Thankfulness at 30: People (There)

Nearly all of my twenties have been spent in DC, but they have been gloriously punctuated by dear friends who live far away. Before we get to them, two other thanks are in order, to explain the fullness of these relationships.

First, shout-out to mom and dad. Aside from seasonal allergies and unshrinkable thighs, I am grateful for nearly everything that my parents have given me. But it wasn’t until I left home that I realized one particularly rare gift that I had taken for granted: the stubborn persistence of relationships across time and space. I was never taught that people could be seasonal – in your life at one moment, then gone the next – and so it never became part of my worldview. Some of this belief can be attributed to my very stable small town. People just stayed, so you stayed friends with them. But most of what formed this line of thinking has been a gift, passed on from my parents. Long car rides were a chance for dad to go through his phone book and catch up with friends from high school or college. Visits to new cities were excuses to drop in on old friends and stories would be interrupted mid-beat with the directive to call up so-and-so and have them finish the story, verbatim.  My parents’ friends do not exist in frozen photographs or yearly Christmas cards; they are real people with voices that I recognize and homes that have been opened to me.

The second thanks goes to technology, or perhaps better still, the God who saw fit to have me born into a generation that would be heart-wrenchingly mobile, yet able to speak face-to-face with just the touch of a button. I’m still holding out for teleportation, but in the meantime, FaceTime, Skype, Google Hang-Outs and StageIt shows allow me to see the faces of loved ones across the miles, in real time, and Facebook gives me a window into the daily life of friends that a little more than one decade ago would not have been possible.

My parents’ belief in the importance of lasting relationships and the increasing connectivity afforded by technology have paved the way for the depth of these relationships. In my twenties, as I moved far from home and far from those who knew me, it never occurred to me that I had a choice. We would all just simply keep being friends.  And I am grateful.

Now. Onto you who are out there.


To my family.

You guys. You are the best. I can’t imagine having another one. We all genuinely like each other – cousins, aunts/uncles, siblings, right on up the list. Really! Snapchat and secret Facebook pages and sometimes even snail mail keep us in touch, when we’re not home for the holidays or together on vacation. My parents come and visit all the time and not just to check in, but to genuinely know and experience my world so they can love it through my eyes. Last year, my sister and I saw each other during eleven out of the twelve months – this year, we’re tracking at more like eight, but still not too shabby for living five states away. And if you take into account gchat, FaceTime, and regular old phone calls, I would guess that less than 100 days have passed during this whole decade that I haven’t spoken to at least one member of my family. They are the best, and just continue to get better, even though we keep spreading further apart.

To my other family.

My friend family. Mal-o, Seth, Steve, Kevin, Emily, Ellie, Rachel, Dave, Matthew, Adam and Larissa, in order of appearance. Most of you have known me for every birthday of my twenties. Some of you were even involved in a kidnapping scheme when I turned 21. And here we are, all these birthdays later. All I can say is thank you. Thank you for pressing in, through my stubbornness and strong opinions. Thank you for believing me when I insisted that it would be better if we all stayed friends [file under: stubbornness and strong opinions]. I’m grateful that you have used your precious few vacation days to travel to West Virginia, Maryland, Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania – all for the sake of laughter and being known. Thank you for trusting me with the raw parts of your story and for patiently listening as my own layers pulled back. I would trade 100 ordinary Tuesdays for just one day of being all together again. I’m grateful for our holidays, but also for our phone calls and email chains and letters and Hang-outs. I’m grateful for floors made of lava and for croquet mallets and for Dave’s chefs knife. For planned spontaneity and systems of personal involvement and banagrams and fishbowl. For your honesty. For your willingness to stay awake until the last person arrived at home. For loving me enough to argue with me and to call me out when I’m in the wrong and to let me cry until I feel better. It is impossible to describe all of the ways and reasons why I am grateful for you, but they are known to you. Thank you.

And finally, to the Rabbit Room.

More specifically, to you kindred souls that I have met at Hutchmoot. Thank you. You are silly and kind and brave and faithful. A collection of souls that makes me want to live up to what you believe me to be. At best, I only see these friends once a year, and in many ways, it cannot be explained why I love these people so. This year, they will be gathering without me, while Laura and I venture off to celebrate our 30th birthday in New York City. But each day, they pass through my newsfeed, “ennobling the whole shebang” with music, laughter, anecdotes and prayers – a shiny corner of the generally dark interwebs. Most of these friends could not tell you where I went to college or what I do for a living or the name of my hometown. But they know my heart, and that is more than enough.

I can’t help but think that life would be better if you were all here, meeting me for coffee, coming over for dinner, sitting next to me in the pew. But the Lord who is over all of us has determined to place us in our own little postage stamps. Yet He has given us each other.

And I am grateful.

Thankfulness at 30: People (Here)

During the fellows program, we were assigned to make a list of our governing values – the underlying principles that led us to make decisions and set priorities. Among my values were punctuality, loyalty, learning, family and relationships.

But I’m realizing more and more that I am primarily governed by relationships. I make decisions based on people and will shift my whole day around if someone that I love needs me to. As is true of most things, this is harder to do in DC – jobs can be inflexible, traffic can destroy the best laid plans, and after long days, a lot of people just want to be left alone.

It can be a lonely world when you are prioritizing people, but the people around you have a different agenda. But from the day that I arrived in this city, I have been blessed with people who are determined to invite me in, to fight the traffic, to let me stay for dinner even when it’s frozen pizza on paper plates. And because of them, I have not been alone. My twenties have been full of rich relationships, open arms and seats at the table. And I am grateful.

I want to write long stories of all the people who have preserved through the anonymity of this city to make it feel like home, but I am afraid that my pen will run out and my memory will fail me. I was welcomed in when I was a stranger and given a home and the trusting hearts of 6th grade girls. I want to tell you about the movie marathons we had seemingly every week when Amy was sick. About the late nights spent at the black kitchen table at 5 Doors as candles barely illuminated the room. I want you to know the joy of memorizing another family’s prayers and how fun it is to offer a birthday toast for someone else’s child. I want to take you on walks around Springfield and Sycamore and Great Falls. I could write about the Easter afternoon spent on a porch swing with dear women, or about sitting in a van talking about how to love teenagers well. I could paint you pictures of standing Monday night dinners and open mic nights and progressive dinner parties. We’ve been caroling and camping and canoeing and sledding and seen the sun rise and gotten deliberately snowed in together. I have ugly cried in my pastor’s office and taken a moment behind my couch and been told that I would not die alone, because I have the love of these dear friends. They have inconvenienced themselves for the sake of loving me well, and that is the best gift I could ask for.

I cannot tell you all of their stories. Instead, I offer their names.

Tim, Jodi, Bill, John, Cynthia, James, Amy, Regan, Ryan, Dan, Mark, Betsy, Lori, Carrie, Maripat, Deb, Jim, Laura, Steve, Becca, Cameron, Megan, Marianne, Liz, Elizabeth, Janice, Amy, CPosse, BlakeHouse, and Dan. 

You have loved me well. You have allowed me into your lives and insisted that you know me in the process. There is no greater gift that you could have given me. I enter my 30s in this place, far from home, but still known and loved all the same, because you invited me in, and let me love you in return.

Thank you.

Thankfulness at 30: Place

It is easy to indulge in an anonymous lifestyle during your twenties. New cities, new jobs, new relationships – you can reinvent yourself every few years and few people would be the wiser. Perfect the art of happy hour chatter and you will always be invited to the next party, welcomed in the next group.

As I march toward 30, I am grateful that I have been given a different story. And that story has largely been rooted and nourished by people and place. I’ve tried hard to separate the two, but the truth is, they are inextricably linked. So when you read your place, know that I am speaking of you. Thank you.

I begin by being grateful for home. For the Village, which cared for my soul and fed my mind and challenged my spirit, even as I was beginning adulthood. But also for the big green couch where I read the final Harry Potter book, trading off chapters with Laura; where I sat to open Christmas presents and collapsed when I came home from college. I’m thankful for fires in the fireplace that twinkled through our wine glasses as we read Christmas cards; for my sunflower yellow bedroom wall that told me I was home and for the glass dining room table that stretched to fit all of the family at Thanksgiving once we were finally all old enough to appreciate that we had been given each other. I’m thankful for sturdy kitchen counters that held dear friends as we talked about our increasingly separate worlds; for the hardwood floors where I sat and played with my dog; and for the front porch stoop that let me watch the neighborhood and remember who I am.

I’m thankful for Grove City College – for the chapel gardens that heard our prayers of heartache and hard families and stubborn sins and the ever-sought travel mercies. For the apartments where I learned how to cook my own Thanksgiving meal alongside the friends who had become family, about the importance of carefully planned spontaneity and the welcome of an ongoing Scrabble game. I’m thankful for the way that the sun shone through the tall windows in the Gee/SAC/STU, illuminating the loud laughter of friends at the tables in the corner and for real conversations that were always more important than homework. I’m grateful for the hard, wooden pews of the chapel that caught my tears, even as the hands of friends pressed the Spirit back into my heart. And for the Hall of Arts and Letters where I learned to think, to challenge, and to listen, in service to the Lord and the world.

Other days will tell of my gratitude toward McLean Presbyterian Church and the home and haven that they have provided. But here, I will mention that place as a doorway into others. Out of MPC came the Sycamore House, the first place in DC that felt not like a borrowed home, but truly, deeply, a home of my own. We toured the empty house with dreams for its future – dreams that beautifully turned into reality. Shared evening meals, backyard bar-b-ques, costume parties, cook offs, dance parties, movie nights, bridal showers, snow days, and laughter – so much laughter. If a building itself can be a gift, the small brick house on Sycamore was an abundance. I’m thankful for lessons in hospitality and improvisation and the importance of always having canned goods and bottles of wine. And for the laughter.

After Sycamore came the legend that was 5 Doors Down. If Sycamore was a place for widespread hospitality, 5DD was more a place for rest. There were parties – homecomings and Christmas caroling and Easter dinners – but there were more meals with just a few friends, or, more often than not, just us roommates. We would come home from long days and sit for hours, drinking tea at our candle-lit table and processing through our increasingly complex worlds. All of us would start new jobs while living there, wrestle with heartbreak, struggle with deeply-rooted sin and talk through how to love our families, friends, and neighbors. I am grateful for the space to welcome in my beloved d-group and to sit and laugh and cry with them in the comfort of a home; for a “guest room” that allowed us to welcome in visiting friends and sometimes strangers in need of a place to rest; for the trinket shelves and the children’s books and an abundance of throw pillows. And I’m thankful for the movie marathons and late-night preposterous conversations; for the Red Mango runs, the wild accusations, the no-pudge brownies and the life that was lived within those walls. I’m thankful for a place where I could walk through the door and exhale, because I knew that I was loved and cared for.

As I enter 30, my house is no longer a place of comfort and knowledge, but largely a place of anonymity. And so I appreciate the depth and beauty of these places all the more. To spend a decade largely removed from the connections of family and history and still find yourself known and loved and rooted is perhaps the greatest gift.

And I am grateful.

It Is and It Isn’t

I wanted to title this post #30DaysTill30 but thought that my almost-40-year-old self would judge my almost-30-year-old self for it, and we can’t have that, now can we? But nevertheless, that is why we are here. In 30 days, I will turn 30. I will have circled the sun 30 times and done a rather lot of living in spite of also traveling at 1,000 miles per hour. It’s a funny existence, this life, if you stop to think about it.

Thirty feels firm; planted. It feels secure and adventurous and uncharted, all at the same moment.

My approach to 30 feels different than I anticipated. At 30, I thought I’d be married, with children, in a nice home that was owned, not rented. I’m not sure that I ever stopped to think about a particular location that this 30-year-old-apparition would dwell, but I’m pretty sure it was in the suburbs. I imagined friends – dear friends – who I would laugh and joke and cry with, and who would call me from the grocery store to see if I needed milk. I’d hoped for dinner parties and play-dates and familiar vacations; for a challenging and loving church and a vocation that was thoughtful. I thought that I would be planning for the next decade with firm boundary lines drawn that would define the next 10 years.

That is not the 30 that I’m approaching.

Well, it is and it isn’t.

What I imagined was the life that I had known – it was the life of my parents at 30; or the life that 17-year-old me perceived that my 30-year-old parents must have had, judging by their lives closer to 50. It had not taken into account the stress of having 1-year-old twins, or a new job or a new house – all of which my parents possessed at 30. This imaginary life hadn’t factored in my own temperament or choices or the generation that I was born into. And so, I’m here. I’m here, approaching 30 with new eyes. With different hopes. Not better or worse, I don’t think, but different.

Instead of spending my twenties building a marriage and creating my requisite 2.5 children, I’ve been able to find different adventures. I moved to the nation’s capital and met some extraordinary people who are daily changing the country and the world that we live in to reflect more of Christ’s kingdom come. I’ve had the gift of time to find meaningful work that challenges me and helps the world flourish, even if in small ways. A lack of family commitments has allowed me to give my time in service of wandering 20-somethings, energetic teenagers, and parents who need an ally. I have traveled the world with my sister and the country with my friends, even meeting new ones along the way. Dear friends have found me, and even if most of them don’t live in my neighborhood, they send letters and flowers and when they can, they meet me for frozen yogurt or drive-by hugs as they wait through layovers at Dulles airport. My church has both loved and challenged me, although both the love and the challenge have been harder to accept than I could have imagined. And this weekend, I’m throwing a dinner party.

What I have is abundance, with all the contours of real mixed in. There is much joy, but there is also deep sadness. I am well-loved and taken care of, but loneliness often creeps in. And yet I want to remain grateful. My life is a blessing; it is grace – undeserved and overflowing at every turn.

And so I am going to approach 30 as I hope to approach each day – with thankfulness. For the next 30 days, I will be reflecting on my 20s and the blessings that found me during those years. This is more for me than for you, but I’m grateful for you too, dear reader, and so I invite you into my window of thankfulness. Maybe I’ll set a pie on the windowsill or add some twinkle lights so you feel more welcome. Because truly, I am grateful that you are along for the journey.

Moving

While it may not be an overstatement to describe my recent move as the hardest I have made in my life, that statement seems to beg for sympathy and neglects to mention that on the whole, I have had a wonderful life. Nevertheless, this season of my life has been filled with transitions and goodbyes and unasked for beginnings, which have made this city feel uncharted despite my 7 years spent in her care. Where the anonymity of the nation’s capital once felt bold and liberating, it now presses in on me, tightening my chest like the July humidity.

So to counter the ache that I feel for home and the longing I have to be known, I have taken to finding the good things. The blessings hidden in the city or the joy of finding unexpected familiar faces in the crowd.

- A storm came in today. One of those bend-the-trees-with-the-wind storms that lights up the sky enough for you to see waves of rain fanning from the sky. I watched the storm, safely perched in my 8th floor office with space to appreciate it’s terrifying beauty and engaging work to return to once it had passed.
– I write this on a train. A train taking me to see an old friend in the city. Amid transience and happy hour friendships, there are glimpse of longevity; of staying; of pressing in to the harder road.
– Although I am grateful for safe public transportation, I am even more grateful that my daily commute spans less than 1 mile. That my home-work-life circles overlap and that my life is not eaten by traffic or crowded trains, giving me the freedom to read, cook, write, rest.
– That coherent life led me to spend the weekend visiting with neighbors. To be sure, they were my friends before they were my neighbors, but reclaiming the life of a neighborhood is, as Wendell Berry says, a gift. Each step reinforces that these streets are my streets; these trees are my trees. I am not alone but have been bound up with others, if only by the same HOA.

And none of these tell of the ties of covenant relationships spoke of by James on Sunday or the meal shared with my oldest friend that same night. They don’t tell of the daily care that surrounds me or my family who loves me across the miles. And I am sure that still more graces will be given, more blessing will appear.

May we all have eyes to see.

Constraint.

I’ve been thinking a lot about constraint. Limitations. Boundaries. They are words that I chafe against; they make me bristle and put me on the defensive. But lately, they have also been defining me.

I just moved away from my safe, comfortable, known house of 5 Doors Down into a house of strangers. Technically, this was my choice. I wasn’t evicted and I’m not being held hostage. But I am here because of constraints. I am constrained by my income and my belief that living within my means is the best course of action. DC traffic forms a clear boundary and my attitude in traffic limits the time I should spend commuting. All of these constraints pooled together to drive me to my current situation.

On a broader level, everything that defines me constrains me. I live in DC, not somewhere else. That comes with transience and traffic and a perpetual election cycle. I am a member of just one church (as a part of the holy, catholic and apostolic kind), where vows I have taken bind me to service, to obedience, to accountability. I have a specific occupation that comes with unique assignments and a finite number of vacation days. Each of these things constrain me. They set the boundaries of my life. But in so doing, they also set me free. I am free to be involved in one church, one city. I am free to invest in this relationship and not that one. I am free to live a life of fullness and wholeness where God has placed me, and am also free from worrying about all of the vast facets of life that have not placed a boundary around me.

But even as I write that, I feel resentment toward those constraints sneaking in. There are days that I want to defy the laws of physics and the expectations of work and spend a year teleporting around to any friend who needs me. I have sat in inexplicable traffic jams as hot tears rolled down my face in protest of such an obstacle to relationships. But I am bound, in time and place, to the life that I have chosen, that God has given me.

The Psalmist writes, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” And that’s well and good for King David, but I often feel like my boundary lines have been gerrymandered to cause the most frustration.

I’ve been reading this little book by Kate Harris called Wonder Women. She lives in DC and just gets it. In it, she reminds me that I am not the first person in history to feel the impact of unpleasant constraints:

“One of the more radical claims of Christianity is that we worship a God who willingly took on constraints. We worship a God who bent low and took on flesh…And it has some pretty profound things to tell us about what God thinks of our so-called limitations — especially if you’re like me and prefer to greet limitations with kicking and screaming or maybe a good, long pout”

I have not given up heaven for earth; perfection for the fall. I have only known this broken world with these limitations. And though I fight against them, a wider story is at work; a deeper magic that the world has almost forgotten. Kate goes on to say:

“Still, Easter reminds us — even at the height of human limitations on the cross — that God does not perceive them as we do. God is not surprised by even the ultimate constraint of death, nor is He deterred by it…[And so] we consent to our constraints, trusting He will use them as He did at the incarnation, to bring forth abundance.”

I don’t know what sort of abundance might be waiting for me at the next turn, but I want to be open to it. Open arms, open hands, in one city, one place.

Belonging to Faithfulness

Lately, I’ve been pondering faithfulness.

Every six weeks or so, I get to teach junior high Sunday school. We’re studying Exodus and on Sunday, I taught on Exodus 24 – the confirmation of the covenant. We are a covenant people, secured as the people of God through His faithfulness; our lavish promises are dust. Yet even as we break the faith, echoes of covenant faithfulness still dance on my heart. The covenant teaches me that I belong to that which is bigger than myself. This plays out in numerous ways each day – I belong to my household and as such am bound up in the joys and sorrow of my roommates – sometimes multiplying the joys and sometimes adding to the sorrows. I belong to my church, through the gift of the blood of Christ and the vows I stood up and promised. But today, I’ve been pondering a more unusual fidelity of belonging.

There is a small community of people, tied together not by blood or geography or denomination or occupation, but through an abiding belief that beauty is found in unexpected places and that Christ plays in 10,000 places. They believe that in some small measure, the story of one of us is the story of us all. And because of that, fidelity plants fast roots.

Today, this community prepared to gather in Nashville. This year, I will not be joining them, as faithfulness to family must trump faithfulness to this band of kindred souls. It was at once a decision that was obvious and terribly hard. And so I am left pondering what it will look like to belong to these friends only from a distance. In fact, I spend most of the year belonging from a distance, with Facebook being used to its absolutely best potential to soften the blow of the miles. Occasional road trips, concerts, and impromptu gatherings are grace that bring me closer to a handful of these dear friends, but even these are dim reflections of the fullness that I know is possible.

So the question that I am left with is how to cultivate and grow my own faithfulness to these souls across time and space, with no promise of flesh-and-blood communion. What will it look like to belong to one another outside of shared meals on candlelit tables, or conversations on rickety swings or silence exhaled in unison on a concrete sidewalk? This sort of faithfulness seems harder. I am left to belong through prayers offered up for needs spoken and groaned for; through books poured over as imaginations are cultivated in the same soil; through music washing over me as it washes over you.

And so, I will abide in faithfulness and trust in the Lord to hold us all in the palm of His hand,

where we first belonged, and shall remain forever.