Thursday, October 31, 2013

To My English Speaking Church Family

To My English Speaking Church Family,

Each time we move, which has been often, one of our first tasks is finding a church to call home. This should have been especially challenging when we moved overseas for the first time. We lived in a Spanish speaking country and neither of us spoke Spanish well. I barely understood the language at all. (I really did think French would come in more handy when I was studying it in high school.)

Except it wasn't really that hard to choose a church because there were very few English speaking options. And since we were not Catholic, nor Anglican, we were left with one option.

It was a small church.

Scary small for the two of us coming from an almost mega church in California. We would be known here, whether we wanted to be or not.

I remember one of the first Sundays we were there. Communion was served. The pastor explained that the cups on the inside held wine and the cups on the outside held grape juice. I loved that the church was big enough to welcome both those that believe wine is a necessary part of communion and those who hold that believers should abstain from wine.

When you live overseas, when you are the minority, church becomes different. It becomes less about the theology, the way sacraments are practiced, the denominations and more about the family, the relationships, the doing this life apart together. I learned so much about my own prejudices and ignorance while being in a Christian community that was tied by our language and not our fundamentals. A community that was taken down to the bare bones of faith, to Jesus. Being involved with a church while living in a foreign land, taught me how simple faith and community could be, if we agreed to let each other practice and live out their faith as they believed.

This is also where I joined my first women's Bible study. I had been in small groups before in college. And my husband and I had been involved in young married small groups at church but this was my first Women's Bible study. I cannot remember who actually ran the group, but I do know that the pastors/priests of the three English speaking churches all approved the study materials and we all agreed to leave our denominational biases at the door.

I loved it. I had two amazing small group leaders who encouraged me more than they may know. They cared about me and checked on me. They gave me perspective and challenged the certainty of my ideology. And with Facebook, I still get to learn from them. They are the reason, I got involved in women's Bible study when I returned to the US, which eventually lead to my leading and teaching. You know that book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie... these women gave me a love for studying the Bible with women that is core to my being today. They gave me Women's Bible study which leads to friendships which leads to wanting to grow together spiritually which leads to Bible study.

Thank you to the English speaking church community for opening my eyes so I could see my own faith culture blinders. I found God in a new way when I was no longer tied down by only my church experience.

Grace and blessings to you all,


Monday, October 28, 2013

Dear American Club Ladies

I have decided to write letters to the people who have shaped me into the person I am today. In the olden days I would mail these off using the post office. In today's world I post them on my blog.

Dear American Club Ladies,

It was over a decade ago that I first walked into that house on the tree lined street of Santiago. I was pregnant with my first, living overseas in a country where I did not speak the language and the only person I knew was my husband who worked long hours. I was not working for the first time in my life. I was alone and lonely and lost.

I was so scared of meeting you the first time, of walking into that room unsure of what was going to happen that I asked my husband to come with me. I had already found plenty of excuses to not show up during the open house hours the weeks before but I knew I couldn't keep going like this. And so one day, we walked into that house the one I can picture so clearly in my head right now. The library off to the left. The living room to my right was now filled with people mingling in small groups. Behind a table in the back sat a couple of women. I bravely approached them and introduced myself.

And that was all it took. Because once I took the step of showing up, oh how you took me under your wing. You invited me to join the stitching group and told me to come anyway when I said I didn't do needlepoint. And again when I showed up for what I found out was affectionately called Stitch and Bitch, you welcomed me with open arms. You kissed me on the cheek and introduced me to everyone who also kissed me on the cheek, a custom in Chile that I missed when I left but caught me off guard that first week.

You invited me to your home. You gave me advice on where to shop. You called to ask me to lunch. You took me shopping for fabrics and hooked me up with your curtain guy. You gave me restaurants to try and shared your life with me. You introduced me to other pregnant moms in the club and encouraged us to form a pregnancy support group.

Mostly though, you taught this woman who was so stuck on ages and life stages when I first got there, that I could have so much fun with women a little further along life's path than me. I laughed more at the stories you told over coffees and stitching than I maybe ever had. Oh my how you liked to have fun. I had spent so many years stressing about college and then getting my first job and getting married and then trying to get pregnant, that I had forgot how to have fun. I learned a lot listening to your stories, mostly I learned to stop stressing over the small stuff. Life was going to happen and I got to choose how I responded.

When I found out that we were being sent home sooner than expected, I was heartbroken. I had only been there a few months and yet the goodbyes were so incredibly hard, especially when you planned a special lunch for me and when the Stitch group threw me a surprise baby shower my last week there. I was so touched by how you embraced me, made me one of the tribe so quickly, and when I had to leave sent me off with such fanfare. You know how to make a girl feel special.

Thank you for showing me the value of cross generational friendships and for bringing such joy to the table.

I was blessed to have known each of you!


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Letter to A Friend

Moving always gets me thinking about the people I left behind, the ones that changed me with their presence in my life. Some are obvious but others may never know the positive impact they had on my life, on the person I have become. This year, as I moved and turned 40, I have been thinking a lot about the various people I have met along the way. In the olden days, I might have gotten out my engraved stationary and sent them a letter. In today's world, in my world, I am going to be posting these letters on my blog. Saves me paper and postage, and more importantly, hopefully reminds us each of the impact we have on one another's lives because from each of these people, I have learned how to be a better person.

Today is the first letter.

Dear Friend,

(I could not decide if I should actually use the person's name here. And now I have "You're so Vain" stuck in my head as I worry that too many people might think this is about them. But I respect my friends too much to put their names out on the web. Also, this is just the first letter. There are more to come as I work my way through the many years and people in my life.)

Let's try again.

Dear Friend,

I miss you already and you were just here. Have I told you how much hope it gave me to know before I ever left California that you were coming for a visit? I worried the plans might fall through. Life does get in the way. And things hadn't really been going my way much in the last year. But you made it. You came to visit me. You spent money on an airplane ticket. You flew across the country. You took time out of your already crazy busy schedule that has gotten even more crazy to be with me.

I shouldn't have been surprised. You are the friend that shows up with a cup of coffee and sits with me outside the library while my kids are inside for a summer program. This adult only time accomplished because you called in a babysitter to watch your kids so you could come be with me.

You are the friend who stops by with my favorite crackers and expensive cheese that I could not afford to enjoy when the paychecks stopped.

You are the friend that does those things without asking my permission first, which is good because I would hate to have someone go out of the way for me, to spend money on me, to rearrange their schedule for me. I fear so much being a burden to those around me. I learned long ago to stop being so demanding of people and to instead make myself easy to get along with. I am the easy friend. The one that is flexible and willing to do almost anything to hang out.

But sometimes life is bigger than I can handle on my own. And you stepped into that with me. You showed me how friends may not be able to fix everything or carry all our burdens for us, but friends can do little things that remind us that we are loved, that life is going to be okay because we get to do it together. Even the hard parts. Even the parts that have me taking more than I am giving.

You taught me that friendship isn't about keeping score. I have to admit that I have kept track of so many silly things, like who called last, who paid last, whose turn it should be to make the next move. Not because I care, but because I don't want the other person to think I am a burden, a one-sided friend.

But in keeping track, I also got insecure. I worried about reaching out too often and being seen as needy. I worried about talking to much and not being a good listener. I worried about not being seen as cheap or stingy or neglectful or forgetful. I worried...  I worry still.

You, my friend, taught me how to show love in very simple ways. A cup of coffee. A bag of pretzels for my son. A hug. Driving on margarita night. A few minutes of conversation while the kids begged for us to stop talking. An airplane ticket.

You, my friend, care deeply with a passion and a love that I want to add to my repertoire.

Until we are together again, know that I love you!


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Does the Label Define You?

I love the Facebook photo album Sarah Bessey has crowd sourced for her soon to be released book Jesus Feminist. People from all over the world have completed the statement "I am _______ and I am a Jesus Feminist." It has been interesting to see how people fill in their own blank. What labels they use.

I considered what I would write.

Mom of 3 Boys
Independent Voter
Conservative Christian College Graduate
West Coast Transplant
Feminist (well that one is already in the statement)

Having moved, I am faced with being new again. Labels are a getting to know you shortcut. A way to explain what I believe or what I do or once upon a time.

We treat labels as if that is all I need to know about how you think or feel or are.

Except they don't really.

I have Republican friends who are not Christian.

I have Liberal friends who are not pro-choice.

I have male friends who do not like sports and female friends who countdown the days to hockey season.

I have friends who are stay at home mothers who do not like preschoolers in general but have found a love for their own. I have friends who are amazing with kids that never want to parent.

I have found that I throw out labels hoping to find likeminded individuals. People who think like me about topics that matter to me. The problem though is that no label is really a good understanding of the whole of any one person.

Look at me...

To my non Church friends I am seen as a Christian who is very active in my church but to many of my Christian friends my some of my theological and social positions put me almost outside the church altogether.

I am prolife but I am also prochoice. I believe all life is to be valued including those unborn and born, the innocent collateral losses of war and the murders on death row. But I also know that these are complicated issues and that I would never want someone to tell me what I had to do with my body so I do not think it is okay for society to make those choices for someone else.

I am a woman. I love sports and intellectual debate. I hate crafting and the expectation that I would have a knack for hospitality. I enjoy laundry but I hate cooking.

I am registered as not belonging to a political party because I believe my only allegiance is to Jesus and yet I vote along party lines most of the time though I have voted for both Republicans and Democrats in the presidential elections since I turned 18.

I am a stay at home mom. I have moved all over the country, the western hemisphere to support my husband's career, I am active in church and volunteer at school, but I am an egalitarian. (As in I believe that God made man and woman equal to one another, that my gender does not determine my leadership role in a church, that my husband and I make decisions together and co-lead our family.)

My labels describe me but they do not define me.

I need to remember that when I am labeling other people.

What labels describe you? Do you let them define you?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Fall Saturdays are Meant for College Football

It has been a little dark here on the blog as of late.

Not that dark is bad. It's real. But I thought I would lighten the mood this Monday morning.

I love college football. The BCS, the PAC 12, the staunch rivalries and the unexpected upsets. I love waking up on a Saturday morning, making a cup of coffee (or enjoying a special Starbucks treat that my husband has gone out to get me) and sitting down to watch College Gameday. There is nothing that says fall to me like the opening theme song for College Gameday. For some people pumpkins and the leaves changing colors are what alerts them to fall, for me it is watching Kirk, Chris, Desmond and Mr. Corso. I was sad when Erin Andrews left for Fox. I am sure in time Samantha and David will mean more to me, just as Desmond has found a seat at the adult's table in my mind they will someday too.

My love for College Gameday has caused me to do some crazy things. Well one really. On a Saturday in November 2011, I got up early - very, very early - and went to see the actual, live and in person College Gameday crew when they visited Stanford University which was once upon a time just up the street from us.

(Confession: My husband had to actually get me out of bed because I am not a morning person and Gameday is shown live everywhere which means at the time it was on from 7 - 9 am on the west coast. Another confession: I watch Gameday on my DVR because even here in the Midwest 8am is earlier than I like to get up on a Saturday. Well any day really. And he didn't get me up because he wanted to go. College Gameday is my thing. He just wanted to make sure I did something I really, really wanted to do even if my body just wanted to sleep a little longer.)

Anyway, back to my story... We took our crew to see College Gameday being filmed on the Stanford Campus. The Cardinal were hosting the Ducks that night but my boys wore their Beavers black and orange proudly. This was PAC 12 country. To this day, most of my boys wear Beavers gear on Saturdays in the fall. Added benefit of being a fan of Oregon State University is that you are also dressed in Halloween colors.

Wow, I am full of tangents this morning. But isn't that the point of a Saturday morning, of spending the day watching sports. You can be as passionate or listless as you want. You can cheer for your team, cheer against your team's rival, cheer against the SCC just because it's the SCC. You can wear odd color combinations and trash talk with people in a way you would never do in regular life. You can debate and philosophize and calculate the rankings, the calls, the personnel, the coaching decisions. You can be involved in a community event without ever leaving your couch or Twitter feed.

I love college football. So much more than the NFL. Because in college you only get 4 chances to win it all. Five if you redshirt. Each team is special and unique and desperate to win and united in their losses. No one is jumping ship over a losing season or a higher pay scale. Perfection is what gets you into the big game, anything less and you are praying the computers love you just a little bit more than the next guy.

And here's the thing...

I've always been a female. Always will be. And I love college football. And hockey. I don't enjoy making crafts or trying out the newest pumpkin recipe (though I do enjoy eating pretty much anything pumpkin related). I like debates and problem solving. I enjoy flannel and chips with queso.  I like paper plates and am never quite sure what to do with flowers.

But I am a woman.

A woman who loves sports.

A woman for whom fall is announced on the first Saturday in September when Big and Rich let me know that ESPN is coming to my city.

So please stop trying to put me in a box because of my gender.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Courage in the Face of Fear

I don't think of myself as courageous. I don't like to take risks. I have a fear of heights and jumping of bridges. I don't like to ski or do anything that might provide an adrenaline rush. I get scared when I have to meet new people. I doubt myself and I doubt that people like me.

Fear has been a big part of my life this last year. Fear of loss. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the new.

It feels like I am often living in fear right now.

I don't fear the big things necessarily. I trust God. But the little things, the going to coffee with new acquaintances bring out the fear. Fear of not being liked. The little things of making phone calls or contacting teachers and fearing they might see me as a helicopter mom which I am really not. Fear of speaking up, saying the truth, to the people that have the power to hurt you the most.

These are the things that I am afraid of. Little things but real things that I have to do. Except I don't really. I can hole up in my home, it's a beautiful home that is cozy and comfortable. I don't have to get to know people. My kids take a bus. I don't have to interact with the school. I can keep silent. I don't have to say anything. The silence only hurts myself and it may be a cost I am willing to pay.

I was texting with a friend about making new friends last week.

My friend is right. Courage is moving forward in spite of the fear. I know I have heard similar things before, but it was seeing those words, at that moment, from a friend that knows me well, that dug those words in deep. 

And here's the thing... if I didn't reach out I never would have gotten to know this friend. My life would be less full without her. 

So the risks, maybe they are worth it. 

I'm still not going to try skiing again. Someone needs to sit in the lodge holding the snacks and getting a good table for lunch. 

What risk are you avoiding right now? What fear are you facing?