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.

Language & Laundry: The Love Connection

(c) 2011 Wylio

One of the things that I find most difficult as an adult is that I have way less time to play with my friends.  And what I’m finding is that when I have less time to play with my friends, the more neurotic I become about my relationships.  The more I start to worry that we’re disconnecting, the more frustrated I get at myself for being busy.  The busier I get and the more frustrated I get, the more my internal spinning makes it less likely to hear “I love you” when my friends tell me.

I mean, I’m not deaf. My ears work just fine, so when my friends say the words, “I love you,” I hear them just fine.  I think, though, that more often than not we get told we’re loved without words.  We get told we’re loved when people show up for us.  Like, when they drive an hour and half in traffic to your school only to sit for an hour and half in the rain to watch you receive the degree that you’ve been working toward for 4 years.  I think we get told “I love you” kind of like that.  But see, I’m a words person.  I like words. I obsess about words.  I stop reading to Google words I don’t know.  When I do Bible studies, I always have a Greek lexicon nearby and then I drive my Bible study friends crazy when I say, “Guys, I looked this up and it means this. Isn’t that so cool?!” every week.  No joke. Every week.   I think there’s such power in words.  Power to express yourself clearly.  Power to share an idea that hasn’t been shared.  Power to communicate and connect with other people.  Power to change someone’s day.  Power.

The downside to being a words person, though, is that when ideas are shared by action or people communicate by behavior, I sometimes miss it.   Particularly, I’m realizing that I miss the message of “I love you.”  A few weeks ago, I was over at my friends’ Amy and Mike’s, and we were celebrating the fact that I had just submitted my last assignment.  That I would never have to transcribe another session and could forgo listening to myself on tape for a good long while was definitely worth celebrating.  In the midst of conversation that night, somehow, we ended up talking about her sister, Jesse, who happens to be my very best friend.  It happens sometimes, much to Jesse’s discomfort, that we talk about her.  Usually, it’s about how awesome we think she is and how grateful we both are for who she is in our lives.  Usually. This time, because we’ve all been so busy and it’s become so hard for us to connect, the tone of conversation was charged more with frustration than gratitude, at least, on my part.  Amy and Mike listened patiently as my internal spinning became external, and I ranted…about how Jesse’s been folding laundry nearly every time I’ve been over in recent weeks.

I told you: neurotic.  I was ticked off at my best friend for folding laundry. In her own house. Which she had invited me into. In a moment of wisdom, which can only be described as divinely interruptive of my perfectly good rant, Mike stopped me, “Hold up. Let’s think about this. Maybe what Jesse and Matt are saying to us when we come over and there’s laundry all over the couch is that’s how comfortable they are with us in their lives.  They don’t have to entertain us. When we’re there, they can just be in their own house.”  Here’s why that was powerful: Because my best friend and I hadn’t had very much time to connect, I started to get a little nutty about who I am in her life, and Mike broke apart the nutty. Mike could help me hear “I love you” from Jesse when the words weren’t there.  And it helped me think about other ways that my best friend had told me she loved me when we were so busy we couldn’t find time to chat.    Like, when she made plans weeks ahead of time for me to stay over this weekend because it was my graduation and she wanted to be “in” it with me.  Or, going to see Fast Five even though she was sick and hates those kind of movies, but because I’d been talking about it for months and I love those movies.  So, even though we couldn’t find time to talk about those things over a cup of coffee for hours and hours, she really was telling me that who I am in her life is important to her.  She really was telling me that she loves me.

I figure that the next time she invites me over and she’s folding laundry, I won’t be irritated.  In fact,  I anticipate that I’ll smile, abundantly grateful that she’s comfortable with me in her life.  And, if she lets me watch Fast and the Furious while she’s folding laundry…well, life couldn’t get better.

17 things I wish I’d known at 17

(C) 2010/Justin Brokie - via Wylio

I’m very close to yet another graduation.  May 14 will mark my third.  It’s easy to assume that because I’ve spent so much of my adult life as a professional student that I’ve learned a lot.  If that’s what you think, well…you’re right.  I do know a lot.  At least, I know a lot more than  I did 10 years ago when I was counting down the days until my high school graduation. Now, I’m counting down the day’s until I graduate from my Master’s program.  All the counting (77 days!) and the random Facebook messages announcing the coming together of my high school reunion have left me ruminating on what it is exactly that I have learned  over the last 10 years.  So, specifically to any of my youth who may stumble upon this blog, I offer a compilation of those things: the 17 things I wish I’d known at 17.

1.  I wish I’d known that I really would use math later. (I should have paid attention in Statistics class.)

2.  I wish I’d known that the high school friends that you still know 10 years after high school may not be the people that you expected to know.  The friendships that become the most meaningful are the ones that surprise you.

3. I wish I’d known that the seasonality of those other friendships didn’t devalue them.  It actually made them wonderful and good.

4.  I wish I’d known that  I’d value my college experience more for the friendships formed and the lessons I’d learn living with people than for what I actually learned in the classroom. (But, I’m glad I did known to take my college education more seriously than I did high school.  I actually learned something in that Stats class.)

5. I wish I’d known that “the good Christian boys” can still break your heart.

6. I wish I’d known that the dissolution of of friendships over the seasons of life can feel like the same kind of heart break.

7. I wish I’d known that it’s really easy to make really stupid decisions about how to deal with the heart break, even if you pride yourself as someone with their head on straight.

8. I wish I’d known that the heart break, though painful, wasn’t actually the end of the world.

9. I wish I’d known being honest with my friends and leaning on them even just a little bit would help ease the deepest of hurts and enliven the deepest of joys.

10. I wish I’d known that it was actually okay to talk to my parents about…everything.

11. I wish I’d known that I didn’t have to look like I have it together all the time.

12.  I wish I’d known that it’s possible to find a job that’s more than just a job IF you’re ear is consistently turned to hear from God about it.

13. I wish I’d known that having your ear turned to God sometimes means following in a way that looks foolish and feels risky…and it’s okay.

14.  I wish I’d known that other people’s approval didn’t actually provide fulfillment or lead to feelings of success.

15.  I wish I’d known that having questions about my faith didn’t make me a bad Christian.  I wish I’d known that having the courage to ask those questions, with a heart truly seeking to known God through them, could draw me closer to Him and strengthen my belief.

16. I wish I’d known not to waste so much time trying to be “right” all the time.   I wish I’d known that it could get in the way of building relationships with people and therefore serve to actually get in the way of my witness.

17.  I wish I’d known that at 27 I’d be writing a list of things I wish I’d known at 17 much more of aware of what I don’t actually know.  And I wish I’d known that would usher in a feeling of…freedom.

How about you? What do you wish that you’d known at 17?

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.”