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?

Streams flowing together

October 23, 2019

I was listening to an episode of This Cultural Moment in the car this morning. Near the end, Jon Tyson was talking about the current state of the evangelical church, and he said:

It’s an urgent moment. It isn’t the moment for safe, normal stuff that always worked.

A few minutes later, Pete Hughes shared how his church has responded to this urgency:

The streams are beginning to flow together… [We have] a deep hunger to learn from the best of each tradition.

I immediately thought about how grateful I am to be a part of a church that is also doing this.

And I almost as immediately thought about a renowned (female) Bible teacher who just this week was told, by another renowned (male) Bible teacher, to “go home,” while other leaders cheered and laughed and publicly defamed her character.

Obviously, this is wildly unacceptable on a number of levels (and I’m using all my restraint to not get into them right now); to quote Sarah Bessey, “This guy needs to publicly apologise and then go sit quietly in a room with Beth Moore teaching tapes on repeat at full volume until he can properly repent.” But most disturbing to me is the complete blindness to (or, at best, utter lack of understanding of) our current moment in the capital-C Church.

Churches across the world are looking outside their tradition to find wisdom. They recognize that what got us here can’t get us there, and they have the God-given humility and perspective to go looking for it.

And then you have these guys — bestselling authors, megachurch pastors, internationally known for their teaching and leadership — and here’s someone in front of them who has had an arguably greater impact on Christian women in the West than any female Bible teacher in history, and she’s not only in their tradition but in their denomination, and yet because she isn’t in their gender they can’t even demonstrate baseline respect and kindness, let alone seek wisdom or be the tiniest bit open, curious, or thoughtful.

There were some other people in antiquity who sat around debating the letter of the law while missing the heart of it. They were in an urgent moment, and they too didn’t know it. They wanted the safe, normal stuff.

But that wasn’t the time. And this isn’t either. 

When the thing isn’t about the thing

October 2, 2019

A few weeks ago, we spent the weekend camping at the coast. The first full day we were there, it was overcast and not warm, but because we live in the PNW we went to the beach anyway. We figured the kids could climb on the shipwreck and our friends’ dog could run and we could all put our toes in the surf. 

Within 20 minutes my kids were soaked through their clothes and I was carrying their dripping jeans down the beach while they jumped in waves up to their thighs and I just prayed I wouldn’t run into That Mom who thinks it’s inappropriate for my 5 year old who’s the size of an 8 year old to run down the beach in her underwear. 

The tide was low and these giant pieces of seaweed had gotten stranded on the beach. They were easily six feet long, complete from root to leaf, and Eva quickly befriended one and named it SeaSea and asked for pictures with it and dragged it all the way up the beach and back. When it was time to go, she was devastated that I wouldn’t put SeaSea in the car. We found a nice, safe spot for SeaSea on top of a sand dune and gave her hugs and cried all the way back to camp. 

We thought that would be our only trip to the beach. But the next afternoon the sun was out and it was warm and we spontaneously decided that a pre-dinner trip to the beach would be lovely. Just a 30 minute visit before sunset. 

The minute we pulled into the parking lot I knew we had made a mistake. “Let’s go find SeaSea!” But of course she wasn’t where we left her, or anywhere else we looked, and now I’m climbing sand dunes with an inconsolable, sobbing 5 year old and a 2 year old who‘s staging a sit-in while she yells at me that she’s tired of climbing (the implication that this outing is ridiculous is not lost in translation, nor can I disagree). Between sobs, Eva is telling me that SeaSea was her bestie and why would anyone take her and where do I think she is and do I think SeaSea is going to remember her and know she loved her and of course she won’t and she will forget her completely because she has a new friend now and she never loved Eva the way she loved her and no one will ever be as special as SeaSea. 

And I’m kneeling there on the sand asking Eva if maybe, just maybe, this is about something else. 

Because sometimes you’re 5 and you’re starting kindergarten at a new school and you’ll have new friends and a new teacher and you’ve spent weeks talking about how excited you are but you haven’t looked your fear and grief in the eye and now you’ve projected all of your feelings, both known and unknown, onto something that isn’t the thing but feels like the thing. 

And sometimes you’re 34 and still do that sometimes and you know what it looks like when the thing isn’t about the thing. 

So we sat on the beach and cried for awhile. And then we found another SeaSea and played with her and chased her and took photos with her and drew pictures of her back at camp. And for those next few days I carried Eva’s heart in a different way. 

There are a million moments in motherhood when you don’t know what to do and you’re pretty sure you’re blowing it 80% of those times and you pray for your child’s future therapist because God knows what that person will have to help your child work through. But once in awhile you hear that quiet whisper that this moment matters even though on the surface it seems absurd and impossible and even a little silly and you slow down and you listen. Because sometimes you need someone to be there for the thing that isn’t the thing, so you know they’ll still be there when it is. 

My dad would have been 65 today

September 21, 2019

Two days after my dad died, a friend gave me a piece of advice that became an anchor. Do something new. It doesn’t matter what it is, but do something you’ve never done before. My friend was well-acquainted with grief — the kind that’s not only about what you lost but about what you won’t ever get to have and (the biggest grief of all) what you never had in the first place — and as she went on to tell me about teaching herself to knit and starting musical theater and the first time she dyed her hair an outrageous color, all of these fragmented pieces of our adolescence came abruptly, viscerally into focus and I was able to see: all of this was her living her grief right in front of us without any of us knowing it.

The following year, I trained for and completed my first triathlon. Then I had a baby. The next year we bought a house, and the year after that I had another baby. In 2017 I changed jobs, and last year I changed careers. I wouldn’t say that this has all been borne out of grief. But I also wouldn’t say that I would be where I am — spiritually, emotionally, practically — without it. All these new things helped me live through the grief of what I lost.

It was last year on the anniversary of his death that I realized the accumulation of things that carried me through loss had yielded a new grief, the grief of what I would never have. I’m now living a life that’s wholly unfamiliar to him. I’m raising children he never met in a house he never saw while working for a company he never heard of with a job title he never knew. These are things I will never get to share with him. Twenty-seven years with him and yet these seven years without him feel like a chasm.

And yet. When I look back on what we had I am humbled not by my grief but by gratitude. In writing to a friend who lost his mother, Henri Nouwen wrote:

“Real grief is not healed by time… If time does anything, it deepens our grief. The longer we live, the more fully we become aware of who she was for us, and the more intimately we experience what her love meant for us.”

If it’s likely that I wouldn’t be where I am without grief, I most certainly wouldn’t be here without his love. He believed things about me that I will spend the balance of my life living up to. By the time I’m 58 — or, God willing, 65, or 75, or 85 — I hope to have become all the things he spent 27 years telling me I was.