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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
I’ve been in Grand Rapids about a month now. It’s a little surreal being back in the same stomping grounds I trudged as a college kid a decade ago. People keep telling me that GR has undergone a “renaissance” over the years, that there are lots of cool breweries, restaurants, museums, and farmers markets; that it’s not the same place it was before.
Thank goodness, I say, because I’m not the same person I was before.
This time I’m in GR for a job – full-time, complete with benefits, and a retirement plan, and insurance. Next time someone asks me what brought me to GR, I might just say, “I’m here for the retirement plan.” This is, I think, a very grown-up reason to move.
But, I want to be clear about something – I’m not here just for a job. I’m not here just for the retirement plan. (Although, holy benefit, Batman!) I’m here for this job at this place with these people.
About a month ago, I moved to GR to be a social media specialist with Our Daily Bread. This means that I’m helping create and manage the online presence for Off the Page and a couple of our other blogs. If it’s tweeted, posted, or shared via social media, that’s me. I’m the human behind the avatar.
And I want to be really clear about this – my job is actually the coolest. I have no idea how I get to be the one to do it, but I think it has a lot to do with God’s grace. Like, a lot. Like, everything.
Because here’s the thing: that I have this job makes no sense. Technically, this position falls within the broader area of marketing, and I have no marketing experience or know-how. I’ve never taken a marketing or communications class in my life, unless you count Speech my freshman year of college, which I don’t because I’m embarrassed by the things that I said in front of people. Eighteen year old me was wrong a lot.
Anything I’ve learned about social media I’ve learned as a blogger trying to build a platform, as a youth leader trying to stay connected to her students, as a person hoping to find other people who are wrestling through some of the same things. My managers and supervisors and co-workers are quick to affirm that the marketing stuff is all teachable, and they want the greater voice that I’m bringing to the conversations that we’re having about Millennials leaving church, and disengaging with God (if they are), and how we can best meet them where they are.
And, let’s be honest, we all know those conversations are my jam. (My apologies to anyone who has stepped into my cube for a “quick chat” and ended up staying for at least a half hour.) The work that I’ve done as a counselor and a youth minister made them my jam, as did the reading and the praying I did right alongside them, and I have a lot of thoughts. And I wouldn’t trade that for all the marketing classes in all the world.
And there are no words for how grateful I am to be in a place that affirms the right things and teaches what can be taught. There’s a lot of Jesus in that, I think.
I’m learning, I think, that the strength of social media is its power to connect people to each other – people who wouldn’t otherwise be connected. It’s what I’ve loved about it for years as a blogger and wannabe writer, and it’s what I experienced as a youth leader with my students, and I’m working hard on figuring out how to do that for Off the Page too.
Because the people behind that blog – our writers and video makers and content producers, and our advisory team, and our content editor – they are all awesome. They’re people who love Jesus deeply, and are intentional to put in a little grace in the world any way that they can. They’re people you should know. And if social media is a means by which we can make that happen, I hope we (I) figure out how to do that well.
(Otherwise, I might get fired and lose my retirement plan. And I moved to GR for the retirement plan.)
I was mean to a friend in Bible study. We were studying Romans and she was making a misinformed point about the Abrahamic covenant, and I let her know in no uncertain terms that she was wrong. I quoted verses from Genesis and some of the Prophets, and I threw out definitions of Hebrew and Greek words for good measure, just to hammer home the point that I was right and she was wrong. And I lost the argument at the exact moment my friend shut up and curled herself into the corner of her couch, like a dog who couldn’t take being smacked with the newspaper anymore.
My best friend, who is also in Bible study and who sat nearby as I reduced our friend to a smaller version of herself, was quick to hold me accountable that night. She made me get into her car and talk long after the rest of our Bible study members had gone home. She told me in no uncertain terms that I was a jerk and she was baffled that I couldn’t see how I was hurting our friend. She said she was disappointed in me because I had acted so unkindly. She told me we had worked really hard to create a sisterhood in that Bible study, and that it was supposed to be a safe place where we could ask questions and be wrong every once in awhile. She said she loved me for my study of the Bible and the Greek and Hebrew, but she said that if I didn’t learn to do a better job of teaching what I was learning, I was going to undo all that we had built together. And then she reached over and laid her hand on my shoulder and said she loved me, and then she prayed that I would soften and be less of a jerk moving forward so that the Jesus in me and in what I was learning could really shine.
Whenever anyone wants to talk about accountability, this is the story I want to tell. I want to talk about my friend lovingly telling me that I wasn’t being my best self because I wasn’t looking like Jesus…
I’m writing a new series there this month – to be posted every Monday, though I’ll likely forget to link to here every Monday. Case in point – I’m linking the first piece now, and it’s Friday. Oops!
This is a series I particularly love because my publishing team said, “Hey, we think you should be our person to write about accountability. We know it’s a big topic with a lot of controversial turns it could take, so uh…good luck.” And after much prayer and stillness, I think I have. Plus, it was fun.
As I always am, I’m grateful for all of you who take the time to read what I write, whether here or for Off the Page. You are good friends!
A few days ago, my BFF sent me a long text message early in the morning. She’d been reading a book by a blogger we both love and needed to tell me about it:
She writes about their crazy life early in their marriage and her husband’s search for a job after getting his PhD, and she says, “and one afternoon in a sandwich shop tacked onto Walmart, we cried over a phone call that offered him a job that made sense of our story…” It made me think of you. Do you feel like this job makes sense of your story? It seems that way to me.
The job she was talking about was the one I started just about a month ago – one that brings all of my heart’s passions together, one that means I get to write and edit and Tweet for money, but that also means I’ll be moving away in a couple of weeks.
I told her that this job feels like a gift, like God has been working me over the last ten years into the person that could do this job. I told her that I thought God has been stoking in me a passion to make Jesus look good especially over the last three years, so that I can write about those things and live those things without confusion or angst. I told her that I feel like I’m walking into this job clear because I can see it’s where God wants me to be, probably because I can see now how it’s probably always been a part of His plan for me, even when it felt like I was fumbling along toward nothing. I told her that I think it’s really cool that it came at a time I had been praying that if what God wanted for me was to live in my hometown and be aunt to the coolest kids and write the words He put on my heart and keep working toward being a good friend and daughter, then that was enough for me. And I told her that I felt with this job God was like, “Cool. Now you’re someone I can use.”
Then I told her that was my really long-winded way of saying yes, I think this job makes sense of my story.
Today, I had meeting with a new co-worker to talk about a new project we’re both really excited about. We went back and forth for awhile when he interrupted and said, “We’re all so excited you’re coming on board. You have clubs in your bag that we need, as a counselor, as a thirty-something, as a woman.”
I stopped him and I thanked him for saying that because for too many years those things that this place is so excited about have been working against me in the church, and it’s nice to hear them lauded as strengths.
Then his voice got firm, “Let me be really clear on this. We know you are more than – more than a counselor, more than young and single. We know you are the sum of those parts. And the sum of who you are is someone we need. You’re filling gaps we need you to fill.”
And then I thought – no doubt, this job makes sense of my story.
When I was texting with the BFF a few days ago about the book she was reading and the job that I’m starting, I told her that it makes going a little bit easier knowing that she sees too that I have to go because this job “makes sense of my story.” To which she said, Oh, I totally do! From the very beginning. And it’s hard, and sad, but SO exciting and SO happy and SO RIGHT.
Because this job really does make sense of my story. All the years I spent studying counseling, and working in youth ministry, and honing my skills as a writer – the sum of it all comes together in this job. All the time I spent developing my friendships and doing the scary things that go with living into a community year after year has paid off in people seeing God’s movement too. I wouldn’t trade the last ten years of living in my hometown and being an aunt to the coolest kids and writing the words God has put on my heart and becoming a better friend and daughter. Because for ten years, these things have been enough. These things have made up the sum of a really good life. But, being here has grown me into the person who needs to go.
And as she has so many time before, the BFF has it right – my leaving is sad and hard, but my going is exciting and happy and right.
I’m sure she doesn’t remember the conversation, it happened so long ago, but I sure do. Jesse called after church to explain why she avoided me at the service. Her voice was firm enough to let me know she was serious and soft enough to inform me we were going to talk this out to the end. “I can’t stand being around you,” she started. “Whoever this person is that’s full of sarcasm and anger, this isn’t you. I know you have a lot going on right now and all the reason in the world to be angry, but I miss my friend. Can we get her back?”
I sat on my porch, my friend on the other end of the phone, and I sobbed. Because when Jesse said the words “this isn’t you,” I knew she had told me a truth I couldn’t see on my own. And when she asked, “Can we get her back?” I knew she wasn’t leaving me alone in the mess of figuring out how to unpack that truth…
*** I don’t often write letters on the blog, especially more than one in a week. But, this was a big week and exceptions need to be made. There are children to celebrate! Aunt Amber thanks you for understanding.***
Just a couple of days ago, we were at our favorite diner cracking jokes with our favorite waitresses, sipping coffee, and enjoying the ordinariness of a Wednesday morning together. Of course, this week it wasn’t ordinary because it was your due date and when you asked me to pray before we ate, I stuttered and stammered my way through asking God to bless the day. I wanted to say something profound and meaningful and chock full of things we’d remember later. Instead, I think I said, “We’re thankful for today. We lift Jesse and Baby up to You, and we pray for their safety and for only good things. Uh…thanks for this food. Amen.”
I’m convinced that in highly-pressured, emotionally-charged moments, I am exactly the last person who should be asked to pray out loud. For all my love of words, I can’t seem to come up with them when I want to say something important to God. I’m not above admitting that in my prayer life, publicly or privately, I rely on the intercession of the Holy Spirit a whole heck of a lot.
So, consider this a do-over prayer – the things I wish I had said to you and to God over eggs and toast a couple of days ago. Consider it a slowed-down, fuller explanation of the “only good things” I hoped for you then…and now for James, who is here with us and sure to catch on quickly that I’m not the cool aunt I pretend to be. No, I am the aunt who sometimes stutters and often babbles and usually doesn’t know what she really means until she’s taken some time to write it down.
God, I pray that he loves me for that.
Today is momentous. You’ve delivered James in Your time, just as we knew You would, even though we sometimes worried and had to text each other Bible verses about waiting and trusting and having no fear. I feel like I should maybe apologize for that, but I think that’s the lapsing Baptist in me – the guilt that goes with being a person of little faith sometimes. I think You know that texting those Bible verses to each other was very much a very real act of faith, and that we believed the things the Word told us about peace coming from You, and that we were really grateful that those texts meant we were friends carrying for each other. Now, we are friends who get to celebrate together too. Thanks for that. We know that was You, making something good.
Because we know that good is Your thing. And Lord, today is so good.
James is here, and he is beautiful. He has this crazy full-head of hair just like Noah did, but he is already so his own person. I love that, and I love him, and I love You for making him and letting us be his people. What a gift! What a good gift!
I pray that we take really good care of it – of him. I know that You have him engraved in the palm of Your hand, just like you engraved Isaiah, just like You’ve engraved all of us. And I know in Your great wisdom that I so don’t understand, You trust us with James, but we’re human and prone to making messes in even the best of situations, so we’re going to need Your help. So, I’m asking for all of us – Don’t let any of us wander too far from the fold of Your friendship. Teach us to be kind. Equip us to be patient. Help us to be gracious. And show us how to lead with love.
We pray that James is a guy who has these qualities too – that he’s kind and patient, gracious and loving. We pray that he is a good friend, and that he makes good friends too. We pray that he is smart and discerning, that he is thoughtful and wise. We pray that he is comfortable in the skin You gave him, and that he learns early to rest his identity in You. We pray that his passions drive him into a deeper relationship with You and into relationships with people who will make him better. We pray that he has a soft way of moving in the world, that he is gentle with himself and gentle with others. We pray that he experiences darkness only to see the light of You there. We pray that he walks through the world wide awake. But maybe above all, we pray that he knows that he is tremendously loved in every step.
Because we know we are, Father, and we want James to know it too. Because it’s everything.
You are everything.
I figure it’s probably okay that didn’t come pouring out of me at the restaurant a couple of days ago. Now, I can see his face in my mind or feel the weight of him in my arms when I pray these things. I can pray from a different heart now than I did a couple of days ago, because my heart holds him now too, right alongside Noah and Abby and the rest of the family. For the rest of my life, I will always be grateful that you made me an aunt.
Even as I was writing this, Noah climbed up into my lap for a little while. He was happy to watch the cursor make letters across the page until he wanted my full attention. “Squeeze me!” he demanded, and for as long as he will do it, I will let him boss me around on this one. It’s what he says when he wants me to hug him until I almost take the breath out of him, what he says when he wants to turn around and hug me around the neck until he almost takes the breath out of me. I’m pretty sure I will take this to my grave as one of my favorite memories.
I’m excited about the games like this that will develop with James. It will be our own thing, of course, but whatever he demands that means snuggles and giggles, I will let him be the boss of me.
For your kids, I will happily bend my will – because they are their own unique persons…and because they are yours.
Thank you for being my people. Thank you for being my family.