Giving and Receiving Life

Recently at work, when sending an email to over 60 people, I made an innocent but dreadful, mortifying mistake. While I was writing the message, intending to send it with Mail Merge, I didn’t realize Word was tracking all the changes, and the message went out with red lines and replaced red words all over it. It looked like a something a child would do. It looked confusing and ugly and awful, not like an informative message.

I saw the first message in my sent items, in shock and disbelief and horror, and started wailing. Loudly. Luckily, the office was empty except for Lucy, who came running. I showed her the garbled messages, still trickling into my sent items. “I’m so sorry,” she said, and started rubbing my shoulders. “It’s really going to be ok.” But I couldn’t believe her, and the shoulder rubbing wasn’t calming me down.

Then my phone rang. It was one of the recipients. “I just got your email, and in case I was the first person you sent it to, it looks like there’s some problem with it.” I wailed and whimpered to her, and she was very sympathetic, and while we were still talking, my inbox pinged. It was from another recipient: “Am I supposed to respond to this?” His bluntness and confusion tickled my fragile emotions, and I started howling with laughter. Thankfully, it was a perfect storm in that my message showed simple, honest editing, and nothing incriminating.

But still. It took me at least 24 hours to recover.

Later, Lucy told me, “I felt so bad that I couldn’t help you feel better and that it was someone else who made you laugh.”

But Lucy was wrong because she HAD helped me enormously. She’d run to my desk the second she heard me wail. She’d asked questions and heard me out. She kept me from needing to process the stress alone. That was what I’d really needed in that moment. Later that evening, she brought it up again to see how I was.

There are older and wiser people who’ve said this with more explanation and insight, but my simple way of saying it is: Women need to talk about their experiences, and an experience isn’t complete until they talk about it.

What Lucy did that evening is one example of what many good, wise, solid, life-giving people have done for me all my life.

Talking is how we experience life. We tell about the details, the best parts, the worst parts, the emotions, and our responses to an experience. We tell the back story and the spin offs and the lingering questions. Sometimes we get a bad rap for it and sometimes we deserve that, but usually we’re just women experiencing life more broadly by talking about what just happened.

We tell someone about what just happened because we can’t just stay quiet about it. It happens every day all over the world:

  • letters, texts, and status updates
  • school children coming home from school talking about the day
  • pictures and crummy, topsy-turvy, jerky videos sent to friends
  • strangers talking to strangers in waiting rooms and grocery check out lines
  • phone calls and Whatsapp voice messages

I hear and read:

  • in a Facebook group post: “This is off topic, but I just had to tell someone.”
  • “Can I tell you about what happened when I was at home?”
  • “Thanks for listening. I just had to talk about it. I feel better now.”

The internet takes this to another level and feeds on our inherent narcissism and loneliness, but I want to say that it also taps into what is innately human: that we are more whole and balanced when we tell someone else about our experience.

I’m not promoting navel gazing and endless self-expression. I’m not encouraging everyone to start an Instagram account. I’m saying we are better people for getting out what’s simmering inside, and when we tell someone about it.

That’s why journaling is so therapeutic. It’s why children want to tell about what they saw on their walk to the barn. It’s why I tell my friend how blue the sky is. It’s why debriefing after a traumatic or unusual event is so healing. (It’s why I LOVE Whatsapp: I can talk to my friend about what’s going on and she can respond when she has time, and I don’t feel like I’m imposing on her.)

Sometimes you don’t have time or energy or opportunity in the moment to talk about what’s troubling you or making you ecstatic, but at some point, it needs to come out. There are women who talk all the time only about themselves. That’s not wise or healthy. There are seasons when you feel consumed with your latest crisis and be more needy than you like, but hopefully that’s a season, not the shape of your life. In the talking and processing, it’s a good rule of thumb to talk to someone, or write them about whatever is simmering, or journal it out, before putting any of it on the interwebs.

There are two sides to this kind of life-giving exchange: the speaking and the listening.

If we live life better and more fully when we talk, we also offer life to others when we give them opportunities to talk. It’s very simple. It just takes time and ears and lots of heart. Oh yes–and staying quiet and not finishing the other person’s sentences are skills I’m working on. I think the most whole woman has people she talks to and people she listens to.

I think about what I’ve heard from those inviting me to talk:

  • I want to hear what happened yesterday!
  • You said something about ________. Tell me more.
  • What did you mean when you said that?
  • What are you feeling now?

We can give life with words like these.

Women are good at talking and we are designed to be life-givers. What would happen if more of us would give and receive life by inviting and listening well, and also giving ourselves permission to talk to someone else?

I wonder.

What I Like About Guys Mills

When I told my wordsy and brainy friend Shari that I felt stuck and unable to blog, she gave me a list of things I could write about. That list will likely be the spring board for future posts like this one.

When I first started thinking about what I like about Guys Mills, the tiny crossroads where I’ve been living the last 3 years, I wanted to be snarky. I wanted to say that the good thing about Guys Mills is that there are roads leading out of it.

But when I started looking for the genuinely nice things about this swampy outback, I found several endearing qualities.

My very favorite thing about this place is that when I’m outside at noon and 6:00 PM, the church bells play a hymn and chime the hour. It heartens me to know that someone is beautifying the world that way.

The bells are in the cupolo on on the far horizon in this picture that I took this evening on my walk home.

Another thing I love about Guys Mills is that the post mistress is the happiest, smiliest lady I’ve ever met in a post office. The place is dingy and very ordinary a far as post offices go, but she is beaming and positive and beyond helpful. “I LOVE my job!”she told me. “On Saturdays I do some things around the place then go across the road and drink coffee with my friend on the front porch of the store while I watch for customers.”

Except she’s not on the front porch during this polar vortex, but she’s still happy in her job and serving us superbly.

If I’d have a new drone to try out around here, there are locals who would shoot it down first and ask questions later. When I walk around the block, I’ve seen enough shady characters that make me always stay vigilant. But at the most decrepit house, the owner always waves politely at me and shushes his barking dogs so they won’t bother me. And the snaggletooth mechanic has given me excellent service for which I’ve been deeply grateful. And another mechanic up the road treats my car as if I’m his daughter.

I’m seeing a pattern here.

The people who program and maintain and care about the church bells.

The delightful post mistress.

The respectful, rough-looking man.

The careful mechanics who make sure my car is safe.

The things I love about this sleepy little place aren’t things but people.

I kinda like that. Because maybe it means that even if it’s winter for 6 months and the deer are constant threats to road/car safety and the sky isn’t big where I live, there are people around, and where there are people, there’s a significant level of dignity and beauty which is really what my soul is hungry for.

Melancholy and Dazzling Light

brian-patrick-tagalog-676635-unsplash

Closing down one year and turning the page to another always makes me a simmering mess of melancholy and excited, reliving sweet memories, shuddering at hard memories, anticipating and apprehensive and curious about what’s next.

Writing things out helps unscramble the mass of the months and moments, sifts the favorites from the non-favorites, and reminds me of what is true.

Here is a sanitized, public-reader-appropriate list of 2018’s high points. Those closest to me know the crazy and the agony parts, the hysterical and impossible and guffawing and sparkling moments that we shared this year. But that stays with us. This list is neither chronological nor ordered in priority, but savored, round and round, like pearls on a string.

2018

  • Introducing 40 women to doodling at a women’s retreat. Helping them find their inner artist.
  • Traveling to KS with friends and singing in a concert for Nelson & Hannah’s wedding.
  • Tea with mentor friends, late, after an age-long day. Tears. Decision. Unutterable peace.
  • Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterworth
  • 2 visits to NYC.
  • A Makers Weekend where a pile of friends made stuff and talked and ate food and talked and talked.
  • A late-night invitation to neighbors on my birthday. Fire and jackets and stories. Laughter and star light.
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • A week auditing a Christian anthropology class in a seminary.
  • A week in Greece. Sunshine. Sunshine. Sunshine. Sunshine. Swimming. Family. Unbelievable food. Sunshine.
  • This concert of peace. In the heat of summer. In the front row. Healing tears dripping off my chin.
  • Thanksgiving Sunday. Carnegie Hall. Messiah. 500 voices.
  • Connections in my new church, surprising and sweet.
  • An Ola Gjeilo concert where the composer was the accompanist and we heard him improv “Ubi Cartitas” with music heard only that one time.
  • Rings of friends, arriving alone or in dozens, in our living room. Rollicking laughter. Stories. Art parties. Tea.
  • Educated by Tara Westover
  • Friends who took me in as one of their family. Different states. Different occasions. So much love.

2018 brought me choking anxiety and peace, sobs and shrieking laughter, a staggering, preposterous torrent of blessings, joy, and love so deep and so tall, there is no way to measure or describe it.
This reality tells me to walk into 2019, hands opened wide for more.

Pixels and Pages

How about an extension to Cyber Monday? This is a post to promote my ebook, found here.

While I will always love the tactile experience of paper and ink, (and marking it up with notes and lines) there is much to love about this e-book.

  • It’s cheaper than the printed version. (1/3 of the price)
  • You get it instantly.
  • You get a preview of it while you decide you want it.
  • It adds no bulk or weight to your purse or book bag.
  • You can buy a copy for your friend and have it emailed to her. (Think easy, thoughtful, inexpensive Christmas gift.)
  • It’s also available in Spanish for FREE here!

On Thanksgiving Day, I was with friends who invited other friends for the dinner. We had lots and lots of gorgeous food, hearty laughter, and out of the blue, a most rousing discussion about extended singleness. We didn’t come to any conclusions about the dilemma. One of the single ladies told us abut her friend who counseled her to buy a rehearsal dinner outfit, put it her closet, and pray for the outfit to come out and be worn! (That strategy had worked for the friend who had found herself single and near 40.) We howled a long time about that idea, but none of us feel like trying it. There are still questions, ideas, hypotheses without clear solutions.

Maybe that’s ok.

Maybe if we figured out how to detour the unpredictable, unnerving situations we find ourselves in, we wouldn’t need community and wouldn’t be as desperate for the infinite love and companionship for which we were created.

When dreams come true, it’s easy to say that God is up to something good, or that He’s always about redemption. But even if the dream doesn’t come true and the ache doesn’t go away, and we live with brokenness and loss, (and I don’t think extended singleness is the heaviest loss) even then God is up to something good, is intending redemption, is arching over everything with His sovereignty and character of light. If this weren’t true, He wouldn’t be God, and I would despair.

I wrote my book 10+ years ago with the conviction that God made us for more than to bide our time and put life on hold until marriage. I was sure that knowing Him and His character would shape women into the vibrant, thriving individuals He dreamed us up to be and who are not dependent on stuff or situation for joy. I didn’t want it to be a glib how-to book, but more like a travel guide with a comrade who is still walking and discovering His love and light. (The book’s 2nd edition is available here.)

A considerable bit of life happens in 10+ years. During that time, I’ve known darkness and brokenness that would have derailed me except for God’s fierce, relentless pursuit. I know Him better than I did back when I was writing the book, but I hope to discover even more about Him and live into His purpose for me in the next years.

Join me?

And if you’ve read the book, it would be sweet if you’d write a review on Amazon!

 

Kings Bring Their Glory

I was sitting in a crowd, cross-legged on the floor in a big room called The Oasis. The day before, I’d flown into and trundled around Athens before flying further to Lesvos. Sunday morning, I joined my sister and brother-in-law and the rest of the crowd on the floor for church. The message on faith was great, but I couldn’t stop watching the adorable coffee and cream colored children tumbling around me.

I loved the pockets of languages scattered around the room. Translation into French was happening in that corner. Farsi in the other. Arabic up front beside the preacher, translating for everyone.

As the service came to a close, we were told that our Congolese brothers would sing for us. A quartet of French-speaking African men walked forward and the one with the guitar put on his shiny gold rock star sunglasses. The other three stood by the mic and started singing.

I didn’t know what the words were (I was told later it was a psalm) but they sang with utter gentleness, adoration, and surety.  The harmonies were simple and beautiful, and their faces shone.

Scattered voices in the crowd joined at the refrain. In the men’s peaceful smiles and voices, it seemed I saw the teeniest piece of heaven, where the kings of the earth will bring their glory and worship the Lamb like these men and their audience were doing. It was glorious beyond words, and the way things should be. I was overwhelmed with the wonder and beauty and the tears kept dripping off my cheeks.

I feel most alive when I’m surrounded with colors and textures and cultures. I feel twitchy when everyone looks and talks the same. The variety of cultures and the singular focus of worship that morning in Greece is akin to what I expect to be part of in eternity, and I was enormously gifted with a sneak preview.

 

Translators Needed

You know how sometimes memories emerge that were buried for years, but now and then they pop up on the screen of your mind? This story reemerges now and then, with no particular trigger, but it illustrates what seems to be part of my life work.

I was in my teens, eating Sunday lunch at a church family’s place, and they were also hosting a visiting couple who had never been at a Mennonite church before. So the dinner time was full of discussion and questions. I was listening and observing. The conversation went to how we value community and help each other in difficulties.

“So for example,” our host explained, “When someone’s house needs major repairs like putting on a new roof, we’ll have a frolic.”

Something washed over the guest’s face, and I knew that when he heard “frolic” he did not hear what my host meant.

Two things happened in that moment:

  1. I stayed quiet (another subject for another day)
  2. I knew that someone got a grossly misleading impression, and it never got resolved.

Worse things could happen.

But.

Sometimes what you say is not what I hear, so I don’t know more than I did.

If we don’t care about communication and understanding each other, we may as well all stay home and talk to ourselves and take selfies all day.

But if we were designed to do life beside and among and around people, and if we have something that’s beautiful to say, I care that that message gets transmitted well, and translated when necessary.

When I finished five years in Poland and came to the US, I reveled in talking English to my heart’s content. I mean, I could walk into a store and ask ANYthing! I could even make small talk with other customers. So novel! But every now and then, in those first months, I heard a mumbled announcement or a colorful idiom and I would catch myself whirling around to make sure my neighbor understood it. Translating to my friends in Poland had been such a way of life for me that it took awhile to realize that everyone here knew more idioms and one-liners than I did and I could take off my translator hat now. Other times, everyone around me was laughing at some remark, and I didn’t know what was funny. I think now that it was all part of reverse culture shock or culture fatigue or something else unpleasant like that.

Language and communication and understanding has so many intricacies and nuances and layers that it takes special effort to do well with it. Humor and laughter require another dimension to understanding. When different languages and cultures come together, the dynamics become exponentially complex. Among English speakers like at that Sunday dinner, wires get crossed. Sometimes even people who’ve known each other all their lives still need a translator.

There are many places where we need translators between people and groups. Actually, wherever there are people, we need translators. I think of it especially in some church services. Maybe it’s because it’s generally a formal place, where there is tradition and unspoken expectations, and a new-comer feels especially foreign.

This is not a critique about how to do church. That’s a subject for wiser, stronger people than me. This is a call to think about being translators for visitors, new friends, foreigners new to your culture and your spoken or unspoken languages.

I was glad for a translator when I visited a church where the minister asked for testimonies from the audience, but the lady beside me leaned over to tell me that he is talking to the men, because the women don’t speak.

I wished for a translator when visitors at church weren’t oriented to what was happening now, nor what would be happening next. Especially when the speaker asked us to kneel and everyone swirled around in their benches. Just between you and me and don’t tell anyone, I think kneeling back into the place we were just sitting is very uncivil and undignified and I love the gracefulness of kneeling forward to pray. However, if that’s not your culture’s tradition, you can help the visitor beside you by translating the invitation to kneel.

If I could do that Sunday dinner over now, I wouldn’t hesitate to clarify for our guest what our host was saying. It could be done without making anyone feel foolish. The point is clarity and explanation and education, and at the end, everyone understands each other better. Which would actually help a lot of issues everywhere, come to think of it.

Anyone can be a translator. At least, anyone who values what they have, and wants to share it beyond their borders. And anyone who understands that English doesn’t always sound like English.

Unseen but Seen

You know the riddle about the tree falling in the forest with no one around, but my riddle is:

If you didn’t see it on Facebook, did it happen?

When I’m enthused about something, I want the whole world to know. I think if it makes me happy or answers my question or tastes delicious, everyone else surely wants to hear about it and experience it too. I experienced big highs this week, witnessed magnanimous provision, life-giving words spoken, stunning red maples, busy beavers gnawing bark and poking sticks into their lodge. They were things that made me want to weep with joy and raise my hands in worship, but none of it went on Facebook.

So did it happen?

Silly question.

I live in a pretty tightly-knit community and I sometimes joke that there are no secrets because we pretty much live and work in each other’s pockets, but it’s not true, because the most precious, beautiful things are too sacred to talk about freely, much less put on the interwebs.

I suspect that some of my reticence to quickly tell the world about my latest enthusiasm and joy is a trickle-down effect from reading this book:


 

Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to be Noticed

Sara Hagerty’s first book came out three years ago: Every Bitter Thing is Sweet. It tells her story of her evangelistic fervor, marital conflict, financial difficulty, and infertility, and how those bitter things became the impetus to find the sweetness of Jesus’ love. The book met me in an especially needy, opportune time and I count it one of the best I’ve read.

This summer, Sara’s second book came out, and I was a little skeptical because I know that publishers pressure successful authors to keep pushing out books, and sometimes an author has only one good book in her. But I wouldn’t have needed to skeptical. Sara really does have a rich, deep message in her second book that all of us need.

Here are some of the many excerpts I underlined and starred:

God used this desperation to intensify a thirst in my soul. God calls us to resist succumbing to readily available distractions and instead to press into these thirsty moments, or weakest seasons. Thirst is our ally. If we can tolerate the thirst long enough, staying in our weakness and our need, we will find more of God.

The path to greatness lies in hiddenness. And it’s a state of mind and a way of being, not a series of tasks to perform.

Those who turn to God and hide their otherwise-shamed faces in His chest? Those are the ones who hear His heartbeat. We haven’t been hidden by God to suffer or to be punished; we’ve been wooed into hiding to meet with the God who turns vulnerability into communion.

In every chapter, Sara refers to an aspect of the story of Mary who washed Jesus’ feet, the waste of it, and how Jesus responded to her scandalous act. While I read, I kept thinking

And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you openly.

and

I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places.

and

Not one sparrow is forgotten.

and

The darkness and the light are both the same to You.

I will probably never stop gushing loudly over things I love and remember and thrill about, but Sara’s book has soaked into me, in that I know it’s ok to be quiet, unheard, unseen, leaning hard on the source of strength, the true pillar of significance. Maybe the whole world doesn’t have to know about the stunning sky I saw between the color-washed leaves. Maybe I can just savor it and sit with the wonder of it.

But oh, you really should have seen those two beavers with their delicate little hands, nibbling bark as if it was corn on a cob. I happened to walk over their bridge, watched them beavering away, and didn’t document it with a photo. But it still happened, and I am still awed at the astonishing encounter.

I like social media. I work in Communications, after all. It is a happening place, and it needs to be. I believe that if you see something beautiful, you should tell it. I care deeply about expressing truth and light in winsome, attractive ways. But I don’t have much worthwhile to say before I have sat long, rested, lingered with Truth in quietness and hiddenness.

Out of that communion, everything else flows.