Monday, December 29, 2014

To Do in 2015: Get Better at Adulting

Written in collaboration with Alissa Birchard Lozano

I always wanted to grow up. 

Because of my desire for early-onset adulthood, I started working at the age of fourteen, bought a car as soon as I could afford one, and left home at seventeen. I wanted more space and fewer boundaries; not so that I could sow wild oats, but so that I could be an adult, boldly shouldering all of the choices, challenges, and responsibilities that adulthood entails.

When I graduated from college, I finally felt the adult life opening up before me like a long-distance highway. I sensed its irresistible pull and couldn't wait to see what lay around each bend.  I would climb mountains, ford rivers, see visions, dream dreams. 

I would be an adult.

I never once suspected that I might be bad at it. 

Adulthood would open new and exciting vistas, all right. New and exciting vistas of screwing things up.

As I sit here now, knee-deep in my thirties, viewing adulthood from the inside out, I can't get past the feeling that everyone else my age is an adult, but that I am just the same as I always was, only now with some grey hair and more of a pear shape. 

Fortunately, I have a friend who's in the same boat, which makes me feel somewhat comforted (although no less inept). Alissa and I are amazed that we actually managed to hold down successful careers while simultaneously being absurdly bad at adulthood.

Below, you will find a list of some of our more brainless moves, all of which took place somewhere between our respective college graduations and this very month, December of 2014. (For me, that's a period of nearly fifteen years; for Alissa, somewhat less.) I've rewritten them all in my style and attached our names to none of the events, leaving you to guess which absurdities belong to which "adult." 

To Do in 2015: Fewer Things Like This

  • I left my garage door open and the inner door to my house unlocked while I was at work all day. My police officer neighbor came into my house (witnessing who knows what devastation), left me a note to remind me to be more responsible, and locked up the house for me.
  • I hate shopping and will put it off as long as possible, to the point that sometimes I run out of toilet paper and have to resort to other alternatives. 
  • I tried to refill my small sugar bowl from the Tupperware of sugar in the pantry and dumped two pounds of sugar all over my kitchen counter and onto the floor. I was running late and had to leave the mess there until later. (This has happened more than once.) 
  • My bedroom has an outside entrance door to the back yard. I recently discovered that I'd left this door unlocked …. for two years.
  • Last year my power got turned off twice because I kept forgetting to pay the bill. It's not that I didn't have any money. I just kept forgetting. 
  • I recently let someone ride in the backseat of my car. She complained that there was nowhere to put her feet because the entire floor was covered in half-full bottles of water.
  • Once I got pulled over for speeding and had to ask the officer to let me get out of my car to retrieve my ID from the trunk. He stood next to me with his hand on his service weapon, just in case, while I dug my license out of the pocket of a pair of pants in a laundry basket overflowing with dirty clothes.
  • I accidentally went shopping without money. When I realized my error, I left the cart full of groceries in the aisle.
  • I dropped a bottle of nail polish off the kitchen table. It shattered, and deep red polish went everywhere. I spent twenty minutes trying to clean nail polish out of the grout between the tiles without damaging my own freshly-painted nails. (It went about as well as you're imagining.) 
  • When the GPS directions contradict posted signs, I will follow the GPS every time. This has never turned out well, but I can't seem to stop myself. 
  • I've had to get my car towed because I've run out of gas. 
  • I have been known to leave dishes piled up to the faucet in my sink. For weeks.
  • I tried to make dinner in the crock pot, but I accidentally doubled the spice, and it turned out too spicy to eat. I'd invited a friend over for dinner and had nothing else to serve, so she stood there watching me rinse the meat off with cold water in the sink before serving it. It was still almost inedible. 
  • I never put clothes away. I just have two piles: clean and dirty.
  • I hit a mailbox and shattered the side mirror of a car that I'd borrowed from someone else. The mailbox seemed fine, so I just drove away. 
  • Sometimes while I'm driving somewhere, I forget what I'm doing and drive to a different place entirely. When I arrive, not only do I have no idea what I'm doing there, but I also will sometimes have trouble remembering where I had intended to go in the first place. 
  • While eating out, I sometimes forget whose drink is whose, and I drink out of other people's cups by accident. And by "sometimes," I mean "an embarrassing number of times." The fact that it's a different beverage doesn't seem to phase me. 
  • I leave my credit cards everywhere: in the car, in the pockets of jeans, on top of the dryer, etc. When I can't find them, I fall into a sweaty panic and worry about how long I should wait before I call the bank to cancel them. But they usually turn up. (Often after I've canceled them.)
  • I have worn clothes backwards and inside-out to work. I mean backwards and inside-out at the same time. I've also turned up in mismatched shoes. 
  • I had to call a friend at the very last minute to borrow her car because I'd locked the keys in mine and was about to miss an important meeting. 
  • I've tried to pay for items with my library card more often than I'd care to admit. My library card and my credit card look nothing alike. 
  • The last time I got sick, I slept all night on the bathroom floor with my head on the scale. 

We share this list partly for your amusement, partly as a cautionary tale, and partly to stand in solidarity with all of the other pseudo-adults out there who find themselves stranded in the same (bumbling, inefficiently-operated) boat. 

We're hoping that 2015 will be the year in which those of us who struggle with adulting will finally turn it all around.

Or at least learn to enjoy the ridiculousness of it all, because sometimes that's the best you can do. 

* * * *

Caveat: I have not yet read Kelly Williams Brown's book Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps

It's on the list.

Monday, December 22, 2014

How to Keep Christmas

Sometimes lyrics of popular holiday songs express the wish that Christmas last all year. 

I'm all for keeping the twinkle lights, the extra concerts and shows, the peppermint mocha coffee, the lavish meals, the bonus time with family and friends, and the renewed focus on the wonder of Christ's Advent. But what of the long lines in stores? the snarled traffic? bad weather? frantic schedules? the inevitable weight-gain and post-holiday let-down? the rampant materialism? These we could do without, of course.

In a way, though, Christmas could last all year long, if only we were willing to keep the positive aspects of the season and discard the frivolous. After all, warmth, generosity, hospitality, and good cheer are inherently Christian values, and Christ's Advent into a dark world should always be at the front of our minds.

If you read Tolkien, you may be familiar with these words, spoken by Thorin Okenshield, the conflicted dwarf king of The Hobbit

"If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."

As much as we may love food, cheer, and song, they're not what Christmas is about; however, they're aspects of Christmas that we would do well to diffuse throughout the year.

Protestant reformer William Tyndale, who worked on an early English translation of the Bible, notes that the Greek word εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion) signifies "good, mery, glad and joyfull tydinge, that maketh a mannes hert glad, and maketh hym synge, daunce, and leepe for joye." (Got to love that early 16th century spelling!)

Euangelion is translated gospel in our English Bibles. How appropriate to focus on this definition at Christmas. I say this not because December is a time when the world comes together with singing, dancing, and good cheer, but because the gospel message is the core of Christmas, and in this manner should we carry it with us through the year: not with dour pronouncements or pompous self-righteousness, but courage, warmth, and unflagging joy.

With "good, mery, glad and joyfull tydinge, that maketh a mannes hert glad, and maketh hym synge, daunce, and leepe for joye."

Monday, December 15, 2014

What We Have in Common with Mary: An Advent Meditation

Photo by By Robert Whitehead (Danielle & Lilliyan Flickr)
[CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
One of the unfortunate aspects of living in the Protestant tradition is the unhealthy avoidance of Mary. 

Although your church, like mine, might read Mary's Song as part of the Advent service, or might mention her role as mother of Christ during the reading of the Christmas Story, the sermons and applications drawn from Mary's life alone have been few and far between. 

Part of this may be seen as an attempt at over-correction from the Catholic tradition of idolizing Mary (literally). I can understand that concern, but like all strong women included in the Biblical record, Mary's life holds distinct lessons for us. 

Her spiritual path may have been unique, but that doesn't mean that she shares no areas of commonality with people like you and me.

What We Have in Common with Mary:

God took notice of us. 

Almost the first words out of Mary's mouth during her hymn of worship highlight her awareness that God took notice of her lowly estate and would transform her into something that she never could have become on her own.
My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
Really, who would any of us be if not for the grace of God reaching down to our lowly estate and lifting us to the saving knowledge of the Godhead?

Our significance is not in a spouse.

The only time that Joseph is mentioned in Scripture is in relation to his role as Mary's husband and Jesus' earthly father (primarily Luke 2). Likewise, the only times that Mary is mentioned is in relation to the life of her son, Jesus. Therefore, apart from their roles as the earthly parents of Jesus, Joseph's and Mary's stories don't figure into the biblical narrative -- and really, why should they? What makes Joseph relevant is not that he's Mary husband, and what makes Mary noteworthy is not that's married to Joseph. 

What made each of their lives significant is the same aspect that gives significance to each of us: our relationship to Jesus.

We know the what but not the how. 

When God's angel appeared to Mary, he told her a few things: that she would give birth to a son and name him Jesus, that he would reign on David's throne, and that his kingdom would never end. There's a lot of powerful theology packed into those few tight phrases, and it's doubtful that Mary understood it all going forward in the same way that we now understand it in retrospect.

Do you think that when Mary heard the angel's words she pictured herself at the foot of a cross, witnessing her child ravaged by wrath? 

As believers in the Word, we have a similar experience every time we claim the promises of God. He's revealed enough for us to know what he plans to accomplish in the long-term, but we're rarely able to guess the how

May God give us grace and a fresh moving of the Spirit this Advent season to open our eyes to these timeless truths in a very real way. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

How to Make Friends, Part 7 of 7: Share Some Common Interests. (Or Not.)

You like books? 

I like books too! 

We should probably be friends!

…or not. 

While I love to read and think it’s an important life investment, most of my closest friends aren’t exactly readers. I mean, they're not illiterate or anything.... And of course, we have a few other shared interests--our faith being a primary one. But honestly, I've found that unless you’re a little kid, shared interests aren’t necessarily the primary requisite to friendship. That’s because of all of the ways to make friends that I’ve mentioned over the past few weeks, all of them center on this: tangling your lives together.

Some call this shared experience. Others call it living in community.

I call it friendship.

The people I’ve become closest to over the years are ones that, at some point, I’ve lived life beside. We've gone to church together, worked out together, wrecked our diets together, pranked each other, helped out during times of (sometimes self-inflicted) disaster, traveled together, watched each other’s kids during family emergencies (well, I've watched their kids), and held each other accountable in every way that we can. 

We've eaten meals at a shared table and enjoyed each other's embarrassing moments and laughed with/at each other. We've been there to point out spinach stuck in teeth and kept track of whose jeans fit better this month than they did last month. (Okay, maybe nobody keeps track of that, exactly. But you know what I mean.)

We're not just "church friends" or "gym friends" or "book club friends" or "choir friends," but real, whole friends: people who are involved in each other's entire lives--who see the good, the bad, the mundane, and even the weird bits that we try to keep brushed to the side. 

Although friendship may initially be sparked by a common interest, real companionship transcends such trivial matters and finds its root in richer soil: in experience, trust, principle, affection, accountability, and the open exchange of ideas. 

In that last respect, having friends with whom you share disparate interests actually becomes a boon. 

Ask me how I know anything at all about dressage, Brazilian jiu jitsu, or running. How I learned a few things (perhaps a very few things) about pop culture and nutrition and the health benefits of dead lifting. 

How I must continually face the reality of what a foolish person I can be sometimes and how much I am in need guidance and spiritual accountability. 

How my soul has been enriched, blessed, and refreshed. 

It's all down to friendship. 

* * * *

Now brew some coffee (or organic tea, if you're the type) and take a half an hour to listen to this challenging talk on the value of Christian friendship:

Monday, December 8, 2014

How to Make Friends, Part 6 of 7: Listen.

Early in 2011, I started interviewing a woman at my church regarding a writing project that I was working on at the time. I knew very little about her, but I had already determined that although she was pleasant to spend time with, we had very little in common and were unlikely to become close friends.

How wrong I was...

Jodee, whom I  knew only in passing, had agreed to a series of interviews, and I looked forward to hearing her input on the matter at hand.

That's how it started.

We began meeting once a week for an hour or two after work.

We had this routine: I would show up at her front door, be mauled by her children, sniffed by her dog, and handed a cup of coffee. We'd quickly dispense with small talk; then we'd step out onto the back porch, check the patio furniture for snakes (she was still fairly new to Florida, and skittish), and sit down with a recorder between us.

Jodee would begin talking, and I would listen.

Just listen.

Other than asking a clarifying question here and there, I listened largely without interruption, taking it all in.

This went on for months.

This was the quietest I had ever been in the early days of a friendship (and therefore possibly the wisest, although it was an unwitting wisdom). I laugh now to think how surprised I was the day that I realized how similar we really are and that although the trappings of our lives are disparate, the essentials are the same.

The interviews came to an end after about a year, but the weekly coffee dates continued.

Jodee and Bethany created their own separate bond, and the three of us developed strong ties of fellowship, community, and love.

We started going for "family" meals, working out together, sharing book recommendations, studying the Bible together, and (eventually) even taking some very memorable trips riddled with hijinks and hilarity.

We're so close now that I sometimes have to remind myself that our friendship is still fairly new in terms of years; but what we lack in length, we've made up for in depth, entering fully into each other's lives, not sparing the unsightly bits that we're sometimes tempted to withhold from others out of pride or fear.

This sort of trust and understanding would likely never had developed if I hadn't spent those first few months committed to something in which I too rarely indulge: deep, constructive listening.

This is probably the only friendship I have that's based on so much early, focused listening. After all, I'm usually the one doing most of the talking in any given scenario.

I say this to my shame.

The Bible has plenty to say about the importance of listening--both to God and to others--and we'd all do well to pay heed to the advice of Scripture.

Also, please understand that when I say that I look up to Jodee, I mean that both literally and figuratively.

She is tall, she is wise, and she is strong.

I'm blessed to call her friend.

Monday, December 1, 2014

How to Make Friends, Part 5 of 7: Make Friends with the Entire Internet

All right, I admit that the title is mostly hyperbole. Of course you don't want to make friends with the entire internet: it's full of crazies and creeps.

However, if you're willing to take time to cultivate online friendships, you will find a host of absolutely brilliant people well worth knowing--people who, due to distance, you couldn't know any other way.

Naturally, online discourse cannot replace real human connection. That is not my argument at all. In order for these friendships to blossom, meet-ups must happen eventually.

If you are very careful, if you are very brave, and if you are willing to travel, you can have the chance to meet some of the most wonderful people.

Your life will be richer for it.

As I may have already mentioned, though, you have to be careful.

Please know that for all of the plans I've made to meet up with people over the years, I've never just sallied forth, willy-nilly. I have several rules to which I adhere. Take them for what they're worth.

Ruth's Official Rules of Meet-ups: 

1) Initial meetup must be in a public place. This greatly lowers my chances of stumbling into something sticky. We can enjoy tea in your cozy book room later, once I've ascertained that you don't plan to murder me and stash my remains under the floorboards.

2) Don't go alone. I rarely travel alone anyway. Given my penchant for injuring myself, that's just asking for trouble. If you're planning to meet up with a new friend, take someone with you; preferably someone who can knock someone's block off if he gets frisky (or, in my case, just to keep you from breaking your neck in the event of any unintentional self-inflicted injuries).

3) Don't meet up with anyone with whom you don't have a third-party connection who can confirm that this person is real, safe, and relatively normal. Unless you can prove to me that you are who you say you are through at the very least the friend of a friend, no dice. I must have met in person someone who has met you in person or who has a friend who has met you in person (and lived to tell the tale). Of course, the more people you meet, the easier this process generally becomes.

4) If it gets weird, leave. I'm talking bad-weird here, not good-weird or just weird-weird. Because good-weird and weird-weird can be fun, but bad-weird never is (except possibly in retrospect). In other words, I don't mind if you're a bit quirky (because let's be honest: pot, kettle, etc.), but if you seem to be a swirly-eyed lunatic, I'm out of there before the coffee stops steaming.

In short, although there are risks involved in cultivating online friendships, I've found that in the long run, the benefits far outweigh the hazards.

So.... wanna meet up?

Caveat: I have many, many more pictures of awesome meetups than I had time and space to post here.

To everyone who's put up with meeting me, thank you so much!

The pleasure really has been all mine.