What I Learned this Summer

At the close of each season, I take a look back to see what I have discovered and what might be helpful to you in some way if I shared it. My lessons might be big or small, funny or profound. Maybe you can find yourself in one of them and say, "Me too!" I do this in a community of writers over at Emily P. Freeman's home on the world wide web.

Here is what I learned this summer of 2017.

  1. Fitting in is different than belonging.

Have you ever found yourself trying too hard to fit in somewhere - at school, at work, in your neighborhood, at church or on social media? And I don't mean in childhood or years ago. I mean that familiar feeling from your teenage years, but more recently, yesterday even.

Fitting in is that kind of desperate trying or ache of the heart when you can't seem to find your place among people. Often when we are struggling to fit in, there is a sense of being forgotten, overlooked, inadequate or just plain invisible. If we happen to have a competitive edge on top of feeling left out, we could be throwing elbows, pushing our way in without even realizing it.

Belonging is another matter entirely. Belonging I believe is inside us already. It is instrinsic connection or original attachment. Belonging carries a sense of home and heart which together make soul. I am not talking about geography here, though we can derive a sense of belonging from a place. Belonging is a deep part of our givenness by God and only has to be uncovered. Oh, but the layers!

Belonging comes when we relax and rest into who God crafted us to be just where he gives us to be. This is harder than we may first realize. It happens when we come alongside others, freely and generously, giving and taking with authenticity and grace.

Belonging is a big thing when we accept being small.

What I have seen is that true belonging takes a good sturdy sense of who we are from our Maker, and patience for the process of becoming our truest selves, all while making friends.

"Nestled" is a word I might use to describe belonging.

"No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.".
Frank Lloyd Wright

You are nestled in God's own heart.

In the words of Psalm 17:8,
"Keep me as the apple of your eye, hide me in the shadow of your wings."

May that help the next time you walk into a room full of people you do not know, move to a new city, scroll on social media or feel as though you missed something spectacular.

2.You belong anyway, but get into the path of totality one day if you can swing it.

This lesson deserves its own post, but for now let me remind you that you do, by God's own design, Belong with a capital B, whether or not you saw the total eclipse of the sun.

My husband had been obsessing over this event for months and I planned to be right by his side ever since my Uber driver in Dallas, Texas told me he was flying across many states to see it. For his birthday, this man's wife bought tickets to fly to the Midwest to get into the path of totality. As a boy in his homeland of Thailand, he had seen a total eclipse of the sun and never ever forgotten it. He wanted to give his own six-year-old son that experience.

We originally had a much bigger plan, a whole road trip for several days, but an evacuation due to fires burning across the Cascades changed our best-laid plans. So on August 21, we packed up the truck, a cooler, Mike's camera equipment, a bundle of eclipse glasses and the twenty-somethings in our life, and headed an hour out of town for our viewing spot. We passed fields of sheep and cows and arrived at the wide open spaces of Sublimity, Oregon.

It did not escape my attention that we got up in the dark and drove until the sun came up only to put ourselves in the path of darkness.

We watched as an invisible moon suddenly broke over the edge of the sun and slowly pushed into the sphere of light as if by a finger. We witnessed a strange compression of time, like the hours in a day squeezed into a few minutes. The light during this compression held an eerie metallic mix of shimmering gold, silver and copper. And it all happened in panorama - a sunrise, daylight and sunset in a full circle around you. I might call it surround vision.

One of the kids said, "It feels like a dream." And it did, both in color and time and awe. I did notice that while the birds grow quiet as the darkness envelopes you, big kids do not.

We were six people covered in eight blankets and still we felt the temperature drop sharply, maybe as much as ten degrees. The cold seemed to come from the ground up as our feet and ankles felt it first. But it was heavier than any swirling draft, like another metal, maybe iron.

I had thought, in the weeks leading up to this day, that I might get a glimpse into the darkness that covered the earth on Calvary. But I had never before considered the chill those three hours must have brought. If we felt it so profoundly in just two minutes, what kind of icy cold could all those hours of darkness have brought?

Photo by Michael Conlin

Weeks later, I am still thinking about that solar eclipse. I am grateful for getting to share it with the man I love and kiddos that can take the experience into their lives for many more years than I ever can. I am grateful for the chance to sit beneath the sky and witness God's finger above me.

The five hour drive home only covering about 60 miles, made me question the trip, but just for a split second. It gave me time to think of the sun and moon and earth each being just the right size and distances in relation to each other to create such a phenomenon. To think that the same hand that created those exact specifications and hold them in place also created little ol' me.

Getting into the path of totality was totally worth it.

It reminds me of my next lesson.

3.Jesus is not a condiment.

I heard this from A.J. Swoboda when he preached at our church a few Sundays ago.

The statement likely speaks for itself, but I will just tell you that A.J. was teaching us that when we follow Jesus, really follow him, we start to see things differently. Our life get dismantled, maybe even destroyed as we have come to know it. Jesus gets under our skin and into our hearts.

If we are honest we might admit, he can be like a bad house guest. Like a younger sibling is prone to do, A.J. said Jesus will borrow your things, invite himself over for dinner and bring a bunch of people we may not like. He will not give you a plan, a page of fine print or any footnotes.

Basically, as he did with all of his disciples, Jesus calls and explains later. Maybe.

Every single time I reach for the mustard, ketchup or Aardvark sauce, I will try to remember not to slather Jesus on top of my life like a tasty sauce. Jesus comes from within and underneath, from the deep and from the dark. He is less original sauce and more original source, a spring bubbling up from deep inside.

Somehow this lesson is connected to getting myself into the path of totality even with a price to be paid in getting home.

4.Notice what you are thirsty for.

A little over six years ago, while working on the interiors of the Door to Grace Day Home, I made four large canvases. Door to Grace is a nonprofit I adore and on whose board I serve. Her mission is to bring safe and loving family to sexually exploited children here in the US. The canvases were about four foot square in size and held our core values and bits of burlap from old coffee bean bags.

I enjoyed the prayerful process behind the words we chose as a team, but now I felt a nudge, it was more like an elbow in my rib, to create our deep soul work onto canvas and collage.

Along with the hard work of being on a board striving for social justice, I suddenly uncovered my thirst for creativity. I wanted that deep purpose artfully splashed on the walls of the Day Home. I needed it right in front of my eyeballs as we loved on hurting girls and tried not to let them push us away.

I was thirsty for social justice and creativity.

Then just recently, a dear friend recently asked me to join her in an informal think-tank. That might seem boring to you, but my heart soared. I realized in that moment, I was thirsty for deep thinking, shared ideas and collaborative energy.

When thought about it later, I saw my deep thirst just for being seen and invited. You may not want to be part of a think-tank, but being invited is a universal thirst.

My joy in receiving my invitation prompted me to take a project I am working on and do some inviting of my own.

Even before I was ready.

When I extended my invitation to an artist friend of mine, it was like patting the chair next to us and saying, "I saved you a seat.". Who of us doesn't long to hear that?

So . . .

5.Invite before you're ready.

This one is difficult for me. I like to be ready, prepared ahead of time, having done some good thinking or my homework before I schedule a meeting.

It can feel as though this is wise practice and honestly, sometimes it is. God does some of his best work in our waiting. And yet, I can spend an exorbitant amount of time in the preparation phase and never get to the thing, whether that's writing or a new friendship or any creative endeavor.

Here is what I have noticed that is helping me. I have noticed the preparation phase can really disguise my underlying fear. If I can take another class before applying what I've already learned, then I can put off the moment when I see how it really works, or doesn't. Sound familiar?

But what about this? Before I have people over, I want the piles picked up, the bathroom cleaned and my projects finished. I know it's wiser not to wait for perfection, but to reach for connection.

And lately this is what I am trying to do.

Reach for connection, not perfection.

Inviting someone into what you're doing before you feel ready takes a recipe of courage, vulnerability and a dash of moxie. There may be God's timing to consider, but it's the invitation I am thinking of, the one that I believe everyone is thirsty for.

So at least when it comes to making a new friend, inviting someone to join you in your work or asking for collaborative input, I say,

"Invite before you're ready" and let God handle both the messy process and the end result.

6.Making hard decisions is a fine art.

Just the other day, with my friend Jean, visiting from Texas, we sat outside on a bench and talked about a hard decision in her work. It helped that while we chatted, we each nibbled on a warm slice of bakery bread, cut thick with rough edges right at the moment we walked to the butcher block counter.

She had already discussed the decision with her husband, so we could have a free wheeling conversation that already included him. I listened while she ran down a list of reasons to stay or go, and the possibilities of reshaping her role if she stayed.

Then by God's grace, I asked her two questions.

What are you afraid of? Whether you stay or go or reshape your role, what are you afraid of?

What would you do instead? What have you always wanted to do?

It was fascinating what those questions opened in our hearts - deeper discussions of her purpose, identity and dreams. Though she moved away more than fifteen years ago, I have known Jean for twenty five years.
As young mamas, we used to cook a month of meals all in one day while our kids played at our feet. Then we'd wrap all the meals up and fill the freezer shelves and go out for pizza. Mike and I went to church with Jean and her husband Mark and we were in a Life Group together. Still, I didn't know about the dream she shared until that moment.

I will remember our honest conversation as a shining moment in our friendship. I don't know what her decision will be. It almost doesn't matter. A tiny part of the process of making the hard decision was sitting still with good questions.

I've had a year of tough decisions to make, so I had long been thinking about how to make them well. I wrote a whole post about making hard designs wise and well. You can read it here.

7.After making hard decisions, I need some good laughter.

Making hard decisions takes deep thinking, tough conversations and taking a hard look at weaknesses, both our own and other's. After all of that furrowed-brow intensity, I find I am thirsty for beauty, creativity or laughter.

After wrestling out hard choices, it did my heart good to go thrifting with my daughter, watch a funny movie or read a book that made me laugh out loud.

If you find you need a few belly laughs after your own hard decisions, here are a few of my Favorite Finds: laughing planet edition.

It has been a wild summer of good schooling.