Sunday, December 6, 2015
When we lived on Hazel Ave. there was a widow, Betty, who lived nearby that would stop and chat with us when we were working out in the front yard. If we walked by her house she would pop out to say hello, and once she even stopped in the middle of the road for a moment as she was driving by while I was watching Bennett jump in puddles, tiny Ainsleigh snuggled up in the Ergo.
I sensed her loneliness. I understood her grief. I wanted to connect, but aside from a Christmas basket drop off last year, and a few conversations, it never happened. We spoke often in the weeks leading up to our move. The weather was warm, and she would walk by most days. Just before we moved she dropped a letter through our mailbox asking for our forwarding address. I left a note with our information in her mailbox as we left the neighborhood for our new home.
Shortly after moving into our new house I decided to try keeping up a relationship with Betty. We wrote short letters back and forth for a couple months. Betty provided her number at the bottom of every letter, but I didn't call her because I am terrible on the phone. Just the thought of calling someone makes my stomach ache, never mind actually picking up the phone and dialing a number.
In one letter I invited her to our new home for lunch. After a long stretch of time passed she wrote back to say she had been ill. I was concerned enough after reading her letter I tried to call her, but she was busy, running out the door, or on her way somewhere, and asked me to call back.
I didn't call back for a month. I thought, she's too busy, she obviously doesn't need more people in her life, you thought she was lonely, but obviously she's fine, it would probably be awkward to have her over for a meal, you hardly know her ....
On a bitterly cold morning at the end of November I felt enough courage - and shame at how much time had passed - to call again. I was relieved when the call went to voicemail. I was grateful it was now up to Betty to decide if we were going to continue to communicate.
The following night I was lying on the couch after a long, exhausting day. I had been ill all day, the kids had been kids, and I had to keep up with them even though I didn't feel my best. I was wiped out. Phsyically and emotionally. I could feel the absence of Charlotte in the house as I stared at the lights on the freshly decorated Christmas tree. I was finishing a mug of tea, just about ready to kick my blanket off my feet and shuffle to bed (at 8:00! I was feeling really ill) when my phone rang.
It was Betty.
I stared at the phone for a moment before answering, my stomach jumping nervously. I almost didn't answer, afraid the conversation might be awkward, or strained, but I am so glad I chose to accept the call.
When Betty converses she shoots from one topic to another like a pinball set loose in a cacophonous machine, and it requires quite a bit of energy to keep up with her ricocheting thoughts. We talked about the kids, our new home, and a few other things before we began talking about grief. Betty spoke of her late husband for a while. She talked about what it was like when he died, and what the first year without him was like.
I held the nest necklace I had recently purchased ( a quiet way to keep all three of my children near me) in my hand and listened to her speak while the weight of my own grief descended on my shoulders. I touched the eggs inside the nest - one, two, three - then I took a deep breath and told her about Charlotte. I thought she knew the vague outline of what had happened to Charlotte, but she didn't even have an inkling. As I told her my story of grief she listened with sympathy and understanding.
Earlier in the evening I had been reading a storybook Bible to Ainsleigh on the couch. She squished in next to me, placed the Bible in my lap, patted the cover and said, "Bible," so I read to her. After every page she said, "more Bible," so I kept reading to her, page after page after page until her head dropped onto my shoulder and she began rubbing her eyes.
I was so sad all day, and that moment was like hope crystallized for me. It was like God saw me and knew I needed a reminder that while the month of December is really sad for me, it's also a really good season when we celebrate a pure light coming into our broken world.
And then Betty called and I again felt like God saw me. God is the greatest Comforter. We are to turn to Him when we feel broken and lost, and He will give us grace and peace. It might be through a little girl, or a widow, or a complete stranger, but He will give us what we need in every moment and situation.
I needed to talk about Charlotte that night. I didn't know I needed to until I put the phone down, but with each word that came out I felt a little more peace and calm enter my heart. I needed to pass her story on. I needed to talk about how hard the sixth Christmas is without her to someone who is trying to make it through a third Christmas without a loved one. And so God provided.
Isn't that amazing?
I left our old neighborhood feeling like I was escaping a place I didn't belong. Everyone was so well connected, and I felt so adrift. Some of that is definitely up to me. There were times I didn't cross the street when I could have. There were moments I could have tried harder to connect, but I didn't because I was worried I wouldn't fit in. A lot of people were close, and I chose to make friendships elsewhere, because I didn't feel welcome.
But when I moved out of the neighborhood, a couple relationships stayed with me. I felt so certain I was on the outside I didn't realize being in the center isn't everything. Often one or two meaningful relationships are worth far more than five shallow ones. I have to be friends with people who will let me have the space to be me. Truly me. Emotionally shattered through most of December me. I lost the ability to be false when Charlotte died. I just don't have the energy. Life is far too short for pretense.
You might not fit where you think you should fit, but there is a place for you, your heart, your spirit, your unique sense of humor, and your incredible, radiant self. Don't confuse someone else's place for yours. And don't expect all of you to match up perfectly with all of someone else. Yes you need the twenty-four hour friend, but you need the phone call every few weeks from the person who lives two miles away and sends the occasional letter just as much.
Satan wants us to focus on where we don't fit in, but Jesus wants us to see, and know, how much we matter and where we belong. If you feel small, or left out, marginalized in any way, believe me, that is Satan. He likes it when you feel small, because it stirs up feelings of anger and jealousy. God likes it when you feel loved and cared for, because you are His child and He loves you immensely
Friday, December 4, 2015
God placed a need to be in community on my heart this year, and then he led me to a place where that need could begin to be filled.
Our church is BIG. It's not mega-church big, but coming from fairly small churches I find it big, and a little intimidating. For years I wanted to get involved with a community group so we could get to know a few people well, but I didn't know how to go about doing so.
When we moved to our new home in June it was empty aside from a fridge in the kitchen, and a washer and dryer in the utility room. We didn't ask for the washer or dryer in the contract, and ours were newer and in better shape, so we decided to get rid of them.
We were going to sell them on Craigslist, but then I thought it might be easier to call the church and see if anyone was in need. Within a couple days we had a new home lined up for the washer and dryer.
Two men I didn't know very well came to pick up the set and deliver it to its new home as a favor to the person who needed it. We chatted for a while in the driveway, then the subject of Saturday night church came up.
"We have a community group that meets Thursday nights. It's all West Salem families who attend Saturday night services," one of the men said. "Would you like to join us when we start up again in the fall?"
I said we would be very interested, we chatted a few moments more, and then they headed off to complete their delivery.
I was really excited to have a prayer I had been praying for a long time answered through a chance meeting via an abandoned washer and dryer.
And then we went to the first meeting when the group resumed this fall.
We were the only ones with young kids. We were the only ones who brought our kids to the group. And they did not behave. AT ALL.
Bennett and Ainsleigh were up and down the stairs, through the banisters and onto the back of the couch, and into everything. I was horrified by their behavior. The other members of the group were remarkably kind. One couple has five grown boys while another couple has four grown children, so they understand kids, but still we needed to make changes if we were going to attend.
Having kids is so humbling, isn't it?
One of our main issues was the time. 7:00 on a Thursday night is really, really late for our kids. Ainsleigh is in bed by 7:00 most nights, if not 6:00 or 6:30. Every group meeting the kids were bouncing off the walls because they were exhausted.
After weeks of trial and error, and a lot of frustration, and feeling like we should give up, we figured out a routine that works some of the time: a snack, a show on my phone, a baby gate for the stairs, a pacifier for Ainsleigh, and a willingness to bail if things get too crazy. There's also been some discussion about moving things to our home so the kids can go to bed while me meet. Everyone is willing to work around us, which is really nice and considerate.
It's been really good for us to get involved in a group and spend time in prayer and study with other couples from our church. It's also been really challenging. I admit, I often don't want to go, because I know it's going to be rough, but I always benefit from our meetings.
At the beginning of the year when I prayed for God to show me how to be in community I had no idea I would be part of a great community group at the end of the year. Sometimes an answer to prayer comes quietly and quickly, other times it comes slowly but with great force. This was one answer even I couldn't miss, or mistake for something else.
When I was worried about moving I asked God to be with me, and remind me that He had a plan for our family and would place us where He wanted us. With every sale that fell through, and with every challenge we faced I asked God to place us in the neighborhood and home He waned us to be in.
We've lived here a few months and I've been astonished by the number of people from our church and Bennett's preschool class (who don't attend our church) that surround us in all directions. But that's how God works. He astonishes. He amazes. And if we ask him to place His hands on our lives He'll send us where we need to be.
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
The first house Jon and I bought was a small bungalow built in 1939. It was 1,400 square feet with an unfinished basement, but the top floor was one giant room, which equaled a lot of wasted space for our family because of the way we live.
I didn't feel like we could entertain very often, because the house was so small. Coming from the bedroom hallway into the kitchen was such a tight squeeze I found myself wedged between the counter and pantry at the end of my second pregnancy!
When the housing market improved we decided to sell our house in the hope of finding a home that fit our family a little better. I wanted to have friends and family over without feeling like the house might burst at the seams.
See, I'm a paradox. I love to entertain. I enjoy feeding people, and spending time around a big table with food debris piled high in the middle, stomachs full and conversation flowing. That is my idea of a great evening, BUT, I'm an introvert. So for every great evening I need three days of recovery (preferably alone with a stack of books and tea - iced or warm). With two children this is nearly impossible, but when we found our new home, and I saw how much room we would have to entertain, I knew I would have to figure out a way to decompress with two children running up and down the halls with endless amounts of energy, because at this time in my life I feel God calling - and pushing me - to live in community.
What does that mean?
I don't think living in community means going out and making new friends. Or trying to force friendships with people that don't fit you or your personality well. Living in community can mean making new friends, but it often means engaging your people, the ones who are already in your life. And if you claim you don't have time for friends - old or new - or community, I suggest you re-prioritize your life. Creating friendships outside our marriages is so important for individual growth and a healthy life. Couple friends are important as well, but I need my girls like I need food and water.
And while one aspect of living in community involves engaging the people I already know and care for, I think a secondary aspect involves throwing open the front door, so to speak, and loving every. single. person I encounter as Jesus would. And in those encounters going beyond the basics and being brave enough to step out in faith and share Christ's love so that everyone I cross paths with has the opportunity to know Christ and enter into the forever community that is waiting for believers in heaven.
I am not so great at living out that paragraph ^^ up there. I have a lot of growing to do, so, that's what I'm going to write about for a while. Living in community. Being in community. Creating new communities, and enjoying the established ones. I know it's been a while since this blog has been a regular thing, but I hope you'll join me as I try to write regularly again.