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church

friendship PARENTING

Sometimes I don’t want to be your friend

True confessions: Facebook rants fascinate me. Like, I definitely get why they are problematic, but sometimes I just want to pull out the popcorn and read some comments. Kardashians step aside, my friends have your drama BEAT!

So a few months ago I was joyfully scrolling when I landed on a rant from one of my FB friends. I’m not close enough with him that I knew the context of his frustrations, only that he was annoyed with his friends for exclusionary behavior.

Here was his comment:

ross

And ever since, I’ve had a hard time getting his words out of my head. “You should never make anyone work hard to be your friend.”

Being a parent is a pretty great free pass. A get out of jail card I’ve used endlessly. For example, I haven’t been on time to anything in the past two years. When I give you an ETA, it’s really more of a window, a casual suggestion.

It also works really well as an excuse why I can’t participate in activities and events. For good or bad, a sick kid is the perfect answer to how to avoid the social event I’ve been dreading.

In addition, since I have been sick over the last year, I have had an even better excuse. I am a sick mom of a toddler boy (and I work full time). Sometimes I want to just tattoo that sentence to my forehead by way of explanation.

tattoo on forehead

And it gets really easy to operate out of this sense of scarcity. Because I truly don’t have a lot of free time. And saying yes to one thing usually means saying no to something else and if I’m not careful I can over commit and the whole assembly line shuts down completely.

Not to mention that right now it is tax season and my husband is a tax accountant, so we’re busy.

Which is why when my husband and I got an email recently from the pastor at our church, asking if anyone in the church would be willing to make treats for the time between our two church services, I deleted it.

But over dinner that night my husband said he was thinking we should sign up to bring brownies. So I said, “Why, we already do a lot for church. Let someone who isn’t doing anything sign up.”

My husband baked brownies anyway, and I was grumpy about it all weekend.

brownies

(Though maybe a little less grumpy once I actually got to eat the brownies.)

But it gives me pause. Because I think there are seasons of scarcity. But I can’t help but look around, at the incredible life I have full of friends and community, and see not scarcity, but abundance.

And I wonder if maybe, just maybe, there are times when I keep everyone around me at the fringe and margin of my life because, well, it’s just easier. I wonder if there are times when I hold all that abundance closely to myself, hoping that none of it gets away.

I wonder if there are times when I make it hard for people to be my friend.

So I’ve been reflecting on what it looks like to say yes. To live with a little less fear. To trust there is going to be enough for me, even if I share a little with my neighbor. To take a moment to stop dwelling on my own forehead tattoo, and glance up to read the tattoos of the people around me.

To bake a few extra brownies, just in case.

A few weeks ago I met a woman at the library. She was there with her husband and two sons. While watching our boys play together at the train table, with occasional commiseration about the typical mom challenges, she asked if I knew of anyone who was a good babysitter. I asked if she knew about the local mom group in the area. I found out that she didn’t, that in fact, she just moved to the United States six months ago and is still learning the ins and outs of our shared neighborhood.

And I almost left it right there.

But before scooting out of the room to chase my son, we exchanged numbers.

When I got home later that night, I sent a text:

text for blog

 

 

 

 

I’m not sure if the playdate is going to happen. And there’s still a part of me that worries I don’t have time for another friend, or that saying yes to her would mean saying no to someone else.

And I think that’s probably true.

But then again, why not? It would be a good excuse to bake some more brownies.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

fathering mothering PARENTING Teaching

Mother’s Day and Teacher Appreciation Week: The Most Unsexy Jobs of All

You can smell Jakari from eight feet away. The combination of unwashed clothes and hair, shoes that have seen an extra winter of wet and dry feet. As if that didn’t already put her in the shallow end of the popularity pool, she weighs in at least forty pounds above the average fifth grader.

There is something so incredibly unsexy about any profession that gets an appreciation week. Teacher appreciation week shows up at the same time each year as nurses week, and quite honestly, both professions boil down to dealing with other people’s feces, literally and physically. Is it any wonder that Mother’s Day is only five days away? The role of mother falls solidly in the “dealing with feces” category.

This week is full of small gestures of thanks. Cups filled with chocolate, vases filled with flowers, boxes filled with jewelry. My cynical self can start to wonder if these appreciation weeks and days are lip service, a compulsory nod, the thank you we throw over our shoulder at the cashier as we take our receipt. As if that could possibly match the contributions our mothers and teachers have made to our lives.

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This past two weeks my sweet little toddler has learned that he can have an opinion, and that it is most exciting when that opinion goes in direct opposition to mine. I can’t blame him. That’s his job, to figure out the boundary lines of mommy and baby, to test the limits of my patience, to experiment with the rules until he learns them all, and then to experiment some more to make sure I wasn’t kidding.

But last Sunday morning was tough. It started with screaming and didn’t stop for almost three hours until he collapsed asleep in a pile, just in time for us to pack him in a car to head to church. He woke up, of course, right when we walked into church fifteen minutes late (also of course). The sermon had started and I knew his dazed cuddling was a ticking clock, no way it would last. Sure enough, the angry fish flopping started as soon as I told him he couldn’t run around in the pew.

I took the elevator up to our church’s nursery, my son upset, again, because he didn’t get to push the “up” button. I pushed into that deep inner resolve, the one I channel when I need to stay calm in trying situations. And maybe there was a little bit of self-pity. You know, the “I deserve a break” or the “somebody should be helping me right now” feelings. The “I deserve a holiday to celebrate my massive contributions to my son and society” feelings.

And at that moment, right as the elevator doors chimed and opened, my son turned to me, put his tiny, perfect, chubby hands on my cheeks, grinned with his lovely twelve teeth and his tiny dimple, and said, “Mama.”

He spoke the words with the awe and wonder that I so often feel for him. This incredible realization that we are part of one another, that our lives are forever entwined with cords stronger than DNA; that we are sewn together with love.

I had surgery recently, and I was desperate for help during the recovery that the doctor had misled me to believe would only last a few days and has instead continued for six weeks. Within a few days of the surgery my mom caught wind that I was struggling, rearranged her schedule and drove down to spend a week caring for me, cleaning my house, cooking my meals, and most notably: waking up with my son to spend the mornings with him. (Is there any greater gift than this?)

I often turn to my husband, when my mom is at our house and caring for our every need, or when his parents have extended some truly incredible gift of generosity, and ask how we could ever repay our parents for all they have done for us. We are disgustingly fortunate to have such loving and supportive parents. And he often will say, “We can never repay them. We can only pay it forward.”

And that’s what I keep thinking as I watch Jakari’s teacher sit down next to her and teach her to read, inviting her after school, allowing her to keep her siblings in the room during homework help, since Jakari is their primary caretaker. Jakari is still so often ornery in class, still bullies other students, still talks back. And yet her teacher comes back each day with a deeper resolve to help Jakari learn to read and write. Could Jakari ever pay her back for this?

That’s what I think when my mom works tirelessly to make sure that I am healthy, being willing to exhaust herself so that I can rest. That’s what I think when she insists I go to bed instead of helping her do the dishes or wash stains from our clothing. Is the card we send her, with someone else’s words printed inside a joke?

Maybe Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother’s Day (and Nurse’s Week) help us to remember that there is no way that we can ever repay the people who have loved us, who have parented us, who have shown grace to us. No chocolates or flowers, stuffed animals or crayon-scribbled cards could ever repay the mothers, biological or otherwise, who have nurtured us.

But maybe those sentiments are a statement, a reminder that there is enough grace to go around, that we are all better when someone loves us more than we deserve, more than we could ever repay.

And maybe these appreciation weeks and days are a chance for us to turn around with awe in our eyes and acknowledge those people who have loved us well. Not because we can pay them back, but because their love has allowed us to pay it forward.

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261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

Uncategorized

My Church Gave Me $500 and It Has Brought Me Nothing But Angst

A few weeks ago my pastor announced from the pulpit that each congregant in our church would be receiving a check for five hundred dollars. There were a lot of emotions in the room, but the general sentiment was surprise, and perhaps, amazement. After all, it’s a pretty incredible gift to be given. Five hundred dollars can make a big difference in a person’s life, in several people’s lives. Five hundred dollars is an incredible opportunity.

That was how I knew I was supposed to feel. And it wasn’t how I felt.

Backing up a little, let me explain that the money came from the sale of property the church had invested in thirty years ago. I had heard that the church had received a large sum (1.6 million, to be exact) of money, and in conversations with my husband had come to the conclusion that regardless of how the church decided to use the money, we would stay out of the decision making process. We haven’t been involved in how the church chooses to spend its annual budget thus far, and a significant increase in the amount of money wouldn’t and shouldn’t change that.

And then we found out that we were going to be very closely involved in how that decision was made. Each of us was given $500, part of the first ten percent of the 1.6 million dollars, to spend as we see fit.

So my first reaction was more along the lines of, “Isn’t it someone else’s job to make these decisions?”

Frankly, I’m having a hard enough time figuring out how to find time to do the dishes and the laundry. (How many times can you wear work pants before dry cleaning them?) I don’t want to be responsible for the thoughtful discernment of how to spend five hundred dollars.

Also, I don’t really want to think about money at all. I much prefer to leave that to my accountant husband. I’d rather not have to take a look at the total sum of how much money my husband and I spend eating at restaurants each month. I don’t want to know the total amount of money I spend in a year on my daily ice tea from Dunkin Donuts.

My life is pretty much working for me, and for the most part I’m pretty generous. My husband and I support different charities and give money to our church. We get involved in the occasional volunteer project. Add to that the fact that I am working in an urban school district, helping children receive a quality education, and I’d like to think that I’m doing pretty well for myself with my talents and my skills and my contributions to the world. (And for the record, I get my daily iced tea in a reusable mug.)

In the past three weeks hardly a day has gone by without me saying to my husband, “And maybe we could give some of the money to this.” Whether the “this” be to a friend who is struggling to meet rent, to a former student who is paying for college tuition, to another friend who is providing weekly meals to people in Chicago, or to a charity working to stop the spread of Ebola in Western Africa. The need is all around.

In other words, getting this five hundred dollars has been forcing me to engage with the world in a new and uncomfortable way.

It would be one thing if it stopped there. But it doesn’t. Because the other truth of my first thought when I got this money was, “Wow, that’s not very much money.”

Because in the greater scheme of things, it isn’t. And because in the greater scheme of our family budget… it isn’t.

scrooge

It’s not that my husband and I are Scrooge McDuck, swimming in a sea of gold. We still have student loans and a mortgage, we were recently hit with a large auto repair, and re-doing the roof of our house cleared out our savings.

But generally speaking, if we want something we have the means to get it. Like my daily Dunkin Donuts iced tea. Or a recent dinner out to Alinea. Yeah. So while we may not have $500 to give away every day, we could probably give away more than we do.

I remember once talking to my mom and hearing her say that she rarely goes to Caribou Coffee because she knows that at five dollars a drink, going there five times is the equivalent of sponsoring a child through World Vision for a month. By the way, she will hate that I wrote that, because she doesn’t say these things to be showy. She told me this in the most matter of fact kind of way possible. Most likely while doing my laundry. Because my mother is lovely and loving and wonderful. And because I hate doing laundry.

I, on the other hand, do not think about the child I could be sponsoring if I gave up my Dunkin Donuts tea addiction. In fact, I get pretty surly when my husband asks if I would ever be interested in brewing my own iced tea at home. Because seriously, where does that line of thinking stop? Should we sell our house and live in a tent? And so what that I paid two hundred dollars to get my hair cut and colored? That’s how much it costs, and I need to look professional for my job. The job, I would like to remind you, where I help change the lives of children. Fueled by the caffeine in my REUSABLE mug.

And on and on and on.

So no, the five hundred dollar check, still sitting in the trunk of my car where I left it the Sunday I received it, has not brought unlimited happiness and celebration. It’s brought a lot of tough reflection.

My husband and I are in a small group with three other couples that go to our church and we have been talking about pooling our money and creating a fund of $4,000 that could be used in a variety of mutually agreed upon ways. While discussing how this might work, I said, “A big part of me wants to write a five hundred dollar check to the charity of the moment, because that’s so much easier than having to pay attention to all the needs all around me.” And I stand by that. The check is a hot potato I’m more than ready to pass to the next person.

But despite my whining and complaining, I also recognize that this discomfort and frustration, this magnifying glass to my own financial choices, well that might very well be the point. (And yes, I am whining and complaining about being given five hundred dollars and if that is too much entitlement for you to get over, I can’t really blame you.)

We haven’t decided how to use our money. We’re talking about pooling the money and then contributing more money to the pot on a monthly basis, and making it a part of our biweekly meeting time to talk about how to spend different chunks of the money. We’re talking about using the money to match contributions we make to various people and organizations we see.

We’re talking about how we can make it more than just writing a $500 check and being done with it, how we can keep the conversation going, how we can continue to give, even when this $500 is gone.

And so it is that this $500 is the beginning, albeit an uncomfortable one, of a new engagement with the world around me. Because maybe small things like brewing my own ice tea (note, I am not committing to this) can add up to make a big difference, and maybe if I actually believed that, and other people did, too, then giving each congregant in a church $500 wouldn’t be such a big deal. Maybe that kind of giving would be normal.

Maybe it should be. And maybe that starts with me.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

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