of humor. He’s a human being. And it seems like maybe he doesn’t not want to be my friend!”

Again, the maybe. The little wiggle of doubt, the little space that made room for faith.

I like the way Brene Brown defines faith in The Gifts of Imperfection:  “Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.”

I had to take a step outside of fear– a step into trust— before Jonathan and I could move forward. It wasn’t a big step, but it was all I could manage at the time.

That step helped get us where we needed to go. As it turned out, Jonathan had cared for me all along. He had lent me books, helped me on routines, listened when I needed to talk…but it took me a long time to understand what he was doing, because I didn’t interpret his behavior as romantic interest.

Jonathan had been taking his time, making sure we had a solid foundation on which to build a relationship. He had been waiting, patiently, for the day when I’d take a step of faith towards him.

Surrender + Tripping Over Joy

Friends and family often ask me, “How do you come up with ideas for posts week after week?” I make sure to connect with people and live tenaciously, but my ideas also come from writers who have dared to be vulnerable, to share the real stories of their lives.

Case in point:  this week, after reading an amazing birth story, I had to share my own journey of acceptance. (When you read it, have Kleenex handy.) It’s the story of Kelle Hampton giving birth to Nella Cordelia, a beautiful baby born (unexpectedly) with Down Syndrome.

I love this story for its honesty, for the love you can feel as you read. It reminds you that the unexpected can be devastating…and it can be an open door.

As Kelle Hampton puts it, “My Nella…my beautiful perfect yet unique girl will be my constant reminder in life. That it’s not about wood floors [getting what we think we want]. No, life is about love and truly experiencing the beauty we are meant to know.”

When I look at the photo from my wedding day, it all comes back to me:  the miracle that moved us all from where we were to where we are now, the beauty we were meant to know. Are there hard days? Of course. But I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

It’s a funny thing, life. You really, really never know who you will come to love, and who will come to love you back. Your acceptance of the people in your life may lead you to surrender your assumptions and your preconceived ideas about what your life was ‘supposed’ to look like.

Be forewarned:  in this state of surrender, you are always, always at risk of tripping over joy.

***

“What is the difference
Between your experience of Existence
And that of a saint?

The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God

And that the Beloved
Has just made such a Fantastic Move

That the saint is now continually
Tripping over Joy
And bursting out in Laughter
And saying, “I Surrender!”

Whereas, my dear,
I’m afraid you still think

You have a thousand serious moves.”

~Hafiz, “Tripping Over Joy”

***

When have you been utterly surprised by a person or a relationship?

Tell me in the comments!

***

Further Reading:

S-O-S Best of the Best, Edition 11:  Family Life – Fun, Loving & Special

*Names have been changed.

8 thoughts on “Warning: Relational Acceptance May Lead To Surrender, Trust + Tripping Over Joy

  1. I love your choice of words and the emotions that come through them. Utterly surprised by a person or a relationship? It would have to be hubs. I was 17 and pregnant when we married, he was 20. We became parents to 4 daughters by the time I was 22. My third pregnancy was twins. One was born without most of her right hand. Today she is almost 35, a manager at an athletic company and competes in triathlons. She’s getting married in Vegas at the 12 mile mark of the Rock n Roll marathon in Dec.

    Another daughter became pregnant when she was 19 and felt she was too young to be a good mother. She planned adoption for G. and our best friends at the time adopted her. The strength required to make and carry through a decision like that is huge.

    The other two daughters are just as wonderful! Our 40th wedding anniversary is in January. Hubs has been a wonderful father and partner. I’m going to check out Nella’s story. I love the comparison of wood floors and the beauty we truly are meant to know. This post rocks!

    • Wow, Tess ~ thank you for an amazing comment! Your family sounds like an utterly beautiful ‘surprise’ ~ filled with strength and compassion.
      Thank you again for sharing! 🙂

  2. I think I’m still back in the first part of the post — the whole trust vs. fear thing — but I do love the verse you chose to share here. How could I read that and not come away with a smile?

    • You know, sometimes I think I’ve moved past trust vs. fear, and then I end up right back there too! 🙂 A lifelong learning, that.
      I’m glad you liked the poem!

  3. Caroline, this beautiful post really touched me. I love this line:

    “Again, the maybe. The little wiggle of doubt, the little space that made room for faith.”

    Thank you for reminding me that a leap of faith need only begin with a small bit of space; that something that seems impossible is made possible by the very thought of it happening.

    I’m so glad you found the birth story of Nella Cordelia! It is challenging and wonderful. I’m so happy for the beauty you have in your life, the beauty you were always meant to know. Thank you for the reminder that though what I have experienced lately is not what I expected or would have wished for myself, perhaps it is the beauty I was meant to experience. And beautiful it is, in midst of it’s challenges!

    Love you.

    • Alli, thank you so much for this thoughtful + compassionate comment ~ it came just when I most needed it today.
      It’s amazing how you’ve not only experienced beauty amidst the tremendous challenges you’ve faced…you’ve also become more beautiful through them.
      I love you too.

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