Thankful Thursday – Neighbors

Our dog has been sleeping on two beds.

A few days ago, our neighbors drove away in their cars and rental moving van, all loaded to the max. They took their funny cat and sweet black lab.

Of course they did.

But over nine years, our neighbors have become our friends. We borrowed onions and bought each other flowers. We enjoyed regular parties with the other neighbors on our court. We celebrated holidays and occasions. We sat on each other’s front porches to shoot the breeze. We shared meals and drank wine around the fire pit. We walked our dogs together.

We actually co-parented our dogs.

Their dog and our dog have been besties since puppyhood. Neighbors took a board out of our shared fence so the dogs could be together constantly. Jessie (their dog) is an early riser; most mornings she came over to wake Izzy (our dog) and tank up on water, which she seemed to prefer at our house. They had morning play time with Guy before we all went to work and dogs went outside.

Unless someone was working at home–between our houses, that happened often–in which case dogs stayed in. In the evenings, dogs followed Neighbor room to room, begging with anxious eyes, until he took them onto the hill, the open space behind our homes. When he wasn’t home, our boys were enlisted to doggy hill duty, despite the fact that dogs (usually) had already had a walk or two that day.

Most nights dogs slept on their own beds in their own homes. But we had an extra bed for Jessie since she was at our house so often. Our dogs even had regular spontaneous sleepovers, more often than my kids and their friends!

This week has been different. Izzy doesn’t play with toys; she played with Jessie who played with toys. We should probably clean up all the toys scattered around the floor. Tween spilled some dry cereal, and we don’t have Jessie as our doggy vacuum cleaner (Izzy’s picky that way). I thought I heard Jessie chomping on a bone; nope, just Tween making some odd racket in the next room.

Izzy keeps asking to go outside. She looks toward the fence separating our properties, the one that used to have an opening through which her friend appeared. She turns around and flops by my feet. She follows me from room to room. We stacked Jessie’s bed on hers, and so she sleeps on two beds, our princess puppy.

We’re excited for our friends in their new adventures. Change is hard. Change can be good. Change brings new opportunities. In Jessie’s absence, we’re keeping Izzy busy– she’s been out on the hill, on a run, and to the dog park twice. Good for her, and for us.

And today we have new neighbors. They have little kids, which makes for different sounds drifting through the windows. We also have new neighbors on the other side; a mom and three daughters, one of whom turns out to be a school friend of Tween’s, are moving in to the house below us.

Maybe, with time, our new neighbors will also become friends. Now, if only they had a dog…

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Advertisements

Overwhelmed

I received a rejection slip! Of course I’m disappointed, but here’s the catch: all creative ventures involve risk. I took a risk. It didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped, but I took it nonetheless. I am creating, and putting my work out there, and it’s a step in the right direction. This post just didn’t meet their needs at this time, which also means I get to post it here instead. Create, and recreate, and all good. What are you creating, and how’s it going?

Bristling like an electrical storm, Teen blustered into the house—door slamming behind him—and tossed his gangly body onto the couch beside his dad. “Hey, did you know the wage gap is a myth? That women get paid less than men for the same work is just not a thing!
 
We stared in response, so he kept spouting facts he’d heard in a video on social media. He thrust his phone in his dad’s face, insisting he watch it, too.
 
Parents want their kids to think critically. At eighteen years old and soon off to college, it is good for him to take account of the world and wrestle with his place in it. But a two-minute video by some guy not much older than he is cannot be his only information source.
 
I left the room, returning armed with a book—Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte (2014: Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York). Earlier that afternoon I had finished the section on Work.
 
Schulte offers solid reporting and not by any definition a feminist manifesto. Yet as I read one story after another, I felt affirmed and discouraged that sexism—in the workplace as one societal microcosm—still runs rampant. My kid may be right, that women and men with comparable education, experience and skills receive comparable pay for comparable work. But nothing is ever that simple.
 
For example, researchers at Cornell University put together four nearly identical resumes: half with male names and half with female; half signaling parenthood through PTA involvement and half indicating childlessness through charitable volunteerism. Nearly 200 college students ranked fathers as “best worker,” more employable and promotable and better management training candidates than men without children, while mothers ranked at bottom, considered significantly less competent, intelligent and committed than women without children (79). To test this “motherhood penalty” and “fatherhood bonus,” they confirmed their research by submitting resumes to entry and mid-level positions and found that fathers were called back at a higher rate than nonfathers, while mothers received half the offers of nonmothers (80).
 
As I tried to explain ‘my side’ to my ever-argumentative child (oh, the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the women he will encounter in life, begging him to trade grace for an arrogant hard line), he asked, “But Mom, when have women had it better?”
 
To which I replied, “Maybe they haven’t. But, Son, look at me. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”
 
Over a post-yoga iced tea with a girlfriend, I relayed this story. She gave up her hard-earned career to be a full-time stay-at-home mom who employs her work skills as PTA president. I have cobbled together full-time motherhood with part-time employment plus freelance writing. We each have made choices that feel sacrificial. Even at our best, we both feel we will never be able to do it all well.
 
Schulte defines overwhelm as “a product of lack of control and unpredictability and the anxiety that both produce” (280). Who can calculate how many factors in a women’s life fall into “lack of control and unpredictability”? On any given day, I can only control so much: what time I get out of bed; how I fuel and move my body; the ways in which I interact with others; the work or home projects I tackle before the interruptions come. Because the interruptions come, hard and fast, predictably unpredictable: sick kids; forgotten lunches, forms, homework; overlooked deadlines, and immediately-required answers; bad news, local and global, or worse, from loved ones.
 
No wonder we feel overwhelmed! So how to squelch the rampant anxiety? Schulte includes pages of suggestions in the “Do One Thing” appendix—working smarter, not harder; time chunking; practicing gratitude; remembering that play, too, can be useful. For those too overwhelmed to read a book on feeling overwhelmed, this appendix alone is worth perusing.
 
Thankfully, my friend and I have found our way to a straight path. Exercise and togetherness. Swapping stories and encouragement. Expressing gratitude that, though we may not do it all as well as if we only did some, we have opportunities that others have not. Cherishing the truly precious moments in the mess of parenting (that an eighteen-year-old wants to spend an evening discussing real-life issues with his parents is not to be taken lightly!).
 
And taking time to read good books.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Thankful Thursday – Friendship

Slowly, gently, she grew into my life like a beautiful, flowering vine: mom of Tween’s friend, friend of a friend, eventually, my friend.

And way too soon, she moved a world away.

Of course she would. She came from across the world. She and her sweet family were always on loan to us. I just didn’t recognize the temporariness of our time.

Isn’t that too often the way?
“But, wait, if I’d known…”
“I wish I’d said… I wish we’d done…”
“If only we’d had more time…”

Before she moved, our friend-group invested concerted effort to create memories together. In addition to our regular Friday Fun Days in the park, we added walks, coffees, weekends away, wine tasting, parties that often led to late-night dancing in the kitchen, you name it. We shared time with her, and also with each other.

After she moved, I felt like a sinkhole had opened up in our small town. Though she is a lovely skinny twig of a woman, her absence felt almost like its own ominous presence. Funny (not funny): not too long after a literal sinkhole opened up downtown…

We lost her in our daily lives and special occasions. Social media softens the blow, and we’re ever so grateful for her husband’s airline job that makes possible spontaneous return visits, like the one we enjoyed this week.

But as we gathered round, talking about the things we’ve always talked about–kids, school, friendship, cultural do’s and don’ts in our different cultures, language, work, friendship–I remembered how it felt to know the time would be short. And as I gazed around at the beautiful faces of my friends and listened to the laughter of our children playing in the other room, I wondered why we give in to life’s frenetic pace at the cost of sharing time together.

We have lost our regular rhythms. Seasons change and kids grow and the stuff of life gets in the way. It’s normal, but that doesn’t mean we can’t challenge it.

Family first, sure. But most of us have more time than we recognize, at least a little time to spare. How we spend our time signals our priorities. For my part, I want less Facebook and more face time. I want to keep making memories with the people in my community now. I don’t want to wake up one day to discover another friendship lost, even temporarily, to a sinkhole.

 Follow my blog with Bloglovin

ReBuild: Mexico 2017

One of the best things our church does fills one week with life-changing experience and takes the rest of the year to plan, then debrief, before planning the next trip: our spring break house building trip to Mexico with Amor Ministries. This year, as in most years, about 250 high school students and adults built hope, twelve new homes, and a classroom for a church in the community. In one week.

In addition to thirteen build teams the trip includes a tool team, a camp crew, a medical team, a camp therapist, and a media team. Layered throughout are the Catalyst student leaders, all seniors, who lead the build teams, and the adult coaches who play a supporting role to their Catalysts. It takes a lot of people putting in a lot of work to pull it all together, and that’s not stating it strongly enough.

Each trip has a theme, and this year’s theme was ReBuild. Guy chose the theme at the end of 2016 and, when he told me, I had to laugh: without consulting one another, he chose a “re” theme for this trip into which he invests so much love, energy, and leadership, while I chose a “re” theme (re:create) as my word of the year, the word that has and will motivate me to new investments of love, energy, and leadership.

The group returned last night, and today in worship we celebrated what God has done. In Mexico, through the buildings, the memories that will last a lifetime, and the hope for a new and better future as people have a safe, dry place to nurture their families. In participants, as so many spoke of new or renewed faith commitments, fresh insights into themselves and their place in the world, and deeper relationships across all the ‘usual’ social boundaries–adults and teens, kids in different grades and from different schools.

We also celebrate what God will do. In families, as this year more than ever I was struck by how many families or family groups participated together–siblings, parent-child, married couples, and whole families; and in families where some or most did not go on the trip, they, too, will be affected by the overflow of experience from those who did. In schools and workplaces, in our church and community, as participants continue to live out their experience over weeks and months and years to come, and as God’s love shines brightly, bringing glory to His name.

As story after story was shared, participants built for the listening congregation a vision of God at work through this week in Mexico. I’m no contractor, but clearly God is our foundation. He created us. He knew our names, He had good plans for us, all before we were yet born. This year, for perhaps the first time in the 27 years of this trip, all teams had solid concrete foundations poured by the end of the first build day. I hope they remember: a strong foundation is essential to a strong structure, and God is our firm foundation.

One after another spoke about the strength of relationships developed in such a short time. And as I reflected on the theme, ReBuild, it occurred to me that we have the power to build supporting walls in each other’s lives. Someone said, “As the walls of the houses went up, the walls in our hearts and lives came down.” That’s true: we build metaphorical walls to protect ourselves from judgment, from criticism, from rejection. And it’s also true that when we find safe people, we can dismantle our walls of protection even as we together build stronger walls of community and encouragement.

Life can be hard, and people can be mean. Too often we throw verbal stones or, for whatever reason (sometimes for no reason, at least no good reason), we tear each other down. No surprise we wall off our hearts! But encouragement and community, they rebuild us and make us stronger.

One young man said he had been seeking community for years. Something clicked this week and he found it, evidenced by a friend’s embrace as he returned to his seat. My Teen has been fortunate to know that community. A twice-monthly before-school boys’ Bible study started with a group of motivated 8th grade guys and has continued through their senior year. They were adult-led until they took up their own leadership, and they have carried it forward in ways that pleasantly surprised their parents and other adult leaders.

Teen got to be a Catalyst this year (achieving one more life goal!), as did many of the Bible study boys. Along with their female peers, they have forged a tight-knit group; their community had a “ripple effect” throughout camp, fostering community with each gentle wave. Teen stood up to thank his fellow Catalysts, and to thank his team. He said, “We became a family. By the end of the week our team was a family building a home for another family.”

I watched with awe as my son–surrounded by community–stood, arms raised, singing:

I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

Safe to say they are returning home having been rebuilt by God and His gift of community.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Known

Talking with friends last week I mentioned that I’ve taken just about every personality test out there, including the silly ones on Facebook. “Ooh, which Disney princess are you? [beat as Friend examines my face] Never mind, you’re Belle. Definitely Belle.”

Spot on.

I have seen Beauty and the Beast twice this month, three times if you include Crosswalk: The Musical (even if you don’t watch all of it, watch some. It’s silly and hilarious!). Our amazing high school put on the stage play, and yesterday our family saw the live action movie.

I may be prettier than James Corden, though not as breathtaking as Emma Watson, but Belle is my Disney princess doppelganger. Like Belle, I am bookish and odd, with my head in the clouds. Belle is outcast for her unusual priorities. The Beast is feared for his appearance. While Gaston, the handsome doofus, receives the admiration of everyone–women want to be with him, men want to be him–even though he may be the scariest character of all.

One line in the movie version caught my heart: the curse caused everyone who loved someone in the castle to forget they existed. Beyond the castle walls, they were no longer known. So sad!

Every human being wants to know and be known. It sounds simple enough. Yet too often we allow our own priorities and our judgments to obstruct how we perceive others. We get in our own way and miss the beauty and love of others who are not like us.

Yesterday I received a message from a friend I’ve known most of my life. I haven’t seen him in person in years, but we’ve kept up through online conversations that sometimes last days and go surprisingly deep (less surprising if you know either of us personally). He had been reflecting on something flippant he’d said about our friendship, something that reverberated. Which compelled him to share it with me.

He didn’t have to share, but he did. Others might have felt too vulnerable. He wrote about me, and the (in his opinion, uncommon) love and gentleness I’ve shared with him. That I am unlike others has been my strength and has had an unlikely effect on him. Though we disagree on core beliefs, my sincere hope and willingness to love him no matter what has allowed him to feel safe to meet me on common ground. He sees in me strength I don’t always feel, and he believes in me.

Reading his words, I felt seen, known. He knows me essentially in a way others with whom I regularly interact don’t. Despite the rejection I sometimes experience, his confidence inspires me to feel newly confident.

This might surprise the crud out of him, but I think God sent my friend at just the right time with just the encouragement I needed to know that God, too, sees me, knows me, and loves me. I don’t have to be afraid. I am not alone.

If I can leave you with a thought: take time to truly see people and acknowledge the best of who they are. Encouragement is a gift you won’t regret.

Jesus: Our Shepherd
Week 4 – Known: John 10

Connect
What sets apart someone you would follow from others you wouldn’t?

Study
Read aloud John 10:1-15.
Describe the difference between the shepherd, thieves and robbers and the hired hand.
What does the shepherd do for the sheep?
Why do the sheep follow the shepherd and not a stranger?
How is the shepherd good?
Retell this scene in a contemporary setting: who would be the shepherd, thief and sheep?Read aloud John 10:28-30.
What does Jesus promise, and how can that be comforting?

Live
How do you get to know the Shepherd?
How do you keep focused on the Shepherd’s voice when there are multiple voices calling for your attention?
Who are the “thieves and robbers” or “wolves” threatening the sheep today?
What can you do differently this week to tune your ear to your Shepherd’s voice?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will continually listen for your Shepherd’s voice.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Better Together

I’ve been thinking about community…

Recently a friend posted about setting “Better Together” goals with her husband. It got me thinking (thanks, Cara!). I’m not much of a goal setter, too generally scatter-brained. But Guy’s more organized along those lines. What if we set goals together and held each other accountable?

During my Inauguration Day media fast, another friend called and said, “Our church is divided because our country is divided. We need to come together to pray for our country.” Her words rang true in my soul. As we chatted, we realized that we stand on opposite sides of the political divide. And we stand together in prayer.

Last night I scrolled through Facebook and saw pictures of friends all across the country peacefully marching in solidarity with one another. The heaviness in my chest lifted some, replaced by hope. I’m not alone.

I didn’t march. Instead we attended our friends’ son’s bar mitzvah. Despite having taken a few years of Hebrew in seminary, I quickly gave up on the transliteration and instead read and prayed along in English. It was a beautiful service, fascinating and moving and so different and like what we do at church on Sundays.bar-mitzvah-1

Two things especially struck me throughout the day. First, we all ought to speak heartfelt words of blessing, over our children and to one another. How different might our families, our communities, our world be if we noticed and spoke into the best parts, the uniqueness, of the people in our lives? And secondly, I am so grateful for my friends!

As we celebrated the rite of passage that welcomed this boy into Jewish manhood, we talked. We laughed. We danced and ate and drank. But because we also do life together, we asked hard questions. We whispered prayer and rubbed salve on the aches we know our friends carry. We rejoiced together all the more because we have also suffered together.bar-mitzvah-2

Before it started raining this afternoon, Guy and I took the dogs for a quick walk. He remarked, “I really like our neighborhood!” I agree. I like our street, our section of town, this geographic community we call home. And I like our neighbors and friends, the community that fills our hearts. I think we’re better for engaging in life in this place, at this time. I hope others would say the same about us.

So tonight, despite the dumping rain, despite my introverted self running on full-weekend extrovert overload, I will drag myself out of my cozy cocoon to gather with other friends, our church Community Group. We will talk and laugh and discuss and pray. Because I need them in my life. We’re better together.

Come & See
Week 3 – 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

Connect
Which part of your body do you think is most important? Which would be hardest to live without?

Study
Read aloud 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.
Notice who has responsibility for assembling the body parts (vv. 13, 18, 24, 27). How does that knowledge reorient our perspective?
Rephrase the statements in vv. 15-16 as someone might actually say them. How would you respond?
Sadly, how do we communicate “I don’t need you!” to certain members of the body? How can we change our attitudes and actions?
How would you explain to someone who hadn’t read this passage why we need each other?

Live
What are some of the Church’s favorite body parts? How do we demonstrate that?
How would you describe your place in the body? Have you ever wanted to be a different body part? What and why?
There should be no division in the body, but we can all point to examples. How should we address division when we see it?
How do we practically suffer and rejoice with one another?
How can we strengthen our connection to the body?
What does this passage communicate about what it means to be Jesus’ disciple?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray for stronger connections with other members of the body.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

2016 Create Challenge & (Re)Discovering My POV

Just about a year ago, my brother-in-law and I discussed creativity as we washed Christmas china. We hatched a plan to invite people to post on my blog about creativity. As a result, this year 39 people have guest-posted, one friend 2x, and I have been moved, inspired, blessed.

Throughout this year, I have heard two phrases repeatedly: “I didn’t /don’t think of myself as creative…” and “Thank you! Committing to guest post helped me in such-and-such a way…”

To which I say two things. First: STOP it, friends! As human beings, we are created to create, and thus we are all creative. Own it, already, figure it out, create!

Secondly… You’re welcome! I am so grateful that the opportunity to post on this little blog has proven significant in some way.

Your posts have been significant in my life. Of that I am certain.

Each week, February through November, I had the opportunity to reflect on a friend near or far. Few of those who have guest-posted reside in our immediate community. Some I have known since childhood. Some I haven’t seen since high school graduation—mine, perhaps theirs. Some I have only rubbed elbows with, “elbows” perhaps meaning “social media accounts.” The age range has been considerable, a 40+ year gap. The creativity also has been vast, from “traditional” arts—writing, painting, singing, composing—to those necessary for daily life—parenting, friendship, encouragement, forgiveness. As I have prepared to post, I have belly-laughed and I have wept tears of grief and gratitude. Your posts have grounded me, uplifted me, and leveled me.

I feel honored to have created this platform, this community, for people to share their stories. I feel honored to have such a wide web of connections among honest, vulnerable, creative friends.

I have learned a few things:
I love to encourage—oh, how I have looked forward to my weekly guest post intros.
I love to share stories—to encourage others through posting stories that resonate with me and with you.
Creativity begets creativity—I created a platform, you created posts, which further inspired you, and me, and others…

On the day I posted 2016’s last guest post, I also indulged another creative project: I attached prints of recent photos I’ve taken to cards. For sale. Just a little thing for a little moms’ Christmas boutique. Not a money-maker, just enough to pay for supplies really.16photocards

Still, it’s something I haven’t done for a while. I picked up the prints and, as I laid them out, I remarked out loud: “Huh. I have a style…?!” Of course I knew what drew my eye, what had me reaching for my camera, but here it was, the recent best of, and it surprised me.

My pictures tend to be flowers, close up. They are quiet moments, some with riotous color. Most so close you don’t see the whole flower/bouquet. I don’t do landscapes, wide-scapes, the Big Picture. I stop, bend down, notice the details, the small, too-often overlooked beauty.

You wouldn’t know it to look at them, but each image tells me a story: of the rose bushes Guy gave me one Valentine’s Day; of the bulbs we planted in our yard; of the end-of-summer Farmer’s Market we visited; of Nephew’s 18th birthday celebration in Guy’s hometown; of a friend’s wedding.

Much like those who have posted on my blog, I will say: “I don’t think of myself as observant…” I guess it depends on what draws one’s attention. My guys see things as we hike—lizards, snakes, berries in trees. They are more naturally observant than I am. They have better distance eyesight.

I see flowers here, there, and everywhere. They stop me, make me notice them, help me see what makes each special.

During Thanksgiving week Tween and I walked the dogs through my childhood neighborhood. An African daisy caught my eye, orange-yellow-black, petals as intricate as butterfly wings. We stooped to look closely, to barely touch so as not to disturb. Neither of us had phone or camera, so we couldn’t snap for later. The next day I took my phone running with me. The flower was shut tight, the sun not in the right position for it to open. It reminded me to appreciate beauty while it may be found.

Which is really and truly The Whole Point of this blog: Miracles in the Mudane! My life may be small, but it contains glorious, beautiful details pointing to the Divine. Your life may be small, but you contain stories that speak to so much more.

One of my favorite things is to help people share their stories, and this year the blog, the Create Challenge, has done just that. Because most of us live small lives, but all of us have something important to share. And I am so grateful!