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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)

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I love the clean slate feel of the new year. And so, I am a resolution-maker. Every year, I tell myself – this will be the year I get it all together. I will exercise more. I will run a 10K. I will make more friends, get my apartment completely organized, closely follow a budget. This year I will make more money and buy a house. I will be a nicer person and never say mean things about anyone behind their back. This will be the year I finally achieve my lifelong goal of writing a book. I will also connect more deeply with my faith and read through the entire Bible.

This has been my self-talk every new year for awhile now. And I finally have to laugh at myself and realize that it’s not realistic to accomplish all of this in any given year, especially while raising two small children. Maybe I need to lower my expectations a little bit.

2015 was a good year for me. I wrapped up a travel editing project in February with a big client. I finally learned how to do my taxes and was self-sufficient enough to prepare a freezer full of meals during my pregnancy. My son was born in March and when my daughter turned 3 in April we celebrated with a party at the trampoline gym. I wrote a couple of travel articles about Lexington, Kentucky, and I got a new part-time job as publicity coordinator for my daughter’s children’s choir. Spencer took a month off from work in the summer and helped me at home with the kids. We visited the beach several times; Marie went to ballet camp and swimming lessons. In September, Spencer transitioned to a new job that he really enjoys.

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Fun at the beach with my daughter. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

2015 was a hard year for me. When my son was one-week old, I developed a postpartum uterine infection and was readmitted to the hospital through the ER for 24 hours. It took me about a month to physically recover from childbirth and my complications, and I struggled with postpartum mood disorder for the second time (though not as severely). After my son was born, I had to sign up for WIC to help make ends meet. My husband struggled at work and ended up quitting his job without having another job lined up, and without me having a job.

So my year was amazing and it was also difficult. I did not run a 10K, write a book, or buy a house. Maybe in 2016 I’ll accomplish at least one of those things; time will tell. I know there are many joys ahead as well as many challenges, and I’m looking forward to the journey. As for my resolution this year?

It seems to work best if I have one, achievable resolution. Recently I heard about a dad who had resolved to take his 4-year-old son camping once a month throughout the year. While cold-weather camping isn’t my thing, I like the idea of creating a special tradition with my child. So, I’m resolving to do a community service project once a month with my daughter. I discovered a local nonprofit called Little Hands Can that does service projects with parents and kids, and I’ve already signed up for a project in January. I’m excited to start a tradition of service with Marie.

What’s your resolution for 2016?

 

Today I found a note to myself that I wrote on December 31, 2009. Apparently I had intended myself to read it 10 years later, but 5 and a half years seems good enough.

Dear Ursula (me),

You should now be 36 years old. That means a lot has happened since I wrote this.

I am now 26, happily married for 3 and a half years, living in a nice apartment in Westmoreland and teaching 4th grade. I wonder if I will still be teaching in 10 years? I just hope to be happy in my job, whatever it is.

Also, I hope to still be happily married and have 2 or maybe 3 children. I hope that Spencer will be happy in his job. I hope we own a house.

Most importantly, I hope that God remains at the center of my life.

I think I should write back.

Dear 26-year-old Ursula,

So much has happened in the past 5 and a half years that I can hardly relate to the childless version of myself. I wish you would take a little more advantage of your childlessness. Go to Seattle for the weekend. Go to yoga. Take an art class. That’s cute that you like the Westmoreland apartment. I guess it did have some hipster appeal, with its proximity to Papa Haydn and the neon glow of the Yukon Tavern sign visible from the bedroom window. Soon you’ll find out about the horrible mold problem – really you should just move now.

Teaching is fun though, right? I’m not sure why you took a job that paid so poorly, but then again, I know you were excited just to have a teaching job. And fourth grade really is a great age to teach. I’ve now been married almost 9 years, have two sweet and sometimes challenging children, and am occasionally working as a freelance writer and editor. I do love being a mom and a writer and editor – I just wish I were able to get more consistent work. I am keeping my teaching license and may still go back to it at some point if the right job opens up.

My goals for the future remain much the same – be a good mother and wife, be happy in my work, keep the faith, be financially secure and own a house. Make meaningful memories.  Have fun. Do good deeds. Overflow with joy.

Love,

Me

 

 

 

 

 

I decided that Friday during the week of spring break was a good day to have a baby, and apparently my son agreed. On Thursday night I went to my prenatal swim/water yoga class and when I mentioned I was 39 weeks along, our instructor said, “Maybe you’ll have your baby tonight.” I said I’d prefer to get some sleep first and then welcome the baby into the world the next morning.

And so, I woke up around 3 am with contractions and couldn’t go back to sleep. I’d been having Braxton-Hicks contractions off and on for the past month or so, so I waited awhile to make sure the contractions were consistent before disturbing my husband. I woke Spencer up at 4:30, and we called our doula at 5, because I just felt like it was rude to call someone before 5 am unless absolutely necessary. My contractions were a little uncomfortable, but doing hip circles and figure eights helped relieve the pressure. Our doula came over around 5:45 and I called my mom at 6 so that she could come watch our almost-3-year-old.

We called our CNM, and she thought I was still in early labor and that it would be a few more hours before we would need to head to the hospital, since I seemed very calm. So my husband decided he would take a nap. About 15 minutes later I told him, I’m ready to go to the hospital now. I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to have a second unmedicated birth, since the first time ended up being a bit, um, traumatic. I just wasn’t in the mood, you know, like how you’re probably not in the mood to go run 20 miles right now. I wanted to make sure we got there in time for an epidural. We arrived in the triage room around 8 am. And when the midwife arrived and checked my cervix, I was dilated to 7 cm. Everyone was surprised because I was handling it so well.

When we got moved into the delivery room about 15 minutes later, I mumbled something about getting an intrathecal. “There might not be time,” said the nurse.

“I either need pain meds or I need to get in the bath tub now.” The midwife checked my cervix again and this time I was at 9 cm!

“What do you want to do?” she asked me. “We can try to get you an intrathecal if that’s what you want.”

I knew that would take awhile and there wasn’t really time. I needed pain relief immediately so I got in the tub. The warm water helped me make it through the rest of transition, although the contractions were still very intense and left my whole body shaking.

“Ok, you’re pushing. You have to get out of the tub now,” said the midwife. “There’s no room to deliver in here.”

I didn’t want to move and lose the only pain relief I had. With my daughter’s birth, pushing lasted about 45 minutes and was excruciating. I reluctantly got out and moved to the bed. “I’m scared,” I said. Like, I would almost rather die right now than repeat what I went through before.

I got on hands and knees on the hospital bed. Last time I’d been on my back and I knew I didn’t want to do that again. I knew this would be over soon-ish. There was some screaming and tears involved, but the midwife kept calmly reassuring me that my baby was helping me with this birth, and I think he was.

Just a few (intense and difficult) pushes, and 11 minutes later – less than 2 hours after we arrived at the hospital – my son was born! I held him in my arms and said, “Welcome to our world.”

I’ve quit Facebook before. After I graduated college in 2006, I got married, decided I didn’t need to stay superficially connected to such a large number of acquaintances, and canceled my Facebook account. But over the next few years, Facebook transformed from a college social network to a worldwide phenomenon. In grad school, I realized I was missing out on social invites that were happening via Facebook (or then again…maybe people just didn’t want to invite me). So, in 2009 I rejoined the world of online social networking.

Have there been positives to having a Facebook account? Sure. I started getting invited to a lot more events and attending many of them. (And then I became a mom). One former close friend who I’d lost touch with did contact me on Facebook and we ended up getting together once when she was in town. Sometimes I’ve enjoyed sharing photos and updates from my life and getting responses. And it can be a convenient online scrapbook.

But mostly I try to avoid looking at Facebook. Because, keeping in line with some psychological studies, looking at Facebook does not tend to improve my mood. Rather, my reaction to other people’s status updates usually falls into one of the following categories:

1) Jealousy. Admit it, you know what I’m talking about. People post about highlights from their weeks, their summers, their years. And Facebook posts the highlights of their highlights at the top of your News Feed. It makes me think, why is everyone else’s life so much fun than mine? Or hey, why wasn’t I invited to that party? Or, Wow, that’s great that your 6-week-old sleeps through the night. Congrats.

On this topic, one of my writing buddies wisely said, “Don’t compare your inner world to someone else’s outer world.” Meaning, someone’s life might look great on social media but you don’t know what that person is thinking and feeling. And if I just posted all the highlights of my summer online, my life might seem more than fun than it really is on a day-to-day basis. Weekend trips to Portland, the beach, a toddler-free hike at Tamolitch Falls, a visit to the Wildlife Safari. Or I could go back in time and throw in some of my life highlights if I really wanted to skew reality and make others jealous.

Look at that! A giraffe right outside our car window! My life is exciting!

Look at that! A giraffe right outside our car window! My life is exciting!

2) Annoyance. Sometimes status updates are just annoying. Thankfully, I rarely see annoying political posts, because I’ve hid the few people who are obnoxious about politics. My annoyance is more along the lines of: Glad I could find out about your important life event via your FB status update! (This is reserved for former close friends, members of my wedding party, etc., not random co-workers or people I used to go to church with).

Though, undoubtedly to me the most annoying person on Facebook is The Narcissist. Need I elaborate? I’m sure you have at least one, if not many, Narcissists within your social media circle. The friend who posts just a few too many selfies, always in a bit too perfect lighting, always with a bit too perfect of a pose. The Narcissist would not, as I have done, post of photo of herself holding her newborn baby after staying up all night in labor — wearing no makeup and not having showered for several days. The Narcissist would however post several shirtless photos of himself that nicely highlighted his washboard abs. If you are The Narcissist, I doubt that you recognize yourself in these words. But if you do recognize yourself here then I would say to you a) Maybe there’s more to life than being really really ridiculously good-looking but also b) Congrats! Recognizing you have a problem is the first step to getting better. Then again, maybe I’m just jealous that I don’t photograph well.

3) Who is that person? Most of my Facebook friends are people I only vaguely know. Malcolm Gladwell wrote that the human brain is only designed to handle a community of about 150 people, and only about a dozen close relationships. So even if I have more than 300 Facebook friends, my brain cannot really keep track of more than 150 of those relationships. And is it healthy to keep so many random acquaintances in our online community? Like, do I need to read updates about someone I met once 5 years ago?

Am I just a cranky, anti-social depressive? Perhaps. But I do enjoy talking to people about the interesting things happening in their lives. I’ll even look at your vacation photos if we hang out in person. It’s all just a bit overwhelming, impersonal, and out-of-context when I look at my Facebook News Feed. I have a hope that if I get rid of Facebook, I may put more effort into connecting with friends directly via phone, e-mail and hanging out.

What do you think about Facebook? Do you enjoy using it? Did you cancel your account years ago and feel that your life is better without it? Or is it a necessary evil?

 

 

The official start of summer is just around the corner. The fleeting season for eating freshly picked berries, riding bikes along the river trail, and hiking behind waterfalls. Undoubtedly, my richest memories are from summers.

 

At Tunnel Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

At Tunnel Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

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When I was a kid, summer was the season for our annual family vacations. Thanks to my parents’ adventurous spirit, I had many memorable experiences during those vacations. I won’t easily forget the time an orca swam underneath our zodiac raft on a whale-watching expedition in British Columbia. Or seeing the ancient marble formations inside the Oregon Caves. I’ll always remember the talent competitions at our Evans family reunions in the tiny Ozark town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and the time my mom was serenaded by an Elvis impersonator at the country music show.

I’ll remember the glorious summer my parents and I toured Europe — dodging cars on narrow medieval cobblestone streets, standing in centuries-old Gothic cathedrals as light beams down through stained glass, discovering my love for Impressionist painters at the Musee d’Orsay. And I’d be negligent if I didn’t mention the hot and humid September afternoon my husband proposed to me on a glacial rock in Central Park after a picnic lunch of deli sandwiches and potato chips, and our tiramisu wedding cake the following June.

Our wedding day, eight summers ago. (Photo credit TJ Cameron).

Our wedding day, eight summers ago. (Photo credit TJ Cameron).

Even the summertime flops make for good stories — running down the side of South Sister in the midst of a lightning storm, sleeping in our car in Utah when our campsite was being sprayed with insecticide for its mosquito infestation, flying on a sketchy third-world airline that used hand-me-down Hawaiian airlines jets.

I want my daughter to grow up rich in memories too. A family vacation isn’t in the cards for us this summer due to a lack of money and vacation days as well as my daughter’s young age. But we can still have fun while staying here in Oregon. At two-years-old, my daughter probably won’t remember this summer anyway, so I suppose the memory-making this year is more for the benefit of my husband and I.

To help encourage ourselves to make the most of summer, we’ve created our family summer bucket list. I’ll be checking back at the end of the summer to report on our progress. My husband and I agreed on the late deadline of October 15 to complete the activities, since nice weather tends to last through mid-October in Oregon and we’re not particularly tied to the school schedule. The point is to have fun rather than give myself more things I feel obligated to do. WIthout further ado, here’s my list:

1.  Parent-child swim lessons
2.  Canoeing (without our daughter)
3. Lots of bike riding
4. Visit local farm
5. Get off the beaten hiking path (try some hikes outside of the immediate Eugene area — perhaps Blue Pool, Obsidian Falls…)
6. Portland road trip
7.  join CSA (Okay we’ve already done this. I confess the secret to success for to-do lists is to include an item you’ve already completed)
8. Visit Wildlife Safari
9. Watch fireworks (We never do this, because my husband always has to work at 5:30 am on July 5).
10. Attend a concert in the park
11.  Run in Butte-to-Butte race
12. Host 2 dinners (We love to cook and have friends over for dinner, but haven’t been doing a good job of this since moving to Eugene.)
13. Visit Crater Lake

Do you have a favorite summer memory you’d like to share? Or, do you have items on your personal summer bucket list?

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It’s easy to let fear take on more than its share of control in your life — especially when you’re a parent. Starting in pregnancy, the potential fears can be overwhelming. What if I miscarry? What if my baby has a disability? What if my baby is healthy but has a rare vaccine reaction and develops autism? What if….

The list of things to fear is endless. It can paralyze me if I let it.

When my daughter was about five months old she decided she was a tummy sleeper. She had the ability to roll from her back to her tummy, and every time I placed her on her back to sleep, she would roll over. Being the rational person I am, my response was complete panic. Despite the fact that she was five months old and could easily move her head, I assumed she would suffocate if she slept on her stomach. I flipped her over to her back each time, waking up as often as I could to check on her.

Obviously this was not a peak time for my mental health.

At some point I called the pediatrician, who assured me that if she was able to roll over on her own, her muscle control was good enough that stomach-sleeping wasn’t a concern. Whew! I could check a fear off my list.

Still, then and now, there are more things to fear, rational or not. Anxiety has been an on-and-off problem throughout my life. I once fainted after feeling a lump on my spine in the shower. Cancer. In fact, it was a small patch of infected skin.

I used to let fear hold me back from doing things. In high school, I wanted to try out for the cross-country team but I was afraid I wouldn’t be good enough, and besides I didn’t really know the other kids on the team. I loved to sing and would’ve enjoyed being in the choir but in middle school the choir director hadn’t allowed me to participate, so I figured I wasn’t choir material.

What if I had continued to let fear prevent me from doing things I should be doing? What if I’d been too scared to volunteer to ride in that cute guy’s truck on the college trip to Sunriver? Ten years later, we’re married with a beautiful daughter. What if I’d been too scared to become a teacher? I would have missed out on two years of impacting the lives of fourth graders, and perhaps more yet to come. What if I’d been too scared to try to become a writer? Or more importantly, a mother?

I want to keep choosing to face my fears, and live life to the fullest each day. I want to, as Teddy Roosevelt said, choose to dare greatly in my life.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming…who at best knows the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly….” — Teddy Roosevelt

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How have you struggled with fear in parenting or life in general? And, have you ever risked failure in order to achieve a goal?

photo credit: Celestine Chua via photopin cc