Torn

If you know me, you know I am often two to ten minutes late to just about everything. I can’t say I have a good excuse, but I can tell you another reason other than poor planning or laziness.

I wish I could be in two places at once.

Yes, I’ve seen A Walk to Remember when the girl has it on her dying wishlist and the boy has her stand on the state line (two states, one time) and no, this is not what I am asking for. I actually want to be two places at once. That’s the super power I’d ask for because no matter what, I always seem to be torn between a few people, places and things at once.

What if I want to go to lunch with a friend just as much as I want to clean the house with my husband? Or visit friends out of town as much as I’d like to spend a weekend hanging out with my neighbors? How do you choose between Skype time with a friend or a phone call from family? Which is more important, a friend in a panic or a friend you planned to be with months in advance? A new opportunity or an established friendship?

I want to be in all the places with all the people!

So I juggle. Not always very successfully, but I try. I don’t stay long enough in one place and am usually late to the next. I cram a full schedule because I haven’t kept up with everyone I want to, only to turn around and feel I haven’t seen a bunch of other people in far too long. I don’t know what to do or how to choose sometimes. It’s not because you aren’t important to me. If that was the case, it’d be easy. It’s that other people are important to me, too. I’m torn in different directions, and the only solution I can think of is being in two places at once.

At the Table

A table can represent many things. Meals, bills, homework, art projects and board games all have a place here. There’s a lot of community that can happen around a table. When meals are shared, conversation often ensues. It’s a wondrous thing.

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This is our table. I’m sure you thought I’d never actually get around to showing the inside of our home but here’s a glimpse, kitchen and all.

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Food can sometimes make me feel like an outsider sadly. I’ve gone through bouts of serious sickness in the past and have mourned the loss of several food types. It’s easier than it was at first, but sometimes it’s still hard to keep going. While I haven’t been sick as often or intensely, I have to keep with it. Crazy food restrictions are still there. Sometimes I want to throw all caution to the wind and occasionally, I have. It ends in mixed results ranging from seemingly no change to an onslaught of sick.

At first, our meals with others seem to revolve around what I can and cannot eat. It’s a good story but by the end of the night it can be pretty exhausting to relive it all again and go through all the ins and outs of it. When just about every meal you share with someone involves you talking about all of the things you can’t eat, it can get overwhelming.

So, while I’d love to paint this beautiful picture of all the table can mean in community, it’s not the whole truth. It IS a wonderful setting for community and many meaningful things have happened there, but it’s also a hard and painful place for me. Food has caused so much stress and frustration, both as a result of eating it and of avoiding it. It can make me feel so disconnected from people, whether it’s because my meal will inevitably be different or maybe even because I have to physically leave in order to find something else to eat since nothing on the table will work. Yet at the same time, people have rallied around us and have been so kind and thoughtful as we’ve fought to figure this all out. There’s really been so much love and for that I am so grateful.

In the end, the table is a complicated place. Community and relationships are equally complicated. People have shortcomings and insecurities that cannot be as easily hidden in real relationships. Ultimately, it’s worth it to share in community and come to the table.

Don’t Quite Belong

There are parts of my life that don’t seem to line up. Like, I’m not quite hip enough for all the shows I go to. Or don’t have kids hanging off my arms like most of the other women at church. Or I don’t look old enough to do the things I am capable of at work. Or maybe I’m not musical enough for what people expect in relation to my incredibly musically inclined husband.

It seems like I’m never quite what “they” wanted. Sometimes I want to shout in return saying, “I DON’T FIT IN HERE! I KNOW IT JUST AS MUCH AS YOU DO!” Yes, I get it, thanks. Because trust me, I feel even more awkward about it than you do. It feels as if my life is hanging in the balances, tinkering on the edge of total discord and absurdity.

So maybe we don’t have the same amount of money, number of kids, personal beliefs, musical talents, magnitude of eye makeup, years of experience or extensive vocabulary. No matter where I turn, I don’t seem to be matching everyone else there in some major life area. As uncomfortable as that can sometimes (often) be, I think there’s something incredibly valuable in it, too. Because instead of continuing on our own little paths, we get to learn from each other and grow from each other. That can’t happen if we all look, talk, act and think the same way. So maybe it will take a little more effort to bridge the gap. Maybe we’ll have to take those differences in stride and assume the best of each other. But I’d much rather that than living a life removed from those who have different experiences and understandings than my own.

Me + You

There is one relationship that I value above the rest. When we’re talking about humans, my relationship with my husband matters more (only God can trump it and I said humans here). That doesn’t mean I don’t care about what’s happening in the lives of others or can’t be friends with people. Quite the contrary, but when it comes down to priorities, he comes first. Over a job, over friends, over school, over hobbies, over other family even. Having a good relationship in my marriage is beyond important to me. So I will do things that might seem ridiculous to some if it protects my marriage—whether it’s setting aside extra time or saying no to a good thing sometimes. In a society that sometimes overvalues a career or “success” I choose my marriage.

I can’t say I always know best how to do so or have the perfect relationship. I wish this was the case, but we are imperfect people who have to live in love and a whole lot of grace. We have misunderstandings and disagreements. Well-intentioned statements go awry or maybe even less than well-intentioned words slip. Gosh some days it’s tough to figure out what the heck we should do in certain situations. Some days it’s the most wonderful carefree thing in the world. Regardless, we made a commitment to each other to stick together. Nothing is allowed to mess with that. I will guard and protect this relationship with all that I’ve got. Because this relationship matters the most to me. Plus, the better we are, the better our other relationships will likely be, too. So if I ever seem to talk to much about him or us, this is why. He’s my guy.

Neighbor, neighbor

As much as I love my faraway friends (and I really truly do), neighbors matter. They are the people you see from day to day. The ones who hear your music and make your mouth water when they fire up the grill. We were lucky enough to move to a neighborhood where some of our friends already lived, but I’ve been thrilled to also meet the people nearby and on our street.

I’m a bit biased, but I already love our neighborhood. We live a mile from downtown in an area that might have once been less than desirable to live in. It’s an intentional rental community with apartments, townhomes and houses. Senior living, income-reduced, young adults, families—they’re all here in this neighborhood. There’s a college on one end, a mix of restaurants and a hardware store within walking distance and the new restaurant across the street from us. But mostly, I’ve loved getting to know the people who care about each other and about living here. It’s great to have the opportunity to hear about their lives, see their space and have someone say hello as you go to get the mail. Living in a community is an incredible thing.

Nitty Gritty

Sometimes you’ve got to cut to the core. Go straight to the heart of an issue. Real relationships can’t be sustained on surface level weekend updates or meaningless buzzfeed articles passed from one to another. Those things are fine and good, but it’s not really real.

We all have life going on. Sometimes we go through seasons of pain and hardships as humans. Sometimes we have a lighter load. Either way, we need to be ready to go deeper.

Make it the right time, right place and right person, but you have to go there. You need to be willing to listen and support. Equally so, you need be ready to return the transparency. This doesn’t mean a social media unload where all of your friends can comment in panic. It’s a heart-to-heart with a friend who cares. Someone who’s willing to stand by you and help however they can. Find that friend. Be that friend. Live out that friendship. Let’s get real. Even if it’s hard.

Learning, Growing and Life Changing

Tuesday nights I leave work a little early and zip over to one of our area universities to learn all about nonprofit management. There I get to hear all about how nonprofits are supposed to work, some of the things they are great at and some of the things they’ve really messed up. All in all, it’s a good class (although I still haven’t fully adjusted to having homework looming over my head and all of my expert procrastinating skills have proven to be fully intact). I’ve learned a lot of things that maybe seem like common sense but also a lot of new perspectives on how some things happen the way they do in the nonprofit world. None of them are perfect. Actually, it’s a wonder some of them still manage to exist. Power, greed, scandal, disorganization, bankruptcy, fraud— you name it, the nonprofits in the world have probably struggled with it.

But there they are. There to serve the people, teach the children and fix the dogs. They do things that our government can’t (or won’t or shouldn’t) and allow individuals to be a bigger part of something than themselves. You’re looking to connect to people? To be a part of a community? Go ahead and start here.

Somewhere between 25-30% of adults volunteer in the U.S. I know we have jobs and lives and friends and whatnot. I know, I really do. And I’m not saying all nonprofits automatically make it good or worthwhile. The point isn’t volunteering somewhere for the sake of your resume or a bumper sticker. Be involved somewhere that isn’t about you getting something out of it. Yes, maybe you’ll learn and grow and have a changed life because of it, but volunteer so that someone else can learn and grow and have a changed life because of it.

These are the kind of relationships and connections we need more of in the world. Because people matter.