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.

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.

 

“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?

Connecting with “The Other”

Our 2018 theme is “Connect” and my friend Kelly might just be a pro at it. She’s one of those people that everyone knows or wants to know. And she brings out the best in people, asking the right questions to help them discover more fully how to live into their best self. This post is just one more nudge in the right direction as Kelly leads the way…

Connect Guest Post: Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch

We are called to connect—to God, ourselves and others. This story is how God called me to connect with, for lack of a better term, “the other.” Those I knowingly or unknowingly separate myself from for reasons as simple or as difficult as culture, socioeconomic status, location, religion or gender. “The other” is anyone I see as different from me, regardless of why.

For several years I’ve been connecting in unexpected ways, out of my comfort zone, which pushes me more and more into the arms of Jesus. It started about three and a half years ago when our family moved to Northern California. Prior to having children, I moved a lot. I prided myself on moving efficiently, on not having a lot of baggage. I had worked out a loose system for quickly assimilating into a new community. We always started by joining a church.

But when we moved I felt strongly that I was to immerse myself into the community itself rather than a church community. It seemed counter-intuitive—it’s always easier to become a part of a community with like-minded people who possess similar values—but I couldn’t shake it. So I invested my time and energy into the people I met at my children’s school.

Around the same time, I saw a small add in a local paper advertising for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), an organization that trains you to become a CASA for a foster child in the court system. I can’t tell you why that ad leapt off the page. But it did, and just thinking about it filled me with the kind of joy I knew I needed to pursue.

I became a CASA to a one-year old girl in the foster care system. Due to confidentiality, I can’t share her story but I can tell you that I was in the right place at the right time. And I loved that CASA connected me to a family in crisis in the community I lived in. A family I may never have run into on my own. Despite different cultures, religions and socioeconomic levels, we forged a connection in working for the best interest of my CASA whom we all loved dearly.

They showed me their world and I helped them navigate mine. Survival, keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table, was their all-consuming job. Once Child Protective Services entered their world, they faced unfamiliar rules and confusing paperwork. Though the system tries to help, it often feels burdensome to the population it serves. Being a CASA made me a bridge to help them connect, communicate, and understand one another. Connecting with CASA, her family, and social services changed all of our lives for the better.

Way outside my “comfortable life bubble,” God has also called me to connect with the homeless community. I can’t tell you how many times my eyes have darted away from a homeless man or woman standing on the corner with a sign for help. When you’re just trying to get your errands done, it’s hard to know what to do when you encounter suffering, desperation, and most likely some degree of mental illness. Before children, I found effective and safe ways to engage with the homeless community. As a mother of three children who accompany me in my every day, I have been at a loss. Most times, it was just easier to pretend that I didn’t see them there.

But God would not leave me alone. He is determined “to allow nothing blemished or unworthy to remain in the beloved.” Anne Lamott once described God as a kitten “constantly nipping at her heels.” It felt just like that. Matthew 25:31-45 ran on an endless loop. Be warned: if you don’t want Jesus to speak to you, don’t click the link. Make no mistake, “God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.”

Read God’s Word and you see how it became hard to ignore. I finally relented with an, “Okay, God, I get it. Those people on the street corner who make me want to turn away are You. You identify with the least of these. The helpless, the hopeless, the weak, those without a voice in our society, those whom we treat as invisible because it is more convenient, safe, and comfortable. Lord, they are You. When I choose to ignore them, I choose to ignore You. Please help me. With kids, I have no idea how to touch You in a culturally relevant and meaningful way. If you show me how, I will do it.”

“Help me, God” prayers are generally just what He’s been waiting for. He doesn’t show me the whole path, but without fail He illuminates the next step. “By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path. I’ve committed myself and I’ll never turn back.”

The next day, I walked into church a little early (a miracle in itself) and saw a huge screen advertising a training the next weekend for an organization called Wings. An organization which specializes in homeless advocacy. If I learned anything from my time as a CASA, it’s that I am made to be a voice for those who do not have one and to advocate on their behalf.

I’ve landed as one of Wings‘ dispatchers. I send out request emails to a small volunteer army to meet a need in our local homeless community. Needs vary: a ride to a doctor’s appointment, help getting a new pair of orthotic shoes, grocery shopping, or delivering a welcome basket of helpful goodies to someone who has just secured housing. And, the best part, I work from my living room while I help the kiddos with their homework. God made a way. I never would have dreamed that God would use my prior training as a paralegal to advocate for the homeless from the comfort and safety of my living room. He really can do anything.

I invite you to open yourself up to God’s way to connect in whatever arena He is nudging you toward. Maybe He’s calling you into the arena of forgiveness, or a sacrificial donation to some organization. You’ll know. He won’t quit “nipping at your heels.” Whatever it is, if you ask for help and surrender to doing things His way, He will connect you to the people you need to get there. I can’t promise it will be easy but I do know that God will always be faithful. Even “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.”

Also, if you partner with God in the work He calls you to, you will eventually find a kind of joy that only Jesus can give. “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” So wherever you are and whatever it is, do it. God is calling you to connect. Someone is waiting for you.

Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch lives in Northern California with her sexy husband, three beautifully quirky kids, a dog named Lucy and a cat named Jack. She loves spending time with her family, good friends and good books. She hopes that one day her home will be organized and tidy, but until then finds joy in the messiness of life and love.

Guest Post: A.J. Brown

Our 2018 theme is “Connect” and my dear A.J. Brown wrote about “Community,” which seems just right: we live in community, we invest in community, we create community as we knit our heartstrings together. Please note: if you would like to guest post on this blog, please see the link above.

Community.

When someone asks me to write an article or blog post about a certain word, I usually try to start with my knee jerk emotional reaction to that word. For example, when the owner of this blog asked me to write a post about creativity a couple of years ago, that was simple. My beautiful, unicorn and rainbow loving little boy exemplified the word and still does now.

Community.

What does that mean to me? I think the reason this post was hard to write is that community means so many different things to me. The town I grew up in represented a community I couldn’t wait to get out of. Then, when I grew up and became a parent, I couldn’t wait to move back. I can’t imagine raising my kids anywhere else.

Community.

It doesn’t just refer to a geographical area in which we live, does it? Not for me, anyway. Yes, I live in this community. I am part of this community. But, I am also part of many communities within this community, and that’s what I love about this community.

In junior high and high school in this same community, I often felt like the odd girl out. I didn’t have just one posse of friends with whom I did everything and shared everything…I never felt like I belonged to any one group. I was more of a floater. Some months I gravitated towards the popular crowd and the other cheerleaders, other times I’d get fed up with the cattiness and take refuge with the quiet academics. Or, if there was a boy I was interested in (wasn’t there always?), I’d hang around with the athletes. I got really good at being “one of the guys.” I could occasionally be found breathing second hand smoke in a van behind the school listening to “Stairway to Heaven,” or flaunting my impressively flipped bangs and perm at college parties when I was just sixteen. Some lunchtimes, I felt too insecure to join any group at all, and you’d find me in the library, or assisting a teacher. Looking back, I realize that what was so hard about those years for me was that I felt that I didn’t HAVE a community. I was just an occasional honorary member. I didn’t have the self-confidence to just…be. I could not wait to graduate, get the heck out, and finally discover who I really was.

Fast forward several decades, and here I am, living in this same community, with a lot of the same folks who grew up here just like I did. Apparently this town breeds homing pigeons. The difference? Now this finally feels like MY community. This time around, I know exactly who I am and who I want to be. Furthermore, I truly don’t care who likes it and who doesn’t. Interestingly, while I’m a completely different person as an adult than I was as that corner hugging, cringing teenager, I’m still a floater. But this time, it’s not because I feel like I don’t fit in, it’s because I am blessed to feel like I fit in everywhere. Everything about this town makes me happy, and I adore all of the smaller communities that, together, make up this beautiful flower of a larger community. 

When I go to Starbucks in the morning, I love that I see the same faces, day after day. I don’t know many of their names, but they know my face and I know theirs and we greet each other with smiles that are genuine. I love the groups of older (than me, which is all relative) folks who commune there every single morning. They have an amazing community. I love that when I’m working out of Starbucks, as I often am because my home and office get lonely during the day, never a day goes by where I don’t see several people I know and whom I am genuinely happy to see. This silly little chain store coffee shop is a community all its own. Just as I’ve been sitting here writing this, I’ve been greeted by a teenager, several moms, a dear friend of a dad who happens to be working at “home” today, a newspaper reporter I adore for whom this is home base, a friend I went to high school with, and one of my favorite neighbors who’s treating her kindergarten son to a treat after a traumatic dentist visit. And that’s just in the space of an hour.

I love that I can’t ever go to the gym without seeing at least one friendly face I know. I’ve been taking the same Friday morning spin class for several years now, and the group of people that show up with me, week after week, through good times and bad, is a community all its own. I love these people, and I love the pixie sized, tattooed sprite who inspires us and pushes us to the point where I’m not sure if I’m going to throw up or pass out, and yet afterwards I feel amazing for two days. I love that when I’m having a really bad week I can cry my way through class and no one blinks an eye, they just hug me when we’re done. I’m literally tearing up writing this just thinking about that group of people and how much they mean to me even though I really only see them once a week for an hour. That’s community.

Our kids’ schools, of course, create their own communities. We’re so fortunate to live in a place where the parents work really hard to help make the schools great, and we are blessed with teachers and administrators who have passion about kids and education. It tends to be the same group of parents year over year who volunteer for everything, but instead of that feeling like a burden, to me it feels like a gift. It makes me part of THAT community, and that is an amazing group of selfless parents and school staff that I’m blessed to be a part of.

If you know me, you know that I could, of course, write chapters and chapters about this community and how it rallied around my family when our daughter got diagnosed with cancer (almost three years ago, WHAT?!?). I’ll save that for another post. Suffice it to say, I truly learned the meaning of the word community when the $4i% hit the fan, as people I didn’t even know in this community banded together and raised us up when we were in danger of sinking. During that time, this community felt more like a TRIBE. It still does. At unexpected moments, I will be approached by a complete stranger who will tell me that she has followed my (prolific) Facebook posts about our journey with cancer and that she was inspired by our story.

I could go on and on about all the other communities within this community that add joy to my life…from the moms who became friends when our kids were in preschool and even though the kids are now spread out across different elementary schools, seeing them still makes me feel like part of a special family. There are the “dance moms,” moms whose children share a passion for dance at the academy where I am lucky enough to work, and who make me feel blessed every time I go to work to be a part of that community, one that brings the gift of joy and grace and strength to kids through the art of dance. There are the sporty moms, the philanthropic moms, the working moms, the mindful moms, the activist moms…and now as then, I float. I love ALL these groups of moms. I AM these moms. All of them. Why should I pigeonhole myself?

I can’t close any discussion about community, though, without mentioning the one community-within-my-community that feeds my soul the most. On Thursday mornings, I skip the gym in favor of strengthening my spirit instead of my body. I go to a group called Moms’ Council, which is held at my church and is a group of about 150 mothers of all ages and generations who come together each week to…commune. Each session has a theme and there are always wonderful speakers to engage the mind, but for me, it’s the community of women that truly feeds my soul. I’ve sat at the same table with the same group of women for three years now, and I can’t describe the feeling of sitting down with them any better than I feel like I can just…breathe. Breathe in a way I can’t anywhere else. These women are my safest of safest places. We can rage, cry, fall apart and emotionally vomit all over each other without judgment and without ever worrying that what we say won’t remain just between us.

Because, as outwardly perfect as many of our lives may seem, we’re all dealing with our own burdens, fears and pain. Sometimes, you just can’t carry it alone. Sometimes you need more than your family and faith in God to help with the weight. Sometimes you need…community. And no matter how messy or difficult my life may get, that is one area in which I am incredibly blessed. I am rich in community, and for that I am very, very grateful.

 

 

A.J. Brown is a mother, wife, friend, sister, daughter, employee, volunteer, taxi driver, gym rat, health nut, lover of wine, travel, books, dessert, cooking, meditation, Buddha statues, and a compulsive throw pillow purchaser.

Karaoke

The first time I remember watching karaoke was Cameron Diaz as Kimmie in My Best Friend’s Wedding. It was also the first time I remember seeing Cameron. Cameron, adorable. Cameron singing karaoke, atrocious!

Even though Dermot Mulroney’s character lovingly fawns over his awfully-singing bride(-to-be), I could not understand the attraction of non-singers singing publicly, for applause?

You know what? I am wrong. When Harry Met Sally, one of my favorite movies, came out earlier and had a karaoke scene: Surrey with the Fringe on Top. I hear it in my head every time we pass the cute surrey bikes in Monterey—covered, not fringed.

But Harry and Sally’s karaoke was a party scenario, whereas Cameron sang to a bar full of people. Which is why I’m thinking about this tonight.

I work weekend nights at a wine bar, and last night was our first Friday Night Karaoke. And again, I check myself: watching people sing, for better or for worse, was so fun!

I arrived to our tech guy setting up lights and computers and taping wires to the floor. Our musically-inclined regulars arrived (we might be an unusual little wine bar, with musically-inclined patrons), and ordered their own ‘regulars.’ They got the show rolling. The projector filled the wall with lyrics, visible to anyone strolling down the sidewalk, and our friends sang their hearts out.

I watched from behind the bar as folks looked in from outside, considered, kept walking. And others came in, ordered drinks, and chose the patio (the wall of windows allowed them to see and hear the fun while still enjoying their own conversations). One couple stopped, and his eyes lit up. He swooped in, glanced at the menu, and then confessed: “I wonder if I could just order up a quick karaoke?” He put in his song choice, then ordered a couple of beers, so as not to be ‘that’ guy.

That first song led to many and they made our night. In fact, his first note altered our reality: this guy could sing! Not that every song was perfect, because karaoke, but still.

First, he sang to her because, as he told us, she had had a hard day. Then he sang just because. They sang a duet, then another. He jumped in on other duets. The guy who sold them ice cream down the street stopped in for a couple songs of his own. Our new friend turned the mic stand around and sang to the full bar. He got us all to sing with him. He sang and sang and sang, and we whooped and cheered when he kissed the girl. Folks on the patio picked up their bar tab (not huge, since he was so busy singing) because of the lovely and energetic entertainment he provided.

Eventually the party has to end, right? The crowd dispersed, and our friends went home. But I think I get it. Karaoke is not so much about being good as being on. It’s performance for those who will, and otherwise might not, perform. It’s fun and silly and wonderful and creates community. Sing and the world—or the bar—sings with you.

Thankful Thursday – Friendship

Slowly, gently, she grew into my life like a beautiful, flowering vine: mom of Tween’s friend, friend of a friend, eventually, my friend.

And way too soon, she moved a world away.

Of course she would. She came from across the world. She and her sweet family were always on loan to us. I just didn’t recognize the temporariness of our time.

Isn’t that too often the way?
“But, wait, if I’d known…”
“I wish I’d said… I wish we’d done…”
“If only we’d had more time…”

Before she moved, our friend-group invested concerted effort to create memories together. In addition to our regular Friday Fun Days in the park, we added walks, coffees, weekends away, wine tasting, parties that often led to late-night dancing in the kitchen, you name it. We shared time with her, and also with each other.

After she moved, I felt like a sinkhole had opened up in our small town. Though she is a lovely skinny twig of a woman, her absence felt almost like its own ominous presence. Funny (not funny): not too long after a literal sinkhole opened up downtown…

We lost her in our daily lives and special occasions. Social media softens the blow, and we’re ever so grateful for her husband’s airline job that makes possible spontaneous return visits, like the one we enjoyed this week.

But as we gathered round, talking about the things we’ve always talked about–kids, school, friendship, cultural do’s and don’ts in our different cultures, language, work, friendship–I remembered how it felt to know the time would be short. And as I gazed around at the beautiful faces of my friends and listened to the laughter of our children playing in the other room, I wondered why we give in to life’s frenetic pace at the cost of sharing time together.

We have lost our regular rhythms. Seasons change and kids grow and the stuff of life gets in the way. It’s normal, but that doesn’t mean we can’t challenge it.

Family first, sure. But most of us have more time than we recognize, at least a little time to spare. How we spend our time signals our priorities. For my part, I want less Facebook and more face time. I want to keep making memories with the people in my community now. I don’t want to wake up one day to discover another friendship lost, even temporarily, to a sinkhole.

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ReBuild: Mexico 2017

One of the best things our church does fills one week with life-changing experience and takes the rest of the year to plan, then debrief, before planning the next trip: our spring break house building trip to Mexico with Amor Ministries. This year, as in most years, about 250 high school students and adults built hope, twelve new homes, and a classroom for a church in the community. In one week.

In addition to thirteen build teams the trip includes a tool team, a camp crew, a medical team, a camp therapist, and a media team. Layered throughout are the Catalyst student leaders, all seniors, who lead the build teams, and the adult coaches who play a supporting role to their Catalysts. It takes a lot of people putting in a lot of work to pull it all together, and that’s not stating it strongly enough.

Each trip has a theme, and this year’s theme was ReBuild. Guy chose the theme at the end of 2016 and, when he told me, I had to laugh: without consulting one another, he chose a “re” theme for this trip into which he invests so much love, energy, and leadership, while I chose a “re” theme (re:create) as my word of the year, the word that has and will motivate me to new investments of love, energy, and leadership.

The group returned last night, and today in worship we celebrated what God has done. In Mexico, through the buildings, the memories that will last a lifetime, and the hope for a new and better future as people have a safe, dry place to nurture their families. In participants, as so many spoke of new or renewed faith commitments, fresh insights into themselves and their place in the world, and deeper relationships across all the ‘usual’ social boundaries–adults and teens, kids in different grades and from different schools.

We also celebrate what God will do. In families, as this year more than ever I was struck by how many families or family groups participated together–siblings, parent-child, married couples, and whole families; and in families where some or most did not go on the trip, they, too, will be affected by the overflow of experience from those who did. In schools and workplaces, in our church and community, as participants continue to live out their experience over weeks and months and years to come, and as God’s love shines brightly, bringing glory to His name.

As story after story was shared, participants built for the listening congregation a vision of God at work through this week in Mexico. I’m no contractor, but clearly God is our foundation. He created us. He knew our names, He had good plans for us, all before we were yet born. This year, for perhaps the first time in the 27 years of this trip, all teams had solid concrete foundations poured by the end of the first build day. I hope they remember: a strong foundation is essential to a strong structure, and God is our firm foundation.

One after another spoke about the strength of relationships developed in such a short time. And as I reflected on the theme, ReBuild, it occurred to me that we have the power to build supporting walls in each other’s lives. Someone said, “As the walls of the houses went up, the walls in our hearts and lives came down.” That’s true: we build metaphorical walls to protect ourselves from judgment, from criticism, from rejection. And it’s also true that when we find safe people, we can dismantle our walls of protection even as we together build stronger walls of community and encouragement.

Life can be hard, and people can be mean. Too often we throw verbal stones or, for whatever reason (sometimes for no reason, at least no good reason), we tear each other down. No surprise we wall off our hearts! But encouragement and community, they rebuild us and make us stronger.

One young man said he had been seeking community for years. Something clicked this week and he found it, evidenced by a friend’s embrace as he returned to his seat. My Teen has been fortunate to know that community. A twice-monthly before-school boys’ Bible study started with a group of motivated 8th grade guys and has continued through their senior year. They were adult-led until they took up their own leadership, and they have carried it forward in ways that pleasantly surprised their parents and other adult leaders.

Teen got to be a Catalyst this year (achieving one more life goal!), as did many of the Bible study boys. Along with their female peers, they have forged a tight-knit group; their community had a “ripple effect” throughout camp, fostering community with each gentle wave. Teen stood up to thank his fellow Catalysts, and to thank his team. He said, “We became a family. By the end of the week our team was a family building a home for another family.”

I watched with awe as my son–surrounded by community–stood, arms raised, singing:

I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

Safe to say they are returning home having been rebuilt by God and His gift of community.

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Better Together

I’ve been thinking about community…

Recently a friend posted about setting “Better Together” goals with her husband. It got me thinking (thanks, Cara!). I’m not much of a goal setter, too generally scatter-brained. But Guy’s more organized along those lines. What if we set goals together and held each other accountable?

During my Inauguration Day media fast, another friend called and said, “Our church is divided because our country is divided. We need to come together to pray for our country.” Her words rang true in my soul. As we chatted, we realized that we stand on opposite sides of the political divide. And we stand together in prayer.

Last night I scrolled through Facebook and saw pictures of friends all across the country peacefully marching in solidarity with one another. The heaviness in my chest lifted some, replaced by hope. I’m not alone.

I didn’t march. Instead we attended our friends’ son’s bar mitzvah. Despite having taken a few years of Hebrew in seminary, I quickly gave up on the transliteration and instead read and prayed along in English. It was a beautiful service, fascinating and moving and so different and like what we do at church on Sundays.bar-mitzvah-1

Two things especially struck me throughout the day. First, we all ought to speak heartfelt words of blessing, over our children and to one another. How different might our families, our communities, our world be if we noticed and spoke into the best parts, the uniqueness, of the people in our lives? And secondly, I am so grateful for my friends!

As we celebrated the rite of passage that welcomed this boy into Jewish manhood, we talked. We laughed. We danced and ate and drank. But because we also do life together, we asked hard questions. We whispered prayer and rubbed salve on the aches we know our friends carry. We rejoiced together all the more because we have also suffered together.bar-mitzvah-2

Before it started raining this afternoon, Guy and I took the dogs for a quick walk. He remarked, “I really like our neighborhood!” I agree. I like our street, our section of town, this geographic community we call home. And I like our neighbors and friends, the community that fills our hearts. I think we’re better for engaging in life in this place, at this time. I hope others would say the same about us.

So tonight, despite the dumping rain, despite my introverted self running on full-weekend extrovert overload, I will drag myself out of my cozy cocoon to gather with other friends, our church Community Group. We will talk and laugh and discuss and pray. Because I need them in my life. We’re better together.

Come & See
Week 3 – 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

Connect
Which part of your body do you think is most important? Which would be hardest to live without?

Study
Read aloud 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.
Notice who has responsibility for assembling the body parts (vv. 13, 18, 24, 27). How does that knowledge reorient our perspective?
Rephrase the statements in vv. 15-16 as someone might actually say them. How would you respond?
Sadly, how do we communicate “I don’t need you!” to certain members of the body? How can we change our attitudes and actions?
How would you explain to someone who hadn’t read this passage why we need each other?

Live
What are some of the Church’s favorite body parts? How do we demonstrate that?
How would you describe your place in the body? Have you ever wanted to be a different body part? What and why?
There should be no division in the body, but we can all point to examples. How should we address division when we see it?
How do we practically suffer and rejoice with one another?
How can we strengthen our connection to the body?
What does this passage communicate about what it means to be Jesus’ disciple?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray for stronger connections with other members of the body.

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Thankful Thursday – Embrace Truth

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glass-89051_640No matter how forcefully you jab at your phone’s red “disconnect” button, it won’t satisfy like the plastic crunch of slamming down a landline phone. The news I’d just heard warranted a strong response.

Something terrible has happened. People I love are hurting. I am hurting.

Through deep sighs, voice shaking then breaking, tears turning to sobs, I breathed out the bad news to Guy. He embraced me, but all the feelings made me restless, too much to be contained. I prayed: Lord, have mercy! I sent a text to my gals, inviting their love and prayers. I poured a shot of tequila. I distracted myself with the best (worst?) online idiocy. I wrote a little, until somewhere in the early-dark morning when my computer conked out and my eyes drooped in bleary desperation.

Sleep came heavy, but not rest. I yanked my sluggish body from the comforter just as fatigued, head pounding, face puffy. I had to go to work. And I decided to embrace truth.

Energy zapped, I had no filter; I shared the story with coworkers. I risked their pity, judgment even. Thankfully, they responded with grace, encouragement, prayer.

Unable to change the situation, I tended to my wounds. I prayed. I tried to nap. I read. I poured myself into work tasks and binge-watched TV. During a break in the rain, I found joy in a laughter-filled walk with friends and dogs.

I keep telling the truth. I am not “okay,” not “How are you? Fine.” I am angry, sad, confused, brokenhearted, aching. On some levels I am fine, and with hope I am getting better each day. Still… I know those are ugly-messy emotions, hard to hear. You might prefer to plug your ears. But this chaos is my song right now, and if you can’t handle my dischords, likely we’re not friends.

At our moms’ group this morning, I stood in front of 150 or so women to ask for prayer. I felt the weight of the pain spread as people felt newly sad with me, for me, for the situation, and my shoulders felt lighter. Some present may have been shocked, probably were. Maybe some even felt embarrassed for me: how dare I have the guts to talk openly about something so awful? That’s behind-closed-doors news, private.

Maybe it has been. But no, not any more. I’m embracing the truth because this messy truth, for now, is our truth. It’s what we have to deal with. I refuse to let you belittle me with your label of shameful when I call it illness, tragic. What we keep hidden in the dark will fester, spreading insidious infection. When we tell the truth, we set ourselves and others free. We share the pain. We create connection. We give and receive encouragement, hope.

Several women approached me after, some to offer a hug, but many to thank me for speaking up. They told their stories. I am sorry, desperately sorry, they have these stories to tell but, through the courage to tell the truth, we find out we aren’t alone.

“…the truth will set you free.” –Jesus