Friday, April 30, 2010

Dating Your Friends

The whole of my growing up years it seems as though potential friendships were practically thrust at me. My parents moved to a neighborhood when I was just 1 year old where my two closest neighbors were two other little girls my age. Later, school started and I met people my age with similiar life goals (learn the alphabet, try not to stab your neighbor with a fork, etc.) that encouraged camaraderie and good will. You grow up and find other things in common, sometimes you make some enemies along the way. You hit college and you get this instant dose of close friends because you're living and eating together, basically becoming adults together. It's like a new form of family.

And then you graduate.

And you have to date to find friends.

Typical post college conversation with new acquaintance:

Me: So, um, you want to maybe grab coffee sometime?
Acquaintance: Sure. Um, when are you free?
Me: Oh, anytime. Um, except for all day long, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday nights and the next 4 weekends when I'll be out of town. What about you?
Acquintance: Hm. I'm not free on Mondays or Thursdays and when you get back into town I'll be leaving for a month. Maybe I'll call you when I'm back in town and we can set up a time to hangout then?
Me: Sure, sounds great. I'll look forward to it.

And then a year goes by. A year where I've probably not done a ton of hanging out with anyone I'm actually really comfortable with. I've gone on lots of little "dates" with people who are my age(or, as is often the case, 5 years younger) and still don't have a friend like those college and hometown friends. Still no one that you can just call up last minute to just hang out, who really does know you. Because making friends after college really is like dating. It's awkward, you have to plan it out and you spend the whole time wondering if you're clicking enough to even bother trying to hang out again, let alone dreaming of a time when you could just sit around in your pj's laughing together while you attempt to learn the dance to "Seize the Day" from Newsies. (Seriously, not an unlikely scenario for my college friends and I. Not saying we did it. Not saying we didn't.)

It's all compounded if you happen to be an introvert who works a job that requires you to be extremely outgoing and pursue people all day long. You go to hang out with college students all day, have tons of interesting and often pretty deep conversations about life, God and the state of the world and sometimes the last thing you have energy for when you get home at night is calling someone up and pursuing them. Inviting them on a friend date that may or may not actually happen because of the mutual chaos of your schedules.

Since we've moved to NC, I haven't had that crazy long day of pursuing people. I've often just had a day of playing with trains, snacking on goldfish and enduring tickle fights. And I'm not going to say I've become this amazing friend-maker as a result. I think I'm inherently pretty slow at it. I'm not the type of person that's ever going to have a million good friends and, as I've posted previously, I do have major issues with the phone. I just find it hard to take that first step.

But, I've seen progress. I've gone on a few of those friends dates and they've actually resulted in finding what my college roommates and I (as well as Anne of Green Gables) would call 'kindred spirits'. I've met some people I can do life with "last minute." Who are ok, I think, with me being me when we're together. As a result, I'm laughing more and smiling more. I'm reminded of just how powerful a good friendship can really be in our lives. How just being around someone we're comfortable with can really put life back into perspective somehow.

I'm told that after your 20's and early 30's it can get easier to make friends again. I hope that's true. For now, I'm thankful for the ones I already have and so excited about the new ones I'm coming to know. And I'm looking forward to the day when dating really is over with. For good.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mud Therapy

When my husband and I first bought a house 6 years ago we inherited nothing but 4 boxwoods and a big old mud pit. My gardening experience up to that point had been limited to begrudgingly weeding around my mom's shrubs and one paltry attempt at growing a few sad tomatoes. You don't get a lot of gardening opportunities in college and I learned quickly that I'm not an indoor plant kind of person.

So, like any educated but clueless person, I ventured down the street to the library. I should mention here that by library I mean a building that was smaller than my house and probably contained the same number of books as my son's bookcase, but, nonetheless, the sign said Public Library so I showed up eagerly perusing the garden section. You might imagine that a branch libary in the inner city would not have a large garden section and you'd be right. But, a few books was all I needed to at least take a risk and try planting a few things. My mom bought us a rose to plant to mark the new adventure of home-owning and moving to the city and I proudly planted it in our muddy back yard in a sad little corner, with no clue what I was doing.

Well, years passed. I read more books. I learned how to transplant, I learned how to make bulbs bloom again and again, how to plant trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Just this year I built my own plant growing system and grew all my annuals from seed. And what have I learned? Gardening is pretty darn hard work but also one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. It takes patience...when you plant a seed in January and have to wait for it to actually flower in May. When you wait for that tiny little shrub to double in size over 5 years and actually start to fill in. When you have to scrub your nails for 10 minutes every night just to try to get the dirt out from under them- I'd rather be wrist deep in dirt than use garden gloves, in case you were wondering. It just feels good, maybe some deep connection with my youth and making mud pies.

But the deeper lesson I've learned here is that mud seems to be deeply therapeutic for me. After a long day at work or a trying day of parenting, sometimes the most relaxing thing I can do is go outside, grab my shovel and dig a big hole. I'm willing to spend 6 hours in the blazing sun edging my flower beds because all the while I'm working, I'm not thinking. I'm not brooding or worrying or rehashing a conversation or planning the next 20 things I need to do. I'm just being and enjoying and I'm doing it in this beautiful creation that God has made and invited me to participate in cultivating. And weeks or months later, when I do sit down with a cup of coffee and just breathe it all in, it's beautiful. Not just because I have worked hard but because the Lord has brought me into his most beautiful visual creations. He has taught me how to care for them, to prune them, to love them...and then gifted me with the simple task of just sitting among it all in rest and joy, without agendas or lists.

A friend recently told me that people of my Myers-Briggs, ISTJ's, are often attracted to gardening because it's this chance to sort of leave all the control and need to be ordered behind and just get dirty. I see that. Being among the flowers and the earth and the worms and all the different scents that you just drink in is, for me, experiencing a kind of purity, a kind of embracing of that part of me that resists some of my more manic tendencies.

So, when I'm finally done with this season's huge task of mulching a billion flower beds, I'll continue to find new ways to cover myself with backyard mud. It seems to me to be nature's sweetest therapy. And probably, in the midst of it, I'll teach my son to make mud pies too.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Upside to Free-Falling

If you don't live next door to me, across the street or on the other side of the bed, chances are you don't hear from me much. I'm one of those people who refused for years to get a cell phone. I finally gave in only to let voicemail do most of the work for me. Most of my best friends and my family are "just a phone call away", which may as well be Venus, for all I'm good at actually reaching out.

Part of my problem is that I'd rather speak in person. I'd rather read a person's face as they are sharing or be able to interpret body language to figure out if something is sarcastic or genuine. I rarely feel emotionally connected to someone through a phone call- maybe it's because my son is chattering in my own background or every other word is cutting out and I'm just tired of saying, "I'm sorry, could you repeat that?" as if I have some inherent inability to comprehend anything said to me.

My other problem is that I have to make the choice to pick up the phone. I have to, in a moment, decide to let someone in on what is going on in my life intentionally. I can either choose to tell or choose to go on with my day. I usually choose the latter. This stood out to me particularly last week when I sent out a letter to my InterVarsity supporters. Many of the people on that list are my family and many more my friends. Had I picked up the phone to share my big news with them before that letter went out? A career decision made? Nah, let them just find out with the rest of the world. It's safer that way, right? No real questions asked, no one needing to know what else besides that is going on in my life.

One of the biggest issues I faced head-on in my sabbatical is something I still have trouble admitting. I'm desperately fearful of intimacy. In my heart of hearts, I do desire it, I do want to need people and be needed by them. At least I think I do. But it almost never plays out that way. Nine times out of ten, when I'm celebrating something or having a horrible day or need to think something through, I do it alone. I'm not even totally sure why. Oh, I'm very happy to call people up and tell them about things after the fact, though. "Yeah, last week was kinda rough, but it's all good. I'm fine. Things are great, God is good. So, how are you?" The message I think I'm probably sending is "Problem solved, I don't need you, but thanks very much for being a part of my life."

OK, closet admittance here. I watch Gray's Anatomy. And I haven't been able to figure out why I watch Gray's Anatomy until just this past week. I spent the last few years watching these episodes and feeling fascinated by the emotional immaturity and, in particular, the way that two of the main characters really push everyone else away. The ways they fear intimacy, the ways they build walls around themselves, the choices they make not to cry or not to feel. I watched this detachedly until last week when a quote really hit me and I realized I wasn't just watching them. I was identifying with them. In an episode when a lot of stuff was going wrong for almost everyone, the main character Meredith said "If there's an upside to free-falling, it's the chance you give your friends to catch you." Oh.

This past year, there has been a lot of free-falling for me. Lots of transitions, loss, fear, anger, new beginnings. Tons of uncertainty. And I've realized in the midst of it how alone I often choose to be. That I still haven't really realized that upside that Meredith was talking about. I glimpse it sometimes, I try to let people in, but I often, ultimately, choose myself. Choose to assume that people are busy, it's the wrong time to call or just choose not to take a risk and let someone possibly love me well. I keep the phone on silent or vibrate and let my voice mail do my screening. And because of this, I deny my friends the chance to catch me.

I'm not sure where to go from here. Not totally sure how to share my life better. Not even totally sure I'm ready to try. So it seems I find myself yet again at a place where it's clear that my life doesn't match up with what God would like for it and I'll have to learn anew how to trust Him in this area.

Maybe the first step is actually picking up the phone when it rings. Maybe.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Redefining Productivity

Three and a half years ago my life was forever changed. Now, all parents say that the advent of parenthood is an adjustment or something you're never actually ready for. For me, the word adjustment is an understatement. The things I valued most in life seemed to come under direct attack from this tiny little helpless person. Independence, productivity, personal space and comfort. Sleep and regular food consumption, for that matter. I sometimes think of those first few months of my son's life as my own personal dark ages. Don't get me wrong. I love my child and am eternally grateful for him. But in those first few months, when I had a newborn that wouldn't nurse, barely slept and screamed if he was ever put down, night and day, I did not generally respond favorably to those people in my life who would look at my child and say "Isn't he just the sweetest little miracle?" Honestly, I loved him dearly but what I thought when I looked at him was "holy crap, this is a freakin' bucketload of work and if I don't sleep soon I'll probably either drive my car off the road or scream at one of my students who complains of being tired." Oh wait, I did do that last one. Multiple times.

Needless to say, parenthood has been unexpected. I've learned that I'm not really a baby person. I'm ok with this- I guess not all people can naturally be good with babies. I love my 3 year old. I love being able to talk and race and play baseball. I love singing and dancing. I love that he is a human being who can, generally, be reasoned with. The first 6 months of his life were really hard. I felt like all I could do was survive- feed him, keep him clean and dry and not screaming- and then scrape by in the rest of my life. Staff life suffered, personal relationships suffered, and I beat myself up over it.

Something my husband has said over and over to me in the past few years is that there has to be a redefinition of success. I've tried over and over to continue to live my life at the same speed, with the same extracurricular commitments since becoming a mom. Most of that has ended in what feels like either mediocrity or failure. I think this is because I've tried to measure my success with the same parameters of my pre-mom days. So those days when all I have done is lain on the couch with a sick child on my chest, changed diapers and then paced the halls at night have been the hardest. What did I accomplish? What do I have to show for it, right? And, for goodness sake, what about my time with God? Where the heck do "quiet times" fit in when your kid gets up at 5:30 and then demands attention all day long until you hit the point when he's finally asleep and all you literally have energy for is crawling into your bed? Sometimes without your teeth brushed.

So, redefinition is critical. Not just my husband but other wise people have helped me to think through this. Helped me to think through having grace towards myself in a new season of life. To know that it's ok if my prayer life only consists of prayers said while pushing a kid in a stroller or that worship music in the car is my new lifeline for personal devotions. That feeding and clothing and loving a child is beyond productive and it doesn't matter if I've written a darn thing or even washed the family's clothes.

Occasionally, now that my son is three, I do end up with these long stretches of time where he's being unexpectedly independent. I can get things done on the computer, do laundry, even attempt to keep the house clean in my own pathetically un-domestic way. And I think back and wonder what the heck I did with all my free time. Because now when it comes, it's like a frantic race to see how much I can possibly accomplish before I hear the words "Mommy, will you play with me?" again. And I am able to "produce" exponentially more than I think I ever did before in very short snatches of time. In those moments, I have to fight to not redefine my day by what I can show for it. I'm a slow learner when it comes to grace, so I'm thankful that God continues to put people in my path who help remind me that I'm where I should be and doing what I should do.

So, when I wake up each morning, my prayer and hope is not that I accomplish a lot that day, but that whatever I do, I do it as unto the Lord. Potty training, writing talks for large groups, cooking dinner, praying with a friend over the phone. Even cleaning up dog vomit. Because this is the day that the Lord has made and I will choose to rejoice, be glad in it and let God continue to redefine how I measure success.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Big Bellies, Beautiful Babies and My Easter

I woke up this morning in full expectation of a glorious Easter. It's practically summer already in NC, which means I've had my hands deep in rich, dark earth on a daily basis, I'm back to running and we haven't had the heat turned on in weeks. So, this morning, I dressed in a somewhat Eastery dress, packed up the family and headed to church. The first thing I saw upon exiting my car was a very pregnant woman and, much to my chagrin, it just hit me like a ton of bricks. After that, it seemed like every woman who walked down the aisle had a big old pregnant belly right at my eye level and everyone surrounding me had a newborn baby, cute as could be in a ridiculously frilly summer dress and clamoring for attention. Suddenly, I was in the land of envy, longing for something over which I have no control.

The last two months I've been on a fast. Some might have deduced what said fast was about by reading through the lines of posts, but basically I vowed that for two months I would not think, plan or pray about a second child. I handed the praying over to trusted friends and said that anytime the thought, the longing came into my path, I'd divert my prayers and focus elsewhere. Sometimes this worked well and I found myself really engaged in prayer or planning in something else and other times it was just a fight to keep the baby thoughts out of my head. There were moments I was at peace with never having another child and other moments that the desire was so strong I thought I'd stop breathing for how much I wanted one. Bottom line, though, was that I thought I was making progress. I thought God was really teaching me how to not focus on this biggest of desires, how to seek Him in the moments of being overwhelmed and to, somehow, lessen that desire.

So, this morning, when my Easter ended up consumed by jealousy, distracted by big bellies and beautiful babies, I was angry. Angry at what I felt like was a waste of two months of my life. The first day that I'm off this fast and already I end up jealous and discouraged? What were the last two months for? And to not be able to truly engage with the message this morning, with the beautiful music? Easter only comes around once a year and I essentially missed it.

I think I came off this fast thinking I'd be a lot better at denying myself, but this is why fasting is so hard and why I think we often shy away from it or end up discouraged. It doesn't necessarily work an instant miracle- it was a chance for me to experience God in a fresh way for two months, to deny myself thinking about my most wanted desire in favor of other things and to have a chance to enter into some hard areas for me to process and pray that had nothing at all to do with my fertility. It most assuredly worked change in me that I can't even yet see, but it certainly didn't make my will perfect. It's not meant to, but oh how I wish it would! Oh how I wish that when I saw that beautiful woman in the parking lot, my first thought was one of selfless rejoicing for her gift and not of pitiable self-focus on my own lack thereof.

Nonetheless, in a way, I'm almost thankful that I had such a bad morning. It reminded me that I didn't "do" anything these past two months. God did. And He continues to work in me in ways that I cannot feel and cannot know. Yet. I am confident that as He and I continue to work this junk out that there will be times when I can be selfless and rejoice for people who have that one thing that I so long for. I am also confident that in those moments when I fail, when I give into my selfishness, that He will stick by me, forgive me, pick me up out of that sin and keep me moving forward into new life.

Maybe, just maybe, I didn't totally miss out on Easter after all.