Monday, February 19, 2018

The Belonging

A few nights ago I sat in a friend's living room, looking around at the beautiful faces of women with whom I have been meeting for over a year now. A common desire to understand more about God's heart for racial justice brought us together initially - and as more people have tested the waters and joined, our group has grown.

But as I looked around, I wasn't thinking about how much we have learned and how we have shared deep stories of woundedness or anger or missed opportunities or ignorance, although I am deeply thankful for the experience we've shared.

I was thinking that these are my people.

And I was also thinking that I am not so good at having people.

I am the kind of student who groaned when a teacher announced a group project. Who worried that when moving to college I would feel smothered by having to share a dorm room. (I didn't, by the way, because I ended up with a lifelong friend who was beyond awesome herself and who let me be me.) I feel touched out by tiny humans by right around 10 am every morning. "Touch" is my very last love language and the idea of someone hugging me or even, really, talking to me when I am upset is actually terrifying.

I am fiercely independent, the kind of person who wrote a song in high school that outlined who much I did NOT want to grow up and get married or have children. (It's true. My best friends at the time chose to perform it 10 years later at my wedding rehearsal dinner. Thanks, guys.)

For much of my life, I thought of it as a strength. But the older I get, I begin to wonder.

Yes, there is so much good that comes from it. Self-reliance, determinedness...those are good things when applied rightly. But when applied defensively they can shut a whole lot of good out. They can shut out a type of belonging and place someone perpetually on the outside. Sometimes it almost feels like I am watching my life as a spectator. Not feeling fully connected to anyone in the story, but committed nonetheless, to being there.

Brene Brown, in her book "Braving the Wilderness" says this:

"The special courage it takes to experience true belonging is not just about braving the wilderness, it's about becoming the wilderness. It's about breaking down the walls, abandoning our ideological bunkers, and living from our wild heart rather than our weary hurt...True belonging is not passive. It's not the belonging that comes with just joining a group. It's not fitting in or pretending or selling out because it's safer. It's a practice that requires us to be vulnerable, get uncomfortable, and learn how to be present with people without sacrificing who we are. We want true belonging, but it takes tremendous courage to knowingly walk into hard moments."

Look, I'm going to be appallingly honest for a moment. The four years that I have spent as a stay-at-home parent have been the loneliest of my life. The amount of emotional and physical energy it has taken me to do what I have done has caused me to choose to sacrifice the opportunity to truly belong anywhere else.

And I have made bad choices along the way. I have filled up on Facebook at the lowest points, rather than found a real face to be with. I have believed again and again that all I can do is what I can do right now for my kids and if there is nothing left of me by 7 pm, then so be it. I have clicked "interested" or "maybe" on a thousand different social opportunities and showed up at a tenth of them. I have bought into a culture that makes it easy to go back on my word because my word never meant much in the first place. Maybe or interested is a lazy way of saying "I think I should do that but I don't truly want to commit so I will pretend to commit for a few minutes and then easily back out at the last minute." 

But that way of life is never going to be right or good or, to be honest, holy. It's only going to provide momentum to stay in an endless spiral of exhaustion, isolation and loneliness. It's never going to be enough. I will never fully belong to myself or to anyone else that way. 

As lent has started, I've been asking myself and God what it is I could sacrifice right now. Lent was a fairly new concept to me a few years back. I grew up in a church that didn't adhere much to the liturgical calendar and I had no concept of how to observe this time of year. Most of the years I have attempted to observe lent, I would choose something that was hard to give up, but not necessarily ask God to meet me in that empty space. It was more of a test of my independence, of course.

Did I have the will power to part with something and succeed? I always did, of course.

And, you know, missed the point. 

So this year I was hesitant about "doing without". I feel like I have been stripped down to the bare bones of who I am anyway, so what more can I part with? 

Ironically, I had been on the waiting list for Ms. Brown's book for months and received the notification that it was all mine the morning that Lent began.

And as I began reading it and feeling punched over and over again at the very core of my gut, I just knew.

Lent has to do with my people.

The women I met with last week aren't my people just because we all believe the exact same things. Or have the same stories. They are my people because I've chosen to be radically myself in their presence, mess and all, as we hash through some really tough stuff. And they've let me be.

But I so rarely choose to live at that level of relational risk.

Listen, I'm not saying I have never had people before. There are some humans through the years with whom I could be my total self and still can to this day. Really, really good friends who stuck with me even when I made it very hard to do so. And I am so stinking grateful for every one of them, may God have mercy on their souls.

But mostly I have held myself back. Content to participate or know without the risk of being fully known. Afraid to really need anyone - keeping most friends far enough away that any betrayal or disappointment or even loss of them wouldn't actually affect me.


I have a feeling that when Jesus said he came to bring life abundant, some of that had to do with fully embracing the gifts of those loving humans in my life. And when you find it hard to even fully accept God's radical love for you so much of the time, you certainly aren't going to trust people.

Fear. Fear is so powerful, my friends. And that's really what it comes down to.

Brene's first step to belonging is to "move in." There is so much rage and separating and vilifying in our society these days. People say things they would never say to someone if they were actually face to face through social media. We've lost touch with the art of disagreeing. With civility. With productive debate. With researching to find the actual truth.

And I see the effect it has on me. The propensity towards pigeonholing, towards assumptions, towards anger. To believe I am right and others wrong all the time.

We all do it.

And it's killing us, friends. It. Is. Killing. Us.

So for Lent, I'm "moving in" and clicking off. I will check in my with groups online and organize events and post blogs - but when tempted to click to fill that void of belonging, when tempted to scroll to cure loneliness (if only for a moment), I'm going to choose one of the following instead:

(1) Write a letter to a friend. An actual pen to paper, lick a stamp and leave it on my table for a week because I hate going to the post office letter. 

(2) Call someone on the phone. And fight really hard while it is ringing against my hope that they won't pick up. (Seriously, I need help.)

(3) Initiate a crazy game of chase with my kids that ends in a tackling, tickling mess of limbs and chaos because even though I hate being touched, my kids love it.

(4) Pick up a real book that challenges me to love better. To move in. To listen. 

(5) Write. A blog. A book. A quick text of encouragement. But write. Dream.

(6) Bake something for a neighbor. (Friends, this will be no easy thing cause this lady will need to learn to bake to actually do this one.)

(7) Text a prayer or word of encouragement to one of my pastors.

(8) Dance. (Ok, this may seem unrelated to what I am trying to do but those who know KNOW. This is 100% a support to doing away with fear. Anyone want to make me a new playlist?) 

(9) Organize an actual outing and invite humans to come with me. (Keep watch for this friends - maybe we can hang out IN PERSON!!!)

(10) Make coffee and find a neighbor with whom to share it.

Bottom line, and in the immortal words of Phoebe, I am going to be with the "3-dimensional people." I am going to "move in." I'm going to fight the loneliness by fighting the fear. I am going to resist the parts of me that shut down, that hide, that run away and pray like crazy that Jesus will help when I fall and fail.

And I will fall and fail. It's inevitable.

But I'm going to be with my people and find more people who need people. I'm going to keep fighting for the things I am passionate about, but I'm going to do it in person. I am going to keep radically finding ways to unashamedly be me and call others to do the same. Because I believe we can always get better, do better, know better, be better. We're never finished.

I'm going to fight fear with faith and risk. And win.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018


I stop him just before he charges into the garden. Just before his little shoe tramples what looks to be a hint of green. I bend down closer to look, figuring it might be just a blade of grass as my preschooler careens off in a new direction, content as long as he is allowed to run.

And there it is. A shoot. The first sign of spring. On January 21st. Some days I really do love Virginia.

We have actually had a winter this year. A cold and snowy one, though not a long one. And because I love my garden, I welcome the winter. I welcome the months of moisture and quiet that prepare my plants to rise again from the soil...stronger, prettier, fuller, more vibrant. Maybe even large enough to divide and transplant, giving life to another part of the yard or a neighbor's garden.

And this little shoot is proof of what has been going on under the surface. The bulb that leads to this daffodil has been soaking in water and nutrients for months. You couldn't see any of it happening, but the shoot is proof. Life goes on. One season ends and another begins in faithful cycles.

Last week we had a lot of snow days. The few mornings that I usually get to myself when all three boys are in school didn't happen. I felt completely full of what I could handle. Exhausted, really, but functioning. Cheerful, even, at times.

A month ago if that had happened, I would have retreated into full, collapsing survival mode. We would have hunkered down and never left the house. I would have said words of defeat over and over to myself. There would have been nothing in me that would risk a public fail.

But last Friday, something happened. What has been hard and dry and worn out and fearful produced a tiny shoot of green. I felt ready for something. I felt hopeful.

I piled my 2 and 4 year-olds into the van and drove over to the Y.

That alone, is a bit of a miracle. I haven't had the energy in months to head over there and we'd been stuck inside for days due to the snow and their particular disdain for all that is cold. (The oldest would happily live in Northern Canada and has to be practically bribed to come indoors in the winter but the middle child believes cold is a personal affront to his happiness.)

After my workout, though, after they had played happily and without incident (thank you, Jesus!) in the Child Watch, we went to the pool.


Confession: I have never once been willing to take both of them to any pool by myself. Not one time.

When you have one nugget in the throes of the terrible twos and the other one who lives his life in the land of the imminent, show-stopping meltdown, you get used to public humiliation. You still venture out to Target because sometimes being a public spectacle is still preferable to losing your ever-loving mind stuck at home. But mostly you stay home. Or in the backyard. I fully believe every person in our neighborhood recognizes us because we are always outside. Making lots of noise.

But the pool?

The pool takes a lot of energy. Yes, physical energy, but that's not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about the kind of oomph you need to pull your mind and heart around being in a public space where one or both your kids could go off the rails, where you could have to wrestle a wet screaming child and lose, where it's very possible that one could run away while the other refuses to get out of the water. And where you know there's the very real possibility that you'll have to rely on the kindness of strangers to keep someone from drowning.

I haven't had that oomph in awhile. I haven't wanted to risk the emotional chaos of failure.

But we went. And they played and smiled and laughed and jumped in a hundred times and made the older women who were doing their water aerobics smile. They spread joy.


And yes, it could have gone badly and I would still have had to process that. It didn't this time, for which I am grateful. I needed that win.

Because here's the thing. I've been learning something new about myself.

This fall was incredibly challenging - and it didn't come after any kind of easy season. We were going through some really hard stuff with our middle child. Things that were beyond our control. Nothing I did was making it better. Not my advocacy. Not my research. Not calling a billion different people. Not lost sleep. Nothing.

I was powerless.

And what I am coming to see is that powerlessness is my own version of personal hell. I am a doer. I make lists, I check them off, I get things done. Everything I've ever tried to do or really wanted to do, I've pretty much done. I am an ISTJ on the Meyers-Briggs and a 1 on the Enneagram. I DO. I FINISH.

But I couldn't do anything to make it better and had to watch my son suffer.

That led to me feeling like a big, raging failure in my life. It didn't matter that someone might tell me I am a good mom and doing my best. To me, it wasn't my best because nothing was changing. And the inability to accomplish anything took me down, friends. I felt exhausted. Overwhelmed. Useless. Sad. Depressed. Confused. Alone. Angry.

Somehow, somewhere and with the encouragement of some dear friends, I dug deep and realized I needed counseling.  Needed help. I wanted my boys to see their mom smiling again.

It's funny what happens in counseling. Someone asks you a question. You answer. They tell you what they hear you saying. You clarify. They clarify. And things begin to emerge. (Well, at least after that first session during which you just sob uncontrollably because apparently when you feel all the aforementioned things but don't let it out, your brain and heart explode when someone says "tell me about it.")

And just being able to see something about yourself, to learn why you feel so out of control, to say it out loud. Well, that's a huge part of the healing.

And then to finally, after months of effort that you've made, to see things start to happen for your son. To see what comes of the prayers and the phone calls and the appointments and the asking of questions.

That's the shoot, friends. This little spot of green that says something is happening. Something is changing. God is at work. Your work alongside him is not in vain.

The shoot is not a daffodil yet. There is still much to be done. There needs to be more water and sunshine and fertilizer and time. For me, there needs to be more counseling, more prayer, more risk-taking, more phone calls, more letting friends in on the process.

But slowly, sometimes uncertainly, the oomph is coming back, will come back. And knowing what takes me down frees me up to fight it. To look the feeling of failure in the face and say "Not today, Satan." Just because I feel powerless doesn't mean I am a failure and that is the darn truth.

Friends, all we can really do is the work in front of us. The next phone call, the next meeting, the next mountain of paperwork, the next prayer, the next counseling session, the next moment with friends or family who are loving us through it - even when we don't see that shoot yet, we water, we till, we fertilize and we pray for sunshine.

We stay in the fight and wait for the shoot.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Kitchen Cart

One of the things I discovered during my sabbatical way back in 2009 is that there is a certain peacefulness and healing that takes place in my soul when I work with my hands. And a certain chaos in me when I don't feel like somethings looks or feels the best way that it could.

Let me introduce you to the kitchen cart.

Original Cart

Tons of dings and scratches

Towel rod and grate
When we bid on the house, we asked that we be able to keep it. At the time, I didn't look too closely at it nor really mind it's appearance. It fit with the decor of the house and was sturdy and practical. I love sturdy and practical.

But as I've slowly repainted the interior of the main floor of our home, it has increasingly felt out of place. The sliding bins stopped working well and it became a dumping ground for all the papers and "stuff" that really belonged elsewhere. It's also looking decidedly banged up. I hit the point recently where any time I came near it, I cringed. It just wasn't working anymore.

As many of my projects do come at me out of the blue, one day I realized this would be an incredibly easy fix. A little paint, maybe some creative touches and rather than spending hundreds of dollars on something that might match, I could have something cute AND the distinct pleasure of having used my nail gun. That is always a win.

So, I began to take it apart. Pulled out the rickety old towels holders. Punched out the wicker side grates.

I filled in the holes left from the rods and sanded the whole thing down

Holes filled in

Whole cart sanded and ready for magic
Of course, gave it a fresh coat of paint on the bottom.

I decided that for the top, I would go for a hazy, distressed type of look. I sanded off all the old stain which left me with a soft, yellowish pine. I treated it with some wood conditioner and then put two light coats of dark grey stain on top. Then I used some gray paint and a rag and just lightly covered all that followed by two coats of poly. I LOVE the finished product. (You can see it at the end!)

Once all the paint was done, I had to fill in the missing side grates. I had a picture in my mind but wasn't actually sure what I was looking for until I ran into it in Home Depot. Aluminum sheeting. Yes. Looked around a little more until I found just the right design and with some careful measuring and cutting with Tin Snips and then some tricky arm acrobatics to get in there with the staple gun, I had new grates!

Aluminum Sheeting

Measured piece of cardboard

Tin Snips

Staple Gun

Cut and ready for the cart

I pulled out some candles I have and an old vase I had painted a few years ago, filled up one of the slots with cookbooks that have been hiding (unused) in the back of the cabinet, repurposed a basket to hold diapers and found a cute little pop of color at Target to hold my kitchen towels.

I am thrilled with the results! What used to feel like an out-of-place, somewhat functional cart now feels bright, cheerful and useful.

LOVE the top now!