I’m happy to have Andrea Palpant Dilley here at Live Uncaged today. Andrea lives with her husband and their two daughters in Austin, Texas and spends most of her time trying to balance writing and parenting, story arc and spit up. Her recent memoir, Faith and Other Flat Tires: Searching for God on the Rough Road of Doubt tells the story of her struggle with faith and church. For more about Andrea, visit http://andreapalpantdilley.com or on facebook.
One Sunday after church, my mother and I walked out of the sanctuary and found a Russian woman trying to sell hand-crocheted booties. She begged in broken English: “Buy, please.” I bought a pair and walked away.
After we started home, I told my mom to turn the car around. “We have to go back,” I said. “We have to buy more booties.”
For twenty minutes, I made my mother drive the neighborhood while I looked up and down the shaded streets for a poor Russian immigrant clutching her purse full of yarn. I never saw her. But the next Sunday when she showed up, I bought another pair of booties. And the Sunday after that, another pair.
I bought all those booties without a baby in mind. I bought them because I suffer from an almost incurable sense of guilt, duty, and pessimism. The world is an unbearably sad place, and buying booties from a woman in need makes it a little less unbearable.
A little history. As a child, I grew up in Kenya as the daughter of a medical missionary doctor. I saw kids my age being carried into the mud hut morgue twenty feet from our house. As a young adult, I worked with welfare families, volunteered in the slums, and served food to refugees. So my life outlook comes partly from past experience.
I’m 34 now. I have two beautiful daughters and a good husband. Years ago, he started calling me his “Little Weltschmerz,” German for “world pain.” What started as a joke—you’re such a pessimist!—turned into serious concern. One evening, after listening to me describe my obsession with pain, suffering, and poverty, he said to me, “This isn’t normal. This isn’t healthy.”
Slowly, it dawned on me: I’m in bondage to my pessimism.
I’m right, of course. The world is messed up. But I’m only half right. The world is also rife with joy. Saying so makes me cringe—as if I’m confessing something I don’t want to confess, as if I’m letting go of my comfort, the darkness.
I’ll be honest. Even after that moment of realization, I’m not free of my cage, yet. I’m still struggling. But every day, I fight my pessimism. Every day, and by God’s grace, I seek joy.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting on the couch holding my infant daughter when two insights came to mind.
First: “It’s your job to have joy.” As in, accept the gift of gladness.
Second: “This is your piece of pain, your garden to tend, this kid, right here.”
As in, narrow your scope. You can’t save all the starving babies. So focus on this one small person. Love her, comfort her, hold her when she cries. Find joy in caring for this fragile gift.
The day before she was born, my husband and I changed her name. We decided to call her Eden. As I struggle to find joy, she is for me a reminder of that biblical garden—a place of peace, a place of God’s intended wholeness.