you can breathe now

After starting to write this blog I’ve realized I have a lot to say about what it looks like to love your neighbor. I think in response to that, I have decided to start a little mini-series on here. I think I’m going to unofficially call it “Adventures in loving those around us” … Sounds a little cheesy but I think it’s something my heart is being drawn to. So I’m going to start going big instead of going home and I’m going to write about things I’m observing.
I’m going to start off a little on the light side and talking about loving that neighbor that’s your bestie…
I also realize that I have said a lot about relationships lately, yet at the same time I haven’t said enough. I haven’t been able to really put into words the things that have been mulling around in my head as of late. So here’s another attempt…
During one’s first year of Seminary there are a series of tests that you have to take to find out more about yourself and what you need to work on in Seminary. One of them is the infamous Myers-Briggs. Upon taking it I wasn’t shocked to find out I’m a pretty strong Extravert. Not new news to me. I’ve always known that I’m a people person. I’m fueled by people.
In Seminary and ministry alike it’s important to know what fuels you. If you’re an introvert than that’s important to recognize and embrace so that you can refuel every once and a while with some alone time. If you’re an extravert, like a lot of pastors, it seems as if you are golden, considering that in ministry you are often with people.
So last week, after several days of being with people all day, I should have been feeling great, right? Wrong. I was exhausted. It’s a common misconception that Extraverts can and will be fueled by being with people – any people group. Being in Seminary I have discovered that this is very untrue, especially for me.
It can basically be distinguished by a question asked of me on Friday night by one of our incoming students. After confessing that I was exhausted even though our orientation had gone so well and I was loving every moment of it, I had said something about although I am an extravert, this kind of thing sometimes drain me more than fuel me. Then he asked, “So, who do you have in your life that refuels you without you being a resource to them?”
It was a complicated question, especially coming off of a few days of being introduced as “Alicia Vela, President of SA.” I had my “president” hat on at all times. It’s exhausting always being the person with the answers. Even though for the most part I love this position, it is exhausting.
The question this new friend asked me got me thinking. Who in my life are the people that fuel me? As an extravert, where do I go for some refueling time? Who in my life allows me to hang out with them without being a resource to them?
It was pretty obvious because that particular night, instead of going home or going out with the group of people who were all going to hang out, I went to the apartment of two close friends and watched a movie. I was on E after a crazy week and instead of being alone, I chose to go hang out with two people that refuel me. Sure, I didn’t get a ton of sleep that night but the next morning I was ready for another day of crazy orientation. ((disclaimer: I have several people in my life here like this, these two aren’t the only ones, just a recent example.))
See, in ministry (and in Seminary) we need to be able to be honest with ourselves about who in our lives are life-giving. Who do we go to when we are exhausted and need nothing more than to sit on a couch and watch a dumb movie. Who do we let our guard down with completely, enough so that they become insiders in our world.
There’s a quote by an author I love that encourages us to seek out people that think the way we think. To surround ourselves with others that see life as an adventure, that help us to see the beauty all around us. I would also encourage us to find the people that accept us when we have nothing left to give. The people who embrace us in those moments.
Who is it in your life? Who are the people that you’re never too tired to see? Who are the people in your life who you let see all of you? The people that show up no matter what?
Once you have identified those people, show up for them. Friendship is a two way street. It is hard, it is messy, it is sometimes complicated and hard. But it is one of the most beautiful things we have on earth. We need to show our friends the respect and honor that this vulnerability deserves. We need to be there when it’s hard and painful, when it’s pee your pants funny, when it’s boring, when it’s awkward … we need to be there at all times, in all seasons. Even when we don’t know what to say. Even when we’ve done wrong and don’t know how to fix it.
Because we were called to love one another. And this is just one aspect of that love.

I'm walking on the wire and you're holding me steady

I’ve moved around a lot.  I moved as a toddler, as a high school student, right after college, then a year later, then two years later, then a year later…  So you could say that this type of lifestyle doesn’t exactly breed deep, long lasting friendships.  I grew up in a small town where you know everyone in town and everyone knows you.  I moved early on in high school to a school that opened brand new and no one really knew each other.  So graduating high school was great, but wasn’t with people I had known my whole life.  Back then we didn’t even really have many ways to keep in touch with those people I grew up with.
I have one friend that I keep in touch with from high school.  And the irony of that is we didn’t even know each other in high school.  We met in a bible study in college.  I commuted all four years of college and didn’t make a ton of close friends in Boulder.  Although I had close friends that I made outside of school.  Then I graduated from college and moved away.  I lived in MI for 6 months, then moved home, then to Kansas City where I stayed a year and a half.  Then Colorado for a year, and now I’m starting my second year in Chicago.
I should also mention, I kind of suck at long distance friendships.  Twitter/phones/blogs/google+ etc makes it a little easier but altogether I’m pretty bad at it.  So I have that going against me.
Then add in that I’m probably the worst friend to my closest friends.  I know how backwards that sounds but I am flighty at times.  I am a text book social butterfly and constantly need to be moving.  I’m also a text book non-innitiater.  Add those things together it’s super easy for my closest friends to feel the most neglected.  So there’s another strike.
But the thing is, I long for those close relationships.  I long to have people just get me, understand why certain things enrage me, make me cry, make me laugh.  Those are the relationships that fuel me, that make me really feel loved.  And I dream of some day being able to say “Oh, we’ve been friends for 20/30/40 years”.  I want to have those relationships, but knowing that I’m not very good at them makes it difficult.
I becamse increasinly aware of this and thankful for grace last night.  I was sitting on the couch next to my best friend and after a night mix-ups and delays, we were celebrating their 5th anniversary with pizza and their dvr.  I remember their wedding like it was yesterday.  I remember them meeting a year before that and walking alongside of her while she realized this was the man she loved and wanted to spend her life with.  She’s the person who knows the most about me on this earth.  As we were sitting there, casually catching up on our weeks, I made some remark about an immature decision I made that week, and she called me on it without missing a beat.  With no more than 10 words she gave me about 15 reasons why I needed to walk away from this particular situation.  It was amazing.  A task only she could accomplish that efficiently.
See, relationships take a lot of work up front.  We all know that.  It takes dedication and vulnerability.  But the long term takes work too.  It takes phone calls, email, visits, intentionality.  All things I’m less than great at.  Which is why I am thankful for the grace of my close friends, you know who you are, who allow me to be forgetful, call me out on it and talk it out so we can move on.
Friendships.  When done right are a phenomenon.  They don’t make sense that people could possibly love you this much and you them.  It’s not logical that we can learn to depend on someone else in a way that we do our friends.  It’s not logical to let someone in that far, with the chance to break your heart.  And yet, we do it.  Sometimes it turns out well, sometimes it hurts like hell.  But one thing’s for sure.  It’s totally worth it.
Cause like I’ve said on here before, friends can’t actually change things in your life to make it suck less.  But they can sit around a table with you, on a roof in Chicago and make you laugh.  They can encourage you, speak to your soul, love you when you don’t love yourself and basically, be Jesus to you.
So go out, tell those you love the most that you appreciate them.  And try to be Jesus to them, learn to love them better.

Roll away your stone, I'll roll away mine

The lyrics to this song have been playing over in my head for a few weeks now.  These lines in particular:
It seems as if all my bridges have been burned
You say that’s exactly how this grace thing works
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart
But the welcome I receive at the restart 
I’m not going to pretend that I am inside this song writer’s head at all, but I’ve been mulling over what exactly he may mean in these lyrics, and in this whole song.  I don’t wanna over spiritualize the song because it’s not a Christian band but at the same time, I know that the band members at one time or another were all followers of Christ, regardless of what their current beliefs are.  That being said, let’s talk about these lyrics for a few minutes.
There’s a part of me that thinks that this song is about grace within a community and maybe the way that people interact with each other.  That line that says, “You say that’s exactly how this grace thing works” in response to his saying that he feels like all his bridges are burned … that line has been etched into my mind these last couple weeks.  So last night, while listening to this band, I decided to feel out what my friends thought of this lyric.  So I found the exact lyrics and asked for thoughts.
“It kind of sounds a little Prodigal Son-y”
I thought about this some and came to the conclusion that she was right.  I’m not sure that it was the long walk of shame back to his father that helped to change the heart of the son, but rather the welcome he got when he admitted it was time for a new start.  That’s how this grace thing works.
Then I started thinking about it within community.  How do we play out this grace thing in community?  I mean our eternal life depends on our personal relationship with Jesus and the Lord but for some people, they need to see how this grace thing works on earth, with real people.  So then I begin to wonder about how grace plays out with those around us.
See grace is tricky.  I think it is something you learn to be good at.  I think it takes a lot of trial and error.  But I also don’t think we ever really master it.  I think it’s something best lived out in community, honest hard messy community.  Because I think for us to really be able to be a community, to show each other grace, it requires a vulnerability that is hard.  A vulnerability that puts us at risk of getting hurt.
The problem with that vulnerability is that we are just sheep, as Jesus calls us.  It’s not a compliment, it’s more of a scapegoat.  Sheep are dumb animals, they need a leader to show them where to go.  And sometimes, sheep bite each other.  They don’t really know they’re doing it or why they’re doing it but it happens.  And sometimes, we as people bite each other without meaning it, without trying or knowing why.  We are just sheep being sheep.
And that fact makes it hard to have grace with each other.  Because the bites are painful and they hurt.  And sometimes we tend to shut down after they happen, but that’s not how this grace thing works.  We have to learn to give grace unconditionally and continue to give ourselves.  Continue to walk alongside others in the midst of the crap that we do to each other.
But that’s hard.  and at times it feels like it’s not worth it.  It feels like we need to shut down when we get hurt.  It feels like we have to put that stone back so as to prevent that hurt from ever happening again.  But we have to fight that.  We have to try and continue to let people in enough to hurt us.
This is no easy task.  It’s hard.  And I have no answers as to how to do it well considering it’s something I struggle with.  But I think it’s worth thinking about at the very least.