Monday, April 27, 2015

Boundaries: an outline

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*Originally written as a guest blog for my friend Kaitlin. Head over to her blog for inspiration, beauty, and a good old-fashioned pep-talk.

Somewhere along the line, the word "boundaries" got  complicated. It went from marking the edge of
a territory to having all sorts of relational implications that are anything but clear.

In their purest form, boundaries tell us where a space ends or begins and are meant to clarify and direct. For our forefathers, they created order out of a vast new world. They keep Appalachian Trial hikers from getting lost on an already long journey. And they keep my neighbors' dogs' poop off my grass. See? We want and need boundaries. So why are they so darn confusing in relationships? I don't have all the answers, but here's a place to start:

Know why you're drawing the boundary. 
Boundaries are meant to protect, clarify, direct, and keep the peace. If you're creating boundaries for other reasons (i.e. "This isn't convenient" or "This isn't easy" or "I don't like this person"), check your motives. We mask a lot of selfishness in the word "boundaries." 

Ask for wisdom.
If your boundary-making is rightly motivated, though, then you're wondering when to begin or end a friendship/relationship, and that's a murky matter. Do a lot of listening--listening to people wiser than you, and listening to God. Don't make any quick moves; be deliberate and patient about seeking wisdom. And remember that a boundary for some isn't a boundary for everyone. Without wisdom, you'll make too many lines, too few lines, or lines that just won't work.

Draw the line
The Israelites cried out for God to deliver them from the pursuing Egyptian army, and God did make a way through the sea, but first He said something unexpected to Moses: "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on" (Exodus 14:15). We absolutely need to begin with crying out to God for wisdom, but then we need to move on--not that we stop crying out to Him, but that we don't stop there. Prayer moves us to action.

So, once you've determined to start, continue, or end a relationship, figure out where the lines are, and know that the process of "figuring out"is evolving. You'll stumble and mess up. You'll try something that doesn't work and stumble upon something that does. That's okay. I don't know many (any?) people who create boundaries perfectly the first time.

Color inside the lines
You've drawn the lines and now you have to do the hard work of following through. The boundaries have given you a new sort of freedom because you've clarified expectations, but you have to color inside the lines you've drawn. This, of course, is the hard part. It means breaking habits of engaging or disengaging, and old habits really do die hard. Give yourself grace to mess up (because you will), but also make it hard for yourself to mess up: gather a few people around you who know about the lines you're drawing and ask them to help you stick to it.

Let's get really practical. If you've committed to pursuing, be intentional about time with that person; call, text, get together, drop by, make a plan. If you've committed to ending, be intentional about latching those fences. Delete the number, resist communicating when you want to, and be okay with things feeling distant and awkward. So easy to type, eh?

And an important side note: drawing the line doesn't always mean announcing your line. In many cases, no one but you has to know the line's there; other times, the line needs to be clearly communicated. Again, seek wisdom.

Prepare for the lines to change (or not).
Have you ever looked at early maps of the United States? They're way off. The guys drawing those maps didn't have drones and computers to create accurate lines; they were walking the lines. We're like them. We don't have the luxury of a bird's eye view to our lives because we're living them, which means our perspective will change over time, as will (possibly) our relationships. Relational lines don't have to be permanent. It's why adopted children reunite with birth parents, fizzled friendships rekindle years later, and teachers can be friends with their students once they graduate. People change. Circumstances change. So our lines need to be moveable. Not always, but sometimes.

Here's the bottom line (get it?): 
Spend more time considering the WHY of your boundaries than you think you need to.
Be okay with messing up along the way.
Don't get judgy and throw your boundaries on others, or adopt theirs just because.
Be intentional, prayerful, and humble throughout the process.
Like our country's map, the lines won't always be straight and symmetrical, but the ones you create (thoughtfully) are better than no lines at all.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Three Things Thursday: Puerto Rico Edition

Thing One: Kayak at night in the Bioluminescent Bay
What's cooler than kayaking at night in water that glows and sparkles? Answer: nothing. It's probably the coolest thing I've ever done in my life, and worth every penny. The kayaking is accessible for any age, and because you go in a group, the pace is leisurely. The route begins by going through an archway of mangrove trees (see photo below), where our guide pointed out lots of iguanas that sleep in the trees.
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I wish I remembered the science behind it all, but once we were in the bioluminescent bay, the water around our paddles glowed as we stroked or ran our hands through it, and as fish dispersed around our kayak, we saw them light up through the water like shooting stars. The world only has a handful of these places because of the necessary combination of extra salty water, temperature, and certain elements in the water to create the same light effect as a lightning bug. Tiny flagella light up once a night, but because millions are in the water, it looks like the water sparkles. Magical. Tip: get toward the front of the line so you can ask the guide questions as you go.
Thing Two: Hike El Yunque National Forest
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If you love beauty and the outdoors and a little hard work, this is a MUST. I'd recommend looking at some maps ahead of time, but especially stopping to talk to one of the workers there to ask about the best route. We had a map and the guy we talked to cut an hour or two off our hike and gave us pointers on the most beautiful views and areas. (Our entire hike was just under two hours.) The official visitor's center is not worth your time; they charge you and it's not particularly helpful. And I would NOT recommend going on a tour of the rainforest. You'll be doing a dinky hike at a snail's pace with a bunch of strangers and hearing about the history of Puerto Rico, which is wonderful and interesting, but not nearly as interesting as just exploring the place yourself. I'm not making this up; the views really are as gorgeous as this picture.

Thing Three: Eat a quesito
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I have no idea what's in this pastry of goodness, but it doesn't really matter (and I probably don't want to know). Just know that you should try it and that you might have to eat one every morning (or afternoon or evening) that you're there because you may never get to eat one again. The Nutella-filled one might change your life. My mouth is watering just typing about it. Goodness.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

An Introvert Mom's Guide to Staying Alive

Let's get one thing straight: I adore Donald Miller. I hang onto his words with the white knuckles of a Titanic survivor floating on a piece of wood. Words from people like him help me stay afloat and feel alive. And another thing I love: he's a fellow introvert. He gets the need and desire and enjoyment of complete aloneness, and he recently wrote an article about it called "The Introvert's Guide to Staying Alive."

With lines like, "My head feels like a junk drawer [without alone time]" and "For an introvert, [extroverted activities is] the equivalent of hooking an IV up to their artery and draining their blood," I'm screaming YES! YES! YOU GET ME!
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He goes on explain what kinds of alone activities give him rest and life. Among them: going to a movie by himself, taking a long walk with his dog around a nearby lake, taking drives, and eating alone. And they all sound glorious. But there's one problem: he's not a stay-at-home-mom of little people under the age of four.

So, I'm wondering: how do introverted moms of littles recharge? Eating alone? Ha! Taking a drive? I call that "getting my non-napping kid to sleep." Doesn't count. It all looks very different under my hood and I'm struggling to know how to recharge as an introvert in a world that puts me around people (or their monitors) all day long. I'm constantly living in the tension of wanting to be with my kids a lot but also feeling drained by being around people (them) all day. If I put them both in MDO, I'm missing time with them that I love. If I keep them with me all the time, I'm feeling depleted. And guilt follows me everywhere: guilt when I'm not with them and guilt when I'm not refueling. Yuck.

I have no idea how you other introverted moms of littles do it, but since I (we?) just love lists (and since I'm still trying to identify what gives me rest), here are a few ways I've learning to steal away:

  • Figure out what gives you rest. Shopping makes me hyperventilate, so that's never on my radar, but could be on yours. Being at a coffee shop is still too peopled. I need quiet. And time to write. And time to think. For me, that's at home in my PJ pants drinking coffee, and usually writing. It's how I'm writing this post today and I'm so happy to be alone I could cry! (Many thanks to the hubs for giving me an hour here and there when I need it.)
  • Be okay with smaller pockets of time. My alone time tank doesn't really like little drops of time here and there; she'd much prefer to guzzle. But the gallons of time are so rare that I have to be okay with one minute with the door locked in the bathroom, a sentence scribbled on a napkin to write about later, or 10 minutes while they watch a movie for me to read or think or just drink a hot cup of coffee. In another room. By myself. 
  • It's a season. The littles won't always be at your feet, pulling on your shirt, and shadowing your every move. Really, they won't. 
  • Once a year, take a personal retreat. Be away from people for at least 24 hours. Get a hotel, stay at a friend's house while they're out of town, do the work to organize childcare or time off work and get the heck alone. It's like spitting in the ocean, but it's something. And you'll be surprised by what comes out of you when you get a whole day or more by yourself; it's a completely different experience from a couple of hours or even an afternoon alone.
  • Use the time you have to rest. Now that my kids nap at roughly the same time, I usually have an hour in the middle of the day when they're both asleep and the house is quiet. While I don't completely count this as "alone time" since I'm still "on," it's quiet time without them, and that's valuable. My tendency is to spend that time prepping dinner, eating lunch (alone!), shaving my legs, returning emails--doing something productive, something I can point to and feel accomplished about. But I need to try to have at least a couple designated days a week to rest and write and do whatever is life-giving during that time. And it's going to take discipline for me to stop doing and start doing what's restful, what will recharge me. I also need one night a week that's mine to spend however I need to, and Phil is great about giving that to me. 
  • Be okay with saying no. Be okay with not filling your schedule to the brim and saying no to even good things once in a while. Example: some years, I go to Bible study, some years I don't. Some weeks we have play dates every day, some weeks we have none. Some weeks we have people in our home for dinner more nights than not; other weeks, we just have family time. 
  • Don't make alone time an idol. I love alone time so much that I quickly find myself living for it, and losing my mind when I don't have enough; it can be a vacuum. On the one hand, there's a real need for time alone; it's how I get my energy. On the other hand, our whole lives are about sacrifice--loving others at our own expense, which often means saying yes to talking on the phone with a friend when you'd rather read read a book, or saying yes to engaging your kids when you'd rather put on a movie for them. The hard thing here is there's no rulebook. Sometimes choosing to sacrifice your need for alone time is godly and other times it's foolishness. Which leads me to my last point:
  • Pray for wisdom. I have no idea when introversion slips into selfishness and when sacrifice turns to depletion. It's different from moment to moment, day to day, and person to person. So mostly I need to pray a lot, all day long, asking God to show me how to live with wisdom.
Fellow introverted moms, how do you recharge? What gives you rest? How do you steal away in your extroverted life? 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The way it was always meant to be

I studied a camouflage of jewel-colored water glint as ocean lapped coral so rhythmically we use the sound for therapy. For four days last week, Phil and I stole away to Puerto Rico, an early celebration of a DECADE together of wedded bliss, challenge, laughter, heartache, adventure, mistakes, joys, and intimacy. And the trip was just about perfect.

I only wish I’d written more.

The muse was with me. (And how could she stay away? Such beauty and inspiration, time and leisure.) But I needed Virginia’s room of one’s own and the peopled beach kept the writing just out of reach. But it did give me the opportunity to read the most perfect book I’ve ever read—the kind of book whose language inspires you to be a better writer and whose characters feel familiar and sympathetic and whose storyline is compelling. It was so delectable that I’m giving it its own post soon, so I’m going to make you wait for the title. It’ll be worth it, I promise.
As each day yawned, I felt the bubbling of words inside and turned them over like smooth stones in my palm. And a couple of times, I put the words to paper –punchy, unexpected sentences strung together so interestingly that even I was amazed they came from me.  But many times, the words gave up trying to escape because I choked them. I’ll write when I get back, I kept telling myself.

But now I’m back home and the words are gone, the muse has left, and it’s taken me days to write a version of our trip because the words fall short every time.

But this post isn’t just about what I wished I’d done; it’s about what we did. And I'm telling you it felt like we were walking on dry ground between walls of ocean. The weather was always sunny but never hot. We rode a ferry to an island each day, and I spent every boat ride trying to find the words to describe the water there. We hiked the rainforest and kayaked at night in the bioluminescent bay and talked and laughed and ate and read and slept til we wanted to. It was heavenly.

I really do think God made us for things like this--to commune deeply and drop our jaws at beauty and explore nature and emotions without fear. But sin entered the world and it isn't like that anymore. We have fractured relationships and spinning lives that miss beauty and experience shame. But it was a taste of the GOOD that God created this world to be and the PERFECTION that He promises it will be again and I'm grateful.

Stay tuned for more trip reflections and the book review!