on belonging, you & me.

Flickr Creative Commons: Raccoon Photo
Flickr Creative Commons: Raccoon Photo

When I was in the sixth grade, best friend necklaces were all the rage – you know, those stain-your-neck pewter ones from Claire’s with a divided “BE FRI” on half, and an “ST END” on the other end.  Katie and I wore ours with pride, staking claim to each other, to that secret bond we held in common, to the way we belonged to each other.

And whether you’re 12 or 73, at the end of the day, we all just want to belong.  We want to find belonging in our friendships and in our families, in our marriages and in our singleness, with our children and in our churches.

We want someone to stake claim to us.

So we buy the shirts and we wear the hats. We show up to gatherings and we voice our opinions. We connect the dots in relationships new and old as we yearn for something deeper, something more.

You and me, we’re humans.  And we humans have an innate need to belong, one to the other.  We have a need to be told that we matter – that you, my friend, matter, deeply, to your core – and that life here on this precious earth wouldn’t be the same without you in it.

Lately, our older son Cancan, who’s two and a half, has been noticing humans.  We’ll be driving down the road, and I’ll see his sticky toddler hand point toward his window.

“Who’s that?”

“That’s a person.”

“Who’s that?”

“That’s a person, too.”

“Why?”

“Well, because persons are humans.”

“Why?”

“Well, because humans matter, buddy.  You and me, we matter.  And every single person on this earth, they’re humans, and they matter just because they’re humans.”

“Who’s that?”

And so our conversation continues, his curiosity growing with every person we see as we drive down the road.  Sometimes the HBH (Hot Black Husband) and I make up names for these stranger-humans – That’s Jane!  That’s Bob!  There’s Henry! – but usually we answer his questions with different variations of person, human, peoples, woman and man.

But as children often do to we adults, as I talk to my son about persons and humans and the simple fact of mattering, my heart softens in the process.

I see the kid waiting at the bus stop, his hair stained a deep magenta, more piercings in his nose, his ears, his mouth than needles in my mama’s pin cushion.  And I think to myself, he matters too.

I see the older Asian woman, the one hunched over her cane, cloth bags precariously balancing on the wooden handle.  And even though her wrinkled face seems to scowl at me, I can’t help but remember that she too matters, deeply.

Desmond Tutu calls it ubuntu, because your humanity is inextricably tied up in mine.  You matter simply because you are human.  And your humanness is tied up in mine – so because of that, because you’re a human and because I’m a human and every single Loved-by-God person on this earth is a human – we find our belonging.  We discover and realize and grab hold of the simple fact  that we belong.

Even without the best friend necklaces.

Even without the clubs and the churches and the private Facebook groups we subscribe to.

We realize that we belong simply and solely because of humanity’s stamp.

Truth be told, I’ve had belonging on my mind ever since I got my hands on my friend Erin’s new book, Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment PhobeYou might remember her words just last week, how a C-shaped television tray becomes a nightly ritual in every right and hungry way.  Because Erin took this concept – not of television trays, but of belonging – and wrote an entire book about it.  Take this paragraph, for example, which is one of my favorites:

Middle-schoolers live close to the nerve of belonging.  They can name its pain and pulses clearly.  When popular research professor Brene Brown interviewed a bunch of eight graders about their definition of the word, they offered this distinction: Fitting in means I have to be like you.  Belonging means I get to be me.  Did you catch that little word “get”?  To “get” to be ourselves means that belonging is both a gift we receive and a pilgrimage we make.  To be our authentic selves requires some getting to, some working out, some travelling toward as we discern the “me” we get to be.  Learning to belong is lifetime work.

So friends, let’s embrace belonging this year.  Let’s embrace how we humans belong, one to the other, simply because of our humanness, and let’s embrace how we belong to God and to those we deem our people, to our churches and our communities and our places of work.  Because, as Erin said, learning to belong is lifetime work.

But I’m up for it.

Are you?

Erin, as you may know by now, is one of my favorites, and I’m STOKED to give away two copies of her new book, Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe.  She is witty and brilliant, unapologetically feminist and endearingly herself – and I’m telling you, this book will stay with you a long, long time.  Leave a comment, win a copy!  Winners will be announced on Friday, March 13th.   

saying good-bye (& peanut butter s’mores bars)

We’ve been saying a lot of good-byes lately.  While each of these departures are for good, excellent, better reasons – marriage, a new job, a cheaper place to hunker down and start over – I mourn the loss of My People.

Still, I cling to that last hug.  Sometimes the tears come, but usually they show up later.  Because later  is when it’s going to hit me.  Later is when the void of their presence becomes real to me.  Later is when I’m going to wish that I could gather all my favorites together, and not let them go.  So, maybe I’ll dead bolt the doors, or drug them, or simply move us all to a commune so we can live off the land forever – whatever my mode of containment, I’m bound and determined to keep them close.

I suppose that’s why therapists cite that moving can be one of the most vicious forms of grief: because that person, those people, they still exist.  They’re still around, but they don’t live three doors down any longer.  You don’t gather on the front lawn to throw the ball with your dogs anymore, nor do you meet up over the lunch hour to trek the side streets of South San Francisco for a walk any more.

They’re not where you left them.  

And life, as it tends to do, goes on with you.  Their lives go on without you in it.

I was reading my friend Erin’s book the other day, and I can’t get the following quote regarding adult friendships out of my mind:

‘Professor Rebecca Adams was quoted in a New York Times article called “Friends of a Certain Age” explaining that the three conditions for adult friendships are “proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.’

Because there are those friends that will stay with you forever, the ones you’ve known since you were five.  You know their families and you hold every juicy, dirty detail of their adolescent lives; you love them still despite the ways you’ve both changed, the separate paths you’ve taken.  But friendships formed in adulthood are different because these are the ones we choose, and, as Adams shows in the above quote, these are also the ones that choose us.  

We said good-bye to one of those “Friends of a Certain Age” earlier today.

IMG_4221
The zoo, as we do.

Jen (or “Auntie,” as Cancan’s taken to calling her), along with her husband Ryan and two young boys, have lived just a couple doors down from us for the past year and a half.  To say that we conquered proximity in friendship is therefore an understatement.  Then, because there’s this joint playground in the middle of our neighborhood, we became friends whose children play on the playground together, and friends who occasionally drink a glass of cold chardonnay on the side of the playground together if it’s been One of Those Days.  And that led to us becoming friends who do dinner together, and friends who watch football together, and friends who walk miles at the San Francisco zoo together.

And eventually we became friends who enter through each other’s backyard gate, which really, if you ask me, is the best kind.  You no longer knock, because it’s just assumed that you’ll open the latch and let yourself in.

By doing so, you essentially say:

You are welcome.  You are welcome here.  I let you in.  

For those are the words that classify My People.  We celebrate and we mourn, we laugh and we tell stories, we hope and we commiserate and we do real life, one with the other.  And on our last night together, we let Chef Ryan do what he does best and cook, but our family also brings over a plate of perfectly gooey, perfectly messy, perfectly brimming-with-life peanut butter s’mores bars to share.

Because, Auntie, those treats seem to perfectly capture …us.

Peanut Butter S’mores Bars*

Ingredients:

1/2 cup unsalted butter + a sprinkle of sea salt over the top
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup graham cracker crumbs (about 8 graham crackers squares)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup peanut butter
1 cup marshmallow, cut-up or minis

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9×9 square inch pan with aluminum foil, letting it hang over the edges.

In a large bowl, mix together nearly melted butter and brown sugar.  Grab a fork and mix until combined.  (I know, amazing.  You can just use a fork to mix ingredients together – who knew?).  Add vanilla extract and egg, mix and set aside.

In a separate bowl, toss flour, graham cracker crumbs and baking powder together.  [Don’t have crumbs on hand?  Grab 8 graham crackers from your child’s stash, throw in a Ziploc baggie and pound mercilessly.]  Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.  Mix well.

Press 2/3 of graham cookie dough into the bottom of the pan.  Spread marshmallow creme on top – or, if you’re like me and don’t happen to have marshmallow creme on hand, cut up a bunch of marshmallow, covering the dough.  Same thing, people, same thing.  Sprinkle chocolate chips on top, in between and around the marshmallows.  Then, melt the peanut butter in the microwave for about a minute and pour yummy, delectably salty peanut butter all over your creation.  Top with remaining third of dough.

Bake the bars for 25-30 minutes.  Do yourself a favor and don’t stick a toothpick in it, because if you do, it will come out perfectly gooey and you might get worried.  Well, fret not.  The bars are perfect.

Allow bars to cool for 10 minutes before serving and eating the entire pan yourself.  Say “I love you, self,” and shove another in your mouth.

The end.

* = adapted from this original recipe

So, what about you?  How do you do with good-byes?  And do you agree with the above quote about adult friendships?  As per the recipe, do not pass go.  Do not collect two hundred dollars, but get your hiney to the kitchen and make these, STAT.

what’s saving my life right now.

If you’ve been tracking with me for any length of time, you know the love affair that’s begun with BBT (or Barbara Brown Taylor, for those of you who prefer names in whole), how I salivate over her writing.  She was my author of the year in 2014, although I don’t think I’ll be letting her books go any time soon.  Well, the other day, popular blogger Modern Mrs. Darcy wrote about what’s saving her life, referencing a story from Leaving Church.

She (MMD) writes this:

Once when Taylor was invited to speak at a gathering, her host told her simply, “Tell us what is saving your life right now.” She says it’s too good a question not to revisit from time to time.

I couldn’t agree more.  Besides that speaking prompt being dreamier than dreamy to someone like me, I appreciate the way MMD invites her readers in and asks them to do the same.

So, what is saving your life right now?

1.  Going to the gym.  Let me rephrase: taking advantage of childcare at the gym so I can get 45 minutes of Elliptical-filled alone time.

2.  Early mornings with this book, although I’m also excited to dive into one of the last books published before his recent death.

3.  This brilliant machine:

20091015crockpot

Seriously y’all, tonite’s dinner is brought to you by a can of Rotel tomatoes, a jar of Trader Joe’s Cowboy Caviar, a handful of spices and a couple of chicken breasts.  We’ll see how it dishes out over a plate of tacos!

4.  Our tried and true Nespresso machine.  Because, obviously.

5.  The television show that should come complete with its own box of Kleenex:

cast-of-parenthood-on-tv-nbc

6.  This quote from Erin Lane’s new book (read it! read it!), and My People associated with it:

‘Professor Rebecca Adams was quoted in a New York Times article called “Friends of a Certain Age” explaining that the three conditions for adult friendships are “proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.’

7.  A year-long membership to the San Francisco zoo.  Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!  

8. Half an avocado + lime juice + a pinch of salt = heaven in a spoon.

9.  Group texts with Mama and Sister, All Serious, All the Time:

IMG_4464

That’s about it.  What about you?  What’s saving your life this winter?  

the 2015 reading challenge (MMD).

As I sit here packing for a cross country trip in the morning with little Frodo, I can’t help but realize that I’m most excited to decide which books I’ll read in flight.

Giddy giddy giddy giddy.

Book nerd, I know.

Subsequently, I’ve also decided that it’s best to prolong packing as long as humanly possible by finishing a blog I started a few weeks ago on my 2015 reading goals.  This follows the directive from one of the best book-bloggers out there, Modern Mrs. Darcy, who published a 2015 reading challenge.  Friends, her twelve reading ideas are simple and glorious.

So, what’dya say we hunker down and get our read on?

2015-Reading-Challenge

A book you’ve been meaning to read: God’s Forever Family (Larry Eskridge) – my grandfather helped found Jews for Jesus, and was key in San Francisco’s Jesus People Movement in the 70’s …and this is the story.

A book published this year: Lessons in Belonging (Erin Lane) – Erin and I were roommates at a writing festival earlier this year, and I can’t wait to cheer on her book which comes out next month.

A book in a genre you don’t typically read: {poetry} Sailing Alone Around the Room (Billy Collins) – you may recall a post from about a year ago, “You know, those kind of people,” in which I esteemed our friends who also happened to introduce us to this poet.

A book from your childhood: Jacob I Have Loved (Katharine Paterson) – this was one of my favorite books in middle school, and I’d love to pick it up again!

A book your mom loves: The Black Rose (Thomas B. Costain) – I even own a copy.  There is no excuse.  Sorry Mom.

A book that was originally written in a different language: The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon) – this too has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. Do I fear committing to potentially life-changing books?

A book “everyone” has read but you: The Silver Star (Jeannette Walls) – well, I don’t know if everyone has read this, but everyone except me who loves Jeannette Walls has read this novel.

A book you chose because of the cover: The Corrections (Jonathan Franza) – you eat, I eat, we all eat the 50’s family feast!

thecorrections

A book by a favorite author: Small Victories (Anne Lamott) – and I have not started reading Saint Anne’s book because?

A book recommended by someone with great taste: The White Tiger (Aravind Adiga) – plus I have a thing for Indian literature.  Done.

A book you should have read in high school: A Tale of Two Cities (Dickins) – do I even admit what I’m about to profess?  I do.  I EVEN TAUGHT THIS BOOK …without ever having read it.  Shame on me, shame on me.  (And yes, it is possible to fill up a week’s worth of summer reading conversations with So what did YOU think about the book, Joe Student?  Tell me more!)

A book that’s currently on the bestseller list: Yes Please (Amy Poehler).  Okay, I’m totally cheating since I already read this earlier this month, but since Modern Mrs. Darcy’s instructions were to read one of these books a month, I win!

And the best part?  I have all but ONE of these sitting on my shelves, waiting to be read.  Winner, winner chicken dinner.

Happy reading!

So, what about you?  Want to join me in reading any of the above books?  What books would fill YOUR twelve categories?

*FYI, Amazon Affiliate links in the above post!