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Jesus asks his followers to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That sounds really nice. Everyone likes to love and be loved. But what does it look like in practice?

When my husband and I first got married, we moved into a large apartment complex in southeast Portland. We soon met our next-door neighbors, an 18-year-old girl and her 26-year-old boyfriend. My first encounter with the girl was when she asked me if she could borrow my bicycle to ride one block to 7-11. Caught off guard by her request, I offered to drive her the one block instead.

Of course, this set up a precedent wherein she would often knock on our door asking for a ride or to borrow money or use our phone. Usually I, being a love-your-neighbor Christian, would grant her requests. Except for the times that I would pull the blinds shut and pretend not to be home.

This girl had a baby from a different daddy than her current boyfriend. Her baby was in foster care and his father was in jail. She was still in high school. She wanted her baby back. She would get him back soon, she often told me.

Her world was new to me. None of my high school friends had had babies or 26-year-old boyfriends or exes who were in jail.

Her circumstances were new to me, but the dynamics of our relationship were not. She was a Needy Person. I’d had other friends who were needy too, friends who made bad choices about drugs and promiscuous sex again and again. Friends who complained about their lives and asked for my advice and then would not listen to it. Friends who took and took and did not give back. Friends whose lives were black holes into which I tried to shine the light of Jesus.

Throughout the year, our neighbors’ problems seemed to get worse. They got jobs and lost jobs. Their car was towed due to lack of insurance. They borrowed our vacuum cleaner and gave us fleas. When they asked us for money to buy a flea bomb, we said we didn’t have cash. They asked if we could go to the bank and withdraw money. We said no.

We moved out as soon as our lease was up, quickly and quietly, without saying goodbye to them. Sadly and predictably, in the following years, I’ve been hesitant to get to know my neighbors.

What did I learn from this? I learned that loving your neighbor can be inconvenient. Sometimes you may get fleas, even though you don’t have pets. I also learned that it’s important for me to set boundaries with people. For example, I do not need to give someone a ride to a place that is within easy walking distance. I do not need to give money to someone who recently quit his or her job.

I do need to seek God’s will in my day-to-day encounters. God’s quiet voice may ask me to buy a sandwich for this panhandler or go to coffee with that friend. Or it may ask me to spend a quiet morning recharging my spirit through prayer.

In the words of theologian Frederick Buechner, “The place where God calls you is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” In order to love those around us, we first need God to fill us up with His deep gladness. The world may have an endless need for love, but thankfully God’s love is endless.

 

How do you find a balance between showing kindness to others and having boundaries?

When you look at a Pollock painting, do you see a mess that your toddler could have created? Or do you see a priceless work of art?

When you look at a Pollock painting, do you see a mess that your toddler could have created? Or do you see a priceless work of art?

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I originally wrote this as a guest post for the blog of my friend A.J. Swoboda (ajswoboda.com), pastor, theology professor and author of Messy: God Likes it That Way.

Books: Recently finished We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, 2014 PEN/Faulkner award winner. I don’t want to say too much, but it’s a great novel that explores the meaning of family, identity, and human/animal relationships. This would be a good one to discuss in a book group. I miss being in a book group!

Movies: My daughter was thrilled to discover Pocahontas 2 last week. There’s a whole different movie about Pocahontas?! Wow!

Television: Ugh, I’ve been watching too much T.V. lately — hopefully as the weather gets nicer we can spend more evenings walking or visiting the park. Been watching Masterpiece Theatre’s Mr. Selfridge, and also catching up on old Glee episodes. Glee is like junk food for my brain. Or, as Jim Gaffigan said, “McDonald’s of the soul.” I do wish people would spontaneously burst into song and dance more often in my day-to-day life though.

Music: Been enjoying the album Little Seed by Elizabeth Mitchell — covers of Woody Guthrie children’s songs.

Project: Teaching my daughter to sleep alone.

Work: Still working on the accounting & finance articles. Had an interview at a newspaper last week.

Gratitude: Took a fun trip to the beach to celebrate my daughter’s second birthday. Watched sea lions barking on a dock, visited the aquarium, enjoyed raspberry poppyseed Sweet Life cake. Stayed in a great house with my parents and mother-in-law.

Trying not to get blown over by the wind at the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

Trying not to get blown over by the wind at the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

 

Looking forward to: Picking up our first CSA box this afternoon!

 

My daughter just had her second birthday. It’s been two years since I first held her tiny body in my arms, felt the gentle rise and fall of her breath. Two years since the timeline of my life split in half — before motherhood, after motherhood.

At two years old, my daughter explores the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

Celebrating my daughter’s second birthday with a trip to the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

How has motherhood changed me over these two years? Or rather, how is motherhood changing me?

It has given me a new and deeper understanding of what love is. Love is patient, love is kind. Love will let you wipe your snotty nose on its clean sleeve. Love will get up with you at 11 pm and 1 am and again at 3:30 because your teeth hurt and you can’t sleep. Love isn’t grossed out by spit-up or giant poop diapers. Well maybe just a little grossed out.

I had a thought a few weeks ago, perhaps a God-revealed thought: The purpose of life is love. (Ok, I admit this is not a very original idea). If we don’t love others, we are missing the purpose. What does it matter if we’re highly successful in our careers but our lives are devoid of love? Even if we devote our lives to something altruistic, like teaching middle school, but we don’t do it in love — our lives are empty.

So, if our whole purpose for being here on this earth is to learn how to love others — well, what better opportunity than being a wife and a mother? What an opportunity to humbly serve others in love. What a high calling. What a blessing that I have been entrusted with this.

And I’m struck by how much I’ve come to love this tiny person, my daughter. At first she was a stranger who had entered my life like a hurricane, leaving me injured and bewildered. I looked forward to the day when I could go back to an office job and my normal life. But now? I’m so grateful that I have the chance to work from home and spend each day with my daughter.

I’ve always been career-driven and I still would like to have a successful career. But I know now that being a mom is the most important job I will ever have. If you’re a mom – or a dad – I hope you feel the same way.

What have you learned since becoming a parent?

 

Even in the desert, life finds a way.

Even in the desert, life finds a way.

I was going to write a post about my anxiety over our financial situation. Tax season has drawn my focus to our finances and caused muscle tension from my eyebrows to my toes. But then I remembered the gratitude journaling I’ve been doing. Counting my one thousand gifts. And I remembered the sermon I listened to yesterday, from the gospel of Matthew, when Jesus says “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

And does this mean we should try to be last in an attempt to be first in God’s kingdom? No, the preacher says, that is not the point of this parable. The point is that there is no first and last in God’s kingdom. The point is that there is enough for all.

There is enough. There is enough for all. God’s abundant provision is enough. Our economy is based on the myth of scarcity, that there are only enough resources for a few and so we should buy more now and fill our large houses with possessions we don’t need.

What if we only took what we needed? What if instead of living in homes large enough to house an entire African village, we lived in tiny but functional homes? What if we lived simply so that others may simply live?

Over these last years of financial insecurity, God has been teaching me the importance of daily bread. We’re receiving enough for each day. We’re trying to make good choices with what we are given. We’re learning to trust. Our faith is being shaped.

When I was in Ghana, a woman told me, “We are a hungry country.” It’s true. Many Ghanaians live in tin shacks with no access to clean water. These people know what it is to suffer. I thought of how much we have in America, and how we are hungry too. We’re hungry, but we think we are full. There’s a nagging emptiness inside that cannot be filled. We try to dull it with shopping. We try antidepressants. We try eating too much, or not enough. We try creating a Facebook profile that will make our friends jealous. But it doesn’t work.

It is only when we come to the place of brokenness that we can find fulfillment. When we discover that we cannot go another day without complete dependence on God’s grace, that we are not the ones earning our daily bread but it is God who gives it to us. I have been learning this lesson. In our brokenness we are made complete.

I can be grateful for that.

 

Books: I’m currently reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer. Next up on my list are the YA novel  Looking for Alaska by John Green and Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath. 

Movies: Hmmm, I rarely have time to watch movies anymore. Marie is currently fixated on Disney’s Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I was really impressed with Hunchback, really a deep message for kids about inner beauty. In fact, I could probably write a whole essay about this film, but I’ll spare you that. We also watched Happy Feet last week, which is pretty cute.

Television: Downton Abbey is over and I’ve decided that Grimm is too creepy for me. So that just leaves Parks and Recreation. I like that it features strong female characters. Also I’ve been letting Marie watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, a cartoon spin-off of Mr. Rogers. It’s pretty sweet, each episode has a little lesson that’s set to music. For example, “If you feel so mad that you want to roar, just take a deep breath and count to four.”

Music: I’m digging the Johnny Cash and Ella Fitzgerald children’s albums my mom recently gave us. Grandma Alice is helping Marie develop sophisticated musical tastes.

Project: Gratitude journaling.

Work: Writing a series of blog posts for accounting and finance professionals — here’s one. Haven’t subbed yet this month.

Gratitude: We just had our first vacation since 2011! A week in Palm Desert with my in-laws.

Sideview of the apparently famous Marilyn statue in downtown Palm Springs, where we encountered some colorful characters.

Sideview of the apparently famous Marilyn statue in downtown Palm Springs, where we encountered some, um, colorful characters. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford)

 

Fear: Carcinogens in plastics.  

Developmental milestones: Marie swam on her own (with water wings) on the last day of our vacation! Also her vocabulary has me pretty impressed. She keeps creating verbs, saying things like, “I’m get upping,” or “I’m lay downing.” Or “Pocahontas, she troubling.” Did I mention she’s obsessed with Pocahontas? Might be awhile before we let her watch that again.

Looking forward to: Watching Marie continue to develop her personality. She’s almost two. I love kids in the two – five age range because the things they say are so funny.

It’s been almost ten years and still I can’t forget. Even on vacation at a gated golf course community in the Palm Desert, I have Africa on my mind.

Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

Ghanaian children playing in the street. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford).

I feel her in the unrelenting beating sun. I smell her in diesel fumes, a freshly cut mango. Memories return: Guard holds an AK-47 to his chest, tells me, “Why don’t you go back home obroni.” Beggarwoman breastfeeds twins. Leper holds misshapen hand outstretched, seeking coins of mercy.

I remember: My colleague at the newspaper walks me to the station, sees there is no tro-tro for me to ride home tonight. “Tonight we will have to suffer,” she says.

I shake my head. No. I will not suffer the African way, not tonight. I have white skin and a first-world passport. “I have money for a taxi.”

A page from my Ghana scrapbook.

A page from my Ghana scrapbook.

She looks surprised, then hails one and negotiates a fair price for me, not the obroni price I usually pay. I ride safely back to the house I’m renting with other American students, the big house with running water, a security guard and wall to keep Africans out.

Africa, I remember you, the thin space where the very air is electrified with the presence of God and I barely even notice. I see the tin shacks and open sewers, the child beggars surrounding me. I still visit you in my dreams, always searching, never satisfied.

Roadside shop selling American soft drinks. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford)

Roadside shop selling American soft drinks. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford)

Depression is lonely and scary.

Depression is lonely and scary.

Mental health issues carry a stigma, but when we break the silence and talk about them openly they become less scary. I may be wrong, but I think if we’re honest, most people struggle with mental health issues to some degree at some point in their lives.

So, what’s the deal with postpartum depression? Why would a new mom, who has just welcomed a bundle of joy into the world, get depressed?

Perhaps because:

a) postpartum and nursing hormones have thrown her emotions out of whack

b) she hasn’t had more than a 90 minute stretch of sleep in several weeks/months

c) she is socially isolated

d) she has not yet formed an attachment to her newborn, and wonders “who is this helpless creature I’m now spending all my time with?”

e) she spends the vast majority of her day sitting on the couch breastfeeding

f) her body has been severely injured in the process of giving birth

e) she wonders what the f***k has happened to her life

In sum, postpartum depression is understandable. In fact, given all the above, it’s rather remarkable when a new mom doesn’t experience some degree of postpartum depression or anxiety.

For my part, I really struggled with depression and anxiety when my daughter was about 3-5 months old. I think I was coping rather well until then, despite the extreme challenges of caring for a newborn. I won’t go into the details in this post, but you can read my post about it here. Or just read the poem if you prefer.

Around three months I no longer felt like I was coping. In retrospect, several things collided to make things a giant awful mess:

1) I lost my job

2) I lost my health insurance

3) my husband started working longer hours

4) I started taking birth control

Although I had told my doctor that I was concerned about postpartum depression (because I have a history of depression) he told me I’d be fine and prescribed me birth control without warning me that it was associated with postpartum depression. Birth control never seemed to affect my moods in the past, so I thought it would be fine. I had also looked forward to going back to work part-time and reconnecting with the outside world, but I lost my job and with it lost my main link to the world beyond my apartment walls. Losing my health insurance made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to have mental health issues because I couldn’t afford access to treatment. So, it was a hard and scary time — I really began to feel like I was losing my grip.

I got through it by becoming involved in as many activities as possible. The first time I took my four- month-old to a library storytime, I almost broke down in tears because it felt so good to be outside of my apartment and around other moms and babies. That fall we also took baby sign language class, mom and baby yoga, and signed up for MOPS. Mom and baby yoga was a lifeline because it was basically a group therapy session for new moms, followed by some yoga. My husband and I also occasionally invited people over for dinners so I could still feel like I had some sort of social life.

Some facets of attachment parenting really helped me as well. One of the scariest aspects of the depression for me was not feeling much attachment to my child. Wearing her in the Ergo carrier during daily walks was incredibly comforting and helped ease my anxiety. Eventually we ended up co-sleeping too, which we still do (I wouldn’t necessarily endorse it but it definitely helps with attachment).

So that’s an abridged version of my story. Slowly I started feeling better, and at this point life feels pretty normal again. Postpartum depression and anxiety can easily happen to anyone, even if you don’t have a history of depression/anxiety. I strongly recommend all new moms join some sort of support group whether it’s MOPS, postpartum yoga, or a new moms group at the local hospital. Just being able to talk to other women who are going through a similar experience as you should be extremely helpful. Also it’s probably wise to avoid any hormonal forms of birth control.

Did you struggle with depression or anxiety after becoming a mom? How did you cope?

photo credit: Helga Weber via photopin cc

Dear 60-year-old Ursula:

Well, how are things? It’s hard to imagine life 30 years in the future, so I won’t make predictions, but here are some things I’ll be praying for you about.

I hope you are healthy, both physically and mentally, that years of hiking, running and yoga have kept you fit. I hope you and Spencer are still happily married, and have recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of your first date on Valentine’s Day 2004. I hope you are able to see Marie (and your other children? grandchildren?) often. I hope you have a strong community of friends to share life with. I hope you sit in Bible study knitting hats for babies.

Ursula, I hope you feel beautiful, with white hair and a few wrinkles around your eyes. I hope your wrinkles are from smiling and not from frowning. I hope you really understand how much God loves you, that God’s love is as tangible as the slice of chocolate cake you just ate for dessert. I hope you wake up in the mornings laughing with joy. I hope that gratitude is your first instinct, that if any thought runs obsessively through your mind it is simply Thank you God.

I hope you see the good in people. I hope you’ve welcomed so many people into your home that you’ve entertained angels without knowing it. I hope you’ve given away enough money to save thousands of lives. I hope you’ve been the best mother and wife you could be, that you’ve put the needs of your family ahead of your own.

I hope that love is the verb that best defines you.

Love,

30-year-old Ursula

Dear 15-year-old Ursula:

Greetings from the future! It is the year 2014. You are a successful film and stage actress and drive a Mercedes hovercraft. Last year you made People’s Most Beautiful People list, and this year you’ve been nominated for an Academy Award.

Okay, just teasing you a little bit. I’m choosing to write to you at 15, because I’m now 30. I hope that in doubling my age I’ve learned a few things about life. Perhaps this means I can soon expect a letter from the 60-year-old me? Maybe by then they’ll have better technology for communicating across the space-time continuum.

First, I will encourage you to enjoy high school for what it is. A time to learn and make friends. Thank you for not caring about being accepted by the “popular” group. That’s very wise and admirable! You’re choosing instead just to make friends with people that you like. This will be a blessing to you during your high school years. Most of these friendships will fade after high school as people move away, so enjoy the time you have with these fun friends. I know you want all your close friendships to be lifelong and some will — but not all. Life is filled with surprises, including the surprises of which classroom acquaintances bloom into long-term friendships, and which BFFs fade into the memory banks.

This is also the year that you’ve started going to church and chosen to get baptized. Thank you also for making these wise choices! Seeking to know and follow God is, in my opinion, the most important thing you can do in your life. Your faith will bring you peace and joy and will ultimately lead to you meet your husband and develop many significant friendships. As a sidenote that is perhaps related, thank you also for not being interested in drinking and partying — you will need all the brain cells you can get to help you through the sleep-deprived early parenting years.

Do not be afraid to try some new things and meet new people. I know you’re shy and afraid that new people won’t like you. Don’t let that stop you from participating in activities you want to participate in. Be nice to people and they will like you. Except when they don’t, because sometimes they won’t. (Well, those people are jerks, so you shouldn’t pay them any mind). Also don’t let your fear that you might not be good at something prevent you from trying it. If you want to run on the track team, then run on the track team. Maybe you won’t be very good, but you won’t know unless you try. Likewise, if you want to join the choir or start a photography club — you should do those things! You won’t have as much time and energy when you’re in college and beyond.

Lastly, don’t worry so much about academic success and getting into an elite college. I mean you should do your best in school, but don’t give yourself a heart attack. You don’t really want to go to an elite college anyway — it’s just not your destiny. You’ll get a good education and meet your husband at the University of Oregon. But maybe you should reconsider the journalism degree? Marketing perhaps, or something else with the potential for good pay?

Love,

30-year-old Ursula (wife, mother, freelance writer, substitute teacher, world traveler, ice cream enthusiast)

 

Just filter your tap water!

Just filter your tap water!

 

 

Last week I watched the documentary Tapped, which taught me some disturbing things about the bottled water industry. I don’t normally drink bottled water (see reason #1), and after watching this documentary I don’t think you should either. I’m not alone in thinking this — communities around the country are starting to ban the sale of single-use bottled water. And in December, city supervisor David Chiu introduced a proposal to limit the sale of bottled water in San Francisco — making SF the first major city to tinker with a ban. Why all the fuss?:

1) Bottled water is expensive. Okay this is rather obvious, but why pay for bottled water when you can drink water from your tap that is virtually free? If you don’t like the flavor of your tap water, or you’re concerned about chlorine or metal contaminants, then filter it.

2) Tap water is safer to drink. Yes it’s true! Tap water is highly regulated and tested multiple times per day for safety. Bottled water is rarely, if ever, tested for safety (thanks Food and Drug Administration!). Oh, but here’s a silver lining: if you’re drinking Aquafina or Dasani water, it’s just filtered tap water, so those brands should be pretty safe.

3) The bottles may not be safe to drink from. The plastic bottles contain harmful chemicals, that may leach into your water if stored at warm temperatures. Drinking bottled water is a relatively new phenomenon, so we don’t really know the long-term safety effects (i.e. is there a link to cancer?)

4) Plastic water bottles are a waste of oil. The bottles themselves are made from oil, a non-renewable resource. It takes more than 17 million barrels of oil each year just to make enough bottles to meet America’s demand for bottled water. That’s enough oil to 1.3 million cars for a year. Furthermore, the process of turning oil into plastic bottles releases toxic chemicals into the air and water around the manufacturing plants, causing health problems in individuals who live in those areas.

5) Plastic water bottles are killing our oceans. Americans are recycling plastic at an abysmal rate of 24 percent. So, when the average U.S. citizen uses 167 disposable water bottles per year, he only recycles 38 of them. The rest end up in landfills and tragically our lakes, rivers and oceans — where they take 500-1000 years to fully degrade. There’s a large floating plastic island twice the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean! Marine life and seabirds are frequently killed from eating or becoming entangled in plastic. Sad.

These are all good reasons to stop buying bottled water in and of themselves, but here’s another disturbing question. In an era of climate change and increased drought, do we trust large, profit-driven corporations to have such unregulated access to our water supply?

For further reading, check out these sources:

Bottled Water vs. Tap Water: Rethink What You Drink

Ban the Bottle

Oceans: Plastic Pollution