What we need are sticker charts

For New Year’s 2019, I made a resolution and mostly kept it. Hold your applause. I have always, always been a New Year’s Resolution person. I think they are worth making and I take them seriously, and that is one of the few things in life I will fight you on. In December 2018, I realized that I had stopped exercising almost completely. I had just finished a busy first semester of graduate school, and I was feeling a little sluggish and not myself. My days were almost always full, and exercise felt less urgent than academic deadlines and less appealing than watching New Girl on my laptop in bed, so it got swept under the rug. It’s not that I didn’t want, somewhere deep inside of me, to exercise; it’s not that I didn’t believe that exercising was a good choice to make for my life. It’s just that, most days, my best intentions couldn’t quite overcome the external pressure of school and my personal desire to be relaxed and comfortable as often as possible.

So: New Year’s Resolution 2019 was an exercise resolution. I wish, for the sake of keeping things interesting, it was something more original – but there you have it. I’ve failed to keep plenty of New Year’s Resolutions before, but I was serious about this one. I knew that since my days were busy (and working out is hard, especially when your muscles have been on vacation for the last few months), I needed some infrastructure if this was ever going to catch on.  After I wrote, “work out 4x / week” on my list of New Year’s Resolutions, I got myself organized.

First, and because I had just finished a semester of having my head stuffed with psychology, I made up an operational definition for working out. I decided what I was going to consider “exercise”. I set my bar low and attainable. Any amount of time doing something exercise-y above and beyond what I normally did in a day would be called “exercise”.

I try not to give out too much unsolicited advice, but I’ll hit you with this one because I think it’s important: sticker charts. They are for children and they are also for anyone who needs to get something done. I wanted to work out 4 times each week for all of 2019, so I printed out monthly calendars for all of 2019. Actually, I made the calendars myself so they would look nice hanging on my wall all year. I wrote specific motivational thoughts on each month. I bought the perfect sheet of tiny, shiny star stickers, and on the way home from the store I told myself that I could stick a star to the number of every day of the month that I exercised.

Throughout the year, I brought the star stickers and calendar pages with me everywhere. They hung where I could see them from my bed in one room, and then I moved them to a spot above my desk when I moved houses. I folded them and stuck them in my bag when I traveled. I kept sticking stars on every number of day that I exercised, and I cannot stress enough the power the stickers had to get me to do a couple squats when I didn’t want to.

Although a lot of my exercising can be attributed to the sticker chart, my friend Amelia deserves some credit as well. We both signed up for a research study at our university for the month of February. For the study, we were forced to exercise four times every week, with a group of other research participants, while being supervised by the person conducting the study. What I’m saying is, we would have had to actively run away and hide from these people (especially the girl whose dissertation depended on our data) in order to not exercise during that time. February was covered. When the study was over, we kept meeting up to exercise together. It’s a lot harder to walk right past the gym without going in when you know there’s someone in there waiting for you.

For me, resolutions and good intentions get all their power from practical, everyday routines and disciplines, from planning ahead and accountability. I don’t think I’ve ever had a feeling or conviction strong enough to keep me doing something challenging for the long haul.

Right now, we are in a couple of weeks where many of us are making resolutions. The deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd brought a long-standing problem of systemic racism to public consciousness, and so we’ve seen marches and protests, we’ve read countless social media posts and news articles about what we should and should not do and what’s really the right way to solve systemic and individual racism. And because of it, many people want to do something. I am the exact opposite of an expert on all of this. I am not a voice who should be telling anyone what’s the right, best, moral, etc. thing to do right now. I do, however, know that a lot of us want to start doing new things now that we weren’t doing before, and I think I know a little bit about how to rig your life so you keep showing up and doing something.

I am a resolution optimist. I support new intentions: to read books, have hard conversations, become informed, effect change in our workplaces, self-reflect, and all the other things that matter that we want to start (or continue) doing. However, I think that we may be easily lost or sidetracked unless we approach the new things we want to add to our lives with effort and intention.

Adding new practices to our lives will take effort. Things will come up that seem more pressing and important, and things will come up that seem easier and more fun. When that happens, I think that the plans and routines and accountability that we have created ahead of time will be what keep us going, more than our good intentions or the way we feel right now, as we resolve to do things.

So, some more unsolicited advice and just about my only helpful thoughts right now: I think I, and anyone like me, might need sticker charts, to meet up with a friend weekly to talk about what we’re reading, to click and drag a block of time on Google Calendar called “self-reflection activity” or “listen to podcast” the week before. Whatever it is you and I feel compelled to do, I think using our desire to act to make a plan for how we’re going to keep doing a new thing one month, six months, and several years from now could be the right move. Feeling convicted and moved to action in this moment is, I believe, good and right – but let’s not stop there. Do whatever silly, extra, scheduled, detailed thing it takes to keep you going. (And you make a sticker chart, now or ever, PLEASE send me a picture!)

Thoughts on moving, again

I have been around for 23 years and have made a significant location change only four times, one of which doesn’t count because I was too young to remember it. Based on the three moves I remember, I have determined that moving is hard, emotionally, physically, and logistically, and I don’t love it, but it is often worth the trouble in the long run.

My most recent location change was almost two years ago, in August, to Muncie, Indiana. This was because I had enrolled in a graduate program at the university there. It was a business move, for professional purposes. I feel the need to clarify this point when I tell people about moving to Muncie, because I don’t want to be held personally responsible for the decision to move to Muncie. (That’s all I’ll say about that; I’ll leave you and Google to draw your own conclusions.)

When I moved, my mom came with me, and we did all of the things that you do when you’re moving to college. We drove from my parents’ house in Missouri separately, because both of our cars were stuffed with my belongings, and we called each other to coordinate rest area and snack breaks. My boyfriend at the time was moving to Muncie, too, and he had dinner ready for my mom and I when we rolled into his apartment parking lot in the evening. We ate, and then the three of us drove to the other side of town, to the house I had never actually seen in person but was moving into for the year. We dislodged boxes and miscellaneous un-boxable items from the two cars and heaved them into my new room until I was at the stage of moving where all your things are technically all inside of your new space, but everything’s in boxes and you don’t know where any of it is. The only unpacked items were a twin mattress laid directly on the carpet for me and a blow up mattress for my mom.

What I remember about the first night is this: the blinds on my one window were no match for my next-door neighbor’s blinding fluorescent house light, and I was laying directly facing the window. Also, the blinds were no match for my next door neighbor’s late night house party noise.

I should interrupt this story to let you know that I was not thrilled about moving. I was decidedly thrilled to live in the same town as my boyfriend (it worked out; we’re married now). I had overall positive feelings about the graduate program I had moved for (remember: professional purposes). I was optimistic about making my way in a new place (in particular, trying food from new restaurants.) I was not thrilled about getting used to new neighbor noises and lights and sleeping on a twin mattress on the floor amongst unpacked boxes in a room with bare walls; namely, moving.

What necessarily followed from such a night was my mom and I going to Meijer to buy a very thick black out curtain and a small but noisy fan, which I could blow directly into my ears to drown out the neighbor noise. One problem solved, we proceeded with more moving to college activities, which are things you do to stall for time before the parent has to leave and you have to stare at your empty bedroom walls and unpacked boxes and do something about it. We had breakfast at a local restaurant, my mom bought me a sweatshirt from the campus bookstore and took a photo of me in front of a sign for the university, which I appreciated because that’s one more shred of evidence supporting the fact that the move to Muncie was for professional, not personal, purposes.

And then, eventually, we were out of getting-dropped-off-at-college activities, and it was time for my mom to leave and  for me to stare down the boxes. We hugged, and cried, and I was sad about moving and I like my mom so I walked out to the front porch so I could wave while she drove away. I remember what I was wearing: bare feet and a dress. When I couldn’t see the car anymore, I went back up the steps and across the porch and jiggled the doorknob of the locked front door.

You guys. The locked front door. And I was on the side that I didn’t want to be on, wearing just bare feet and a dress, and I could tell you exactly where inside the house my phone, wallet, and house key were located.

There is more to the story. I will spoil it: I get back in. I used a neighbor’s phone to call our landlord, who unlocked the door for me (and wasn’t even that begrudging about it). But the important part of the story, and the reason I think it’s burned into my brain two years later, is that if being locked out of your new house in a new town with no keys and no phone and no shoes and no wallet doesn’t exactly portray what moving to a new place feels like, at least right at first, I don’t know what does. You don’t even know which direction to start walking, even if you have shoes on. You don’t know who to ask for when you need to help, or where to find them. You feel somewhat stuck, and you’re unsure if you meant to be stuck there. Pretty much all you have going for you is the kindness of strangers.

I’d hate to leave it off there, because that was only the first hour. So I’ll tell about today, almost two years after the lockout that has apparently really tainted my view of moving. Today I woke up and sat with my husband on the couch in a different house, one that we picked after driving all around Muncie, touring rentals and competently navigating streets that used to be foreign to us. I made myself a cup of coffee with beans from the local coffee shop that’s become my favorite. I grocery shopped, and I knew which grocery store to go to first and which would carry the weird, random item on my list. On my way home, I dropped off groceries for a couple from our small group who’s staying at home because of the pandemic, and I got to their house by memory. In the afternoon, I met a friend to lift weights in a tree-shaded grassy area on our university’s campus that we discovered and claimed as our outdoor gym last summer. We’ve met there at least two dozen times, and we’ve run or lifted weights together multiple times a week for the last 18 months, with few exceptions.

There’s more to the story. I will spoil it: I can’t tell you exactly when it happened, but sometime during the last two years I learned which way to walk to get to the coffee shop, and to the park with the farmers market, and to campus. I learned the roads with street signs and the ones where the signs have been stolen and you just have to guess. I joined a small group, and made friends with the people, and as of today, I know that I can get to their house from memory. I started regularly exercising with a friend. I committed to a coffee bean subscription from the local coffee shop.

My parents moved recently, too, and when they did someone told them that the third year is when you really start to not feel new, when it no longer feels at all like you’ve moved. I’ll be moving again at the end of the summer; I won’t get to test his theory on Muncie. But with the trajectory I seem to be on, I believe it. Now that you know I’m moving, you might have realized that I couldn’t leave off at being locked out of the house on the first day in a new place; I had to remind myself of what today was like, too. And then when my parents are following me and my husband to Colorado this summer, with stuffed cars, I can read this and remember that moving feels like being locked out of the house, barefoot, with no idea who to call an no way to call them, but there’s more to the story and I’ll spoil it: I get back in.  

I just need some space…

Last year, which was my first year of grad school, I lived in a house on the same road as the building where I took all of my classes, only a mile away from campus. To save approximately fifty cents per day on gas and a parking pass, and to ensure that I used my body to do something other than stare at a computer screen on a regular basis, I walked to school every day. Rain, shine, snow, sleet, ice, etc., like the mailman or just a regular poor student / midwesterner. I had some of the most beautiful, peaceful moments of that year on my walk to school. A disclaimer: some days, walking to school absolutely sucked. I don’t want to overromanticize it. Walking to campus in the middle of summer with a bag full of my heavy dinosaur laptop and then stuffed with lots of other things I may or may not have truly needed, I fantasized about owning a parking pass. Despite my less-than-stellar attitude some days, my choice to walk to school and the house that allowed me to do it were some of the best things for me. 

Last year was the most time per day  I’ve spent doing difficult things so far. I spent a lot of my days thinking, mostly about things that other people told me to think about. (For my own good, of course – that’s how school works.) I took furious notes in  lectures. I read articles and textbook chapters with a lot of words that I didn’t really understand. And then studied it all. In order to make a tiny income, I had an assistantship where I was assigned to work with a researcher in my building, and so I read about her research and tried to help her with her research and Googled about topics she was interested in. I learned new tactics to force myself to keep using my brain longer than I wanted to, like rewarding myself with chocolate (which very quickly turns into eating chocolate constantly any time you’re working.) My mind was very full a lot of the time. 

I had a detailed calendar on my computer that was mostly colorful boxes marking things I was supposed to be getting done all day, with barely-visible amounts of white space. I updated it somewhat obsessively. I tried to maximize everything (trips to the grocery store, drives anywhere, class) by always doing at least two things at once. I did get enough sleep, but I could have easily filled those hours with productivity, too, if I wasn’t so stubborn about getting enough sleep. I rarely let my walking pace slow below brisk. I ate a lot of meals over my laptop or precariously balanced on my steering wheel while going at least 7 over from one commitment to the next. Maybe your life isn’t exactly the same in the details (and I hope not – I do really count on being the only driver holding my lunch and steering with the same hand when I do that),  but I bet I’m not alone in the pace, the urgency, the feeling of days being stuffed past their capacity more often than not. 

My commute to and from campus was one time that my mind got to be free, every day. It took about a month and a half for me to realize how important that was. Sometime in October, I started to label my walks to and from campus magical in my mind. The leaves on the trees lining my street looked like fall, and due to my schedule and shortening days, the walks were usually pretty well-timed with sunrise and sunset, when the light hit the colors just right and everything looked its best. I spent most of that year rushing through my days or planning them to the minute, and the miles to and from school each day were a safe spot that the rush couldn’t reach.  I discovered a podcast I liked and listened to it a lot of days on my way to class, approximately fourteen minutes of calm before joining in with the cycle of classes and research and trying to find the right person or the right room, which always felt too fast or crazy or boring.

In the winter, the walk was muffled by snow, and the snow also made the street look like a Christmas movie. (I’d be remiss not to mention the days that I truly thought my eyeballs were going to freeze open; but for the most part, the walk was peaceful and what I needed.) I listened to Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine, and then Cold Tangerines, the audiobook versions, and probably looked a little off while doing it because I either laughed out loud or wiped tears off my cheeks every day. I think I cried because the walks were the one time that I had a little space; I could think my own thoughts and dream and feel inspiration rather than feeling deadlines breathing down my neck. When I look back at last year, the walks are a sharp contrast to the whole rest of my life. They are the space between the lines, the pauses between the music notes, or, for an analogy that hits closer to home for me, the intervals of not eating between meals that make food taste extra satisfying. They made me feel something that I knew was true – that all the parts of who I am matter, not just the parts that helped me get stuff done and be on time. They were good for my soul. Of all of the things about the place I lived last year, I am most thankful for the walks, and a few other things.

I’ve been getting to know myself better, and one of the things I’ve learned is that I need walks, I need space. In overwhelmingly busy patches of my life, I feel like all I want is space. I feel as if I could lay in a bed and stare blankly for hours; I feel like I’d never get bored of letting the next episode play. But then I try giving myself big spaces, open weekends, and sometimes it’s too much (or too little?) The truth is that I crave work and activity and falling into bed exhausted, too. What I want is the perfect balance: long walks and also satisfying, effort-demanding work; quiet time by myself and also loud conversations. The walks last year were beautiful because they inherently were: peaceful, and outside, and reflective. But they were also beautiful because they were interspersed with their opposite, and they added what I needed to feel like a whole, balanced human.

Lately, it feels like someone messed up my balance by giving me way more space than I wanted, and I want to find the person responsible and monologue about how I had a great thing going, and how dare they mess it up? Of course, I can’t do this. My next best plan is to add, and add, and add, to collect items on my calendar and hobbies or to draw another box to check off. And that’s good; I think it makes me feel normal and sane. But I want to keep the spaces, too.  I remember how I cried and laughed every day last year during my walks to campus, how the space let my mind and heart go places they couldn’t when I was in the middle of things. That makes me want to keep spaces, to protect them, to make sure I remain a whole human, who works hard and has a schedule, and who also dreams. 

 Like a lot of people, I’ve been taking more walks in the last couple weeks, down a different street because I moved. My neighborhood is small and mostly bare of trees, but across the street there are winding roads and basically a forest, and a creek, so I pretend I live in the neighborhood across the street and go for a walk. They’re a favorite part of my day again, quieting the rush of information from social media and the news and my mental to-do list for a few minutes, a space. The walks feel similar to the ones last year last year – I see sky, and trees, and I get to talk or be quiet, to move without hurrying or actually getting anywhere. Of the things in my life right now, I think I’m back to being most thankful for the spaces. 

A fool-proof writing strategy

When I sit down to write (a blog post, a birthday card, an APA-style paper for school), I have an almost overpowering urge to start it all off with a little disclaimer. I must think that doing so will intercept any potential critiques from the person reading what I’ve written. It’s sort of a personal challenge, like, Dear Reader: Just try to find a flaw in this that I haven’t. For example, the disclaimer at the beginning of this blog post (which, for reference, is going to be a very fun one about the insecure thoughts I have while I’m writing things) might read something like, Is it totally self-absorbed to think that you’re interested in hearing about my writing process? I’m pretty sure that people aren’t interested in hearing about how other people write until a person has written something that’s objectively good and has had some level of success, probably evidenced by a lot of followers on Instagram. I don’t have either of those, so I can’t vouch for this information being very useful. But I’m writing it, because I’ve been wanting to for a long time, and I’ve heard at least two people advise to “Write what you know.”

Generally, me writing something goes like this: I am excited about an idea from the time it’s conceived in my brain until about 45 seconds after I start trying to find the words for it. At 45 seconds, I become suspicious that what I’m writing is, in fact, inconsequential and doesn’t deserve the space I’m giving it on Microsoft Word. I consider the bajillions of books that I’ve seen collecting dust in used book stores, laying half-read on coffee tables, and signaling professors’ importance and knowledge from shelves above their desks. I estimate the size of the archive of unread blog posts and newsletters in my email inbox. All evidence points to the conclusion that there are for sure enough words written already. Statistically, what I want to say has already been said, by at least twenty-seven other people. I wish I’d been born a little earlier, when I’d have had a better chance at saying something new. A couple of sentences later, I’m convinced that the topic is far too deep for me to take on and I’m making a fool of myself, at best. I definitely don’t know enough to do it justice. I’m too young and have had far too easy of a life to have insight. By trying to write about it at all, I’m coming off as pretentious, a know-it-all, holier-than-you, pointing a finger, and all the worst things.

Most of the time, I realize that I don’t fully believe all of that for long enough to muscle my way through a few paragraphs. I convince myself not to start the post with a disclaimer. I tell myself that if what I’m writing matters to just a couple of people, that’s worth it.

When I reread the few paragraphs that I fought so hard for, I often realize that they now don’t seem to make sense. I was the one who had the ideas I wrote about in the first place, and suddenly I can’t follow Allie From Twenty Minutes Ago’s train of thought. Also, I have used the word “really” way too many times. My descriptive language is trash compared to David Foster Wallace’s (a writer to whose work I have no business comparing mine, but to whose work I usually compare mine anyway). And two paragraphs in a row say exactly the same thing, reminding me of a professor whose class I used to dread. And also, is this post actually just a summary of the book I just read? Is it all just a plagiarized mess?

I try to fix most of the mistakes. For the second time, I convince myself not to start with a disclaimer about all the mistakes I’ve found in my writing. I worry that too may of my sentences start with “I”. At this point, I’m usually starting to get anxious to get the thing out of my possession.

Eventually, I hit “Submit”, print it off, tri-fold it and stick it in an envelope, publish the blog post, or whatever, and the words are off. They’re “out there”. Sometimes I come back later to reread what I’ve written and realize that it was much better than what I’d feared (although my descriptive language might always be trash compared to David Foster Wallace’s, and that’s okay). Sometimes I reread things and cringe. More often than not, I experience both of those reactions, to the same thing, depending on the day.

The part of writing that I consistently have a hard time with is the end. Birthday cards are easy, because there’s a finite amount of space. Nobody’s asking why you didn’t keep writing, because the answer is obvious: I’ve said all I physically can, due to the constraints of this card. Academic papers for class aren’t too bad, either; sometimes there’s even a section in the rubric called “Conclusion” that tells you exactly how to wrap it up. Monologues about what goes through your head when you sit down to write, though? Totally different beast. If I took a motivational approach, I could end with, “I think it’s okay for things not to be easy or for them not to turn out how you wished. Do the thing!” Which I think is a pretty good take away from this monologue. Or I could be empathetic and point out that if your mind kind of turns against you when you start to do something you care about, you’re not completely alone. At the very least, there’s me. Better yet, I think it’s likely that there are people other than just the two of us who feel that way. If I was being realistic, ironic, and / or self-aware, I could just tell you that I didn’t have a well-thought-out purpose when I started at the top of the page, and I didn’t find one along the way. This is just what I wanted to write most today, and I like to write (despite what you may have been led to believe by the above paragraphs). Maybe it makes the most sense to write until I’m done saying what I want to, and then stop.

Host moves

I made elaborate cards and sidewalk chalk murals and detailed itineraries when a friend would come to spend the night, starting from the age of about six. I think I’ve loved hosting since always. On one occasion, I believe there was a “Welcome!” PowerPoint presentation made in honor of a visit from my grandparents. In the interest of cultivating that tendency, I feel lucky that I grew up with a mom who hosts people. I am thankful that she likes to host at all. She wouldn’t have been doing anything wrong if she didn’t, but I’m glad I got to learn from her. And I am thankful for the particular way that my mom hosts. My mom’s style is low-fuss and genuine. I can’t remember an instance of frantic scrambling to clear every last piece of debris and remove all smudges pre-guest arrival (although, I feel it should be noted, we did clean enough to be considerate of them.) There was never a feeling that we had to perform for the people coming over, that the event was in any way about how we looked. Dinners with guests over were just like family dinners, but with more plates. We ate normal, school-night recipes that might show up any other day of the week, and dessert wasn’t served because we had guests, but because dessert is always eaten at our house.

Dinner at my parents home in Concordia – usually involves friends from other countries.

As I’ve moved out of my parents’ house and into places that are increasingly more “mine”- where I have more power to choose what the space looks like, and what happens there and when – I’ve started dreaming about what it looks like for me to host. I’ve felt comfortable and at home in countless places that were not mine. There’s something uniquely rest-giving about the experience of having a home shared with you, regardless of the amount of time or the amenities that come with it. Because I have nothing else to draw on, I’m stealing hosting moves from the friends and family and strangers who have made room for me – so when you come to my house, you’ll get a little bit of my mom, some Annette and Sabrina and Sam and Kate and Allison, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, and family friends from church.

So you sit

A couple summers ago, my mom started hosting an ongoing event – backyard campfires, every night, for anyone who wanted to come. I think the simplicity of those fires was a perfect prototype of my mom’s hosting style. Preparation consisted of dragging outdoor chairs to the fire (maybe, if we hadn’t left them there the night before), starting the fire, and making sure the s’more basket was restocked. Invitation was by a very public Facebook event, or word of mouth – however, really. Guests sifted in as the sky got darker, and once we were there, the main goal and activity for the evening was simple: we sat.  Including my mom, the hostess, because once everyone had a chair and bug spray, not much else needed to be done. And that’s my number one hosting guideline for myself, and the thing that I see over and over in my favorite memories of being hosted: I love when the host has enough time and intention to stop and sit with guests.

One of the first Backyard fires in our Michigan yard.

Let me tell you about times I’ve been sat with, so we see what that could look like. I do actually think the position of sitting is kind of important. It shows that you’re not about to bolt to do something else or talk to someone else. When you’re sitting, you’re somewhat committed. Bonus points if you find some kind of sophisticated adult high chair that you can actually strap yourself into. Sitting, Exhibit A: When I interviewed at graduate school programs, one of the schools made me spend the night with a student who had already been accepted and his girlfriend. (I don’t say “made me” because I hated it, but because I truly didn’t have a choice). I got up to make breakfast and coffee in the morning, and when he got up, he made his breakfast and coffee and sat with me in the kitchen, answering all my questions about the upcoming interview and the program and grad school in general. Exhibit B: I used to spend the night at my friend Kate’s when we were both in college and she lived just off campus and I lived way off campus and I had a late Monday night commitment and an early Tuesday morning class. When I got to Kate’s room, no matter how late, she unfailingly offered me a cup of tea and made time to stay up and talk to me before going to bed. Exhibit C: On longer visits, there are several people in my life who are great about making the effort to set up a time for the two of us to have coffee together while I’m staying with them. My mom is great about this, as are Allison and Annette. Exhibit D: A couple from the church my husband and I attend invited us over for dinner, sometime shortly after we were very new to the church. After dinner, they had dessert prepared and asked us to sit with them in the living room to eat it and talk. It meant a lot that they took extra time to get to know us, in a way that was clearly on purpose. Exhibit E: Any and every instance of lingering at the table after a meal. (Side note: I don’t know exactly how to force people to linger – I think keeping the food and drinks coming probably helps. If you have ideas, maybe you can share in the comment section.)

Our family will even set up dinner in a ‘hotel’ hallway to fit more friends. Biltz Hall SPLHS

Taking the time to sit with someone says a lot of things, and they’re all good. To name a few “I have time for you” or “You’re worth my time”, “Time with you is more important than ________”, “Our relationship is the priority of this event” and “This is about you, not me.” I think that’s why being hosted well feels so good. It’s a way that we have worth and value and belonging communicated to us without so much being said (and to me, it feels even more true when actions say it). It’s fulfilling for the host, too, because they get to feel that same truth about people as they preach it with their table and home.

Sitting – We’re off to a good start:)

My husband shares my love of hosting, and he and I started hosting people together at his home while we were engaged last year. Flopped on the couch eating leftovers after the last guest had left, we often found ourselves talking about how the sitting with people part of hosting can be difficult. He (more than I, and I’m so thankful for this) loves to help, and the more people there are in the immediate vicinity, the more possibilities to help, which leads to him pinballing around and doing everything as close to all at once as possible. We both see this as a gift of his. He’s able to serve people and take care of needs intuitively, and that makes people around him feel loved. I, on the other hand, can get caught up in details of food and drinks and decorations, which I genuinely like getting caught up in, and I can become preoccupied with how it all might look to someone else. We both have to make an effort to pause the flow of how we act when we’re not thinking about it and to sit down with people; we’re both really glad when we do. (And a little surprised, because we haven’t quite learned yet.) We’re excited to keep learning this and to watch how rest and life comes from it, as we tell other people and ourselves the truth about them through our food and time, and sitting.

The kale guy is my therapist

I have the guy who sold me kale one time in college to thank for one of my more important personal growth moments. Here is the progression: I interviewed him as part of my responsibilities for a club I was a part of. He talked about the fact that he grew vegetables on a farm. It was November, and I needed vegetables. Kale is one of a few vegetables that grows in Michigan in November. I do not particularly love kale, but when I texted him for veggies, and he said he had kale, I did not want to be the ungrateful person who won’t accept that, miraculously, something green has grown in Michigan in November. I bought some.  

I met him at the university coffee shop to pick up the kale I only kind of wanted, and he stayed to chat for a while. I asked good questions about his interesting farm life, his interesting interest in books, etc. I successfully got him to stay and talk about himself for half an hour, after which he paused and asked/stated, (paraphrase) “I haven’t really learned anything about you. We’ve been talking about me this entire time.”

Which, of course, was my exact plan for the conversation. Not consciously, but at the time that was my move. I’d ask questions, nod and make good eye contact, thus fading myself out of the conversation because I thought that’s probably what people wanted. I have my kale guy to thank for being the first person to explicitly tell me that I was allotted a whole half of a conversation, and I wasn’t taking up my fair share, and that someone wished I would.

I found that I couldn’t find something to say, and the conversation quickly fizzled. The whole thing unnerved me. I mean, really – a complete stranger asked me to tell about me and my mind went blank. I don’t think it was for lack of knowing. I think I was aware of some things that I liked and that I didn’t, of what I believed about some things, and who my friends were. I think the issues was that I was out of practice when it came to acting on those things in front of people. Somewhere, I had picked up the idea that I, and what I thought and loved and did, was about as relevant and important as an automated telemarketing call, or something equally bland and ineffective.

(This is a lie.)

It feels healing to do things that remind me that things about me matter. These things are very small: doing what I like for simply that purpose (not because it’s useful, helpful, logical), saying what I think to other people, making a decision, saying no to things and saying yes. In one way or another, being who I am in front of people, on purpose. It’s empowering.

I’m lucky to have picked up a new belief, too, through various books and podcasts and parts of the Bible that I’ve found myself thinking about since the kale guy conversation. Being who I am in front of people, on purpose, doesn’t only make me feel confident and empowered; I believe it’s sacred. (Let me acknowledge, for a second, that it feels bold to declare THIS IS WHAT I BELIEVE IS SACRED from my kitchen in my pajamas with only my bachelor’s degree in psychology to officially back up my Bible-reading authority. Regardless,) Here’s what I know: if I believe that God made me on purpose, and made me the way I am on purpose, and is powerful and in-charge enough to understand and coordinate the world, it makes sense for me to trust that he was on to something when he made me.

I mean, imagine being God and having made someone the way you wanted to – and knowing you’d gotten it right, and having it all laid out as far as what would happen to and around them that would just fit with your plan for who they were. I imagine so much joy as he watches the times when I embrace that. And I picture a sad-tinged voice saying “If only you knew” while I hide out thinking that things about me don’t matter, or are really all wrong. I think that finding out who I am, and being that person in the presence of God, is an act of worship and trust all by itself.  

Which, by the way, is exactly the point I think the kale guy was trying to make.