Sunday, January 26, 2014

the seeds and the flowers

The United Methodist student ministry at my undergraduate alma mater played a huge role in the second half of my college life. During the four semesters that I was involved, weekly attendance grew from the mid-teens to thirty-ish, and we built ourselves a pretty amazing choir. The growth was wonderful and remarkable, but it was also fragile.

As we were getting ready to graduate, my friend Taylor, who had helped the ministry grow from the single-digits to the mid-teens, was worried. Who would take over the leadership roles when our core group left? Would the congregation dwindle again? Would all our work be for naught? Young as we were, I don't think we recognized these as the concerns of any person who moves on from a beloved project.

I said something like, "We planted good seeds. And they will grow, but we don't necessarily get to see the flowers bloom."  This wasn't something I had thought about before speaking the words, but as they hung there in the air between us, I decided this was a philosophy I could embrace. As I recall, Taylor wasn't convinced.

On a recent trip to DC, I got to see the flowers.

Sunday evening worship is a lot like it was fourteen years ago when my cohort started leaving. The community is inclusive and caring. Fellowship of Sound is a glory to the ear (and "Siyahamba" is still in the repertoire). The hospitality is delicious. The building is round.

What today's community has that we lacked is a sense of tradition, the knowledge that the things they do are rooted in the things we did. They can go farther in exploration and innovation, key components of campus ministry, because of the structures we built and the support we continue to send through our prayers and our gifts, and occasionally our presence and our service.

Right now, so many areas of my life feel like sitting in the mud with a packet of seeds, and sometimes I'm overwhelmed by all the things for which my trowel is inadequate. My brief sojourn with this community was balm for the soul, a reminder that my contributions can lead to beauty.

Photo from

Thursday, January 9, 2014


Social media comes under a lot of criticism for making us more isolated, for decimating the glory of English, for changing the way people interact with one another. This post is not about that. This post is about the power of social media to build and maintain community across time and space.

The first year of my married life was bathed in the rose-colored glow of being newly wed, but the second year I was really lonely. I desperately wanted to be back in Washington, DC, with my college friends, which was silly for two reasons. First, by then most of my college friends were leaving the District. And second because I had plenty of great friends in Michigan. My La Leche League friend, my grad school friend, and my friend I stole from Adam are all wonderful women, but something was missing.

After dwelling with the discontent for a while, I finally realized that what I really missed was interacting with a group of people who not only knew me but also all knew each other. Identifying the problem helped me to accept it, but satisfying the craving was more difficult. Gradually, the sort of interconnected tribe I longed for coalesced around us as Adam started inviting a more-or-less stable group of people to three parties a year: sledding for Anna in January, a cookout for Sofia in May, and his apple butter stir in the fall.  My world started to look rosy again.

Facebook's expansion beyond college campuses, though, gave me back my college tribe. Although we were in Michigan and Texas and Washington and New York and Togo and Indiana and the DR Congo, we could still interact with one another easily. The asynchronicity of posts and comments on social media ameliorate the difficulties posed by work schedules and time differences and eliminate the costs of international phone calls. Most recently, Skype gave us back the ability to see each other as we talked.

I don't mean to say that social media completely replaces face to face interactions. The best analogy I've come up with is to say that social media simulates working in the same building as someone else. You might not have a conversation over lunch with Sam every day, but since you pass him in the hallway and you have brief interactions at the copier or vending machines, you have a general sense that Sam is alive and well, and when you do make time for a tête à tête, you can skim over the preliminary stuff and get to the deeper conversation more quickly.

Facebook has allowed me to have a general sense of what's going on in the lives of a few close high school friends, my close-knit group from college, the extended families of both my parents, and my graduate school colleagues. For a long time, this was the only social media platform I used.

Then, having learned to knit in 2009 because Anna wanted to, I kept knitting because I liked it, and quickly exhausted my reference book. Looking for resources online, I found Ravelry, a social media network geared toward fiber artists, and within Ravelry, I found the Ivory Tower Fiber Freaks, "The Centre for Textiles and Conflict Studies: For academics of all stripes who knit, crochet, spin or weave." I have only met a couple of the members of this tribe in person, but the group as a whole has a significant role in my professional development as well as my adventures with string.

When Adam died, ITFF mourned with me. Not a single one of them had ever met him, so they were not grieving for him, but because they love me, they mourn with me, and that is a critical distinction. So much strength flows into my hands from around the world with the cards they send to make me smile.  They have lifted my spirits with flowers on the 26th of every month from that to this.
August's flowers
I have long since felt immensely blessed that I get to be a part of this amazing virtual-yet-oh-so-real community of scholars and friends, but today they have outdone themselves. Today they wrapped the girls and me in wooly warm hugs. 

Each square an individual contribution:

Each blanket a symphony of color
Anna's blanket

and texture:
Kate's blanket
The note said, 
We were all so sorry when Adam died, and if we could, we would have wrapped you all up in virtual hugs to help you as you learned to cope with his loss. We couldn't do that, however, so we decided to make these blankets so you would have something tangible to hold you whenever you need a hug, or some love, or just something to keep you warm!….This was a truly international gift, and is from all of us at ITFF.
Some of the squares had their own notes:

I appreciate every gift I have received from all of my community, every bit of chocolate, every cup of tea, every penny you have sent, every task you have helped me with tells me that you love me.  This gift of blankets from the ITFF community, however, amazes me in the scope of its organization and coordination. 

This, right here. This is the power of social media. 

My cup runneth over.

My wooly hug is also beautiful on the inside. Come join me ;-)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

things I miss

There are things that I miss that are about Adam as an individual. I miss the expressiveness of his face. I miss the way he smelled, like Old Spice, engine oil, and sawdust. I miss the way he would scoot closer to me in the pew after the kids had left for Sunday school. I miss his culinary adventures, unpredictable as they were. I miss his laugh.

I missed Adam truly madly deeply on Christmas Eve when we stood in the darkened sanctuary holding candles and singing "Silent Night" because it was one of the few songs he knew well enough to sing with his whole voice.

There are other things that I miss not about Adam himself but about the role he played in my life. I miss having someone to share the duties of cooking and tidying. I miss having a co-parent. I miss having a sounding board and being someone's sounding board. I miss arguing and disagreeing and convincing and agreeing to disagree and then drinking wine.

I miss having that one person who has committed himself to always being there when I need him and who can demand the same commitment from me.

I miss the warmth of another person who is just here.

I miss having a partner.

Even my tribe of wonderful friends, who each take up a bit of the slack, can not fill this void.