Day 10: Friendship: The Need to Hear “Me, Too” (Part 2) {31 Days of #WOKE}

I used to bond with other women by talking about men. Many a friendship was forged over confessing a crush or finding we despised the same type of man. But the deepest friendships came out of the times when I dared to remove my mask and admit my greatest fears: that I was unattractive, too independent or ultimately unlovable. It was then that I could hear the words upon which every friendship must be built, “Me, too.”

In the places I’ve lived and cultures I’ve worked among (including my own), I’ve discovered that connection happens at the level of our deepest fears and greatest longings.

When we connect at the  point of our tender wounds–like two little girls willingly piercing their palms and co-mingling their blood in a pact of friendship–we can form friendships even in the most unlikely places.

***

The churches in my area have a fantastic program for the homeless. A large church and a smaller church partner together to house and feed homeless families for a two week period four times a year. Last night was the first time I volunteered to help others from my church cook a meal for these families. The plan was to eat together afterward. Stirring the German Potato Salad beforehand, I wondered what we would talk about.

What if I say the wrong thing? Will we find anything in common?

Scanning the room, I sat down next to a twenty-something Hispanic woman and her children. “How old are your children?” I asked as we picked up our forks to begin eating. “One and two, she said … eleven months apart.”

Exhaling and thinking of my six month old at home, not even fathoming being pregnant right now, I blurted out, “Did you cry when you found out?”

She laughed, “OOOH, yes.”

In an instant, over the horror of having a two month old and finding you are pregnant, we clicked.

She is a single mom, while I have a husband at home to help with our three children. She transports her kids around by bicycle and trailer while I drive a minivan. She is homeless, while just yesterday my husband and I looked at a four bedroom home as we continued our search for a home to buy.

And yet I understood her fierce love for her children. I inherently knew the determination she has to protect them. I respected her for doing what it takes to feed and clothe them. In that moment, we connected not because I know what it is like to be homeless, but because I know what it is like to be a mother.

***

A few years ago, when I was eight months pregnant with my first child, our church in Chicago did an all day outreach offering various social services on site at church for disadvantaged people in the neighborhood. One of the African American women I helped walk around to the different rooms had recently had a baby. I was surprised to find she had given birth in the same hospital I planned to go to and she mentioned she didn’t have an epidural. “That’s what I’m hoping to do, too.” I said. “So how was it?” I asked.

“It hurt like hell,” she laughed, “but you can do it.” I asked her more questions as I helped her and her mother gather their bags for the bus. I sent them on their way and reflected on that conversation. Though I was technically on the helping end and she was on the receiving end, she was the one who had gifted me.

But in that interaction, I also confronted an inner demon—something I’m ashamed to even admit in a public space. I found that part of me was shocked that deep down we were the same. Same hospital, same hope for a natural birth, same anxieties and fears about childbirth and same dreams for our future children. This feeling of surprise served as evidence of a latent belief that we weren’t the same. It cast light on prejudice crouching in the dark corner of my subconscious. And I want to drag that prejudice into the open where it can shrivel and die.

***

Every new friendship is a risk. This is especially true when we don’t know the rules of relationship with that particular culture or socioeconomic group. But when we offer up our insecurities as a gift and step out onto the universal bridge of fear, pain or longing that is at the essence of being human, we earn just enough trust to begin a friendship.

Friendship happens when we are vulnerable, shed culture’s heavy cloak and stand at the level of our bare humanity.

We are hope, anxiety, desire, talent, fear and doubt. We are blood, flesh, hair, bones, muscles, organs and sinews. We are soul, gender, spirit and mind.

As daughters of God, we are image-bearers, torch carriers, hope seekers and justice lovers. We are human, but more than that, we are children. We are cherished by the same Daddy who knit us together in our mother’s womb. Though we are different, the same blood shoots through our veins.

The challenge to myself and to you as I think about the relationships I want to have with those of different races, social classes, languages, educational levels, ages, political beliefs and cultures is this:

Stop being guarded. Put yourself in the position to be hurt, misunderstood or snubbed. Admit your weakness, fear, pain, doubt and anxiety to another.

Vulnerability is the midwife of trust.

Give away love like it was never yours to keep. And start believing that we are more alike than we are different. There are only gains in adding another gem to your friend collection.

 

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

In the places I’ve lived and cultures I’ve worked among (including my own), I’ve discovered that connection happens at the level of our deepest fears and greatest longings.

 

Day 9: Uncomfortable Friendships (Part 1) {31 Days of #WOKE}

It is easy to be friends with people who are like us. At one time, I realized I could have traded clothes with three of my best friends—we were all runners and had similar body types, ate the same things, went to the same church, believed essentially the same things and shared a common worldview. Friendship on these terms was easy.

But my most transformational friendships have come at the cost of my comfort.

The best and worst part about living in China was visiting my students in their homes in rural areas of northwest China. They had a different way of showing hospitality to guests. Unlike the west, with our “make yourself at home” mentality, their goal was to make their visitors feel like special guests.

“Go have a rest in the living room,” they’d say, leaving me alone in a cold room on a hard couch next to the coffee table (“tea table” in China). I’d pick at oranges, dried dates and sunflower seeds as I waited. I longed to be with them in the kitchen, where laughter and delighted chatter floated from the doorway.

They would eventually emerge with plates of stir-fried spicy cabbage and lamb and steaming potatoes or with at least a hundred hand-made dumplings filled with beef and carrots. I’d eat until I was stuffed and they’d look offended when I stopped.

As a guest, I was expected to eat until I was sick. More than once, as it was nearly time for bed, my student’s mother would enter the living room with even more food and never allowed me the satisfaction of an empty bowl. I wanted to cry.

These experiences visiting small villages in China birthed many stories. But they also transported me out of the zone of my comfort into the reality of my students’ lives away from school.

Those trips obliterated my assumptions and granted me the gift of forced proximity to poverty and another way of life. I ate their food, played their card games, froze by their coal stoves, slept in their beds, met their grannies, held their nieces and nephews and borrowed their clothes.

It may sound adventurous, but I often felt so uncomfortable that I was counting the minutes until we boarded our train or bus home. I longed for my own bed, my heated apartment and the time when I could curl up under my plush throw blanket and binge-watch Alias.

But it wasn’t just physical discomfort that toppled my walls of pride and wrong assumptions. It was the discomfort of cultural confusion. I didn’t belong and constantly questioned whether or not I was acting the right way.

Operating in another culture is like having all the rules of a familiar game suddenly change, then being scolded when you make a wrong move. And yet I sensed God nudging me to choose to look stupid for the sake of relationship.

Each visit to another student’s home shattered another brick in my too-pristine wall of self-preservation and pride. It forced me to be dependent on another human being who looked, spoke, dressed and ate differently than I did.

***

The discipline of discomfort allows us to deeply know and be known by the “other.”

It is only as we are willing to deconstruct our walls and enter into the world of someone else that we will ever find friends who are different from us. And it is only then that we can begin to break down the barriers of racism, prejudice and oppression.

When we have slept in someone’s bed, we cannot accuse them of being a terrorist. When we have eaten someone’s homemade food, held their babies and joked with their grandpas, we cannot assume the worst of them.

It was easy to exercise the discipline of discomfort in China. But here in the U.S.? As we go from home to garage to car to work, grocery store, day care, school or library, then back home again, we flirt with the idea of diversity without ever entering the messy work of relationship.

Why would we choose to be uncomfortable with an unknown (and risk looking like an idiot) when we can be comfortable with someone just like us?

***

Check back tomorrow for part 2 on friendships.

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

Day 4: Rich, Loud and Carries a Backpack {31 Days of #WOKE}

Rich, Loud and Carries a Backpack--the danger of stereotypes

All Americans are loud, carry backpacks, wear sneakers, eat dessert and junk food, are overweight, speak only one language, are promiscuous, kick our kids out at age 18 and are rich. These are a few of the stereotypes about Americans I’ve heard in my travels, but especially from my Chinese friends during the five years I lived in northwest China.

“We know you love sweets,” my Chinese students said as I passed out brownies after dinner one Sunday evening. Three shy freshman students had come over to “teach” me how to cook Chinese food (a.k.a. they argued about how to do it the way their mothers had done it while I frantically scribbled notes on index cards). In an attempt to find something authentically American to serve to them, brownies was all I could come up with.

“Yes, many Americans like sweets,” I said. But then I blew them away.

“But I never ate dessert in my home.” They traded glances, questioning my sincerity since I had already rattled their worlds as I told them earlier that I loved spicy Chinese food and rarely ate burgers back in the states.

After five years in China, silence would still descend upon the room as I sat down to dinner with a new group of students in a restaurant. “You can use chopsticks?!” they would gasp, in awe of my skill. Snapping up a piece of eggplant from the dish, I’d suppress my sarcastic reply.

We stereotype others because it makes us feel like we are in control. It gives us a framework to solve the mystery of the “other.”

Don’t think you have stereotypes? Slowly read through this list and see what words your brain inserts:

Men are …

Women are …

Three year olds are …

Introverts like …

Extroverts like …

Evangelical Christians are …

Muslims are …

African Americans are …

Chinese are …

Mexicans are …

Indians are …

If you found yourself quickly responding with a word or phrase, you have made a stereotype.

Some stereotypes are helpful for decoding culture, but most insult the humanity of the unique individual. There is a striking scene in the T.V. show The Man in the High Castle where a Japanese family invites a white American man over under the guise of friendship. The couple rattles off questions about music and sports that whites “usually like,” but are increasingly disappointed when the man doesn’t fit their stereotypes. The white man senses he let down his new friends, but isn’t sure why.

It’s a scene I experienced many times in China and Uganda when friends would assume they understood me, only to find I didn’t fit their mold. I sensed their disappointment when I couldn’t educate them on pop culture or fashion in America. Some Americans might have cared, but I didn’t.

During my senior year of college I lived with an African family in a village outside of Kampala, Uganda. It was considered a middle class home, yet we didn’t have running water. The house servants washed dishes in the morning on a wooden table in the front yard as chickens squawked in the distance. Feeling useless, I offered to rise at dawn and help wash dishes. My host mother looked skeptical. “But we will just have to rewash them,” she said. “I know you have machines that do that in your country.”

The Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave the infamous TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” In it, she said: “I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar …

The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

I believe relationship is the key to deconstructing stereotypes. It is in relationship that we can finally see that we are more similar than we thought. At our core, we all desire love, purpose and security.

Unfortunately you may not have the opportunity to live with an African family, teach in the inner city or have a Muslim live in your home. And even experiencing other cultures in that way does not ensure you do not have stereotypes. So what can you do?

Read, listen and learn. Seek out new and possibly uncomfortable friendships. Pray for fresh eyes, open ears and humble hearts. Peel away the stereotypes you have formed and allow each person to stand on their own as the unique individuals they were created to be. But I would also encourage you to tell your own story. You never know when you might smash someone else’s stereotype of “people like you.”

***

What stereotypes do you have about the “other”?

How do these diminish the humanity of your neighbor?

Have you ever been hurt by being stereotyped?

If you haven’t, I would highly recommend watching “The Danger of a Single Story”:

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

 

Rich, Loud and Carries a Backpack

How Our Muslim Student Became Auntie Boo {for SheLoves}

I’m over at SheLoves today, sharing about how a Muslim girl came to live with us and became a part of our family…

My three-year-old son tightly twisted the long strand of strong black hair round and round his fingers as he emerged from the guest room yesterday. I peeked through the bedroom door and found my one-year-old daughter squatting on the floor, peering into a fish tank at the “fiffy”—a silky black Betta fish that fluttered to the surface of the bowl. Next to her, Shirin, a 26-year-old Saudi Arabian girl, sat cross-legged taking videos of my daughter that will no doubt make her famous on Snapchat in Saudi Arabia. I smiled silently at the scene, reflecting on the treasure of an unexpected relationship.

***

Three years ago, living back in Chicago after spending several years abroad, I was hungry for relationships with anyone who wasn’t a white American. Though I felt limited by my new mommy status, I volunteered to help ESL students at a nearby university practice their English on the condition that I could bring my eight-month-old son. Desperate for native speakers for students to practice with, the teacher agreed and invited me to her class of Saudi Arabians.

The class was made up of six women and four men who were forced to practice English together despite the fact that in conservative Islamic Saudi Arabia, men and women aren’t even allowed to attend mixed-gender classes. Most of the women wore traditional Saudi clothing—headscarves called hijabs and black, lightweight cloaks called abayas. They were painfully shy, though the presence of a baby magically cracked their solemn demeanor. After the third week volunteering, the teacher of the class whispered that there was something she needed to talk to me about after class.

Scooping up my son who had spent the class crawling under feet, skirts and chair legs, I handed him my keys to play with as I curiously sat down with the teacher.

“So,” she started. “Do you know Shirin from class?” I nodded. “Well,” she continued, “she wanted me to ask you if she could live with you for three months. She’ll pay you rent,” she added.
Surprised, I told her that I wasn’t sure, but I’d talk to my husband.

Though this was something that excited me, I was pretty sure my more level-headed husband would simply shake his head with that smirk on his face that says, “I love you for being so different, honey—but you’re kind of crazy.”

Instead, he leaned back against the kitchen counter, smiled, and shocked me by saying, “There’s really no reason we shouldn’t have her.”
Shirin moved in with us at the end of the summer and three months turned into ten…

…continue reading at SheLoves.

~~~ 

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~~~

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Friendship through the Layers

Friendship through the Layers~ As each year wraps yet another layer over my past experiences, I’ve found myself wondering how new friends will ever know the true me without knowing all that lies beneath the surface.

My aunt likes to give gifts in the form of the “birthday ball.” She begins with a small gift and wraps it in crepe paper until it is completely covered. Then she adds another object and wraps that gift as well. She continues this process until the final object is about the size of a basketball, but conceals at least ten different gifts.

I am this birthday ball.  

My barefoot-in-the-backyard Florida childhood covered by my idealistic teen years, then by my baggy-clothes-no-makeup-wearing college self, then by my idealism-crushed early 20’s, then my living free in China self, then my married and fighting to be content in America self, and now my mother to teeny ones self.  

I have layers. You have layers. Our layers usually lie dormant and unseen, though our oldest friends know the former versions of ourselves.

So as each year wraps yet another layer over my past experiences, I’ve found myself wondering how new friends will ever know the true me without knowing all that lies beneath the surface.   

Last year our family moved cross country and I spent the first few months “picking up” women at the park or during library story hour. We visited nine different churches and at least five different small groups. Friendships, needless to say, have been slow in coming. I miss the ease of a friendly face who also knows my layers.

A wife and mother does not have the advantage of casually building relationships with women the way we did when we were single. Before I got married, I used to get so annoyed with the choppy conversations I’d have with moms while their children were around. Now that I have children of my own, I am still annoyed, but have realized that may be our only shot, so I’d rather feed my extrovert self with what little contact I can find than wait for perfect circumstances to connect.

During freshman year of college, I collected tons of friends, but most were of the “inch deep, mile wide” variety.  It was my first discovery that more does not always equal better when it comes to friendships.

Though written in 1955, Anne Morrow Lindbergh could have easily written the following in present day as she says, 

“For life today in America is based on the premise of ever-widening circles of contact and communication. It involves not only family demands, but community demands, national demands, international demands on the good citizen, through social and cultural pressures, through newspapers, magazines, radio programs, political drives, charitable appeals and so on. My mind reels with it. What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives” (p. 20, Gift from the Sea).    

And this was pre-Facebook, smartphone and internet!  The number of relationships we have can be overwhelming. Currently, I have 540 Facebook friends (my husband has twice that–but who’s counting?), and I’m also active on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. Now that I’m blogging, I add a “friend” or follower almost daily to my “ever-widening circle of contact.”  Meanwhile, I’ve had a difficult time staying in contact with my life-long friends from the past and struggle with feeling guilt for what a bad friend I’ve become.

But last year an experience changed me.

Right before we moved to Colorado, I discovered that a friend I hadn’t seen since my wedding five years before was actually living in the city we were moving to and I didn’t even know it. I felt so ashamed that I had lost contact with her and fully expected her to treat me with coldness for being that friend who ditches all her friends just because she gets married.

I nervously dialed the phone to chat before our move. But instead of bitterness, this friend expressed only joy and excitement that we were going to live in the same place. Grace poured over me in that moment and washed me free of guilt. I was reminded that true friends understand, forgive and delight in the relationship.  

So now I’m giving myself grace.  I’m allowing myself to lower my expectations for how frequently I should be keeping in contact with old friends. We are all in the thick of it—marriage, children, careers, extended family, moves and callings. And my closest friends are unfazed by my lack of communication and truly understand.  

It’s been eleven months since we moved.  We finally found a church and are slowly beginning to feel at home. I’ve met a handful of women who I’ve connected with (in spite of them not knowing all my layers) and I’m trying to be intentional, but also to just be patient and relax. When I look back at who I now consider to be my closest friends, many of those relationships grew out of years of being together—and they weren’t always the ones I thought I would be close to at the time.  

As I’ve begun to add more women to my circle, I’m beginning to have hope and believe that “kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world” (Anne, from Anne of Green Gables).

Thank God for that.

So if you’re feeling lonely, remember that when it comes to friends, less is more.  Give yourself grace.  And be patient and relax, because the world has more kindred spirits than we know.

~~~~~~

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Linking up with #LiveFreeThursday and Velvet Ashes and Arabah Joy and Literacy Musing Mondays

Friendship through the Layers~ As each year wraps yet another layer over my past experiences, I’ve found myself wondering how new friends will ever know the true me without knowing all that lies beneath the surface.

Friendship through the Layers~ As each year wraps yet another layer over my past experiences, I’ve found myself wondering how new friends will ever know the true me without knowing all that lies beneath the surface.

Personal Discoveries in 2015: Friendships, Spirituality & Writing

 If I had to divide my thoughts into reasonable categories for 2015, I think I'd go with making personal discoveries in the area of friendships, spirituality and writing.

I love the new year and the way it provides the opportunity to reflect on the past year and make plans for the year to come (maybe the teacher in me?). 

This was yet another transition year for our family, as we moved across the country in April from Chicago to Colorado.  It was a long time coming, so it was a welcome transition.  

In addition to some practical media discoveries my husband and I made, I also made some personal discoveries in the areas of friendships, spirituality and writing.

Friendships
Though this was not a new thought to me, it has continued to bother me that it is so difficult to make friends when you’re in your 30’s.  Truth be told, my friend-making problems began when I moved back from China and had serious reverse culture shock, then turned around and got married and had two kids right away.  “The Narrowing” isn’t exactly conducive to forging strong new friendships.  But as making friends has always been relatively easy for me, I think it’s surprised me that it no longer comes naturally.  

So I think my major take-away from this year is that friendships take work.  So basic, but so essential to grasp.  They aren’t just going to “happen” any more the way they did when I shared a desk with my lab partner every day or did a weekly ministry with the same people.  Now, my conversations are fragmented at best and my time without kids is infrequent, and yet I NEED girlfriends just as much as before.   

I am still figuring this one out, but I’m realizing I need to put more effort into relationships and stop expecting them to just happen.  More thoughts on this in future posts.

Spirituality
This year, I think I have finally been able to admit that I am a spiritual perfectionist.  But I can’t just expect to meet with God the way I did when I was single or before I had children.  I need to let go of the expectations I put on myself for what is “spiritual.” 

Because I didn’t have my first child until I was 33, I think it’s been especially difficult for me to accept that I will not have my mornings to meet with God quietly as I always did.  I need to embrace connecting with God in other ways.  God’s love for me is not contingent on how many hours a week I clock in reading my Bible or praying.  In fact, if anyone expects less of me in this season of life–and loves me for it–He does.  

Writing
On September 30, 2015, I heard about this little challenge called #Write31Days.  The idea is that you pick one topic and write about it every.single.day. for 31 days straight–starting October 1st.  I had revived this blog just a few months before (and when I say revived I really mean started since not a person other than my husband knew it existed).  And I can’t explain it, but I felt compelled to write.  I knew right away that I had to write about my experience transitioning back to America after living in China (called “re-entry”).  I had always wanted to begin writing, but never felt like it was the right time, but this urge was unmistakable.

So I wrote.  For 31 days straight.  My husband was amazing and so supportive.  He was understanding of the freezer leftovers and take-out dinners, the piles of laundry in the den and the dirty bathrooms.  He did then and still does read every post before I share it.  He is my greatest encourager.    

The words that come to mind when I think of those days of churning out posts and hashing out a very traumatic time in my history are healing and exhilaration.  

Writing has always been therapeutic for me, but I had never invited anyone else into my emotional sphere the way blogging has forced me to do.  And it freed me in ways I’m still trying to understand.  The exhilaration came in the moments where my words touched even one person that I never met before. 

It’s given me a forum for processing the confusion of returning overseas after feeling truly called to be a missionary.  It’s given me the opportunity to reflect on what God is doing in my life right now as a wife and mother.  And it’s brought me into contact with amazing women I might never have known if it weren’t for this mysterious online kingdom.

I think it’s ironic that I wrote about wasted gifts in one of my early posts, confronting the feeling like I’m wasting my education and Chinese language skills by staying home with children in America right now.  Yet it’s exactly these circumstances that have provided an opportunity to finally pursue this urge to write.

And I love it.


What about you?  What kinds of personal discoveries did you make in 2015?

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 If I had to divide my thoughts into reasonable categories for 2015, I think I'd go with making personal discoveries in the area of friendships, spirituality and writing.


Eden & Vulnerability: Nakey, No Shame

My children like to do "nakey dances."  And there is very little that brings me as much joy in life as watching my two little people dance around in their birthday suits completely uninhibited, shaking their tiny bottoms and slapping their protruding bellies.  Naked, and with zero shame.     So when I think of untainted, shameless Eden, what first comes to my mind is that Adam and Eve must have been the first to perfect the nakey dance.

My children like to do “nakey dances.”  And there is very little that brings me as much joy in life as watching my two little people dance around in their birthday suits completely uninhibited, shaking their tiny bottoms and slapping their protruding bellies.  Naked, and with zero shame.  

So when I think of untainted, shameless Eden, what first comes to my mind is that Adam and Eve must have been the first to perfect the nakey dance.

I finally picked up a Brene Brown book recently to find out what all the fuss is about.  If you haven’t heard of her, she became famous after giving this TED talk on vulnerability and has since written several books.  She skirts around many Christian themes, but doesn’t seem to have an overtly spiritual message, yet applied to spiritual life, I think many of her concepts could revolutionize the community of the church.  Here are a few quotes from Daring Greatly:

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.  Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world…”

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

“There are many tenets of Wholeheartedness, but at its very core is vulnerability and unworthiness; facing uncertainty, exposure and emotional risks, and knowing that I am enough.”

Adam and Eve felt no shame before sin entered the world, so really there was no need for vulnerability.  But after the fall, vulnerability is a ticket back to Eden because we must put everything on the line for Christ.  And it is through this risk that we find we are loved utterly and completely.  He looks at us as if looking at Himself, because we are made in His image.  He took our shame on Himself so that we can experience delicious freedom.  

While I accept this at an intellectual level and sometimes grasp it at a heart level, I also know that vulnerability does not end with me submitting myself to Jesus for salvation.  It also applies to my marriage, my parenting, my friendships and the way I use my work and gifts to serve others.  “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it” (Mat. 16:25).

Where is vulnerability transforming my life from a life of fear into a life of power and freedom?

In my marriage, my husband’s devotion to me makes it easy for me to be vulnerable with him. I know from experience that if I were with a different sort of man, my tendency would be to close up, protect and retreat.  But even so, it is still easy to keep the deepest corners of my soul locked away, waiting for my husband to “happen” to stumble upon them.  But that is not realistic.  Most men do not naturally ask soul-searching questions of their wives, so I need to be willing to lay out a few treasures that are reserved for him alone.  

In my parenting, fear of loving too much prevents me from being vulnerable.  What if I pour myself into my role as a mother–love them TOO much–and something happens to one of my children?  How would I survive?  

In friendships, there is the fear that if I am vulnerable with someone, they will not reciprocate by pouring out their heart to me.  Or even worse, they will never call me again.  And yet Mike Mason says in Practicing the Presence of People, “Flaws form the best glue for friendship.  Indeed a friendship without many shared failures will remain stilted and lame.  We connect with others not primarily through our strengths, but through our weaknesses” (pg. 240).  We cannot have true friendships without vulnerability.

In August of 2015, I began blogging.  It was terrifying and I felt like I was standing naked in front of my friends and family to be judged and ridiculed.  But instead of feeling defeated, I felt brave.  Instead of feeling weak, I felt strong.  I felt courageous in a way I have never felt before.  And just as in marriage the nakedness gets easier the more you find you are loved and accepted not in spite of your imperfections, but because of them, being accepted for who I am as a writer has empowered me to keep writing.

Where is God calling you to be vulnerable this year?  In a relationship?  A new venture?  A job change with less pay?  A creative gift that you have shelved?

Pray for the strength to be vulnerable.  Never accept vulnerability as weakness, because moving forward and risking exposure takes amazing bravery and courage.  

If you want to return to Eden, ask that God remove your shame through Jesus so that you can dance the freedom of the nakey dance in every sphere of your life.  It is a dance that is full of joy and delight in being accepted for who you are.  Believe that you are a beloved child of God, extravagantly loved.  Excessively loved.  Be free, my dear.  And put some new part of yourself on the line this year, something that requires just a bit of courage.

In what area of your life is God calling you to be more vulnerable?

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My children like to do "nakey dances."  And there is very little that brings me as much joy in life as watching my two little people dance around in their birthday suits completely uninhibited, shaking their tiny bottoms and slapping their protruding bellies.  Naked, and with zero shame.     So when I think of untainted, shameless Eden, what first comes to my mind is that Adam and Eve must have been the first to perfect the nakey dance.

Living the Sticky Life

We spent three days preparing, ignored our children all day the day of the party to get ready, spent more money than we expected, have enough left-over food to have party number two tonight if we wanted to, stayed up about four hours later than we usually do, and I, being an extrovert, couldn't sleep when it was all over and done because I was so wound up.  And now every floor in our house is sticky.

It turns out pink punch is a lot like the spot in The Cat and the Hat Comes Back that just wouldn’t go away.  After our first Christmas party in our new home, in which children were welcome, there is now sticky pink punch in every room of my house.  And the pink cream cheese mints?  I just realized I’m sitting on a smear and am looking at another blob on the coffee table.

We spent three days preparing, ignored our children all day the day of the party to get ready, spent more money than we expected, have enough left-over food to have party number two tonight if we wanted to, stayed up about four hours later than we usually do, and I, being an extrovert, couldn’t sleep when it was all over and done because I was so wound up.  And now every floor in our house is sticky.

So was it worth it?

Was it worth our neighbors coming over who we have talked to only once in seven months, who suggested we do a babysitting swap as they left?  Or two carpenter friends who didn’t know each other before discussing their passion for woodwork?  Was my college friend meeting my friend who just moved here from Chicago, two beautiful lovers of Jesus who didn’t know each other before, finding that they have certain people and places in common a waste of time?

Or my three-year-old son, watching a movie with the “big” boys (the oldest who is about 8), trying to put his arm around a six-year-old from our church–my son, who is not physically affectionate and will only sit in our laps about twice a week?

Or my friends who have taken in their troubled teen-aged niece, who secretly indulged my one-year-old daughter all night with chocolates, punch and cookies, delighting in holding her and drinking in her baby-love cuddles?  Or the couple that came by after all the families with kids had left that we got to talk to on a heart-level until late into the night?

We could have skipped the mess, saved money, spent a quiet Saturday as a family, and gotten more sleep, but in avoiding the inconveniences, we would have missed out on real, sticky, tired, rewarding life.

It is always easier to do nothing.  Don’t have the party, or whatever the party stands for in my life:  joining something new, taking a step of faith, or choosing to engage in a new relationship that may not have the promise of longevity.  But what might I miss? 

And the spilled punch acts as a litmus test for what I worship.  Do I care more about relationships with real people or about having nice things?  Do I want a home that is immaculate, or a home that is used and truly lived in? Do I want a place where people can gather to laugh, connect, and share their lives, or a quiet home that insulates the people that live there?

Fear of losing control keeps me from throwing the party (whatever that party may be).  I can’t control every person at every time and that scares me.  If it were just my kids and my family, they know we don’t eat in the living room, so we don’t have pink smears on the couch.  But as soon as I let new people into my home–into my life–who don’t abide by my rules, I may find my house sticky with pink punch, toys rearranged or broken and everything just slightly askew. 

But God is calling me to do life and to do it with people.  And that means stickiness–not just in some rooms of the house–but in every room of the house.  It means engaging with people even though I would rather not because of selfish reasons.  And it means giving up control because I don’t know who God will bring or what He will do, but He guarantees that people are worth the mess because they are made like Him.  And it is in the stickiness that we find life, because that is where Jesus lived, too. 

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Friend Dating: Why is it so hard to make friends in your 30’s?

I’m 36 years old and back at it again.  Making friends never used to be a problem for me.  I met my first best friend in preschool, managed to make friends as I changed schools five times from fourth to twelfth grade and even made some really solid post-college friendships.  But that’s when I was in my 20’s–and single. 

When I got married at 31, my former college friends and roommates still lived in the same city as me, so I wasn’t desperate for new relationships, but as they all eventually began to move away, I found myself alone again. 

When I was pregnant, I decided to start “friend dating.”  I picked out a few acquaintances who were close to my due date to meet for coffee, but it felt forced and unnatural and nothing more came of those relationships.

I assumed having children would usher me into the “mom crowd” I had been so in awe of as a single woman, but was soon disappointed to find that two moms talking at the park usually goes about as deep as two dog owners chatting at a dog park.  If anything, having kids complicated rather than simplified matters because not only did the mom and I have to click, but so did our kids AND our parenting styles.  Add in child number two, and you begin facing impossible odds.

This April, we made a cross-country move and I have been determined to make friends.  About a month after moving here, my son hit it off with another boy at the park.  His mom, who was carrying a baby about the age of my daughter, and I had a long conversation.  At the end of it, I took a deep breath and gave her my phone number.  We have gotten together about twice a month since then and, though I would call her my friend, it feels like we have just reached the point that I had already reached after just one week of living in the dorm with my college friends.

My husband (as has been the case with my friends’ husbands as well) has had an even harder time than me since he works from home and has little interaction with others. 

Sex and Netflix are our evenings right now (though not usually at the same time).  But contrary to Hollywood thought, we have discovered that we cannot complete one another.  Though God and our family are first priority, we also need other relationships to be healthy.  We have actually found that my meeting and expressing my “many words” with a girlfriend helps our marriage, as my husband is okay with the more condensed version of my thoughts. 

This summer (in an attempt to make friends), I joined a study on a book that actually sounded pretty lame to me at first, called The Friendships of Women.  To my surprise, this updated version of a book first written in 1988, by Dee Brestin, put words to so many of my unexpressed desires for female friendships. She writes about how most women have a gift for intimacy that men just don’t have.  

“When I talk to my closest female friends, I feel my soul being sunned and watered when they ask questions, drawing out the deep waters of my soul, and as well when they empathize, rejoicing when I rejoice, weeping when I weep” (p. 29).

Women are designed for intimacy.  This is why two women can reach a level of friendship in months that it takes men years to attain (and even then it may never reach that level). 

As women, we need other women.

“Friendship is unnecessary: like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival” (C.S. Lewis The Four Loves).

I am writing this post mainly to convince myself that I actually do need female friends, because I have been wondering if I am expecting too much at this stage of my life, which Madeleine L’Engle calls “the tired years.”  But how to find them?

In 2012, the New York Times published an article called “Friends of a Certain Age,” about the difficulties of making friends after the age of 30.  The author mentions that sociologists consider three conditions important in making intimate friends:

1. Proximity
2. Repeated, unplanned interactions
3. A setting that encourages people to let down their guard and confide in one another

All three of these conditions are easily met in college and in the work place (especially when you are single), but what about when you work from home or have a family?  Marriage and family are a time suck (in the best sense of the word) and there just isn’t a lot of down time to shoot the breeze with potential new friends. 

In theory, I believe religious communities have an advantage over secular communities in this regard because they attend weekly services where all of the above can happen.  And yet my husband and I have struggled with this as well–maybe because we don’t often see other people at church more than Sunday mornings, so we really don’t have the “unplanned interactions”?  Or maybe the setting is actually not conducive to people “letting down their guard and confiding in one another”? Or maybe Christians actually just have unrealistically high expectations after reading the Acts passages about believers sharing all things in common, eating together, praying together and exemplifying what seems like amazing community?

C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves said that, “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too?  I thought I was the only one.'”  A lovely sentiment, and yet just as the birth of a child is not simple, neither is the birth of a friendship.  (Am I sounding like a jaded 30-something yet?) So far, just being able to relate to someone has not led to the intimate friendships I desire, because we have not had the benefits of proximity, unplanned interactions or a safe setting.   

We have only recently settled on a church and joined a small group, so maybe the awkward asking-of-phone-numbers-in-random-parks can come to an end.  We have actually been invited to someone’s house for dinner for the first time in seven months and was just asked to celebrate Thanksgiving with another family. 

So there is hope. 


What about you?  Please leave your words of wisdom in the comments, I will definitely take them to heart.

Related: 
White People Are Boring 
When I Forget to Notice People

Linking up with Literacy Musing Mondays

A Team of Two

When I was first accepted to serve in China, I imagined being on a team of several strong believers and families who would simulate family for me, providing both my social and emotional stability in a foreign country. 
 
I never imagined that I would be in a remote city–with ONE teammate.
 
It is now ten years later and I just hugged Carolyn goodbye with yet another “See you sometime” farewell.  She is on home leave for six months and was able to stay with my family and I for a couple days.  It felt like China was last year instead of five years ago as we talked about our Chinese friends, laughed about ridiculous memories and discussed how the city has changed over the years. 

Leslie & Carolyn, August 31, 2005

This is one way that I am grateful for aging–for the distance to finally pause and look back, just as a runner runs out and is then surprised to look at how far they have come–and the beauty of the view from here.

 
Carolyn and I are about as different as you can get.  She grew up in a boarding school in Pakistan and really only lived in the U.S. during college. She is an introvert, loves cats and pours herself into a few relationships.  I, on the other hand, grew up in the U.S., am an extrovert, and have been accused of being a “friend collector.” But, though it was an unlikely friendship, we complimented one another in a way that made the “team” work. 
 
Even now, I often think of Carolyn during the holiday season.  We strove to create some semblance of normalcy when we were far from our home cultures in a place that had no concept of Thanksgiving or Christmas apart from cheesy Santa heads pasted up in storefront windows and gaudy fake Christmas trees in every color but green.  
 
We would plan Christmas parties with our fellow teachers and have a large meal with as much Western food as we could make using our tiny convection ovens.  On Christmas, we would read through the Christmas story, sing carols and drink hot chocolate.  My first Christmas in China, I worried about loneliness, but now that I am back in the states, I have actually missed how meaningful Christmas felt when I was far from the holiday clutter. 
 
One or two Easters, we climbed the local mountain (hill) for an Easter sunrise service–just the two of us.  I still remember huddling down as it began to snow and we sang hymns over the hillside.  Behind us, we heard wails of mourning as a funeral procession ascended.  It was such a contrast to the joy of resurrection to hear the hopeless cries of those who had no hope in death.   
 
The city we lived in did not have a legal church, so our only option for a Sunday church service was for us to worship together.  We’d take turns choosing a Scripture passage, download a sermon to listen to and sing hymns together along with Cyberhymnal on the Internet.  We were often off key, but we stayed fully engaged in the service because we WERE the service.
 
Life was so simple.
 
Leslie & Carolyn, November 7, 2015

Though I panicked when I heard that I would only have one teammate, God knew what He was doing.  Carolyn was steady, selfless and showed me how to build lasting relationships with those we rubbed shoulders with on a daily basis.  She encouraged me to take advantage of opportunities to visit my students at their homes in the countryside and take trains and buses to explore China. 

She was respectful of China, yet she had a great sense of humor and we would spend hours laughing about making fools of ourselves or about the quirks of Chinese culture. And her introverted personality gave me the understanding I would need to prepare me for my future husband, who is also an introvert.

 
Like so many friends since I got married five years ago, we haven’t kept in touch as I would have liked, but she is of the “pick up where you left off” variety of friends that I am increasingly grateful for the more narrow and insular my life becomes.
 
And for a friend collector, this one is definitely a keeper.