Find Your Tribe

When we traveled in Costa Rica, we met a family from the Bay Area. When Guy and I celebrated our anniversary in Puerto Vallarta, we enjoyed conversation with a young couple from the Bay Area. On both occasions, we found something in common with strangers simply by being in and from the same places on the planet. But sometimes we go through hardship and the only people who truly get it are others who have shared a similar experience. Those experiences can connect us in ways we’d never imagined.

Guest Post: Donna Schweitzer

When my oldest—born three-and-a-half months prematurely—was three years old, I discovered an online community for NICU parents. I never thought I’d be one of those people who talks to people online but, in that community, I found people who just got me, people who understood the journey we’d been on and were still traveling.

I found a place to share my grief, fears, dark moments, awful memories. It was also a place where people understood my great joy in the smallest milestones. I could safely let it all fly—and I finally began to heal from his premature birth and those long months in the NICU. I’d had no idea that I needed to heal but, in this community, I learned that I wasn’t crazy, or paranoid, or a horrible mother for letting my body do that to my son. We began having regular Sunday evening chats and, soon, these women became what I would call friends.

A few months later, the director of that online community brought five of us together at a volunteer leadership conference. I arrived wondering if those online conversations would carry over. I had no reason to fear. Seeing each other in person, we picked up right where we’d left off. Over the course of a few days, we shared so many hugs, stories, tears, and gut-busting laughter.

We decided the rest of our community needed to meet in person as well, and planned a “Union” (we couldn’t call it a “reunion” as we’d never been all together before). The Union—a beautiful gathering of so many people who understand the language, the pain, the guilt—became an annual thing. I’ve traveled the country to spend time with these NICU parents. It’s always an emotionally-charged event, but also so healing and hopeful.

As with any large group, you find your smaller group—the ones you just click with. I have my people. I couldn’t tell you when exactly we gelled but, for years, we’ve texted on a near-daily basis. We try to get together for a long weekend every year. We nicknamed our crew “the MoomSquad.” The text tone assigned to our thread never fails to bring a smile to my face.

I rely on these four women, and I wouldn’t be the mother I am without them. We met because we had one thing in common: our pregnancies and the births of our children went horribly wrong, and we all did NICU time. When one of us has a freak out, we’re all there. We don’t judge because we know what’s behind it. But I believe we were brought together for a larger reason.

We’ve walked each other through so much…autism diagnosis, illness, loss of parents, subsequent pregnancies…all the ups and downs of life, marriage, and parenting. When something amazing or horrible happens, they are my go-to people. They have my back, and I have theirs. I couldn’t do life without them.

They each have their “specialty” in my life…the Nurse also has mad-Cricut skills; the Educator helps me with IEP/special ed situations for my youngest; one Mama has an autistic daughter older than my autistic kiddo (and they totally speak the same language); one serves as our personal Cheerleader/story teller/voice of reason/jokester…

I’m prone to try to make sense of my life’s events. Sometimes, it takes the perspective of years before I can see the purpose. When we spent three months in the NICU with our oldest, I couldn’t believe I would ever understand why, nor what good could come of it. I believe in a Grand Plan, and now I believe one purpose of his prematurity was to bring me to these incredible women. Through his prematurity, I connected with a group of women who get me. I now almost count his early arrival as a blessing. In that online community, I found my tribe.

When someone I know experiences hardship, I always tell them to find people who have been or are there. It makes whatever you’re dealing with that much easier when you can talk with people who get it. Among other things, my MoomSquad taught me that reaching out to those who’ve walked the journey can lead to more than just a support group. You might find your tribe.

 

Donna Schweitzer (pictured with the Moomsquad) has been married to her husband, Michael, for almost 20 years. They reside in San Diego, CA. They have three children who, along with three dogs and two cats, are affectionately known as The Herd. They travel, watch more sports than is probably healthy, laugh frequently, love much. You can find her blog at threesaherd.com.

Friendship Quilt

As a young adult, a dear friend introduced me to Anne of Green Gables. Anne pines for a bosom friend, a kindred spirit, whom she finds in Diana Barry. Maybe you have one Best Friend. Maybe you have a Friendship Quilt. Either way, we can be grateful for the friends in our lives.

Guest post: Kristi Grover

Many years ago I endured a hard season. I’d been quite ill and, even as I was recovering, doctors couldn’t give me any assurances that life would go back to the ‘normal’ to which I had become accustomed.

Additionally, my trusted inner circle of friends—small in number but strong in their support for me—had disappeared. Every single one. Each had moved away due to changes in work, family needs, or a sense that they needed to go now to pursue their life’s dream lest their window of opportunity forever closed. I could support each in their individual decisions and celebrate what they had contributed to the lives of those impacted by their unique gifting while here…but deep inside I felt (irrationally, I know) betrayed by their departure when I especially needed them.

On a long drive together, I finally shared this feeling with my husband—even though I was embarrassed by it and acknowledged how narrowly focused it was. And then I segued on to how I had always longed for a “best friend.”

In the books I read as a girl, the protagonist always had a best friend, someone who understood everything and was always loyal and stayed in their life for keeps. In childhood and early adulthood I heard others speak of their “best friend”—someone who was, even if they now lived miles apart, worth the effort to keep close and share life. Was it me? Was I somehow unworthy of having a “best friend”?

This was long before Facebook and cell phones and frequent flyer miles and email—all ways to keep in touch now (or keep others at a distance, but that is another story). My heart ached with lifelong accumulated losses. Perhaps it wasn’t a big deal when viewed from a distance: I kept abreast of national and international news and knew this was not a cosmic problem and was quite aware of how much I had for which to be grateful. And I was grateful. But it still touched a hurt place in my heart.

My husband, a very good listener who thinks before he speaks, heard and considered my outpouring. He responded: “Perhaps another way to look at it is as a friendship quilt. You treasure your grandma’s old quilts and value the stories behind each scrap of fabric. Maybe friendship is like that. Think over your life and all the friends you’ve been blessed with and the ones currently in your life, too, even though those pieces in your quilt won’t be as large as you’d like. In the end, don’t you have enough pieces now, and in the years to come, to piece together a friendship quilt? Maybe you won’t have one single blanket, a forever ‘best friend,’ but still, it will be enough to wrap around you and keep the winds of loneliness from chilling you.”

I was stunned—not for the first time and certainly not the last—by his wisdom and perspective. A friendship quilt. Instantly, my mind filled with new thoughts: from what I was losing as dear friends moved away to profound gratitude that they had been in my life, in rich and deep ways, in the first place. Thoughts of other friends through the years crowded my mind. Focusing on what I had, rather than what I had lost, changed my perspective.

A friendship quilt. Even then I could imagine the loving warmth as I pulled it close around me. And it gave me a sense of adventure about friendships to come, people I hadn’t met yet who would delight me and challenge me and deepen me in ways I couldn’t even imagine. A lifelong friendship quilt that would continue to grow throughout the years.

*****

Friendship Quilt: First occurring midcentury 1800’s, constructed with blocks (or stars or triangles or other shapes) made up of bits of fabric salvaged from worn out clothing. Individual blocks were created and often signed by each quilter as a way to express the love they felt for the person who would be given the finished quilt. Frequently given at times of change such as weddings or births or when someone was about to move away, they were a way to (literally) stay in touch with the circle of women who made such quilts. Until recent times, such a quilt given away at the time of a move was a way of recognizing that they might never again see one another. Sometimes fabrics from family members no longer living would be incorporated to remind the recipient that such precious bonds always remain close. A gathering to stitch together the individual pieces and quilt the top through the filling to the reverse side would be a time of joy and storytelling and often include hints of grief as participants realized that an era of life had ended. But the quilt would remain as silent, ongoing testimony to love and shared history.

some things that are true about me

My work in life is as a teacher and storyteller.  I take joy in many things – time spent with children and my family and friends, working in various ways for justice, hiking along high mountain ridge lines and walking in the woods and sitting quietly to stare at the ocean, hearing people share their life stories and affirming them, writing and reading, rainy afternoons by the fire with my small grey cat, listening to music and singing and dancing, intelligent conversation and laughter, making a home. These and other things are true about me but the truest thing is that I am a child of God.

 

Leave No Trace

I first heard the phrase “leave no trace” when my kids became Boy Scouts. It’s an outdoor ethic that exhorts those who enter the outdoors to leave her as beautiful as she was before our arrival. To do good by Mother Nature, we leave no trace.

The movie Leave No Trace focuses on a father-daughter duo living off the grid on public land in the Pacific Northwest. They endeavor to leave no trace in order to continue their natural and mostly solitary existence. Through stunning cinematography and intentionally restrained acting (especially remarkable in young Thomasin Mackenzie), this intensely beautiful coming of age story leaves more than a trace.

The movie wrestles with big questions: what is humanity’s best relationship with the natural world? with other people? with the self?

Dad Will and daughter Tom obviously love each other. Will has done a great job raising Tom on his own since her mother’s death. One might even envy Tom her upbringing–she knows how to forage for food and water, to garden, and to cook with very little in the way of a kitchen.

Not only does she have incredible survival skills, she doesn’t suffer the insecurities and distractions of other girls her age. She has a constant companion in her devoted parent; she reads and plays chess; she doesn’t watch TV or engage with social media; rather than spending time and money on looking beautiful, she enjoys the beauty of the world.

Yet we see Tom struggle when authorities shatter their idylls and she and Will are put into social services. Tom likes having a roof over her head and a room of her own. She likes having neighbors to talk to and a club to join with other kids her age. She doesn’t seem to mind a casserole in place of miner’s lettuce and hard boiled eggs. She’s concerned about whether kids at school will think she’s weird, but she’s willing to take the chance.

Will, though, has an entirely different struggle. It’s disheartening to watch a man so at one with the trees sitting in a sterile office ironically decorated with wallpaper that feature the trees he’s been forced to leave behind. It’s downright heartbreaking to watch him forced into work on a Christmas tree farm, cutting and wrapping trees as decorations. It makes you wonder about our lingering commitment to Christmas trees; might it not be better to go hiking in the woods at Christmastime?

It’s one thing to care for the environment by leaving no trace, but humans are meant to leave a trace on each other. Most of us want to make a difference in the world; most parents want their children to fulfill their potential by using their unique gifts; and we do that in relationship to others.

When Will and Tom encounter the trailer park, Tom enjoys respite. She believes she has found a community of people not so different from her and her dad, people who live lightly on the land, who make or grow what they need to survive. Like the beehives, these people seem to thrive through their togetherness.

Problems arise when people forget that we are meant to live as a global community. Problems like war, which not only break countries and communities, but people–individuals like Will, who used to work well in a team but not so much any more.

Will is broken and, in striving to protect her from all that is broken in the world, he has splintered Tom from the possibility of developing healthy relationships. In love, he has forced her into living out of his brokenness.

As Tom points out, the same thing that is wrong with Will isn’t wrong with her, and therein lies the final struggle: how each will find their way forward to live in relationship with their own self.

 

Kids’ Connections

Long ago I had the privilege to lead this sweet young lady in following Jesus. Truly, it was a joy to walk together and I’m sure I learned as much from her as she did from me. Now she has the privilege of leading others… I love how that works!

Guest Post: Sara Pantazes

The opportunity to run our church’s mid-week children’s program was a perfect fit for me–resume-worthy job experience I could easily fit into my already full life of grad school, homemaking, and kid-raising.

The directive, however, wasn’t as easy: “Like youth group, for kids.” As a Christian educator in training, I felt up to the challenge. By Wednesday night kids have been in school and shuttled between activities for three days. Our program was part of that hamster wheel. Kids didn’t need another classroom lesson. But I didn’t want to spend that precious hour only on games. How could I balance the kids’ need to move and play with my desire to use that time for faith formation?

Providentially, inspiration came in a book I read over Christmas break. One chapter told the story of a children’s minister who focused her Wednesday night children’s program on contemplative practices. Quotes like these lit my imagination:

Rather than mirroring the media-driven culture, might churches instead provide space for children to step out of the fast-paced world and enter into meaningful community?

…these children will be called to something that means they will have to know how to find stillness and quiet in the midst of chaos and confusion.  If we do not provide them with this, we will have failed this generation.

Reading about this program helped me narrow in on a concrete goal that felt right for my program–connection with God. That children hunger for the ability to be still caught my attention, and teaching children how to quiet themselves in order to hear and connect with God sounded like challenge worth exploring. So I created my own format loosely based on the structure described in the book. It looked like this:

Welcoming: 15-20 minutes of games, usually Legos and tag

Sharing: The kids help me lay out a blanket for us to sit around and we turn on lamps and turn off overhead lights. We share what has been good and bad about our days, giving us a chance to calm ourselves and relax together.

Worshiping: We sing a simple song, the same one each week, with words and/or signs, to remind us that we are stepping out of our everyday lives and into a special time with God.

Listening: I narrate a Bible story using Godly Play materials (simple wooden carvings of the characters and setting of a story) and the narratives from Sonja Stewart and Jerome Berryman’s Young Children and Worship. Once the story has been told, we discuss “I wonder…” questions to help us think about the story, what the characters might have felt or thought, and where we might find ourselves in the story.

“She describes the approach as respectful of children and trusts that God will speak to and through the children as they enter the story together. She does not feel compelled to control the process but trusts that God is at work, drawing the children into relationship with him…”

Reflecting: We end with individual reflection. I give them a question to consider on their own through writing or drawing. After a few weeks I also let some children stay on the blanket to retell the story as they move the figures around themselves.

One child’s reflection on the Last Supper

Our program year is done now and, while I appreciate summer break, I’m already excited for next year. Our time wasn’t always perfectly reverent–kids will be kids after all. But it was truly amazing to witness how quickly they settled into the rhythm, how much they wanted to help with set-up, how attentive they were to the stories, and the insights they shared.

I’m hopeful that seeds have been planted, that–in one hour in the midst of their busy week–they were able to rest in God’s presence, and that it left them hungry for more.

We can connect to lots of things in our lives to fill us, sustain us, or maybe even help us thrive. Asking children to connect with God might sound like a tall order, but I had faith it could be done. It takes some work, but the results are truly beautiful.

 

Sara is wife of Tom and mom of Ben and Matt. Their family life started in Williamsburg, VA but they now live in a beautiful rural-suburban corner of southeast Pennsylvania. A recent graduate of Union Presbyterian Seminary, Sara is beginning to transition from full-time stay at home mom to part-time Director of Christian Education at First Presbyterian Church of West Chester, a transition which will fully challenge (and hopefully enrich) her own ability to stay connected with and rooted in God.

Last Day//Best Day

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

When you’ve vacationed in the same place for so many years, you count time in days and traditions and experiences. It’s not just “Monday,” but what did we do on Monday, new and/or traditional? For example, the Monterey Farmers’ Market takes place on Tuesday evenings, and we know we will sample all the fresh fruit and we will buy the biggest bag of kettle corn, and root beer, and Indian food from the vendors all the way at the end, and that will be dinner.

We have to do some of the same things, though they’re always different because we are different; and we have to vary things up just enough to keep things interesting. For example, during Mom’s coffee with a local friend, the guys rented electric fat-tire bikes, something they’ve never done before and now want to do All The Time! Aquarium in the morning: tradition. Bikes in the afternoon: variety, new joy and new memories.

Over the years, we’ve let go of some traditions. We used to spend lots of time at the park (Monterey has a fantastic park), but the boys have mostly outgrown park-play. And once upon a time, they needed naps. Now, the teenagers just sleep in.

As we anticipated our last full day, the guys made plans to hit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in the evening, guys-only. Which left a whole day (and then some for Mom and me) to fill. The weather has been chillier than usual this trip, so we’ve had far less beach time. We had hoped for at least a few hours of blue sky and warm sun and sand between our toes…

I went to bed feeling blue—uncooperative weather, the last day, the passing of time… Because the last day could be the last day. Who knows what a year holds?—and determined to enjoy what time we had, even as I tried not to think too hard about time passing…

…and I woke up to seagulls squawking in a brilliant blue sky! It’s trivial to say, “God must have heard my melancholy prayers…” but that’s how it felt. I charged my batteries with an invigorating jaunt along the coast, and we did indeed get in some beach time. The guys put on wet suits and snorkeled along the rocks. We saw more sea lions porpoising. We climbed the rocky cliffs, explored tide pools, and searched for sea glass.

Only God knows what a year holds, but our last full day provided a picture-perfect day filled with memories.

Riding a Bike

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

They say, “…it’s like learning to ride a bike!”

They’re wrong.

I don’t remember learning to ride a bike. I do remember lobbying for my first ten-speed. I accompanied my friend when her dad bought her a Nishiki; she got burgundy, and I got blue.

We rode those bikes for what seems like forever, at least until puberty and junior high took us down different trails.

I don’t remember the last time I rode my bike. I do remember riding a rental with a high school boyfriend and a crew of others at one of San Diego’s many coastal trails. I felt way too wobbly. How could I be so insecure on a bike after such a short time? Isn’t the one skill in life you never forget?

Was that it, the last time I rode a bike? Q14 has been chiding me for some time, the only one in our family without a bike, that I have to ‘learn’ to ride. Biking may be his favorite form of physical activity and I miss out on sharing it with him.

The guys rented electric fat-tire bikes. We met along a quiet, flat street. Guy lowered the seat to my height. He showed me how to engage the motor and the brakes.

That’s all there is to it, right?

It was both too easy and too difficult. The motor propelled me forward and distracted me from pedaling. I had to break before I could put my feet down and manually turn around to go the other direction.

Q14 shrieked as he whizzed past: “Look at my MOM learning to ride a bike!” My nephew aimed straight at me in a game of chicken as I begged him to stay out of my way. Q14 laughed and told me to watch him, to follow him, as he showed me how to turn. I stopped, and laughed and watched and said, “Ah, no thanks. I’d fall…”

I’m not a big risk taker. You laugh, too, because riding a bike isn’t a big risk (although the scars on my legs that haven’t faded since childhood might be evidence to the contrary).

This bike felt scary to me. Even on this short, flat street—not so scary and also scary. The frame seemed too big. The motor and pedals, too many things to manage.

Yet, the motor made the bike worth the rental. Worth the risk. We probably wouldn’t have rented regular bikes. And if the guys had, a regular bike wouldn’t have intrigued me into trying it.

I took a very small risk, and it was fun. Exhilarating, and just enough. They had an absolute blast and I can’t recall when I have seen that gush of unmeasured joy on Q14’s face.

I may need to rediscover how to ride a bike.

“I Like You As You Are”

[I don’t often post 2x/day but I’m making an exception… GO see this movie!]

Last night in the car I heard the words to the new Florence + The Machine song, Hunger:

At seventeen, I started to starve myself
I thought that love was a kind of emptiness
And at least I understood then the hunger I felt
And I didn’t have to call it loneliness
We all have a hunger

The song was still running through my head as we entered the theatre to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor? also known as “the Mr. Rogers’ movie.”

If you haven’t seen it, go. If you can’t find it in theaters, get it as soon as it drops on DVD.

Though Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood began airing before I was born, what child growing up in the 70’s and 80’s didn’t watch at least a few episodes? Q14 told me that, though Mr. Rogers died before he was born, even he’s watched episodes online (so much for the naysayers claiming Mr. Rogers was too slow for kids. Despite the increased speed of today’s world, my kid sought him out and calls him “soothing”).

My dad, an airline captain with Pan American, met Fred (once upon a time, he brought home for me an autographed picture). He said Mr. Rogers was exactly the same in person as he was on TV, nothing fake about him. Mr. Rogers may have been one of the few clergy members for whom my dad held genuine respect.

I am surprised by my emotional response to the film. I’d heard enough to know I’d enjoy it, but even now I’m dealing with all the Big Feels, almost like I’m grieving the loss of someone I loved but didn’t have a chance to know well enough. The movie–truly, Mr. Rogers and his message–touched my heart deeper than I expected.

We all have a hunger…

Love motivated Mr. Rogers life and work. Because he loved, he intentionally demonstrated respect to everyone, especially to children, especially to the least of these. With honesty and gentleness he addressed all the hard topics and current issues. He created a safe space in which children (and perhaps their parents) heard that they were loved, special, important just for being alive.

I like you as you are
Without a doubt or question
Or even a suggestion
Cause I like you as you are

I gulped when Daniel Striped Tiger asked Lady Aberlin, “Am I a mistake?”

Like Daniel, I’ve felt like a mistake. Haven’t you? Like Daniel, I’ve noticed that I’m not like anyone else; though I try to live genuinely, some days I muddle (fake) my way through.

Lady Aberlin’s response, “You’re not a fake. You’re not a mistake. You’re my friend” doesn’t silence Daniel’s doubts, but it helps to quiet his loneliness. Friendship helps. Love satisfies the hunger.

Mr. Rogers reminds us that life is a gift and that we have gifts to share with the world. No one is exactly like you (me. him.) and the world would be less without each of us.

Most mornings I don’t pop awake and hop out of bed to “make a snappy new day” because “it’s such a good feeling to know I’m alive.” But maybe if, after I’ve hit snooze and begun to stretch life back into my sluggish being, if then I remember that…

…I am special;
…I have friends;
…I am not a mistake or a fake;
…I am loved;
…and I hold the potential to be for someone else, even a few people, what Mr. Rogers was for a whole generation of children who grew up under the care of his TV ministry…

…well, then, today might be the snappiest day of my life.

We all have a hunger, but we also have more than enough love to feed our neighbors the whole world over. I am happy to see you, neighbor. You are special, neighbor. You are loved, neighbor.

Let’s grow the neighborhood. Won’t you be my neighbor?