Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

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Let Them Love You

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It's Maundy Thursday, the day Christians remember Jesus final night with his disciples before the gruesome events of Good Friday. I'm getting ready to preach tonight at our church here in Boulder - and I'm over at The Mudroom this morning with thoughts of what Jesus' love for His disciples should tell us about the way we give and receive love. 

I am good at loving.

I’m quick with encouraging words and enthusiasm, as in “I LOVE your new haircut and the way you’re bravely stepping into something new.”

I’m well practiced at keeping my circle wide and my hands open, so that I can welcome you to our dinner table or offer to help when it’s needed.

I’ve learned that loving in a way that matters always requires sacrifice. Sometimes that sacrifice is as small as giving up my nap time to pick my neighbor’s kids up from school and sometimes it’s as big as agreeing to move away from the opportunity to work at my dream job so that my husband can pursue his.

I can recite 1 Corinthians 13 which tells us that love is patient and kind, not envious, boastful, proud or rude. And although I know I’m not perfect, I have to say that my self assessment tells me that in important ways, my life is moving in the right direction toward these loving ideals.

And even though I get it, that love is words and deeds, fun and sacrifice, that loving is our primary commandment from Jesus in regards to God and everyone around us, I’ve realized something lately.

I am not good at being loved.

The last few months have been tough. I haven’t felt well. The winter months has been unexpectedly depressing. My husband has been putting in a lot of hours at work, including traveling out of state. My kids are active and busy and it requires a lot of stamina to parent them through each day.  

Wonderfully there have been friends and neighbors who’ve noticed, who’ve listened, who’ve offered to help.  

Can I bring a meal?

Can I watch your kids?

Can I have you over?

That’s how it should be. If I saw someone struggling, I would do the same thing. Except that when it’s me, when it’s my struggle, when I’m the one being offered the meal, the help, I find myself refusing, demurring.

“Oh we’ll be fine.”

“That’s nice of you but I know you’re busy.”

“Don’t worry about us.”

I engage in these strange negotiations with people who are trying to love me, turning their simple offers of help into a haggling match reminiscent of an open air market in the middle east. In the end, the other person in the exchange has to nearly force them self on me in order for me to accept their offer of kindness.

But I’m learning.

Mary Carole, a woman my mother’s age who I attend Bible study with, persisted despite my protests and has been coming over a couple afternoons each week so I can rest. It’s been a sweet gift, knowing that help is on the way after a long day.

Jane, the pastor who is my supervisor at work, offered to take my kids for an afternoon when my husband was out of town last week. I struggled to say yes. After all, she’s my boss, a pastor! I should be serving her, not the other way around.

Except that if I really believe that, I’m missing the point of Jesus’ whole ministry. Jesus kept trying to explain to his disciples that the first would be last and the last would be first. He tried to reorient them from a kingdom of crowns and thrones to a kingdom of humble service. And when, on the night before he was to be crucified, they still didn’t get it, Jesus got down on the floor and washed all 24 of their dirty, sandal-shorn feet, demonstrating the sincerity of His willingness to love them by giving of himself, a willingness that would lead to His death the very next day.

I told Jane yes. And she loved me by making muffins with my kiddos while I took a shower and put my laundry away.

Because in Christ we are no longer male or female, slave or free, pastor or employee, we are people beloved by God and called to love each other by offering whatever we can. We love sacrificially – and we let others love us that way too.

Jesus did. The same man who got down on His knees to wash the dusty feet of his protesting disciples sat back in joy as Mary washed His feet and anointed them with perfume.

He loved and was loved.

I’m learning to do likewise.

 

This post originally appeared at The Mudroom.

There is New Life in Me

Lindsey Smallwood

Sometimes grace comes in unexpected places, like waves of sadness in the Mom's group bathroom. I'm over at Middle Places today on loss and grief and hoping again.

It took me by surprise. 

I hadn't been to my mom's group in a few weeks. A work meeting, a rough bout with illness that cycled through our family, and a speaking gig in a nearby town had kept me away from my usual Tuesday morning meet-up with other mom friends in the area. I had missed being there, I love the community we have together. 

As I was feeding my toddler the last bits of his breakfast, I saw my friend Gina from across the room. Her back was to me as she unfolded a tablecloth and set out the name tags. I smiled, I really enjoy Gina and hadn't seen her at book club or happy hour lately.

In fact, the last time I saw her was the week I found out I was pregnant, when I was still absorbing the news. We'd stood in line together with our kids at the pumpkin patch. As we'd made small talk, her daughter mentioned something about her baby and I'd raised my eyebrows, smiling. 

"Are you expecting?" I'd asked.

"Yes, I'm about 5 weeks along," she'd said shyly. "We haven't really told anyone yet."

"Me too," I told her, still feeling the strangeness of that reality as I said it.

Her eyes lit up and we hugged, sharing a realization that we would have these babies together. 

Three weeks later, my pregnancy ended in an unexpected miscarriage. And in the month since then, I've cried and healed and shared our loss with family and friends. I've felt sadness, thick and hard to push through and I've felt it loosen, dissipate, lift. If you'd asked me this morning how I felt about everything, I might have told you that things are back to normal. 

Then Gina turned around and I saw that underneath her darling dress she was sporting a sweet little baby bump.  I had already lifted my hand to wave hello, but stopped, frozen at the sight of her swollen middle. She came over, smiling, unaware of the out of control way my heart was pounding or the growing lump in my throat. We said hello and caught up briefly, I tried not to look at her midsection.

After she walked away, the tears began to come. A few quiet ones at first, followed by a flood I wasn’t expecting.

“There’s no new life in me.”

I saw Gina’s baby bump in my head and kept thinking this strange sad thought:

“There’s no new life in me.”

I muddled through the rest of the morning – mom’s group, followed by a work meeting and lunch with a friend. I fought back against the lump that made it hard to swallow, the waves of sadness I thought I’d already addressed.

That’s the thing about grief. It’s not neat, not easily contained. You don’t get to decide when it starts or stops. It doesn’t wait a requisite three weeks and then move on. It hovers, floats. Sometimes it comes in gently, a cloud of remembrance, a longing. Other times it hangs heavy, cloaking everything else in the weight of loss.

This afternoon, as I prepared to put my boys down for a nap, the phone rang. It was Mary Carole, my mentor from my Bible study group. She asked about my day and I recounted the whole story, ending with my surprise at how unsettling it had been to react to Gina this way.

“Perhaps unsettling is exactly what you need,” she replied. “Maybe this unsettling is God’s way of showing you that you’re not settled with all of this yet, that there’s more healing to be had, more recovering to be done. I think the best thing you could do is to take all of this to Jesus and just sit with it awhile.”

So I did.

And as more tears welled up and my heart began to ache again, I invited Jesus to sit with me in it. There, in the quiet, I sensed this sweet correction.

“There IS new life in you Lindsey. I am the Life.”

What words of grace. I’ve been thinking on them all day.

There is new life in me, and that life will last forever.

There is new life in me. It gives me hope here in my sadness.

There is new life in me, even in my grief, my loss, my feelings of failure and inadequacy. There’s new life because He is making all things new. He’s growing Gina’s baby and He’s growing my ability to trust Him. I don’t understand it, but I know it to be true.

There is new life in me.

 

 

This post originally appeared at Middle Places.

 

Starting with Hello

Lindsey Smallwood

In the common area of our university housing apartment building there is a playground.

It’s quiet there in the middle of the day, the swings sit empty during the hours when most children are eating lunch, finishing their school day or napping. But right at 3:00, it comes alive with groups of school-age kids playing basketball and riding bikes, preschoolers digging in the sandbox, and babies in their mother’s arms as the women exchange stories and gossip.

The community where we live is very diverse, as the college attracts students and scholars from all over the world. I’ve found the people to be generally friendly, even though we all speak many different languages. We have shared a meal with our Korean neighbors, exchanged travel tips with a new family from Israel and walked to library story time with friends from Ethiopia.

And still, everyday when 3:00 comes and I think about going to the playground, I feel nervous. There’s a subtle fear, a quiet question – Will I know anyone? Will anyone talk to me? Will it be lonelier there watching other moms interact with each other than it is here in my tiny apartment alone with two babies?

Recently, our RA asked to interview our family for a feature in the community newsletter. We told stories about our hometowns and hobbies and submitted a family photo. The week after the newsletter came out I went to the playground with my two sons. I had scanned the faces of the other moms who were present and knew that I didn’t speak the same language as any of them. I flashed a quick smile to the ones I’d seen before and sat down, scrolling through my phone as a defense against my loneliness.

Suddenly a little boy came up to me excitedly, pointing at my toddler.

“Hello! Hello! This is Bobby! From California!” he exclaimed in his sweet Chinese accent. “I am Sammy, I have seen your picture at my house.”

“Hi Sammy, “ I replied, smiling, realizing that he must be talking about the newsletter.

“That is my mom,” he pointed to the tiny woman pushing the stroller toward us, “and that is MY Tommy.”

Sammy gestured toward to the large baby sitting in the stroller and then looked back at Bobby, my almost 2 year old. “You have a Tommy AND I have a Tommy. Two Tommys!”

His mother approached, out of breath and smiling. “Sammy’s been wanting to meet you. My baby is Tommy too.”

We sat there, comparing our sweet babies the best we could, given that she speaks very little English and my proficiency in Mandarin is worse. But there was a thrill of connection, we both had babies named Tommy and that was enough to create laughter and camaraderie. I tucked my phone into my pocket and left it there, exchanging my safe virtual world of think pieces and status updates for the real one in front of me where I didn’t speak the language but still was being invited to participate.

Here’s the thing – those quiet questions that come with me to the playground, they’re present nearly everywhere I go.  At church, at book club, at music lessons, in new situations and everyday moments, I’m fighting the feeling that I don’t yet belong, the fear that I’ll make a misstep, the uncertainty of not knowing how to build a bridge of connection to those around me. And the temptation to sit alone and build a neat orderly online world where I can pick and choose what to see and read and talk about will win out if I let it.

But then Sammy runs up.

And I’m reminded that all it takes is some little slice of life in common and a willingness to try. There’s a bravery in saying hello, in taking a step toward someone, in seeking to find common ground – and great joy in discovering the ways we are more alike than different.

So here’s to trying a little harder, to putting away our phones in favor of the real world right in front of us. Here’s to quieting the voice that says you don’t belong or you don’t know how to connect. You do.

It starts with hello.

The Loose & Lively Book Club

Lindsey Smallwood

I've always been a book nerd. It wasn't until recently I realized how many other people were too. I'm at Middle Places today on (re)Connecting with an ode to my first ever book club friends. 

A few years ago I was lonely. 

I found myself in a new marriage, a new house and a new job and I was struggling to find myself in all of my new contexts. I was lucky enough to have a fabulous mentor who I met for coffee a couple times a month. 

One afternoon over decaf lattes, after lamenting to Sharon how out of place I felt, how much I longed for the easy friendships of earlier seasons, she looked me square in the eye and said "What are you going to do about it?"

I was taken aback. It’s not like I hadn’t tried – at church, in my grad school seminars, over Hot Pockets in the teacher’s lounge – I’d made small talk and invitations to get together, but nothing seemed to stick. What else could I do about it?

“What do you mean?” I asked, knowing she knew the ways I’d be trying to connect, since this wasn’t the first time we’d had this conversation.

“You say you’re lonely, so get some people together. You’re in charge of your life.” Sharon replied, eyebrows raised in a way that let me know she was laying something important out there for me.

“How though, Sharon? Seriously, what people can I get together?” I asked, ready with my list of reasons why forming community in the Bay Area with other 20 and 30 somethings is nearly impossible.

“What’s your absolute favorite thing to do, Linds?” she asked gently, giving me space to think for a moment before I answered.

“Read.” I said dreamily. “I have a stack of library novels next to my bed and I can plow through 2 on a Saturday afternoon. But you can’t make friends reading books.”

Did you catch that last line? Yeah, Sharon did too.

“Oh honey,” she laughed. “Let me tell you about book club.”

It sounds so strange now to think that I’d never considered starting/joining/participating in a book club, what with my love of reading, people and membership in groups. I started turning the idea over, wondering if anyone else would be interested, if this could really be a thing.

I emailed everyone I knew, classmates from graduate school, girls I taught with, friends from church, neighbors, a couple of gals who I’d mentored through campus ministry. I picked a date and a time and a book – The Hunger Games – and bought wine and cheese and crossed my fingers.

A delightfully ecclectic group gathered for our first meeting. A social worker. A special ed teacher or three. A non-profit director. Grad students of various stripes. We were Christian and Buddist and Jewish and Atheist. Most of the women in the room didn’t know each other. But we knew Katniss Everdeen and her bravery and cunning. We knew Peeta and Gale and the 12 districts of Panem and that was enough to get the ball rolling.

The Loose & Lively Book Club was born.

That little community became one of my favorite parts of the month. It didn’t even matter if the book was good – we all hated The Paris Wife but the spread of French-themed food we found to tie into the book was amazing. We tried to be ambitious in our choices, sometimes overly so, like the time we attempted The New Jim Crow but no one actually read the book so we had to nod along when a friend of a friend dropped into the meeting because she was eager to talk about the principles of race relations discussed in the weighty tome.

We liked Where’d You Go, Bernadette? so much that we went to meet the author in San Fransisco. We read Gone Girl because it’s some kind of book club rule that everyone had to read it three years ago. We geeked out over all the local references to our fair Cities by the Bay in The Circle and Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour BookstoreThe Great Gatsby was picked solely for the purpose of having a reason to go watch Leonardo DiCaprio look sultry in the new movie together.

The week I lost my first pregnancy to miscarriage I went to book club anyway, crying into the pages of The Geography of Bliss and being thankful that even though bliss felt a long way off, these women and that space were a happy place for me.

Truth? I probably wouldn’t have picked this group of friends. But thanks to a nudge from Sharon and the uniting power of Katniss Everdeen I found a tribe among book lovers like me. And for three years until our recent cross country move, we kept reading together.

Book club, you guys, it’s my jam.

It’s my way of reconnecting with the 10 year old girl inside me that could read four Babysitter’s Club books in one sitting. And doing that while building new friendships and learning new things? Just rad.

So here’s to nudges and novels and unlikely friends. Here’s to trying something new and putting yourself out there. Here’s to community and good cheese and long nights spent in laughter.

Whether it’s reading or running or cooking creme brulee, here’s to finding your tribe.

 

PS: Lest you worry about me, I’ve joined two (!) book clubs since arriving in Colorado. Because obviously.