Instead, I get alternating criticism and joy. Culture shock combined with a fierce spirit. I feel like I’m being poked in all my soft bits and then that same person is laying their heart in my lap without reservation. I have emotional whiplash.
But always the grace. So much grace.
In the last few days, I’ve realized anew that this is not about me. This process, this hosting, this Christmas. This life. It’s about becoming more like the One who was born in humility and lived with love and compassion.
This girl is a sassy, prickly ball of awesome. We communicate in looks and shorthand and a familiar repartee. She is quick-witted, and observant and above all, honest. Brutally honest at times.
And sometimes that honesty stings.
I had a mini-meltdown when a family member jokingly repeated a few of Sunshine’s familiar tsk-tsks. It was just too much. I wasn’t ever going to be good enough, fast enough, thin enough, pretty enough, or capable enough to please anyone. I was just so tired of being strong and telling myself that these things aren’t true or that it wasn’t about me. The shield I was holding up was getting awfully heavy, and I just couldn’t do it anymore.
So I stopped. I dropped the shield at the feet of the One who holds a far better shield. It’s not a shield meant to make us impenetrable. It’s not a shield that keeps others away. It’s a shield that reveals truth.
And I stopped trying to defend or protect myself. Instead, I decided to hear the truth.
When she tells me that my appearance is less than flattering in a photo, the truth is she wouldn’t tell me that if I didn’t matter to her. And that makes me smile.
When she tells me that I should wear these clothes or dye my hair that color, the truth is that she just wants me to be as beautiful as she sees me. And that makes my heart soft.
When she tells me that the ingredients I provided for a dish are less than acceptable, the truth is that she so desperately wants to please me. And that makes me so thankful.
When she tells me that my son is not normal because he behaves a certain way, the truth is that she doesn’t understand what it means to be a “normal” child in America. And that makes my soul ache for her.
When she tells me how to improve my driving, the truth is…well, the truth is she’s a teenager who thinks she has a lot figured out. And that makes me realize how much she needs me.
When she just picks at me for the sake of picking at me, the truth is that she is telling me I am important to her. And that makes me love her.
And I found that I had stopped building my little fortress around my heart. Instead I was building a relationship with a dear, wonderful, spunky bit of a thing.
And I welcomed her in, and she came and we laughed together again.
And I watched a beautiful transformation unfold before me.
On Christmas day, my family had decided to play a game, and she didn’t want to participate. She was dizzy. I could have shielded against it with an eye roll or a sigh. I could have mounted a counter-offensive made up of all sorts of lovely phrases like “family time” or “participation.” Instead I let her be. The truth was that she was probably nervous about playing a game with a bunch of fast-talking English speakers she didn’t know very well. And me forcing things would only exacerbate the problem.
So she sat, and we picked a game and set it up. Pictionary.
Come, I said. Come be on a team with Little Man and I. I need you. Come.
And she came.
I will not participate, she said.
Okay. Just help guess.
And then it was her turn to draw. My mother pulled the card. Oh, you know this word, my mother said. You can do this. Please do this. I’ll help.
So she did. And she giggled her sweet giggle as my mother fumbled with the translator. And we guessed her word.
And the next time it came to her turn, she already had the translator out, ready to figure it out all on her own. A little tsk and tilt of the head. An independent squaring of the shoulders and sarcastic lilt to her voice. The truth was not that she was refusing help. The truth was that she wanted to be one of us, to be fully part of this experience. And when she really did need help, she wasn’t afraid to ask for it. She just didn’t want the preemptive fawning, like she is broken or less-than.
So much like me.
And my family, so used to knowing and accepting this truth, easily slipped into her rhythm.
She goaded me about my horrible animal-drawing skills. I mocked her tendency to pound the paper with her pen-tip for emphasis.
And the truth is that it is humbling to love this girl. It is humbling to love any hurting child. It is humbling to love any teenager.
But I am beyond thankful for the gift of her and the things she is teaching me.
It was so sweet, this Christmas, loving this girl and listening to the truth of her.
It’s one of the best Christmases I’ve ever had.