The Awkward Hello (after a long, long time away)

the awkward hello

Um. Hello.

It’s been a while since I wrote anything at all on this blog, and I’ve had a growing sense of awkwardness about what I might say when we saw each other again. A lot like some friendships, I suppose, when it’s been a while and you both know—as social media makes painfully clear—that Things Have Been Happening but you Haven’t Been Talking and so you’re just not sure where to start. And so, too often, you just don’t. You don’t send the text. You don’t write the email. You feel awkward about the distance and, at a loss for how to close it with the perfect “opening line”, you increase it.

I’ve been in that space for a few weeks: feeling like I needed to write a smashing blog post: a virtual Ta-DAAAA! to announce that summer was over and I’m back. (insert jazz hands here) But instead, I’ve opened up this page a half dozen times and stared at the cursor. Actually, last week I was cracking myself up (yes, I laugh at my own jokes) at a thought and I desperately wanted to turn it into a blog post but it turned out I was exactly three hundred and forty percent less technologically capable than I needed to be to pull it off.  The end result? More silence.

It has been a long, long silence. This summer was mostly spent with my kids swimming and reading library books (not at the same time, though), with a smattering of Vacation Bible School thrown in… ELEVEN WEEKS of ELEVEN HOUR DAYS of me and the kids. At home. In triple digit heat. (We ate a lot of ice-cream. We watched the Star Wars Trilogy. The real one. Don’t even start with the Clone Wars.) But in the midst of all this at-homeness and mothering-ness, I had one unapologetically girlie night and got to see Adele in concert. It was fabulous. No opening act: just her, in all her vocal glory. No dancers. No gimmicks. In an age where I feel like every news story has spin and every pop star is a carefully curated package, Adele is so refreshing. Listening to her sing is like bearing witness to the Redemption of Talent.

But we waited a long, long time before she came onstage. We got snacks. We had a drink. We told stories. We took Adele-Like extreme close-up eye-selfies:

But she did finally come on stage, and (of course), her first words were:

Hello. It’s me.

In the absence of a so-fantastic-it-must-certainly-go-viral blog post to break the silence, I thought I’d take a cue from Adele, and just say: Hello. It’s me. Because sometimes that’s all it takes just to get things going again, doesn’t it? After months of silence, we can pick up the phone, or send a text, or draft an email, or turn up on a doorstep with a cup of coffee and say: Hello.

In my experience, awkwardness doesn’t dissolve over time. Awkwardness in relationships is like awkwardness in dancing: it’s not being sure where to step so that you don’t step on someone’s toes. It’s uncertainty and fear of rejection and nervousness about whether your breath smells and whether they’d say something if it did.

But no-one ever became a better dancer by not dancing for a little while longer. And no one ever fixed an awkward friendship by prolonging a deafening silence. And, if that is true, no blogger ever got back in the game by waiting until she had the perfect post to share with you all.

So I’ll share an awkward selfie and just say “hello”. It’s nice to be back. I missed you.

You’re Bleeding, Not Dying {Liz von Ehrenkrook}

This week’s guest post is from Liz von Ehrenkrook: a kind and generous online friend. Recently, God called Liz and her youth pastor husband to pack up and go—Abraham-like—on a new journey. You can follow along here

bleeding

Sometimes I think we’re scared to bleed.

When I was a kid, I played hard; and hard at play meant bruised or scratched limbs, with the occasional should-we-go-to-the-doctor injuries. My parents weren’t the kind to opt for medical bills if they could handle my crying and heal my body at home with peroxide, over-the-counter ointments and band-aids.

In fact, I only remember going to the doctor one time.

I was four years old. Mom was in the kitchen cooking, I want to say macaroni and cheese because I always wanted to eat macaroni and cheese. I remember my brother and I watching He-man, and my decision to sit closer to the TV.

I hear my mom’s voice – but it’s not good for you to sit so close!

I wager, how could I get closer without it being bad for me, without getting into trouble?

My dad’s easy chair was angled toward our coffee table. I pulled the lever and reclined back so the footrest extended. I wiggled my tiny body onto the edge of the footrest, propping my head up onto the coffee table. There, a tad uncomfortable, but closer nonetheless.

I don’t remember how I fell.

My head was aching. Mom was running into the living room scooping me into her arms and flying down the hall to the bathroom. I remember sitting on the edge of the sink while she parted my hair, looking for the source of all the blood. She said I wasn’t crying but I was scared at her reaction, at the worried look permanently wrinkling her face. I turned my head ever so slightly and could see my reflection in the mirror.

There was so much blood. I let loose a howl, a high-pitched screech that sounded like a siren.

Then we were in the car, speeding to the hospital. I was in my mom’s lap, hugging her chest. My blood soaked her shirt.

Everything at the hospital is a blur. I remember crying. I remember bucking, flailing my arms and legs when the doctor cleaned my wound and then began stitching my head. Two nurses lay across my body but the adrenaline released a she-Hulk and I wasn’t going down easy.

I remember my mom’s face then. She was calm; there was no more worry.

“Elizabeth. You need to let the doctor do his job. You’re going to be okay. Can you be still for me?”

My body stopped convulsing immediately. I stared into my mother’s eyes and held her gaze. I remember my nose running and really wanting her to wipe it for me.

My skull has a weird shape now, a flat area. I used to enjoy freaking people out by letting them run their hand across my head. This is my scar.

I did suffer some trauma from the event. Because I had been exposed to so much of my own blood, my reaction to even the tiniest scratch with the smallest droplet of blood would send me into hysterics. I’d run fast and far, thinking I could get away from it.

My parents had to work with me through all my future injuries to settle me down, to remind me, “You’re bleeding. You’re not dying.”

I have grown into a woman of resilience. I adorn my body with beautiful scars to express who God has created me to be. Under the needle in tattoo shops I bleed, and it’s a reminder to me that I’m growing, I’m changing – but I’m not dying.

I imagine a lot of people would die for God because, heaven. But to live for God here, right now, means we have to live out our faith on earth, in this plane of reality, where we face trials of all kinds. In order to live, we have to be willing to bleed, and it’s difficult to make that kind of commitment to pain.

We don’t like the thought of blood; our life flowing from our veins, worrying how much we have to give. Then we sing songs telling the spirit to lead us where our trust is without borders; we worship God asking him to take us deeper than our feet could ever wander. But when we bleed, we retreat. We run the other way, as far out as we can get, thinking the thing God is asking of us will be so far in the distance it’ll never catch up to us. We wrap ourselves in the safety of fresh gauze and padded comforts.

Bleeding usually doesn’t come without pain. And through pain there will be tears. We will lament. We will ask ourselves, and God, “Why?” We will look to others and say, “This is hard and it hurts and I’m scared.”

I believe that with our bleeding, we’re actually doing some really great living.

I’m not saying everyone needs to get a tattoo, to purposefully bleed in order to prove something. My body art is a personal representation of my growing faith.

What I am saying is don’t run from the pain of living out your faith, be willing to deal with the blood.

You’re just bleeding. You’re not dying.

lizvoneLiz von Ehrenkrook – of So I Married a Youth Pastor – lives in Oregon with her husband, Mat, and their snobby cat, Pixel. In 12 days, Liz and Mat will be jobless and adventuring across the country on a summer road trip in search of what God wants next for them. Follow their journey here  and keep them in your prayers!

Courage to find Significance in the Every Day

It was my great joy and honor to speak at MOPS (Mother of Preschoolers) this week. I was asked to please post my talk online. Here it is. Try to imagine yourself in the company of a room full of moms of little ones while you read, won’t you? 

Motherhood requires courage to find significance in the every day. Read this, and take courage.

 

I am often really uncomfortable with being introduced at a speaking engagement. Usually, the person introducing me will have asked about my background and then they go ahead and give the crowd the “highlights reel”, and it makes it all sound so impressive that even I am intimidated by me. I feel like I need to stand up and confess something just so that people will know I’m a real person: “Hi, I lose my temper and fart. I am the worst potty trainer in the world and am pretty much a walking Pinterest fail waiting to happen.” #settingexpectations

But I think moms of little ones are pretty good at keeping it real. After all, we are a crowd who have all known the mixed glory and indignity of having people see your most intimate parts naked while giving birth (and, mortifyingly, there may have even been poop.) We have had to learn how to breastfeed. We have handled more human bodily fluids than we dreamed it was possible to touch without withering. We carry embarrassing things in our purses. So we are a crowd who are…. Humbled.

And so perhaps, for that reason, I feel like it’s important too to tell you that I do have a highlights reel. That I was valedictorian of my high school, and that I graduated from law school with honors at the age of 21. I should tell you that before graduating, I landed a job with the highest paying outfit out of all the recruitment opportunities they were farming for at my college. And then, through a strange and God-tangled web of events, I landed up forfeiting that job and going to seminary, where I graduated with honors before the bishop of our denomination created a job in women’s ministry for me to develop some new models of ministry for how we reached women in the workplace.

And I tell you this not to brag… really, because there’s that whole body-fluids-humbling and muffin-top shame thing going on all at the same time… I tell you this because I want you to know that it was only when I became a mom that it came CRASHING DOWN on me how much significance I had put into that highlights reel. I thought I was a humble person, aware of my failings, and reliant on God’s grace beforehand. But it was only when all those achievements in career and ministry were taken away that I realized how much doing well in life, and being seen to do well in life, had factored into my sense of identity and calling.

The truth of this became most obvious to me just after my daughter was born. All of a sudden, my only job in the world was to get this tiny human to eat and to sleep. And I could do neither. I had significant problems with breastfeeding – my milk didn’t come in for nearly a week, and when it did, it came in drips: not nearly enough to feed my big girl. And worst of all: I didn’t even know my baby was hungry. On the 3rd day after her birth my husband and I drove anxiously to Urgent Care because she would.not.stop.screaming and would.not.sleep. The kindly pediatrician asked us a few questions and asked if she could observe me feed her. Nodding wisely, she said “ah yes, your milk hasn’t come in” (I had no idea). She told us our daughter was hungry and gave me a breast pump to get things going and gave my daughter a 2 oz of bottle of formula, which she drank and promptly fell asleep for the first time since she had been born.

I felt like such a failure. Because I couldn’t feed my baby. Because I didn’t even know there was no food. Because I didn’t know she was hungry. Despite having read ever Mommy-and-Baby book I could get my hands on so I would be AWESOME at this mom thing: it turned out I couldn’t even do the basics – feeding my child and getting her to sleep. She was a fussy baby and a terrible sleeper. They were the most humbling few months of my life.

All of this served to highlight to me how much of my worth I had put into being a DOER. We live in a world where we are told we can, and we ought to, do something EXTRAORDINARY in our life, and make a SIGNIFICANT use of our time. The extraordinary and the significant are the measures of our worth – and we despise, and even fear, the ordinary and the seemingly insignificant.

Motherhood – above all things – is one long lesson in learning to find the significance in the very ordinary, and dare I say, even boring. If we add to this the cultural narrative that considers children to have a very low rank in terms of life accomplishments, this adds to the stress. Think of all the things people say about deciding to have kids: Will I be able to finish college, or grad school? But we wanted to travel first. But kids are expensive and we’d like to save for our own home. I’d like to get established in my career first. Not that any of those things are bad – but the way our culture talks about them tells us that children rank lower than our own personal goals of accomplishing education, career, travel, financial or physical goals.

Motherhood gets in the way of that: it’s lots and lots of “not achieving”, day by day – all the while faced with our very real and in-your-face limitations. Michael Horton, wrote a fabulous little article entitled “What if having an extraordinary life isn’t the point?”, in which he says this: “Even more than I’m afraid of failure, I’m terrified of boredom. Facing another day, with ordinary callings to ordinary people all around me is much more difficult than chasing the dreams I have envisioned for the grand story of my life.”

Yes. Exactly.

I get that. And it explains to me why, in my earlier days as a mom, I found myself irrationally jealous when my former interns came to visit me and complained that they had had a week full of admin and making copies… and I was SO JEALOUS that they were making COPIES.

BECAUSE AT LEAST THEY HAD SOMETHING TO SHOW FOR THEIR DAY.

I think this explains what drives many of our love for Facebook and Pinterest. Because our day to day jobs don’t feel significant, but if we share pictures of the gorgeous meal we made, or the cutest Halloween costumes EVER… we are putting out public post-it notes which says “I have something to show for myself.” See, I made that. I did that. Isn’t it cute, everyone? Getting lots of “likes” or “pins” ticks our “feeling significant” and “feeling worthwhile” boxes. Or at least, it does mine.

And it also explains why one of the things I love about writing is that it is something I get to work on and then when I click “publish” or “send” – then my words go up onto the shiny surface of the internet and NO-ONE CAN PUT STICKY, JELLY FINGERS ON THEM. My words remain there just like I left them, and I marvel at that.

Because everything else in my life is not about accomplishing or doing or even making progress. It’s about a full-scale, full-time effort to HOLD BACK THE CHAOS. My goal at the end of the day at home is not to take it to the next level: it’s to work all day to prevent us from sliding into an abyss. When I signed up for Google + a few years ago, It asked me what my job was. I wrote “opposer of entropy”. For that is what I do. All day long: I hold back the chaos.

What this calls for is a great amount of courage – and more courage, in fact, than it takes to complete a huge project or organize a big event. It’s the sheer everydayness of life, the tedium of the ordinary and the relentless forces of entropy at work in our house that call for a DAILY mustering of courage. Courage calls for commitment and strength in the face of insecurity and intimidation. It means keeping going, even though the end is not necessarily in sight, and we have often feel we have no idea whether we are doing well or whether this is all going to turn out okay.

Because honestly, if my children’s behavior is my only performance review on this job, I sometimes feel I really suck.

And so it takes courage to keep working on a job where there are so few measurables.

I think, in particular, mustering this kind of courage to face the great cliff of the ORDINARY, takes two things:

 It means learning to take the long-range view of what we are doing.

My mom used to say that she often reminded herself that she was not raising children: she was raising ADULTS. Putting it that way reminded her that she wasn’t just trying to control the behavior of a tantrumming 3-year old in the supermarket, the long-range goal was to raise an adult who was well-adjusted and had healthy relationships with her and with society. And so she tried to think about the long-term: which gave her hope (because they wouldn’t always be 3 and tantrumming), but it also gave her a direction. She was parenting towards a goal, not just parenting in the moment.

Along similar lines, a friend of mine pointed out the story of Philip the Evangelist in the book of Acts in the Bible. In Acts 6, shortly after Jesus had been raised from the dead and ascended to heaven, the church was still really new and figuring things out, and 7 leaders were appointed to organize the new community and help care for some of the pressing social needs. Philip was one of the 7 appointed and commissioned by the 12 apostles: a leader from the get-go.

In Acts 8 we read this:

“Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. For with shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was great joy in that city.”

We find Philip preaching, dealing with demons, and healing people in Jesus’ name. Wow. A few verses later we read that he was out on the road when an Ethiopian eunuch in a chariot came driving by who just happened to be reading puzzling verses from Isaiah, and then God tells the Ethiopian to ask this guy Philip to explain it to him, and Philip tells him about Jesus and the man puts the puzzle pieces together and realizes that Jesus IS the promised King and the one who would take the sins of others that the Old Testament had been talking about – and so he decides to change his life and follow Jesus and Philip baptizes him right there and then in the river. The eunuch continues on his way to form and found the first church in Africa, and Philip – well, let me quote the verse directly: “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.”

Wow, Philip. Very impressive. One of the few people who ever got to ride by Holy Spirit Taxi Services.

But you know what? After that extraordinary introduction – Philip disappears from the story, and we don’t hear a single word about him again… Until 20 years later, when he turns up right at the end of the book of Acts, and we are told that Philip was there, along with his 4 unmarried daughters, all of whom were prophetesses.

And it makes me think. Philip went from a ministry that seemed so impressive and awesome, and then seemed to fade into obscurity. But we see him 20 years later and realize THEN that he had been doing something significant for those 20 years: he had been raising daughters who knew and loved God, and who were fully equipped for service.

I wonder if, when he had 4 girls under the age of 7 all fighting about who got to sit where, whether Philip ever thought “Sheesh: remember that time when I was doing something USEFUL for you, Lord?” Or, when they were teens, “I used to feel like I was really being used by you God… but now it’s just hormones and boys and tears all day long with these girls. Is this really what you want me to be doing?”

All those years time it may have seemed like Philip wasn’t doing anything significant, but he was. He had taken a long-range view: raising adults who would know and love Jesus as he did.

This gives me hope. Because in 20 years, all these “insignificant days” will total up to having 3 grown children. And it won’t be the one gorgeous thanksgiving meal, or the one awesome mommy moment or vacation we took that stand out as “the thing that made their childhood” – it will be the sum total of the ordinary days.

Not just the one fantastic meal, but a lifetime of ordinary, nutritious meals to raise a healthy adult.

 Not just one I-killed-it-with-that-explanation conversation, but a lifetime of saying “I love you,” “I believe in you”, “this is what is right, and this is what is wrong,” which will be embedded into their souls.

Not just the one vacation we spent together, but the habit we had of snuggling to read a book, or of always listening attentively and talking with them while we did our daily commute.

It takes a lifetime of ordinary courage to make a significant impact in raising adults.

So: finding courage to face the everyday calls for taking a long-range view, and it calls for another thing:

 It calls for faith.

I use the word FAITH, meaning that it refers to a belief, or trust, in something we can’t fully see yet. We see a little bit of the truth, but we don’t see the whole thing and so we keep pressing on in that direction, trusting that it’s the right one.

Rachel Jankovic wrote an article some years ago which made such a big impression on me, in which she talked about how motherhood may be regarded as of little importance by others and a very lowly job, but in fact it was a calling of the highest honor because as parents, what we are doing is modeling the gospel to our children every day.

In laying down our lives for them, and learning to deny our own ambitions for others’ benefits, in taking care of their daily needs and investing in the work of shaping their characters – we are showing them something significant about the gospel of Jesus, who laid down his life for us, denied his glory and privileges for us, who takes care of our needs and, even thought we don’t deserve it and are exasperating raw material, is deeply attentive to the daily work of character formation in our own lives.

This business of shaping people into becoming God’s children was Jesus’ great goal, according to Hebrews 2. It cost him his life, but the joy of relationship was unsurpassable.

Jesus was in it for the long-haul with us. And even though he had days when he rolled his eyes at his disciples and said to them “how long shall I put up with you?”, he kept at it. Hebrews 12 says :

“.. Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

I believe it takes faith to keep being a mom. Races are run one step at a time. Lifetimes are lived one minute at a time. It is sometimes hard to keep going when no one step feels particularly significant, and no one minute feels worthwhile – but, Jesus showed us that in the long run, it takes faith to remember the joy set before us and to keep going – so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.

We are so quickly impressed by the big once-off acts and accomplishments, but we forget the power of the daily, persevering ones. We love to think of God as the Creator of all, but often forget that not only did God create, but he also continues to sustain and provide. He is awesome not only became he created life, but because he continues to give every breath, open every flower, animate every heartbeat. Those Divine acts of sustaining providence are deeply significant.

And so are ours.

The creative act of bringing a child into the world is incredible and deeply significant. But so is every sustaining acts of fixing a snack, leaning in for a snuggle, every encouraging word which sustains a weary soul. To preserve and sustain reflects God too. As it turns out, opposing entropy is a profoundly godly thing to do.

All this brings me to say one more thing, and that is to highlight the role we play in one another’s lives in helping one another to find significance in the every day.

The word ENCOURAGE literally means to give one another courage. We encourage each other by setting an example or perhaps by acts of service and huge, but I think chiefly we encourage one another with our words. The Bible tells us the “Faith comes from hearing”, and while in that context it is talking about the saving faith in Jesus, the message is still true for our purposes – because the faith to believe that the daily grind of everyday motherhood is worth it, comes from HEARING from others often, and being reminded of the big picture and the long-range view.

When we remind one another that we are loving our kids as God has loved us, we are ENCOURAGING: literally giving one another COURAGE to face the day. That’s what MOPS is all about. When we remind one another that God is not only the Creator of all things beautiful, but the Sustainer and Giver of Daily Bread and Daily Breath – and that those daily offerings of mac and cheese and carrot sticks are also, in some way, modeling the work of God who sustains us daily – we give one another courage. When we notice our friends showing patience and gentleness with their kids and we tell them it’s beautiful to see – we affirm that they ARE doing good and they should keep it up.

And so we speak life to one another. We give encourage, and give courage by helping one another to take the long range view and to keep the faith… because this daily job of mothering is not extraordinary – but by God, it is significant.

 

Photo credit: Kim MyoungSung “drying laundry” (Flickr Creative Commons) – edits by Bronwyn Lea

She Dared Me – a guest post by Tifani Oaks

Friends: I am excited to introduce you to Tifani Oaks, who sent me this post as part of the Words That Changed my World series. I am so grateful she chose to share her story of daring greatly with us.

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Toward the end of my senior year of college, a very wise woman uttered something that turned my world upside-down. She charged me with a task of sorts: to some, it may have seemed simple; to others, it may have seemed almost second nature; but to me, it seemed impossible.

It was crazy. It was far outside my comfort zone. And it was risky.

There’s no way on earth I would actually consider it, I reasoned. She’s out of her mind if she really thinks I’m going to do something like that.

She doesn’t know me: she doesn’t know my story; she doesn’t know what I’ve been through.

And I was right. She didn’t. She didn’t know me at all.

In fact, I had met her just days before: she had humbly offered up her driving services to those of us college students who were interested in attending a book signing event in Palo Alto. And I, somewhat on a whim, had decided to join.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, I felt anxious—uncertain about whether my sudden burst of spontaneity was such a good idea after all.

But after spending no more than a couple of hours with her, squashed between children’s car seats and several mounds of Cheerio’s stashed strategically beneath the crevices of the back seat of her minivan, I found myself utterly drawn to her.

It wasn’t because of anything she said, really; it was just her: her passion, her wisdom, her demeanor.

So I shot her a rather lengthy message after the event, hoping my honest [albeit somewhat forward] words would elicit a favorable response.

The following evening, I found myself seated comfortably on her couch, surrounded by a trove of children’s toys, an expansive collection of coffee mugs, and an inexplicable feeling of warmth and acceptance.

There was a genuineness about her: a transparency that I longed to understand.

There in her living room, I began to share a piece of my story with her.

I told her about the breakup, about last summer, and about my honest desire to have and maintain spiritual friendships.

She sat quietly for a moment, as if she were taking everything in.

“I dare you…” she began.

My heart began to race. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I was eager to hear what she had to say.

“I dare you…to be vulnerable with them.”

My heart sank. I hadn’t anticipated that one.

Instead of the usual feelings of eagerness and zeal that would typically accompany the almost-immediate acceptance of such a challenge, her call to action was met only with silence and timidity.

With them? I thought. She was referring to the women in my Growth Group, or small-group Bible Study: the women I admired; the women I wanted to impress; the women with whom I longed to develop lasting relationships.

Impossible, I thought. I could never do that.

Sure, I could be vulnerable with her.

But that was in the safety of her home. She was an adult, a mother, a mentor.

She wasn’t a college student, a rival, a peer.

She had been through all of these things once before: she could provide me with insight and guidance, not judgment or rejection.

That was what they would offer me, I was certain—like the others before them.

It was easier to hide.

Easier to hide behind my walls of insecurity and self-doubt: behind perfect makeup and plastic smiles; behind red lipstick and inside jokes; behind sparkling shoes and busy schedules.

“I—I don’t know if I can do that,” I managed to stammer after several moments.

“I’m not forcing you to,” she responded. “Just mull it over—give it some thought.”

And “give it some thought” I did.

For the next 24 hours, doubts about what might await me if I accepted her challenge consumed me.

A million what ifs penetrated my thoughts: What if they hate me? What if they think I’m crazy? What if they don’t understand? What if… What if… What if…

So I prayed. And prayed. And prayed.

It took time and discipline. It took faith and hope. Most of all, it took trust—lots and lots of trust.

Every time a doubt entered my mind, I resolved to give it over, give it up, and trust [and beg and hope and plead] that God would know what to do with it.

And each time I relinquished these doubts, these fears, these anxieties, they were exchanged for peace: peace about my task, peace about my fears, peace about the outcome.

Because no matter how terrifying it seemed and no matter how insecure I felt, God was showing me that He was trustworthy and that He would be there every step of the way.

I wouldn’t be alone: I had a partner, a friend, a Savior.

It’s only been a few months since I accepted her challenge; but the benefits of accepting that challenge have been impressively, surprisingly, astonishingly rewarding.

I have never felt more free, more at peace, more at ease with who I am in Christ.

And I have never been more excited to begin so many new relationships.

Her challenge has truly sparked a desire within me to be real with people: to be open, honest, genuine.

Because my shortcomings, my failures, my misgivings do not define me; my identity is found in Him who is immutable, Him who is immovable. And he will be there through it all.

**********

photo-18As a recent graduate of UC Davis, Tifani spent the majority of her academic career in exploration: her interests are vast and diverse, making her decision to finally settle down in the philosophy department a difficult one. In her spare time, she enjoys spontaneous trips to the countryside and practicing yoga. She has a profound appreciation for hazelnut iced coffee, C.S. Lewis, and driving with the windows down. She will also never pass up an opportunity to dance or to talk about her Jesus of the Gospels.

Tattoos and Cardigans {Jamie Hanauer}

Today’s post is from my friend Jamie Calloway-Hanauer. I am deeply honored that she was willing to share this here.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Once upon a time, I was young.

I thought all the admonishments, advice, and wisdom of my elders would not apply to my life, and I shook off their words.

I believed but didn’t always live prayerfully.

I thought through things as wisely as I could, often better than most, but youth does have its shortcomings.

I got my first tattoo when I was fifteen. A friend performed the task, in my living room, using a hollowed Bic pen, thread, India ink and a guitar string. I was in a band then (Christian punk), and each member got the same x-eyed smiley face to commemorate our commitment to one another.

I received my second and third tattoos when I was seventeen. Fairly well done, this time by a different friend, using an actual pro gun, once again in my living room.

The fourth I got at age eighteen. This time in a professional shop, done by an elderly man whose hand shook towards the end.

The fifth and sixth I got as an adult—a parent and law student at the time, you might think I would have known better.

But I didn’t.

Truth is, I very much like tattoos of a certain variety (the Sailor Jerry type). I find them attractive and I often like the stories that they tell about those who bear them.

What I failed to consider as recently as eleven years ago, however, is that no matter how much we rail against it in our youth, we do actually grow up. And buy minivans. And join the PTA. And wear wedding gowns and become bridesmaids and take the children to the park in hot weather. We attend church picnics and pool parties and workout in gyms. And—surprise!—people will see us during these times.

And people will judge.

Tattoos have become commonplace in my generation. I served on the PTA with women (and men) who had a few. After getting to know someone well, the presence of a little (or a lot) of ink usually goes unnoticed. But in those first moments, that first glance, or even when wearing a short-sleeved Easter dress for the first time to a church you’ve attended for eleven years, eyes travel to the vivid color on pale skin, and minds begin to calculate (or recalculate) just exactly who it is they are talking to.

And believe it or not, I don’t like this. I don’t like the knee-jerk assessment, the reassessment, or the stoic attempts to be “accepting.” And so by the time I hit 30, I’d learn to invest, heavily, in cardigans.

Thankfully I live in Berkeley. That has multiple benefits, one being that it is, well, Berkeley, and the other that it’s fairly cool here year-round. Most women carry a sweater with them at all times, and so my long sleeves in July warrant nary a glance.

We are, however, about to move to DC, a place not known for its temperate climate. I will be making new friendships, new first impressions, searching for a new church, and in general trying to develop a new community with whom to laugh, cry, and pray over the coming decades.

That isn’t something to enter lightly.

I wonder: should I or shouldn’t I? Meaning, should I swelter in the August heat until I’ve solidified my “personality” and good graces? Or should I live in relative physical comfort and risk being labeled a “type?”

Some might say, “Who wants to be friends with those who would judge or ‘type’ you anyway?” If only life were that easy. I have children. I have a spouse. As an adult, friendships are often born of what your children choose to do on Saturdays, or where you/your spouse finds employment.

Over the last seven years, I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve heard someone say in incredulous tones, “You have tattoos? You?? You are the LAST person I ever expected to have tattoos.” This statement comes from a belief that a mini-van driving, church attending, faith writing, non-smoking, non-drinking, non-partying mom of four would ever, EVER, think to get a little (or a lot) of ink.

They are both right and wrong. Would I today, being the person who I am, get tattoos? No, I wouldn’t. Do I regret, being the person who I am today, having gotten them? I would say, emphatically, yes. Does that have to do with me and how I feel about tattoos or how others do? Sometimes the line gets blurred and something born of societal influence becomes an “I’m doing it for me” type thing, but in reality the chicken and the egg have become a bit confused.

There are those who wear their tattoos as a badge of God-accepts-me-and-you-should-too honor. I believe that, but that’s not who I am. I don’t want second looks, discussions of a past life, assumptions of a present life, or a walk through Leviticus. I just want to be.

A friend once prayed for me that I would know I am more than “tattoos and cardigans.” As I move from my well-established home here in Berkeley to a life full of new friends, new church, play dates, and summers spent at the pool, I find that prayer coming back to me time and again. I have taken bold steps already—I purchased some new cap-sleeve dresses. I put a picture of my largest tattoo on Facebook (much to my mother’s dismay) and answered honestly when someone who I’ve known for years asked whose arm it was on.

I’m echoing daily my friend’s prayer for my life, and I’m getting closer to baring it all. But I don’t think I’m quite ready to throw in the cardigan.

Jamie Calloway-Hanauer is a work-at-home mom of four—two under five, one in college, and one called away too soon, for whom the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” was surely written. After practicing law for eight years, Jamie has put that chapter of life behind her and begun a new chapter of editing, writing, and considering whether or not she should donate all her suits to charity. Be sure to check out her blog where she writes pseudo-weekly on the absurd, the ironic, and the faithful, and connect with her on Facebook or on Twitter.

Share your story. Change the world.

I am a small-time writer with a small-time blog, but recently I posted a piece that got really big really fast. I had been scared to post it. I was scared because it was personal. I was scared because it was political.

I posted it anyway, thinking “well, it won’t make much difference anyway. It’s just my little story,” but I could not have been more wrong. People responded to my story with comment after comment and email after email about how hearing an individual’s story had helped theme to see “the other side” of the debate for the first time, how the personal had cut through the rhetoric. My story encouraged others in turn to write and tell me their stories of how they have suffered under immigration laws. Hearing my story apparently opened up compassion in people who had not ever thought compassionately on the topic before. Sharing my story put a social justice issue on people’s hearts in a way that it had not been before.

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Story telling has great power to effect change – great change – far beyond what politics or philosophy could possibly do. I think stories are powerful for three reasons in particular:

1. Stories are disarming.

In a world where opinions are thrown at us day in and day out, our natural tendency

is to keep ourselves braced against the onslaught of ideas and words. We read the news with our defenses at the ready. We listen to speeches with our BS-meters finely tuned.

A story, however, does not demand our attention or allegiance. It is an offering of one person’s life and point of view: it does not threaten, it does not demand change. It simply tells. Our generation values being heard, and so when people speak from the heart – we listen. A story can reach the places of the heart, places we generally keep shielded from politicians and activists.

 

  1. Stories cut through bias.

Our natural tendency is to sort people into categories: like us, and not like us. Our inherent bias finds it easy to regard those in our camp as being individuals, unique and distinct. On the flipside of that coin, we tend to believe that all those “in that camp” are all one way. We make these generalizations because it helps us sort through issues of identity, it is our natural sorting hat for classifying, understanding and articulating difference in the world. However, the dangerous side of our natural coping mechanism is that we always carry a set of beliefs about what “they” are like.

The power of the story of just one person is that it breaks open the “they” category, and reminds us of all the individuals in “that camp”. It allows us to feel compassion and empathy for those who are “not like us”, because for the first time the story reminds us that in some way, that person is a lot like us.

3. Stories allow us to choose our response.

In their ground-breaking book “Half the Sky”, Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn challenged readers to respond to three specific social justice issues which affect women world wide. They had an armory of statistics and facts at their disposal, yet they chose to make their appeal by telling specific stories about individual women impacted by each plight.

Our brains cannot process facts like “there are 2 million sex slaves in the world right now”. We can, however, hear and understand the story of Suryesh, kidnapped from her family at 10, beaten by thugs and raped repeatedly each day until she submitted to the brothel owner. Big campaigns and huge numbers overwhelm us. We become immobilized by the enormity of the task, and change seems impossible. However, the story of one gives us a non-threatened space to respond: I cannot save 2 million, but I can make a difference to Suryesh.

Stories have the power to reach and to mobilize people far beyond the reach of politicians and power-mongers. In the quest for social justice then, here are two very powerful things you can do:

 

First: Share Your Story

The personal is political. If you have a story to tell, be brave and tell it. Tell your story of how your friend’s family got deported. Tell the story about the high school kids you work with and the things they go through. Tell your story about the poverty you’ve seen, the prejudices you’ve suffered, the abortion you went through. Share your story of loss, of mistakes made, of learning to hope through adversity. There is healing in the telling, and there is also healing for the hearers. Sharing your thoughts, your fears, your hurts can do far more to reach hearts than you might imagine.

 

Second: Share Someone Else’s Story.

By “share” here I don’t mean tell someone else’s secrets, I mean “share” in the internet sense of the word. I have a few dozen readers of my blog, a relatively small group of people who could hear my story. What made the story BIG was not so much my sharing, but that readers shared the story again and again. Every “like”, every “tweet”, every link emailed across the globe passed the story further and further. I shared my story with 200 people. A week later, it had been read by thousands.

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Social media (used well) can allow us to do impactful work for for building bridges, for bringing understanding, for furthering social justice. Every click of a mouse sends a story’s ripple a little further into the pond, and allows that story to do it’s disarming, awareness-raising, compassion-building, change-bringing work.

Of course, the power of stories should not come as a surprise to us. The Great Storyteller Himself chose stories to teach, to rebuke, to illustrate, to challenge. He chose the gospels, four stories of His life, to be the means by which we see the face of the eternal and invisible God. And he chose us to tell His story, a story which, once heard, shapes people’s eternal destinies.

Share a story. Change the world.

 

You might also like this story: The pair at the door….