Open Hands

open hands

I have been in purge mode lately, cleaning and clearing out my belongings for various reasons. For the last 16 years, I have moved a lot and have accumulated A LOT of stuff. As my husband will now tell you, my packing style is one I inherited and it looks like throwing loose items into laundry bins and boxes and moving them around for a long time. Now that Tim and I live together and share a small space, I am in the process of actually LOOKING through those bins and boxes and trying to decide what can stay and what needed to go a long time ago.

I have found many interesting items during the Great Purge of 2017. Some of these items include obsolete technology accessories, funny notes from friends long gone, and books I forgot I had even read. In one box, I found a folded up stack of papers and decided to read through them. The stack unveiled a talk I had given in jail a few years ago during a three-day weekend retreat called REC, which is hosted in jails across the country a couple of times a year. The weekend involves a series of talks and group discussions, and this particular weekend I had been asked to give the talk on living life as a single woman. While I was honored to be asked, I was also very frustrated that I still qualified to give this talk. I had given the same one on various spiritual weekends in Memphis over the years, and thought that the one I gave in my mid-twenties would be my last. As I prepared to give it again in a jail as a 31 year old, I found myself discouraged and kind of angry that life had not turned out the way I wanted it to by that point.

Today, as a married 34 year old, it is incredible to me to look back at what I felt and thought a few short years ago. I was a lot smarter than I gave myself credit for, and should have taken my own advice. Sometimes I forget the details of the journey I have been on these last three decades, and I forget what God has done in my life. I forget all of the times He has provided, protected, and shown incredible mercy. I need these reminders today as Tim and I face so many unknowns. I guess sometimes we need not look further than our own stories to glean wisdom and insight into the truths of this world.

Single Life Talk
July, 2015 Female Detention Center, Orange County Jail

Nearly a decade ago, I was asked to give this very talk to a group of teenage girls in Memphis, TN. The setting was very different. I was in my early twenties, I was standing in a very cushy youth room looking at a large of group of very wealthy, privileged Suburban girls, and I promised myself I would never be in a place to give the Single Life talk again.

Tada! God and I do not have the same sense of humor.

While life didn’t turn out the way I had planned (really, does it ever?), I am actually very honored to be talking to you about what it looks like to live as a Christian who is single, divorced, widowed, dating, or just wrestling with the idea of love and sex. Living life as a single man or woman requires immense trust as well as the courage to live with desire. Before I gave my life to Christ, I lived with distrust and fear instead of faith and courage. What I learned as a child and young woman fueled what I believed about God and myself, and I acted according to those beliefs.

Being single isn’t just about sex, though our sexuality is a large part of who we are. In the book God Loves Sex by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman, we learn that “God created us as sexual beings. Sexuality is an important part of the human experience. This statement is true of young and old, male and female – in short, everyone who breathes.” So if God loves sex so much, why does he ban me from having it right now? If he gave me these desires, why hasn’t he given me a husband yet to share that part of myself with in a way that is pleasing to the Lord?

Psalm 84:12 tells us that the man who trusts the Lord is blessed. But what if you have never been able to trust the people around you, much less the Lord? I learned from an early age the people are not safe, and that trusting is dangerous. I had no idea that there was a God who could actually be trustworthy, and that He cared about my deepest desires and fears.

As a child, I avoided trusting by living in a fantasy world. With one parent consumed by addiction, and another parent wrapped up in fear, I was left to my own devices and I built a dream world around me where I was the queen and everyone else was just background noise. I would dream my days away, making my own rules, and imagining characters for my stories. I didn’t need to trust anyone because I imagined my little world and I was in charge.

As a teenager, my world shifted from fantasy to fear. In order to deal with the chaos of our family, the confusion of my world, and the reality of being a teen girl, I became a performer and a perfectionist. If I couldn’t control other people, I would control everything I did. I didn’t have faith or trust because I found a way to control everyone and everything around me, or so I thought.

In my twenties, fear gave way to shame. I didn’t feel that anything I did or said mattered to anyone, so I began to act as if I didn’t matter. I lived in a haze of pills, alcohol, sex, and parties. I drowned my shame in anything that would remove my ability to feel. I believed I was worthless, so I lived as if I was worthless. I had no idea that each passing night was taking its toll on my heart, moving me further and further away from the Lord and deeper into my own shame.

On Memorial Day, 2011, I was curled up in a ball on my apartment patio crying to the Lord. I had been in an abusive relationship with a very disturbed man for just over two years and I wanted out but I couldn’t see the way. He had spent three days in a booze and drug filled bender, and was threatening me within an inch of my life. When he finally passed out, I went outside and told the Lord I couldn’t do this anymore. I wasn’t sure if the Lord was still listening to my half-hearted prayers, but this was an absolute cry for help from a frightened, helpless woman. I clearly heard a soft but strong voice say, “Get out” in my heart and I never questioned who was speaking.

Over the next several months, I went through the very painful process of leaving a man I thought I loved but I came to realize I was actually terrified of. He left terrifying messages on my phone, threatened to kill me and himself, stalked my apartment, and harassed my neighbors. I slept with a knife beside my bed and prayed for safety and the ability to trust during this dark time.

Months later, free from the monster that used to share my bed, I felt alone and unloved so I began sleeping around again. I was desperate to feel loved, or what I thought was love. After each encounter I felt more empty and more alone. I was lost again and felt as if I had fallen too far to even ask God for help again.

It has now been three years since I have been in any sort of romantic relationship – sexual or otherwise. Two years ago, I was baptized in the Atlantic Ocean and for the first time, I truly believed that I was saved, washed clean, and forgiven for everything I had ever done or will ever do. As I went into the water, I came out knowing that I would not, and could not go back. I have wanted to give into temptation many times, but God has placed so many people and words of truth in my path to draw me back to Him. Jesus continues to meet me in my bed in the middle of long nights when I feel lost, lonely, and unlovable. He hears my cries of desperation through my tears and knows the depth of my pain as I tell him, over and over, that my desire is to be a wife and a mother and to honor Him with a family.

In John 15 Jesus says that he is the vine, and we are the branches. He also warns us that sometimes, like the grapevines in a vineyard, we will endure a season of pruning in order to remove harmful toxins from the vine. God spent years pruning me – stripping me of all of the people, places, and things that were leading me to produce bad fruit, and sometimes no fruit at all! I lost jobs, relationships, friendships, living situations – all things that killed my ability to produce good fruit for the Lord. Like a bud opens to a flower or fruit, we are called to live with open hands. If a bud refuses to open, and lives clenched shut, it cannot blossom into its full potential and purpose. We are no different than a bloom on a vine. We are called to live with open hands, ready to give and receive according to the Lord’s will rather than clinging to the things that make us comfortable.

So what does it mean to live with open hands? To acknowledge desire rather than to kill it? What does it look like to trust the Lord with the deepest desires of my heart, not knowing when or even if He will give them to me? Henri Nouwen writes in his book With Open Hands, “A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.”

I don’t like being patient. When I want something, I want it now. Why wait if I already know what I want? But that is not the way of the Lord. His timing is precious and perfect, and not the same as my own. Living with open hands means telling the Lord, and my closest friends about my desires and admitting when I am having a hard time believing the Lord wants good things for me. Living with open hands looks like crying to a friend over the phone because I am at home, alone, on a Friday night. It looks like holding that friend in my arms when she has found out she can’t get pregnant and she and her husband had planned on having many children. It looks like cheering for my brother over the phone when he has just proposed and admitting that a tiny part of me is wondering when it will be my time to celebrate.

Henri Nouwen also wrote, ““Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart. Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”

Living with open hands means living honestly and vulnerably. It is difficult, and it often hurts. It would be much easier to just give up and buy a bunch of cats and an oversized nightgown collection and just give up hope. But God created me with desires, and I believe he is a good God who wants to love us well. He knit me together in my mother’s womb knowing I would be sitting on my bed at age 31 aching for a husband and children. I don’t know how He will care for me in this season, but I know He will care for me.

In John 15:1-5, Jesus says, “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Can I truly believe that? Could I really be clean simply because God spoke? Do I trust his promise to me?

For me, living in faith means trusting the Lord. If I stop trusting, if I go out and take something that is not mine, like a man or a marriage, it will bring destruction because it will be of my will and not the Lord’s. Even if it feels good at first, it will destroy. Fruit grown by force will turn to poison. However, if I wait for the Lord, no matter how much it hurts, he will provide in his time as he has planned.

If I go down to Church Street tonight and pick a guy up in a bar and take him home, I am stealing. I am taking something that isn’t mine to have. And it will lead to emptiness and pain. If something provides immediate gratification, I can almost guarantee you that it is not from the Lord. Like fine wine or a delicious meal, gifts from the Lord take time and care and meticulous preparation. One of my favorite meals to prepare is real shrimp and grits with a recipe I learned when I lived in South Carolina. It’s a delicious meal and, when prepared properly, takes about five hours to complete. There are faster, cheaper ways of preparing shrimp and grits, but they taste fast and cheap. They are a poor substitute for the real thing.

That is what happens when we try to take what we want rather than waiting for God to provide. It may feel good in the moment, but it inevitably ends tasting cheap and fading quickly, leaving a huge cavity behind. What we don’t need can never satisfy us – it will only leave us searching and craving for more.

I will close with this prayer by Henri Nouwen:

“Dear God,
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.”

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Pro (Every) Life

Banksy-–-Girl-and-Balloon-London-2002

“Girl and Balloon”, Banksy

Back in July, I visited my friend, Jane, in Atlanta and after some really big hugs, I believe some of the first words out of my mouth were, “I had no idea what a butt head I was until I got married.” (Except I didn’t exactly use the words “butt head”, but you get the point.) See, before I met Tim, I thought I was generally ok with myself as a person. I mean, I knew had flaws and things I wanted to change or improve, but if asked to give myself a grade, I probably would have given myself a B+. (Hey, for some of us that was an AMAZING grade in high school.) I would have described myself as pro-others, but really I was just pro-Lindsey.

Since our wedding day, I am reminded on a daily basis that I am generally pretty selfish. This has become even more clear in the wake of Hurricane Irma. In the span of a few days, millions have lost power, thousands have been displaced, and it will take weeks or more to repair all of the damage left from the storm. While the bulk of my fear and anxiety during the storm was genuinely about those who had no where to go, my response since the storm has been nothing short of selfish. No stores are open? How am I going to make dinner?! Walgreens isn’t open? Where am I going to get more Dr. Teall’s?! The Post Offices are closed? When am I going to receive my paycheck?!

Me. Me. Me. Me. I. I. I. I. Mine. Mine. Mine. I should have auditioned for the role of one those obnoxiously loud seagulls in Finding Nemo because I would have crushed it. And the more I look around me, it isn’t just me either. I have stopped breathing out of shear panic at least twice just trying to navigate traffic since many of the stop lights are out around town. Apparently no one else had Mr. Pitner from Pitner’s Driving School pound into their heads that a flashing red light or broken stoplight is to be treated like a four-way-stop. I was nearly run over twice in two different parking lots by people driving at least 40 miles an hour. In parking lots. I have been stepped on and kicked in the store by people who refuse to look up from their phones. I have stepped on people because I refused to look up from my phone.

We want what we want, when we want it, NOW. And it is KILLING US. It is killing me. If I am not careful, my selfishness is going to crush someone – it is just a matter of whether it is me or others with me. As kind as my husband is, a turn of the lip or a slant of the eye tells me when I have just said or done something incredibly selfish and void of kindness. He is gracious and patient with my steep learning curve, but the evidence is still there and to be honest, I don’t always like having that mirror there to remind me when I am being less-than loving.

In an effort to challenge my selfish ways, I have been re-re-reading Brennan Manning books. If you are not familiar with Brennan, please introduce yourself to him soon through Abba’s Child or The Ragamuffin Gospel. You may not enjoy it at first, but you won’t regret your time with him. Brennan Manning was a man who never “got it right”. He died of the alcoholism that enslaved him for most of his life, yet he is one of the most profound writers on Jesus and Jesus’ love that has ever walked this earth. Brennan doesn’t talk pretty; he tells the truth.

With no formal permission, I share the following excerpt from his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, knowing that I need to read it at least 50 more times before I understand what it means for my own selfishness:

The way we are with each other is the truest test of our faith. How I treat my brother or sister from day to day, how I react to the sin-scarred wino on the street, how I respond to interruptions from people I dislike, how I deal with normal people in their normal confusion on a normal day may be a better indication of my reverence for life than the antiabortion sticker on the bumper of my car.

We are not pro-life simply because we are warding off death. We are pro-life to the extent that we are men and women for others, all others; to the extent that no human flesh is a stranger to us; to the extent that we can touch the hand of another in love; to the extent that for us there are no ‘others’.

Today the danger of the pro-life position which I vigorously support is that it can be frighteningly selective. The rights of the unborn and the dignity of the age-worn are pieces of the same pro-life fabric. We weep at the unjustified destruction of the unborn. Did we also weep when the evening news reported from Arkansas that a black family had been shot-gunned out of a white neighborhood?

One morning I experienced a horrifying hour. I tried to remember how often between 1941 and 1988 I wept for a German or Japanese, a North Korean or a North Vietnamese, a Sandinista or Cuban. I could not remember one. Then I wept, not for them, but for myself.

I can’t tell you how many times I have failed to weep for my brother and sister who are suffering. I am incredibly quick, however, to weep for my own discomfort. In honor of Mr. Manning, and in repentance of my own selfishness, I challenge and encourage myself to be more pro-life in regards to every single living person I encounter. My hope is that I see them for who they are, not what they have or have not done to inconvenience me. I long to be pro-every-life. I ache for a day when we don’t see each other as objects to be tolerated but as people to be loved, enjoyed, and understood as beautifully and wonderfully different as we are. I pray that, through all of my relationships, I am refined and pumiced into a woman who loves deeply and forgives with abandon. I pray this for us all.

Learning to Swim

When I was preparing to become a lifeguard in high school, I remember some of the more rigorous requirements I needed to meet before I could be certified as a professional lifeguard. While there were mental tests to sharpen book knowledge and techniques, most of the tests very physical. In order to help a drowning victim, my body needed to be able to do certain things. I remember treading water for 30 minutes or longer while holding my arms above my head. This prepared me to stay above water for a long period of time (while building a killer core). I remember swimming a consecutive mile or more to build up lung capacity and stamina.

Unknown

The hardest test involved rescuing the program instructor’s son from the bottom of a pool and delivering him safely to the pool deck. There were a few conditions, though, which made this a potentially difficult task. Her son was a 20something year old college football player. He was over 6 feet tall, weighed more than 200 pounds, and most of that weight was muscle. He was a rather ornery dude who really enjoyed making this process difficult for future lifeguards, so he took his part of playing the flailing, panicked drowning victim very seriously. He had done his homework. I am also 97% positive that he oiled his skin up before jumping in the pool just to add an extra layer of complexity to this exercise.

I remember standing on the side of the pool waiting my turn to dive in and thinking, “Something is required of me if I want to help struggling people.” Even though I am no longer a lifeguard and have forgotten much of the training I endured to become one, I know now – maybe more than ever – just how much is required of me and anyone who steps into a helping profession. Therapists, instructors, first responders, nurses, doctors, surgeons, missionaries, and military service personnel know how quickly burnout can happen if we/they don’t care for the self before engaging in the care of others.

While I have always “known” this, I have recently been faced with some very real reminders of it as I have battled burn out. In spite of all of the hours I have spent in counseling, recovery groups, support groups, doctors offices, and self care books, I am still so quick to forget that I must take care of myself if I am going to be healthy enough to care for others. While the requirements for being an addiction and trauma therapist may not be the same as being a lifeguard, the same principles apply. If I am not relatively healthy emotionally, I will look to my clients for approval and affirmation. This is a HUGE danger zone in the world of therapy. If left untreated, this leads to therapists ignoring clear boundaries, having affairs with their clients, or worse. If I am not physically healthy, I am also not healthy mentally. 70-80% of our bodies’ serotonin receptors – the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood – live in our guts. That means whatever I put in my stomach greatly affects what happens in my brain and in the rest of my body. Simply put, I can’t think clearly if I am eating crap. And if I am not spiritually healthy, I will make idols of people, places, and things that were never meant to satisfy me.

Here is the catch: for the longest time, I confused “healthy” with “perfection”. Health does not equal perfection. We each have different health goals because each person is created differently. What works for one person’s physical make up may not work for someone else’s. For example, I have polycystic ovarian syndrome. This means that I am also insulin resistant, which means that my body over-produces insulin to compensate for the the fact that my body doesn’t metabolize insulin well. This affects my pituitary gland, my weight, my reproductive system, and my mental and emotional health. While I CAN eat whatever I want, it is not healthy for me to do so. My body does not process refined sugars or carbohydrates well, so I am prone to weight gain and dramatically slower weight loss. I take some medications to regulate this, but the best way to manage it is through lifestyle choices. The same goes for my depression and anxiety. I have lived with both for as long as I can remember. This doesn’t mean that I am a broken toy on the side of the room, but it does mean that I need to know how to care for my mind, heart, and body well so that symptoms don’t flare up and cause panic attacks or depressive episodes.

Some platitudes, however, do apply to all of us. Smoking is bad for everyone. Cocaine is bad for everyone. Lunchables are bad for everyone (sorry, babe, but there is plenty of research to back this up). We all need to get to know our brains and our bodies well enough so that we know what we need in order to be healthy.

So, back to my original point. What happens when I put care of self on the back burner for the sake of helping others? Well, it isn’t pretty, it helps no one, and this mostly what my last post reflected. Last week, through a flurry of unfortunate circumstances, I put self care so far down on the list that I physically, mentally, and emotionally crashed and was not in a place to help anyone. I let myself get to a place of drowning. So what does it look like to prevent this?

It looks like learning to swim. All hurricane puns aside (hurricanes aren’t funny, but sometimes the memes are), we will never be able to avoid all of life’s storms so we have to learn to swim. And everyone swims differently. You may tread water differently than I do, but at the end of the day both of our heads are still above water.

My challenge to myself, and to anyone reading this, this week is to learn how to keep swimming even when the storms around us rage. I think there is a reason other than biology that fish swim in schools. They accomplish so much more together. Whether it is finding food or regulating the current, they are more powerful in a group than in isolation. We are not too different from our fishy friends. Sometimes we have to tread water alone for a little while, but there is always someone nearby who needs us just as much as we need them.

My goal this week is to just keep swimming. Thanks, Dory.

Drowned

“Fear of Drowning”, artist unknown

I have not felt like writing in a while. Correction: I have not felt like writing anything KIND in a while. I have wanted to write many things directed at ignorant people, selfish people, mean people, or lazy people, but as soon as I start to type my thoughts, I realize that I am always one step away from being the person about whom I am complaining. So I check myself before I wreck myself, and move forward with a new perspective.

Now I am just tired. Last week was a big ugly roller coaster, and not the fun kind. On Monday, I went to the doctor to be poked and prodded to find the cause of some rather frightening symptoms I have been experiencing. On Tuesday I was sore and completely overwhelmed with work. On Wednesday I had to face a woman in jail and tell her that, in spite of herculean efforts on the part of our church’s community engagement team, I had no where for her to go after her early release. She was devastated and angry, as was I. She was released from jail at 9:00pm with nothing but the clothes she was arrested in – no money, no phone, no driver’s license. Nothing. I found her walking down 33rd Street near I4 when I was leaving the jail, so I asked her to get in the car. We grabbed some food for her, and proceeded to drive to every homeless shelter in the downtown-ish area. They were all full. I called every shelter I could find online. Nothing. After taking her to a relatively safe place to sleep for the night, I got home around midnight, exhausted and completely discouraged. On Thursday I found out that my blood work and tests had come back “normal”, which is great, but yielded no answers to what was going on in my body. We also received the bill for the blood work. Yikes. By Friday  the A/C in my car broke and I was a zombie, and I proceeded to sleep for 14 hours after a total meltdown that may or may not have involved some passive aggression towards my husband. Saturday, Tim and I watched “The Shack” and I snot-cried for hours. Sunday I had two very difficult conversations in jail with women whose futures are very uncertain, and I was stuck in traffic behind what appeared to be a very large police stand off between two perpetrators and about a dozen officers, including bullet shields and rifles.

So here I am today. Tired, discouraged, bloated (because I decided to take my anger towards the world out on myself by eating whatever I wanted to eat last night) and fed up. My food-drug tasted so good for about four bites, and then it just became another addictive outlet to numb all of the feels I was feeling. I don’t really like people today. I want to join our little Himalayan cat and crawl into a box and say “Forget it”, except I wouldn’t use the word ‘forget’. I want to wallow in my self pity and failure and shame and anger and intolerance and just tell everyone to buzz off (except I wouldn’t use the word ‘buzz’).

But then I see stories of people who are struggling with FAR greater tragedies and with FAR more grace and patience than I – a friend who is receiving her millionth treatment for inflammatory breast cancer but still exudes joy. My mom who just lost a dear friend to cancer but chooses to celebrate life. Families in Houston who have lost everything but continue to help others. Inmates who are facing decades in prison but still want to pray for other people’s needs. Every time I feel tempted to drown in my own cynicism, I am reminded that good people exist and that hope never completely dies.

I am far to prone to wanting to give up. I get weary and discouraged and afraid, and I will confess that I am really, really impatient with most people and circumstances. Yet, even in the midst of my ugliest pity parties, I am always reminded that it isn’t about me. My story is important, but it is just one part of a much larger story that is being written through all of us. And if I can see past myself, even for just a moment, I am usually surprised by all of the goodness that is around me.

A Sheet Cake in Wolf’s Clothing

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I was never the popular kid. I could sort-of fit in with some of the cool kids, especially when I was in middle school, but I was never That Girl – the girl that others wanted to be and guys wanted to be with. I was usually too tall or too big or too loud or too awkward or too artsy or not artsy enough or kind of smart but not smart enough or whatever else kids, teens, and young adults choose to label each other in the moment. I sort of floated down the middle for the majority for most of my youth.

I know a lot of adults who still float, but it’s getting harder and harder to do these days. We are all being pulled by some one, some thing, some idea, some event that demands our loyalty to one side or another. I believe this is why the last several weeks and days have brought an onslaught of insomnia, at least for me.

For the most part, I have been consuming – articles, blogs, videos, news feeds, podcasts, sermons, angry outbursts, questions, passive aggressive inbursts. As someone who is still learning how to listen before speaking, I am working on absorbing facts and narratives from as many sides as possible before retreating to my own internal processor and rendering an opinion. Lately, my internal processor has been on overload.

One minute, I find myself giggling at a famous female comedian who asks everyone to just “sheet cake” their pain and anger, and in the next I am reading a book about people who go out of their way to love the most unlovable people around them. It is overwhelming and confusing.

Nothing made me more uncomfortable, though, then when a colleague pointed out that the only people who were really shocked by what happened in Charlottesville were upper and middle class white people. I had to stop and think about that one, but I think my friend was right. Middle and upper class white people (myself included) don’t understand racism. We read about it, and hear about it, and sometimes see it, and watch movies about it, and know it is wrong, but (for the most part) it isn’t a part of our every day lives. So while an anti-human group marching together through a college town and killing someone is horrific, it isn’t new. This is happening every day. All over the world. All over our country. In your front yard and mine.

On the Sunday after the events in Charlottesville, my pastor/friend/colleague Zach Van Dyke preached a sermon he had prepared weeks before on how every single person walking this planet is made in God’s image. Liberals. Conservatives. Murderers. Surgeons. Freedom Fighters. Babies. Old people. Young people. Brown people. White people. Black people. Men. Women. Transgendered men and women. Gay. Straight. Q & Q. Racist. Humanitarian. Communist. Socialist. Libertarian. Capitalist. Classist. Rich. Poor. Employed. Unemployed. High. Sober. You get what I am saying – the labels go on and on and on. When I first heard his sermon during a preview on Wednesday, I thought it was really good and rather bold. When I listened to it on the following Sunday, I realized it was outright offensive, but for all the right reasons. I was all on board with what Zach was saying. He even started listing the people who are most offensive to many people in this world, and after each one he would remind us that this person, too, was made in the image of God. They may not live or act like it, but they were made in the image of the Creator.

That means our current president. And neo-nazis. And protestors. And everyone in between. That was hard for me to swallow.

After watching Tina Fey inhale a sheet cake, my giggles stopped mid-snort when my husband walked in and said, “She’s spewing just as much hate.” And he was right. I can’t help but notice hate doesn’t eliminate hate. It actually makes it grow. Hating neo-nazis and Donald Trump and statues are just as bad as hating anyone else. All forms of supremacism are wrong, because they force us to see ourselves as better than someone else. Whichever side you fall on, hate is hate. And hate equals death – for all of us.

A few months ago, I joined a few women to lead another recovery group inside of the jail where I work. I was excited to start this group again, and wasn’t sure who would attend since it was on a different side of the jail than the one where I normally visit. During the second week of group, a woman walked in and every fiber of my being tensed up. Without a word I knew exactly who she was. She was the center of a very high profile investigation and for the last two years or so, I had spent hours upon hours upon hours listening to her victims recount the trauma they had survived under her. Not only was I afraid of what this woman could do, I hated her for what she had done to women I love. I was in jail to lead a Christian recovery group, and my body was seething with anger towards this woman whom I had never actually met in person.

It took everything I had to get through that group without either screaming or lunging across the room. How DARE this woman walk into this classroom and pretend to want recovery!

Hatred had consumed me, and it was killing me from the inside. I knew I could not leave that room with so much hate in my heart and still sleep at night, much less call myself a leader. So I approached her, told her that I knew who she was, and asked if she would come back so I could get to know her a little better. She said she knew I probably didn’t want her there, but she would come back. And she did. Week after week she returned, and during these weeks we developed a dialogue in which we got to know each other a little better.

By the end of the group, I was not only proud of the work she had done in the circle each week, but I had grown compassionate towards her and really wanted to see her get a second chance at a new life. She has done a lot of evil things. A lot of evil things have been done to her. I will never condone what she did to the young women I felt I had to defend. I am working on forgiveness. Maybe I will get there, and maybe I won’t. As the new philosopher of our time, Kesha, sings, “But some things only God can forgive.” It’s not my job to make it right. But it is my job to make the more loving choice while moving forward.

So maybe you and I are being called to speak. Or maybe we are being called to listen. Or maybe we are being called to be the unpopular one in the room on or the feed. Or maybe we are called to take action for that in which we believe. Do these things. They are important. But please, do them in love, not in hate. Just because I am for something or someone doesn’t mean I am against something or someone else. It is actually possible to be “pro” without being “anti”. I will reference the ever graceful Saint Teresa of Calcutta. She was pro-many things and people without being anti-anything or anyone. She wasn’t perfect, and from everything I have read she readily admitted her faults. But she did a heckuva a job reminding the unlovable that they, too, are worthy of love.

Look, I get it. What I write here will be no more popular than my go-to sixth grade outfit of a sunflower skort romper with white tube socks and Timberland boots. But some of the most revolutionary men and women in history have changed lives by being unpopular. I am not out to change lives, but I would like to offer an alternative to hatred. No one walking around needs to reminded that the opposite side is wrong. What we need to remember is that every single life has value. Period. Even if you don’t agree with that person’s actions, words, motives, or lifestyle. It goes all ways. We are all hypocrites. We are all capable of committing atrocities. Each of us is one breath away from being the man or woman we despise.

My challenge to you, and to myself is this: Don’t join the haters – any of them. All sides are already screaming enough hate at each other. Consider being on the side of truth – the truth that says we are all equal. And we are all different. We are all equally different. And that’s a good thing. Hurt people hurt people. So why don’t we stop hurting people, and starting working on our own hangups so that hate stops here?

Going Public

So, here’s the thing. A thing, I guess. There are always more things than a thing. But I digress…I am getting back on the wagon. It’s time. It’s WAY past time. I am tired of feeling like a sack of old potatoes that has been left out in the Florida sun for too long (I now actually know exactly what that looks, feels, and smells like after sorting potatoes at a local food bank for a couple of hours this week). I am ready to see ME again. I’ve been hiding under layers of self-contempt and poor choices that have lead me to a place to which I never wanted to return. And change has to start with the willingness to accept the reality of where I am now.

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Today’s reality.

The women who are challenging and encouraging me to get back on the wagon have also challenged (okay, politely demanded would be more accurate) me to “go public” with this choice and to tell my story. While I have no problem doing anything publicly, I don’t like to talk about my weight. It’s just always been there. Like that sweater your grandmother gave you that one Christmas and you don’t know what to do with it but you can’t get rid of it so you hang on to it even though you know it’s the worst. So I am doing this thing. And I am going to put it right here. And I am going to talk about it sometimes. Do with that what you will.

You may be saying, “Hey, haven’t you done this before? What makes you think it will work this time?” Well, first of all, thank you Captain Obvious for pointing out what I struggle with all. day. long. I have attempted to get healthy many, many times in my life. Once or twice in a healthy way, many times in unhealthy ways. Diet pills,
liquid diets”, binging and purging, self harm…you name it, I’ve tried it. At several points of my life I have even dreamed of taking a sharp knife to my “problem areas” – arms, gut, thighs, you name it – and slicing away layers of fat just to imagine what life would be like without it. Gruesome, huh? But it’s the truth. I would fantasize about physically removing the parts of me that I hated.

The last time I made a focused effort to overhaul my health was around this same time in 2015. I was ready. I knew what I wanted, and I was going to get it. I wanted a healthy body and a healthy mindset so that I could have the confidence to date and possibly meet my spouse. I also wanted to be more active overall and try things that were difficult due to my weight and size. I wanted to sit on a roller coaster at Universal Studios and not be asked to get up and leave because the seat belt wouldn’t fit over me. I wanted to fly somewhere and not physically encroach on the person in the seat next to me. I wanted to wear shorts. And short dresses. And feel good naked. And put on a bathing suit without wanting to punch myself repeatedly for considering putting on a bathing suit.

There is nothing wrong with any of those reasons. They sustained me, for a time. But I lost sight of what I wanted, and I lost steam, and life went crazy. After losing 70 pounds and meeting the man who is now my husband, I moved out of my house, moved into a full-time recovery house, watched some really painful things unfold in my family, and gave up on my self. It was just too much. Every time I turned a corner, something else went wrong or whackadoo or not according to “the plan”. So I gave up. I went back to old habits. I ate and drank what I wanted, when I wanted. And it started to show.

So here I am, 34 years old. 5 feet 7 inches. Faded brunette/blonde balayage hair (because I can’t afford new hairs right now.) Eyes that change colors between brown and green. Uneven eyebrows (I had an unfortunate encounter with an Igea Hair Trimmer in college. But that’s not the point here.) Squeezing myself into a size 18 pants. 271 pounds. (Yup, I just wrote that. On a blog. For everyone and their pet to see. It’s there.) So those are my stats, if you will. I want to be not-here. But here is where I am.

So what am I going to do about it? Well, first of all I am going to work really hard to set myself up for success. I recently read about a man who spent 19 years in prison and during the end of his four year stint in solitary confinement, he made the best of his hellish situation and turned his tiny cell into a safe space for himself so that he could make better life choices. Good Lord! If he can do that, I can do this for sure! I am going to create places and spaces and times to rest, and be aware of what I am thinking, feeling, and sensing. Awareness is a crucial first step, but it is just that. A FIRST step. I can’t change that of which I am not aware, but I also can’t stop at awareness.

Next I am going to ask for help. Even when I don’t want to do so. Even when it hurts. I can’t do this alone. No one ever succeeded in anything alone. I have to make my own choices, but by golly do I need the encouragement to make good choices on a daily basis.

Then I am going to pray. A lot. And remember that this is my work to do, but it isn’t really about me. My faith tells me that my body is not my own. It is a temporary resource in a fleeting moment of time, and I am called to make it matter and to treat it well. It’s a temple. I treat it more like a trash compactor. I need to remember that I didn’t come to save myself, and at the end of the day (and the beginning, and the middle…) healthy choices are about so much more than, well, me.

And I am going to fail. I will have bad days. I will succumb to the seductive call of Lays Salt & Vinegar potato chips or Papa John’s pizza with extra cheese and garlic dip, light on the sauce, please. And it will feel so deliciously pleasurable for a moment. And then the pleasure will fade away, and I will hate myself for making an unhealthy choice, and the Shame Monster will come a knocking and I will need my people to remind me that I am so much more than my last poor choice.

And then I am going to get back up again, and start over. This isn’t about one Day One. There will be many Day Ones. If I am truly an addict, which I am, then I will be in recovery for the rest of my life. Kicking prescription pills was far easier than this. I flushed those suckers 10 years ago, got a tattoo, and haven’t looked back. But I know myself. And I know my tendencies. And if I am not seeking comfort from the realities of life in one way, I will seek it in something else. I will always be in recovery for my addiction to food as a source of relief and comfort from stress, anxiety, loneliness, and depression.

But my addiction to food is long standing, and I need to get back to the basics to continue my recovery. I need to find that rhythm of healthy melodies that make my body and life work like a well-practiced symphony. When I eat well, I sleep well. My anxiety reduces. My PCOS symptoms almost disappear. And the stakes are higher now. I have a husband who cares what happens to me. I want to be a mom in the near-ish future. I want to be healthy enough to get pregnant, birth a child, then chase that child all around the universe because let’s be honest, if these babies are anything like me they are going to be CRAZY! I want to live long enough to see more of the world with Tim and explore new places and things and ideas and adventures. At my current weight, my right leg goes numb if I stand or sit too long. What the heck is that about?

So I am doing this thing. And I am going public with it. And if you want to know more, feel free to ask. But for now, I am just going to tell my story and hope it helps someone else tell their story and so on and so on and so on. Because if we don’t learn from each other, how in the world are we going to learn?

Going Public

HOPE (via hijacking)

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You are hereby informed that this blog has been highjacked for an episode. Much to the dismay of my sister, I am taking over for Lindsey for this blog post. In case you are wondering, it is I, Tim, Lindsey’s husband, writing to you today. Now I know that most of Lindsey’s readership is made of women, but I feel like what I have for you today is something that supersedes gender.

Her last blog really hit something with me. Yes, I read everything she posts and no, beyond the one post, I do not read them before they are posted. Most of the time, I don’t even know when a post is coming, but she has my permission to use parts of our lives if she feels it is necessary or can help someone. So during my reading about our fun time with the cats and the fleas (I am happy to report that we are still flea free) I found her metaphor for what we are going through now to be very powerful. Let me say now that this is really and truly a WE experience. While I am the one that is jobless, she still has to deal with the emotional ramifications of what I am going through. And let me tell you, she has been so supportive that I can’t even express it in words.

So for those that might be new, just a little recap. Lindsey and I got married, had a beautiful and fantastic honeymoon (aside from an airline that shall not be named) and came home ready to launch into our new life together. While some things had changed, many things had not. I returned to work on Monday, and by Tuesday I had been let go for some very odd reasons that don’t need to be elaborated on here. Needless to say, I proceeded to run the emotional gauntlet. Anger. Frustration. Panic. Fear. Anger. Distress. Anger. Sadness. Dude, seriously???

And just to be clear, not all of that was directed at my former employers. Much of that was directed “upstairs”. Here I felt that I had taken all the right steps for getting married and finding that special someone. I went back to college at 35 and completely changed careers. Didn’t date. Then graduated and spent the next 4 years trying to find a full-time job doing freelance work to make money. Didn’t date. Got my full-time job which meant moving from Cincinnati to Orlando and worked my tail off to set myself on the career path for the next 2 ½ years. Didn’t date. Finally decided it was time and within 2 months of starting was in a relationship with my future wife. So I did the education, got the job and then got the girl. Sweet, dude was right on track. Have a beautiful wedding and an even more incredible honeymoon. BOOM! We are rocking, the world is awesome, yes I want a new job, but I was working. And then it all comes crashing down.

Once again, we find ourselves under immense stress and strain. We also find that we are asking, “What are we supposed to learn from this?” Now over the 1 ½ years that we have been together, have been through quite a few trials as you may have read throughout her blog. And let’s be frank, WE TIRED! But we still find ourselves asking the question.

So what are we being taught? Well according to what we can tell through talking with each other and with God, we are learning to trust. CRAP! TRUST! And not just trust in each other, but trust in God. And truth be told, the second is probably where more of it is coming into play. Great, so we know what we are supposed to learn, so what do we do with that? The short answer, I have no idea. But that isn’t what has been keeping me up at night, if I am being honest. “Why, why?” is what is keeping me up. Lindsey and I feel that during our relationship, we have had a month of peace, maybe two. So again I ask God, Why? Why again? Why now? WTH?!?!?!?

One of my favorite past times is playing video games. Yes I am nerd, and I love me some video games. It drives Lindsey nuts most times, mostly cause she doesn’t have the hand-eye coordination that it takes to play. I was sitting there today playing and finding my eyes watering, when it hit me. Maybe, I am not asking the right question.

We truly believe that God has something special lined up for us, whether it is here in Orlando or somewhere else. But as I sat there looking back on everything that we have gone through, I began to wonder why had be put us through so much in such a short amount of time? This immediately led me to our pets. Now we have two cats, but we also have a dog, G. She doesn’t live with us now since 800 square feet is not enough room for her and Bastian (the BIG cat) is BEYOND territorial. That also got me thinking about my parent’s dog Coco, who we saw this weekend when we visited my parents in Cincinnati to attend my niece’s wedding and another niece and nephew’s graduation party.

When you first get a pet, you begin to train them – cats to use the litter box, dogs to go outside and to tricks. And while once again, they never understand why or what you are doing and many times it is something for their own good, they rebel and don’t always cooperate. Dogs will bark and “go” on the floor, so will cats, especially one who thinks she truly rules the world. But there will undoubtedly be that one time that listening to you is going to save their life.

This weekend in Cincinnati, I heard a sermon from my former pastor about how God is not vengeful or spiteful, but instead is looking to bless us and not hurt us. So that brought me to my realization that I might be asking the wrong question. Instead of, “Why are you putting through all of this?” maybe I should be asking, “Ok, Dude, what are you preparing us for?”

While that question doesn’t provide any more answers than the first, I do feel like it adds a bit of hope. HOPE. That one thing that I have been truly missing as the weeks pass and still I have no job. HOPE, that there is something far better and greater than I can imagine. HOPE, that not only will we be ready, but we will be prepared for whatever this new thing is. HOPE, that through it all we will trust each other and trust him. HOPE.

The Cosmic Cat Bath

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If you’ve been living under a rock, you may not know that we have been battling fleas in our apartment. In the days after we returned from our honeymoon, we noticed that our 16lb Himalayan Siamese mix, Sebastian, was biting and pulling his fur out. After extensive internet research, I diagnosed him with stress and anxiety (because, after all, everything the internetweb says is true). We took every measure we could to make him feel calm and comfy. One evening, as I was lounging on our futon, I pulled Bastian into my lap so I could rub his back. To my complete horror, I noticed about a dozen small, black bugs scramble in all different directions. I so lovingly screamed and shoved Bastian onto the floor.

I looked at Tim and announced our doom. “We have fleas.” We immediately began to wonder how this happened, since we have two indoor cats that never leave the apartment and we are in a second story apartment. But we didn’t have time to answer that question. We put on our shoes and drove to the pet store, where we purchased the strongest topical flea killing products available that wouldn’t kill cats or humans. We returned home, bathed two cats, vacuumed, and spread flea powder on our bedding.

Let me repeat that: we bathed two cats. Have you ever bathed a cat? It is a horrible experience. One that usually ends up with weeping and bleeding, and I am not talking about on behalf of the cats. We survived, though, and waited for the topical ointment and death shampoo to work their magic.

The next morning we combed the cats to determine the status of things. The little bouncing life suckers had not only NOT died, but they had multiplied. In spite of our best efforts, our cats were miserable and so were we. I called the vet, Tim looked into stronger products that wouldn’t nuke an entire neighborhood. Pest control came to set out traps (because we need further confirmation at this point that there are, in fact, little terrorists living in our home???). We applied what the vet gave us, and decided that if things didn’t improve, we would need to bug bomb the apartment. This, however, would require us to leave home with the cats for at least 48 hours.

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After some careful planning and lots of research, we decided to pack up the cats and go to Tim’s parents’ house in Fort Myers for a few days so that we could cover every surface of our home in Borax. I could work remotely, and that way we could let the soft, white, sodium borate suffocate the life out of the horrible little monsters that had invaded every part of our lives. On Thursday morning, we put the cats in their crates, vacuumed every little nook and cranny, and spread the contents of four large boxes of Borax over every surface in our apartment. (In case you are wondering, it took four 4 pound boxes of Borax to cover an 800 square foot apartment. We could have used a fifth for good measure.)

When we arrived in Fort Myers, we threw away most everything the cats had touched and bathed them in Blue Dawn, letting them sit in the lather for as long as possible (we got 10 and 7 minutes out of them…that’s pretty good in my book). I misted Sebastian’s lower back with apple cider vinegar since he seemed to attract the worst of the fleas, and we let them hate us behind a closed door in a tile-only room.

As we were thoroughly massaging Blue Dawn into Sebastian’s entire body, I caught myself telling him, “I am so sorry, buddy. I know you can’t understand me, but we have to do this. It’s the only way help you get better.” As the words left my mouth, I started to tear up. I didn’t want Tim to see that was about to start weeping over a soaking wet cat, but so many truths hit me in that moment that I will never forget.

I immediately remembered a chapter in the book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 when the author talks about dipping his sheep into a vat of pesticide to save them from the certain irritation and even death caused by tiny blood sucking parasites. The shepherd can’t rationalize this to the sheep. All the sheep knows is that he or she is being tortured for no good reason. The same goes for toddlers. Have you ever tried to rationalize or level with a toddler? Don’t. It’s pointless, and painful. You cannot explain to them WHY they can’t have ice cream for every meal, you just have to say no and hope they thank you one day when they don’t have diabetes.

I wonder what God is preparing Tim and I for during these first few months of marriage, unemployment, strained finances, hurt feelings, fleas, surprise bills and unpaid taxes, and all of the other not-so-fun things that pulled us out of our “honeymoon phase” really quickly. I have to wonder if some of these things are part of God’s cosmic flea bath for our hearts, our minds, and our relationships with each other. Maybe we needed to be stripped of some things that were making us sick or, even worse, killing us or our infant marriage.

Now that we have returned home, and we have spent hours vacuuming up Borax and washing every washable belonging in hot water, Tide, and more Borax, we hope that every tiny little kitty predator is suffocated, dead, and sucked up into a vacuum filter – never to return. The kitties seem to be resting better already, and Tim and I are EXHAUSTED. But our home is cleaner than it’s ever been, and we plan to stay on top of the vacuuming and flew treatments since fleas lay eggs in cycles and we want to prevent further infestation.

In our exhausted state, we can’t help but enjoy the results of so much hard work while praying we never have to do this again. We also can’t help but wonder what the literal and metaphorical flea bathing is preparing us for in the near future…

Writing Our Wrongs

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This fall marks three years that I have been working in the jail system in Central Florida. And what a crazy three years it has been! About 18 months into jail ministry, I realized I was doing it all wrong. I went into the jail thinking I knew what the women there needed. I talked too much. I told them what I thought they needed to hear. Then, one fateful Wednesday night, I was schooled by a woman who had been tolerating my foolishness for months. She told me what’s what and educated me really quickly on how badly I was missing the mark. 

I cried leaving the jail, on the way home, all night, and into the next day. How could I have been that naive and ignorant? At this point I figured I had two choices: give up, or learn from that night and do things differently. I didn’t give up, but I did shut up and just start listening. I stopped myself any time I was tempted to say something that was not completely necessary. I took notes, soaked up all of the words and interactions I was experiencing, and started becoming a student of the incarcerated woman I was privileged to spend time with each week. 

Working in jail and being in jail are two totally different things. Working or volunteering in jail means you see some things, but at the end of the day you get to walk out of the doors, trade your badge for your driver’s license, get in your car, turn on any music you want, stop by any store you want, and go home to your own place and your own bed and your own life. 

When you are in jail, there is no life. There are guards and locked doors and glass walls and public bathroom stalls. There are eery fluorescent lights and warm tap water and mandatory searches. No talking on the bunk. No touching. No peeing unless it’s permitted during that time. No freedom. No privacy. No dignity. No life. 

In order to love the women in jail well, I needed to be a student of the culture in which they were living. I needed to hear what they heard, smell what they smelled, see what they saw, and taste what they tasted. Short of committing a crime to land myself in Orange County Female Detention Center, the only way I knew to do this was to listen, read, and listen some more. I read every book and memoir on prison and jail life that I could find. I continued to write letters back and forth with about 15 women spread across different detention facilities across the state. I asked to see pictures in jail and for the women to tell me their stories, when they wanted to do so. I started doing what I should have done from Day One: shut up and learn. 

I recently read a very raw memoir of a man who was incarcerated in various Detroit faculties for drug trafficking, violent crimes and, eventually, murder.  Shaka Senghor is now an author, speaker and former MIT Director’s Fellow who remains one of the leading voices in the movement to bring about criminal justice reform in our country. 

Writing My Wrongs: Life, death, and redemption in an American prison is a really hard book to read, but it’s worth it. While it contains graphic accounts of sexual and physical violence, as well has hard language, it is true and it is a story that needs to be told and heard over and over and over again. 

It’s the true story of a man who fell into darkness because of his belief system, his family, his culture, his environment, his socio-economic status, his race, and his mental health. It’s the true story of a man who made fatal choices that ended the lives of others and nearly his own. It’s the true story of many men, women, and children who don’t know the truth. They don’t know that they matter. They don’t know that someone may care. And they need to know. Their lives depend on it. All of our lives depend on it. 

When people ask me about working in the jail, I could talk for hours. What I most clearly want to communicate, though, is that mass incarceration is not just a government or political issue. It’s an everyone issue. We are all affected by, and have the power to impact, how our systems treat people. If a man or woman or child is incarcerated, it affects every aspect of our community. You don’t have to read every book on jail, or go to jail, or know someone in jail to become more aware of how our “justice system” impacts every aspect of your life. But I would encourage you to become educated on how the “corrections” process works (or doesn’t work) and look for ways to let the men and women in your communities know that they matter, so that we can all know the truth: every single person’s life touches every single person’s life in some way, shape or form. Every person matters. So let’s do some good with that truth.

Made for This

Making new friends as an adult is a lot more difficult than it was as a kid. I remember walking up to kids on the playground and saying, “Wanna be my friend?” and hearing “Sure” then the following conversation required no words, just pure, uninhibited play. Over time, meals were shared, sleepovers were had, notes were passed, and giggles were muffled in the back of the classroom. The process of making and becoming a friend was pretty simple then. The only people who didn’t have friends were the bullies, or the people who just were not nice. (I am looking at you, girl-who-shall-remain-nameless who stabbed me in the shin with a pencil in 6th grade and yes, the lead is still in there.)

We still carry on like this as adults in some ways, but the stakes are higher. On the playground, no one was afraid of having their identity stolen or their child abducted or being catfished or running the risk of having yet another one night stand. As adults, we realize that we only have so much capacity for work and health and relationships, and really good friendships require time and energy and emotional capital. There are microwave relationships – fast, cheap, and easy – which are no less valuable but they come and go quickly, and rarely last more than a year or through a move. Then there are crockpot relationships – slow, simmering, full of flavor, and difficult to rush – and these are the real deals. They take time to find and grow, and they tend to last through many life transitions, heartaches, joys, and circumstances.

I have lived in four cities in the same number of states over the last 10 years, which means I have met a lot of people and experienced the gifts and curses of both microwave and crockpot relationships. There are friendships that I thought would last, and have sadly fizzled out. There are friendships that seemed odd at first and are now still very much in tact and growing. Then there are the truer, more difficult friendships that have weathered conflict and hurt and betrayal, yet the ties still bind.

A few years ago, when I started working at Summit Church in Orlando, I spotted a gal around my age on the other side of the room who intrigued me. I didn’t know her name for the longest time, but I found myself being drawn to her and wanting to know her more. In some ways, she seemed to be a lot like me, but in other ways I found myself wondering how she could be so beautiful, engaging, non-threatening, and kind all at the same time. Over the course of a few months, I found out her name was Ashley and that she worked for the church, just at a different campus location. I learned that she was a wife and a mom and that she was really good at her job overseeing the strategic leadership of youth ministries. From afar I ascertained that she had a killer sense of personal style, that her hair always looked amazing, and that she rocked her womanly curves with the fierceness of Queen Bey.

I wanted to get to know this person better. But how do you do that as an adult? “Hey, um, I am Lindsey and I think you’re cool. Wanna get a glass of wine and be friends maybe?” That may sound fine in my head, but spoken out loud it just seems creepy. It wasn’t until Ashley and I showed up to a staff Christmas party both completely decked out in ridiculously festive attire that I knew I could risk the first step of becoming friends.

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Photo Cred: Kailey Newkirk

Over the next several months, Ashley proceeded to pursue me and get to know me, but I failed to follow through on our plans for one reason or another. I started to feel the guilt and shame of letting yet another person down because I just didn’t know how to say, “No”, and I was, once again, completely burned out and working too much. At the point where some people just move on, which is totally understandable, Ashley gently persisted and just said to let her know when I wanted to spend time together. Most of our conversations occurred at work or in between meetings, but over time I found myself drawn to her kindness and wisdom, and wanted to know her more.

Ashley doesn’t work on Fridays, so she has extended an open invitation to me to join her and her beautiful daughter on Friday mornings for coffee and conversation. I missed our first date, and then became wrapped up in all the chaos of our wedding, but this past Friday I finally made it over to her house with nothing in my hands but a desire to get to know someone and her family.

I am so glad I followed through. We are still getting to know each other, but my time with Ashley is a great example of what it looks like to make friends as adults. It is messy, and non-linear, and awkward, and difficult but it is so worth it. Over the course of two hours, Ashley and I shared coffee and stories and heartaches and joys and Mary Poppins lyrics and so much more. If you had been watching from the kitchen window (which would be very questionable), you would just see two women chatting while a German Shepherd and a three-year-old danced around the kitchen.

What was actually happening though, was life. We were made for times like the one I am sharing with you now. We were all made for relationship. And this isn’t a counselor thing. This is a human thing. Several years ago, researchers conducted a study called “Rat Park” where two groups of rats were placed in different settings and their behaviors were studied over time. The first group lived in “Rat Park”, an enclosed space filled with other rats, water and food, toys, wheels, and plenty of space for rats to just be rats. They made rat friends, went on rat dates, made rat babies, and ate and drank well. The rats in the second group were placed in isolation. They weren’t able to play with other rats. Both groups of rats were given free access to water laced with heroin as well. The rats in Rat Park tasted the drug-laced water, but chose the clean water for regular consumption as they lived their little rat lives. The isolated rats returned to the heroin water so often that they became addicted.

Now, I have read the studies debunking the Rat Park research and I get it. There are MANY gaps between rat addicts and human addicts. The real world is messy and unpredictable and at the end of the day, we are not rats.

But I still think there is something to be learned and gained from Rat Park, and decades of research when it comes to mental health issues, addiction, and self harm or suicide. People who are in healthy relationships live healthier lives. People who live in isolation struggle with life. Now, there are people who are constantly surrounded by people who still live in isolation. And there are people who only have one or two close friends who are actually in really healthy relationships. This is not about quantity.

You and I were made to relate. Pick up any mental or physical health study and you will find that our brains are wired to relate to other brains. Our bodies our wired to interact with other bodies. We were made for this, for relationship.

So what do healthy relationships look like? Ashley has painted a pretty good picture of this for me. No two relationships look the same, first of all. The good ones are usually odd and unpredictable and happen unexpectedly. Good relationships involved conflict and healing and honesty and vulnerability and joy and pain and laughter and tears. According to Cornelius Plantinga, author of Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, healthy people in relationships “enjoy the freedom that is born in contentment, which is in turn, owed to a sturdy and persistent discipline of desire. Healthy people deliberately note, for instance, how many material goods they can do without and then take extra pleasure in the simple and enduring ones they possess. They make it their goal, most of the time, to eat and drink only enough to relieve hunger and thirst, not to sate themselves. They integrate their sexual desire into a committed relationship, bonded by vows and trust.”

So how do these qualities apply to friendship? A good friend will celebrate with you when you are making healthy choices, and hold you accountable when you are not, and remind you that you were made for something more when you are living like you are less-than. I am very thankful to have a handful of people in my life to do this for me, and the healthier I become, the faster these healthy relationships tend to grow and flourish.

I encourage you to do this hard thing; to make a friend and be a friend. It isn’t easy, but you and I were made for this.