On Parenthood and #Joelia

parenthood

By now, you surely know of my unabashed love for the television show, Parenthood and the Braverman family. It’s a little sad, really, that I continually fall into this cycle with fictional characters—they become my people and pretty soon I start praying for them (on accident) at night.

I digress.

So no one should be surprised that when one of the show’s most stable couples (Joel and Julia) started having marriage trouble, I went a little off the deep end and started live-tweeting like I was watching a basketball game. Tweeting Joel and Julia’s every move, I set off on a mission to interact with the characters because WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING RIGHT NOW.

And as much as I truly hate this story—the narrative here is a little more realistic than I care to admit. In my fantasy world, couples discuss every issue and no stone is left unturned. But because we are broken people, the real stories are different. In our everyday marriages and relationships, we ignore and shoot past the things that actually grieve us and keep us up for hours at night.

Because I love a good (slow) story, I went back and watched a few episodes from Season 1. (This is the precise moment you back away slowly as you realize I’m a little insane.) And dang it, these problems we see billowing over now have been there since the beginning. Quiet and subservient Joel has been pretending to be content and supportive for years, but the whole story is he hasn’t actually been telling the truth. He continued silently supporting his family while letting Julia unknowingly live a selfish tale. He failed to lovingly tell her the hard truth about herself, and ignored the things that made him feel disrespected and betrayed until it was too late.

But now he’s too tired to fight, and that’s what we’re seeing. If anything, this story is a bit too true, which is what I’ve loved about Parenthood since the beginning. The characters move slowly, like all of us do. We all have things that sluggishly grow beneath the surface, and Joel’s bitterness has been expanding like mold.

So I love this story for being honest, but I hate it, too. I wish Joel would stay at the table and say something. I wish Julia would look within instead of blame others. I wish they would both apologize and sit across from one another in the cold counseling office and cry until there’s nothing but forgiveness left. So bravo once again, Parenthood, you’ve created a heartbreaking, gradual story about the way people actually lose each other. It’s an alarm for all of us—even the Joels and Julias of the world.

I hope to write a different narrative in my journey. I pray that I’m willing to do the hard, slow, painful, and beautiful work of redeeming what’s been broken and putting back together what’s been lost.

Also, I really need to stop getting so involved in fictional characters’ lives.

on criticism, trust, and context

So, I don’t think I was mentally prepared for the amount of readers (and anger?) that would come along with yesterday’s post about Boundaries & Love. A few people were really, really mad. One person even emailed me saying I was locked inside a cage of religious-fear and I needed released. What? Clearly they do not know me.

A few things in response to this:

1. I have lots of guy friends. Our friendships just look different from my friendship with women. We hang in groups. Read: we don’t lie around in our pajamas watching re-runs of New Girl together.

2. I am in full-time ministry, and have heard story (after story, after story) of men (and women) leaving their jobs because of an inappropriate relationship(s). So, boundaries are just a bonus to the consistent heart-checks that free me from that. I don’t want to be part of those stories.

3. I trust my husband more than anyone, outside of Jesus. Our boundaries are not created out of fear, but rather mutual love and respect for one another. In fact, they allow us to have great friendships with members of the opposite sex.

4. Criticism–especially that which does not come from a place of love–actually really hurts. I have usually been in the camp of “if you haven’t been through the grueling process of creating something, step back and don’t be critical just to be critical.” Yesterday I got a little personal taste of that. I am all for dialogue, conversation, growth, and different opinions, but not when they’re in the form of internet-rant-screams.

5. Before you critique something, read the entire thing. Context matters. I read a lot of comments yesterday wondering if they even read my post. I did not think our boundaries were a list for everyone to adopt. Rather, they were the overflow of principles we try to live within our own marriage. The encouragement was not to adopt my boundaries, but to think through your own heart/mind/desires and figure out what’s necessary for you and/or your spouse.

Thanks for reading and supporting! It’s been a fun couple of days.

on boundaries: no one’s above it

Yesterday as I was perusing the interweb, I stumbled upon a site called The Good Women Project. Their mission? “We exist to restore a woman’s identity as God created her to be.” That sounds beautiful and simple, right? But then their mission says this, “We are adamant believers that good women have the most fun, the best sex, and most fulfilling lives.” 

Okay, now you’re listening.

So they allow guest submissions and post their topics ahead of time for people to write their thoughts and submit them in, with the hopes (but no promise) of being published to their site. That quickly appealed to me, so I wrote this for April’s upcoming topic: Boundaries. I’m testing it here. I wrote a while back a reactive response to this, but here are some more formulated thoughts.

——-

Sitting across the table from my friend, Pam, I heard it for the first time.

“I think you need to set some boundaries.” 

I had just moved to a new city for an internship and found Pam, a friend from home, was living about an hour from me. I asked her to mentor me and she gladly accepted. So, we met once a month at Starbucks halfway between my home and hers and got to talking, growing, and laughing.

One Thursday morning, she asked how work was going when I casually mentioned that I had just been to a one-day conference with my co-worker, who happened to be a man. She got a bit of a nervous look and said,

“Did you drive together?”

To which I casually and confusingly replied, “Well, yes, it was over an hour away, so it would’ve been silly to drive by ourselves.” 

“Were you the only ones in the car?” 

“Um, yes….” 

“Is he married?” 

“Yes, why?” At this point I began to clue in that, I, unknowingly and naïvely, had crossed a boundary.

She looked at me sympathetically and then launched into the speech: the one about boundaries in dating, work relationships, and marriage. I would’ve liked to think that I was privy to boundaries. I didn’t hang out with married men or ask them personal questions about their lives. I had no desire for any of the men I worked with, nor did I seek their interest. The very thought of a romantic relationship with any of them made me feel nauseous. So why was I getting a speech like I’m the other woman? Because although I my intentions were pure, no one wakes up to an affair. It is a slow process of boundary-less decisions. 

And so, with the help of Pam, here are some boundaries I adopted as a single woman. Some of these may seem obvious, and some extreme, but here they are:

    • Never ride alone in the car with a married man. Even though it’s innocent, car rides can be long and isolated. Inside jokes are created and a deeper form of friendship comes through being alone together. If he’s married, there’s no need for him to have that kind of relationship with any woman except his wife.
    • Don’t be in the office alone with a married man. If there’s only two of us left in the office, one of us needs to leave. Or ask another co-worker to stay. I know this creates an awkward dynamic at first, but once it’s the standard, it becomes second-nature. Even if it’s only because of the pretense of what could be happening and definitely isn’t, it doesn’t matter. It’s worth the safety-net.
    • If someone who is married begins to complain to me about their spouse, check out of the conversation and end it immediately. Say it’s inappropriate and that it makes me uncomfortable. If I were to tell my 18-year-old self one thing, it would’ve been that. I listened to far too many wife-bashing stories that I now, as a wife, really regret listening to. They have plenty of male friends they can talk with, and if they don’t, they can find some.
    • Don’t text, instant message, or communicate with a married man unless his wife is present, or I know she could read everything I saying without questioning my integrity or intentions.
    • Because my job lends me to work with more men than women, one of my “boundaries” is to intentionally befriend the wives of men I work with. Not in manipulation, but as a way of reassuring them and allowing them to feel safe and comfortable with me. This actually quickly became a requirement when looking for a potential job. One of my internal “required” questions was, “Could I be friends with his wife? Is she welcoming of me, or threatened by a female’s presence?” If the answer to the last question was yes, I committed to say no to the job. My reason? It’s not worth becoming the target of someone else’s insecurity, if I can help it.

When my husband and I got married, the boundaries changed more. As someone who grew up in the home of divorce, it’s entirely worth it. I know neither of my parents said “I do,” thinking someday they would live separately and drop their kids off at each other’s houses.

None of these are 11th Commandments, or necessary for every couple on the planet, but for us, they are agreements we made for the sake of protecting and nurturing our marriage.  A wise person told me once that no one is above an affair. And I think they are right. When we become invincible in our minds, we let lies seep in, ignore our intuition that quietly says, “mayday!” and excuse it for self-consciousness. If my heart skips a couple of negative beats before making a decision, that’s the Divine telling me to run. Or the Word becoming flesh in my subconscious. Or the Holy Spirit. All of those are viable options.

And so, as a married person, here are some of our boundaries:

    • No communication with exes, from any stage of life. The heart can be an absolute fool. What happens when you and your spouse are in an argument that goes on for days, you feel under-appreciated and an ex tells you how beautiful and wonderful you are? Only a few more steps into an affair. How many stories have you heard/seen about people who reconnected via Facebook and left their spouse? I’ve heard too many. And I doubt that any of them were planning to end up in affairs on their wedding day.
    • Never ride alone in the car with someone of the opposite sex. This is about the spirit of the Law more than the letter of the it. Again, this can be the starting place for an isolated relationship with a man other than my husband. I don’t think driving in the car is the danger, but the togetherness a car ride can bring. For that matter, the same principle applies–don’t be at work alone with a male co-worker, or vice versa. Scratch that–if you are married, just don’t hang out by yourself with someone of the opposite sex.
    • When it comes to friendships, if you’re a woman, be friends with women. That’s not to say you cannot have male friends. But please do not be one of the girls that say, “I just can’t get along with women.” Do you know that means you are probably the problem in that equation? I have no doubts that women have hurt you and been cruel. But I also know a lot of great women who encourage and strengthen. So don’t stop at the “I don’t like women,” door; push beyond it and seek out deep, meaningful friendships with other women.
    • This may seem like, “duh,” but we try very hard not to put down (even in a joking way) each other around other people, not knowing how they would receive it. My friend says it this way–when she was pregnant, one of her husband’s co-workers asked, “So, is your wife getting really moody and hard to deal with as her pregnancy ticks on?” Even though in other settings they could all laugh and poke fun at the ridiculousness, her husband gave a short, “Nope, we’re just thankful she’s been able to carry her this long.” I really respect that.
    • Don’t go to bed without saying I’m sorry and/or I love you. In our 2 and 1/2 years of marriage, we’ve had our minor blow-outs. Anyone can tell you–I’m a difficult person (and I’m guessing you are, too!) and so I have my fair share of life to apologize for. Humility and forgiveness has paved such an open dialogue and space for apology.
    • Love each other like crazy. Don’t withhold love, apology, or grace.

If you’re thinking by now that I have surely lost my mind, that I wear jeans up to my bra, and that I haven’t had my hair styled since 1996, you’re wrong. I’m actually kind of cool. I teeter on the edge of hip (can you be hip and use the word “teeter?”). And would you know it? I want a healthy marriage. I wish healthy marriages were written about, talked about, filmed around… but I know why they’re not. They’re boring! Who wants to read a novel about my boundary-filled, healthy life? About a couple making a meal together at night in their home, planning the month’s budget, investing their lives in their jobs, friends, Church, and community…? You’re already falling asleep. But that’s because it’s only boring to the outsider. On the inside, it’s freeing and incredible. Mumford & Sons sings it like this (told you I’m cool):

Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
There is a design, an alignment, a cry
At my heart you see
The beauty of love as it was made to be
(Sigh No More, Mumford & Sons)

Love sets us free. Free to laugh, cry, dream, give, and receive. In a paranoid, nervous relationship, you are placed in a hopeless cage of anxiety and guilt. Boundaries set you free to love your spouse in a way you can never love anyone else. Trust, loyalty, and promise win out over the flesh. . . and that is something to be celebrated.

——

What’s your opinion on boundaries in marriage, dating, work relationships, friendship? Do you have any you try to keep? Which boundaries seem too extreme? Why?

2011 Reflection & Wrap-Up

1. What did you do in 2011 that you’d never done before?
I flew solo in youth ministry for 3 months as my co-worker took a sabbatical. I officiated a wedding. And… I dove into the joys of home ownership. :)

2.Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I did. I failed. Hah! My resolution was to run the mini-marathon, but that didn’t work out. HOWEVER, I did join the YMCA and am working out routinely, so although I didn’t complete my resolution, I got creative.

This year, my goal is to have balance in my financial life. I want balance everywhere (who doesn’t?), but financially, we are making some adjustments. We want to give more. Save more. Spend less.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes, yes. I am in a season of babies & weddings, and I love every minute of it.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Yes. Kyle’s grandfather passed away this fall. One of my former students, Tessa, died this past Spring in a car accident.

5. What countries did you visit?
Zilch. As in none.

6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?
Time and space.

7. What dates from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
March 1-First day of Nick’s Sabbatical
March 5-Tessa died
April 30-First GO LOVE INDY. Loved watching our community that day. Rumor has it that I drove around from site to site with some tears.
September 24-Officiated Emily & Brince’s wedding in Eatonton, Georgia
October 23-Celebrated my mom’s 60th birthday in Chicago.
November 12-Stood beside my friend, Katelyn, on her wedding day
December 7-Kyle’s grandfather passed

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
There are lots of little things. I grew a lot this year–in personal maturity, my job, as a wife, sister, daughter, and friend. I just stinkin’ grew!

9. What was your biggest failure?
Taking out anger and frustration from work on my husband. I truly regret that.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Well, yes.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
Definitely my iPhone. Life changer!

12. Where did most of your money go?
Bills, student loans, bills, student loans, bills… welcome to adulthood!

13. What did you get really excited about?
Durham Family Vacation in Florida, haven’t seen most of them since our wedding!

14. What song will always remind you of 2011?
Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons, I’ve Got This Friend by The Civil Wars

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:
– happier or sadder? Happier.
– thinner or fatter? Same. 
– richer or poorer? Same.

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Time and energy in the Word.

17. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Checking email and being on the internet.

18. How did you spend Christmas?
Drove all over the place visiting family, led worship at Chapel Rock, and then drove all over the place again. :) Hoping for a more relaxing year in 2012.

19. What was your favorite TV program?
Mad Men, Parenthood, Parks & Recreation

20. What were your favorite books of the year?
Cold Tangerines (Shauna Niequist), Blue Parakeet (Scot McKnight), Making a Mess and Meeting God (Mandy Smith), Radical (David Platt)

21. What was your favorite music from this year?
Mumford & Sons, Adele, The Civil Wars, Over the Rhine, Brooke Fraser

22. What were your favorite films of the year?
The Help

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 24, and I had a relaxing day with my husband and then went over to a friend’s house for dinner. Low key and perfect.

24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Deciding early on that I cannot control other people’s choices and decisions. That would’ve saved me a lot of anxiety and stress.

25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?
Dressy/Casual/WannabeHipster

26. What kept you sane?
Laughing with my husband. Cooking. Funfetti Vacation with my closest friends.

27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011.
People are capable of tremendous amounts of good, and tremendous amounts of evil. We desperately need a Savior. Also, chocolate really does help. :)

killimanjaro and christmas trees

My life is so very ordinary. It’s true. I spent lots of time in denial, and can finally accept that my life is beautifully, extraordinarily, ordinary.

Last night, up lurking on Facebook, I intentionally stalked stumbled on an acquaintance from high school that recently hiked Mount Killimanjaro. Yes, you read that right. Girl hiked highest mountain in Africa. Immediately my interest peaked, as I 1) Hardly remember this person and 2) Am not sure how we became Facebook friends. Either way, she hiked Mount Killimanjaro. I lurked through hundreds of photos of tents, hiking poles, making food over a campfire, sites you only see in movies and then looked over at my bulldog snoring on my bed. Hardly close to hiking 19,000 feet above sea level.

I post photos of Christmas trees, driveways, my husband, food creations from our  little kitchen, friends having coffee, concerts that no one else cares about, birthdays, holidays with family, and weddings of beautiful friends. This is how my morning went today: I woke up, chowed down on Special K, made coffee, watched the previous night’s episode of Parenthood because I didn’t want to stay up until 11pm, fed and let my dog outside, dolled myself up only to slip a hat over my frizzed out hair, and drove two miles to work. Pretty thrilling, right?

But last night around 9pm, as I was standing near the window and looking out at our backyard covered in snow, my husband came over, wrapped his pale arms around my waist and simply said, “I love my life with you.” And we slow danced to silence. Corny? Yes. Do I care? No.

On the outside looking in, my life looks pretty simple. And it is. If someone wanted to make a movie about my life, there’s a strong chance that many would fall asleep. But that’s because it’s only boring to the outsider. On the inside, it’s pretty extraordinary and beautiful.

It’s taken me a while to realize this, but life doesn’t have to look extraordinary and unique to be so. And I’m not bashing, by the way, hiking Killimanjaro. That’s beyond incredible. But my guess is in between the photos, there was a lot of ordinary wrapped up in that hike. Lots of campfires, processed camping food, bug spray, tent making, blister-repairing, laughter, tears, awkward relational moments, forgiveness, loneliness, sore muscles, and maybe even a little regret. Ordinary.

I believe God is visible and present in the crazy, Mount-Killiminjaro-moments. I also believe He is undeniably present in the small, ordinary moments. The bowls of cereal, arguments with our spouse, mortgage payments, making snowmen with children, bad recipes, raking leaves, tithing, tutoring a struggling child at a nearby elementary.

All of us are full of ordinary. But that’s what makes life so beautiful. So today I am thankful. Thankful for grocery bills, weekly menus, friendships that never change, and ordinary moments that are absolutely Divine.

watching marriage happen

We went to this wedding yesterday…
And I’m pretty sure I didn’t every cry that much in my own wedding. Well, everyone there was crying. People who are typically classified as stoic and even a bit alienish (like my husband) shed a couple of tears. From beginning to end… their wedding was about Christ. And it changed everything.

We’ve been to lots of weddings in our short married life, and all of them in their own way are beautiful. It’s the joining of two lives–people committing to stick it out, no matter what… and unless you are cold and heartless, that’s beautiful. But add Jesus in the picture, and it changes everything. No matter who you were or how you knew Nate and Brooke, it was clear to all in attendance that their commitment was because of Christ. They not only committed to love each other, serve each other breakfast on Saturday mornings, and go to family events together. No–they pledged something even bigger than that. Nate and Brooke decided to let God use their lives for the rest of their time on earth together… and that is the most beautiful covenant of all.

I love weddings. I love watching people say I do. And I love seeing Christ in the center of it all. Congratulations, Nate & Brooke. We love you guys.