Vulnerability

July 25, 2020

I’ve listened to and read a few interviews lately with people who were talking about what they substitute for vulnerability. All three of them shared that others think they’re good at being vulnerable but really they’re substituting transparency — that transparency is, in fact, a shield to avoid being vulnerable. 

All three of them identify as enneagram 8s. But it made me think about how all of us substitute for vulnerability. 2s can also appear vulnerable, but we’re often substituting reflection — mirroring back to another some shared commonalities so the other person feels they both know and are known. But it is at best selective vulnerability and at worst a misdirection. 

Vulnerability is surrender, and our substitutions are a way of grasping. With transparency, I’m still grabbing for control; with reflecting, I‘m still clinging to belonging; with dismissal, I‘m still clutching for safety. Vulnerability says I may not feel in control, or safe, or accepted — and nevertheless, all is well. More than that, that somehow the control and belonging and safety I want are only available when I stop reaching for them. 

What do you substitute for vulnerability?

What are you reaching for?

Not nothing

April 16, 2020

There are authors I enjoy for the stories they craft — and then there are authors I love because of how they write. These are the authors who could write about watching paint dry and I would still read it. Lily King is becoming one of those authors for me, and I just finished her most recent novel, Writers & Lovers.

Toward the end of the book, the protagonist is meeting with her therapist. After he recounts all that’s happened in her life in the last few months:

“I don’t know, my friend. This is not nothing.” Of all his strange responses, this is the one that helps me the most. This is not nothing.

I spent the first few weeks of quarantine both feeling like it was really hard and feeling ashamed that it was so hard. I shook my head at my own lack of resiliency. We’re not in a war zone; no one in my family is sick; we haven’t lost our home or our jobs; the empty shelf-stable food aisles at the grocery store don’t count as a famine. If the bottom tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is covered, I should be fine.

And yet, I’m not fine.

But I’ve let myself acknowledge that this is not nothing. And of all the strange responses, this is the one that helps me the most.

Expectant

April 6, 2020

I’m entering into Holy Week expectant. Inexplicable, unexpected, and yet. 

I felt it stirring yesterday as I walked around our neighborhood, but it was easy to attribute my effusiveness to the magic of Portland in the spring amplified by the relief of being outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine — white cherry blossom petals showering from overhead, daffodils in every yard, every planter bed and tree and shrub being reborn.

Maybe it is that still. Today was probably the most beautiful day of 2020 so far. But I woke up this morning with the word “expectant” on my lips and in my heart. And considering that I woke up to my daughter calling me from her room because she woke up with something sticky in her hair (isn’t that how you wanted to wake up this morning?), that expectancy feels more than circumstantial.

This small story — of two things, the peace and the chaos, intertwined in the first moments of my day — tells the whole story of these last three weeks for me. Every day, I feel like I’m holding countless pairs of opposites. Perpetual grief and sustaining joy. Endless demands and overflowing gratitude. Relentless, noisy chaos and deep, abiding peace. Wearing so thin and yet feeling the nearness of God. Desperately wanting this to be over and fervently believing that God is at work. 

It feels like living in two realities that are both true. Never before have I felt 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 in my bones — having nothing, having it all. 

Most disorienting for me has been the lack of vision. My orientation to time is the present (dependent stance), but with a decided forward lean. It’s definitely different from aggressive stance mojo — I certainly don’t live in the future — but I’m always trying to make decisions in the present that are informed by what I see (or want to see) in the future. 

Right now, that feels impossible. Every inspirational Instagram account is asking us to think about who we want to be when this pandemic is over, and I love the heartbeat behind that but I can’t begin to answer. I’m used to staring down a hallway — sometimes a long, dim hallway — and trying to discern what’s at the end of it. But this feels more like standing in the dark, barely able to see my hands in front of my face. 

I’m sure there are many people who can imagine who they want to be and then move toward it without striving. I’m not one of them. And if I know anything, it’s that the call on my life in this season is not to strive but to yield. It isn’t to be working toward (and thus be attached to) outcomes but to sit in the tension of the process. It isn’t to resolve but simply to notice.

A week before COVID-19 took hold in this part of the world, I wrote a simple phrase in my journal: it’s yielding and abiding, over and over. I tend to live as if abiding is the only part that’s ongoing — but in fact, both are daily, hourly, minute by minute. Especially in a time like this, I can expect nothing if I think it’s up to me to make it happen. Instead, it’s simply up to me to abide and to yield — and then to be expectant.

Place

March 6, 2020

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working my way through Suzanne’s teaching on enneagram subtypes. In the introduction, she talks about how each of the subtypes relates to one of Richard Foster’s three things human people need for contentment: provision (self-preserving subtype), personality (one-to-one subtype), and a sense of place (social subtype).

Sidebar: You can have any dominant subtype in any number, but there are some pairings that feel, to me, like exponents. Like you can be a social subtype of any number (n1), or you can level up and be a social subtype of a dependent stance number (n2), or you can really go for it and be a social 2: others referenced, seeking belonging, needing to be loved (n3). If the various trifurcated components of the enneagram — triads, stances, subtypes — can each be thought of as a three-legged stool, where the underdeveloped aspects need to be cultivated to bring oneself into greater balance, I’d venture that social 2s 🙋🏼‍♀️, self-preserving 5s, and one-to-one 8s are a bit more wobbly by nature than the others.

Seeking belonging for myself and creating it for others simply feels like how I move in the world. If I’m hosting a social gathering, I make sure everyone I invite knows someone else on the guest list. If a friend is struggling, I look for ways to help them feel less alone. When someone shares a vision with me, even a small one, I can see myself in it (and then I proceed to challenge the vision, because I am now fully in it, and while this in-it-ness is my superpower it has an equal and opposite chance of being highly annoying). My husband and I are known as “includers,” not because we’re extroverted (neither of us are) but because we want people to feel like they belong.

That’s all lovely and beautiful when you’re the one welcoming others in. But on the flip side, it means that being excluded — or even just passed over, not considered, not seen — is crushing. If I can’t stop crying in the middle of a Thursday, it’s probably because I feel like I don’t belong. If I’m neglecting to look out for someone else’s best, it’s probably because I feel like my own sense of place is being threatened. 

I’m having to learn how to stand in spaces in my life and believe that I belong. Even if my place there isn’t externally validated or encouraged or invited or acknowledged or even named. I have to choose belonging even when I don’t feel it.

This is of course terrifying and vulnerable and wildly uncomfortable. It feels foolish, like I’ve talked myself into believing a narrative that isn’t true. What if I actually don’t belong here? is the question raised every moment. It requires me to have faith that, if I don’t belong, I will know it or someone will tell me.

The thought of needing to leave is horrifying enough, and the thought of someone having to tell me to leave even more so because then I’ve failed them and inconvenienced them or made them uncomfortable in the process.

But under all that shame is a deeper truth about trust. About how I care for others because I don’t trust them to care for me. About how I don’t trust people to choose me if they don’t need me. About how I don’t know how to get the trust in my head down into my heart.

And in the end, there can’t be true belonging without trust. When you don’t trust, you don’t fully show up; and when you don’t show up, you can’t be known; and if you can’t be known, you can’t belong. Any sense of belonging you have is at best a half-truth and at worst an illusion. You know you only brought part of yourself in the first place, so only that part belongs, and what about the rest of you?

There’s a place for all of you, and for all of me. We just have to trust enough to stand in it.

Leading with curiosity

February 12, 2020

Something I’ve been working on recently is leading with curiosity.

In my default state, I lead with intuition. In the world of MBTI, this is the opposite of taking in information with sensing — but really, they’re two sides of the same coin. In both cases, we’re leading with certainty. It’s just a matter of how we came to those conclusions.

When something is going poorly — or not even poorly but differently than I hoped or expected — I’m even worse at leading with curiosity. My intuition tells me that I have failed in some way, and that failure has led to this outcome. Surely this could have been prevented!

But when I lead with curiosity, I’m able to see the good in how things unfolded. When something doesn’t happen when I thought it should, and I respond with curiosity, I almost always find that the timing was better than what I had in mind.

Was the timing objectively better or was I simply more open to different outcomes? There are probably times the former is true, and other times that it’s the latter. But either way, curiosity leads me to a place of observation (and hopefully acceptance) rather than judgment.

In the last few months, I’ve spent a lot of time in John 15, but it was just a few weeks ago that I connected the pruning of the branches to leading with curiosity. When God cuts back my branches, my intuition says it’s because those branches are dead and fruitless. But John 15:2 speaks a different word: “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

I want to lead with curiosity in this space — to assume that God is pruning, not uprooting, and then ask him what he’s up to.

Someone has to plant the big tree

January 29, 2020

We were at our friends’ house this last weekend, and they were telling the story of two trees they planted — one in the back yard and one in the front. They agree that they chose well for one of the trees and chose poorly for the other, but they disagree on which is which.

The one in the back yard has grown quickly; it’s tall and leafy and pretty to look at. The one in the front yard more or less looks like a stick in the ground. Both trees have been there for the same amount of time. But in a few decades, that front yard tree will be a massive fixture — the kind of tree that people buy a house for — whereas the back yard tree will still be tall and leafy and pretty but, it seems, mostly the same as it is now.

I was still thinking about this a couple days later while I was praying, and I felt like God imprinted a phrase on my mind: Someone has to plant the big tree.

Right now, my life has a lot more of those front-yard trees. I want some tall, leafy, pretty trees for everyone to see, but mine look like sticks in the ground. They’re slow and they look small. And I don’t do slow (or small) well.

But in the end, slow doesn’t mean small. And someone has to plant the big tree.

This must be greater than that

January 1, 2020

Today, we were supposed to go to the Rose Parade. To get our kids up at 4:30 in the morning to drive to the train station to take an hour-plus train ride to stand in a massive throng of people to watch a two-hour parade to do the whole thing again in reverse to get back to load up our car to start our 15-hour drive home.

Today was also day 13 of our very own Christmas Vacation. For two weeks, we’ve been Cousin Eddie, but without the decency to bring our own housing. In those two weeks, my 5-year-old had the flu, slept in 5 different beds, saw 50ish friends and family members, and subsisted on little more than applesauce pouches, shredded cheese, candy canes, and Hawaiian rolls.

When we sat down to make our plan for New Years, I knew we shouldn’t go. We wouldn’t survive it. And I realized that this was one of several times this year that I opted out of something that checks all the boxes for me: somewhat significant, opportunity to make memories, with people I enjoy.

This is, historically, very off-brand for me. My personal brand is definitely about doing things — hard things, important things, all the things, all the time, for all the people, with flawless execution and only positive emotions.

For most of my 20s, every year on my birthday I made a list of things I wanted to do that year that was the same number as my age — so, for example, on my 24th birthday, I made a list of 24 things I wanted to do before I turned 25.

I did my last one when I turned 30. It felt forced, but of course I powered through because We Do Things Around Here. What I didn’t know then was that I had transitioned to a new stage of spiritual life. To use Janet Hagberg’s language, I was moving from the Productive Life to the Journey Inward.

Almost five years later, and now the call is to the Journey Outward — to surrender to God in wildly uncomfortable ways. The Productive Life was comfortable. The Journey Inward may not have always been comfortable but it still felt very natural. The Wall — what Hagberg describes as the time when your will faces God’s will, the time that stands between the Journey Inward and the Journey Outward — was disorienting and painful but mercifully temporary. But this feels like somewhere I’ll be for awhile. Settling in, inhabiting, being at rest in this discomfort. (Nuach seems to be a theme for me these days.)

I can’t say I’m doing well at this. Even now, when all is said and done and it was so clearly the right decision, I still feel the shame and failure inexorably gnawing at the peace and conviction.

But more than anything, I feel like — finally, maybe — I’m ready to acknowledge that my gift of limits must be greater than my fear of being disappointing. I’m praying that 2020 proves that to be true. And whatever your “this must be greater than that” is for this year, I’d love to be praying it for you too.

Nature or nurture?

December 5, 2019

I used to think that our formation as humans was maybe 20% nature and 80% nurture. Then I had kids. And now I think I had it backward, or close to it. Nature has the majority share.

That isn’t to say that our roles as parents or mentors or family members or friends isn’t important. But we’re influencing within a more narrow spectrum.

Most enneagram experts agree that your number is set very early in life — that you’re born with a predisposition toward your number and the experiences of your early life serve as confirmation bias of that number. What changes over time is where you find yourself on the spectrum of your number — in healthy, average, unhealthy, or pathological space — and which subtype you identify with most strongly.

This makes sense when you look at families where all the children have different numbers. But when you have a family where multiple children identify as the same number — or numbers that are connected to each other — it makes me wonder.

Did that family have some kind of genetic mojo that predisposed all the kids to the same number? Or is our predisposition less exact?

Maybe we’re predisposed to a stance, but our triad is learned. We’re born with a reference point (oriented to the past, present, or future; withdrawing, dependent, or aggressive stance), but we practiced different ways to respond (with thinking, feeling, or doing) around our family of origin and, within a few months or a few years, settled into one of those as our chosen method of survival.

That could be why it’s usually easier to identify your stance even if it’s tricky to nail down your number. It feels instinctive, obvious, simply the way you move in the world. Our thinking and feeling and doing sometimes feel like coping mechanisms — and maybe sometimes they are.

You don’t have to be the product

November 12, 2019

There’s a lot of conversation right now — in both spiritual and secular circles — about the impact of digital devices on our emotional and mental (and spiritual) health.

And I believe strongly in what the church calls “disciplines of abstinence,” such as silence, solitude, and sabbath, and their value in helping us reorient our lives toward what we value most deeply. But I also work in tech — for a software company, no less — and have made a 15-year career on the web. So it’s safe to say that I have a lot of feelings about all of this.

Our digital devices can absolutely be where consumer culture meets the digital age. Our appetites are endless and now so is the supply. Whether we’re compelled to consume news or porn or Instagram likes or Amazon items — or even good podcasts or great books or other quality content — there’s a limit to how much consumption is healthy. Some of these things have a greater potential for destruction than others, but too much of any of it can be bad for our souls.

But at the same time, not all the things we do on our devices are created equal. Consumption isn’t the sole function of your iPhone. Your digital devices can be spaces where you primarily create rather than consume.

You don’t have to be the product. You don’t have to be a slave to digital capitalism. You don’t have to distract yourself to death.

And you don’t necessarily have to turn off all your devices to do it.

That isn’t to say that a full-blown digital sabbath or digital detox or digital sabbatical is never beneficial. Sometimes addiction requires abstinence.

But I find it interesting that, in the biblical text, there are two Hebrew words that have to do with rest. The one we’re more familiar with is shabath, which literally means to cease. On the sabbath, we rest by ceasing to work. But the other is nuach, which is this idea of settling in, inhabiting, being at rest. We need to be both-and people. The kind of people who can live a life of nuach and the kind of people who, on a regular basis, also shabath.

Big Tech isn’t going anywhere. Unless you plan to join an Amish community, your life will be increasingly permeated by technology. We need to learn how to engage with technology in meaningful, healthy ways. Creation over consumption. Production over being the product. Intentionality over distraction.

What this looks like for you will vary wildly depending on your stage of life, line of work, and relationship to technology. But a few ideas for how you can practice digital rest:

  • Ruthlessly kill off notifications — especially home screen notifications. A more passive device is a less distracting device.
  • Rearrange your apps so that time-wasters are a page or two deep. This is a subtle barrier but it means having to intentionally reach for that social media or news app instead of tapping it by default when you unlock your phone.
  • Try using your lock screen and voice commands to do things. You can return a quick text, play music, call a friend, take pictures, set reminders, use alarms and timers, and more without going deeper than your lock screen. If you don’t unlock your device, you’re less likely to get sucked in to something you didn’t intend to spend time on.
  • Use both scheduled and spontaneous do not disturb. When this is on, your notifications will be completely silenced — no vibrating, no lighting up your home screen, no alerts to your watch. The only exception is phone calls from people on your favorites list (so, for example, your spouse could still reach you). If you schedule it for, say, 8pm-8am every night, you’ll be interruption-free 12 hours a day.
  • Use the scheduled downtime feature on your iPhone. You decide which apps are available during downtime; everything except the phone is unavailable by default, so you have to opt in to anything you want to use.
  • Similarly, use app limits. Set a maximum amount of time you’re comfortable spending on a given app per day. You can do this per app or for an entire category — for example, 60 minutes max on all social media, or 30 minutes on Instagram. (These limits are cumulative and reset at midnight.)
  • Turn on airplane mode. You can still listen to music that’s on your device, write notes, update your task list, read your Bible, access timers and alarms, and even read books you downloaded. No google, no social media, no news (all the praise hands).

The relentlessness of balance

November 6, 2019

We talk a lot about keeping our lives in balance. Whether that’s balancing work and non-work, or carbs and cardio, or self-care and others-care, we carry around an invisible balance sheet that’s always in danger of going into the red (or, if you spend any time in enneagram 1 space, it’s just red all the time).

This drive for balance is unrelenting. We’re Goldilocks, but instead of there being a just-right bed to lay down on, it’s a tightrope. On moving cantilevers. Over a giant chasm of failure.

For most of my 20s, I pursued balance through systems. Time management systems, task management systems, stuff management systems. And it appeared to work, more or less. But then I had a baby, and then another baby, and all of a sudden systems weren’t leading to balance.

Balance requires a degree of compartmentalization. I’ve never been good at compartmentalizing. I see connections, not dispensations. But I had feigned balance through a combination of margin and baseline capacity. I could hold a lot of things at once, and when I couldn’t there was margin in which to recover. 

And then I was a full-time working mom of two with little capacity and even less margin.

I still believe in systems. Systems create rhythms, and rhythms provide a framework for my life. But over the last 5 years, I’ve reworked my rhythms once a quarter (or more) and have yet to find a system that produces balance.

I’ve started to wonder: What if the fundamental assumption — that balance is the goal — is wrong?

I don’t want a balanced life. I want fullness of life.

I want these juxtaposed parts of my life to all feel abundant. When I pray for my kids when I’m at work, or jot down an idea for work when I’m with my kids, I don’t want to see that as an indicator of unhealth. When one week has me in spin class four times but the next week has me taking my kids out for ice cream instead, I don’t want to see that as the death of my health goals.

A relentless pursuit of balance might help me achieve more, or be more fit, or squeeze more in — but is that what I’m after? Should it be?