Sense of my story

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.

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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.

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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.

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Coffee shop rhythm

'Coffee and Scone' photo (c) 2008, Chris Kantos - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/As I write this, I’m at a coffee shop, which, let’s be honest, is not an unusual place to find me.  These days often my friend Beth is with me, grading papers or reading essays as she prepares for the college courses that she’s teaching.  We put our headphones in, and we get to work.  I write, she writes. I read, she reads.  We have our headphones in and we try not to talk to each other out of respect for the work that’s being done, but more than we should  we end up pulling out the headphones – “I’m sorry, I just have to share this with you…,” whatever it ends up being.  And I love this rhythm, because isn’t it so much of what friendship is about?  Interrupting life to just tell each other something, just to share a story, just to be together, even if it’s just for a moment.

Today, in this coffee shop there’s also a group of college aged girls standing at the counter ordering lattes and iced teas.  I’m only guessing they’re in college, of course, but I think their casual dress, perfectly done make-up, and their hair in buns makes it a pretty safe guess.  Only college girls can get away with dressing like that and making it look good.  If I wore what they were, I’d look like a matronly librarian who left her cats at home and is trying too hard to look young in public.

You know what else these girls can get away with? Wrapping their arms around each other and hanging on in extended hug-like embraces while they wait for their orders to be rung up.  And between you and me, I envy the ease with which they connect to each other, in this way and in so many others.

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I spent a lot of time this weekend thinking about friendship, which you know is not that uncommon.  But, I was at a conference with church people, and I was surrounded by friends I’ve known for a long time, and I lived into the gratitude of knowing them as the speaker shared a story about a 9 year old girl who cried and prayed and loved her friend right into a relationship with Jesus.  Her story reminded me of the story of the paralytic man lowered to Jesus through a roof by his friends  – “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” (Mark 2:5, emphasis mine.)

For all the talk we do of our relationships with Jesus being personal, it sure does seem like having friends is an essential part healthy living.  Like maybe when we’re so broken that we can’t get to Jesus ourselves, we need to have people who will cry and pray and cut holes in roofs to get us to Him.

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I think friendship as an adult is sometimes a hard thing to navigate. We’re all so busy and running in so many different directions that it seems sometimes that there’s no ease in connection at all.  And it’s easy to put people on the back burner when bills have to be paid, and doctors have to be visited, and cars need to be in the shop, and time fills up entirely too fast.  And suddenly, your friendships become such that you’re showing up for each other in the big stuff, when there’s a wedding or a baby or a funeral, and that’s a good thing, but you’re missing out on the day-to-day stuff that makes being friends just a little bit easier because the rhythms are familiar.

So today, I’m thankful for parallel play in a coffee shop. And for the college girls who remind me that sometimes you just need to throw your arms around your friends and let life be easy, even if it’s just for a moment.

Another person in the room

I’ve been studying psychology and counseling for the better part of 10 years now. And when I say “studying, ” I actually mean “have been consumed by.”   It’s prone to happen when you’re a full-time student, I suppose.  What I’m finding in my not-student life since graduation, though, is that old habits die hard.  I’ve wandered back to books I read for class and re-read them with a more dedicated eye, looking to engage with the ideas presented rather than skimming for answers to exam questions or discussion board posts.  And I’ve spent a lot of time just thinking, remembering really, class discussions on a slew of issues that are really only interesting to people who study counseling, like the ethics regarding dual relationships, or the merits of psychoanalysis versus cognitive behavior therapy, or the generic names and dosages of antidepressants.  Fascinating, right?  I bet you wish you spent HOURS in your head about these things.  But, sometimes in the course of these hours, I’ll have a flash that hits on a much deeper level, a flash that affects not only how I counsel, but also how I live my life.

Another prof in the department came into our seminar class last Fall to deliver a guest lecture about working with clients who are delusional.  I’ll admit, I didn’t go into that class poised to pay a whole lot of attention, partly because I’d been up since 5:30 and had already put in a full day with clients and was feeling pretty brain-dead, but mostly because I didn’t envision my path crossing with delusional clients and I didn’t think I needed to pay attention.  Mark another tally in the “Things I Was Wrong About” column, because there was indeed a flash that got into my heart and changed me.

This prof was sharing a story about a client she’d worked with for years, starting in her own internship.  This client was delusional and would only have 30 second snippets of lucidity in a given session. That means this prof had half of a minute in a 50 minute therapeutic hour with a person checked into reality.  3o seconds! She was finding herself frustrated and questioning whether there time together was, well, worth it, so she did what any responsible intern does and talked to her supervisor.  When she had finished saying her piece, her supervisor asked her, “Can you be another person in the room with her for the other 49 and a half minutes?” “Yes,” she said.  And he said, “Then that’s enough. Just try that.”

(c) 2007 Alex Guerrero // via Wylio

I think what’s most brilliant about her supervisor’s response is its simplicity.  I know that I’m guilty of thinking too much about my skill set and techniques and making sure I hit them all well that I forget that one of the coolest parts of therapy, and one of the reasons that it works, is the relationship that develops between therapist and client. The person-to-person contact when someone’s in a state of vulnerability.  The being another person in the room.

I think the “being” piece is what’s most critical.  What does it mean to be with someone?  Is it as simple as just sitting in the same space?  Yes. And then it’s about letting the space fill with conversation or laughter or tears or silence.  It’s true when I’m in session, and it’s true when I’m sitting at dinner with my friends, or in the car with my mom, or having coffee with a youth.   And for me, I think it’s also about shutting down the analytic stuff that I’m apt to let my brain do and relaxing in the relationship.  For me, it’s about taking the pressure off.  It’s about thinking less about how to connect and just letting the connection happen.  It’s about spending less time in my head and more time with the people in the same space.  Because when I come to the end of my days, I  want to look back at my life and say that I was engaged with people, that I enjoyed the favor of them, and that they knew that they were loved.   And ultimately, I think that’s what being is all about: love.  Sharing  your time and your laughter and your tears and your silence, sharing yourself, I think that’s “being.”

So then, can I be another person in the room?  Yeah, I can do that. And  I hope not just with my clients, but with my family and my friends as well.

Disagreement vs. Disunity: Thoughts from a youth leader

no-drama

I’m a youth leader at my home church now.  I moved to the church when I was in 6th grade, went to every youth event until I left for college, and now I’m back in my hometown leading and teaching Sunday school to the same youth group I was a part of all those years ago. And I love it.

Being a youth leader is one of the most favorite pieces of my life. And I never saw it coming. When I was in youth group,  my heart’s desire was to move away for college and never look back. I wanted my own life, away from the walls of church and home and family that felt like they were closing in.  I wanted out of the drama, chaos, and frustration and I wanted to find adult relationships.  As an adult, though, I’m finding that many of my most favorite relationships are the ones I’ve formed with the youth that I teach, and lead, and mentor.  Some of my most favorite relationships now are brimming with drama, chaos, and frustration. And I love it.

As a youth, I would often rant to my mom after a particularly drama-filled event, “How did we get here? I don’t understand!” As a leader I now find myself saying to my youth, in much calmer tones, “Well, how did we get here?” when drama, chaos, and frustration rear their ugly heads in our group dynamics.  Recently, our little groups has faced the drama-to-end-all-dramas  that every youth group in every denomination faces: a break-up. It’s messy and unpleasant and has made things awkward.  It had left the girls and guys feeling like they need to pick sides, like they can only really be friends with one person of the disunified couple. But, as a leader and an adult who’s been in a similar situation that my kids are facing in the very same room that they’re facing it in, I know that the disunity that’s plaguing the split-up couple doesn’t have to disunite the entire group.

My response as a youth was always to pick sides, to choose a friend, to stand by that one person at the expense of relationship with the other.  I didn’t think I had a choice.  But, I’m not a kid anymore.  I’m a grown-up. I’m a leader. And my role is to teach them how to navigate conflict and disagreement well, because disagreement doesn’t precipitate disunity, and to teach them that they have a choice. My role is to talk to them about how they’re handling their conflict, and question them on whether it fits with the teaching of the Scripture.  Admittedly, such conversation is nuanced and complicated, but at least it gets them thinking about it.  Perhaps more than that, though, my role is also to model for them in the relationships that I have with other adults how to handle disagreements well, so disunity doesn’t happen.

See, these kids listen to the same pastor I listen to on Sunday mornings. They hear him speak against tattoos, and they see the tattoo I have on my wrist almost every Sunday when I roll up my sleeves to get into the Word with them as their Sunday school teacher.  They know that our pastor would probably like to sand-blast the ichthus from my flesh, and they know that I love my tattoo and that it’s meaningful to me and that I wouldn’t change having gotten it.  They know really clearly that this is a point of disagreement between my pastor and I. They know that we both have personal, vested reasons for the opinions that we have, and they know that we both get kind of passionate when we talk about things that are personal.  But, they also know that he shakes my hand every Sunday morning and asks me how I’m doing.  They know that I have a good relationships with his children, and that I’ll visit with him and his family in their home. They know that we disagree, but aren’t disunited.  We are in community together, loving Jesus and trying to share that love with the world.  And I love it.

More than that, I think God loves it too.

“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.”  -Hebrews 12:14

*This post was written as part of Rachel Held Evans‘ RALLY TO RESTORE UNITY. Check out her blog to see other like posts.

Trapped

Joy Wildfong, RAW Photography

My best friend sent me a text the other day that said, “I’m feeling trapped and a little bit sad.”  Without having to ask, I knew what she meant when she said that.  It’s a feeling I’m familiar with. When I have moments of feeling it, I send her a text that says something like, “I’m ready to drive to California til I run out of road, and even then I wanna just keep driving.”   So, it wasn’t a total shock to me when I saw her later that night when she asked me if I had plans in June, because she was feeling so boxed in the predictability of the routine of her life that she wanted to take a road trip.  And without having to say it, I knew that she wanted to go without a game plan. Just drive and see where we end up. Just drive and break free of the boredom.

What I love about this idea that my best friend has is that I’m a part of it. I love that she got to a point of feeling boxed in, and rather than turning inward in angst (which, I’ll be honest, is what my tendency is), she reached out her best girlfriend.  I suspect that she invited me into this place of vulnerability because she trusted that I would understand and respond without judgment.  I think she texted me and proposed this idea of road trip because she knew I’d say, “Great. I’ll drive.”

I think this is a beautiful picture of friendship…when it’s working well.  I know that all of us have had experiences of friendship not working well, and we’ve created ways of interacting with people that we think will minimize the hurt most effectively.  Even this week I was shocked when someone I know said, “I don’t think God created us to make friends. I think He created us to witness.”   Her theology had become a defensive strategy to minimize the hurt.  There’s no escaping that it’s bad theology, though.

Friendship, especially among Christians, is a gift from God.  After Jesus’ ascension in the book of Acts, we see the Church established.  Acts 2:42-47 are some of my favorite verses in all of Scripture, because God gives us a picture of what “the fellowship of believers” should look like.  And I think that these 5 verses talk about living WITH each other – eating together, and worshiping together everyday.  This IS friendship.

When my friend and I were talking about our road trip and sharing with each other about the different ways we feel trapped, we were engaged in the kind of relationship described in Acts 2.  We were living with each other, “enjoying the favor of each other” (vs. 47).  “Favor” in the Greek in this passage means “goodwill, lovingkindness, and proof of God’s grace.”  Interesting how people can be the proof of God’s grace.

I think one of the benefits of this kind of community and the kind of friendship that I have with my road tripping friend is that the vulnerability required allows us to really know one another.  So then, when I get into those moments of wanting to drive until I run out of road or my friend starts to feel trapped, we end up in the car together.  And like my best friend said, “Sometimes you just need someone in the passenger seat to tell you that you’ve driven far enough and it’s time to go home now.”

Always a Bridesmaid Guest Post

“In the back of my closet hangs Butter Dress, the most infamous of the bridesmaid’s dresses I have worn since graduating from college five years ago. It’s floor length, poorly fitting, and its color truly resembles the inside of a Country Crock container. I can say with absolutely certainty that I will never wear this dress again. But, I can also say with absolute certainty that I love this dress. In all of its ugly, it reminds me of something beautiful and important…”

A favorite author of mine, Rachel Held Evans, allowed me to guest post on her blog today.  I love being able to share my story and experience of being single in the Church and the honor that I think being bridesmaid is, so make sure you check it out here.

You can also find RHE’s blog linked on my page, so make sure you also check out what she’s writing.  You won’t be sorry.

Happy reading! 🙂