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.

A letter for Noah on his fourth birthday

Happy birthday, buddy!

I’m so sad that I can’t be there today to give you a squeeze, and watch you open presents, and eat cake – no doubt with green frosting. It is missing these family moments that make me the most sad about living across the country.

All things considered though, pal, your mom and I have done a really good job of keeping up with each other. We text almost every day, so I know when you have a cold or when you’ve said something cute or when you’re driving her crazy. But, she’s really good about listening to you and FaceTiming me when you say you miss me. And I will forever love that her inclinations will run that way, toward face time, toward seeing her people.

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So, I can’t be there today, but I’m confident that you already know that I’m celebrating you from my tiny cube in my cold Michigan town. I’m going to bet you already know that you have been on my mind all day. I’m going to guess you already know that I’m praying for you today from a heart that is just wild about who you are, that is just so glad you are on this planet.

Noah's birth day

I feel a bit like a broken record, saying the same thing year after year, but it remains true year after year. You have changed me, buddy, in the best possible ways.

Before you were here, the last place I would have wanted to be was a four year old’s birthday party. But today, I want nothing more than to jam pizza in my face while you use my pant leg as a napkin.

Before you were here, I was not the one to wrestle on the floor, or kiss boo-boos, or change diapers, or give baths, or read books before bedtime.

But somehow, I have become a person who does these things. Better, I have become a person who does the things with great joy.

Every time I wrestle on the floor with you, or kiss a boo-boo, or change a diaper, or give you a bath or read a book, I think maybe I get to experience just a little bit of the delight we bring God. Because nothing is better than being in the same space with you, and I think maybe that’s they way he feels about us. I wonder if his heart fills the same way mine does when you crawl into my lap with a book, or when you snuggle up under my chin watching Octonauts, or when you throw your arms around my neck in a big hug. I wonder if he is thrilled to take care of us in all the little ways we need caring. I’d guess so because really, it’s just about love.

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Thanks for that, pal. For teaching me a little bit more about how God loves. I wouldn’t have understood that before you were here.

You have taught me to slow down, to hold my tongue, to be kind, to laugh with abandon. You have taught me that messes can be cleaned, that nothing is more important to someone than your presence, and that you can never hear “I love you” too many times.

You have taught me that when you’re really excited that someone is around, it’s okay to show it. And that when you’re really sad that someone is leaving, it’s okay to show that too.

You have taught me that when you really love someone, there really is nothing you won’t do for them.

Even the most not-kid person will become a kid person when it’s really love.

And we know, you and me, that we couldn’t be happier about that.

Noah_happy babysitting

As always, with all my love,

Aunt A

God Loves a Crowded House

Crowded House OTP 1

I have been a student of friendship from the time I was a little kid. It was inevitable, I think, because I grew up in a military family and my parents and my brother and I shared more holiday meals with pilots and intelligence officers than we spent with our extended family. One Easter we crowded our duplex on Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii with airmen and women and their families who couldn’t make the trip home to the mainland. Those of us under the age of ten ate our ham and deviled eggs sitting on the front stairs, every chair and sofa cushion and spot on the living room floor claimed by an adult who didn’t want to be alone for the holiday.

And so I watched my parents create homes in our base houses that were open and available for people. There was always a seat for the single enlisted guy, the divorced officer, the wife whose husband was deployed. Even if the mashed potatoes burned and someone had to keep washing silverware so we never ran out of forks, my parents offered people a place for us all to be family, even if it was just for a day, even if it was for only one meal. And from my seat on the stairs, I saw how much that kind of friendship made being in the world a little less hard…

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The rest of this story can be found on Off the Page, a blog for Our Daily Bread Ministries that’s focused on bringing the Bible to life.  I’m still overwhelmed by the gift that is working with that team and getting to share my stories on that site.

This post is the first in a three-part series on Spiritual Friendship that I’m really proud of.

To read the rest, you’re going to have to go to Off the Page and follow along there.

As always, I’m grateful for each of you who take the time to read and ponder and engage with me. You prove that life is better when lived in community.

Happy reading!

Today you are 3…

Neph selfies!

Dear Noah,

Today you are three. What a wonderful, crazy three years it has been with you. And I have loved every beautiful moment.

Between you and me, pal, this has been a weird three years. God has totally changed the trajectory of my life, and I’ve had to do a lot more praying and surrendering than I ever expected – which I think is exactly why God changed the trajectory of my life. Most of the changes have been hard and have required me to let go of a lot of expectations and pride, and have forced me to really look at myself and the kind of person I want to be in the world. And while I like the person these changes have sharpened me into, I’d be lying if I said I have enjoyed every minute of the process. Changing is often hard, and while it’s so good most of the time, it is not always a heck of a lot of fun.

That is, of course, except when it comes to you. Three years ago in the midst of all of the changes, I also became your aunt…and it has been the most fun.

There is nothing about you, kid, that I don’t adore. You are sweet and funny, and you love your people. You like to laugh, and you like to make your people laugh. I think because of that, you’re in the center of my best memories  – stomping in snow piles, and splashing in puddles, and building forts out of the couch cushions; reading books, and throwing pom-poms, and watching Curious George on endless loop; eating chicken fingers and pizza and grapes, all dipped in ketchup.

I love getting hugged around the knees when I walk through the front door, and hugged around the neck when I leave. And I really love that sometimes you don’t want me to leave at all. I love when pull me into the living room just to sit on the floor next to you while you play with your toys. Because I love that that’s enough for you, just to have your people in your space. I love that at three years old that is a comfort to you. I love it because at thirty-one years old having you and your people in my space is a comfort to me.

For your birthday this year, I got you a book about a little blue truck that gets stuck in the mud and is pulled to safety by his little barnyard friends. I got it for you because it’s a sweet story, and because it’s a true one. I got it for you because even at three year old I think it’s important that you know that sometimes the only way you get un-stuck is when people love you enough to pull you out. And without a doubt, for decades now, that’s who your mom and dad have been for me. That’s who Mimi and Poppy have been, and Nana and Boppa, and Aunt Beth, and Aunt Amy and Uncle Mike and Abby, and Aunt Megan. They’re the friends who help me get un-stuck.

As you grow up, I pray that they’re the people who help you get un-stuck too. I pray that you see that in them – that they’re on your team, that they’re for you, and that this is true even when you find yourself in trouble; and that this doesn’t change when you’re a teenager or an adult. They’re people who hang in with unwavering support and love and grace. They love an awful lot like Jesus.  There is nothing about your family that I don’t adore.

But, I also pray that you find some friends from other barnyards. For your family, I’m a little duck that wandered in under the fence twenty-years ago and liked their pond so much that I never left. Now, I think we all forget that it’s not really my pond because I’m just part of the flock. I pray you know what it’s like to experience this on your own – that you know what it’s like to just have friends who show up to help get you out of life’s messes; that you know what it’s like to have the line between friend and family get blurry; that maybe you share your pond with another little duck who needs a soft place to land; that maybe you find a pond that you can land in too.

Of course, I’m getting ahead of myself…

Because today, buddy, you are three. And you should be celebrated for all your three-year-oldness.

You should be celebrated today because you’ll only wear green shirts, and because you’re favorite toys are pom-poms and bubble wrap, and because you think Wall-E is the funniest movie ever.   Because you want to sit on your mom’s lap and read books, and you think that makes for a pretty great fifteen minutes. Because you giggle so hard when your dad picks you up over his head and turns you upside down over his shoulder before dropping you onto the couch. Because you don’t want your hair washed, but you think it’s great when people sniff the back of your head when you get out of the bath tub and kiss your clean neck before you go to bed. Because you confuse your pronouns, but can say “pomegranate” like it’s no big thing. Because it makes you so happy to share food, especially when it’s a special treat like M&Ms or fruit snacks. Because you love your people so hard and so unashamedly.

Three is a very special age, and you are very special three-year-old.

Happy birthday, pal!

With all my love,

Aunt Amber

I want to go to there

I scroll through Instragram and Facebook and Twitter feeds and I’m always struck by how many incredibly smart women are hanging out together at different events, singing each others praises on social media after they’re away from each other in their own homes in their own parts of the country.

I often (nearly all of the time) find myself thinking, “I wish I were there with those incredibly smart women hanging out together.” Although, in my head it sounds more like Liz Lemon’s simple, “I want to go to there.”

And it’s true, because it’s a great desire of my heart to surround myself with incredibly smart women who hang out together and talk about books and God and church and friendship and parenting and mentoring and art and music and all the other things that incredibly smart women talk about. I want to borrow from their passions, feed them into my own, and wake up every morning excited to put a little more love in the world.

While scrolling Instagram this morning I saw three of the writers whom I love all posed for a lovely photo, smiling and laughing and generally enjoying the treat of being in the same place at the same time. It’s written all over their faces. And I had the thought that I always have about wanting to be there where those incredibly smart women are, talking about writing and books and art and whatever it is that incredibly smart women talk about it. But, then I had another thought. A better thought. A thought that made me grateful for my friends and the incredibly smart people that they are.

I don’t need to go anywhere to be surrounded by women who are smart, and beautiful, and loving, and doing things to make the world a better place.   I don’t need to be anywhere else to talk about books and movies and art and God and theology and parenting and mentoring and church and whatever it is that smart women talk about. We’re talking about those things all of the time. The smart women I want to surround myself with are already surrounding me.

My mom friends are raising tiny humans who are funny and kind, and one day these tiny humans will grow into big, adult humans who are kind and funny. The older I get, the more I realize just how much being kind and funny can change the world.

My girls are students of social work and teaching and music and art and biology, and they talk about how they want to use what they’re learning to help people. Not in abstract ways, but in real, in-the-messes-with-people-everyday kind of ways. And I’m in awe of them, really. They get how Love works.

I have friends who are college professors and elementary school teachers; engineers and mathematicians; accountants and book keepers; writers, photographers, and artists; entrepreneurs and community developers. They run non-profits, and they run their homes. They create in their work and in their lives safe spaces for people to be exactly who they are, to crash and fall apart, and they help them put the pieces back together again.

All of these women I get to call my friends are extraordinary. And smart. And beautiful. And putting a little love into the world everyday.

But, the reason it doesn’t make it onto Instagram and Facebook and Twitter is because we’re doing nothing more than living our lives side-by-side. It’s ordinary, and the ordinary things aren’t usually the things you stop to document.

But maybe we should?

Maybe I should. I need to do a better job of appreciating the ordinary life right in front me. I want to make the most of the expected rhythms of Tuesday night Bible studies, and coffee shops work days, and dinner with my folks. I want to soak in the afternoons of babysitting my nephew and niece-in-loves and the coffee dates with my girls. And I want to wear out my welcome in my best friends’ homes.

The life I have right in front me, in all of its ordinariness, is extraordinary. It’s a gift. And I don’t want to squander it. I want to be present to the life that’s right in front me instead of constantly wishing I were some place other.

Right here, right now, these people, this ordinary life – this is where I want to be.

I want to go to there.

Worry less

It was our second date and we’d decided on dinner at a local pub. We were aiming for casual, a place we could wear jeans and not worry too much about impressing each other. We wanted good food and the football game on the TV. We wanted to feel comfortable, because the whole point in dating is to get to know each other, to see what you have in common, and even (*gasp*) to have a little fun.

“You can’t take him there,” they said. “That’s a place you take a co-worker you only kind of like.”

“You can’t take him there,” they said. “That place is too casual.”

They suggested a restaurant down the road from the pub, a fancier place that was more dimly lit with a more interesting menu. “It’s better for a date,” they said.

My friends, they meant well. They consistently want the best for me, and that appears to be true in even the places that I eat. They wanted me to have a good date, which means they wanted to make sure I had a good time, that I was treated well, that I put my best foot forward.

And all those things happened…at the pub.

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I believe deeply in the good that comes when you live your life in a community of people who love you and have your back. I believe deeply that it’s one of the ways that God loves us and has our backs.

But, one of the problems of community is that their voices often get loud. They often get so loud you can hear them even when they’re not around.

Most of the time, believe me, this is good. Because they’re the voices that echo Jesus, the ones that remind you that God’s business is making good out of bad, or that God is faithful even when we are not, that rest is okay. They’re the voices that encourage you to keep going even when you feel wonky and scared and vulnerable. They’re the voices that will shut up and listen when they know you already know all the things they want to tell you.

Most of the time, their input and suggestions and counsel are worth heeding because they’re people who love you and have your back.

Sometimes though, even when your community loves you and has your back and wants only for you to have a good date, the voice that matters is your own.

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I knew he was coming home from the beach and would be casually dressed. I knew that I was most comfortable in a place I could wear my favorite jeans, hole in the knee and all. I knew that the food was good, and we’d both be cool watching the pre-season football game if the conversation lulled. And I knew, quite frankly, that I just wanted to go to the pub.

Because here’s the thing, I’m thirty now. I’ve been dating for more than a decade. I’ve been on good dates and bad dates, and the mediocre dates that fall in between. I’ve worried for so long about impressing the guy that I’ve debated about what to wear for more hours than were necessary, and I’ve remained silent when I should have spoken up about things that concerned me, and I’ve not at all been relaxed in the whole dating process.

I was talking to Nickie about this the other day, about how dating is feeling much too much like work and a lot less like fun, and I realized that I have been doing it wrong for so long, and she said, “I say poo poo on what any of us think, though. Do what you want and what makes you comfortable. It’s your life and your relationship, and you live your life well.”

See? Good voices. Voices that love you and have your back.

She’s right, of course. I mean, jury’s still out on the “living your life well” bit, but I don’t think I’m doing a terrible job. However, I have been doing a terrible job of dating, and it is my life, and it is time to do what I want. Or at least, it’s time to start really giving some weight to what I want.

I worry too much though, that is my down fall. I am, more often than not, totally anxiety-ridden. I don’t know what it’s like to be totally relaxed, and I’m not sure I have ever known. When I was a kid I worried about always being the new kid, if I was ever going to fit in, if I was ever going to have real friends who’d hang on even if we had to move again. And so I worried about my clothes and my interests and my speech, because I worried all the time about being liked.

And old habits die hard.

But, I’m learning to put that to death, to be new, to worry less. It’s hard but good work, and I like the person this work is shaping me into. I like the way it’s deepening my relationship with God, and the way it’s giving my faith some real maturity. And I like the ways that my friends are responding to this me that is more comfortable in my skin, when that skin is less polished and a little raw.

So, this is my new mantra: Worry less. And with that, it is a challenge to myself in all the best ways to give myself a little credit, to extend myself a little grace, to trust the person that is exactly who God created me to be.

And it is a challenge to my community, to my friends, to love me even when I may not listen to them and may do my own thing.

Sometimes, believe it or not, worrying less is exactly the right thing.

 

Less than

When I was in a mood a couple of days ago, the BFF texted me not five minutes after the blog had gone live. She’s good like that.

She told me in her very BFF way, which doesn’t leave me a lot of wiggle room and always forces me to tell the truth, that she was praying for me and proud of me and saw holy in the work that I’m doing. And I had no choice but to confess that I’m struggling every darn day with feeling less than, like sitting in coffees shops and tinkering at my laptop and fighting every day to find just a few words to make life make sense isn’t enough.

Even now, I’m not sure what I mean by enough. I just am sometimes (all the time) plagued by this idea that I should be doing more.

A lot has changed for me in the last couple of years for sure, and I’m doing way less now than I was in my late twenties when I was in graduate school, interning at a counseling center, and teaching at the small church. This does not mean that my plate isn’t full, because it still is because I don’t do less well. (Jesus and I are working on this. Ugh.) But, it’s a different kind of full. It’s a slower full. Where my time in coffee shops usually meant chatting with my girls, now means I’m alone with my crazy thoughts and Microsoft Word. And when you’re used to going, slowing down can feel an awful lot like monotony.

In my clearer moments, I know this isn’t true. In my clearer moments I know that being obedient and surrendered is the most holy work, whatever that may look like. I know that every day that I get to be creative is a good day, because it’s one that honors our Creator God. I know that making friends with my baristas is no small thing, because I’m putting in the time to get to know my neighbors. And I know that writing and publishing in blog and in book is brave.

But, I have a lot of muddy moments. Because there a lot of people I know that are doing important things. I have a friend who started a company that creates medical devices and they’ve figured out a way to help people with diabetes not have to lose their limbs anymore. Or at least, I think that’s what he’s doing. Either way, that’s important work. I have several friends who work as engineers and mathematicians at the nearby Army post, and they’re figuring out ways to improve gear and armor so that these soldiers who have to go fight these heinous wars can come home to their families. That’s important work. I have mom friends who are making tiny humans and teaching them to be kind to people and to love God. That’s important work.

It’s all important work.

And it is when I think about those people and all the important things they’re doing in the world, I feel less than. Less than important, less than clear, less than brave.

Anne Lamott, patron saint of nutty writers, quotes Mother Theresa a lot and talks all the time about doing small things with great love. Saint Anne says that this is probably how God’s going to use us to make the world a better place, and if nothing else it’s what stops everything feel so nutty. And when she was at the writer’s conference I went to back in April, she said that she starts by returning phone calls and getting thirsty people glasses of water.

Okay, Saint Anne. I hear you.

I want to do important things (don’t we all?), but when did I get to the place where I think that important things have to big things? When did I start thinking that having coffee with my girls or getting to know the baristas was less than important? When did I start believing that telling stories about what God’s teaching me through my friends was less than brave? When did I start living like following God down the path He’s laid out particular for me was less than holy?

Blergh. Being human is hard sometimes.

But, I wonder if hard is the great human connector sometimes. The BFF reminded me of this the other day, after I made my confession and she reminded me that the important work of motherhood is holy and hard too. She told me in her very BFF way that I was feeling similarly and that was because I was in the middle of it, and then she reminded me that being in the middle of the hard stuff isn’t less holy. And then she said that we need to let that knowledge carry us through the middle. “It IS holy work,” she says.

That BFF. She’s good like that.

I wonder if when we find ourselves in the middle of the hard work of whatever it is that we’re doing, there’s a way to remind ourselves over and over that what we’re doing IS holy. And that it’s true whether we’re married or single, or raising kids or writing books, or visiting with old friends or making new ones. I wonder if we can take to heart what Mother Theresa and Saint Anne say, and remind ourselves over and over that doing small things with big love IS important. In fact, it’s the most important, and that’s true when we’re getting water or returning phone calls or engineering armor or creating medical devices or mothering tiny humans or having real conversations in local coffee shops. When whatever we’re doing reflects grace and God and love and light, there’s nothing less than about that.

Now…only to remember that.