Monthly Archives: October 2014

Introverted pursuer

About a month ago, I had the privilege of speaking at V7’s women’s retreat for a few minutes; Kara was the speakerspeaker, and she asked a few of us to give testimonies throughout the day. My assignment was to share my story of introversion and how I’ve learned that introversion is not an excuse for not reaching out and building community.

You can find my little talk here. What is not included is the story I told at the beginning: As we approached the retreat grounds that morning, we had to go through a gate with a gateman. When I saw him, I cringed and had a 60-second-inner-panic-attack. If you’re an introvert, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I lowered my sunglasses so I wouldn’t have to make eye contact, and I squeaked to my friends in the car, “Oh no! There is a stranger! I have to talk to a stranger!!!”

Obviously and of course it turned out to be just fine, but for some of us, those kinds of encounters are dreaded. Like the dad who spoke to me at Chick-Fil-A today. Ann was flirting with him, and I knew it was a just a matter of time before he talked to me to tell me how ridiculously adorable she was. And he did. I tried just smiling and looking away, but then he kept talking.

Rats.

I took a deep breath, smiled again, and gave what I think was an appropriate, kind answer. Stinkin babies are such a bridge to conversation with others.

Anyway, my favorite thing about my little talk at the retreat was the extroverts who came up to me afterward and said they wanted to thank me but gave me permission to not make eye contact while they talked. I knew they were joking, but sometimes I did avert my eyes. I knew they’d think it was funny, but it was a relief to me. Sidenote: the introverts sent texts and emails and FB messages to thank me, which I both loved and laughed about. Oh, how I understand!

There were a couple of things that I didn’t have time to talk about that day, though. One is that being an introvert does not equal being shy. Introverts are energized by alone time. Shy people are timid to talk to others. I would offer that you can be introverted and not shy and that you can also be extraverted but shy.

Another thing is that being an introvert does not mean you don’t need people and relationships. I am a shy introvert, and yet my soul longs—yearns—for relationship. My favorite is one-on-one, but I need my church, my beloved Westside. I also need our small group. I am crazy about my bookclub, and I am super looking forward to a women’s discipleship group coming in the new year.

The final thing is that confidence does not equal extraversion. I’m thinking specifically two things: Just because someone is an extravert does not mean they are confident in approaching others. And just because I’m an introvert doesn’t mean I can’t be confident in approaching others.

People often assume I am an extravert because I pursue others. I seek people out. On the contrary, I am an introvert who is made confident by God’s love for me (and my desperation for relationships). It gives me the courage to pursue others. I mention this to encourage extraverts and introverts—allow God’s love to motivate your pursuit of others. We all need love, we were created for relationship. Remember that as you seek people to pursue. We are called and created to love others despite our fears and personality quirks. But it’s scary. We can all appreciate that. So when someone approaches and pursues you, be kind, be accepting, be warm.

And…..stepping down off soapbox.

Asking for help

Last night, Kara sent me this article written by her friend and editor, John Blase. [Backstory: I am a fan of this man. He is a poet and a dear friend of the late Brennan Manning, whom I credit with helping me understand the gospel. I met Mr. Blase at church a few months ago and became my alter ego, DorkyMouse. I couldn’t strand four words together to form a complete thought, and yet he was so kind and gracious. If you’re not already a fan, you will be.)

The article made me cry. I thought back to just over a year ago when I was pregnant and about to pop. We didn’t know that Kara’s cancer was back yet. We thought she was on her way to physical health and wellness. But still, she was weak from fighting. And she kept nagging me, wanting to come over and help me with something.

I’d say, “I’m just pregnant. I am fine. I can’t even think of anything for you to do!” She offered to have her girls come and vacuum and dust, she said she would do all my laundry and change my sheets, and she even volunteered to scrub my floors.

Good grief, I’d say. There are so many sick and hurting people in our community. I couldn’t possibly ask you to go to work for me.

But she was persistent and I finally asked her and Polly to come and clean out my fridge. And what a gift! It was disgusting, and climbing back in there to throw out all the grody stuff and scrub the shelves was too much with my huge belly. But more than that, I saw such joy in Polly and Kara’s faces. They sang as they worked, joked around, played with Baby V and gave him squeaky kisses. No wonder Kara wanted to help me. It’s a blessing to help others.

And now Mr. Blase has captured Kara’s heart so well in her willingness to allow people into her life, into her home, to help her. As I read, I had one thought—what if one reason we shrink from asking for help is that we’re afraid that person will say no? What if they reject us when we’re already down?

I think that is a very real possibility for many of us. We’ve all been hurt and we’ve all been rejected and we’ve all been mistaken about relationships. What if I ask for help with my children, marriage, home, depression, anger, confusion, and it turns out that friend is not a safe place? Not only did I misjudge our relationship and get rejected, but now they know my mess, my ugly.

That is so convicting to me. I want to be like Kara and Polly, willing to come into my home and clean the grossness with joyful hearts. I want to be a safe place for friends’ messes and ugliness. I never want them to fear approaching me and asking for help. I always want to experience the joy and blessing of helping one another.

Trust me, I am unlovable

Last week I posted this post on my struggle to pursue in the face of rejection, and I noted that I am unlovable. I heard from several of you through email and text, telling me how lovable I, in fact, am! Oh, how my heart sings! I am very grateful for women who love me well.

But make no mistake—I am definitely unlovable. If you love me, you overlook much to do so. You overlook my pride and sarcasm, my condescending tone and self-focus. You overlook my awkwardness and thoughtlessness. You choose, every day, to love me despite myself. You choose to focus on things you like about me, forgiving the ugly in me. And am I ever glad.

Please let me explain why it’s important for me to talk about this—if I do not recognize how unlovable I am, I will never be effective at loving others. If I think I am lovable and deserve the love of others, I will expect others to be lovable and work to earn my love.

Gross.

Love is a gift. It is not earned, like trust. It is something that only the giver has control over.

If you are married, you know that every day you wake up and decide whether you will love your spouse or not. And you are likely keenly aware that your spouse makes the same decision.

Nothing about me attracted God’s attention. He didn’t notice me one day and think, Wow, look at her—she’s so witty and clever and fun and amazing; I think I’ll love her! If he did, the ugly sides of me would change his mind very quickly. Instead he decided, for reasons known only to him!, that he would love me. He loves me well regardless of how I am behaving, regardless of how I am failing or succeeding, and regardless of what I’ve accomplished. He also loves me regardless of how well I love him.

So when I pursue someone, I understand that while I might be impressed with many things, I will encounter their ugliness and it will inevitably hurt me. And I have to be okay with that.

If you are in a personal relationship with me, I have offended you, let you down, and disappointed you. And yet you forgive me and move toward me despite myself. That takes vulnerability and humility and courage, and boy am I ever grateful for it in you!

All that to say, I am unlovable and I’m okay with that. You’re unlovable, too, but it won’t stop me from reaching my hand out for yours. Thanks, friends.

me and kara

Surprised by hope

A sunny day in June, my family and I were pulling into the campsite in our favorite place in the whole world—where Aaron and I spent our honeymoon and where we go back every summer for our anniversary to share this haven with our babies—when my phone rang. I almost just totally ignored it, but instead I looked at the number. Emily. My friend and midwife and sister to my very close friend.

I answered.

Meredith lost the babies, she said. I don’t remember what questions I asked. I don’t remember her answers or anything other information she offered. I do remember being a puddle of tears by the time Aaron came back to the car from checking us in.

Meredith was pregnant with twins—Livia Rose and Lucy Eleanor. They had found out earlier in the week that the girls had a serious condition and would need medical intervention, but sometime in between that discovery and Meredith’s arrival at the proper medical facility, Livia and Lucy had peacefully gone to Jesus.

A few days later, we arrived home and Meredith gave birth to her daughters.

I realize the flatness of that last statement. But how can I express what it was for Meredith to experience labor pains for children she would never mother? To bring babies into a world they would never see? To cuddle babies who would never breathe?

Meredith asked me to visit her and the babies at the hospital. I am not sure I had ever felt so honored in my life as to share the gift of seeing these sweet girls the rest of the world would miss out on.

I was shaking with anticipation and grief when I arrived. People, I was terrified. I was scared of seeing my Mer as a bereaved mother. I was scared of seeing her girls forever still. I was scared of seeing her valiant husband crestfallen. I grasped the flowers and teddybear loveys I had brought with both hands to steady my quivers. I took a deep breath and put on a brave face. I willed my tears to stay put.

Why am I ever surprised by this: What I saw, what I experienced, what met me was Grace.

That time in the hospital is private to me, a priceless and precious gift that I ponder and sometimes mention to Meredith, wondering in its beauty.

I was surprised by beauty.

Since then I have been surprised by hope.photo

I’ve experienced my share of grief. Heaven is a daily topic in The Bungalove. Dreaming about the New Earth together is a favorite pastime of Aaron’s and mine. But that was challenged when one of my closest friends lost her baby girls. My grief settled in my belly, a resolved sigh of trusting God’s Sovereignty.

I was blessed to hear some of Meredith’s thoughts as she started processing her loss. The effect of the grace and beauty of the hospital room experience and the love that overwhelmed me there started to fade as I grappled with the suffocating helplessness of watching Mer grieve. I couldn’t fix her heart. I didn’t have good words for her and I was clumsy—at best—loving her. I lost my ability to will my tears back, and they would flow at strange places and strange times. Meredith was articulate in her grief, asking poignant questions and realizing the far reach of her loss. We talked about what she would never share with the girls and cried at the quiet understandings of what it would mean to travel life as a mother of twins the world never knew existed.

Then something happened. I one day told Meredith that the most impactful thing for me as a bystander in the hospital room that day was seeing the love her husband had for her. I felt like an intruder as I watched how he loved her, how he climbed into her hospital bed to hold her steady through the shattering sobs, how tenderly he spoke to her, how he anticipated her needs. Here he was, a father who had just lost his children. He was hurting just as much as his wife, and yet he put her needs before his. He had never experienced this kind of loss, yet his love for Mer took over and dictated his actions—he loved with confidence and grace. Thinking about it even now overwhelms me.

I don’t know what Meredith would say, but this conversation was a turning point for me in how my heart approached this grief. I felt like we started talking more about Heaven and the New Earth—our dreams as well as our questions and doubts. And as we talked, I couldn’t help but notice the impact Livia and Lucy had had on me. Which seems improbable as they never even took a breath.

For one thing, my terminology has changed. When I say, The Girls or The Twins, I am specifically referring to Livia and Lucy. My relationship with Mer has changed—not only has she graciously and generously allowed me to walk with her, I relate to her differently because of the depths her soul has dived. She understands a piece of me she didn’t before, both because of loss but also because she is a mother now. I think of Livia and Lucy every single day. I daydream about what they are like and what it will mean to see them reunited with Meredith some day. I remember their perfect little bodies in the hospital, and I wonder what they look like perfected in Heaven. I grow excited about seeing Meredith not just as a mother, but as a mother to them. I don’t know what that will look like or mean in Heaven, but instead of just confusion, I have excitement, too. I have hope.

The grief that settled in my belly is still there. But hope has settled in as its companion. A hope that was born out of the despair of having nothing to trust but Jesus in the midst of an impossible situation. My piddly faith in turning to God in my tears and calling out, This hurts and my Mer hurts and I don’t know what to pray except help me trust! has planted more seeds of faith, which bloom hope.

Thanks to Livia and Lucy’s too-brief existence, I trust God differently now. My hope in God spreads farther and reaches deeper than before. My concept of love has been bolstered and expanded. My relationship with their mother has deepened. I hold my children a moment longer with each hug, understanding better the fragility of life. And my eyes have been widened to more of the brokenness around me; I don’t shy away as much as I used to, I think about the joy Livia and Lucy brought us in their short lives, and I yearn to know that joy in others, even if it means walking through some ugly with them.

Tomorrow is Meredith’s due date. A day for tears for what was taken from her and her husband but also a day for celebrating the gift of Livia and Lucy. You see, I believe that we will be reunited with them someday in Heaven but I also believe that their tiny lives have significance on this earth, in my life. God created them and numbered their days with joy and purpose. So I celebrate. With sadness and confusion, I celebrate. If you see me tomorrow and I am wearing these flowers, know they are for The Girls, my Mer’s girls, Livia Rose and Lucy Eleanor, who have changed me forever through blooms of hope.FullSizeRender(5)

The unlovable’s attempts at love

blythepic1We have a saying in our bungalow: You are so lovable!! Meaning, easy to love, meaning, loving you is effortless. It’s more a commentary on the lover than the lovee; when I say this to my husband or one of my babies, I am really saying, I know how to love you well.

Which is easy to say when your babies are one and two.

I was recently asked how I have personally built intimate friendships and strong community for our family. My answer: Pursue, pursue, pursue, and be ready for rejection 99% of the time.

The face of the woman who asked me the question fell. But I already have suffered so much rejection, she said.

I frowned. Me, too. I can’t even tell you how much rejection I have experienced and do experience on a regular basis. Man, loving people is hard, and I am not good at it. I brainstorm for every person I decide to pursue: how I can I love her? What would make sense to her? How can I show her that I have noticed her and I want to know her? How can I convince her that I want to be friends?

It makes me miss second grade when all it took was a shy smile across the classroom to pair up as buddies, when holding hands showed the world your delight in each other.

As a little girl watching my Mamma, I thought that at some point I would know exactly how to love others, what to say in difficult situations, how to make women feel safe. Instead, I am clumsy and say awkward things. I struggle to make eye contact and rely way too much on texting. I forget women’s names and don’t know how to relate to their children. When someone accepts my pursuit and decides to be my friend, it is truly a miracle.

I would say this is a confession, but I think it’s pretty obvious: I am not lovable. I am not easy to love. I am selfish and controlling and spend way too much time thinking about stupid things that don’t matter in the end. Yet for some reason, God has decided to love me and he does so passionately and perfectly. Thanks to the certainty I have in that love, I can continue to take risks and reach out to others knowing I’ll likely be rejected.

Rejection stings. But the safety of God’s arms around me overwhelms.

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The Hardest Peace giveaway!!!

Today is the day of The Hardest Peace giveaway. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to all who entered and who are supporting Kara. I know many of you have never met her but have fallen in love with her through her story. Today I picked up my personal order of The Hardest Peace at the bookstore. The kind-faced clerk asked, Did you go to her book release party? I smiled, Yes–she is a close friend. The lady’s smile disappeared. I’m sorry, she said.

I almost laughed. I know she was saying, I’m sorry your friend is sick; I’m sorry your friend is dying; I’m sorry you will have to live without her. But how could anyone be sorry to know my Kara?! I wanted to respond kindly, gently: Don’t be sorry–this life is fleeting and before we know it, we will all be together in the fulfillment of hope and joy.

And now I get to share that promise of hope and joy with a reader! I enlisted the assistance of one chocolate-faced helper.

First, we wrote down a name for every entry.

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We put the pieces of paper in a bowl. My chocolate-faced helper is taking a picture with his phone, too.

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Then my chocolate-faced helper picked a name and exclaimed: Ta-da! Me. Safe. Day. (I saved the day!)FullSizeRender(2)

Is that better?

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Ah, this is clear. Congratulations, Shannon! I will email you presently.  FullSizeRender(4)

 

Encountering Kara

DSC00895One of the fun things about having a beloved friend publish a book is that I get to introduce her to friends and family. Sure, she has her blog that approximately 3 trillion people follow, but reading her story linearly and in one big chunk is different. While a blog can jump around from topic to topic and have different purposes in each entry, a book is centered around certain themes. In The Hardest Peace, Kara uses her story of cancer to celebrate God’s love for her—how he pursued her, how she learned more about his character and love from Jason’s love for her, how she understood the depth of his passion for her through her own love for her children. And, of course, how God is using cancer to continue to woo her as she depends on him day by day—often moment by moment—just to function.

You see, this is not a typical book about living and dying with cancer. Kara is not trying to triumph over cancer, but to triumph over the selfishness that prevents her [all of us…] from living a full life and loving big. She is not lecturing her reader about how we should live; she is preaching to herself, reminding herself of God’s love and how rich life is because of it, despite external circumstances. And strangely (but effectively), she is really not trying to tell her story, but to frame her story in a bigger one—the story of God’s love for us and the life we can find in him.

If you don’t know Kara, you would love meeting her. She is just about as girl-next-door as you can get. Knock on her door and you might find her standing on the other side in a ratty t-shirt, coffee in hand. Her living room might be strewn with Legos and children’s books. Maybe the breakfast dishes are still in the kitchen sink. But that is why we can trust her—she lives honestly and unpretentiously. If you say, How are you feeling today? you might get an answer that makes you sad. Kara lives out of an honest place and speaks out of that place, too. Reading her book you will encounter an honesty so refreshing and so gentle that your heart will be comforted knowing there are people like her in our world.

Here is the deal: Kara knows that she is not likely to encounter a miracle cure for her cancer. But she also knows that she encounters the miracle of God’s love every day. She lives in the confidence and hope of being restored and redeemed in Christ some day. And reading her book, you will want to live that way, too, whatever your circumstances.

I am doing a giveaway of her book tomorrow. If you haven’t entered, please go to this blog post to do so. And if you don’t win, I encourage you to buy the book anyway. In fact, buy two, because I guarantee you’ll want to share.IMG_0101

 

Today is the day!

first Anberlin picToday is the day! I woke up giddy, first thinking about my baby girl’s first birthday, and then thinking about the release of The Hardest Peace. Kara birthed this book with many labor pains and much joy, and I am so thrilled for the world to hear her story of Grace and Hope in the midst of brokenness.

Reading her book is surreal for me. I read her manuscript as she was writing, but that was in real time. When she tells the story of Harper’s question of if her mama will die of old age or cancer, my mind drifts to when Kara texted me in tears that night. I cried with her, I cried for Harper, I searched for Grace in that moment and begged God to lavish it on Kara and her family. When I read of Kara’s redemptive conversation with Ella over a big, fat, juicy hamburger, I remember seeing them afterward when Ella came over for her voice lesson, traces of sauce on her beautiful face.

How strange to see these moments captured on paper, in a book.

I wonder what it’s like for Jason and Kara to read part of their story in print. I dream about their children reading it some day, reading the letter Kara wrote to them at the back of the book.

I dream a lot these days. I can’t help it, having a [now] 1-year old and a 2-year old. But I dream of other things besides my babies: I dream of Heaven. I dream of seeing my parents, our nephew who was stillborn, my cousin who died when he was only 5. I dream of seeing my aunt and cousin together, Kara and my mother talking [and talking and talking]. I dream of seeing Jesus and asking him all my questions. I dream of my story being redeemed and finally understanding the purpose of pain and brokenness in my life.baby kissesReading Kara’s book brings Heaven to mind. While God has not redeemed her body from cancer and from her hard story, he is redeeming her heart already. She tells her story with an eternal perspective, meaning, she understands that her story has eternal significance, that God has purpose in it, that God will (and is) bring beauty and restoration from it. That her story, as suffocating or overwhelming as it may seem at times, is not the point—Jesus is the point. It’s Jesus’ story being told, and we have the awesome privilege of being a part of that greater, Great story.

Reading Kara’s book will make you fall in love with her and Jason. It will make you hate cancer, if you didn’t already. It will make you curious about our church plant. It will make you think about your own story and the hard in your life. It will make you look for redemption and hope in the mundane. It will make you wonder if God will redeem your brokenness. But most of all, it will introduce you to the Grace of God, his lavish and undeserved love.

I will be doing the big giveaway on Friday. If you haven’t entered yet, please visit my last blog post and enter now! And if you are not the big winner, I hope and pray you will still read this book and be introduced to Kara, to Jesus, to Grace.  IMG_0101