Profile No. 15: Kara Eschbach and Janet Sahm

Profiles in the Gap

Kara Eschbach and Janet Sahm

JanetSahm_KaraEschbach_Verily

I had the privilege of chatting earlier this month with Kara Eschbach and Janet Sahm, the founders of Verily magazine, who kindly agreed to be included in the December profiles on Life in the Gap. In particular, I asked them about what motivated them to go after the things they were passionate about — to take the risk and launch their own business — and how we can view this time of singleness as an opportunity, not a burden. (-Mabel)

What was the catalyst for launching Verily? Did being single affect your decision to go for it?

Kara: I was in a lucrative, comfortable job in finance, and while I was happy there, I wasn’t exactly passionate about it. I actually moved to New York City to take that job, which was definitely exciting. But I wanted something more meaningful. So when this idea for a startup came up, it just sort of made sense. I quit my job in finance and switched to magazine. I’d been doing a lot of writing in my previous job, and the financial background really prepared me to run a business.

And yes, I think being single did play a role. I realized it was one of those “windows” in life – the right time to do something like this, when I had no other things tying me down. I had no kids or family commitments, no mortgage…nothing saying I couldn’t take a pay cut and work really hard to make this a success. But there are windows like this throughout life – like older adults whose kids have all moved out, life is just full of times when it’s possible to make a decision like this. So why not go for it?

Janet: I was working a good job as an assistant in New York. I mean, it paid the rent! As a new graduate I was privileged to gain some experience in the fashion industry at Elle, and I quickly saw that to become a fashion editor in that kind of publication, I’d have to devote myself to 10 years of slave-driving work. I wanted a well-rounded life, not to become the typical obsessed career woman. Still, fashion is  my love.

Even while working my assistant job, I was thinking and praying about starting my own magazine. I wanted to start a publication that had more meaning, and let me be myself. My 9 – 5 job actually gave me a lot of freedom, too … outside working hours I could write and focus on honing my talents. It really gave me the freedom to be creative.

You two launched Verily together – and it’s been a big success! Does having friends on the journey with you make it easier?

Both: Yes! We were casual friends when we first started throwing around the idea of launching a magazine, but after working together on this project for the past couple years, we’ve definitely grown closer. We’ve definitely found that friends, especially for those of us who are single, become surrogate family. They’re the people you have meals with and celebrate holidays with when you can’t make it home to see your family. A community of friends is so important to living a happy, fulfilling life. Granted, that community is always changing as people get married and move on to other opportunities, but that’s part of the beauty of it, too.

What advice would you give to other young adults in the gap who are struggling with what to do next?

Kara: It’s typical to sit around in “the gap” just waiting, instead of figuring out what it is we really want to do. So often we’re waiting for things to be obvious, or for the perfect scenario, or we feel like we have to have a plan. I took a job in New York, not because I’d always wanted to go there, but because when it came up I thought it might be interesting, and a good platform for other things. Only once I got here did I discover other things I was really interested in, that got me to this point.

My advice for anyone in the gap? Walk through open doors. Even if they don’t look like what you thought you wanted…you never know where they might take you. Expand your network, meet people, and see what comes of it.

What if discovering and pursuing my passion just isn’t an option right now?

Janet: Even if you find your job monotonous and you don’t love it, there are endless possibilities for living a meaningful and fruitful life. Get involved. Start a discussion group to talk about controversial issues. Get involved in your church. Volunteer – and do it regularly. Use this time of freedom to become a more integrated person. Join dance class, a sports team, or a language class. Get friends together regularly to teach each other skills you already have, like photography or cooking.

Push yourself. There’s so much to read, to learn, to give. The more you can go outside yourself, the better. You learn to give of yourself and to love.

So often we take our identity from who we were in high school or college. We forget that we’re still growing, that we’re always growing and changing. Don’t throw away chances to grow and develop your character and yourself.

Kara: Don’t discount your current job just because it isn’t your dream. You’d be amazed at what you’re learning and developing that you don’t even realize. And much of it will come in useful down the road. My finance background prepared me to run a business. Janet’s background gave her lots of professional development, which she is able to use now, along with her creative talents. So many skills are transferable – so don’t write anything off as a waste of time!

Advertisements

Profile No. 11: Trena Pilegaard

Profiles in the Gap

Trena Pilegaard

IMG_1835

Trena Pilegaard lives and works in the Washington, D.C., area. 

Life is always in some kind of gap: the gaps between yesterday, today, and tomorrow; physical gaps of distance between loved ones; the gap between breakfast and lunch; gaps between work and home, between conception and birth, between birth and death. We are always swooping between different gaps like electric lines between poles while riding in the car. Sometimes the swooping makes you feel nauseous, and other times it is the most exhilarating feeling in the world.

I think that the gaps aren’t holes that need to be filled, just obstacles that take some thinking, prayer, and trust to get over and around. Singleness is a gap for me that I am learning to navigate. This life is becoming comfortable to me and, if it is the life that God has planned for me for the rest of my time on earth, I am happy to live it. If I said an extended life of singleness is my dream, I’d be lying. But this time has been consistent with my dreams so far. I distinctly remember planning my life in my head my senior year in high school and thinking that I couldn’t possibly have the time to be married before the age of thirty, there was so much I had to do first. To that end I purposely told myself I couldn’t date in college, I knew life would have too much for me to do to be married right away.

Even now, with a few struggles of adulthood under my belt, my life has exceeded my wildest dreams in so many areas. If someone told me at sixteen that I would have an opportunity to spend three years in Europe after college, I would have died of joy right there. Likewise, the sheer amount of amazing friends that I have strewn across the world is also something I never could have imagined.  Other times I am simply overwhelmed with the beauty of this life I lead: starlight nights in the Blue Ridge Mountains, fall colors here in DC, a summer spent on Lago di Lugano, standing in St. Peter’s Square, snow-capped Sierras. Sometimes I find myself with tears in my eyes because I cannot believe that I am so blessed to have been chosen to live this beautiful life when so many of my generation did not survive the womb. Sure, there are days when I wonder if I will die alone surrounded by cats (which is terrifying to me because it would mean that so many things have gone horribly wrong – I am allergic to cats and don’t really count them in my list of favorite animals, and, for heaven’s sake, why are they at my deathbed?), but I know in my heart that will never be the case. Even if I remain single to the end, I am confident I will never be alone or unloved.

The biggest lesson I have learned is that when navigating single life it is important to remember that I remain my number one priority. Once I am taken care of, then I can help others. I can hear the gasps of shock now. “Oh, but that is so selfish. You should never put yourself first, always put others first.” But Christ didn’t say to put others first, He said to love your neighbor as yourself. If I don’t love myself, the person I am right now with every aspect of me in consideration (and this includes being single), how can I love others as Christ asks? As a single person my primary responsibility is me.  It is easy to forget this when you become wrapped up in living life, a 9-5 job, and just generally trying keep your head above the water. But, if I don’t check up on my spiritual, physical and emotional needs, then I am failing in my responsibilities to myself and will only hinder my ability to help others.

This means making sure that I am working towards a life that I find fulfilling and satisfying. If I am going to be supporting myself by myself for an indefinite amount of time, then I need to be happy in what I am doing. It’s taken a few years and a lot of tears, but I think I am finally on that path! It also means that I am actively pursuing adventures that I enjoy and things want to learn more about. I love ballet – so I found a ballet studio and started taking classes. I’ve scooped up opportunities to study French, to broaden my mind by extensive reading (name that quote!), travel to give myself perspective, and exposing myself to as much culture and life as possible. I see all these things as important tools in developing and caring for me. I have found that the more I am able to know myself, the more I can offer others around me. I am healthy, so I can physically volunteer to help others. I am intellectually sound, so I can offer good advice or help solve the problems life pitches. I am culturally literate, so I can help introduce others to all the things that help make life beautiful.

Loving the single life is an act of the will. Love is always an act of the will, just sometimes it is easier than others. And this life, with all its freedom and charm, isn’t easy. There are hard decisions to be made, by yourself. There are meals to be eaten, by yourself. There are nights to be spent, by yourself. Loneliness lurks around every corner – if you give in and let yourself be lonely. The trick is not to. I find myself often praying for the courage to continue, and that prayer has always been answered.  Sometimes it comes in the form of a phone call or note from a friend. Or in the realization of how much I have, like the full night of deep sleep that so many mothers crave. Or it’s when a friend says she has tickets to my favorite band, and I am free to drop everything and go. Until God calls me to another way of life, you can be assured that I am going to keep loving this beautiful and blessed life!

 

Looking back, forging ahead…

This blog turned three yesterday. 

Image

What started in December 2010 as a combination of venting, catharsis, and some vague hopes of maybe writing a book someday has gradually become something more important, at least to me. It’s become an opportunity to journey with so many other people living the same state in life and trying to figure out why they’re here — “stuck,” as we so often feel, in the gap and not sure what God wants out of our lives.

I’ve been gratified, humbled, and often inspired over the years by hundreds of conversations with friends and acquaintances, both in person and online, about this life in the gap and what we’re called to do with it. Even if this silly little blog serves no other purpose in the vast scheme of things, it has been an invaluable aid to me in my own journey, and a source of real consolation in the darker times, when the road ahead rolls on with no apparent direction. 

Someone recently told me that “life in the gap” isn’t something Christians should celebrate. The argument went, basically, that those of us who are still single well into our twenties and even thirties are products of a culture that prolongs adolescence, elevates career, and encourages us to push off our vocation as long as possible. It was odd to hear this argument against the very concept of my blog (and, actually, the very relevance of my day-to-day life, if you think too hard about it) expressed so directly. For it was exactly this unspoken attitude I started the blog to fight back against. 

Here’s a little quiz for my readers:

Raise your hand if you’re a Catholic (or Christian) single adult who has decided, “Vocation will be nice…in about ten years. For now I’m going to go at it alone and work my job and go to parties and just enjoy being single.” 

Okay, so a few of you probably did raise your hands. Most people who feel this way also probably don’t get a whole lot of consolation or help from my blog (but maybe I’m wrong?), though I do hope you’ll continue to read it and draw something from it anyway.

Now raise your hand if you’re a Catholic (or Christian) young adult who has been waiting for a year — or two, three, four, five, ten, fifteen years — to meet someone you feel called to marry, or for a vocational call, or for anything at all to remind you that God hasn’t retired into the heavens and forgotten all about you and your life. Raise your hand if you’ve ever cried yourself to sleep trying to figure out what the hell you’re doing wrong, because the years drag wearily on and you’re not sure that your life isn’t a complete waste of space. 

Anyone?

If that rings true for you, know that I started this blog in December 2010 for you.

We’re not called to live a prolonged adolescence, and the point of Life in the Gap has never been to encourage the selfish, undisciplined, live-for-the-moment lifestyles touted in sitcoms and tabloids and held up as the model for our generation. Instead, the blog was meant to start a dialogue about the ways in which we can be fully active, faithful, mature, and generous adults even as we work and pray to discern the “big-‘V’ Vocation” God has in store for us. How do I turn my career into a prayer, since this seems to be where God wants me right now? How do I love my neighbors, build community, and die to myself as a single young adult? How do I take possession of my own life and turn it into a song of praise, even while I feel so often stuck in a sort of limbo?

Those are the questions Life in the Gap continues to explore.

Reading the December profiles that have come in so far, I’ve been moved and touched by people’s stories about using this time to the fullest, to grow closer to God, and to wait with patience. I can’t wait to see more of them. And I look forward to diving deeper into these issues in 2014, confident that God does have a role for each of us in His plan, and that he always gives us the present moment to begin to listen to His voice and do as He asks, even in the smallest things.

–Mabel

 

 

Paying it forward

As I wrote last time, one little sister taught me how to forgive years and years ago. Another little sister — the littlest in our family — taught me how to be forgiven.

Image

Every time I visited home during my breaks from college, I reverted to my old bossy, cantankerous, self-righteous self within about two seconds of walking through the front door. It always hit me like a ton of bricks, how little I had really changed, when I went home for visits. No, college and young adulthood had not made me more patient, more selfless, or more saintly; they had simply removed all the old irritants that tested my weak patience, selfishness, and very weak sanctity. A few hours with my siblings was more than enough to cure me of any delusions I might have entertained about my own goodness. In one particularly bad fit of temper during a break, I remember going off on my youngest sister over absolutely nothing.

I mean it. She didn’t do a single thing. We were driving together to somewhere (I don’t remember where), and I hadn’t written down directions and I got lost. When it became apparent we were pretty hopelessly lost, and that we were going to be embarrassingly late to wherever we were going, and that we had been driving around in circles for the past half hour, I flipped out. If you’ve ever seen me flip out, no more need be said; if you haven’t, I pray God to spare you the sight and I’ll spare you the description.

My poor baby sister — she was about twelve at the time — just sat quiet as a mouse in the passenger seat of the car and took my ranting like a saint. I know I snapped at her more than once, and she quietly took that too. It was an hour I still haven’t quite forgiven myself for, and I would never have blamed her for holding it against me. Yet when I sought her out, my tail between my legs, later that afternoon and just said, “I’m so sorry,” she stared right at me and asked in all sincerity, “For what?”

Image

That wasn’t the first or the last time that sister had to forgive me for being a jerk, and every time I’m humbled by her willingness to say, “It’s all good,” and end the matter with a hug.

A few years ago I encountered that same kind of forgiveness in someone outside my family. I went through a less-than-peaceful transition out of a housing situation that had become pretty unhappy for me. There were tears and misunderstandings and hurt feelings all around, and I moved into my new apartment fearing my old roommate and I would never patch things up. To my surprise (and joy), though it took a little while, she forgave me. We remained friends, and still are, and I attribute it all to her mercy toward me, even though I didn’t deserve it.

The hardest — and best — thing about being forgiven is that it’s not something you can ever deserve. In fact, the whole point of forgiveness is letting go of what you do deserve for a wrong done. And it can’t be manipulated or controlled; it has to be freely given. Maybe that’s why I’m a little bit in awe of every person who has ever forgiven me, and a little bit terrified every time I screw up again, wondering if this time I’ve really hit the limit.

Yet it’s knowing that I have been forgiven in very concrete circumstances that gives me the patience and the willingness to forgive when I’m wronged. Even in those cases where I still struggle to let things go, I want to forgive, because I’ve had good people in my life who willingly forgave me when I screwed up. To all of you: thank you. I’m going to keep on doing my best to pay it forward.

-Mabel

More than a broken tea pot

“That’s okay, I forgive you.”

I remember marveling at how easy it was to say, and how the feelings followed almost immediately on the words — no more anger, just a lovely, calm benevolence. My six-year-old chest nearly swelled with it.

My little sister didn’t believe me. She blinked, incredulous, and rubbed her teary eyes with the backs of her hands. “But I didn’t mean to,” she whimpered, and hiccuped. 

And I shook my head and said, “No, I mean it. It’s okay.” 

She had taken the tea pot out of my new, big girl porcelain tea set without asking, and had broken it in the bathroom sink when she tried to fill it with water. But when she came to me right away with the broken pieces and said, “I took it without asking and I broke it and I’m so

sorry,” I couldn’t be angry. Even though my heart sank at the thought of losing my brand new tea pot, I realized there was no sense in making a scene over it. After all, what more could she do?

That was my first brush with forgiveness. No strings attached, no hard feelings, just “It’s okay” and the joy of seeing my sister’s face light up with gratitude.

Image

 

If only forgiveness could always be that easy. More than twenty years later, I find myself looking back to my six-year-old self and wondering what she understood that I seem in so many ways to have lost. It’s so easy to be angry, even over slights so much smaller than broken tea pots. It’s so easy to stifle and ignore the anger that inevitably arises in relationships, so it festers and becomes a wound that aches. It’s so easy to pretend the wounds are no big deal, and to push people away because that’s easier than scraping out infections and applying the dressings that will let healing set in. 

It hit me a few months ago that I’d been holding on — hard — to many old hurts, from many different places. The catalyst was an out-of-the-blue message I got from a girl I used to be close to. Years ago she was one of my “inner circle” friends, the kind you’ll drop everything for, the kind who knows you in and out and laughs at the same jokes and shares a lot of the same memories. The kind you’ve let down your guard for and come to really love. Then, with no explanation, she seemed to just disappear from my life. We still ran into one another now and then, and she was still her sweet self when we did; she often mentioned in a sort of wistful way that we “ought to get together,” but the relationship ended up dying a slow death of starvation. And her life moved on and she eventually left the area, and I finally shook off the ache of it and determined to move on and forget her. 

Reading her message reopened all the old wounds. Maybe it would have been okay if she had expressed some sort of regret at the way our relationship sputtered to an end. Instead she only wrote, “I’m back in the area,” and “Maybe I’ll run into you sometime.” 

Of course, some of it was my own fault, for not saying anything when the distance became an unavoidable fact. But either way it’s so much harder to forgive someone who has no idea she’s broken your tea pot and doesn’t seem to be the least bit sorry. You don’t get the satisfaction of seeing the other person’s surprised gratitude; you don’t get to experience the lovely glow that sort of settles over the whole relationship because your willingness to let the thing pass has brought you both to a place of peace. Accepting your place in another person’s heart when it’s not the place you wanted is much harder. It requires humility and that real, self-sacrificial love that’s so very hard. It’s a very lonely process, and the end result may not be a relationship at all, but accepting that a relationship has come to an end.

Image

 

But I’m coming to realize forgiveness can’t be based on the other person “coming around.” It makes it a lot easier, certainly, but we can’t live our lives angry, just waiting for other people to realize the error of their ways and come crawling back to us for mercy. At a certain point, I have to take responsibility for my own reactions and feelings. I have to dress my own wounds and move on, whether or not the people who caused them ever realize or acknowledge it. 

I will be brutally honest: I’m not capable of that kind of forgiveness yet. But I want to be capable of it, and I hope and pray that wanting can be enough of a first step to get the ball rolling. So much depends on grace. So much depends on realizing that I also have been forgiven much, not just by God but by family members, dear friends, roommates, even acquaintances who have sustained hurts from me, many of which I know nothing about.

More than anything else, though, learning to forgive — to really forgive and let go and move on — requires so much prayer. For now, all I can do is pray, “Lord, give me a heart of mercy, like your heart.” And I just keep hoping the rest will follow, in good time. 

-Mabel

*Broken tea pot image from here

Things that go ‘bump’ in the night…

“Sometimes,” I told my sister last week, in the midst of a rather intense phone conversation, “you just hurt other people, without meaning to do it. You’re like the piece of furniture someone else bumps into in the dark, you were just there being you, and they encountered you the wrong way.”

I hate hurting other people. I’ll go to great lengths to avoid it, even to the point of being uncharitable. Call it the curse of niceness or a mean passive aggressive streak or whatever you like, but if I can get away without saying a thing that will cause another person pain, even if it’s best in the long run for both of us to have it out, I’ll zip it and walk away without saying a word. 

But sometimes you just hurt people, without even realizing you’ve done it. 

Shortly before I graduated from high school, I received a letter from a friend. To my great surprise, this friend informed me I had wounded her deeply through a particular choice I’d made that had absolutely nothing to do with her. I won’t go into further specifics here. Suffice it to say, her letter shocked and upset me. Here I thought I was doing a pretty decent job at being a friend, and it turns out all along she had been suffering because I was just being myself and doing what I needed to do. I apologized as best I could, but the damage had been done long ago, and we were never friends after that. 

I often return to that friend, especially when I find myself growing angry and distant with my friends or family members now. Humans are complex, and relationships are complexity squared. It’s a wonder any of us manage to have any of them at all, really. It’s amazing how much we let our imaginations run away with us. Sometimes we try to imagine relationships into existence when there’s no basis for them. (You can read an older post I wrote on that topic a couple years ago here.) Other times we attribute non-existent motives to our friends when they do things that upset us. 

“Of course she did it on purpose,” we think. “She knew I’d be upset and she did it anyway!” 

Every now and then that may be true, but chances are your friends don’t consider you and your reactions every time they act — or even most of the time. They have their own lives to lead. It’s a humbling reflection, certainly, but one you should all sit with for just a minute. I promise, it will change your life. 

Still, being my brother’s keeper does mean having to keep my various friends and loved ones and their probable reactions in mind when I make choices, especially the big choices. You don’t want a big wedding? That makes total sense, but your extended family will be hurt unless you explain it to them. You need a night alone? Completely fine, but maybe share that with your boyfriend or your roommates or that dear friend who’s been trying to get together with you for three weeks. Your life is in turmoil because Work and because Family Drama and because Hormones? I get it. But if you have roommates, maybe let them know that you’re not yourself so they don’t take your moodiness personally.

 So much of being my brother’s keeper has nothing to do with going out of my way to serve others. It’s just a simple matter of remembering that I’m not an island, that I have sharp corners and if the lights are out, someone else is very likely to bump into them without my knowing they were there. My bad day should never be a cause of suffering to anyone else. My personal choices may cause pain to others, and some of that can’t be my problem, but I should do everything I can to mitigate the blow. 

Image

I don’t inhabit this planet on my own. Sometimes I just need to take a quick look around and make sure I’m not a hazard to anyone else. 

-Mabel

Hungry for Love

holding hands

When I was a sophomore in college, I volunteered my time as a Household Coordinator (For those of you who are unfamiliar with traditions at Franciscan University, we had “households” instead of sororities/fraternities; we were faith based, and each household had a different charism and focus). It was a tough job, let me tell you!

Prior to beginning the semester, we had to attend a retreat with all the other coordinators, followed by leading new students in their orientation small groups. It was an incredibly busy week with practically no sleep, but it was an incredibly rewarding time as well.

One of the activities on this retreat was a series of games which we performed as teams. The first time, we were not to speak to one another as we made our way through the activities. Next, we went through the same games again, this time encouraging one another and helping each other through. During our reflection at the end of the day, we all agreed that the games in which we assisted and encouraged one another were both more enjoyable and more successful. Speed games were done faster, follow the leader games were smoother, and puzzles were less frustrating and solved more quickly.

I’m sure you can easily see the point these activities were trying to make: life is not meant to be lived alone. We are social creatures, and going through our days without others to encourage or assist us makes even the simplest task more difficult, more mundane, and less appealing. Simply going through life side-by-side is not enough. We need interaction and support from those around us. This support can be as little as a smile, a kind word, or a hug. But all of these have one thing in common: They all reach down into that place deep within all of us that constantly begs “Am I worth it?” “Does anyone love me?” “Does anyone care?”

Solitude is in itself not a bad thing, and in small doses it’s healthy and necessary for everyone. However, the soul left alone too long often becomes withered and thirsty, yearning for companionship. How many of us can remember, at least once, sitting alone and wishing we had company? The feelings of isolation set in, and begin to fester and grow like an untreated wound. If untreated, the effects can be catastrophic. Eventually those inner questions begin to sound more like statements – “You’re not worth it.” “Nobody loves you.” “Nobody really cares about you.”

Mother Teresa (one of my very favorite women in the whole world) put it beautifully:

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

As humans, we are called to love one another, and to be the hands and feet of Christ. What are we doing to fulfill this beautiful mission? What are we doing to encourage holiness and happiness in others? How are we working to lead those around us to Christ? And how are we lifting up and encouraging the hearts and souls of others?

I know for my part I’m not doing nearly enough.

Guess I’d better work on that….

–“Virginia”

motherteresa1

When Community Bites

“You cannot pray with enemies in your heart.” 

Pope Francis said that this week, during a homily on the Lord’s Prayer. 

Last night I attended Mass at my parish church, and I was angry. Someone had offended me earlier in the afternoon — not on purpose, and with all the best intentions, but it hurt my feelings (or my pride), and three hours later I still hadn’t gotten over it. I sat in the back where I had a pretty good view of everyone else in attendance; this church has been my home parish for over four years, and I knew at least a third of the people there. 

And as I nursed my little hurt I found myself ruminating over every single hurt or aggravation any of the people around me had ever caused me, whether they knew it or not. Because let’s face it, belonging to a community of any sort can be really, really tough. I sat staring at the backs of my acquaintances’ heads and feeling lonelier by the second, and the tears welled up, and the typical Mabel “solution” presented itself almost as an imperative: maybe it’s time to move on. Find a new parish. Even better, leave the area at last, like I’ve been talking about doing for years. Start over with new friends who haven’t hurt my feelings — and whose feelings I’ve never hurt. Or maybe I should just shut down officially, shut everyone out, focus on work and prayer and family and forget about trying to live in this “intentional community” that’s so hard to keep track of anyway. 

Now I should know better than to take my pity parties to prayer, because inevitably I get a Holy Smackdown. Sure enough, it came right around Communion. It wasn’t a simple phrase or flashing lights or a holy fragrance wafting across my path, so it’s difficult to put it into words here. But it came over me then that I’ve been treating Christ like my personal possession and my convenient escape route when my relationships with other people get uncomfortable. 

You see, Lord, I said, It’s really easy to love you. 

But other people? Other people have hard edges, sharp words, mean looks, bad days, melancholy moods, rushed schedules, differing opinions, frustrating needs, sometimes bad breath and dirty nails. Other people can be very, very hard to love. 

And of course the only response I got to this inner tirade was a loving chuckle and a somewhat dismissive, “Yes, and?” 

I guess I can’t add a whole lot to that. Community is necessary not because it keeps us from feeling lonely or frightened, or because it cushions against our needs — though it can be nice in those ways — but because it wears away our sharp edges and forces us to be together and practice the kind of love that matters — the kind that just plain sucks sometimes. 

God never said, “Love one another. It’s easy!”

He just said to do it. You simply can’t claim to love him (really) if you haven’t got that part of the Christian life straight. 

 

The Truth about Funks

It’s way too easy, when you slip into a funk, to believe that you’re alone in your funk. Your funk is yours and yours only. Everyone around you lives happy, fulfilling lives and they never, ever fall into funks of their own, because funks are the sort of thing that only … ever … happen … to … you. 

You’re a lonely, sad person stuck living in a happy world. 

When you catch yourself in that frame of mind, do yourself and the world a favor and say, “Self. Shut up.” It’s a load of crock. Hooey. Asininity. Untruth. 

Be your funk ever so great, there is always, always, always someone out there walking around under a bigger cloud … and with better reason.

Maybe your office mate just lost her grandmother. Maybe your roommate is feeling worn down after months of working an irregular schedule. Maybe your dear friend is coping with a death in the family. Maybe that acquaintance just called off his wedding, and another is trying to go back to school, and a third just quit her job because she couldn’t take it anymore and is trying to figure out what exactly she wants to do with her life.  

Maybe you’ve been hurting people’s feelings and pushing loved ones away while you’ve been stuck in your funk, because you’re so busy being there you’ve lost sight of your own loveableness. I’m just saying, it’s a distinct possibility. 

Fortunately, funks pass.

And in the meantime you know that people are praying for you. One morning you go to Mass and discover that someone had it offered just for you — just because. Another day your sister’s boyfriend lights a candle for you in his church in another state because he heard you might need it. One evening you get a text from your best friend that just says, “Just because.” 

And then one night you come home from work and your amazing roommate has cleaned out the refrigerator till it sparkles and looks like this: 

Image

And that’s just kind of awesome. 

Funk or no funk, God is good. Love goes on regardless of feeling. And you never have any excuse to close in on yourself and cry that no one cares. That stopped being acceptable when you were fifteen, and it’s never been true. 

-Mabel

 

Friendship: Time to Get Choosey

I had a conversation with a friend last night about the ebb and flow of relationships, not just in our DC area “young adults” circles but throughout our lives. This conversation followed on a Facebook “friend” request I received yesterday afternoon from a college classmate I haven’t spoken to or heard from in nearly three years. And this got me thinking about how often we forget to be purposeful in our friendships. 

Of course, most people in our lives are going to come and go. We can only sustain so many active relationships at once, after all. Sure, we can look to some people as givens — our parents, for instance, and our siblings. If you get married, your spouse and any children you may have are supposed to be pretty set as well. (For simplicity’s sake, I’m not talking about the overall culture and family breakdown here, I’m assuming relatively stable familial ties in this.) But friends?

It’s easy to take friends for granted. Especially in the DC area where friend “groups” are constantly emerging and morphing and fading away again, we tend to glom on to this or that crowd for a time, then seek a new one when it fizzles out. That’s fine for weekend plans, but friendships and friend “groups” are not the same. 

Which brings me back to a different set of conversations I had last week with different friends on the same theme, tied back to choice. Friendships — I mean real, person-to-person, caring-for-the-other friendships — have to be intentional, especially in these topsy-turvy, constantly changing single years. If you go for convenience in your friendships, you won’t be able to hold onto any of your friends for very long. I think too many of us look for love in only one kind of relationship: the romantic kind. But real love between friends involves real self-gift, and we can’t overlook that, or set it aside as somehow not important.

I’ve been amazed and humbled throughout my life, but in this year especially, by the plethora of wonderful friends God has put in my path. And now, as more and more of them are moving on to new chapters and new places, I’m touched by how regularly they maintain some level of contact with me. I used to think friendships all faded away naturally with time. Granted, moving all the time didn’t help. But more importantly, I never made the choice to stay friends with people after I moved away, and they did not choose to remain friends with me. We were not intentional about our friendships, so they faded out.  

Of course, a friendship has to be based on something substantial to last. If we’re friends because we play soccer together or watch football or talk shop after work, or go to the same school, sing in the same choir, etc., the relationship will most likely fizzle out when we can’t do those things together anymore. And that’s fine. It’s good to have friends of all types and all levels of closeness. But if you haven’t really taken the time to choose any of your friends in a particular way, to spend time and go deep and really build bonds that can last, then I challenge you to do so. Look at your friendships now. What are they based on? Is it a mutual love of a thing or an activity — or underlying all that, is there a mutual love of a Person?

Don’t be afraid to be selective about the people you choose to get close to, either. My lifetime goal is always to “friend up.” Make sure your friends are people who will help you become better, even as you help them the same way.

Part of purposeful living is being purposeful (or intentional) about your relationships — all of your relationships. For myself, I realized recently that I was so busy trying to be “friends” with so many people I was losing sight of the friends I’d really like to keep as the years go on. I’m trying to pull back and focus on those relationships. I’ve had to select the few I will make time for every week, no matter what. I’m also trying to be better about keeping in touch with dear friends who have moved far away — even if it’s just a quick text message on a Tuesday morning or a shared post via Facebook, I want them to know I’m thinking about them. Ultimately I’d love to get back into letter-writing, but I’m afraid we’re not quite there yet.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve realized I need to work on is praying for my friends every day. I pray in a general way, “God bless all my friends,” but specific, intentional prayer for particular friends is so important. 

Friendship is a two-way street, of course, as we all know. And the old saying is too true: to have a friend, you must be one. And in order to be a friend, you have to make and re-make that choice on a daily basis, to put yourself out there, to give of yourself, and to love with intention.

Yes, many relationships in our lives will come and go, but if you’re realizing you can’t hold down a friend for more than a year or two, look at your intention. Maybe it’s time for a gut check: dive a little deeper and make some firmer commitments to at least one or two relationships. Again, friend “groups” are not the same thing as friends. Groups come and go. But real friends can last a lifetime…if you’re intentional about it. 

-Mabel

Image