inRL: Community Comes to Life

I participated in my first inRL this weekend with 6,000 other women all over the world.  OK, maybe it wasn’t *really* my first, because last year I sort of lurked around the website without really joining in, like an awkward freshman at her first school dance.  I didn’t interact but I eavesdropped, too shy to join in.  I promised myself that next time it would be different and I wouldn’t sit along the fringes alone and invisible.  (I promised myself a few things last year, beginning with the inRL conference, that I am diligently pursuing this year)

So when I saw that the dates had been set for the 2013 inRL conference I registered myself.  Then I started stalking the meetup pages and watching for a meetup nearby.  I was brave enough to GO, but not brave enough yet to HOST.  I signed up for a Greenville meetup, and then I convinced my friend to go with me.

I watched the webcast on Friday night and was delighted to see some of my online favorites’ faces and hear their words in their own voices.  I was touched to hear how community had scarred them and scared them, and how we should push past all that to pursue it anyway.

And then I dithered about what dish to bring for our brunch, so I took two.  I nearly panicked when the cake I made stuck to the pan.  I couldn’t decide what to wear.  I spent way too much time on my appearance (while trying to look like I wasn’t trying too hard).  And then on a rainy Saturday in upstate SC, my friend Sylvia and I set out to meet some new friends.

I wondered how it would go.  Would we have anything in common?  Would Sylvia and I spend the whole time talking to each other?  Would we discover we knew some of the same people?  Yes, no and not that I know of.

Our hostess was so gracious and welcoming, her home was absolutely lovely, and our group of eight ladies found plenty to talk about.  I don’t think there was a conversational lull the entire time.  In Matthew 18:20 God says that where two or more of us are gathered in His name, He is there, and He was there Saturday.  He was there when we shared stories of adoption.  He was there when we compared notes about parenting teenagers.  He was there when we talked about what community means to us, and why it matters so much, and how it can be so hard to stay when your every instinct tells you to run away.  We came from so many different directions and towns, yet we found plenty of common ground.

What a breath of fresh air to be able to gather with sisters and just…be.  No need to try to impress anyone or be something I wasn’t.  I learned a lot about myself on Saturday too:  I am brave.  I do know how to make friends.  A group of women who have Christ in common have the most important commonality there is.  And if you put enough glaze on it, no one will care that the top broke off the chocolate chip pound cake.

Next year?  I’ll definitely be back.

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Friend

It’s that time again –  time to join in with a fearless band of wordsmiths to write bravely for 5 minutes, which we do every Friday here:  http://www.lisajobaker.com .  Want to play?  New friends are always welcome!

I’m in introvert who longs to be an extrovert.  I enjoy being with people and making friends but I’m reserved and I don’t always know *how* to go about starting those deeper relationships.  I blame the “only child” status that plagued me until I was 15 (at which time I got a baby brother, but that’s a whole ‘nother story).

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There are different kinds of friends and if we’re lucky, we get to experience a few really profound friendships in our lives.  My first BFF was my neighbor growing up.  She was also an only child, so we filled as as sisters for each other.  I spent almost as many nights at her house as I did my own during the summers, and we wore a path in the grassy alley between our houses.  We fought and made up, navigated the dangerous waters of junior high and high school together and helped each other learn critical life skills, such as how to apply make up and how to shave your legs without causing permanent scars.  One of the lovely things about sites like Facebook is that it helps us keep in contact with those people we otherwise might not be able to find.  There is nothing that can replace a childhood friend who has seen you at your worst (8th grade perm disaster) and your best (wedding day) and loves you either way. 

Then there’s Pam, who held my hand during some of the darkest days of my life.  She’s the sister of my heart, and although we are now separated by some 200 miles, she is still as dear to me as ever.

But I also love my new friends.  My friend Sylvia has seen me at some of my worst moments.  She sat with me the night I had some of the most excruciating pain of my life and didn’t flinch.  We’ve been on vacation together, we’ve cried together, prayed together, and most of all, we’ve given grace to each other.  We’ve been friends for almost 7 years now (4 by her count, but that’s a long story) and I can see us being friends when we’re old and gray, sitting in rockers on the front porch.

Tomorrow I will take a leap of faith and hopefully make some even newer friends, and my friend Sylvia will be by my side (Isn’t that what friends do?).  I love the community of women I have “met” through FMF and inRL online and although I’m nervous about meeting face to face (will they like me?  will they be disappointed with me?) I’m still moving forward.  God has designed us for community, despite those days when we long to go back to bed and pull the covers over our heads.  Our community with each other here on Earth is a reflection of our community with Him, so I want to be welcoming, and loving, and open, and above all, a grace-giver. 

(OK, I confess I went over 5 minutes.  Grace, right?)

NIAW

NIAW stands for National Infertility Awareness Week, which is April 21-27.  In honor of those who have and are experiencing this devastating condition, I offer my story.
Some of my friends know my story of infertility and how I walked through that dark forest of doubt, shame, and despair, and came out on the other side.  I wrote about it in detail here: http://piecesofme-kimmee.blogspot.com/2011/04/out-of-control-part-1.html .

Infertility is a silent affliction.  People don’t talk about it much, and I’m not exactly sure why.  For me I know there was a shame about it even though I consciously knew there wasn’t anything to be ashamed of.  When I think back on it, I believe my shame came from the feeling that my body was failing me and I was defective somehow.  Teenagers could get pregnant in the back seat of a car, but my husband and I – upstanding citizens with a desire to parent and the means to support a child – we couldn’t.  And it wasn’t something people could readily see about you.  If you wanted people to know, you’d have to tell them, and it’s not that easy to fit infertility into a normal conversation.

Adding to my shame was the fact that I already HAD a child from a first marriage.  So not only did I feel shame because I couldn’t get pregnant, I felt ungrateful for the child I did have and greedy for wanting more.  Shouldn’t I concentrate all my mothering on the child I already have?  Isn’t she enough for me?  Shouldn’t I be happy I at least had one?  Well, right or wrong, I wasn’t.

I spent hours discussing the situation with God (OK, some of it was long-winded rants against what felt like unfairness).  I was terrified that I would not be able to have more children, and that I had carelessly squandered my first pregnancy when I should have held it in my hands like a delicate and rare bird, appreciating all its nuances and colors.  I always assumed I could get pregnant any time I wanted.  After all, my first pregnancy happened right on schedule.  I was young and nonchalant and didn’t pay enough attention to the miracle taking place inside my own body when I should have been living in a constant state of wonder at how perfectly our God designed our bodies, and what a gift a baby is.  And now I might never get the chance to experience it again.

We signed up for some medical intervention, including lots of invasive testing, and were told that nothing was wrong with either of us.  I wallowed in despair.  I obsessed.  I took my temperature every morning and spent enough on ovulation predictors and home pregnancy tests to finance a vacation.   A nice vacation.  I watched endless episodes of “A Baby Story”.  I unloaded on friends until they just didn’t want to hear about it any more.  I cried.  And I prayed.  God, just one more baby, just one more.  I won’t ask for two or three, just one.  I bought tons of baby gear out of sheer hopefulness (or maybe denial) until I had several plastic tubs full.

In the end I did get my baby, after years of frustration.  After my two best friends had both called me with trepidation in their voices to tell me that they each were pregnant.  After years when the sight of a newborn would send me running out of the room in tears out of a desperate longing for one of my own, and the sight of a pregnant woman would inspire a embarrassingly strong wave of jealousy.  Years that I spent doing everything within MY power to get pregnant, only to realize that there’s only so much I can do.  After we finally had our beautiful baby girl we had two devastating miscarriages (one requiring a horrifying outpatient procedure), and after those miscarriages I never got pregnant again.  We still have no idea why we had so much trouble conceiving although we suspect it had to do with a method of birth control we used, and my doctor had no explanation for the miscarriages and the inability to conceive after them.

I completely believe that every experience in our lives is something God can use for His glory, and infertility is no exception.  Nothing is wasted.  I can’t claim to know how God means to use MY experience but at the very least I can be open about what happened to me and willing to tell my story.

We did go on to add one more child to round out our family, an adorable baby girl we adopted from China.  She deserves a post all of her own to tell her story, but I will tell you that she could not be more mine if she shared my genes.  In some ways she is more like me than my two biological daughters.

I tell you all this to let you know that there is hope.  There are many ways to be important in a child’s life and many paths to parenthood.  You can adopt, you can pursue infertility treatment, you can use a surrogate, or a sperm bank, you can become a foster parent.  Or you could be a mentor, a volunteer, a tutor, and you could sponsor a child through an agency like Compassion International.  There are millions of children in the world today who need the love and attention of loving adults.  Maybe one of them is waiting for you.

Jump

Want to play along?  Come on over to http://www.lisajobaker.com and join a crowd of brave warriors who are not afraid to spill their hearts into the blogosphere.

START:

I am 11 years old and I am standing at the top of the high dive at the local swimming pool and I am terrified.  I look down.  It seems to be 100 feet to the surface of the deep end of the pool.  I look behind me.  There’s a line of children waiting for their turn on this instrument of torture.  There’s no way to get back down.  There is nothing to do but jump, so I do.  And….and….

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My girl is poetry in motion.  The move is called a split jump on the high beam and I have no idea how she does it.  Jump.  Legs apart.  Legs together.  Land.  Maintain your balance.  Over and over she practices until there is no wobble when she lands on the 4-inch wide balance beam.  Jump.  Apart.  Together.  Land.  Balance.  She is eight years old and 52 pounds of pure muscle.  I love to watch her but I think about what it takes for her to make that jump.  She has to jump high enough to have the time to split her legs and bring them back together before her feet hit the beam.  It takes timing, coordination, strength, but above all, faith.

Faith that she will get her feet together in time.  Faith that the beam will catch her.  Faith in her own abilities.  Faith that if she doesn’t get her feet together and back on the beam, there is a mat to break her fall.  Anytime you jump it takes faith.  Faith that something or someone will catch you.   The seconds you are in the air between the jump and the landing constitute more than an adrenalin rush:  those are exquisite moments of reckless abandon, of trusting in something more than yourself, because there is no turning back.  You cannot un-jump and you can’t change your mind in the middle of it.  You jump, you commit.

STOP.

Is it wrong to admit that I heard Van Halen’s “Jump” from the moment I read the prompt?

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Boston

Today in Boston, Massachusetts, someone or a group of people chose to detonate bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  Someone woke up this morning knowing that today would be the day that he or she would kill or maim innocent people who, at least as far as we know, had never even met the bomber(s).  Someone took the time to plan this, to choose materials, construct a bomb, put it in place, etc.  Why?  People like you and me, we can’t understand the mindset of someone who would set out to do such a thing.  There are so many questions and no satisfying answers.

I certainly don’t have any answers but here’s what I’ve observed over the years:  we live in an imperfect world.  Bad things happen, and they happen to everyone:  rich or poor, young or old, Believer or unbeliever.  We raise our fists skyward and declare that life is just not fair.  Being born again does not in any way constitute a Teflon shield against the unjustness of the world. 

And as we have been reminded today, as if we could ever forget, evil exists in this world.  Until Christ comes back, there will be evil in the world, and occasionally evil will strike a blow that brings us to our knees.  But when we fall to our knees that’s our chance to tap into the best defense we have: opening the lines of communication between us and the Father.

But I have good news.  Friends, take heart because it will not always be this way.  Evil may win a skirmish here and there, but I know Who wins this war.  You see, I’ve read the end of the story and Good ultimately triumphs over evil in the most decisive of ways.  And that gives me the strength to keep living in a world that seems to be falling apart.

I will continue to pray for the people of Boston and those affected by this tragedy, and indeed all of us. 

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Here

It seems like lately I’m always on the way to somewhere else:  work, home, kids’ activities, church, shopping, etc.  I spend a lot of hours in my car!  And I’m always thinking ahead to the next thing and trying to stay on schedule, otherwise my “planner” side would be climbing the walls with frustration.

Likewise, I waste far too much of my life waiting to arrive at the next destination:  when I lose this extra weight, I’ll buy some nicer clothes.  When I have more money, I’ll be happy.  When my kids are older, I’ll allow myself time to explore my creative side.  When I have a nicer/bigger house, I’ll do more to make it feel like home.  Always waiting for my life to begin and never really experiencing where I am right now.

But here is a perfectly fine place to be.  Why not look around, take a breath, and enjoy where I am?  Here is a nice home with plenty of room, warm in winter and pleasant in summer.   Here is the time and place God has chosen for me.  Here is a family with a loving husband who works hard to provide for us.  Here is three lovely daughters at various stages of development.  Look at the grown one, raising a daughter of her own, and enjoy her just as she is right now.  Admire the 12 year old, growing into a lady right before my very eyes, and instead of biding my time through the coming teen years, live here.  Adore the 8 year old with her athletic grace and determined spirit and instead of wishing she was more quiet or mature, live here.  Living in the here requires me to recognize the gifts I’ve been given and relish them instead of always rushing ahead to whatever comes next. 

There’s nothing wrong with planning ahead – Psalm 20:4 says, “May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” But take time to enjoy here before it only exists in your memory and your rear-view mirror.

After

Linking up with my FMF crew at http://lisajobaker.com/ .  Want to play?  Come on over!

START:

I’ve often thought life could be divided into before and after.  All of us have all these events in our lives that change us, that we can point to and say, “Before I was this, and After I am this.”

I’ve gotten the middle of the night phone call to tell me a loved one has gone to meet Jesus far too soon.

I’ve seen my marriage fall apart in the weight of one sentence from my husband.

I’ve seen dreams go up in smoke.

In all of those I could describe for you what was different about me, Before and After.

But…

I’ve seen the births and adoption of my children.

I’ve seen the love in the eyes of my now-husband, as we vow to love each other until death parts us.

I’ve felt the acceptance of a risen Savior wash me clean of all my sins.

In all those instances I can divide my life into before and after.  Before, I was one thing, but After I am

Mama

A cherished wife

Redeemed

I could go on all day, but you get the point.

And while Before matters, because it’s important to remember where we once were, After is now.  After is where we are once we’ve been changed, for better or worse.  And once you’ve been changed, you can’t undo it.  There’s no putting that genie back in the bottle.  What’s done is done.  But you can look back at your journey and see how far you’ve come.  And you can share your journey to encourage others to keep going.

STOP