Never Unfriended: A review and some thoughts

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I would love to sum this book up in one word, because it packs a powerful punch and I feel like it should get it’s own catchphrase, like Bazinga or Kapow. But one word doesn’t quite capture what Lisa Jo Baker has done in her second book Never Unfriended. It is honest yes, and also vulnerable, it is entertaining but it also delivers a walk through scripture that my soul craves.

Lisa Jo is the community manager over at incourage.me, an online community of women. I originally encountered this site when we rebooted the women’s ministry at our church, it captured what we were trying to achieve. That feeling of gathering around a fire with your people, putting your feet up and letting the friendship and holiness wash over you. So color me not at all surprised, that the woman who wrote the online book on community has finally put together her thoughts on friendship and community in this encouraging book.

One of the things I loved instantly was that this was not a linear book, though I read it that way. Lisa Jo encourages you immediately to go straight for the chapter you need, to the words your soul calls out for. For me that was the opening chapters so that was where I started. But I loved the recognition of how different we are, that we are all joining this conversation from different places with our own set of baggage. Lisa Jo frees us to find our voice and settle there, before expanding to the other gems within. In fact this is a point she makes in several places throughout this book. That our differences define us but don’t have to divide us, that we each have a need to be seen but also need to find and practice to see others around us. Just because I want to vent, doesn’t mean I should. Just because I have the perfect story to complement what you are telling me, doesn’t mean I should fill in your silences, but listen.

IMG_5166This book is the perfect blend of personal narrative, sound advice and (hallelujah) scriptural direction. My heart cries out for scripture, not for more self help stories, and so watching Lisa Jo artlessly weave scripture throughout this book was soothing to my soul. She manages this in so many ways, with passing reference to familiar stories, with direct blasts of scripture, with the seamless incorporation of truth directly into the words she is speaking over us. If you have been reading and reading and reading all the wonderful books coming out these days, but feeling a lack of scriptural truth, you will not be disappointed. The tales of Lisa Jo’s friendships, her speculation on what we might be feeling are bound up with scripture within the pages of Never Unfriended in a way that makes you thirsty for fellowship and for the pages of your bible. For this I am truly grateful.

This book touches on so many aspects of friendship, most of which (all of which) I have struggled with over the years. The fear of being left out. The fear of being left behind. The fear of being case aside. The fear of not being enough. The fear of missing out.

For me, one of the biggest issues I deal with is that of idolatry. Give me something, anything, and I will quickly set it up in my life on it’s own little pedestal and let it interfere with my relationship with God. Until I read Lisa Jo’s words, it never occurred to me that I was doing that with some of  my relationships too, that I was seeking the approval or validation of a flesh and blood person, that some days I felt dependent on that rather than dependent on the God who put air in my lungs and the stars in the sky. MIND BLOWN. She then goes on to say that as we pull our relationships down from their lofty places, we have to realize that we are not their god either:

Our business is to believe the best about people. We are not their judge, or their jury, and we are certainly not their god. We are intended to be their blessing. On purpose. p 163.

I am my own worst enemy most of the time. And Lisa Jo confirms to me that I am not the only one. Most of us get caught up in our own minds, most of the time! We craft stories in our minds that aren’t real, we have entire conversations in our minds that never take place, we ascribe thoughts and words to other people. We let our imaginations run away with us, and never stop to allow reality to sink in.

Just because I think it. Just because I feel it. Doesn’t mean it’s true. p 156.

Something to remember, that little voice in your head, sometimes it lies.

17626266_10211942504373979_5640318903424001118_nThis book arrived in my life at a time when I felt that I had wrestled all these demons and beaten them into submission. Lisa Jo focused in for me on what I had been through, but also showed me where some of the weaknesses could still lurk, ways to deal with them, areas that I never even looked for these problems in. I didn’t feel judged by this book, I didn’t feel judged by myself as I read these words, I felt comforted in a community of women who said “Me too!” We do not exist in a vacuum, we were designed for community, and women like Lisa Jo do an amazing job at encouraging us to put the most into that community and get the most out of that community. And let’s al try to keep our sanity as we do so!

Community

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Since God created Adam, since God saw that it was bad for man to be alone and created Eve, community has been at the heart of who we are as human beings.  It’s a basic need, a part of our blueprints. It’s the connective tissue that runs across nationalities, skin color, gender, politics. This is what my friend Robin has a passion for. For bringing people together. Whether at Panera Bread for coffee, at a ladies retreat or in her home with her sweet boys, her heart seeks people out and seeks to bring them together. Robin is the founder of The Collective in Greater Portland, Maine.

The Collective was born out of a desire to simply provide a space for the Church in Greater Portland to come together to worship God and to love people. As a part of each worship gathering, our hope is to provide a simple, tangible way that we can join together in loving others around us both locally and globally.

And so every few months we gather. We worship. We join together in pursuit of a goal. We leave aside the boundaries of church walls and political affiliations. We put aside the labels we give ourselves, church planter, seeker friendly, non denominational. We get rid of the trendy buzz words that seek to draw people in. We’re not starting a new culture here. We’re reveling in an experience that we were designed to have, we are worshipping God as we were designed to, together.

So if you are in Maine on March 25th and looking for some community, join us. We’ll be together at First Baptist Church in Westbrook at 7pm. There’s always room at the table.

Abundant God

51t9-5f9cjlYou know you’re in a bad place when someone has written a children’s book about what you are feeling. That awful moment when you are standing in Barnes and Noble watching kids run around looking for their favorite character, and you pick up the latest Elephant and Piggie because you like Mo Willems, and the whole book is about you and your friends. And you’re 35.

Talk about the crosses you bear, mine is Jealousy with a big ole capital J. I used to fight against it when I was a kid. You can be my second best friend and I will be your third best friend and Samantha can be my third best friend, but if you want to trade then I can be your second best friend and you can be my first best friend. Even when you get to college, and you’re sitting in your room, and you can hear something happening down the hall and you just aren’t part of it and you don’t have the nerve to step out of your room.

Turns out that kind of stuff doesn’t go away. Why did that couple not invite us to go ice-skating with them as well? Why didn’t my kid get an invitation to that birthday party? Why didn’t I get an invitation to that kid’s birthday party? Why aren’t I in that small group? Why can’t I go to lunch with you after church?

That’s no way to live, and it’s not what we’re called to.

Luke 1: 39-45 (ESV)
39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[g] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Last year I spent a lot of time focused on these six verses, on Mary and Elizabeth’s time together, thanks in part to Sophie Hudson’s excellent book Giddy Up Eunice. What I keep coming back to, what I can’t take my eyes from, is Elizabeth’s joy for Mary.

11896375_10153468808005867_5861246177937295750_oElizabeth had been waiting decades to have a child. She had faced decades of scorn, decades of being left out, of being uninvited. Yet here comes her cousin Mary, not even married yet, barely even a woman, and she is pregnant. Not on my watch sister, turn your behind around, march straight back to where you came from. This is my time. I’m pregnant now. I get to glow and have people fuss over me, I get to dream about my baby, I get to rub my belly. You with your young skin and your full belly and your messiah in the oven, turn right around and leave. I need to take a nap, and I get to do that now because THIS IS MY TIME.

That’s how we’d react right? After watching all of our friends get pregnant, seeing their kids start school, and then that newlywed with the shiny Kitchenaid mixer comes in and is pregnant too, and so excited because you get to do this together. You want to be happy for her, but you also want her to find another church to go to.

But it’s not just John in Elizabeth’s belly that’s happy. It’s not just the one in the dessert jumping for joy at the presence of the one whose coming was foretold.

Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Not for one second did it cross Elizabeth’s mind to welcome her cousin with anything but joy. Even beyond joy, to feel such pleasure that Mary would choose to come alongside her in this. Elizabeth was so confident in herself and whose she was. So confident in who her son was, and knew so well the God that she worshipped. There was nothing Mary could do, or say, or be that would diminish what Elizabeth was and was expecting.

img_2883I tend to think in finite terms. If someone gets a book published that’s less chance of mine getting published. If three of my friends get pregnant then I’m not going to be able to. If none of my friends have a miscarriage, it means I’m going to,… if I manage to get pregnant. She got her dream job, so I can’t have mine. She got the haircut I wanted, so of course it won’t look any good on me.

This is not how God works.

There is not a finite supply of God. His blessings do not run out when those around you receive them. 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NIV) says that God is able to bless you abundantly. Ephesians 3:20 (ESV) says Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. Our God is an immeasurable God. He is greater. He is better. He is stronger. He is more able than anything we can imagine.

It’s not God who tells us that their more equals less for us.

John 10:10 (NKJV) The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

God tells us more, the thief tells us no way. God calls us home, the thief tells us there’s no space. God calls us child, the thief tells us insignificant.

I have battled with this thief for years, no more so than since having children. Those un-received party invitations burn with a heat I never knew in all my years of single jealousy. So I pray, and I read scripture over myself like an ointment, and I confess, and I confront, and I lay myself bare before the women with whom I struggle, who turn back and say “Me too, I thought I was the only one.” And still I struggle.

But standing there, in that book store, reading a children’s story, seeing a beloved author trying to teach children how to not worry, how to share and how to bless one another, the thief’s hold was broken. And now, though I may have my times of weakness, though I may feel that jealousy creep back in to hold on to me once more, now I can laugh in his face. Because if they can write a children’s book about it, this grown up woman can certainly kick it to the curb.

Great Expectations

I was reading from Joshua yesterday. I always try and pay attention to the verse(s) that spring out to me. Something that might catch my eye, or need repeating. Sometimes it’s a well known verse, sometimes it’s the only blank space amidst a sea of my notes. Yesterday it was Joshua 1 v 5. “Just as I was with Moses,so will I be with you.” Has there ever been a more loaded statement.

My heart instantly leapt into my throat and went straight to, that’s a lot of pressure, some mighty expectations there, how can you hope to live up to that, big shoes to fill. My natural inclination to go all human in the face of Holy, and worry about personal limitations, personal needs, personal desires. What if I don’t want this? What if I don’t want to walk that path? I wan to watch The Tonight Show and eat Cheetos in my PJs.

But after 24 hours of this scripture rolling around in my head, crossing my mind when a spare thought let it, I suddenly realized. My inclination to load this statement with humanity, completely misses how loaded up it is with God. See God was with Moses, and God will be with Joshua. The God of this whole universe. The God who created time. The God who parted the red sea, freed the slaves, set the captives free. He was with Moses, and He will be with Joshua.

This verse does not say, I will only be with you in the exact same way as I was with Moses, so you need to do things as if you were him, you need to walk his path, you need to literally fill his shoes. No. It says that God was with Moses and that God will be with Joshua.  See, God isn’t asking Joshua to fill Moses’ task, but to complete the plans that God has set in motion, and to complete them as Joshua would not as Moses would.

I want to be like Mary, who upon hearing the words of the Angel Gabriel cries out “Let it be with me as you have said” (somewhere in Luke.) But most of the time I end up hiding in a cave, saying “Let it be with me as you have said but please sir can I do this first.”

God is with Joshua as he was with Moses, as he is with me.

Ask Not For Whom the (Alarm) Bells toll

14633172_10154420402990867_8734817113299342239_oI am fresh off a weekend retreat with fifteen wonderful women. We read scripture together, we worshipped, we prayed, we crafted, we ate 7 blocks of cream cheese..

I am fresh off a weekend talking about the simplicity Christ models for us in his relationships. How we are each designed to be ourselves and nothing more, that we need not add to our to do lists, but look at what we are already doing in our lives and welcome him in.

I am fresh from last night’s Bible Study, talking about Ephesians 4, and briefly recapping prior weeks. In these few weeks of teaching and discussion, I have leaned heavily on calling, that above all else we are called to be children of the light, to be followers of Christ, to be of the King. God sets no hierarchy in the work he has assigned to each of us, he has set a whole body in motion and each has their part to play.

So why was my alarm set at 4am today?

I discovered a new blog the other day. A woman who has been writing a book for two years, a frazzled mother of babes, who realized this summer that the hard wrangled book had to be set aside for the book the holy spirit was leading her to write. So, you can now buy her advent book wherever books are sold. It looks amazing and I cannot wait to dive in.

And yet it comes with a heavy dose of the “why not me’s,” a rousing rendition of “now I’ll never get to…” and a big scoop of “I’m doing everything wrong.

In Ephesians 4 Paul tells us not to be angry and then goes ahead and tells us how to correctly deal with our anger. He assumes that as frail human creations, we are going to be angry again. Even when we know we shouldn’t, we’re going to go there anyway.

I may not struggle with anger, but my frail human conditions reared their head this week, despite having so recently taught other women, encouraged other women, led other women in confession, to let it go.

So what did I do with that information? I decided that instead of continuing to be me, I would try being her instead. One aspect of her journey this year really stood out to me was that she was so singularly spirit focused on this work, that she would get up at 4am because she couldn’t keep the words in. I have long felt awkward that my desire to write has not been matched in my ability to set aside time for it. So I set my alarm for 4am, and here I am.

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It is 5.30 in the morning. I listened to the alarm sound from 4 till 5, then I got up. I am cranky, I am tired, I have probably irritated my husband, and I feel no spirit led-creativity-inducing-burden for the book(s) I am working on.

So I turn to the reading I am currently enjoying over at Shereadstruth.com

Psalm 27: 4 One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.

One thing I ask. One thing. Last night as we dove into Ephesians 4,we spent a lot of time looking at his use of the word one, how it really focuses that call to be children of the light above any other thing we might seek to do for his name. cough cough.

Psalm 45:1:My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king.

I am reminded of Eric Liddell, the Olympic runner from the film Chariots of Fire “I believe that God made me for a purpose… When I run, I feel his pleasure.”

When I write, I feel God’s pleasure. When I get up at 4am attempting to be someone I’m not, I don’t.

Message received.

 

The Weight of Presence

IMG_9479She crawls into my lap and puts her head down, I gently stroke her hair. Her little body curls up and relaxes into mine.

She wakes in the morning with a cry for me, I walk in with calming words, but it is as I pick her up, as the weight of her body becomes absorbed into mine that she calms.

She sits in her play area drinking her bottle, but as I pick her up and she points to the light, smile on her face, I feel the weight of her body pressing down on me, completing me.

My daughter is one year old and I love her more than I thought it possible to love anyone. Each new experience in mothering has brought something new to the table, or refined something that was born in me with the previous child. But with my baby girl, who is sitting dancing in her high chair as I type, I have been humbled by the presence of God. As I picked her up this morning, to bring her over to join me with her pumpkin bread as I studied, I was struck by how my heart both raced and settled as the weight of her little body joined with mine. As her limbs wrapped around me, and the weight of her entire being was absorbed by the enormity of mine. As her little tushy nestled onto my hip, and everything that was supporting her faded, and became me.

Presence.

You can do a lot for a child with presence. When M is in my arms she is content and I feel whole. With my middle child, all he wants is for me to be with him, “Mummy I just want to be with you!” he cries. He wants me to look deep into his eyes when I am talking with him, wants me to see and hear his words. My eldest son wants me to come alongside in what he is doing. Wants me to play Lego with him, play Video games with him, read with him, sleep alongside him.

Presence.

They don’t care what kind of breakfast I give them, homemade muffins or pop tarts. They don’t care what we do on Saturday, whether we go to a hay bale maze and do some apple picking or stay home in our pajamas reading books.

Isn’t that what God wants of us too? He doesn’t care if we can recite the book of Job, he just wants to be near us. He doesn’t care if we know who wrote the book of Ephesians, or when, or how it pertains to the current political clime. He simply wants the weight of our bodies to press into His. To feel our existence dependent on His. To feel the weight of our presence like a mother feels a baby.

Sure, all that stuff is good, all that stuff is wonderful. It’s enriching and life affirming. It builds us up and makes for a richer, deeper relationship.

But nothing beats that first few sweet minutes of the day, when I pick up my daughter, take her weight into my own as she melts into me. When we look at each other with sleepy eyes and feel I am my beloved’s and she is mine.

Forgiveness, can you imagine.

There are moments that the words don’t reach
There is a grace too powerful to name
We push away what we can never understand
We push away the unimaginable
They are standing in the garden
Alexander by Eliza’s side
She takes his hand
It’s quiet uptown
Forgiveness. Can you imagine?

These words from Hamilton go around and around in my mind. Not just because this song soothes M when she’s fussing. Not just because the song makes me cry and reaches me in places I don’t want to think about.

There is a grace too powerful to name. Forgiveness. Can you imagine?

I spend a lot of time thinking about grace, trying to pin it down. To identify it in my life, to look for times when I can show grace to others. But grace goes hand in hand with forgiveness, and I like to hold on to things.

Just the other day, someone made a comment about birthday presents and I responded with something witty about my 21st. My remark showed Ben that I had not forgotten a mistake he made over a decade ago. A mistake he sorely regretted, and has made up for a thousand times over just by being him. I saw the look on his face and I had no way out of it, because I can forgive a thousand times over, or forgive once and move on. But memory is a tricky beast and not so easily tamed.

How often I wonder, do we lose some of the forgiving in the remembering?

Once upon a time I came home from an evening out. It wasn’t a fun evening out, it was an obligation I was fulfilling for the both of us. I had spent all week cleaning up each evening, and when I returned home from this obligation, stopping at the grocery store on the way home for pot luck supplies, for the potluck I had to put together before bed, the house was a mess. There was food on the floor, the living room looked very lived in, and the laundry was still piled high. And Ben was in bed.

I wish I could say I took the high road, but I didn’t. I was angry. I tried to pray. But I couldn’t. And when I say couldn’t I mean I didn’t want to. I tried to forgive, because I knew there were reasons I didn’t know. But I couldn’t. And when I say I couldn’t I mean I didn’t want to. I held onto that anger.

I wanted to pray because I knew it would help. I didn’t want to pray because I knew it would help.

So instead, I channeled my inner Carrie Underwood, threw my hands in the air and let Jesus take the wheel. Not literally of course. I put the groceries away. I prepped the pot luck. And then I started to tidy up.

I ignored the coffee pot watching me from the corner of the room. The one I liked to fill at night, so that Ben could stumble in at the sound of his morning alarm, hit a button and have tasty coffee.

He makes bad coffee in the morning. Really bad coffee.

I tidied and I cleaned. I sorted. I filled out some paperwork. I tried to fall asleep on the couch then got up and tidied some more.

And the coffee pot watched me.

And as I tidied something happened to me. God forgave me my stubbornness, showed grace to me in my anger. buffed away the scratches to my exterior. I can’t identify when it happened. There was no flick of a holy spirit switch. I just know that I started out angry and ended up not, and somewhere in the middle was God.

I made the coffee.

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After two hours of cleaning and prepping and laundry and other assorteds. I wasn’t angry anymore. I went to bed, held my love close and fell asleep. When we awoke the next day, I remembered why I had been angry, but the memory had faded. The reasons seemed unimportant, the anger seemed momentary. Time and grace had dulled the gut reaction, and the memory of it only served to remind me that God had shown me grace, and I in turn had made coffee.

There is a grace too powerful to name. Forgiveness. Can you imagine?