Monday, November 18, 2013

To the Missionaries...

Dear (Redacted),

How many years ago was it that we lived across the hall from one another our freshmen year of college? It feels like a lifetime ago and yet I don't feel old. But a few years ago my children's babysitter heading off to our alma mater and moved into our old dorm, except it wasn't the same because our dorm was torn down and then a new one rebuilt in its place.

Oh the conversations we all had in those rooms on Horton Upper Odd. Life dreams and dark pasts. Impending exam stress and laughing late at night. Getting to know one another at first and then getting to know one another deeper. Our paths at school were so different. And we drifted from that small core as we grew into our college selves. I left to study abroad, never returning to Horton. But we would still see one another around campus after I returned. I remember talking to you after you met your husband, wow were you in love - such a beautiful, wise, real love.

At some point you got married. I think I had graduated by then. Moved away. And then moved again. At some point I met my husband and we got married and settled down for the first time as man and wife in southern California. You and I got together again then. I honestly don't remember how or where. I don't even remember when you first decided to move overseas, though I always knew you planned to be a missionary, or when we joined your team in our own small way. It was so long ago.

I have learned so much watching you and your family as you lived first in a country we don't want to name, to the visa issues, the discretion needed, the having to leave your new home because it was too challenging politically to stay. My husband worked for a global power company at the time and they had a power plant in that country. I always loved knowing that in some small way your work and his were connected. I loved reading your letters and then emails about your next stop and the neighbor who always complained you were too loud, or the long bus trip to language school. I was amazed at your perseverance, first to learn one language and now another. To learn one culture, and now another. One door was closed but you moved on and found a new place where God needed you. I have always loved the newsletters you and your husband wrote. It was from you I first learned the power of being connected through only the written word.

At some point you were called to move again, this time to a place we could name out loud. Oh how freeing it was to know I could email you without worry about writing the wrong thing. And your mission, a prayer tank... how much I have learned from you about intercession and the role of prayer in my life. You were a crucial part of my beginning to really understand prayer, to really engage God in dialogue both throughout the day and in intentional set apart times.

I think back to that time you visited us in the Bay Area while you were in the neighborhood. Oh how wonderful it was to sit on the couch across from you and get to talk with you face to face, to get to glean wisdom from your stories and your thoughtful study of God, His word, and His work in this world. Oh how I loved that day. But you are a missionary, you live across the world from me. I was thankful for that day but so wishing for more.

And then you started a blog... Joy of joys for me. It isn't quite the same as sitting across the table from one another, but I love getting a glimpse into your mind. What a treat, what a challenge, what a blessing for me.

I have loved getting to go along vicariously on your adventures, of seeing God's provision and care in your life, of watching your kids grow and you and your husband step into the place of caring for others as you have become the older, wiser ones now.

Thank you for taking us along on this wild ride through your words!


Thursday, November 14, 2013

You Show Up

Dear Friend,

I love how we met. Of all the God ordained friendships in my life, having you and your husband reach out to my husband and I asking if we would be okay with you joining our small group was one of the most unusual and complicated to orchestrate. Of course we would want you in our group. That part is not unusual. We met some of our dearest friends hosting that small group so many years ago. The special part was that you were not sure if we would be comfortable since you had just bought your first home from us. My first thought was if you are comfortable, I am since you are living in the house now... just hoped that the roof wouldn't suddenly start leaking.

Funny enough that same small group had sat in that living room, the one that was once ours but was now yours and prayed for the right buyer to come along and make an offer. You did and we accepted.   And then you joined that small group, meeting in our new house just a half mile away. I love how God took care of both our families through that exchange and then brought us together to become friends.

Our small group needed you. I needed you. Because you showed me what it really means to be in community, to do this life thing together. With your simple but amazing strawberry salad to the texts checking in on me, from loving my kids to asking how I am really doing, you came alongside me and taught me how to really connect. I know you credit your Mennonite upbringing for how you are so good at being in community, in sharing life with those around you but I think part of that is just in your DNA.

You care about people deeply. Not just your friends and family but everyone you come in contact with. And you are committed to the people in your life. You are not a friend in name only. You are there when it matters. You have a knack for getting real without getting dramatic or being invasive. When you know there is a need, even sometimes before the other person (me) does you step in the gap either for them or with them. And you do all this with a sense of humor that keeps me laughing. You recognize that life can be dark and hard but you also find the fun and the funny amidst it all. I still miss meeting up at Claim Jumpers and laughing all evening.

So many fun memories I share with you... prenatal water aerobics, line dancing, hanging out in one of our homes while we shooed our kids upstairs so we could really talk... finding sports bars in rural Wisconsin, antiques shopping, our exciting at finding wifi...

You show up to play, to listen, to support, to love even after a busy day at work, even if it means leaving our husbands in charge while we head out for the night, even when it means driving two plus ours to meet me in the middle of nowhere for a girls weekend. You show up. You build community. You love your neighbor. You show me Jesus.

I am so grateful for your friendship. Even after all these years and being so far and now less far apart.

I love you!


Monday, November 11, 2013

You Made Me Brave

Dear Friend,

We met in kindergarten. Not when we were five but when we were scared parents letting our kids go to big kid school for the first time. You had one in Mrs. N's class and the twin in the other afternoon class. I don't remember a lot of those early months, since I was dealing with a toddler and a preschooler who were not the best behaved when dropping their big brother off at school. I often had to rush off to take said preschooler to his own school and then back to the house to put the baby down for a much needed nap, much needed by me.

But I remember clearly those afternoons we would all spend on the big kid playground after kindergarten pick up. When a few and then more parents and kids would run to the back of the school, hand out snacks and then let the kids run wild while we got to know one another. There is something special about those kindergarten friends you make. I remember being in awe of the snacks you had packed and that you even brought washcloths to clean hands instead of the disposable wipes I always had with me. I remember the joy you always brought with you. I remember your openness, your willingness to share - your snacks, your time, your stories.

You and I were often the last ones there. We had nothing to rush off to since both our husbands worked at start ups. Or more accurately lived their start ups. We would gather up our crew and walk down the sidewalk towards our homes together, until we had to split at the corner - me turning right, you left. Some of our best conversations happened on that corner.

And then I moved away, back to Oregon. But you stayed in touch. Facebook made it feel like you were still right down the street. Except you weren't and I missed you. And then my family moved back to California again and I no longer had to miss how friendly you were, how open and inviting to everyone. I no longer had to miss how great you were with my kids, and every kid you have ever met.

You showed my kids wonder. You were excited about life and engaged them in learning and seeking and exploring. You volunteered your time, HAPPILY. You are a safe adult to a whole school of kids, always ready to listen and help and guide. You are one of the best stay at home parents I know. You often make Pinterest look weak.

I am not those things. I mean yes, I volunteer... but often begrudgingly. I hate craft projects and science projects and pretty much any kind of project. I am not good with little kids. I like order and rules and reason. And while I wish I had learned to be better with kids from you, I did not.

What I did learn from you is actually something I am embarrassed to admit.

I think I have told you this story but I am not sure if I told you the whole thing because there are parts of it that horrifies me.

It began when I was living on Capitol Hill in a house full of young Christian staffers. Some to congress, some at nonprofits. We were newly graduated, first time adults and our worlds were being exposed to new ideas, new beliefs, points and counter points. It was in that house's living room that I first ever heard the liberal Christian understanding of homosexuality. Where I first heard someone explain that the verses I had always believed said one thing may have in fact been addressing a fully different type of same sex activity that was prominent in Roman times. Of married adult men engaging in sexual encounters with young boys. Of orgies and sexual debauchery that looks nothing like the same sex couples I know today. It was the first time I was told it was okay to question the church's traditional teaching about homosexuality.

I didn't think much of the conversation, until I met my husband and one of his best friends from college (also a Christian university) came out to him. But now I had a face for the issue. This was not some theological debate. This was a friend. A follower of Jesus. A gay man. We loved him and only wanted the best for him... whatever that may be. Having a face certainly makes it harder to hold onto dogma that your heart wasn't comfortable with to begin with. Sadly though we did feel a need to keep his homosexuality a secret from my inlaws. I don't know if that was out of fear of judgment for him or fear of having an honest conversation with them.

For the most part, I felt like people should be able to do what they felt was right, for themselves and before God. Your sex life is not my business.

Until it became my business.

It was 2004. I was living in Oregon with my husband and our two sons. We had just moved to a new home, the last move we planned. We had friends and were invested in our community. We were involved in our church, even being so bold as hosting a small group Bible study in that new home. Life was good. And then Ballot Measure 36, a constitutional amendment defining the marriage of a man and a woman as the only one recognized by the state, was put on the ballot.

Now I have always known that my marriage was not in danger because of homosexual couples. I actually didn't care who got married if they loved one another and were committed to one another for the long haul. I was ready to vote no on Prop 36.

Then my pastor stood before the church and said that we needed as Christians to vote yes. We needed to affirm our conviction that marriage is between a man and a woman. We needed to stand up in our faith and speak the truth with our votes.

And I did.

I was never comfortable voting yes. I hoped it did not pass. I didn't even really agree with what my pastor said, and yet...

I was scared of breaking ranks. I was scared of being wrong.

It was one thing to be a Christian who struggled with how homosexuality fit in God's plan. I have always had a liberal bent, a grace bias, a rebellious spirit toward absolutes. But what if I was wrong. Was I willing to stake my Christianity on it?

I have been ashamed of that vote ever since.

Because while it didn't affect my marriage, that vote told thousands of loving couples in my state that they were wrong, that their love did not matter, that they did not matter - not as they were. I am horrified that I was too scared to stand by my growing convictions that the evangelical church's stance on homosexuality is wrong. That my fear of being wrong, caused me to trade grace and love for moral absolutes and peer pressure.

And then I moved to California. And I met you. And we became friends. And I heard the story of how you met your husband and how your rabbi married you with all your religious traditions, of how two young gay men were married within the Jewish community and supported and accepted and loved all the same. I saw your marriage, the one that looked so similar to mine as we griped about our men working late and never being home. As we talked of needing date nights but having trouble finding the time. As we parented our kids side by side, teaching them to love their neighbor and make good choices.

I was lucky to get a second chance. California had Proposition 8 on the ballot, another marriage is only between a man and a woman state constitutional amendment. This time I freely and vocally voted No.

We lost that vote. But in the eyes of God, you were still married because the state of California cannot invalidate your Ketubah.

Because of you, because you were my friend, I was now brave enough to stand up to those around me that pushed me to vote against my conscience, against you.

Because you were my friend. Not my gay friend. My friend.

And your marriage, your family are important to me. Very important to me.

Because you are my friend, I stand with you in praying for marriage equality. In voting for marriage equality. In speaking up when someone around me assumes I agree with them that homosexuality is a sin.

Instead I tell them your story.

I tell them about my friend who cares more for others than he does for himself. My friend who lets me invite myself over and makes me cookies and let's my kids swim in his pool. My friend who meets me for long coffees and listens and shares and laughs and sits in sadness with me. My friend who loves his husband, who loves their kids, who has created an amazing family that adds so much to my world and the community around them.

You were my friend. And it was no longer okay for me to sit silently by.

You are my friend and you helped me to be brave.

It is easy to be brave when you have people who love you and will catch you when you fall.

You make it easy for me to be brave. (Though I hope soon it is no longer brave to believe in equality and love. It just is.)

I love you!! (Even though you are a man who is not my husband. :) Remember the time we saw my friends at Peet's and it was just the two of us. Me alone having coffee with a man.)

Thank you for being my friend. Even when I wasn't worthy of your friendship.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Dear Mrs. N,

Dear Mrs. N,

You were my first kindergarten teacher. Technically you were my son's teacher but you taught me along the way as well. One of my favorite lessons, the one I share most often with others, happened one day on the playground.

It was recess and I was there ready to do my table time volunteering when recess was over. We were standing on the blacktop chatting about this or that when a child cried out from the play structure. Up to this point in my parenting, when a child screamed or cried or made pretty much any uncomfortable noise at the park or playground someone jumped up and ran to see what was wrong. If it was my kid, someone else had probably gotten to them before I could since I was chasing three little ones at the same time most days. Not to mention I was not one to jump up and run to my kid. I knew their cries and knew which ones needed a reaction from me.

So when I heard the cry, I expected fast movements as the teachers rushed to the child. It was early in the year and I could not imagine you would know everyone's real emergency cry. But that didn't happen. Instead, you calmly called the child over to you.

And surprisingly enough, the child stood up and walked over to you. You helped brush the bark dust off and asked them if they were okay and when they said they were, you sent them on their way.

I was shocked.

Shocked that you had not rushed over.

I think you saw the look in my eye. The one parents try to hide but is so evident when we are judging one another or the situation. Because you then explained to me that when I child falls, you ask them to come to you. That is how you first assess the extent of the possible injury. Most of the time, the child will walk over, get the reassurance they need that they are okay, and then be off again. But if the child cannot walk to you, then you said it is time to call 9-1-1.


And so satisfying because I had used the same technique with my kids. I had thought it was just lazy parenting but you, a professional teacher, had just made my parenting style valid - a reasonable, even thoughtful assessment tool.

In truth, that was what I was doing all along. I had wanted my kids to learn to brush themselves off and get back to playing when they fell down. I wanted them to be tough and resilient. I was intentional about what appeared to be neglectful parenting to the other moms and nannies at the park. But I had been judged so often for it. Mostly just with a look, though occasionally with a "helpful" comment or two.

So on that day, on your playground, you gave me a great gift. You gave me reassurance that I was doing okay as a parent.

And then you told me how obvious it was that I loved my kids. Even if I parented differently. You reassured me that my methods, my parenting philosophy, was valid. Not only valid, but you used very similar methods in your classroom.

That day, and many others, you helped me understand that it was okay to parent in my own way.

You gave this mama confidence.

Thank you!

Monday, November 4, 2013

To My Fashionista Friend

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.

This is one to my fashionista friend, 

It was one of the first things I noticed about you. How beautiful you were, put together and a smile that was wrapped flawlessly in a deep shade of lipstick. I thought it was the lipstick that drew my eye, but I know now that it is your smile. Your perpetual smile that lights up a room. 

I was once intimidated by your clothes, your sense of style. I wondered what you thought seeing me dressed yet again in yoga pants and a fleece. My Ugg boots long out of style and my lips smeared with clear balm. I knew I didn't belong in your world. 

Except I was wrong. You don't care how I am dressed when we sit together in the coffee shop. It's not that you don't notice because you do comment when I have a cute top on or when I actually remember to put on some lip gloss. But what I am wearing, how I look doesn't change how you view me... the real me. I thought it did. But I was wrong. 

When I got over myself, when I stopped worrying that you were thinking I was a lazy slob who doesn't care enough to pull myself together, when I stopped judging you defensively, I got to know you. And you are one of the nicest people I know. Seriously. It took months and months before I ever heard you say an unkind word about anyone. And then it was only in reference to a problem you were actually trying to solve. You genuinely want the best for everyone. When I got to know you, I saw your fashionista ways differently. 

What I learned from you is that you love fashion. You enjoy looking at the newest trends and finding just the right item to add to your closet. You like to dress up. You find joy in putting the right accessories together to complete an outfit. And you do it so well. 

But knowing that you enjoy fashion freed me up to be myself. Someone who wants to be comfortable in my clothes. Someone who doesn't think about what I am wearing to school pick up because I am too busy reading a new book. Recognizing you enjoy the getting ready part of going out, helped me to understand that we are all different and that it is okay. 

Understanding my friends' various hobbies, passions, and priorities, has helped me to let go of all the shoulds of this world. I don't like scrapbooking but I have friends who do. My kids will just have to make do with photo albums, or more accurately zip drives with pictures on them because I can't remember the last time I actually ordered prints. But I love to read. I have a stack of books in our library basket and a long wish list on Amazon. I am always looking for new books to read and I like to tell people about my newest find. But I don't expect everyone to love reading or to make time for it. It's my thing. I get that. And now I get that fashion can be someone's thing without me feeling like I have to keep up. 

But here's the thing about good friendships. When you spend enough time with someone, you start to appreciate their loves as well. So when I needed new glasses, I asked you to help me find a pair that made me look like a hipster writer and not a spinster hermit. I started to notice your cute purse or boots and when I needed to buy new ones, I asked for help. And you created a whole Pinterest page for me. When I moved away, you would go shopping with me via picture texts and gave me the confidence to try some new styles and buy some cute new boots. You shared your love with me and some of it rubbed off. Not in a, I have to be dressed right to keep my friend, but in a wow my friend has amazing style so I am going to take advantage of her fashion sense. 

So to my fashionista friend, I say thank you. Thank you not only for helping me shop for cuter clothes and helping me find my own style in the process, but thank you for showing me that it is okay to love fashion or to not care about fashion. Thank you for helping me understand that we all have our things, often several things, but we don't have to be all things.

Thank you mostly for being such a good friend to me.

I miss you!