Friend or Faux? {A Less Digital Life…Day 9}

friendfaux

This afternoon, I pulled into a parking space for a quick lunch before heading to the craft store. It was a beautiful autumn day…blue sky, white puffy clouds, a cool breeze sifting through the blushing leaves. I had just rolled the windows down and crunched into my panini and suddenly a voice jolted the peaceful moment. There at my passenger side window a young woman ducked her head in. I raised my eyebrows and snatched a napkin.

She held her decoupaged box like a serving tray and told me she was spending this year being friendly, trying to bring love to people, and that if she could bring love to a random person like me, she’d be better prepared to love her own family when the time would come. Hmm. Hypothetically, it was a good idea, so why did I find myself feeling so uncomfortable, so NOT loved? Continue reading

Writing Butterflies and Brokenness {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 11}

I combed through gritty words and searched for my own like a beachcomber after high tide. I pictured this particular shell opening up to look like a butterfly with wings spread. I imagined the swish of the surf, like young love, and then straight away came the weight of the cargo ships in bay. If I was going to write authentically in response to this part of Gift from the Sea for my summer book club, I had to write about the days of swollen eyes and headaches and doubt.

I would have rather taken the whole experience, tied a rock around it and thrown it out to sea, but something told me I had to write it down. I had to write my brokenness. Maybe sharing about a confusing and embarrassingly immature time in my life could help some other young woman choose true love over fear, just as a mentor’s wise words had helped me.

We don’t want to hide behind the happy highlight reel or go around looking like a 50s sitcom star vacuuming in a dress and pearls, but neither do we want to be the girl without a filter, spewing teenage angst on our readers.

Before I went to Influence, I weighed in with other attendees on Nish Weiseth’s final preparations for her talk “Blogging Dangerously,” asking how we can decide what’s appropriate, how we can discern the difference between just trying to be edgy to get attention and writing something hard or thought-provoking that could really make a difference.

Sometimes, in order to speak authentically on an issue or experience, and to let people know they’re not alone, we have to write outside the lines and share stories of our own failure or brokenness. But even when we write dangerously, we need to do so with some sense of caution.

Nish wisely encouraged us to begin with praying about our idea, asking our Counselor for wisdom. Why share this particular story? Is the risk of conflict or misunderstanding worth it? Next, we ask permission from others who may be affected by the story. How do your people feel about it? The trust and security in our closest relationships should always come before any supposed benefit for our wider circle of readers.

It took me a whole day to edit “The Butterfly Effect”. I shared it with my husband and had him redline anything that made him uncomfortable. I shared it with my mom who had prayed me through the drama to begin with. She did some more redlining. They became the filter I needed when emotion had clouded mine.

Finally, when I had permission to publish the piece, I wondered if readers would make false assumptions about the validity of my relationship or make judgments about my emotional stability. Yet, I felt the risk was worth the possibility of reminding people like me that strong love is based on trust and that while the butterfly sensations of different phases are not illusion, neither are they are a fit foundation for relationship.

That day after I’d put my story out into blog world, I followed a random string of links and comments and more links that led me to three other blog posts covering similar issues. I felt a camaraderie in my writing when I had just hours ago felt odd and alone. Here was a little group of us synchronized by the Spirit to put this truth into the blogosphere that particular day…to challenge those who mistakenly believe that romantic feeling is the substance of relationship, when it is really just an accessory like a seashell on a shelf.

{How do you decide what sensitive topics and personal struggles are publishable? What stories of others’ weakness, failure or brokenness have ministered to you? What stories have you shared from your own life and what has been the result?}

This is Day 11 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

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West Palm Runaway {Gift from the Sea 2: Channelled Whelk}

In the year that I turned two, I bid farewell to both of my grandmothers. Elsie flew away to Heaven. And Mamie bought a one-way bus ticket to West Palm Beach. If you would have asked me as a toddler what made her pack her bags for the Sunshine State, I would have said it was the palm trees, their coconuts bouncing like beach balls, their long arms waving toward the shore. I remember being there and running across the street to them when nobody was looking. Where there were palm trees, there was water. And where there was water, that’s where I wanted to be.

In the comments on the Stars Dancing in the Water post, one friend talked about the “water effect…that sense of clarity and calm that people possess when they’ve been in the presence of water.” Maybe that’s what my grandmother had in mind. Or maybe she was looking for a better fit like “a little hermit crab, who has run away, leaving [her] tracks behind [her] like a delicate vine on the sand.” She and her heartache had seemed to outgrow the Indiana neighborhood she had called home for so long. Had she, like the hermit crab, needed a change of shell? “Did [she] hope to find a better home, a better mode of living?”

She had come with only a suitcase, the perfect beginning for simplicity. But two years later, her tiny apartment was already overstuffed. And when we visited again when I was 18, we had to put our lanky teenage arms at our sides to make it through the narrow passage inside the door. Boxes, books, papers and tins all teetered in precarious stacks that reached to the ceiling.

Outside, a woman whizzed by on a bicycle, calling out to a neighbor in happy Spanish. Inside, my grandmother waddled about, shuffling newspapers and file folders and needlepoint kits, making rooms for us to sit. Grandma was a woman trying to pedal a bike with a wobbly wheel. She had lost a spoke to broken marriage. And she had let her relationship with every one of her four children bust loose.

She had not endeavored to solve Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s question: “how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.” Without dealing with the complications of her life head-on, she could never fully change. She hadn’t come to this place to simplify and reflect on her life. She had come to laugh with the bubbly surf and pretend the hurts never happened. She had come to escape her life altogether.

I feel fortunate that I haven’t had to face those shocks and deal with such difficulties, but even “the life I have chosen as wife and mother entrains a whole caravan of complications.” I have to catch my breath from merely reading the author’s summary of a mother’s work…let alone attempting it. How can it ever be done? And that’s not even to mention my desire to find “creative pause.”

Here, we can walk alongside Anne Morrow Lindbergh as she seeks “inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony,” and “inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.”

This then affects the way we interact with our environment and our responsibilities. I know too little of the “first happy condition” in which “one seems to carry all one’s tasks before one lightly, as if borne along on a great tide…” And I know too much of “the opposite state” in which “one can hardly tie a shoe-string.” Too often, I feel that centrifugal force pulling me off center. Too often, I feel more like I’ve been sucked in by an undertow rather than the sensation of surfing on a great tide.

“It has to do primarily with distractions,” the author wrote, “The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children, the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls–woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life.” But does it have to be this way? What if we could look at our activities and accumulations and ask “how little, not how much, can I get along with. To say–is it necessary?–when I am tempted to add one more accumulation to my life, when I am pulled toward one more centrifugal activity.” When we endeavor changes in the outward life, we learn about the inward life.

If we can simplify our homes and our schedules, we have more room to invite people in, the friends with whom we “can be completely honest.”  If we can start the day in prayer and de-clutter the inner life, we come at those relationships unencumbered, able to be authentic, to avoid “the most exhausting thing in life…being insincere,” and to shed the mask. If we sit a bit with our Maker and get His take on how our time and talents can best be used, we come with new clarity to the “ever-widening circles of contact and communication….not only family demands, but community demands, national demands, international demands on the good citizen, through social and cultural pressures, through newspapers, magazines, radio programs, political drives, charitable appeals and so on.”

For Anne Morrow Lindbergh, her simple “sea-shell of a house” is the perfect place to consider all these things. But she knows the place is not one for dwelling permanently. After all, “total retirement is not possible” for a woman who wants a life with her family, “to share with friends and community, to carry out…obligations to man and to the world, as a woman, as an artist, as a citizen.” As she said, peace comes not in “total renunciation…nor in total acceptance. I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes; a swinging of the pendulum between solitude and communion, between retreat and return.”

I think my grandmother only realized this at the end, as my family bridged the waters between us and her, that we needed her to return from retreat in one form or another, to shed her mask and experience authentic relationship. On my last visit, as my husband rolled her wheelchair back into her room at the nursing home in West Palm Beach, my grandmother, normally full of jokes and laughter, began to sob. She pushed herself up onto her feet, shuffled over to a corner and opened the lid to a messy box of stuff, the only remains of her cluttered life.

She pulled out a framed needlepoint rendition of the poem, “Footprints,” and handed it to me as a souvenir. My eyes flowed too. Her spoken words and the work of her hands in that frame were evidence that even if she hadn’t yet figured out how to mend her family relationships, she had found a starting point, a trust in Jesus. In this simple, over-used poem, my grandmother had discovered a metaphor for her need, that when her wheels went wobbly and she grew too old to walk straight and she didn’t know how to return from retreat, she could trust Him to carry her to a place of simplicity…all the while marking out a path with those not-so-lonely footprints in the sand.

{This week’s post is based on Chapter 2, “Channelled Whelk” in Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. View all entries in the series here.}

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So, what’s your take? Pick one or more of the reflection questions in the comments section and enter a reply to share your thoughts. All subscribers’ comments on the weekly Gift from the Sea posts (shared on Mondays in June and July) will be entered for a drawing at the end of our Summer Book Club 2012.

Beyond Little Droplets…(in)RL

In little droplets we give and get. 140 characters or less do their best to articulate the everyday mercy, the wide-eyed wonder, the treasure in the earthen vessel @thismoment. Maybe an instagr.am is like a thousand words; or maybe it’s more like a cave drawing, a chalky sketch that leaves us wanting for details. We can’t write a blog post more than 500 words if we actually want someone to read it. We reel in one-liner comments on Facebook. We txt instead of call, shorten r words 2 get a quick point across, think there must be an emergency when the phone actually rings. Always little droplets.

“We are tempted to think that our little ‘sips’ of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation,” psychologist Sherry Turkle said in a recent New York Times article, “But they don’t…. As we ramp up the volume and velocity of online connections, we start to expect faster answers. To get these, we ask one another simpler questions; we dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters.”

Too long we go thirsty with the dribble from the virtual faucet. A couple of weeks ago, I penciled an entry in my journal at the end of the night. “To go to sleep satisfied,” I wrote, “it is too rare a thing. But I have the gift of it tonight….” I had spent the morning cleaning to make the house ready for an old friend to visit. Around noon, we toasted some sandwiches, filled our cups with cold water and then I listened as she poured out the whole story of what she’d been through the last few years, a plot-line I could have never deciphered from the little blurbs she’d shared in virtual world. That evening, after I taught a lesson for eager English language-learners, I came right home and tapped out long paragraphs to point her to the Word at the beginning, the Word that spoke over the surface of the waters.

That same Word, now made flesh, spoke over the waters again when he asked an outcast of a woman for a drink from the well. Many of us have our reasons to guard ourselves from community, to give and get in little sips. Turkle continued, “[We] use technology to keep one another at distances we can control: not too close, not too far, just right…. Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding. We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology. And the move from conversation to [mere] connection is part of this.”

But notice what happens here in front of the well. In face-to-face conversation with Jesus, this woman has no way to make herself presentable. She is found out. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her run home and bolt the door shut, further cutting herself off from the world. Instead, the woman runs into town, toward community and brings the crowd back to the Living Water. When Holley Gerth mentioned the concept of “fitting in vs. belonging” on an inRL video Friday night, I grabbed the pen fast, scribbled down the words and wrote down the author’s name. Brené Brown’s written words speak so well to this story: “We can only belong when we offer our most authentic selves and when we’re embraced for who we are.”

On Saturday morning, I ventured out in real life, breathed in the cold damp, sloshed through drizzles without an umbrella. At the door of the bistro, I met the bold smell of coffee brewing. I walked around the hostess counter toward the back of the place. When I came near, I saw the centerpiece of the room, a table full of women, not just “apparitions flickering on the screen,” but flesh and bone and audible word. One looked up, met my eyes, not looking past, and waved for me to come on over. There in the middle of it all was one chair open, saved just for me. Across the table, one woman clinked a flask on another’s glass, pouring water, quenching thirst for community.

{Thanks to (in)courage for getting the ball rolling, bringing together groups of wordsmiths, fostering a sense of belonging and true community that is “seeded online and grows off line.” This weekend, I was blessed to “belong” with the women of The Tiny Twig, 4tunate, Seasoned Joy, Simply Sarah, Hot Fudge Sundae Life, The Barela Family, Only Here-Only Now, James Gang, and Snail Pace Transformations. And I would love for you to join me in real life on Saturday, May 19 as I lead worship for the Fully Satisfied Women’s Conference where we will meditate on living life beyond little droplets!}