If my life were a bullet journal entry…

  • May 2015 – I’m offered a job working at a ministry in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
  • August 2015 – After several weeks working remotely, I make the move to GR fulltime. I move into my friend’s guest room while I get settled and find an apartment.
  • August 2015 – Only four days after landing in GR, I go on my first date with Nick. He would tell me later that he knew I was a keeper because I ordered fancy mac and cheese and not a salad.
  • September 2015 – On the way home from a baseball game, Nick asks me if it would be weird if he told people I am his girlfriend. I tell him no, that would be alright.
  • September 2015 – I text Jesse and freak out about being a girlfriend to someone again, because my track record leads me to believe that I am a terrible girlfriend. She tells me to knock it off; I’m going to be fine.
  • November 2015 – I move out of my friend’s guest room and into my own apartment with Joy. I rejoice (legit, that is the only word for it) that I have the opportunity as an adult to live with my college roommate again. Because who as an adult ever gets that chance? Joy tells me to calm down and pare down my coffee mug collection because it is taking up too much room in our limited cabinet space.
  • December 2015 – Nick travels home with me to Maryland for the holidays and to meet my people. Everyone loves him. My friends hesitate to say it then, but later report that they could see then what would come a year later.
  • February 2016 – I’m called into the HR office of the ministry that moved me across the country and I am dismissed from my job.
  • April 2016 – I attend the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, where I get to hang out with the people from the ministry who still like me and fangirl over a bunch of writers I have admired for years. A friend of mine suggests that I start working as a virtual assistant.
  • May 2016 – I start working as a virtual assistant. This means that I am still maintaining social media accounts, but I’m doing it for individual bloggers and not for a ministry. It also means I get to work at home in my sweat pants most of the time.
  • June – August 2016 – I work, I date Nick, I go home to Maryland twice because my job allows me to work from anywhere. It is by all accounts a very good summer.
  • August 2016 – Five days before classes start, I get an email from a friend who teaches at my alma mater to let me know they are in need of professor for a section of College Composition immediately. He says he already gave the head of department my name. The next day, I get an email from the head of the English department asking for my CV and references. The next day, I get a call from the head of the writing faculty explaining how the class is structured and which textbook to use. I interrupt her to clarify that I have been offered the class. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I thought that was clear.”
  • August 2016 – I start teaching College Composition at the college I graduated from many moons before, thus fulfilling the prediction of my former advisor who said I would teach one day. (Sometimes professors are prophets.)
  • September 2016 – Nick and I celebrate one year together. It is officially the longest I have put up with anybody. It strikes me as really something that I do not want to bail, and in fact would say yes if he proposed.
  • October 2016 – My class evaluations are such that I am offered classes for the Spring semester and the following Fall. I am grateful. I feel at home in the classroom talking about writing.
  • December 2016 – The semester ends, and I have not only survived, but have flourished. I am grateful to have been fired earlier in the year because it gave me the freedom to say yes to the right job that came after it. I am grateful to be out of a cube, and out from under a boss who didn’t understand me. I am grateful to be back in the company of young people, grateful to be back at a white board, grateful to be invited into the space of helping college kids become their adult selves…even if it involves a heck of a lot more grading than youth leading, and a heck of a lot more talk about comma splices.
  • December 31, 2016 – Nick comes home with me again for the holidays. My people still love him, and unbeknownst to me have been in cahoots with him to pull of a pretty perfect proposal. He takes me to my favorite bay town, talks about how excited he is to keep building a life together, and drops to a knee by the lighthouse. We celebrate with my family and my best friends, who were all present for the moment he asked me to be his wife.
  • January 1, 2017 – Wedding planning craziness takes over my life. We set the wedding date for December 2017, and planning will be the joy and bane of my existence for the year, I can already tell.
  • January – April 2017 – My whole world is teaching writing and planning the wedding. Sometimes I eat. Sometimes I go to the gym. Mostly, I Google ways to avoid spending a crapton of money on wedding stuff. Jesse tells me to knock it off and start enjoying myself before I rob all the joy out of this season.
  • April 2017 and on – I promise to continue to enjoy myself. I have all the makings of a really good life right in front of me.

Shared in Common

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Every once in awhile a piece means something a little bit more than others. This would be one of those pieces.

Shannan Martin is a writer I have admired (and Twitter-stalked) for years – which all started because my BFF texted me one afternoon and was like, “I found a blog I love. You’ll love it too. Get to reading!” (Or something like that. She likes to boss me around like that when it comes to things that are good for me.)  And Jesse was, of course, right. Shannan’s words have been invaluable to me.  So, when Shannan emailed and invited me to write for her about what it has meant to me to be a single woman in church, I enthusiastically accepted.

I can’t tell the story of my singleness without telling the story of how my friends have loved me.  (I can’t tell most stories without telling of how my friends have loved me.) Because that is where I see God most clearly.

I’m grateful to Shannan for the chance to tell this particular story. I hope you’ll join me in her space.

*******

After I was fired at the beginning of last year, I went home to Maryland for a couple of weeks. I needed to hug my mom, pray with the ladies from my Bible study, and eat at my best friend’s table.

Years before, when I was in my last year of graduate school, finishing classes and interning, my best friend, Jesse, worried about me. I had mentioned offhandedly that my days were so busy I didn’t even have time to eat a sandwich, and she immediately bought protein bars for me to keep in my desk and insisted on making dinner Tuesday nights before we went to Bible study.  I didn’t have to do anything, she told me, I just had to show up and be okay eating whatever she was making.

Because of this invitation to simply come, their table became for me a place of sanctuary. It was a respite from the craziness of that busy season. I was allowed to come stressed. I was allowed to be tired. I was allowed to talk about work or school, or I was allowed to not talk about work and school. I had all permission in the world to just come; to not take care of anyone, and instead let my friends take care of me…

To read the rest of it, you’re gonna have to jump over to Shannan’s site. Then stay there awhile. Shannan’s words are life-giving. 

 

Why aren’t you writing more?

I have a writer I do some work for. We had a Skype call a few weeks ago to get to know each other, and she didn’t waste anytime. She started, “I have just one question. Why aren’t you writing more?”

That, of course, is totally loaded.

I’ve been actively avoiding writing for the better part of the week.

Although, to be fair, I think I’ve been actively avoiding writing for the better part of ten years.

A year ago, I did a big scary thing and I packed up all my clothes and a handful of books and a couple of photos of my family and my best friends and I moved halfway across the country into my friend’s guest room for a job I thought was the job.

 I found an apartment, and met a guy, and have been, for a year, building a life in Grand Rapids. I do not, however, have that job anymore.

The job that I thought would be the job was far too short-lived. And I can’t pretend even now to understand exactly why that job didn’t work out, why that ministry dismissed me, why God called me here for a reason that we all thought so clear that would turn out not to be the reason at all.

My guess, though, is that the job was a means by which to: one, get my attention and two, move me to the place that I am needed.

I confessed to my Bible study a few weeks ago that I understand the story of Jonah differently now. You know the one with the dude who gets told to go preach in a city he didn’t want to go to, so he ran away and found himself in the belly of a great big fish? I told my Bible study that I have known that I was called to writing, that I recognized even in elementary school that words came easily to me when my friends really struggled, and that struggle never made sense to me. I told them that writing makes me dredge for the truest things that I think and realest things that I feel, and sharing that with the world is scary in ways I can’t find words for.

And I confessed that I have tried to do everything but write for ten years. Social media management, therapy, youth ministry – while very good and (mostly) noble professions, I think for me they have always been me trying to be anywhere but the place I was called.

If I am Jonah, then writing is in my Nineveh.

And I think maybe that getting fired and the months that have followed have been my in-the-belly-of-the-big-fish-what-are-you-doing-to-do-with-your-life wake up call.

The writer who I do some work for told me to read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, the women who sold millions of copies of a different book on her quest to find herself by eating gobs of pizza and meditating in the Far East. The writer I do some work for said, “I’ll be honest, I didn’t love everything about this book, but I think you need to read the first section on fear. And then I think you need to get on with writing.”

I read it this morning, although I don’t think the section is really about fear, it’s about bravery. I can see why this writer I do some work for made me suggested I read it:

Around the age of fifteen, I somehow figured out that my fear had no variety to it, no depth, no substance, no texture. I noticed that my fear never changed, never delighted, never offered a surprise twist of unexpected ending. My fear was a song with one note – only one word, actually – and that word was, ‘STOP!’….

For the entirety of my young and skittish life, I had fixated upon my fear as if it were the most interesting thing about me, when actually it was the most mundane…My fear wasn’t some kind of artisanal object; it was just a mass-produced item, available on the shelves of any generic box store.

And that’s the thing I wanted to build my entire identity around?

The most boring instinct I possessed?

The panic reflex of my dumbest inner tadpole?

No.

So, that’s the thing, isn’t it? I could keep running, but that now feels much harder than actually doing the thing to which I have been called. (And hey, it only took me ten years to get there.)

Batman_quit procrastinating

 

What I’m Into – June 2016

Faithful blog readers and those who’ve stumbled here accidentally, hello!

I’m not going to give some big long explanation of why I haven’t been blogging (again), but I will give you a very short one – I just didn’t feel like it.

I think 2016 has marked one of the greatest years of change for me, and so much of the writing that’s been coming from what’s been happening has been reserved for my journals. (Plural, yes.) (Jesse, I’m counting on your to burn them should I meet my untimely demise. Please and thank you.)

What I'm Into

Even writing the What I’m Into posts for Leigh, which I usually have a lot of fun with, felt just a teensy bit too vulnerable. Because it’s not super fun to say month after month that what you’ve been into has been a lot of sitting on your balcony staring off into the trees watching the birds. (A friend reminded me recently that some might call that “being still,” but whatever. Let’s not split hairs.)

But, June 2016 has been a gift. So, let’s just take a hot minute to celebrate that.

Reading

I’ll admit that my actual ability to finish a book this year has been…uh…not so good. I am currently somewhere in the middle of – The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber, What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, Night Driving by Addie Zierman, and The Alphabet of Grace by Fredrick Buechner.

truth and beauty

And I feel like I will always be almost finishing Ann Patchett’s Truth and Beauty: A Friendship. I started this one back in the Fall, and I’m pretty committed to seeing how the friendship between Ann and her friend Lucy plays out, but I’m just going to say the unpopular thing – I think Lucy is kind of a terrible human being and not a very good friend, and I think I may feel too much for Ann, and reading this book makes me tired. I might just finish it by this Fall, but really, the jury is out.

Listening

I may have struggled to read, but audio books have been my jam this month. (A lot of hours in the car will do that to a person.) In the, like, 400 hours I spent in my Vibe this month, I have listened to in their entirety – Sophie Hudson’s Home is Where My People Are and A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet (which are read in all of her Mississippi-accented glory and I laughed out loud multiple times), Looking for Lovely by Annie F. Downs (which I then texted my best girlfriends and said, “Listen to or read this one to hear only how she talks about her friend Nicole. I love you!” Because I’m nothing if not a little sentimental about my girlfriends, and Annie is too), and Harry Potter: The Prisoner of Azkaban. I also made hearty strides in Goblet of Fire, but since it takes approximately half a lifetime to listen to each of the Harry Potter books (they all sit around 20 hours listening time), I will approximately finish the series on my deathbed. There aren’t enough hours in the Vibe, but like I said, I’m making hearty strides.

The soundtrack of my summer has seemed be the favorites – The Indigo Girls, A Retrospective; Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, Live at Luther College; and a smattering of Ben Rector. Because really, with all that Harry Potter to listen to, what has time for anything else?

Doing

Of course, we all know that my favorite thing about June was going home for a couple of weeks.

So, I hung out with these goofs, who are my favorite people on the planet. Abby rocked a nice little head cold most of my trip, but that, of course, doesn’t stop aunt and niece-in-love from enjoying an afternoon or two together.

And the neph-in-love and I went on a fun little ice cream date.

*Quick story: On one of the Sunday nights I was home, Jesse and I planned a BFF date. When I went to pick her up before we went out for dinner, Noah was super sad he wasn’t going with us, as much as we assured him that we were taking him and his brother on a breakfast date just a couple of days later. To which he said, adamantly, “No, Mom! A date is two people!” And then told her he wanted to go on a date with Aunt Amber (which she immediately said yes to and may have welled up a little), and is exactly how we ended up eating ice cream that turned our tongues blue a couple of days later.

Also, it was wicked hot so we played at the pool at Nana’s house. And by “play,” I mean the boys had way too much fun splashing me.

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These kids, man. I don’t think I could love them more.

Also, I went out and stood in a wheat field with one of my best pals. Because why the heck not?  And because I feel like we all need to be reminded that I don’t go home just to see the kids. (Yes, I absolutely do.)

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The end of June and my return to Michigan was marked with a baseball game with my favorite. (Sometimes you have to leave home to end up where you need to be.)

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July will bring with it more travels, more chances to hang with my people, and more time to listen to Harry Potter.

This summer is undoubtedly way more fun than sitting on the balcony, staring at the tree line, watching the birds.

Things that make a tribe

***This post originally appeared on the blog’s Facebook page on April 12, 2016***

About once a week, maybe once every other week I get a text message from a friend of mine who lives not near me at all – “Just checking in, friend. Doing okay?”

In fact, for most of our friendship now we have lived not near each other, both of us moving to different parts of the country after college and both us getting busy with those adult things that make being friends who live not near each other difficult. Most seasons don’t allow for such constant contact, but I’ll admit that I’m glad for it now. I need all the people I can get who ask, “How are you doing?” and won’t settle for less than a real answer.

I met this friend in the back row of a neuropsychology class my sophomore year of college after she hit me with the power cord of her computer and offered no apology, only saying, “That was an accident” and scowling. “No problem,” I said, intimidated a bit by this upperclassman who had spent the class hour building SIMS houses on her computer and then bulldozing them down.

The next week, in the middle of a lecture of about serotonin and its place in brain function, she looked up from her SIMS house and asked if I wanted one of the Pixie Sticks she had brought with her. Hopped up on sugar and bored of neuropsychology, we spent the rest of the semester trying not to get in trouble for laughing from the back row.

You just never know what is going to become the foundation of a good friendship.

Laughing. And candy. And a lot of grace to be who you are.

This friend who lives not near me, who texts often and wants to know how I’m really doing, is in a tough season too. And while I’m glad we are able to text and be real and talk about these things with each other, I wish for her that she had people in her town to talk to too. Because she’s an incredibly generous person, loyal and funny, and quick to dive into the messes with her people. She’s not afraid of a challenge, and brings a lot of strength with her into her relationships. She’s a friend who’s going to show up. And I have no doubt that her wife is built of the same kind of stock. And they need people to show up for them too right now.

My friend who lives not near me, who knows God and lives graciously and is devoted and loyal, has been rejected by the tribe of Church.

My friend who lives not near me has been let down by other people who know God.

My friend who lives not near me is in a rough season and she’s mostly alone and she’s sad.

And I hate that my friend is sad. I hate that this person who bought me the DSM-IV when I went back to grad school and who wrote a note that falls out every time I pick it up – “You are going to do great things. Love you, friend.” – is feeling alone in the world. I hate that when she thinks of Church now, she feels pain and condemnation instead of grace and love. I hate that her tribe failed her.

I want us to do better than that.

We can do better than that. We can offer more than running away or hiding from hard conversations. We can offer more than trite answers and quick responses. We can offer ourselves, our listening ears and our humble hearts. We can sit down sinner-to-sinner and find grace and God together. Because that’s the best part about our tribe. It’s the very thing that make us a tribe.

And we can do better.

Friends and jackwagons

***This post originally appeared on the Facebook page for this blog on April 11, 2016***

Late last week I had lunch with my editor-friend and my therapist-friend, both of whom I had the great fortune of working with for a little while.

My editor-friend and I have known each other since college, and I’ve always appreciated that we talk so easily about books and music and theology. It’s only in recent years that we’ve dropped into those deeper places of knowing each other and sharing real stories, and I’m only now starting to appreciate the wisdom and insight and peace that also comes with being her friend.

My therapist-friend is new, though. A gem of a guy I met because we worked in the same place and both studied counseling and never ran out of things to say at the lunch table. Turns out, a couple of lunches is all it really takes to make a new friend.

And at lunch late last week, these friends sat across from me as they listened for the millionth time about how I’m doing since I lost my job, about what I’m thinking I’m going to do next, about my increasingly complicated feelings about Church and Church People.

My therapist-friend interjected at one point, “Can I make an observation?” For always this will be a question I answer yes to when my therapist-friend asks it because I’m a dummy who needs the insights of people who are smarter than me and because I know whatever follows will likely be something that God needs me to think about.

“You’re an idealist. But, with idealism can come a lot of darkness or angst when the ideals aren’t being met. What do you do…”

“To stave off the darkness?”

“Right.”

And I found myself saying, “I text my friends. I tell the people I trust most in the world that the darkness is there and I need them to pray. And then maybe I start praying too. I don’t let myself sit alone in it anymore.”

And so the conversations between me and God these days go something like:

Me: Okay, Lord. This church thing is pretty jacked up right now, and it’s not right. I’m a church kid and I want to love the church, but God, the people are making it so dang difficult.

Him: I know. Miranda’s going to ask you to have lunch next week with her and Jeff. Go.

Me: Okay, cool. I like them. I can do that. But, Lord, what about the other people? The ones who make you look bad. What are we going to do about them?

Him: You’re going to be asked to dog sit for a co-worker you really like. Do that too.

Me: Alright, sweet. I can definitely use the cash. But, I feel like you’re not listening to me. What are we going to do about the sucky church people?

Him: You should see if Dennis is free for coffee.

Me: FINE! I’ll text him right now! But, c’mon, dude! Hear me! Things are screwed up, and I keep getting screwed over by people in your dumb church, and I’m starting to get really pissed about it. We need to figure out what to do!

Him: Isn’t that writer’s festival coming up? They’re going to talk about some stuff like diversity and storytelling and friendship and grace, right? Pay attention there.

Me: Dude, I KNOW! Sarah Bessey and Nadia Bolz-Weber are my heroes, so we already know I’m taking a legal pad’s worth of notes. And stop trying to distract me, I’m mad here!

Him: Hey, your phone just buzzed. Those two people in that group text that you’re in are two of your best people, right? That friendship isn’t an accident. Go enjoy them.

Me: Okay. Deal. But, we’re not done. We still need to talk about your church people.

Him: Yeah. Maybe we just did?

It’s almost as if God’s trying to remind me that for every church people that makes Jesus look bad, there’s a Miranda or Jeff showing up to listen and ask the right question. It’s almost as if I’m supposed to remember that God’s a bit of an idealist too, hoping that the people who love him will show up and take care of other people.

And this is what I love about the Christian story – even when God’s ideal isn’t met, even when people are being jackwagons who make Jesus look bad, the darkness still doesn’t win.

Because there are more friends in the Church than there are jackwagons.

On getting fired

I write sometimes on the Facebook page for this blog, and for whatever reason that was the space where I decided to put words to my complicated feelings about losing my job a couple of months ago.

So, this is the beginning of that story in 2 Facebook posts:

#1 – March 21, 2016

So, okay.

It’s been more than a month since I’ve put any kind of words on the internet that weren’t reduced to a 140 character tweet. Because there’s safety in 140 characters. I can share snippets, the good stuff. The funny things my friends have said. Or the photo of my nephew in the fort of couch cushions, or my niece in her Minnie Mouse dress.

You can’t deal with the hard stuff in 140 characters. The hard stuff deserves more than that.

So, okay. Here it is:

A little over a month ago, I was called into my HR office early on a Wednesday morning and I was let go from my position as a social media specialist. I guess technically I was “downsized,” but when you’re reorganized right out of your job, technically is hogwash. The reality is that I was fired.

When one of my friend’s mom’s heard what happened her reaction echoed my own: “What?! Amber doesn’t get fired!”

Amber doesn’t get fired. And yet she was. On a Wednesday morning in the middle of February. And Amber is still dealing the emotional aftermath of all of that.

Although, really, before you ask, I’m doing okay. Really and truly. My head is mostly above water, and I’m getting out of bed every morning. I’m eating regularly, and I’m sleeping about as well as I was when I had a job. So, you know, lots of victories there.

And also, I’m not worried that it’s not going to be okay.

I came to Grand Rapids as an act of faith. I came because my prayers and the prayers of my best people led us all to the same point of clarity – it was time for me to get up and follow God to a new place. I still believe that.

In the first couple of weeks I was in my job, one of my co-workers who has since become the pastor of my soul and a friend in the realest ways, said, “You know, I think you’re in Grand Rapids for a reason, but I don’t think it’s for this job.”

Of course, two weeks into a job I really loved, I didn’t want to hear that. Six months since then, I’m thinking it was more than a little prophetic.

So, okay.

I don’t know what comes next. I’m in some kind of vocational middle. Again.

And it’s just whatever, man. Because I absolutely will not let this be a reason for me to distrust God’s good hand. I absolutely will not let this be a reason for me to give up on church or ministry or the way that God has called us to take care of each other.

I will not let this be a reason to give up on the vision of creating a community online and in the world for people who are in the middle – the middle of a faith crisis, the middle of vocational change, the middle of a struggling marriage, the middle of a lot of questions, the middle of confusion, the middle of doubt.

Most of life is a middle.

And those of us in the middle, we’re a tribe. Each and every one of us.

So, okay. Let’s help each other through it. Let’s offer patience and encouragement to the middle. Let’s text and call and pray for each other.

Because if I have learned only one thing in the last month, it’s this: when you have a tribe and Jesus, you have everything.

#2 – March 22, 2016

The responses to my post yesterday have been so kind, and I’m as always am, so grateful for you people. You people who keep hanging with me in the messy middles, who keep thinking the words I have to share are good ones, who keep telling me to just keep writing.

I was talking to the BFF yesterday for a hot minute and I asked her a couple of the questions I have about this middle place. I asked her if writing from the middle was okay really, because I don’t know what I think about a lot things right now. I said, “I’m committed to writing from the place of the here-and-now of what God and I are working through, but I don’t have clarity. I have questions and prayer and my people. That’s all I’ve got.”

To which the BFF said only, “What’s wrong with that?”

Of course, the answer is that there’s nothing wrong with that. Faith is, I think, a fluid thing. It adapts and changes as our experiences with church, ministries, each other, and the world adds layers of complexity to our understanding of God. It would be silly then to think that anyone is ever going to have all the answers, and it seems to me that it would silly to pretend that any writer worth respecting is writing NOT from the middle of their own faith life.

But I say that knowing full well that there are things of which we can be certain.

I can be certain that God is good and loving. I can be certain that he is faithful, and that means he’s caretaking me through this messy middle. I can be certain even in the darkest moments there is going to be someone or something that inspires hope in my ugly, cynical heart. I can be certain that gratitude and grace are the wagons I want to hitch myself to even as the bottom falls out.

And I can be certain, thanks to you people who keep showing up in the messy middles, that there are more cheerleaders and encouragers and peacemakers in the world than there are not.