I had several close childhood friendships that began in first grade and lasted into my college years. Every long friendship has its ups and downs, but one of these was particularly challenging. Our first grade teacher often confused “Anna” and I because we looked similar with our long dark hair and olive skin. We had a lot of fun, going to Brownies meetings, celebrating birthdays, getting muddy during soccer games, and having New Year’s Eve sleepovers where we stayed up late playing Mario on the Nintendo.

But this friend had a cruel streak. During one of my sleepovers at her house, she wiped her spit all over a toy I was just about to play with. In middle school she stopped talking to me for more than a year because one day I chose to have lunch with another friend. In high school, she put gum in her toddler sister’s hair and lied to her mom about it when she tried to explain what had happened.

Anna became the high school friend who would tell me mean things other people said about me, who would never bring me along to a party, but would tag along with my group of friends if she didn’t have anyone else to hang out with. I stayed her friend despite her meanness, and perhaps in part because of it. I knew she did not have many close friends; no one wanted to be treated so poorly. As a new Christian, I felt it was my duty to forgive and forgive again in order to show God’s love. I was a Christian doormat in my effort to be a life witness to that friend.

Still, I knew Anna was not a person I could trust. I was willing to practice kindness towards her and spend time with her, but over the years I put up more and more internal walls between myself and her. She stayed in touch with me through college, but when it came time to plan my wedding I didn’t include her in the wedding party. I know this hurt her feelings, although she wouldn’t let me see that.

That decision showed the limitations of my forgiveness. I could forgive, and I could be kind, and I could spend time with her if she needed. But as a repeated witness and victim of her mean streak, our friendship could not be restored to what it would have been had my trust not been broken time and again.

She ended up not coming to my wedding, and not returning my phone calls afterward. That was the end of our fifteen year friendship. I’ve wondered at times if I made the right choice not to have her in the wedding party. Would there have been any harm in including another person? Or does her decision not to come to my wedding or talk to me afterward prove that I made the right decision?

Maybe the wrong choice was actually in allowing the friendship to continue as long as it did without standing up for myself.

In the book of Romans, Paul writes, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Carefully consider what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible on your part, live at peace with everyone” Romans 12: 17-18.

Yet, there is a difference between living at peace with everyone and allowing people to treat you cruelly and take advantage of your kindness. A friendship is something that should be mutually enjoyed and beneficial to both parties. My friendship with Anna had morphed into something that was not actually a friendship; it was more akin to me subversively attempting to mentor her or be her free therapist.

This was not fair to me, but it was also not fair to her. By allowing our friendship to continue for so many years without confronting her negative behavior, I was being an enabler. For my part, our friendship was serving the purpose of making me feel like a Super Nice Person and a Good Christian.

After all was said and done, was it worth the many years I attempted to be a life witness to Anna, the times I brought her to church, the times she treated me as the ugly and forgotten Cinderella

The last time I’d seen her was a month or so before my wedding. She was visiting me at my parents’ house in Eugene. Anna said she wished she went to church because there were so many beautiful churches in downtown Portland near her apartment. That year she had gotten a cross tattoo on her ankle. We talked about my wedding plans, her job at Stumptown, about my upcoming college graduation. She said she wanted to start reading the Bible and asked if I had an extra one she could keep. I looked around and found an old one I was no longer using, with a hardback lilac cover that featured butterflies. She gave me a hug and was on her way.

Years later I bumped into her at the grocery store, when my eldest child was still tiny. I hugged her and introduced her to my toddler, then chatted briefly before taking off. She seemed bewildered — by what exactly?

My friendliness? My motherhood? My glossing over of the past?

Yes, it was all of that. All of that, and so much more.

Forgiveness and relationships go hand in hand, and both are often more complicated than expected. No friendship can be sustained in the long run unless both friends are willing to forgive each other their mistakes. And yet sometimes we are not forgiving in order to restore the friendship — sometimes the friendship unfortunately cannot be restored. In these cases, we forgive in order to bring healing to ourselves.

This post was written for the CitySalt Church blog. For more on this topic visit http://www.citysalt.org/blog/.

 

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“Tattoos and no-tattoos can be friends,” my 5-year-old daughter interjects into our small group’s conversation about tattoos on a Tuesday evening.

Yes, I assure her, we can be friends with people who look different from us.

We live in divided and divisive times. We can categorize our neighbors into endless groups. Red states and blue states. Christians and “non-believers.” Protestant and Catholic. Evangelical and mainline Protestant. Blue collar and white collar. Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter.

I met my childhood best friend when she invited me to her sixth birthday party, as we stood together on the steps outside our elementary school. She was friendly and open in that way that only young children can be. I eagerly accepted the invitation and began a friendship that would last through high school and into the early years of college.

She was brown-skinned and I was white. Race wasn’t something we ever talked about, unless she brought it up in a joking way. “I don’t like white people,” she sometimes said, “except you and my mom.” She called herself a Nigerian princess.

I remember lots of sleepovers, Michael Jackson dance contests, endless rounds of Monopoly. I remember playing soccer in the Oregon rain. I remember going to see the Dave Matthews Band play in the Gorge, and the time the WOW Hall advertised our theater troupe on the same poster as a Slick Rick show. I remember writing rap songs for the band we started in third grade, and in college when our drunk friend got locked in a dorm room stairwell overnight I remember never laughing so much as I did with her.

I don’t remember ever asking my best friend about race, about what it was like to be one of the only brown-skinned kids in our school. Was it hard for her? If it was, she never let me know. Our high school group was a microcosm of diversity for Eugene, with three of my closest friends being ethnic minorities with immigrant parents from Nigeria, Korea, and Mexico.

Our friendship ended as suddenly and inexplicably as it began, with her one day choosing to stop returning my calls without any falling out or slow drifting away.

In college and beyond, my friendships seem to have become more and more homogenous. We are a 99 percent white, upwardly mobile, advanced degree holding, NPR-listening group of folks. We like to talk about social justice. We have backyard chickens and drink kombucha. We go to church, or used to before becoming disillusioned with organized religion. If we do have tattoos, they are discrete.

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Backyard chickens are so trendy right now! Too bad they attract rats.

I tell myself that my friends are similar to me because I don’t have many opportunities to get to know people who are different. But is that entirely true?

“You are the light of the world — like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.” — Matthew 5:14-15 (NLT)

It’s certainly easier to be friends with people who share similar backgrounds and interests as ourselves. But Jesus calls us to be a light to the world, something I can’t do if I remain cloistered in my kombucha-drinking, NPR-listening corner of the church. For my part, I want to be more intentional about widening my circle of acquaintances to include more diversity of race, religion, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation. Within the Church as a whole, we also need to do a better job of promoting dialogue between Christians with different political views and scriptural interpretations.

I wish I could go back to the openness of childhood, when it was so easy to make friends with anyone regardless of what they looked like or who their parents were. Fourteen years after my friendship with my Nigerian princess best friend ended, it still hurts to write about her. I wish we could go back to being friends like we used to be, but time has changed us, and we can’t ever go back to that place we stood, two first graders on the steps outside our elementary school, fulfilling Martin Luther King’s dream without even knowing.

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I wrote this post as part of a series on “Seeing the Other,” for the CitySalt Church blog. 

photo credit: numstead rooster via photopin (license)

When we were getting ready to go trick-or-treating on Tuesday night, my 2-year-old son was playing with one of his sister’s Disney princess figurines. He put a finger puppet monster on her head and said, “This is her Halloween costume.”

Two year olds can be quite delightful.

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Paul dressed up as a dragon (or perhaps a crocodile), Marie was Snow White, and Spencer and I were milk and cookies. We had fun visiting my grandmother to wish her a happy birthday, then trick-or-treating with my mom in her neighborhood. Our trick-or-treating experience was short lived, however, as it was a cold night and Marie was tired out from a busy day at kindergarten. After about 10 minutes of trick-or-treating, Marie said, “I have enough candy. I’m done.” We went back to my parents’ house to let each child eat a piece of candy and then we drove home. By the time we got home at 7 pm, Paul had fallen into a deep sleep in his dragon costume. He was so tired he didn’t even wake up when we took the costume off of him and put him in bed. So much for trick-or-treating with my tiny ones!

I have been thinking this week about the origins of Halloween and what it means to us culturally today. I’ve also been thinking about the various reactions to Halloween among those who profess the Christian faith. Our pastors in Portland thought that Halloween was a great opportunity to get to know their neighbors in a fun way, so they would decorate their whole living room in a different theme each year and act out a little skit for the neighborhood kids. One year it was a Peter Pan theme, and the next it was a medieval castle. One the other end of the spectrum, I know some churchgoers who won’t allow their kids to trick-or-treat or acknowledge Halloween at all.

I came across this very thoughtful article about the origins of Halloween on a ministry website. The name “Halloween,” actually comes from All Hallows Eve (meaning Holy Evening), the night before the Christian holiday All Hallows (All Saints Day). In the 9th Century, the Pope scheduled All Saints Day to be celebrated on November 1 to coincide with (and replace) the pagan holiday of Samhain. It was common for the church to place Christian holidays at the same time is pagan holidays — for example Christmas occurs around the time of the winter solstice. Over the years, traditions from Samhain and All Hallows Eve blended together to create what we now know as Halloween.

Personally I do not like horror films, haunted houses, or things that are creepy in general. Nor do I like to feed my children candy. But I do think that Halloween is an adorable opportunity for kids to dress up and create family memories, as well as a fun way to interact with neighbors.

And then I’ve been thinking about this too — Halloween reflects a need we all have to acknowledge our shadow side. If you read my solar eclipse post, you know I’ve been contemplating the human shadow a bit lately. We need to acknowledge the darkness in our world and in our own souls. In her book Rising Strong, shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown writes about the importance of integrating light and dark into our consciousness: “Being all light is as dangerous as being all dark, simply because denial of emotion is what feeds the dark.” She also writes, “There’s always something foreboding about overly sweet and accommodating ways. All that niceness feels inauthentic and a little like a ticking bomb.”

We don’t have very good mechanisms for processing difficult emotions in our culture. Physical and mental illness, aging, and death, are all topics we steer away from. In the fall we are surrounded by death in the natural world. It is the time of the harvest and the dying away of the light. Halloween, with its imagery of ghosts and skeletons, is one way we acknowledge the season. And it is the one time when we as a culture face our own mortality and even poke fun at it.

P.S. What did the photographer say to the ghost?
You look boo-ti-ful!

 

 

 

 

 

The ancient Egyptians believed that a solar eclipse was the work of a giant snake attacking Ra, the sun God. In Viking lore, it was the work of sky wolves, and in China, a dragon. It was a terrifying and mysterious event that the was fended off by drumming or throwing flaming arrows towards the sun.

In Eugene we experienced about 99 percent totality during Monday morning’s solar eclipse. My parents came over with pinhole viewers, and sunflowers from their garden. I provided Explore One’s SunCatcher Solar Eclipse glasses, purchased several weeks earlier from Fred Meyer at $1.99 a pair. First it looked as though a bite had been taken out of the sun. Slowly the day turned to dusk and the temperature dropped. The neighbor’s chickens started squawking and someone lit off fireworks. My husband called to share in the moment — and then quickly the moon’s umbra started passing across the sun’s other side.

Who knew that the moon’s shadow could create such a stir? Some 25,000 people flocked to prime eclipse-viewing territory in the small central Oregon town of Madras, staring in awe at the sun’s vanishing act before quickly rushing off to create a massive traffic jam.

For my part, as fairly major nerd and nature-lover, I would have liked to have seen totality. But I felt I made the right choice with my kids to keep things simple and stay at home. Maybe I’ll see it in 2024, when it passes through my mom’s home states of Indiana and Kentucky, and northwest Arkansas where I used to visit my grandparents each summer.

At any rate it was nice to have a break from the relentless political media coverage, which has exposed us to shadows of another sort. Thanks to our modern understanding of our solar system we no longer have to fear the moon’s shadow, rather we can appreciate it as a majestic and rare phenomena. The shadow of the human psyche is another matter. It is something we understand very poorly, and in this case, what we don’t know can harm us.

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[A person familiar with their own shadow side] “knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.” – Carl Jung

 

All the talk of the eclipse, and the recent events in Charlottesville, have stirred up my emotions. The wonders of our universe. The horrors of human hatred. At one time I thought we lived in a post-racist society, but I see now that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

All shadows and light, shadows and light. And here we are, caught somewhere in between.

Did you view the eclipse? What was your experience like?

 

Thanks to my mom, Alice Evans, for taking the photos at the top of this post.

 

 

 

 

 

I hadn’t been quite sure where home was for awhile. After Spencer and I got married we moved every few years to a new apartment, from Eugene to southeast Portland, to Beaverton, back to southeast Portland, and finally back to Eugene. We rented a month-to-month apartment in Portland for three years, just waiting for the next step as we continued applying to jobs that we hoped would offer more stability. Even when I was pregnant with our first child, and during the first year of her life, we continued to apply to jobs out of the area, ready to move whenever needed. We even considered an offer I received to teach 5th grade girls in Kuwait, before (wisely) rejecting the idea for logistical reasons.

I knew that we were not home, just in a sort of limbo.

As a mom, I couldn’t survive in this rootless state. I needed deep connections, support, and stability. Ultimately I decided I needed to return to the place that was foundational in my life, the city I had lived in from birth until getting married at age 22. Eugene.

I didn’t know how much I loved Eugene until we moved back. I didn’t appreciate how many places around town were integrated deeply into layers of my unconscious. Memories were everywhere. Going for a walk at the Arboretum, for example, transported me back to early childhood, when I was close friends with the daughters of the groundskeeper.

In Portland I had felt so far away from my past, having virtually no ties left to childhood other than my parents. I didn’t have siblings, and I was no longer connected to any of my childhood friends.

I didn’t realize that you could love a place, that a whole town could be your companion in the absence of friends. Eugene had been with me through so much, in a way that no human being ever had. In Eugene I had learned to walk, ride a bike, climb a tree. As a child, I spent hours in apple trees in my backyard reading books. I had climbed to the top of Spencer’s Butte countless times. I had skinned my knees on the blacktop at my grade school, and gotten covered with mud during soccer games. I had made best friends and lost them, fallen in love, graduated college, gotten married.

So it was that when we moved because I needed to escape the devastating isolation of my life as a mom in Portland – I found refuge not just in the support of my parents but in my hometown itself. I knew this town, and somehow it seemed that Eugene knew me too.

And slowly I returned to myself.

Still, it took three years before we were able to buy a house. Three more years of living in a month-to-month rental. First with one toddler, who quickly grew into a preschooler, and soon our son was added to the family. We were a family of four in an 800-square-foot apartment with a tiny concrete deck as our yard. It helped that we were near many nice parks in our southeast Eugene neighborhood. Still, I was thrilled when we began our home search last summer, and overjoyed when we signed for a house, a modest three-bedroom in a quiet southwest Eugene neighborhood, several months later.

We moved into our new house the week of my 33rd birthday. My family and I had finally found our way home.

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Spencer and I take a selfie after signing for our first house. So happy!

 

We had an ice storm last Wednesday, rare in our temperate western Oregon climate. I sat on the couch in our living room watching as freezing rain coated the trees outside, and icicles grew on the power lines. I heard the bang and saw a flash of light as a transformer exploded somewhere in the neighborhood. Thankfully our power stayed on.

Later that evening, as I continued my couch vigil, watching the storm outside, I said a silent prayer that our electricity would stay on through the night. We don’t have a fireplace, or gas, so electricity is our only heat source. At the moment that I finished my silent prayer – the lights went out. My heart sank.

Spencer gathered flashlights, we put on extra layers of clothing, and I told the kids we would all get to sleep together in our king-size bed that night. They’ve both been finding their way into our bed by the middle each night anyway, so it wasn’t too out of the ordinary. It was a little fun, a bit like camping on a cold night.

Waking up in the morning with no heat and light was not very inviting. I was thankful that my parents, a few miles away, still had electricity, so I packed our bags and we headed to their house to stay as many days as needed.

We were lucky. My parents’ next door neighbor, and all down the street to the north, lost power and didn’t get it back until yesterday. The electricity at our house ended up coming back on Thursday afternoon. At Marie’s dentist appointment Friday, the hygienist told me she was without power at home, that it was an inconvenience but she didn’t mind too much. She was looking forward to barbecuing a steak that night.

My husband, who maintains parks in Springfield, has extra work now with all the downed trees everywhere. Ice storms are hard on trees. It made me think of the poem Birches, by Robert Frost:

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay
As ice-storms do. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
(You can read the poem in its entirety here.)

The storm made me realize how fragile we are against the forces of nature. But oh, the beauty!

I may not know much about how the world works or why things happen the way they do. But I do know this: Life is full of fragile beauty. And I am here to be a witness.

“Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.” – Mary Oliver

 

I am feeling so many things at the same time right now. Gratitude that my husband and I just bought our first house, that we have healthy children, that we both recently started excellent new jobs.

At the same time I’m still processing the results of the recent election, and yes, I’m not happy with the results. I’m afraid of the future we are moving toward as a society. We seem to be in a place where objective truth no longer matters. We are jumping off a ledge into an abyss where the outcome on human rights, environmental protections, and foreign policy are all in question.

I also find myself questioning whether the efforts I have been making for years to make the world a better place even matter. Carefully sorting my recycling. Being an informed citizen who researches and then votes in elections. Donating to nonprofits. Signing petitions for causes I believe in. Trying to be kind. Praying. Going to church every Sunday so that I can work on becoming a better person. Telling the truth.

Does any of it matter?

I am not trying to be melodramatic. I am just being honest.

A few minutes ago I came upon this poem by Mary Oliver.

The Uses of Sorrow

(in my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

I will continue to tell the truth. I will continue to make the same kinds of choices I’ve always made. I will fight even harder to live out Christ’s teaching to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Long live the resistance.