creating a village life (in 2014)

creating a village life (in 2014)

I’ve been thinking about this article all week. It popped up in my Twitter feed on Tuesday afternoon, and I have to tell you that I wondered if Bunmi broke into my home and stole my journal when I read this part:

I miss that village of mothers that I’ve never had. The one we traded for homes that, despite being a stone’s throw, feel miles apart from each other. The one we traded for locked front doors, blinking devices and afternoons alone on the floor playing one-on-one with our little ones.

Afternoons alone playing one-on-one? Check.

Locked front door and blinking devices? Check.

Feeling miles apart from people who live a stone’s throw? Check check.

I know the danger here of romanticizing a time I don’t really know, mistaking longing for nostalgia (or an unhealthy dose of both). But I must admit that I’ve felt all of this lately. I don’t think it’s geographically centered, or that it has to do with my neighborhood or city or where I live. I think it has to do with me, when I’m painfully honest. I think it has to do with all of us who grew up finding community online and forgot to put down our phones/computers/iPads/whatevers to find community in the real faces we pass by every day.

Case in point: my neighbor followed me on Twitter a few months ago (hi, Jessica!) and I had a strange reaction. My first thought was, “Now my neighbor knows so much about me!”

Y’all.

Do I even need to tell you that my own thoughts stopped me in my tracks? Since when was it possible for people who live thousands of miles away to know more about me than ones who live within ten feet?

I don’t have very many answers, but I’m seeking. I agree with Donald Miller when he says that when a consumer longs for community, he or she goes looking for a place to plug in or “sign up,” but when a creator longs for community, he or she invites neighbors over for dinner, puts up a screen in his backyard, or starts something new. Although I’d like to think I’m more on the creator side of life, in this area–lately–I think I’ve fallen more on the consumer side.

What an odd little world we’ve created for ourselves. We’re more connected and lonelier than ever. I want to, as my friend Mandy Smith said, work every day to weave this longing for “the village” back into this strange world we’ve made.

I’d love to learn from you, friends. If you’re experiencing (or creating) this village existence in 2014, how have you managed to do it when (most) of your local friends live at least 20 minutes away? What steps have you taken to create real, face-to-face community in this digital world we’ve created?

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.

a letter to graduating seniors

barely have the experience to speak with any sort of authority here, let’s get that out of the way now. Think of me as a slightly older sister, sitting across the table, listening and nodding along, and then pulling out a few pieces of advice that I’ve received from much wiser people than myself.

Can we start there?

After graduating from college in ’09 (I know, I know, it was hardly five years ago), I immediately went into my first full-time ministry position. Well, actually, I should back up. A month before graduating, I got married and moved two hours away from my college with my new husband. For the last three weeks of school, I commuted to class and studied for finals at Skyline Chili between Indianapolis and Cincinnati. It was a logistical nightmare, and then I don’t think I even thought twice about it.

And see, that’s the thing. Looking back, of course I wouldn’t do it like that, because it was pretty stupid. But I didn’t care because I didn’t know any better.

(Here’s proof. Just look at that awful haircut.)

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I think that’s kind of the beauty of where you’re at now, too, if you’re honest. You might take the first opportunity you’re offered because… what else is there? You don’t know quite yet, and neither did I, and that’s okay.

There are all kinds of ways to approach your early twenties, and I’d say that’s a pretty good thing. We’re all from different places with a variety of family backgrounds and the church needs more of that. So I’m not going to tell you a bunch of steps on how to do your twenties just right, or how to pick the perfect relationship, but I am going to tell you this:

Don’t close up shop on the learning and growing thing; this is only the beginning.

Shauna Niequist says it this way, “There is a season for wildness and a season for settledness, and this is neither. This season is about becoming.”

This may look like a million different things: going to graduate school, moving across the country, getting married, breaking up, starting over, staying put, acquiring lots of roommates, applying for scary jobs, and some just working and paying the bills with crappy jobs.

But hear this, friend: now is the season to hunt down a mentor, invite friends to speak honestly into your life, and start building relationships that will last. Now is most certainly the time to learn the hard truth about yourself, work hard, get counseling if you need it, read lots, and discover.

Now is the time to fail. And you know what’s really, really scary about failure? Failure doesn’t happen without risk. And risk doesn’t happen without putting yourself out there. So if you don’t get your dream job out of college, that’s all right. Not many people do. But invest yourself in your job, anyway … learn, anyway.

Here’s what’s really great: if you start developing those habits now, they will truly become second-nature to you as you keep growing. The most fascinating people I know are the ones whose kids are grown and out on their own and are still continuing in adventure. They’re still learning, reading, growing, changing, and evolving.

I hope when I’m nearing seventy, I can look back and say, “I never stopped growing.” I hope I learn something new about Jesus every year, and continue to change and adapt along the way. And for you, I hope and pray the same. I hope this journey is hard and beautiful for you. I hope you take great risks and learn the art of an apology. I pray you learn that humility is really the only characteristic that precedes growth, and that you can’t have one without the other. And most of all, I pray you that learn, anyway.

on working and mothering

Back in October, I was out to lunch with baby in tow when I overheard a conversation that usually makes me cringe. It was between two moms, and they were going back and forth about their other mom-friends, when one of them said, “It’s just sad to me that ________ doesn’t really get to spend time with her kids, you know… because she’s chosen to work and have someone else raise them.”

Oh, for the love.

I’ve been at this “working and mothering” thing for almost a year now, and I have big feelings about it. But before we get into my big feelings, I want to start by saying–hopefully with humility and grace–that this entire conversation is a privileged one. As human nature goes, we tend to insulate ourselves with people who look and talk like us, and forget that others live with many different realities. In 2012, only 64% of children lived in a home with two married parents. And of that 64%, quite a few lived beneath the poverty line. So, let’s start there.

Here’s my other disclaimer: I very much have an equal partner. When Kyle is out of town, it’s a felt loss. When he comes home from work, he picks Keegan up and spends time with him. Kyle does laundry, unloads the dishwasher, pays most our bills, and does almost all the outside work. I know that I am fortunate to have someone who is fully invested, and I do not take him for granted. He champions me, encourages me, and supports me. Let’s just admit it: without him, this conversation would look a lot different. I know that.

When we found out we were having Keegan, we began seeking advice and praying about how to tackle the working/mothering decision. If you haven’t caught on by now–I love advice, and sometimes to a fault I can’t make a decision without at least five people weighing in. So I asked many women, mostly those who were older than me, and they all had different responses with many contrasting circumstances. Some never entertained the question because their family couldn’t afford it. One couldn’t get a work visa because she wasn’t an American citizen, so the decision was made for her. Some worked part-time, in and out of the home, and some stayed home full-time or worked full-time. In every scenario, they were all mothers raising their children, regardless of logistics.

Three months after Keegan was born, I was given an amazing opportunity to do what I love with very flexible hours. And for us, it’s the perfect balance. I work part-time and our childcare situation is wonderful. I truly could not ask for a better person to watch our son while I’m working. And here’s my big conclusion: IT’S ALL GOOD. I believe every single mother should make the choice based on what is right for her family, her own unique makeup, and her family’s financial situation. We’re all sacrificing, and every woman’s decision will look different because she is different, and so is her family.

For some women, their dream includes the minivan with crushed up goldfish and that is beautiful and worthy and true. And for others, their dream might be that but their reality demands something else, so let’s encourage them instead of shame them. For others, they come alive doing all kinds of other things and you know what? That’s okay, too. That doesn’t take away from her motherhood. Let’s not shame one another because we’re living different stories. Isn’t there enough insecurity in parenting? Don’t we all wonder if we’re doing it right and if we should be doing something different or better or more? Is it just me? And mostly, why do we care?

I’m saying this because I sense that we’re all growing tired of this being an “either/or” conversation. We don’t need tribes on this one. We need life-giving conversations. So let’s champion one another. Let’s trade high heels and exchange yoga pants (well…) and share stories about the things our children do that make our hearts explode. And then can we put down the working/stay-at-home swords and replace them with laughter and solidarity? Let’s try that instead.

And yes, this is my call to go live in the clouds. I happen to like it up here.

“You need to read this!” challenge

Surely you’ve experienced this too, right? You read a book, watch a movie, think it’s just about the best thing that’s ever happened and your spouse is, shall we say, unenthusiastic?

Well, we’re finally doing it. I pick five books for Kyle, he picks five books for me, and we read. I’ve actually been unofficially wanting to do this for a while, but after Sarah Bessey wrote about it, I was all, “Okay, it’s on.”

Here’s some background.

Kyle has wanted to do this forever. So we decided, from now until summer ends, we’re each going to read five books of the other’s choosing. We had a few ground rules: first, it had to be something the other has never read (this should be obvious, but much to Kyle’s surprise, I’ve read more fiction than he anticipated). Second, we set a 300 page limit, mostly so we still have time to read what we want. And third, no doubling-up of authors.

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Here’s what I chose for Kyle:

1. A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle–As a kid, I discovered my love for words while reading A Wrinkle in Time. Ever since, she’s been my muse. I go back to her when I’m feeling dried up and out of words. I read her writing when I’m feeling uninspired and dreary. And in many seasons of life, I’ve resonated with her questioning and depth of faith. This is truly a book I come back to again and again.

2. The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning–During my sophomore year of college, I felt like I was rediscovering Jesus and what grace really looked like–for me and for others. I’m forever thankful for his work and can certainly relate with his description of “ragamuffin.” This quote sums it up, “The deeper we grow in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the poorer we become–the more we realize that everything in life is a gift.” (p. 81)

3. Love Does by Bob Goff–I read this in two days, and I’m a slow reader. I couldn’t put it down. As someone who almost always hesitates and second-guesses myself instead of just loving people, his book messed me up in the best of ways.

4. Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist–This book is so dear to me. I read it during a very bittersweet season of my life, and I couldn’t shut up about it. She has taught me so much about being present: in my home, in mothering, in my marriage, in friendships, etc. I have quotes from her all over the house, so it’s time for Kyle to get some context. She asks a question near the end that still resonates with me, “I don’t know anyone who has an easy life forever. Everyone I know gets their heart broken sometime, by something. The question is not, will my life be easy or will my heart break? But rather, when my heart breaks, will I choose to grow?” (p. 233)

5. Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright–It’s impossible to summarize what this book has meant to me (and so much of his work in general) in just a few short sentences. In some insane ability, N.T. Wright continually calls me up higher in the way I see Jesus. He has been called “the C.S. Lewis of our time” and I wholeheartedly agree.

In Kyle’s own words, here’s what he chose for me:

1. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway—Of all the Ernest Hemingway’s works to choose from, I am picking The Old Man and the Sea because it encapsulates everything about Hemingway in under 120 pages: his terse prose; protagonists battling against an uncaring world; more being left unsaid than said. It is a succinct response to Hemingway’s belief of the nada that faces everyone—you must fight against it.

2. A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean—“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fishing.” Norman Maclean uses fishing as a way to connect with a brother he ultimately could not help. This story explores our desires and inabilities to help those closest to us. For me, this book was a gateway to Hemingway’s short stories.

3. Silence by Shusaku Endo—Powerful and layered, Silence explores the survival of European Christianity in xenophobic Japan during the 16th century. Partly narrated, partly epistolary, Endo’s book takes the reader to the verge of apostasy and asks the question, what does God’s silence mean?

4. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger—Holden Caulfield resonates with my inner-teenager. Irreverent, anti-social, ornery, Holden tries to hold on to an innocent youth to stave off what he perceives as a phony adult world. He struggles to cope with death and growing older—two subjects that hit far too close to home.

5. The Calvin and Hobbes 10th Anniversary Book—Calvin and Hobbes is the single greatest comic strip of all time. Every time I reread the strip, it gets better. What I love is the truth Watterson captures using a 6-year-old and his tiger. This particular Calvin and Hobbes book is wonderful because Watterson leaves comments throughout. My favorite quote of Watterson’s is “The best comics expose human nature and help us laugh at our own stupidity and hypocrisy.”

So, if you could make your spouse/best friend/mother/dog read one book, what would it be? 

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?