Faith, Grace

Friendship For All Seasons

girl-690614_960_720I walked through the chilly evening dark and got into the car without a diaper bag. I turned on music that I like – which at this point is anything that’s not songs from Sesame Street – and I headed out to visit a friend and watch The Bachelor. As the pregnant mom of a toddler, this felt like the ultimate luxury.

The night was glorious—we sampled chunks of orange-infused dark chocolate and snuggled in cozy blankets on her soft brown leather couch and giggled at the ridiculousness of the show. During commercial breaks we chatted about life.

She updated me on her job and life in her new house. I updated her on pregnancy and toddlerhood. Our lives, each busy and all-consuming, are in such different seasons right now, and for that I am grateful. To me, her perspective is as refreshing as the cool quiet of the night, as welcome as the absence of Cheerios stuck to the couch.

The funny thing is, this friend and I only recently connected for the first time over coffee a couple of weeks back. We’ve seen each other at church, we have mutual friends, and we’ve always talked about getting together, but as often happens, life has gotten in the way.

When she learned we are moving away in just a matter of months (can it really be less than half a year?), she told me she didn’t care; she wanted to get to know me anyway and it was about time we got coffee.

What a gift. It’s a radical, beautiful, irrational thing, to invest in a person right before you part ways.

It’s easy for me to start to fear the move, to begin to grieve for the friendships I’ll be losing before they’re even lost to me (I hate to say the word “lost,” because in this age of Facebook and Facetime people aren’t really lost, but it still takes a lot of time and understanding to keep friendships afloat once you no longer live close by).

It’s easy for me to start distancing myself from those I care about, those I’ve invested in and who have invested in me, thinking Why does it even matter? We’re moving soon anyway. It’s easy to instead reach out to friends who don’t live here, to remind myself that, as difficult as it can be, time and distance don’t have to end friendships. And perhaps to convince myself that if the friendships I have made here don’t stand the test of time (many will), at least I have others in my corner, however far away they may be.

So then why does it also feel easy to let someone else in, even this late in the game?

I’ve been thinking about Jesus, how he was often a stranger in a strange land. He didn’t settle down and build a community around himself and build relationships that were tied to a particular place. He had a purpose and a mission and he lived it out in the places he was called. Along the way, he made deep, meaningful connections with others by simply seeing them, hearing them, and loving them in a way that showed how much he valued each one.

“Love your neighbor,” he said. And when your neighborhood is constantly changing, it becomes especially clear that the word “neighbor” means whoever is currently nearby.

In this way, my new friend has loved me like Jesus. It may not seem that profound, but it is, kind of. She sought me out; she made me feel loved and welcomed me into her home. We haven’t solved any of the world’s problems (yet) but we have started to share a little of our hearts (and our opinions about over-produced reality television). We’ve shared laughter (and chocolate). It’s such a simple thing, really, to reach out to someone and make them feel seen. Perhaps not an easy thing—in fact, it’s quite brave—but a simple thing, nonetheless. I want to be that kind of friend to others, no matter where I live and no matter how long my stay.

Because in the end, it’s in the experience of this kind of love, and this kind of community, that God reminds us of who he is: a God who sees, a God who values, a God who longs for relationship. Made in his image, it’s no wonder we crave the things he offers so generously.

So tonight, as my new friend and I meet once more and giggle together—this time on my Cheerio-covered couch—I will remember who sent her and who he is calling me to be, no matter the season.

Originally appeared on All In

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Identity

Sabbatical (or, how this all came to be)

Sabbatical or a sabbatical (from Latin sabbaticus, from Greek sabbatikos, from Hebrew shabbat, i.e., Sabbath, literally a “ceasing”) is a rest from work, or a hiatus, often lasting from two months to a year. The concept of sabbatical has a source in shmita, described several places in the Bible (Leviticus 25, for example, where there is a commandment to desist from working the fields in the seventh year). 

Have you ever taken one of those stress tests that tells you how likely you are to come down with an illness or get in an accident? Well, I did in the fall of 2012 and learned that I was pretty much expected to drop dead at any given moment. I know that sounds melodramatic, but those tests don’t lie.

In the previous year, I had moved a total of three times (one cross-country), gotten married, and embarked on a long-distance relationship with my husband, who was on rotation for medical school out of state. I now had (lovely! but very new) in-laws. I was telecommuting from DC for my employer in Seattle, which meant long hours at home, alone, in a different time zone from my team. Occasionally I would travel to be with my husband while he was training out of state, bringing my work with me (which was a blessing – but if any of you have ever worked out of a hotel room, imagine doing that for three weeks straight). We were involved in a community church, serving on the worship team and the youth ministry, but most of the women I befriended there were new moms (and if you’ve ever wished for a baby while being surrounded by babies, you’ll know how bittersweet and beautiful that gift of friendship can be). My husband’s schedule was inconsistent and unpredictable, and when he had free time, he wanted to train for the half marathon we had signed up for – something that was exciting and challenging, but also completely out of my comfort zone.

My husband was in the process of applying for Army medical residency programs, so we knew that in the summer of 2013 we’d be moving to Georgia, Texas, or Washington – each of which offered unique benefits, but were so different from one another it was impossible to compare.  We had to wait three (seemingly) endless months to find out where we’d be sent for the next three years – to find out where we’d be buying a house and putting down roots as deeply and as quickly as we possibly could before moving once again.

With a year of marriage under my belt, I was so thankful for the time I had with my husband, but was wrestling with a deep dissatisfaction with our home life – mostly because I felt like a failure as a wife. Working from home made it seem like cooking and cleaning and nurturing would be easier, since my office was just upstairs. But the convergence of two worlds made it very hard for me to give 100% to anything I was doing. (It’s worth noting here that my husband is The Most Gracious Man Alive – the pressure to be the “perfect wife” was not coming from him in the slightest. It was all me.)

I dreamed of the day I’d get pregnant so I could quit my job and devote my time to home and family. I was a little bit concerned that these dreams of family were partly a wish for escape. I was working all the time. When I wasn’t working, I was worrying about whether I should be working. The job itself was a great opportunity – I was challenged, encouraged, and allowed a great deal of freedom to do work in my sweet spot (and, hello – in my sweatpants!). In moments of great clarity I knew that the stress and this pressure I was experiencing were mostly coming from my own head, whispered from old tapes that told me I would never be good enough, smart enough, or confident enough.

Worst of all, I had no margin in my life. I worked, I slept, I ran, I collapsed in front of the TV with my husband. No time for interruptions, unexpected phone calls, favors requested. I wasn’t living the life I knew I’ve been called to live.

I longed to do the work I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a very small child – to write creatively. To set my own hours. To have space and time for creative expression, the cultivation of lasting relationships, and the joy of a life fully lived.

One day, while on a business trip to Seattle, I had dinner with a friend and told her all of this. She asked me very simply what I would do if I learned I had only 6 months to live. I blinked. I told her I would quit my job, no question. I’d spend time with my husband. I’d write. I’d visit my family and have coffee dates with girlfriends. She then asked me if I would ever consider taking time off of work, at least for a season. I stared back at her. A sabbatical was a lovely idea. But for me? Could I really? She urged me to write it all out, share with my husband, and pray about it. Why not? (This makes it all sound so simple and rational but if my life were an old Ally McBeal episode, you’d see my head exploding into a dazzling display of fireworks right about…now.)

That night, back at my old roommate’s house, I poured a big glass of wine and sat down to write out my “Sabbatical Proposal Plan.” It included a summary of my thought process, a timeline of activities, and goals for my time off of work. It had bullets and subheaders and was very fancy. I emailed it to my husband and asked if we could schedule a time to talk about said proposal. He (who had actually told me before the Seattle trip he wanted me healthy and if that meant quitting my job, so be it) graciously took this product of manic processing in stride and told me he supported me one hundred percent. (See previous note about The Most Gracious Man Alive.)

Within a month, after working out the details, I resigned after 5 years on the job. It was a terrifying leap of faith. As much as I knew in my heart this was the right decision, I was saying goodbye to a company and to co-workers I had known for half of my working life. No longer would I be defined by what I did between the hours of 9 and 5. When meeting new people I found myself flabbergasted as I described my new situation: “I am….currently not working? Because….it seemed the right time to take a break?” And strangely (though perhaps unsurprisingly) I discovered a newfound sort of internal pressure: to use my free time wisely, to not squander this precious gift, to make sure friends and family knew how productive and creative I could be when not encumbered by a “real job.” I also began worrying that my ridiculously gracious and generous husband would soon begin to resent the fact that I wasn’t contributing financially (especially on those days he returned home and I was still in my pj’s, unshowered, surrounded by books and coffee mugs and no food in the fridge, much less a plan for dinner).

It’s amazing the lies we’ll listen to, no matter our circumstances.

In the weeks and months that followed, I was amazed at the doors that began to open. Now, after a home bought, another cross-country move, a wedding, a funeral, a two-week trip to Europe, several visits to family and friends, and the time and space to read and sleep and think and run when I want to, I am slowly adding to my plate what I choose. (Awesome new job! Amazing friends! Adventures galore! Stay tuned for more exciting details…)

And this blog? It was on the Proposal Plan. Nine months later – the significance of this does not escape me – I am ready to create, to begin something new. Writing (somewhat) creatively in my sweatpants, pondering what it means to find identity as a woman, a believer, a wife, daughter, and friend. I’m hoping to explore where I’ve come from, where I am, and where I’m headed – and what it looks like to live in the midst of all of that, all the while wrestling with the conviction that I am a beloved child of God. My prayer is that if you walk alongside me, my story will touch yours. And you’ll find comfort, grace, and with God’s help – a challenge or two.

Thanks for reading,

e

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Identity

Through a child’s eyes

The other night I attended a potluck barbecue hosted by my new friend, Jess. It was one of those perfect Pacific Northwest summer evenings when the blue fades to gold and the air takes on a shimmer that seems to promise the season will never end. Jess was the loveliest, most gracious hostess and spent the evening refilling glasses of sweet strawberry sangria, praising her friends’ cooking, and making sure we all had a chance to play horseshoes or corn hole."arin" by nina

It was while I was playing my first round of corn hole that I first noticed Nina. Perched on a stool, brown eyes sparkling, she giggled with a friend and offered commentary on our game. Now let’s be clear about something: I am not good at games like corn hole. (Or darts. Or bowling. Or mini golf.) True, sometimes I’ll have a night when I get the bean bags in that hole again and again and again (this may have something to do with what Jess referred to as the “beer-in-one-hand” balancing system). But not usually. Most of the time, I am consistently, objectively bad at these types of games. One friend recently said “you’re very precise…you’re just not always accurate.”

Life lesson there, perhaps?

Anyway, the night of the barbecue, I was very precisely lobbing my bean bags up into the air and onto the grass just short of the corn hole board. And sparkly, giggly, seven-year-old Nina was bouncing up and down on her stool, offering us encouragement and occasionally bursting into song.

“Oooohh….you almost got it! So close! Toniiiiiiiiight….weeee are you-uuuuung! YEAH! I’m gonna play the next game and I’m going to be on YOUR team.” She grinned right at me.

Was she for real? Was she mocking me? I couldn’t be sure. But in the face of her bright-eyed, Fun!-singing youth, I felt decidedly uncool. And old.

And was I really comparing myself with a seven-year-old? I turned my focus back to the game.

Later, I noticed Lee, another lovely new friend, talking with Nina in conspiratorial tones. As I got closer, I realized Nina was schooling Lee on all things Nina. And she wasn’t just telling Lee – she was inviting her to engage with her, to evaluate her, and to guess.

“What is my favorite color?” (Turquoise)

“What is my favorite thing to do?” (Put on makeup)

“What is my favorite fruit?” (Watermelon)

She was so joyful, serene, and confident that we all wanted to know her, to delight in her. I laughed. She was delightful! Of course we delighted in her. And yet…her confidence made me uneasy. How was it, in the face of this buoyant, beautiful child, I could feel so threatened and insecure? Was I really comparing myself to a seven year old? Again?

In retrospect, I realize I spent a lot of time that night comparing myself and my own perceived inadequacies against  the strengths I saw in pretty much every other female at the party. I was on high alert – we had just moved across the country, to a new town. These women were the wives of my husband’s fellow Army hospital interns; I wanted to make a good impression but was in such a funk I felt certain to fail. One woman entered  with such beauty and grace she could have been a celebrity. And I thought, Gosh, I feel so frumpy and clumsy. How does she just glide around like that? One woman told me about juggling kids and a new pregnancy with the responsibilities she has as leader of one of the Army’s Family Readiness Groups. And I thought, Gee, she is so selfless and giving and speaks about her life with such humility. Why am I not involved like that? Others manned the grill (why can’t I cook?) or laughed easily with strangers (why am I so introverted?).

By the time twilight descended I had decided I was the least interesting person at the party.

All self-pity and social  anxiety aside (because really, that’s what this was), I had also decided that Nina was the most interesting person at the party. She really was. That kind of confidence and joy is magnetic.

After tiring of the questions game, Nina picked up her colored pencils and began to sketch a portrait of Lee. Portrait Lee had long eyelashes, strawberry blond hair, sassy earrings, and eyes that twinkled. In short, it was Lee. Nina, the child artist prodigy, then turned to me and said, “Ok, Erin, you’re next.”

We often laugh about the incisive honesty of children, but much of the time, we don’t like to recognize what they see in us.  In their art, we may end up with crows feet or a hunchback or dressed completely in black with hair coming out of our noses.

I was terrified of what she would see in me.

But Nina was gracious. She sketched me warm and open and kind. She saw through my insecurities to the genuine delight I found in her sweet spirit and chose to focus on that. In that moment, as silly as it may seem, it felt I had made a true friend.

And it makes me wonder: how much simpler would life be if we saw through to the heart of people, and that’s all we concerned ourselves with? If we saw them as a child sees them? As God sees them? As the best version of themselves?

What if we saw ourselves that way? What if we could wake up each morning and walk confidently knowing we were designed to be exactly the way we are…and that despite our imperfections (anxieties, habit of playing the comparison game), know we are worthy of delight?

I’m not sure it’s possible, but it’s certainly worth a try.

Here’s to Nina, and here’s to all of you childlike spirits who’ve graciously seen the best in me, even when I couldn’t.

xoxo,

e

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