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…

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Thankful Thursday – My Awesome Doghouse

No matter what you do, how hard you work, how much you invest, how great your love or commitment, you will disappoint people. The junior high and high school popular kids. Certain teachers or college professors. Friends and neighbors. Bosses and authority figures of all stripes and spots. Family members, community members, and church members. Strangers on Facebook. Whoever they may be, critics can crawl through walls like ants.

I said: “I feel like I’m in the doghouse.”
He said: “So make it one awesome doghouse.”

Great advice! I can only do my best and I can’t change the critics. Theirs is not the love I need most (read that with an Obi Wan Kenobi voice: “This is not the droid you’re looking for…” This is NOT the love I’m looking for).

I’m setting myself free to make my doghouse awesome!doghouse

I recently read Shauna Niequist’s new book, Present Over Perfect, in which she wrote:

“This is what I know for sure: along the way you will disappoint someone. You will not meet someone’s needs or expectations. You will not be able to fulfill their request. You will leave something undone or poorly done. Possibly, this person will be angry with you, or sad.

“What you need along the way: a sense of God’s deep, unconditional love, and a strong sense of your own purpose. Without those two, you’ll need from people what is only God’s to give, and you’ll give up on your larger purpose in order to fulfill smaller purposes or other people’s purposes.”

So what am I up to?
* Spending less time on social media and TV, and more time in books. I wandered the library shelves today and found a few to add to my stack.
* Reaching out to friends
* Counting my blessings in my gratitude journal
* Getting outside to walk daily with my sweet Guy or friends, always with dogs
* Drowning out the noise with silence
* Soaking in God’s love through the Bible, prayer, and greater attention to His presence
* Cooking simple, healthy food and drinking lots of water and herbal tea
* Enjoying my work and my play
* Saying yes and taking risks, and learning to say no
* I’ve hit refresh on my wind down ritual and my sleep has improved.

Last night after homework Tween and I played best-out-of-five games of Uno. Despite my strong start, he won. Along the way we laughed and talked. We might do it again tonight, or soon. We’re making what seems frivolous, important. Because it is.

I’m shaking off the dirt and falling in love all over again with my doghouse. Because it’s mine, I’m decorating it with people, activities, and things that fill me up with joy. And I’m grateful!

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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.

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“There are such nice people in this world…”

…says Tween, as the lady burying the Target conveyor belt with items notices our simple three items – a pack of lip balm and two shower scrubbies – and invites us to jump ahead of her in line.

Of course he’s right. There are such nice people in this world.

This week we met fantastic doctors and nurses, office staff and techs, who extended extra care to a nervous kid and his on-edge parents. Friends have shown up with cards, hugs, ice cream, meals, more hugs, and lots and lots of prayers. Kiddo is back to school and we are inches away from solid steps forward. We feel overflowing gratitude for the loving kindnesses that have come our way.

As I reflect on human kindness, on the miracles God does through us connecting us to one another, I want to share with you an overdue story of incredible kindness:

In our small town, a Small Wonder fights a big Cancer in a little body. Her sweet Mama Bear calls her a “Gladiator in a tutu.” As this tiny Gladiator began to lose her hair this summer, Mama Bear sent out a Facebook plea for folks with leads on kid-appropriate head scarves.

We were supposed to be on vacation, yet we didn’t go on vacation. We saw the post. I prayed. Guy went into action.

Guy contacted a family who had participated in our church’s Mexico house building trip. This particular family has a fashion company, TART Collections. Gorgeous, beautifully designed, high-end women’s fashion worn by celebrities such as Heidi Klum, Jessica Alba, Katy Perry, Selena Gomez, and Sofia Vergara. They generously replied “Of course!” they could pull together some head scarves.

They called Guy back: could he arrange for Gladiator & Co to come to production headquarters? Why, yes, he could. Perhaps God kept us in town for this very reason.

Guy arrived at TART a few minutes before Gladiator & Co, who arrived to a rousing welcome from the whole company. A prominent “Welcome” sign hung in the lobby above a wrapped pink box, atop which sat a stuffed pink monkey. She unwrapped the box to discover a bedazzled pink backpack chock full of head scarves and little girl art supplies. She got a company tour, and got to touch and “ooh” and “aah” at the luxurious fabrics.fabric

When the tour stopped at the photography studio, Gladiator was presented with a custom-made Just-for-Her TART dress: they would do a fashion shoot with her. As she emerged from the dressing room, Gladiator appeared uncharacteristically timid. TART employees lined the long back wall, waiting to cheer her on. They encouraged her: “C’mon! Strike a pose!”

Long, dramatic pause, as Gladiator looked from one end of the room to the other… Suddenly, she bounced into pose, and the whole company erupted in applause! While she twirled and twisted for the camera, folks were off in another room, hurriedly making skirts from fabric Gladiator had admired.Gladiator

Gladiator got a turn behind the camera and found herself in a quandary: might she someday want to be a high fashion model or a photographer? The world filled with new and glorious opportunities! And all this so soon after her sixth birthday, in a week when she was both losing her hair and being made to feel less than by peers unable to understand this new reality. God knew His little beloved needed a boost.photog fin

Balloons, cupcakes, and a party ensued, and before it all concluded, Mama Bear received a TART catalog and pad of sticky notes. “Let’s get to YES! No is not an option.”

Of course Mama Bear wanted all eyes on her Gladiator, on The Fight, and not on the support team. TART folks knew, though, that a loved-on support team makes for a stronger Gladiator.

And so Mama Bear adopted Gladiator’s timid pose: “Well, let’s see, hmm, ooh beautiful, well, maybe I could choose… Oooh, what about That One?” Choosing one made choosing more easier.

The extravagant acts of kindness continued as TART offered Guy the Secret Code for Guy’s Wife (Me, an uninvolved and undeserving bystander) to also order “Not just one, but what she wants” items online. Seriously? When have I ever enjoyed a high fashion shopping spree? (Never!). I must have looked at each item at least six times before I made any selections, overwhelmed and overjoyed at the opportunity.

Mama Bear wrote:

“Oh, Cancer, how I hope you were there watching! The smile on her face lit up the room. For a few precious hours, she was not a kid with cancer…she was a model. A photographer. The birthday girl. The complete center of attention. And it was all made possible by the generous spirit and love of perfect strangers with huge hearts. The joy in that room was SO MUCH BIGGER THAN YOU, CANCER. My family cannot thank those incredble people at TART Collections enough for making magic happen in that studio yesterday.

“It seems like every time you succeed in getting us down, God sees and does something amazing, something real, something tangible, to turn it around and lift us all up. You can take her hair, you can take her immune system, you can take her kidney, but you cannot and will not take her spirit. She gets more beautiful each and every day. Her body may be getting weaker, but her spirit is getting stronger. You. Are. Losing. You picked on the wrong kid.”

Friends, doesn’t this just light you up? Doesn’t it change your perspective on human kindness, on what One can do for Another? Every time I have the privilege to share this story, which is way more than every time I have the privilege to wear my new and beautiful Tart clothing, I watch as faces change, attitudes change, and people see how they can do more, be more, love their neighbors more.

“Extravagant” is one of my favorite words. By definition it means: “exceeding what is reasonable or appropriate.” May I never be accused of extravagant spending in wasteful ways. May I always attempt extravagant love!

Paper Towns

Paper TownsPaper Towns by John Green

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You can see her: *that* girl in your high school, the sparkly, witty, smart one, the one everyone adores and some suspect might be way cooler if she wasn’t also the popular kids’ ringleader. Her name might be, for example, Margo Roth Spiegelman.

Your high school also had a Quentin, Margo’s next door neighbor, a true Everyman: smart, quirky, has a few smart and quirky friends but mostly avoids the drama of the high school scene. Also, loves Margo.

What your high school didn’t have, likely, was a Margo who could go off-the-rails in adventurous/dangerous and almost mean directions. Your Margo didn’t take off unannounced for days at a time. She didn’t leave obscure clues, hoping against hope that her bewildered parents might know her well enough to decipher her vague hints into discernible points on a map. Mystique, thy name is Margo Roth Spiegelman, and there is only one of thee.

Paper Towns is fun and meaningful – a high school saga of pranks and prom; social circles crashing, intersecting and bisecting like amoebas in a petri dish; a hero’s quest of a mystery; and a young adult road trip – all mashed up and beautifully written.

I really enjoyed this book. I liked the characters – I like high school kids, and I’ve known kids like each and every character Green writes here. I know these adults, too – the well-meaning ones who think too much, the ones with something to prove, and the ones so overwhelmed they give up. Green’s pace moves from fun pranks night to thoughtful pondering to search and rescue; he varies the fast and slow.

Two critiques:
1) It took me a while to understand the Paper Towns motif. Green’s obviously thought it through but hasn’t written it clearly enough, especially for a young audience, especially as Margo originally introduces the idea.
2) I don’t think I’ve ever known actual teenagers who think quite as profoundly and philosophically as Margo, and eventually, Q. The poetry, the literary references, the ability to infer and refer so deeply and widely, it’s all fabulous but a tad unbelievable for most 18-year-olds. But then again, we’re not supposed to believe that Margo and Q are average 18-year-olds.

The book has a beautiful message we all need to learn and relearn:
“When did we see each other face-to-face? Not until you saw into my cracks and I saw into yours. Before that, we were just looking at ideas of each other…” (p302). Let’s stop being ideas for others, and seeing others as ideas, and start being real people with visible cracks that allow our inner light to shine through.

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