Tag: community (page 1 of 7)

Why You Should Choose Smelly Friends

Walking to Starbucks early this morning the breeze carried the sweet smell of lilacs and honeysuckle bushes and made me wish that Instagram had a sensory button so I could share the delightful moment with all of you. It made me think of an experience I had years ago.

We have two other couples we’ve done life with for 25 years.  It started with a get-to-know-you dinner when we first moved to Minnesota. We held hands around a table to pray that night and have been holding hands ever since.  We’ve cried at gravesides together and danced the weddings of our children. We’ve laughed hysterically on boat rides, and hiked in Montana together. These are our table people.

One evening after I had experienced a particularly wounding encounter we were together and they asked how I was doing.  With them there was the safety of “home” and the love that encouraged all the ugly cry blubbering, bitter, wounded honesty I could pour out.

After they had listened for a long, long time, they gently surrounded me and anointed me and put their warm hands on my weary shoulders and prayed for me.  We hugged, and as John and I drove home I noticed that my clothes had absorbed the scent of perfume and after-shave from the hugs of my friends. The fragrance of Jesus they carried with them had rubbed off on me and strengthened my heart.  

I was reminded of 2 Corinthians 2:14 “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.”

You will have all different kinds of relationships in your life. Some will be depleting; you’ll give more than you get. Others will be like sandpaper – uncomfortable, but helpful at smoothing your rough edges. Some will just come, like water the waiter pours at a restaurant; you have little choice when it comes to family or co-workers. But look for the people you will regularly gather around your table prayerfully.

Look for friends who can listen deeply, speak truth, and cheer for you always. Choose friends who will drop things at a moment’s notice show up for a crisis. They’ll do silly stuff with you, but also do the hard work of helping you paint the nursery in your new house. All that is important, but the most crucial thing to sniff for is the fragrance of Jesus on them. Because over the years around the table, holding hands and hugging and praying, it will rub off on you.

 

Why You Should Choose Smelly Friends

Walking to Starbucks early this morning the breeze carried the sweet smell of lilacs and honeysuckle bushes and made me wish that Instagram had a sensory button so I could share the delightful moment with all of you. It made me think of an experience I had years ago.

We have two other couples we’ve done life with for 25 years.  It started with a get-to-know-you dinner when we first moved to Minnesota. We held hands around a table to pray that night and have been holding hands ever since.  We’ve cried at gravesides together and danced the weddings of our children. We’ve laughed hysterically on boat rides, and hiked in Montana together. These are our table people.

One evening after I had experienced a particularly wounding encounter we were together and they asked how I was doing.  With them there was the safety of “home” and the love that encouraged all the ugly cry blubbering, bitter, wounded honesty I could pour out.

After they had listened for a long, long time, they gently surrounded me and anointed me and put their warm hands on my weary shoulders and prayed for me.  We hugged, and as John and I drove home I noticed that my clothes had absorbed the scent of perfume and after-shave from the hugs of my friends. The fragrance of Jesus they carried with them had rubbed off on me and strengthened my heart.  

I was reminded of 2 Corinthians 2:14 “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him.”

You will have all different kinds of relationships in your life. Some will be depleting; you’ll give more than you get. Others will be like sandpaper – uncomfortable, but helpful at smoothing your rough edges. Some will just come, like water the waiter pours at a restaurant; you have little choice when it comes to family or co-workers. But look for the people you will regularly gather around your table prayerfully.

Look for friends who can listen deeply, speak truth, and cheer for you always. Choose friends who will drop things at a moment’s notice show up for a crisis. They’ll do silly stuff with you, but also do the hard work of helping you paint the nursery in your new house. All that is important, but the most crucial thing to sniff for is the fragrance of Jesus on them. Because over the years around the table, holding hands and hugging and praying, it will rub off on you.

 

What Binds us Together

In 1995 I took my first trip to Africa. It was at the height of the AIDS crisis in Uganda. There was little information, lots of myths, many were dying, and the air was permeated with fear.

Although Uganda has green hills and banana trees, the prominent images I carry with me from that first trip are those of coffins being carried along rust colored roads and the smell of smoke from cook fires.

One day we traveled beyond the hot, dusty nowhere, over lumpy paths to meet a woman who lost her husband, all her family members, and was caring for five orphaned children on her own.

Her name is Josephine – tall, lean, dark, and strong. She and friends greet us with dancing, songs, and the rare treat of an scrawny chicken that they had cooked for us, their guests.

We sit together on stumps next to her crumbling mud hut by an open fire, burned down to coals – her “table” of sorts. Gathered around are her people who are doing life by her side, helping with kids, and gardening, and encouraging. We try not to offend her sacrificial hospitality, choking down what she offers, knowing she will go without. I listen to Josephine share her story of loss after loss after loss, and I marvel at her resilience.

Finally, she turns to me, looks me in the eye, and asks, “What is it like for you, in America?”

I gulp, nervously thinking, how can I tell her? What can I tell her?!” How can this woman possibly understand a broken garage door, or pre-school teachers, or my grandmother who recently died in a comfortable, antiseptically clean hospital?

And then the Holy Spirit gives me some words. I say, “You know…our lives are very different. I don’t experience the day-to-day struggle you do here, but what I’m struck by is what we have in common. We are both mothers. We both have hopes, and dreams, and fears for our children, and we both look to God for help. We both have people He gives us.”

When we compare, we are driven apart. We get sucked into thinking “my loss is worse”, or “your loss is worse” but none of that matters. You may have lost a dream or a husband, and I lost a job, someone lost their home, another lost their sight. Loss is loss. We need each other. To hold hands and hearts. To hug and listen, and just be with each other in our pain. God knits us together with the common threads of hope and loss and joy. Together we read, and together we make choices:

“This day I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live..” Deuteronomy 30:19

I asked some blog readers to send me selfies wherever they are. As I scroll through these I tear up thinking of you – of the challenges and hopes you have today. We may not know each other personally, but we know God, and together we choose the Life that He offers.

Katie in Jordan, building bridges to Muslims  (I love this picture take at Petra!)

Carrie, minister to students in Edina MN.

Kathy, in pink, who is a Community Bible Study Leader (here with some of the women in her small group)

Jane, a world citizen and journalist who splits time mostly between Singapore and Switzerland.

3 generations of love – so much awesome in this picture! Sue, Kit, Ally, and Karen in Florida.

Daughter Maggie, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area and works in HR for Tesla (with Riggins who I’m sure reads the blog too).

Jess, a young mama in Minneapolis (with Greta Sue)

Christine, working with a non-profit in Nazareth

Daughter Katy, working as liaison between USAID and Congress in D.C.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing today, know that you are not alone!

3 Things to Leave Behind When You’re Traveling Rough Roads with Someone

I am so grateful John and I get to travel a lot. But travel is not without its challenges.

We have one rule that we stick to no matter what. We never take more than a carry-on suitcase.

I don’t remember for sure, but this could have been implemented the year that John had to borrow underwear for a week when his luggage didn’t arrive in Zambia.

This afternoon I’m packing for another trip. This trip comes on the heels of losing one of our closest friends, suddenly, to a brain aneurism. It’s got me thinking…

Traveling with someone through loss, we need to travel lightly. Just like there are certain items I need to cull out in order to pack in a carry-on, there are unhelpful things we need to leave behind when we are walking through a hard time with someone.

So, here are three things I’ve learned to take out, and leave behind when going through a crisis with someone:

  1. Leave behind right to be offended. This is NOT about you. Forget your ego, your pride, your wants and prioritize what the grieving person wants. No matter what. The wife of our friend who died was wise and brave to say she didn’t want people around her right away. Close friends could have been offended, but they knew this wasn’t about them.
  2. Leave behind control/schedule. When life feels out of control, our inclination is to try to bring order. We want to do anything we can to fix things. We think we’re helping, but we need to let go of our need for control and convenience and just report for duty.
  3. Leave behind assumptions. We all know that every loss is different and everyone grieves differently, but even tiny assumptions need to be tossed. There was someone I was sure my friend would want me to call last week, to take that off her plate, but I was wrong. Other people she wanted me to call, I was surprised at.

I’ve written more about this before, but I’m interested in your thoughts. What has your experience been walking with others on rough journeys?

 

The Small, but Important Shifts that Will Make You a More Effective Helper

My sister-in-law Susan, is a young widow of a year and a half.  She is outside trying to stay ahead of the fat, heavy snow that is falling fast and piling up faster. She struggles on her own to shovel her walkway with an injured back, when a neighbor and his young son walk up, with shovels in hand.

“Can we help?” asks the little boy.

The father gently corrects him. “No son, remember, that’s not what we say. We say “We’re here to help!”

What a brilliant shift!

If someone says, “Can we help?” what’s our go-to response?  “Oh no, that’s ok.” Right?

But in the face of an enthusiastic “We’re here to help!” it becomes a community activity.

It’s fascinating to me how little tweaks in what we say can make a big difference. 

Most of us have had someone ask “How are you doing?” in a season when we want to hurl things at them and scream “I’M A HOT MESS OF PAIN HERE AND WANT TO DIE, CAN’T YOU SEE THAT???” However, it’s so natural, we ALL ask the question without thinking about it. When you know people are going through a hard time, consider alternatives like:

  • “I’m so glad to see you (or to hear your voice).” Then stop and just listen.
  • “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you, but I’d like to better understand what you’re going through.”
  • “I love you.”
  • Give them a hug and say, “I’m here. I can’t imagine what this is like for you, but I’d love to take a walk and listen.”
  • “What’s on your plate for today?” Often if you ask people what they’re doing, they’ll tell you how they’re feeling.
  • After someone dies, over the long-haul when others have stopped asking, say “What do you miss most about ________?”

And sometimes it’s not the words, but the silence that matters.

I’ve written before on some other practical suggestions, and if you want a terrific book on this, check out What Grieving People Wish You Knew about what really helps (and what really hurts”).

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Who’s Your Birthing Coach?

Last night the candles were lit, yummy bakey smells wafted room to room,  the twinkle lights were doing their twinkling, and my house was filled with girlfriends I love.

Read: it was lovely, loud, laughy, and there were lots of words!

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Studies say that women average 20,00 words a day – 13,000 more than men. Last night I think we skewed that average high.

Think about when you get together with your best friends – talking over each other, finishing each other’s sentences, laughing at shared experiences…

This is how I imagine the meeting between the newly pregnant Mary and the last trimester Elizabeth.

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Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and traveled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly,

Picture the hills. The first time I visited I was surprised at how steep and hilly this area is, and I was surprised at the pine trees. Did Mary run? Was she out of breath? Sweaty? Did they hug and start talking immediately?

If I had written this next part of the Bible I’d put in a lot more exclamation points! 🙂

You’re so blessed among women,
    and the babe in your womb, also blessed!
And why am I so blessed that
    the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your
    greeting entered my ears,
The babe in my womb
    skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said,
    believed every word would come true! Luke 1;39-45

What an unlikely pair – an unwed pregnant teenager, carrying Jesus, and an old, post-menopausal woman carrying John the baptist!

I love it that these two women visited during what was probably the hardest trimester for each of them. I can hear them peppering each other with questions…

Can you even? You? Me? Us??!

Have you had morning sickness? Want to sleep all the time?

Have you felt him kick?

How has your family reacted? What about Joseph? How are you holding up?

(And just imagine Zacharias in the corner, unable to speak at all!)*

Here are two faithful, amazing women through whom God is birthing something new. Something beautiful for the world.  And He gives them to each other, almost like birthing coaches.

This is you too. Whether you’re a mom or not God is birthing something beautiful through you. The labor and delivery can be hard, but He gives us to each other.

As I looked around at the women last night I thought how often they have encouraged me to breathe,

or to hang on,

or have said “Me too” at just the right time.

Who are the women in your life who are birth coaches, affirming the beauty that God is growing in you?

*Luke 1:20

4 Ideas for Navigating Change

“It’s coming. I can feel it.” That’s the refrain I hear too often these August days as the light mellows earlier in the evening and green things have lost their luster. Everything looks a little dry and tired. A little droopy. Long shadows seem shadowier.

I want to yell “NOOOOO!” and stamp my foot like a toddler fighting bedtime.

Instead I breathe deep and stay outside as long as possible, trying to ward off the inevitable, and the deep feeling of loss that accompanies it.

“Seasons change and so did I.” as the song says.

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I have friends going away to college, those who are moving from single into married life; some who are expecting babies, one who just got fired, others who are sending their kids off to school for the first time, and those who will become empty-nesters.

Thirty years ago my husband John and I moved from our home and families in the Chicago area to serve at a church in Washington D.C.  It was a huge seasonal change for us.  John was required to attend a seminar on transitions and while he was there he had to take an assessment that assigned points to the the different changes in your life.

POINTS???!  We love points!  We’re a tad competitive :).

We were moving away from family for the first time, expecting a new baby (I was 8 months pregnant with our second when we moved), buying our first house, starting a new job in a new church culture.  Each of these got points assigned to them indicating the amount of pressure in our life.

John came home and said, “Honey, I have good news and bad news.  The good news is, we WON!   We had more points than anyone there!  The bad news is they said we should have been in counseling 50 points ago!”

Change, even good change brings stress. There’s an article I’ve saved for years that documents the effects of moving. Even a short move across town causes a level of anxiety because it’s fruit basket upset for relational patterns. All of a sudden there’s a new dry cleaner and mail person, and supermarket checkout person – the people you interact with daily. For students it’s new teachers, for others it’s new bosses or a new gaggle of moms to get to know.

Holy buckets! I hate change like most people do. These are just a few things that seem to help me:

  • Phone a friend. We are relational beings, and it’s community that seems to take the hardest hit when we’re going through seasonal change. So when you’re low, call an old friend, but also reach out. Be brave and call someone new. Remember, if you’re feeling lonely, others are too.
  • Be aware of the impact of change.  Give yourself and your family extra grace during times of transition.  (John had perpetually wet shoulders from absorbing all my tears the first year in D.C.)
  • As much as possible, continue the spiritual rhythms you have put in place.  We feel more out of control during these times.  As I look back on our years living in D.C., the one thing that kept me going was a weekly community Bible study I attended where my kids were taken care of.  What are the positive choices you can make that will be nurturing to your mind, heart and soul?
  • Anchor your life in the one thing that is unchanging – God and His character.  Make a practice of voicing the many things you’re grateful for.  Specifically thank God for who He is, not just what He does.  In our family we have a “Twelve Stones Book” taken from the biblical examples where God commands the Israelites to build visible memorials so they’ll remember His power (Joshua 4).  In our book we record instances of God’s faithfulness in our family since we seem to have spiritual ADD.

So here’s to strolling through crunchy leaves, pumpkin spice lattes, and “bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils”.

What My Daughters and I are Learning About Community

I’m taking a blogging sabbatical this summer, but will occasionally be sharing some posts from the past. This one was a guest post written by daughter Katy 4 or 5 years ago.

Have you ever taken the Meyers Briggs personality inventory?

It’s where you answer a bunch of questions, and at the end you’re assigned four letters that make up the basics of your personality.
4 powerful letters that tell someone all they need to know about how you’d respond…

  • If strangers showed up at your door inviting you to a costume party,
  • Or if you had to decide under pressure, which wire to cut to diffuse a bomb,
  • Or whether you’d say “Suck it up.” or “You poor, poor baby!” if someone told you their hamster died.

Well in our family, the 4 letters that sum up Maggie are exactly the opposite of the 4 letters that sum me (Katy) up.

In spite of being opposites, while growing up, the two of us were inseparable.  Walking to and from elementary school together, taking (voluntary) trips up to the local library to stock up on Sherlock Holmes books to read aloud to one another in the privacy of the latest edition of our ever-improving fort.  We’d rally the neighborhood kids for night games and home made video productions, snow forts and magic shows.

We were a dream team.

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But then, something happened. I think professionals call it “puberty”. We turned into the worst versions of ourselves, camping out on the far edges of our opposite personalities.

Things that were cute about Maggie became shallow and annoying. My attitude went from an indulgent older sister to, frankly, a superior jerk. Those halves on Meyer’s Briggs became like some sort of bizarre science class punnett square exercise gone wrong.

In our case, it took about 6 years apart and the advent of g-chat to start a new season of communicating. Rather than the cutting remarks and dismissive sarcasm, we began to speak with each other as people, rather than sisters.

Each of us slowly slid towards the center of that personality chart, first recognizing our weaknesses, then working to develop into more balanced people.

It sounds quite nice and simple in that sentence, but some of this “realization” came through heated phone calls and the occasional adopting of our high school personalities.  AKA our “worst selves.”

Now, years later, here we are, co-inhabiting a 900 square foot apartment in the heart of our nation’s capital.  Had you told us 5 years ago that this would be our living situation, we would have thought you were a lunatic.  Surprisingly, it is going quite well.

There have been a few flare ups where we’ve seen those high school selves resurface, and it’s embarrassing.  But we’re truly enjoying one another’s company, the sharing of friend groups, being invited to the same parties, and attending the same church for the first time in years.

We find ourselves working to carve out “sister time” and we’ve seen this time become increasingly more meaningful.  As we earn one another’s respect, we are better able to speak into each other’s lives.

The bottom line is that when we allow the other person’s strengths to threaten us we’re our worst selves.  But when we move towards each other in humility, ready to learn from the other’s strengths, and seek help in the areas where we’re weak, we thrive.

When I can sincerely say, “Maggie, what would you do in this social situation?” where I feel unsure, and she can sincerely ask “Katy, what bus should I get from U Street to get home? or Who is Christine Legard and why do we care about her?” we both benefit.

What I’ve learned from watching Katy and Maggie grow as they live in community is to ask questions.  When I’m in situations where the emotion seems to rumble in my stomach and travel to my face and threaten to come out of my mouth in unwise words I’m trying to ask:

1.  What am I afraid of?  Really.

2.  What can I learn from this person?

3.  What questions should I ask to gain better understanding?

What collaborative, or community building situations are the most challenging to you?  When do you feel most threatened?  What is helpful?

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You Don’t Need a Fancy Dinner

Friday night we hosted kind of a Fancy Dinner.

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This is the kind of dinner where you can’t just make a casserole and you have appetizers and you should serve the salad as a separate course but I never do because I’m afraid someone won’t like it and won’t eat it and we’ll both be embarrassed, so to save face I serve it with the rest of the dinner. I plate the dinner and then guests can just move food around and spread it out like a squirrel hiding nuts all over the yard if they don’t care for it.

They could also quietly feed it to the cat or dog under the table like Maggie and I did at the home of some crazy british ladies in Kenya once, but we don’t have a cat or dog so that’s out. Continue reading

Going There With Each Other

Two weeks ago my best friend from college called on a Sunday afternoon to tell me she has been diagnosed with ALS.

Yes, that ALS – the horrific Lou Gehrig’s disease that eats away at your muscles til you are a rag doll of your former self.

Arms and legs progressively stop functioning . It also impacts your voice and breathing; lifespan shortens as complications related to lung function intrude.

I simply could. not. deal. I couldn’t accept that my vibrant full-of-LIFE friend with the most infectious laugh on earth might have to experience this crippling horror.

Instead of leaning in, I wanted to lean out. Instead of turning towards, I wanted to turn away. Continue reading

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