In praise of space: 5 ways being an introvert makes my life (and the world) better

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I am an introvert.  Contrary to what lots of people seem to think, this doesn’t mean that I hate people.  It does mean that my brain and my spirit crave space.  A full calendar stresses me out, but one with room for long conversations enjoyed over coffee and plenty of time spent with a good book helps me feel calm and balanced.  This is who I am, and the truth is, I think it’s pretty great.  So without further ado, here are five ways that being an introvert makes my life (and the world) better.

  1.  It makes me a great teacher for certain kids: Almost without exception, visitors to my classroom full of busy five-year-olds comment on how calm and peaceful of an environment it is.  I love active, hands-on learning but I have a low tolerance for noise and frenzy.  My students learn this quickly and most of them adapt really well.  This makes my classroom a safe space for kids who are really nervous about school and for kids who are easily over-stimulated.  My own need for space also causes me to pause and give my students a minute to struggle and problem-solve before I step in to rescue.  Lots of times, that’s all they need to figure it out for themselves and feel a great sense of accomplishment.  No teacher is the best teacher for every single child, but there are plenty of kids who thrive in my classroom because I am rocking my introversion.
  2. My friends know I’m legit: Though I probably overuse the word “friend” more than anyone you know, there are few folks that I consider true friends.  As an introvert, it takes a lot of work for me to make a new friend.  Not to have a conversation.  Not to accept your friend request on Facebook.  Not to make eye contact and smile and ask about your kids.  I can do all that, no problem.  But to create the space to really know you, to share experiences and build trust, it’s hard.  All that being said, once we’re friends, I am all in.  I will fight for you and your family and your causes with all kinds of mama-bear ferocity.  I will give generously of myself and if you need me, I will drop everything and be there just as quick as my little Honda can get me there.  It may take a while, but once we’re friends, I’ve got your back.  Always.
  3. People listen when I speak up: Growing up, I never really felt ashamed of my introversion.  I did have a smattering of teachers through the years who would admonish me repeatedly to “speak up more in class.”  Here’s the thing.  I have a strong aversion to noise for the sake of noise.  If I have a thought that’s important enough to contribute, I’ll speak up.  Otherwise I won’t.  In many situations, I find that this makes my opinion more valuable to others.  My voice hasn’t become part of the background noise.
  4. I am teaching my daughter good boundaries: When I decline an invitation that would stretch us too thin, she is learning that balance and family time matter.  That she matters.  When I give her space to play by herself, she is learning that she doesn’t need constant affirmation to persist at a task.  She is smart.  When I give myself permission to rest and recharge at home, she is learning that self-care is important.  These are good lessons, important lessons for all of our kids.
  5. I meet Jesus in the space:  I believe in corporate worship, corporate prayer.  But the truth is that my heart is usually more open, my spirit more ready to listen away from the noise and the crowd.  I need some time and some space to mull, to process, to apply.  Since I know this about myself, I purposefully widen the margins of my life, making room for the Jesus-moments that (I hope) transform the way I interact with other people when I head back into the noise and the crowd.

So, there you have it.  Are you with me?  Super! 🙂

If not, I would love to read your list of five ways that being an extrovert makes your life (and the world) better.  Guest post, anyone?

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Why

The truth is, I am a little bit of a mess right now.

I tossed in my bed last night and cried for all of it.  All the hard, sad, broken, messed-upness of life.

Morning came too soon.  My seven year old was grumpy.  I was impatient.  For a fleeting moment, I considered hunkering down under a giant fleece blanket and calling it a day.

I didn’t.

Instead I bundled up my grumpy daughter and my impatient self and drove the both of us to church.  And this is why.

Because this morning six grown-ups stopped, looked into my daughter’s eyes, spoke gently and affirmed her as a valuable member of our faith community.

Because when I tried to sing, “It is well, it is well, through the storm, I am held,” no words would come.  Only tears.  And so I sat there and cried right in front of God and everybody.  And both the words that wouldn’t come and the tears that did were true.

Because listening to a roomful of people talk to Jesus all at once is pretty much what I think heaven will be like.  And all of those voices help me keep running (even when I am so very, very tired) because I know that the great cloud of witnesses is not just there, but here.  In this very room.

Because whether I like the songs, whether a particular sermon “speaks” to me, whether ministries are designed to meet my specific needs, whether we talk too much about money, whether worship calisthenics or high-fiving or panel discussions are my cup of tea, none of these matter so much.

Because I know, really-honestly-know in the very deepest part of who I am, that even when I am a little bit of a mess, church is as good a place for me to be as any.

That’s why.

Throwback Thursday: Choosing Single Motherhood

I am a single mother by choice.  I adopted my daughter from foster care and I’m hoping to bring another child into our family in the next few years.  What do I want you to know?

I want you to know that I don’t need your adulation.  I didn’t adopt to solve the orphan crisis, put feet to my pro-life convictions or make any kind of political or religious statement.  I didn’t adopt because I don’t think enough married couples are doing it.  I am not a hero and my daughter is not “lucky to have me.”

I want you to know that I don’t need your pity.  I didn’t adopt because I’ve given up on marriage or because I needed someone to love and need me.  I’ve never been under the illusion that this would be an easy path.  I am not a victim, and neither is my daughter.  She is one of the most resilient, tenacious people that I know.  Maybe if you are not also a single mom, you “don’t know how I do it.”  But if you knew your child was in foster care, I think you would do everything you could to bring her home, no matter who happened to live (or not live) in that home.

I want you to know that though I am not married, I am not raising my daughter “on my own.”  Unlike many single moms, I had the luxury of making certain before I chose motherhood that my daughter would have strong male and female role models committed to loving and teaching her.  I also have the luxury of tapping into a social support system that continues to provide great advice, encouragement and practical help.

I want you to know that I was scared beyond belief when I first decided to adopt as a single mom.  Not just about raising a child, but also about sharing my decision with many great folks in my life who happen to have very specific views about how a family is supposed to look.  I anticipated resistance, cautions and even hostility.  What I got instead was unconditional love, emotional support and three adoption showers.  After meeting my daughter, no one expressed concern or disapproval about how our family was formed.  In fact, I have felt more loved and supported since I embarked on this journey than ever before in my life.  I want you to know that if you are part of that support network for me or another single mom, you rock.  We need you.

I want you to know that despite this support, I feel tremendous pressure to represent my “single mom by choice” status in new situations.  If my daughter’s hair is a mess or she’s having a meltdown I worry that you’re thinking I never should have chosen to do this alone.  If I’m not smiling and telling you about my wonderful life, I worry that you’re judging my family to be second-best.  I know I shouldn’t care, but I do.

I want you to know that I spend my days playing Candyland, reading stories, folding laundry, trying to model self-control and compassion, loving unconditionally and wondering if it will be enough.  Just like you.

I want you to know that I love my daughter ferociously and I am one hundred percent convinced that we are supposed to be a family.  Though there are plenty of life choices that I regret, choosing single motherhood is not one of them.

Spent

The Macedonian church in 1 Corinthians 8 was a little wacky by today’s standards.  Though extremely poor and afflicted by severe trials, they pleaded with Paul for the opportunity to give generously to God’s work.  Without prompting, they chose to give what they were able—and even more.  And their giving overflowed with joy.

But why?  I think verse 5 is a crucial part of the story.  Here Paul tells us that these poor, afflicted, joyful givers gave not just their money, but themselves.  They gave themselves.  First to God, and then to God’s work.

Just this week, I was telling a friend about a particular experience and I described being “emotionally spent.”  If we’re honest, I think a lot of us feel this way a lot of the time.  The question, though, is on what have we spent ourselves?

How have we spent the best of our time, our energy, our talents and our passion?  Have we spent ourselves on behalf of the hungry and oppressed (Isaiah 58:10)?  Are we exhausted because we’ve been speaking hope to the brokenhearted, proclaiming freedom, comforting those who mourn and providing for the grieving (Isaiah 61:1-3)?  Have we given ourselves first to God and then to God’s work?

We live in a society where everything seems urgent.  People and tasks and electronic devices demand our attention at all hours of the day and night.  There are more opportunities than ever to spend ourselves in ways that don’t really matter.

Giving matters.

I believe that Jesus cares about how I spend my money.  I believe that he also cares about how I spend my life.

Today, before I head into the rush and noise of another week, I am choosing to give myself.  I am embracing the challenge to be spent on things that matter, on things that delight the heart of my Father.

That Time I Met Jesus in the Copy Room

Once upon a time, I worked at a non-profit.  I spent my days volunteering in classrooms, helping kids with homework, cooking pancakes and spaghetti, making up crazy skits and driving teenagers home after youth group.  And once a month, I had to write a “support letter” in hopes of convincing folks to keep sending money so that these things could keep happening.  I never really minded this task as much as many of my fellow interns… it was easy for me to pick out a story or two that showed how kids were benefiting from my friends’ generosity.  Because they were.  The part that I minded was the printing and copying of the support letters.

You see, this was in the olden days before everyone was connected a thousand ways on the internet.  And we had one old copy machine locked away in the basement.  Half the time it was broken and as most of the folks around specialized in teaching kids and teenagers, and not machine maintenance, making 30 copies of those letters often became quite an ordeal.

The truth is, I didn’t want to be bothered with trying to line up the letterhead and coax each page through the machine.  Surely this was wasting time that I could be spending doing the real work of loving kids and teaching them about Jesus.

One day I had pleaded for mercy from the long-suffering administrative assistant who had both master keys and mad expertise at clearing paper jams.  We were together in that basement room when her words rocked my world.  “You know,” she said, “people love to give to causes that stir their heart.  Everyone wants to buy gifts for poor kids at Christmas.  Everyone wants to donate toward an extreme home makeover for a single mom.  No one wants to repair copy machines.”

I met Jesus in the copy room that day.

My heart was stirred to see the necessity of the un-glamorous.  Someone has to give to keep that copy machine running.  And to keep the lights on.  And to put gas in the vans.  And to allow the administrative assistant to be able to feed her daughter.  I decided that if I ever got a “grown-up” job, I would not allow my giving to be restricted to causes with big, pleading eyes and heart-breaking stories.  I finished making those copies and sent off those letters and spent the rest of the year loving kids, having honest conversations about faith and fighting monthly with the copy machine.

Today I have a grown-up job and I’m blessed to be able to give to a variety of causes that stir my heart.  Goodness knows I am still a sucker for big, pleading eyes.  And I think that’s ok.  I also have an unwavering conviction in own my journey to do good, be rich in good works, be generous and willing to share (1 Timothy 6:18) that somebody’s got to keep that copy machine running too.

Because the truth is that the real work of Jesus’ transformation happens in classrooms and in churches.  At afterschool programs and on narrow city streets.  In kitchens and on sidewalks.  And sometimes even in that tiny copy room in the basement.

Throwback Thursday: God will fight the battle for you

(This one is from 2007.  I’ve been reading in Exodus 14 again this week and I love so much about this story.)

“God will fight the battle for you.  And you?  You keep your mouths shut!” [Exodus 14:14, The Message]

The words leapt off the page and bounced around inside my head.  I had heard the story of the Israelites and their exodus from Egypt since I was a little kid, but this time, I felt their pain.  I had found myself in the middle of what I felt to be a battle of my own… surrounded by students with needs bigger than I could ever begin to meet, frustrated by supervisors continuing to push for more, more, more when I felt like I had no more to give, embroiled in personal conflict that made each day a challenge (especially that “keeping my mouth shut” part!).  I was tired, and though I probably wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, I was scared too.  Scared that I would disappoint the people that I cared about, scared that, despite my frantic efforts and intense striving, I would fail as a teacher, as a friend, as a ‘good Christian.’  That cold night, God’s words to His people, Israel, were His words to me too.

But those words weren’t spoken in a vacuum… rewind to Exodus 6 and we have a clue about the kind of relationship that God shared with Moses and the Israelites.  I love how God describes Himself as both The Strong God and God (I-Am-Present) [Exodus 6:2, The Message].  Israel needed to know that their God was powerful enough to deliver them from their slavery to Pharaoh, but they also needed to know that He was present with them in that slavery, that He heard their cries, He saw the injustice, He cared.  It was in the context of that relationship, of that understanding of the character of their God, that Israel could hold on to God’s promise to bring them out of Egypt [Exodus 6:7,8].  And it was in the context of that relationship that they could relinquish their fear and respond obediently to God’s command to be still, to keep their mouths shut, when Pharaoh changed his mind and was breathing down their necks again.

Don’t we need that same reassurance?  I know I did… it was important for me to experience God as both The Strong God—with the power to change my situation (which He chose to do, eventually) and The God Who Is Present—with the grace to walk with me through each hard day until that change occurred (which, I will admit, was a longer time than I would have chosen).  It is in the context of that relationship that I was able to hold onto His promises for me.  And it is in the context of that relationship that I am still seeking, each day, to relinquish my fear and respond obediently to His commands.

How about you?  Do you need to experience God as powerful deliverer?  Do you need to experience Him as the Present One?  Do you need to allow your understanding and experience of God to sustain you as you hold fast to His promises?  Do you need to relinquish your fear?  Is God calling you to be still, to keep your mouth shut and let Him fight your battle?   My prayer on that night is my prayer today as well, for you and for me: “Lord, help us to experience You, in the midst of our own difficult situations, as both The Strong God and The God Who Is Present.  Help us to cling to your promises and believe that both Your plans and Your timing are perfect.  Amen.”

Hold.

As you know, I like words.

But the truth is, sometimes there are no words.  Or at least very few.

I look around and see the urgency of the need. 

I’m drawn to my knees, drawn into the reality of God-I-Am-Present.

There is power here.

Hear my words, I say. 

And when my words fail, hear my heart. 

And when my heart fails, hear your own heart, beating back to you the steady rhythms of strength and presence.

The word that comes is hold.

Hold.

It fits tonight.

In the waiting. 

In the heaviness that feels too big.

And so I plead.

Jesus, hold.

Hold.