Things No One Told Me: Adult Friendship

I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up. But when I moved to college, I finally felt like all of the pieces were in place to develop real friendships. Proximity made getting to know people pretty easy, and I had more genuine friendships than I had ever had in mere weeks after moving into my dorm. They meant the world to me (and still do, actually!).

And then I graduated from college and my closest friends moved away. It was hard. Most of the people my age at my church had been involved in our college ministry, which meant that we had sort of tried to be friends and given up years ago.

Working as the only single female in a workplace made up almost entirely of complementarian, married men who seemed to mostly follow the now-famous “Billy Graham rule” also made friendship difficult. Needless to say, friendship was slow in coming. I thought it would be easier after I got married, but it turns out that marriage doesn’t cure all of your relationship woes (who knew??).

As newlyweds, we had lots of acquaintances, a few baby friendships, and very few come-over-and-watch-TV-with-us friends. It’s amazing how much you miss the lazy Saturdays of college dorms with all of the back-and-forth visiting, and spontaneous outings. Outside of college, you have to work to make friends and plan activities with friends ahead of time because  your best friends don’t live with you or down the hall.

In my grad school class this semester, my professor mentioned that working “full-time” means that you use all of the time you have available outside of helping your family to function and thrive, to work. That feels real to me. With a full time job and real life responsibilities, friendship takes more effort, motivation, and time than I ever realized. It can be hard. And lonely.

It is possible, though, to make friends. And it’s worth it. I think we’re finally on the up-swing of what has felt like a long year. It took several years to build solid friendships, and it has been hard this year to watch many of our good friends moved away. Here are some things I’ve been learning about making friends as an adult:

  • Plan and persevere. We’re in a particularly busy season, parenting a toddler while both of us are in grad school. We have felt lonely this last year, but it has been difficult to use even the dregs of our energy to invite new people into our lives. We have needed to get better at planning ahead and getting out of our comfort zone to build friendships.
  • Join the club. It is rare to make good friends quickly, as an adult. Maybe some people can do it, but most people find it hard. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that our few friends who didn’t move away were feeling like we were. So we started a small group with them for people like us: busy people without time for a lot of extra responsibility, but who need a place to intentionally study God’s word and build new relationships with peers. It has been a great blessing to have a few new friends to focus our limited energy on.
  • Every minute counts. I’ve been learning, or trying, to initiate openness in a healthy way. When time is short, it is easy to let relationships stay in the awkward small-talk phase. Realizing that most people hate small talk has helped me take steps toward having real conversations in even those small moments. I’m trying to learn to ask and answer questions in a way that feels like “relationship building” even in short conversations. In other words, I’m trying to just get to the point instead of wasting precious moments in small talk.

Life is full of transitions, I’m learning. Stability rarely lasts more than a few years: jobs change, friends move, families grow and change. Life just happens, whether you’re ready for it or not. It’s a reminder that we, too, are not permanent. Even the longest friendships on earth are but a breath. The good news is that “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Is that a comfort to you? I want it to be a comfort to me when I’m feeling lonely. In the comings and goings of precious and dear friends, we can remember two things:

  1. Jesus will never leave you or forsake you, if you are his. He made us for community, but when we inevitably feel lonely, it is a comfort to know that we are truly never alone. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert alone. Before the crucifixion, every single one of Jesus’s friends let him down in a major way. He is the best person to understand our loneliness, and he loves to care for us in our pain. We can cast all our cares on him.
  2. If our distant friends are in Christ, we will never be permanently separated from them. Moves across the country and around the globe will only mean a delay before we spend an eternity with them in heaven. Now that’s something to look forward to.

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Review: The Skies Belong To Us

Reality TV. Everyone mocks it, but there’s no denying how easy it is to get reeled in if you give it a chance. During my high-school years I watched my fair share of Survivor, American Idol, and even The Bachelor. And Dateline, which I know claims to be news, but seriously. Who watches it for the purpose of gathering information? We watch it for the scandal, the drama, the crime.

I don’t watch reality TV anymore, (except for The Great British Bake-Off, which I need, of course). Mostly, I just have other things to do with my time. But I still get my dose of real-life drama through reading. I love thrilling books. And historical crime books combine my love of a good thrill and my love for history. One of my all-time favorite books is Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough. And The Devil In the White City was also great (even if it was a bit gruesome at points). In the same vein, I recently listened to The Skies Belong To UsLove and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking, by Brendan Koerner.

Koerner writes of the five-year period of time when plane hijackings occurred as often as once a week. He follows the story of Roger Holder, a veteran of Vietnam, and Cathy Kerkow, who planned the longest-distance hijacking in U.S. history. With their story as the unifying narrative, Koerner peppers the book with countless other stories of hijackings to give a larger picture of the history of hijacking and the slow progression of the airlines and FAA toward instituting airport security.

Some people will find the many stories of hijackings repetitive, but I enjoyed them immensely. They were, honestly, hilarious. I remember an old TV show called “America’s Dumbest Criminals,” and truly, many of these hijackers belong in that category.  For example, one hijacker’s demand included not only a parachute by which to make his escape with the ransom money, but also an instructor’s manual on how to skydive. Destined for success, that man.

I don’t like to give away too much about the books I review, so I won’t say very much about the actually story in the book. But I can say a few things:

  • The characters are fascinating. Cathy and George, primarily, but the other, minor characters, are also really interesting people of their time — political leaders, other hijackers, roommates, family members, etc. I liked learning about them.
  • I learned some things about the history of airlines and the FAA that I didn’t know. Just small nuggets that help me make a little more sense of airports. It’s a pretty minor part of the book, but I thought it was interesting.
  • Cuba! I had no idea that Vietnam war protestors defected to Cuba. I enjoyed learning about the relationship between the two, and also the places where wanted criminals could take refuge. And Castro’s reaction to receiving hijackers.
  • I learned a little about the international reach of the Black Panthers, and their exiled leaders.

I think, though, that what this book does best, even if accidentally, is give a clear picture of how so many social issues are interconnected. In this one story, this one snapshot, so to speak, readers see how issues like race, mental illness, war, national politics, international relations, and corporate greed played into this one episode of American history.

The Skies Belong to Us may not be for everyone. I really enjoyed it, but not everyone in my book club found it as interesting. It takes quite some time to tell one rather short story, but remember: the goal isn’t necessarily to just tell that one story, but to give a picture of that period of history. I listened to it, so that may have helped me stay engaged — I’m not sure if the stories of other hijackings would have seemed repetitive if I had been reading a hard copy.

That said, I think you will enjoy this book if you are an adult who likes crime and adventure, Vietnam-era or flight history, and is used to reading non-fiction.

[Note: There are references to sex, nudity, and drugs, but it is not excessively graphic and Koerner does not condone drug use or extra-marital sex in the book.]

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For the Beauty of the Earth

We have seen some difficult things this week. With the losses I mentioned in an earlier post on my mind and the additional grief over the chemical attack in Syria and the news that today will bring news of the life or death of a young mom who is battling two severe illnesses at the same time, I have felt myself being tempted to despair. When I think of the world that my daughter will grow up in, I worry. What if the world we know collapses and before long our daughters and sons who are being gassed in their homes? Yesterday I told God out loud “Okay, this isn’t fun anymore. Jesus, you can come back now.”

But we aren’t forgotten. God knows what is going on down here, and Christ’s return will be perfectly timed. We will all agree, when we see it. So for now, we wait. In agony, sometimes, but always in hope. Hopefully.

This morning, as I felt myself slipping into the bog of despair, I was thinking through ways to combat my worry and anxiety. Pat phrases have no effect on me, and even sturdy Christian truths sometimes are not enough to bring me out of my slide. What helped me this morning was an unexpected song: For the Beauty of the Earth. A song of thankfulness. What I needed most was to have my attention drawn to the wonderful things we have hear on earth. Amidst the pain and problems of this world, there is beauty all around us. What a gift! Even when everything is going wrong, we have so much to be thankful for. I needed to hear that this morning. Maybe you do too.

1. For the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

2. For the beauty of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower,
sun and moon, and stars of light;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

3. For the joy of ear and eye,
for the heart and mind’s delight,
for the mystic harmony,
linking sense to sound and sight;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

4. For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth and friends above,
for all gentle thoughts and mild;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

5. For thy church, that evermore
lifteth holy hands above,
offering up on every shore
her pure sacrifice of love;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

6. For thyself, best Gift Divine,
to the world so freely given,
for that great, great love of thine,
peace on earth, and joy in heaven:
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

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April Reading Update

I’ve finished a few books since I last wrote about what I’ve been reading, and I wanted to take a few minutes to catch up my list! Unfortunately, almost none of my reading has counted for my Challies Challenge, but I’ve really enjoyed the books!

I thought that I might spend my whole spring break reading, but I actually lapsed back into some time-wasting habits and didn’t get as much reading done as I would have liked. It’s so easy to lose your routine!

Audio books have been a huge benefit when my discipline lags. I haven’t been as prolific a reader as I could have been because of my lack of discipline and need for rest, I’ve still been plugging away at a few books.

First, I listened to The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking, by Brendan I. Koerner. I loved it. It tells the story of the period during the 70s when there was a plane hijacking for ransom or escape every week in the U.S. Koerner focuses on the story of Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow, who hijacked a plane and successfully fled the country to join up with fellow communist Black Panther exiles. It’s a fascinating story on multiple levels, and I loved the unique intersection of the ideas of race, mental illness, and politics.

Next, I listened to the second Harry Potter book. I don’t think I need to justify or explain that. They’re all lovely. It’s my first time listening to them instead of reading the hard copy. I’m really enjoying the experience, and find myself catching new things.

Lastly, I just finished listening to I Will Repay, by Baroness Orczy. I purchased it when I realized that The Scarlet Pimpernel was not Orczy’s only work, and, in fact, the Pimpernel himself makes appearances in her other books! The Scarlet Pimpernel is a continuing favorite of mine from childhood to the present, so I was eager to enjoy her other works. I Will Repay is not as good as The Scarlet Pimpernel, as you would likely expect (the characters lack a little depth), but I still enjoyed it.

So what next? Well, I just started listening to Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, which I somehow avoided during high school and college. I also am progressing through No Little Women by Aimee Bird, which I will be discussing with a group of wonderful women. For my other book club, I’ve started Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life. So far, they’re all very good, and very different from each other. I also have my final paper coming up already, and I hope to read The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher, to frame my paper.

That looks like a lot, I guess, when you write it all down. I’m telling you, it’s the audio books! Productivity to the max.

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Change

My daughter turned two this week. She is sweet, and tender. Affectionate, hilarious, tiny, pot-bellied. All four nursery volunteers at church last week told me that she’s “so sweet.” I agreed, but was surprised that they would gush when they are surrounded by so many other children who are, I’m sure just as sweet. She is a good, good gift from God. I love her more than words can express.

But her birthday was somewhat melancholy, if I am honest. My husband texted that a co-worker and his wife had lost a baby after the 20-week mark over the weekend. I remembered my own recent miscarriage, and the acquaintance who recently lost a baby at 23 weeks. Tonight I learned of the friends grieving the bittersweet news that the baby they have been loving for six weeks will be parented not by them, but will be returned to his birth mother (so bittersweet!). We may not suffer from hunger, or ebola, or work for pennies a day here in America, but there is real-life, heart-rending pain at every turn it seems.

I hate this fact, but I don’t resent it. There is something transformative about finding yourself at the lowest point. At first you feel all alone in your pain; just you and God. And then after awhile, you start looking around and realize that there are so many others down there with you. If you let it, your heart breaks again, and something about the breaking and healing of personal and shared suffering begins to give your soul a new shape. This is part what we Protestants call sanctification.

We commonly ask for sanctification. But I think that when we ask the Spirit to transform us into the likeness of Christ us we often expect something like Cinderella’s fairy godmother’s “Bibbity Bobbity Boo.” We think it will happen with just the flick of a wand. We’re baffled when the process leaves us feeling battered and bruised. We don’t expect the pain of amputated desires and broken bones of self-reliance.

We should, but we don’t.

My sister asked me if my daughter’s birth feels like a long time ago. I had to look back over the last two years to answer. What did the two years hold? One year of wonderful, exhausted, new parenthood and the beginning of grad school. And one year marked primarily by a series of losses.  I lost a job I loved, and I had a miscarriage, along with even losses within my family. I answered that the time has felt short, but I feel like a totally different person. The intensity of loss in the last year alone has wrought change in my soul that may never have come otherwise.

That’s not to say that I regret the change. True, there were weeks and months of deep mourning: tears, nights of little sleep, confusion, anger, disappointment. And there continues to be moments of sadness. But as I continue to walk step by step further away from these losses, God is once again showing me at least a tiny glimpse of his purpose. Hebrews 12 has helped me to see my suffering as discipline. No, I don’t think losses are punishment, but they are a tool by which God is training me, building my faith and my character into a greater likeness of him: “…he disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” The process is painful and leaves me feeling like I would be better off quitting, some days. But, much like most other kinds of training, the process is worth it, resulting in not mere physical fitness, but “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb 12:11). On my worst days, all I wanted was peace: a quiet heart, and a faith strong enough to rest in God’s steadfast love. And those are the very things that my suffering is bringing about through Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, and work of the Spirit within me.

I have been broken down, and through it I am learning a new humility under God’s training discipline. Looking to Christ, who endured his suffering “for the joy set before him,” I’m learning to do the same. I have been to the depths, and found there my own insufficiency. In my sinful frailty, I do not know what is best. The good things I want and think I deserve are not always what are best, and are never deserved. I have been humbled under the mighty hand of God.

I’ve been thinking lately of Abraham and Isaac, and the faith it took for Abraham to be willing to sacrifice his son. What faith in God he had when he brought his only son to the altar. I don’t have that kind of faith. I want it. I hope that at the end of my life I am able to say that I begrudged God nothing, and that in the end my heart was willing to lose whatever God asked me to give. I want to be willing to walk through the valley if he wants me to.

 

 

 

Reading As A Lifestyle

Last year I had a really difficult time getting through my reading goal of 30 books. This year I have managed to read around a book a week, which means that I am ahead of schedule. I’m hoping to keep up my momentum to complete both reading challenges that I’ve signed up for and keep up with my book clubs and grad school. My goal in all of this has been to make reading, or learning in general, a bigger part of our family culture. My husband and I are both in grad school so we are continually learning, but I wanted to make better use of my free time. I think making just a few changes have really helped.

Cancelling Cable: We have never been huge TV watchers, but cable would eat up at least a few hours on our weekends (Netflix is the more common culprit on weeknights). We have also realized that we can watch most of the things we did watch (just sports and HGTV, really) through streaming. It has been a great way to save both time and money!

Audio Books: We love audio books. We have a good library on Audible (though we are not currently subscribed), and we make use of our county library as well. This has probably been the biggest change in the way I read. It used to be so easy to just “watch” something on Netflix while I was eating, cleaning, and cooking, but this year I’ve made a concerted effort to listen to either a book or a podcast instead of having the constant stream of pop culture on in the background. I have gotten into such a habit of listening in the car that it always startles me when the radio is on. I’ve listened to at least six or seven audio books since January.

Commitments: I think sometimes that I’ve over-committed, but even if that’s true I’m still enjoying myself. I have committed to a Bible-reading plan, two book clubs, a reading challenge, and grad school. It’s a lot, but it keeps me constantly in books with no time wasted deciding what to read or making excuses. I know that I’m more productive when I have to be, so having these varying commitments helps me stay on track.

That’s it! Just a few changes, and a little discipline. I have been so excited to see it pay off, but one area of improvement that I see is that of spending time reading to my daughter. She loves books, and while I love reading to her I find that I rarely actually take the time to sit and just read with her! There are always other things to be doing, or I’m trying to snatch my own time away. I need to get better at being unselfish with my time and invest a little more time reading with her instead of trying to just distract her. I want reading to be part of her lifestyle too, after all.

The discipline has paid off by adding so much pleasure and productivity to my days. I can tell that it’s made a difference in my life in my creativity and even how I relax. It’s easier for me to just sit and read a book for longer periods of time. I am also more productive — it is far easier to multi-task when you’re listening, than if you need to look over to see what’s happening on a screen. I actually look forward to longer drives in the car or tasks that used to feel like drudgery. It has been an amazing part of my life this year, and I’m so glad that we live in a world with books.

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The 17 Word Rule

While I was working outside of the home I spent a lot of time editing. I edited my own emails, my boss’s personal letters, donor letters, newsletters, and curriculum workbooks. I learned the appeal of a perfectly turned phrase, and extra words drive me batty. I understand the need for clarity, and for taking one’s audience into account.

What I do not understand, however, is the “perfect” blog post. There seems to be this formula out there that is a combination of good sense and good writing and needless conformity that props up our culture’s shortening attention span. Word count + sentence length + call to action/bullet points = popularity, apparently. I think it’s baloney, mostly.

What I mean is that I just do not buy into the idea that so-called “readability” is the end-all be-all of a blog post, even if it gets you more readers. I looked up the “best” length of a sentence for blog posts, and came up with the answer of 17 words (thank you Google). That seems like a reasonable number, I thought, so I tried it. I’m no Jonathan Edwards or the Apostle Paul, so I do not write paragraph-length sentences. But it was hard! My sentences average somewhere in the mid-twenties to low thirties, and I guess maybe I’m biased, but I don’t think they’re hard to understand.

Here’s one reason I think the 17-word rule is a little silly. I read Make Way for Ducklings to my nearly-two year old before her nap this afternoon.  I decided to count the words Robert McCloskey’s book, and many of them were over the 17-word sweet spot! Do you hear that? My nearly two-year-old daughter’s favorite book uses longer sentences than the recommended sentence-length for a blog post — which is presumably written for grown-ups. So I think I’m tossing that “rule” out. I don’t want to overwhelm you, but I want to write to grown-ups as grown-ups. This blog is not meant for board books.

Perhaps people have a little harder time reading a 23-word sentence than a 17-word sentence. And maybe a 35 word sentence is just plain mean. But I happen to love language, and I read books with 50 word sentences. Not to mention the fact that the Bible has h-u-g-e sentences! The world of philosophy, theology, and literature is full of long sentences. If a reader cannot make their way through sentences longer than 17 words, they are largely cut off from those worlds. I don’t want that, and I believe that the more we — those who write things — limit our thoughts to these short sentences, the more our readers will lose the ability to read long sentences of far more import.

It is not just about being able to read old writings, though, either. I use long sentences because the phrases and clauses relate to each other to communicate a whole idea. Grammar is like logic and natural law. In some sense, it is the framework for our society. It’s how we communicate with each other — a common ground by which we can express exactly what we mean and be understood. When people do not know grammar well enough to parse long sentences, I think we begin to lose our ability to communicate. Down the road that will hurt us significantly as a society. Reading should elevate the reader. It shouldn’t merely match their skill level, but should stretch the reader and help them to grow so that they can grasp bigger and bigger ideas and understand more of the world around them.

There are many of these sorts of rules for the “perfect” blog post. Many of them are reactions to poor writing — it is easy to be too wordy, to use too many adverbs, to write with redundancy, etc. But rules won’t fix that. I would rather learn to be judicious my use of adverbs, edit out all redundant thoughts, be conscious that long articles will get boring after a certain point, etc. I may not be your “ideal” blogger, but then, maybe you won’t be the typical reader, either.

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