Cure for the Sin Hangover

Sometimes when people tell me they think I’m so kind, or so generous, or so caring, I begin to feel a bit twitchy. When will I let them down? I sometimes wonder. And what happens when I do? I told my best friend not long ago that I’d like people to be able to say about me, “That Allison–she handles her sin well.”

Piha hike

Well. Handling my mistakes well means I have to DEAL with them. Face them, acknowledge them, own up to them:  all of that. And, yes, I want to be the person who takes responsibility and seeks forgiveness, but…Honestly, the process feels a little gross. It’s what I think of as an emotional, spiritual hangover:  too much indulgence in something not good for me anyway, and then facing the consequences of said indulgence after the fact.

I experienced just such a hangover this week. In addition to celebrating Woodrow’s birthday on Saturday, we plan to run a 5K. This will be the boys’ first one. I ran avidly many years ago and ran quite a few races, too. Not long after moving to Orlando, I ran 4 races in 3 months (one 10K, the others 5K’s). And although I liked the discipline and challenge of running back then, I don’t particularly enjoy running now. I much prefer my cardio pilates and strength training. But Garfield wanted to run a race, and this one is available. Woodrow had vacillated about whether he would run, too, so I had waited until near the deadline to sign us up.

Last Sunday night, I attempted to register the 3 of us (Mike is going to cheer us on from the sidelines). I had issues with the registration site, and there was conflicting information communicated. I sent a message requesting help, only it didn’t go through. I tried sending that message more than a dozen times–each time it failed. So I called the phone number listed for the organization sponsoring the race but couldn’t leave a message; they didn’t have voicemail activated during non-business hours.

The next morning–Monday, the day of the deadline–I called during business hours but got no answer. I left a message. About 5 hours later, a young woman returned the call but couldn’t help me. I got impatient with her. She told me the person who could help would call me the next day–but online registration ended that night.

The next morning, during our home school lessons, I got the phone call from the person equipped to help with online needs. Even before he started the conversation, I was already annoyed and believing the worst about the situation and about the people supposedly available to help me. Early in the conversation, I rather rudely told him he should stop interrupting me so he could hear how I needed his help–that is, if he really intended to assist me.

He responded, “Maybe we should just not have you run this race.” I was momentarily speechless. “Why is that?” I asked. “Because I don’t think you like us very much,” he chuckled. Taken aback, I simply said, “Thank you for your time,” and hung up.

Y’all. I was embarrassed. I had royally showed my tail, as we say in the South. For the rest of the day, I felt the sting of regret. The person who contributed a story to the Chicken Soup for the Soul book on random acts of kindness, the woman who has a picture of the word “grace” as her Facebook cover photo, the one who used to wear a necklace with the word “forgive” engraved on the pendant (me, in case you’re wondering) had just been rude, mean, and disrespectful to a total stranger who had intended to help me navigate a registration tool so I could race in a fun run with my children. Regret didn’t even begin to convey what I felt.

Later that day, after hours of mulling over the wording of an apology email, I typed it up and sent it–being sure to state my apology and ask for forgiveness twice within the message. I intensely wanted that sentiment to be communicated. I felt renewed peace at sending the message but still hated–hated–the lingering unresolved conflict.

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I didn’t know if the person to whom I’d been so awful would even receive the email message, but I surely prayed he would. And I emailed my best friend to ask her to pray that, too. And he did.

The next morning, I saw his message in response. He thanked me and offered to help get me registered online and even to pay for the fees for all 3 of us; he said it was “very sweet” of me to have sent the message (but I don’t think so–I think it was right and necessary, but “sweet” would have been showing patience at the outset).

What was genuinely sweet, though, was the sense of relief and resolution that had now replaced the remorse I’d felt the day before. What a lifting of my heart, to receive the message that I was forgiven and, even more than that, welcomed to the event after all. God’s forgiveness is like that, I think–giving us a clean slate AND welcoming us into relationship. {Incidentally, we covered our own registration fees.}

I journaled and prayed later that night about the heart issues underlying my attitude and actions toward this stranger on the other end of the phone. Discussing all that would merit a whole ‘nother blog post. But the lesson I did take away from the experience is that God disciplined me in this situation. Discipline, as in loving correction. The Lord has been hearing my prayers to have a transformed heart that consistently responds and acts out of the source of unshakable peace He gives. God took me up on that and used this man’s decisive boundary–Hey, if you’re going to be so rude, I can’t help you–to get my attention in a very lucid way about an area where I don’t consistently respond out of a peaceful heart. You want to grow, Allison–this is what growth requires. Truthfully, I’m deeply grateful for God’s chastening, for His not allowing me to get away with it, and for this man’s boundary, too.

birdsnest

In this instance, I was far–as in, light years away–from being the so kind, so giving person I’m sometimes described as being. But I believe I made the right choices in handling my sin:  accepting responsibility, trying to make it right, seeking forgiveness.

Confession:  It IS good for the soul, especially when your soul is suffering a hangover.

We’re Together, and They’re Mine

A month or so ago, I finally watched the movie Loving–even though it was released last November. In case you don’t know about this film, you can view a trailer for it here. We received free movie tickets as gifts over the past year, and I wanted to use those to go see this movie. But we ended up finding it on Vudu or something (you’d have to ask Mike if you want to know for sure.) So the free tickets are saved for another day.

As a woman in an interracial marriage, I feel a kind of kinship to the couple in this story. I’ve never feared that Mike or I risked going to jail for marrying each other. But had we lived (and married one another) 50 or 60 years ago, we would certainly have faced push back, maybe even persecution. And because, even generations later, there are still challenges involved in interracial marriage.

I watched the previews for Loving 3 times before watching the entire movie, and I cried at it exactly 3 times:  at the sadness of this practice of White supremacy, outlawing marriage between Black people and White people because miscegenation was such a hated concept. At the frustration of how courts (and sometimes churches) redefined marriage as being a union that could occur between men and women as long as they were of the same race. (Well, actually, the White supremacists didn’t seem to mind if Black folks married Asian folks–for example–but they didn’t want White people marrying outside their race.)

My great-great grandmother, a Choctaw Native American living in Mississippi, married a White man (my great-great grandfather) over a hundred years ago. She entered into marriage with a man of a different culture and ethnicity. I think about her sometimes and wonder how she folded herself into a family and culture so different from her own. I feel a kinship with her because I too married a man unlike myself in some ways; I too birthed children who look different from myself. She must have been brave, I’m sure.

My Papa, who died on Valentine’s Day this year, was one-quarter Choctaw. When we were little, our grandfather would point to a dark birth mark on his arm and tell us, “That’s all the Indian I have left in me.” In myself, I have only one-sixteenth.

I’ve been asked several times if my half-Korean sons were adopted. “Are your boys biological, or did y’all adopt them?” a mom at our home school co-op asked years ago. “Where did y’all get your boys?” a man asked me at our church one Sunday. Once, a college student at an apartment complex asked me, “What are they?” I didn’t quite know how to answer that until he said, “So, are they Thai? Or what?” In all fairness, he seemed a bit tipsy, and he told me that he was also half-Asian.

nanny boys and me at michael wedding
My grandmother, sons, and me at a family wedding about 5 years ago.

We sold a chair on Craigslist once to a young Asian- (I think Vietnamese) American woman who brought her mother with her to our house to pick it up. I could see the mother, who wasn’t speaking English, gesturing to my sons and then to me as she asked her daughter questions.

I could guess what she wanted to know. To all these questions, I simply respond, “My husband’s Korean.” And that takes care of it. Truthfully, these questions don’t bother me; most of the time I think they’re funny. Although when I was pregnant for the first time, I did mourn a tiny bit that people might not be able to recognize that my child was mine–even though I would grow him inside of me. Now, I am so grateful that my children’s appearances reveal their Korean heritage.

Calvin on bench at airport
Baby brother (AKA Garfield) waiting at an airport in 2012. Can you stand this cuteness?

When they were each very little–just learning to talk–both my sons asked me, “Why you white, Oh mah?” They also wanted to know why my eyes were green (I’d grown up thinking they were blue; now they look watery gray-green to me). They would say, “Why you have green eyes?” My typical answer to these questions was simply, “That’s how God made me.”

They also wanted to know why I had a black dot in the center of my eyes. Their eyes are so dark that their pupils are often difficult to distinguish from their irises. Woodrow and Garfield didn’t notice a black spot in their own eyes and were confused as to why I had these spots in my eyes.

Just the other day, Garfield pointed to the underside of my upper arm and declared that the skin there was “ridiculously white.” My response was something along the lines of–what did you expect, honey?

One morning when they were very little, I took the boys on a bike ride while I walked beside them. Across the street from us, an African-American boy was riding his bike to school. Garfield pointed him out to me and stated, “He brown, Oh mah; he brown. That mean he Korean.” Well… We’ve grown in our understanding of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds over the years.

Not only have my children grown, but *I* have grown, too. Marrying someone of a different cultural and ethnic heritage has helped reveal to me how much I went through the world not really aware of my White-ness. How much I didn’t recognize the struggles of people with skin a different color than mine. I’ve been humbled in this cross-cultural marriage of ours, realizing just how ignorant I am in many ways, especially as I’ve come to understand how much my husband has had to learn to adapt to the majority culture in our country.

mike and me at tiri tiri matangi
Mike and me in New Zealand, 2005.

I take notice of the world around me and realize that it’s looking more and more like my children look, and I wonder about the spouses God will give my boys. Will their children be even more multi-ethnic than they are? Will my grandchildren have more African heritage than Asian?

When I think about the words in Revelation, the last book of the Bible, describing the great multitude surrounding God’s throne–from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation–I am almost overcome with weeping. I can hardly wait for that day, to meet all my brothers and sisters in Christ. Some will look like me; others, like my husband. Many will look like nobody (currently) in my earthly family. And some will certainly share the coloring and features of my great-great-grandmother.

 

 

 

4 Things I Learn from Being a One-Car Family

Today, for the first time in well over a week, I went to the grocery store. My husband’s car pool situation didn’t work so well this week, and he had to drive by himself each day. He elected to work from home today {Friday}.With access to our van, I could therefore drive to the store so I could restock the fridge and pantry.

In March, we celebrated–and I do mean celebrated–5 years of functioning as a one-car family of 4. Half a decade! For families in larger cities, where public transit is more available, this might not seem such a feat. For other families, managing a household with 2 drivers and 2 children but only one car sounds unreasonable. But we do, and (for the most part) we do it well.

boys catching wind
The boys catching a breeze in the backyard one day.

This all started in the fall of 2011, thanks in part to many of the books I’d been reading–from works by the well-known Christian author Shane Claiborne, Jesus for President:  Politics for Ordinary Radicals and The Irresistible Revolution, to a book called Radical Homemaking:  Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by author Shannon Hayes. [Side bar:  I cannot recommend Radical Homemaking highly enough! It’s NOT a feel-good book about decorating and entertaining as a happy wife. It IS a manifesto of sorts about the value of being a producer more than a consumer, and how “homemaking” frees us up to do that.]

I was yearning to simplify our lives in radical ways. By driving less, I knew we could accomplish that:  less money spent on car insurance, upkeep, gasoline, tolls; less pollution contributed to the environment. That fall, I began praying that my husband would come on board with the idea of being a one-car family. At that time, we had a small 4-door car and a mini-van. I stayed at home with the boys, and many days the van simply sat in the parking lot of our townhouse complex. I didn’t broach the topic with Mike so much as I mentioned, once in a while, what the benefits might be of ridding ourselves of a vehicle. And I kept praying.

Months later, as I again offered my thoughts of how we could probably get by with one car, Mike showed interest. He’d been considering it. We had a thorough conversation about it, and we agreed to give it a go. We sold the mini-van and kept our Hyundai Elantra. In case you don’t know, this model of car is small. But I loved driving it! It was peppy. It got totaled in a wreck in 2014 (no worries; the boys and I were fine, and Mike wasn’t with us at the time), and I still miss that little car that the boys had named Gray-ie. (Our silver van was named Sylvia; our current mini-van, purchased after the Elantra was totaled, is white. The boys named it Igloo. I never get a say in these things.)

air boat ride
Waiting for an air boat ride almost 5 years ago.

My plan (casual comments and lots of prayer) had worked! Incidentally, I tried the same tactic a couple of years ago regarding getting rid of our TV–to no avail. Let it be a reminder to me that prayer is not a magic formula, and that my husband is NOT EXACTLY like me.

In these past 5 years, I’ve been learning some lessons from this one-car lifestyle. Here are 4 of them:

  1. Living a simple life requires intention. Simple living isn’t synonymous with “easy” living. In our middle-class, North American culture, one must be deliberate about saying “no” to the never-ending influx of stuff. In terms of vehicle ownership, we’ve also had to be intentional with planning:  car pools, schedules, dentist appointments. Once Mike had to leave the boys’ soccer practice early to get to a Cub Scout leaders’ meeting. He took the car, while I stayed at the park and fished with the boys after practice concluded until he came back to pick us up. There are many instances where one of us drops off the other (with or without children, depending on the event) and comes back later to pick that spouse up. We have to be committed to figuring things out in order to make this work.

    wilson and calvin on floor in pallet
    The boys (AKA Woodrow and Garfield) enjoying their living room fort years ago.
  2. Being interdependent on one another is good. And it’s not the same as being dependent. Choosing to own only one vehicle means that there are times when we need to ask for help. Whether it’s Mike’s talking with co-workers about carpooling (which typically benefits both parties) to sometimes asking for a ride or even borrowing a friend’s extra car after Gray-ie got totaled but before we bought Igloo, we sometimes find ourselves needing to seek out others’ help. You know what? That’s how the life of Christ-followers is meant to be lived.

    We seem to value individualism and independence so greatly in our society that we often do almost anything to avoid putting ourselves in the position of needing. But the early church didn’t seem to live this way:  Acts 2:44-45:  “44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”

    Every person within the body of Christ both has something significant to offer as well as a need to receive what others can offer. Sometimes our family simply needs a friend who will drive my husband home from work or drop off Woodrow at Boy Scouts.

    And what can we offer? In late February, a homeless mom and her 2 daughters stayed with us for 3 days while they transitioned from a shelter to an extended-stay hotel. I did their laundry, gave the mom a pair of my underwear (she had only one), and drove her to and from work on a Saturday. On that Sunday, I babysat her 2 children–one of whom was sick–while she worked, and Mike drove her to and from work. I can offer my home, my time, my decent abilities at cooking to provide a meal… Philippians 2:4…do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Friends and fellow Christ-followers do this for us, and we do it for others, too.

    boys rain boots

  3. Living according to my convictions and priorities is worth the work. I studied Environmental Biology in college, primarily because I loved God’s creation and believed this reflection of His beauty and creativity should be protected, that caring for the world He made also helped care for the people He created. So it matters to me how my family lives on God’s green earth. Psalm 24:1 tells us, “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it…” I believe He holds us accountable to that. How are we treating His earth? 
  4. We do what we can. I can’t do everything, so I do what I can. Do you know the story of Katie Davis, from her book Kisses for Katie? In her own words, this very young woman quit her comfortable life, moved to Uganda, and began serving there:  teaching school, adopting orphans, caring for the sick. I read her book in my late 30’s and felt the longing that it stirred in my own soul. But I can’t quit my life as it stands now. I can’t drop everything and move to a developing nation, unless God leads our family to do so. Instead of daydreaming about what I might do, I try to pay attention to what I CAN do. We CAN survive and even thrive with one car, saving money which frees us up to give more generously, causing a bit less pollution in our world. We do what we can.

    Fellow Christ-followers, how might God’s Spirit be tugging at your heart to take a step of faith in living simply–in doing what you can? I’d love to hear your thoughts because I love being inspired by others.

The Adventurous Life of a Boring Mom

When I was 8 or 9, my family and I visited some extended family members in a small town near Vicksburg, Mississippi. While there, my distant cousin, Dru, who was the same age I was, had a soccer game. Her step-mom invited me to go along, so I went, happy to be included.

I’d never been to a soccer game before, ever. At that time, the sport of soccer had not made its way to my rural hometown. I had to sit alone during her game, since her step-mom had to work the concession stand or keep score or some other job.

The weather was hot, and I got bored. So, near the end of the game, I occupied myself by turning cartwheels on the sidelines. Over and over and over. I kept myself busy by moving–and moving a lot–but always coming back to the exact same spot.

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Last school year, I read a book aloud to the boys:  Carry On, Mr. Bowditch. I did a fair amount of research before reading that to Woodrow and Garfield, because I couldn’t figure out how to pronounce the name “Bowditch.” I finally discovered it’s pronounced like “bough,” as in “take a bow.”

The story centers around travels on a ship, so the pronunciation makes sense:  like the bow of a ship. Some of the phrases, particular to those seafaring men, connected with me. When a sailing vessel has insufficient wind to move it along, that ship is said to be “becalmed.” Another phrase that struck me:  Swallowing the anchor. Which refers to the time when a sailor retires from sea-going life and settles down.

There are times, whole seasons, in life when I feel this so acutely. When I feel that I’m where I’m supposed to be, but I’m just cartwheeling myself along the sidelines until the game finishes. When I feel I’ve lived with steps of faith and taking risks that led to adventure, but that those days, whole seasons, are passed–and that I must swallow the anchor and settle down to life ashore. These feelings ebb and flow with the natural push and pull within my own soul.

A genuine contentment {most of the time} at being at home:  home school mother, stay-at-home mom for right at 11 years now. My life truly revolves around our home–parenting, teaching, hours of reading aloud and playing games and listening to countless stories about Garfield’s favorite Hot Wheels and Woodrow’s ideas for new inventions. And all the serving that goes with this life-orbiting-around-the-home–from giving haircuts to piggy back rides to birthday parties. This is what I want.

Henry Ford drawing by Calvin
Garfield’s recent portrait drawing. My boy is a Ford truck man.

A genuine restlessness {once in a while} at being at home:  My husband travels to New York for a week, serving others in his ministry role, while I stay back and home school and take the boys to Scouts and fix meals. He eats at fancy restaurants and sees a Broadway musical, and I think to myself–pettily, I know–But I loved New York first! I lived there for a summer during college, serving with Cru on an inner-city mission project. I went back for a week during my time serving with Cru at Mississippi State, leading a group of college students to serve in and learn from inner-city ministry during spring break. Then I also spent a few days there right after 9/11, involved with Cru service there. Mike thinks he doesn’t travel much for work (and compared to others, he really doesn’t), but he gets on a plane numerous times a year. I haven’t flown since 2012.

Before we had children, I discussed with my then-team leader our plans to go to New Zealand for a year and join a team ministering to college students there. I pondered that, if we were going to do this, it might be better to go before we had babies. His response:  “You better get while the getting’s good.” It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that his comment terrified me. What did that mean for my life one day as a mother?

butterfly drawing

I have ten years left–only ten!--to finish laying a foundation in my children’s lives, before they are (more or less) launched into the world. I will not wish away a single moment. I will continue to stop what I’m doing and make eye contact with the child who has another question, another story. I will sacrifice the travel and give up the adventure for time–lots and lots and lots of time, for there simply is no substitute for it–with my children.

Yesterday, we spent a half hour finishing an elaborate game of Memory that Woodrow had made up. Before bedtime, we spent almost half an hour reading, even though I’d already read a chapter from that book in the morning, too. If time is money, I’m investing it in these boys.

When my sons and I spend a morning packing homeless care bags together, or shopping together for socks and underwear and t-shirts to send to a ministry to men engaged in survival prostitution, or cleaning together at a friend’s condo as she prepares it for a new tenant, my eyes of faith crack open a bit wider, and I can see more clearly:  This IS the adventure. 

 

 

Sew, A Needle Pulling Thread

When my grandfather died in February, my husband, sons, and I drove back to my hometown in Mississippi. We spent several days there, grieving together and telling stories about Papa. While staying at my parents’ house, I asked my mama for scrap fabric to make more quilt tops for a charity called My Brother’s Keeper Quilt Group. In 2001, I made a quilt top and sent it to them for their volunteers to turn into a 7′ x 7′ sleeping bag for a homeless person. Then in 2014, I pieced together another quilt top and sewed one in 2015, too. 

I like the act of hand sewing, even though I’m not particularly gifted at it. I find it soothing, and the fact that I can see a finished product at the end is refreshing. I don’t often get that experience of easily-visible accomplishment in my role as mother and home school parent. When Mike and I lived in New Zealand as missionaries to college students (pre-children) I helped one of our teammates by taking apart a bride’s maid skirt so it could be sewn into a new dress. I didn’t have a seam ripper (a specific sewing tool) then, but using a pair of scissors, I carefully took apart every stitch in that skirt and kept the fabric intact. This slow, simple task had a calming effect on me–and it helped our co-worker, as her wedding quickly approached. (The new bride’s maid dresses turned out beautifully, incidentally.)

There’s something healing about a steady, mindless-yet-mindful task like hand sewing. And I wanted to do more. So back in Mississippi, Mama took me to the closet where she keeps stacks of fabric she no longer wishes to use and began pulling out piece after piece. Into the mix, she added multiple large sections of fabric given to her by a retired teacher who attends church with my parents. This woman (who taught one of my brothers in first grade) wanted to get back into quilting after her retirement. But a diagnosis of terminal cancer prevented her from pursuing this. She didn’t want the fabric to go to waste, so she called Mama and asked her to come choose some pieces for herself. Many of those found their way to me.

Back home, I began sewing. The large fabric pieces made creating a 7′ x 7′ quilt top go quickly. I put together two of them, after buying more thread. We went back to Mississippi for spring break–so the boys could play with cousins and so I could spend time with my now-widowed grandmother–and Mama helped me hem the edges of the two tops with her sewing machine. Actually–let’s be honest–she did all the hemming with the machine. Here are the finished products, folded and stacked and ready for mailing.

quilt top 2017 2

I love that these quilt tops are a hodge podge of color, print, design. I love that they don’t have to look any particular way–they just have to be 7 feet by 7 feet. I love that, by doing something so satisfying, I can contribute to helping homeless people stay warm.

quilt top 2017 1

I had so much fabric left after these 2 tops that I have begun sewing a third and probably will make a fourth one as well this year. I’d love to see all that discarded fabric put to good use.

I thread the needle, and then I pull the needle through the fabric, stitching pieces both large and small together, bit by bit. Over time, I build something useful. Maybe that’s part of what appeals to me about sewing–building something useful. 

Healing from the Hurt of a Friend

Since “heal” is my word of the year, I want to keep exploring this theme in my life and notice where it shows up. One instance of healing from hurt in a relationship where I wrestled with how to experience peace over it came to mind today. I’m reading a book by the author Donald Miller called Scary Close:  Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy. I always spend time stopping and ruminating on the concepts an author expounds upon when I’m reading non-fiction, and this book provides plenty of those stop-and-ponder moments.

The relationship–and the hurt within it–that surfaced in my mind today lived and died about 9 years ago. When I was pregnant with Woodrow, and Mike had I had newly returned from our year in New Zealand, my friend Anne invited me to join a women’s Bible study she’d begun leading. Through that group of women, I met and befriended an older woman we’ll call Alma (because that isn’t her name). Her children were all grown and married, and she had several grandchildren, whereas I was just beginning my journey into motherhood. Even so, we had much in common, with some particular family relationships and challenges therein.

After the Bible study ended–and I’d birthed Woodrow and begun to establish life as a mother to a newborn–I thought about Alma and wanted to spend more time with her. So, several months after the Bible study group had thrown me a surprise baby shower during my first pregnancy, I called Alma and asked if we could get together and visit. I wanted the influence of an experienced, mature woman, growing in her faith and relationships, in my life. She was keen to meet up, as glad as I was to spend time together.

Over the next year or so, we met several times, sometimes over meals–once at her house, where we shared cinnamon rolls and prayed together. We talked about meaningful and personal parts of life. Then, about the time I got pregnant with Garfield, some things in my life started to crumble. Mike and I were in counseling, and I was hurting. In fact, I’d felt blindsided by most of what was causing the hurt, and I realized it would get worse before it could get better. So I reached out to Alma–I wanted her input and her advice. I wanted to lay it all on the table and ask, “What do you think?”

trees

We talked on the phone, and we got together for a meal at Panera. I remember her treating me to dinner that night and asking if I wanted onions on my bagel sandwich–she didn’t know, she said, because she wasn’t sure I’d prefer eating onions while pregnant. Throughout these conversations, Alma expressed thanks that I trusted her with difficult and burdensome struggles. She said she was humbled that I would turn to her for insight. I knew Alma had much to offer, and she seemed grateful to be able to share her life experience.

After a few times meeting together–which was sometimes a feat to accomplish, given her work schedule and my caring for a toddler–she urged me to email her with news about how I was doing, how she could pray for me. I hesitated at first, thinking much would get lost in an email conversation. But after she encouraged me twice to do that, I took her up on it, thinking this would help fill in the cracks between the times we could meet face to face.

One night, I wrote a message to her, explaining some of what I had been processing and going further in-depth with some questions she’d asked me previously. A day or so later, Alma responded with a three-sentence reply, barely addressing what I’d mentioned. She concluded with, “Let me know when you want to get together again.” I felt surprised and unsure how to respond. I suppose if I want to see Alma again, the onus is on me, I thought.

My personal life became more confusing and painful, and we had a miscarriage scare with Garfield, and still I didn’t hear from Alma (not that she knew about the near-miscarriage, since we hadn’t talked). At some point, I realized we hadn’t spoken or visited with each other in months. I wondered what had happened, and I felt discarded. Did I miss something? Had she not actually been as eager for the friendship as she’d seemed to indicate? I wondered.

As I continued to wade through the chaos of life, thoughts of Alma faded to the background. I assumed the friendship had run its course–that maybe God had allowed her to be in my life for a time, maybe to help hold me up as I limped along for a bit, but that the season of friendship with Alma was finished. Then, one day about 5 months after our last email exchange, I saw a message from her–another 3-sentence message. “I’ve come to collect my Worst Friend award. Ha, ha,” was how it opened. It concluded with something along the lines of “hope you’re OK” and “maybe we can catch up sometime.”

If Alma had never written that message at all, if I’d continued assuming we’d simply gone our separate ways, I would have been fine. But her breezy, casual paragraph–with her “worst friend” quip–wounded me to the quick. I think it actually left me breathless for a moment. A day or two later, I still hadn’t responded, because I’d been thinking about what to do. Then I realized I wasn’t going to write back. True, I hadn’t called her or asked for a time to meet up during those months of silence. But I’d taken her at her word, poured my heart out via email as she’d suggested, then felt brushed off and ignored–by the person who earlier had been so grateful for my trust and vulnerability.

pin cushion with pins

Telling somebody “If you need me, give me a holler” is in an entirely different orbit than showing up in a person’s life and declaring “I knew you needed me, so I came.” I didn’t think Alma and I had anything to share anymore; I just didn’t think there was much friendship left. So I left her message unanswered.

Over the years, I have come to extend grace to her in my heart and mind–understanding that we all fall short of loving unconditionally, and certainly I’ve let down friends myself at times. I wish her well, and I’ve prayed for her on occasion, particularly in those times when I felt I struggled most to forgive her. But in certain moments, I’ve doubted myself about not responding to her last email, about not giving her another chance–even though I’m convinced (both then and now) it was a healthy boundary for me to set, even if others would have handled it differently.

Today, though, God revealed something else:  the peace in what I DIDN’T do. I didn’t get back in touch with her so I could punish her for rejecting me. I didn’t pretend to keep the friendship alive so I could make sure she paid back a debt she owed. I didn’t string her along with the promise of forgiveness if she were sorry enough.

toys-on-pallet

In what I DIDN’T do, I find peace, even resolution. I forgave Alma, let her off the hook, and said good-bye to a friendship that I realized didn’t have any life left in it. I haven’t seen Alma in almost a decade, but wherever she is, I hope she’s well and experiencing healing of her own.

How Not Complaining Gave Me Better Understanding

For Lent, we decided as a family to fast from complaining–and we chose not only to give up something but also to add something during the season of Lent. We elected to add acts of kindness. As you can imagine, at least one person in the family fails almost daily in the giving up of complaining. But therein lies the value of choosing to ‘sacrifice’ this habit for Lent:  We know that we can’t be good enough in our own strength, our own power, to uphold our own standard of goodness (much less God’s standard). So as we slip and stumble, we’re reminded of our need for Christ. Of our need for the gospel. Of our need for the gospel EVERY SINGLE DAY.

smiley-face

But recognizing that we ARE fasting from complaining helps to make me at least more intentional about noticing when I do it and about kicking it to the curb when I catch myself at it.

This past Sunday afternoon, on a glorious and bright and sunny day, we took the boys to a lake with Woodrow’s kayak and their fishing gear. I took my workout plan and found a shady spot to do my crunches, squats, Russian twists, and the rest, while Mike watched the boys play around with the kayak mostly near the shore.

A massive, well-attended dog park sits next to the park with the pier and the lake where our family spent time that day. Dog owners bring their pets to the dog park here to run and play; they even have a bit of lake shore set aside for their enjoyment. All this is separated from the lake park (called Lake Baldwin Park) by a fence. The fence even extends several feet out into the water, and the place across from the multi-acre dog park–where the boys paddled in the kayak and fished off the pier–is marked with a sign reading “No Dogs Beyond This Point.”

Almost every time we visit this lake park, we see dog owners bring their pets right out onto the pier, past the sign informing them not to bring their dogs to that area. The dog park has its own entrance, so there’s no need for the owners to walk their dogs on or near the pier. Sometimes these dogs startle my children while the boys dangle fish hooks in the water, but the dogs are usually on leashes, and I typically don’t say anything to the owners about it.

This past Sunday, however, we encountered a different situation with a dog and her owner. The man dropped his dog off at the dog park and then walked over to the lake park, to the pier, and stood on it while yelling at his dog across the fence. He wanted her to swim around the fence that stretched out into the water and make her way over to him on the pier. He tried to get her to swim around to him over and over. She didn’t seem to understand the command. Eventually, he went back inside the dog park to retrieve her. Then he brought her with him back to the lake park, to the side of the lake NOT designated as a dog park. He took her off her leash, letting her run freely.

And run she did, round and round. She ran around him; she ran around me; she ran around the pier and into the water. At one point, Garfield turned around while sitting in the kayak to see a large dog running full speed toward where he sat in the water. I called out to him that it was OK. But it wasn’t OK with me. 

During the time the dog ran wildly around the lake park, the dog owner kept calling to his dog. It was clear he’d lost control, although I could tell by the tone of his voice that he didn’t want it to sound that way. When I tried to reassure Garfield that it was OK, he heard me and answered, “Oh, she won’t bite; she just wants to run.” I didn’t respond to him, but I could see how exasperated he was getting with the dog. He seemed to be the kind of person who wanted to give the appearance of having things under control, of being IN control. It seemed to matter to this man that the handful of people at the lake saw him as a guy who could get things done, as somebody who certainly wouldn’t be bested by his dog.

We got ready to leave just a few minutes after this man finally wrangled the dog and got her back on the leash. As I walked over to Mike (from where I’d been exercising), I considered venting about this irresponsible dog owner. Which is a bit of a pet peeve for me, y’all. But I believe God prompted me to hold my tongue; there was no reason at this point to comment on the situation. So I chose not to say anything–not to complain.

But I thought about this occurrence at Lake Baldwin Park over the next couple of days. I thought about this man, not just about what he did that bothered me or frightened my children, but about him. And I concluded that he was embarrassed. He was embarrassed that his dog had gotten the better of him–and in front of other people at that. All his bravado, his very calculated nonchalance, was to cover up his embarrassment. His fear of not being seen as the person he wanted to portray to the world, even to strangers.

And instead of feeling annoyed by him, I felt some compassion for him. I also realized that most (all?) of us struggle with this to some degree:  fear of being exposed, of being found out, of not being seen as the pulled-together and competent and capable people we want others to know we are so that we can be assured of being accepted and wanted.

When I think about all this, my heart feels freed up to extend more grace to this man. And just think–perhaps none of that would have been possible if I’d complained.