Friday, May 27, 2016

On Vulnerability by Andrea

  1. Capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon
  2. Open to moral attack or criticism

Whether I am clicking through TED Talks or scrolling through blogs and social media post, conversations around the meaning of, need for and results of vulnerability abound. A simple query “how important is vulnerability in relationships” yielded 49 million results in less than a second.  Social researcher, Brene Brown, touts vulnerability as the cure for what ails us in society today.  Without it, we supposedly cannot be the people we have been created to be.  We will not build deep relationships or truly interdependent communities without it.  She goes as far as to claim, “When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.” A lack of vulnerability costs a lot.  But how can a concept which opens one up to wounds and criticism be so important to every human relationship?  
Four recent encounters with extremely vulnerable women left me intrigued, inspired and a bit confused about what it means to be vulnerable.  Especially as it relates to me.  An invitation to speak at a gathering in a growing community of women who come together to share and hear stories of strength out of weakness resurrected an old fear of vulnerability in me.  Though I have not a natural bent for sharing my feelings (at least the ones I see as weakness or a liability), I have grown tremendously in this area over the last twenty years.  Yet, without a doubt, I have felt God’s gentle and relentless push to share more of myself than I am usually comfortable with at this gathering.  
For months now, I have been resisting the idea of sharing more openly from my heart and life. Why?  Because I pride myself on NOT being susceptible to being wounded or hurt.  Though I cannot ward off criticism from others, I am known for not letting others’ negativity get to me.  I may not always have my ducks in a row, but I am a duck who can just let things like unproductive, negative talk roll off my back.  I am muddy waterproof!  I like identifying myself as one not easily offended.  I really do believe there is great merit in that quality.  Proverbs 19:11 reads a person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense. Though, I could probably count on two hands (with some fingers leftover) the number of times in my entire life that I have felt attacked or criticized by someone.  Alas, I may have to concede, however, that sometimes I am not easily offended because I am not being very vulnerable.  And not being very vulnerable means I am not opening myself up enough to possibly be wounded or hurt; attacked or criticized.  It also may mean I am not open enough to receive greater growth, joy and connection, too
In a full frontal assault, I think God has been trying to challenge my comfort zone.  From stories told by friends and strangers, messages at church and podcasts, books and more, the call to vulnerability has been pretty blatant. But it has taken me a while to see it.  I am sometimes slow to submit, sometimes slow to connect the obvious dots.  I am sometimes rebellious and say things like “That’s just not who I am.”  Recently, in a conversation I initiated about this topic, one of my best friends said to me, “Sometimes who we are is just prideful.”  Wounds from a friend can be trusted- another proverb.
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  Humility and vulnerability go hand in hand.  To be humble means to show a modest estimate of one’s own importance.  To be vulnerable can mean to be in need of special care, support or protection.  To be vulnerable is to recognize one’s own need for others, to connect with them on a mind, body, heart and soul level.  I have more family, friends and relationships than I can count.  They are the value of my life. I work in a field where I get to connect with and serve people in some of the most basic yet important ways. In all of my people, I find myself and my joy.   I am connected, no doubt.  But God is calling me higher- or maybe lower, depending on how you look at it.  I wonder if there is a part of my heart I have not yet learned to give to my people.  I wonder if, as Brene Brown proposes, there is some experiences from which I am cut off because it is, at times, challenging for me to say, “Hey, I need something from you.  I can’t always be strong.  I don’t always have the answer.  Maybe this did hurt me or bother me.”  
Vulnerability is multi-faceted.  It is not just opening oneself up to people and asking for what you need.  It is also sharing one’s true self with people- the pretty parts, all dressed up in Sunday’s best, as well as the covered-up wrinkled, flabby parts.  Sometimes, vulnerability is sharing secret thoughts and feelings no one has ever heard.  Sometimes, vulnerability is crying in front of someone who has never seen you cry.  Sometimes, vulnerability is saying “Me, too.”  when someone else is brave enough to let you in on their shortcomings or pain.  Sometimes, vulnerability may backfire.  You might be misunderstood.  You might be hurt or criticized.  You might be humiliated. Your trust may be rewarded with betrayal.  You may be judged. This is probably the biggest fear for me.  What if I speak my truth and it changes, even momentarily, how someone sees me.  Actually, this pondering of vulnerability has helped me to see this truth finally-- and to share it here with you.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Roman Brides

By: Susan

I made ñoquis (also known as gnocchi) for dinner tonight.  It is a kind of pasta made from potatoes, eggs and flour.  I once learned how to make it from scratch from two very special ladies that showed me love when I was a stranger in a strange land. 

My first-born was a picky eater.  Up to the age of two she hardly tried anything other than milk.  Most of the pureed fruit and vegetables ended up on her clothes and the high chair instead of in her.  She also never sat still.  My theory was she was too busy moving around and exploring her world to sit down and eat.  That’s why she preferred a bottle or Sippy cup that would allow her to be mobile. 

Photo credit:
One night we went out to eat at an Italian restaurant and I ordered the one thing on the menu that was completely new to me.  When the plate of ñoquis arrived, I offered a bite to Miranda and was surprised that she actually took it and asked for more.  She almost cleaned the plate for me.  It was such a momentous occasion in my life as a young and inexperienced mother that I told the story to whomever I met. 

I had two Italian neighbors in my apartment building.  Both widows, both immigrants to Venezuela after the Second World War and both living alone, one two stories below me, and one in the building across.  Neither had grandchildren so they had adopted Miranda as theirs.  They loved to hold her and play with her and watch her while I cleaned or cooked.   Couple of days after I shared the news of Miranda’s devouring ñoquis with the two Señoras, there was a knock at my door.  It was Silvana, the tall, blond one who looked like Gina Lollobrigida. She grabbed Miranda from my arms and ordered me downstairs to learn how to make ñoquis.  Laura, the soft-spoken, more grandmotherly one, was busy in her beautiful kitchen taking potatoes off the stove.  She put the boiled potatoes through a special instrument, which I later learned was a potato ricer, added some flour and cracked an egg on top.  She kneaded the mixture until it resembled a softt dough.  She then rolled pieces of the dough into long strips, cut them into ½” sections and used another special instrument to press a pattern into each piece.  The pasta was cooked in boiling water in a couple of minutes while she made a simple tomato sauce.  She served Miranda the homemade ñoquis and we all sat around and watched her eat. 

I went out immediately and bought a potato ricer and all the ingredients.  If this was what would make her eat, I would be making ñoquis every day.  The first batch turned out fine.  The second one was a bit doughy.  Luckily, I found a place in town that made fresh pasta everyday and I became a regular customer. 

When I eat ñoquis, I do remember it as Miranda’s first food, but the sweeter memory is of the two ladies that befriended me at a time when I lived in a country away from my family.  I didn’t have a lot of friends yet.  I didn’t know what to do with a baby. They must have remembered how they had felt when they first came to Venezuela as young brides, lonely, not speaking the language, not knowing the culture.  They became my guides, my mentors, my friends.  I often wonder how they are doing these days.  Are they still living in Puerto Ordaz?  How are they bearing the difficulties the country is facing?  Did they migrate back to Italy?  Wherever they are, I hope they know how much their love and friendship meant to me.  I know I cannot repay them.  I can only pay it forward by showing kindness and friendship to others.  And by making ñoquis from time to time.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

So Far by Kevin, Guest Writer

So far in my life I have taken somewhere around 550,624,000 breaths.  Some of them were short and fearful--like when my sixth grade teacher showed me the book I thought I had lost, and asked me for the book I stole to replace it.  Others were long and luxurious--like deeply breathing in tropical sea air perfumed with the scent of the lei of flowers around my neck, and thinking Hawaii and Heaven just might be the same place.  There have been quick gasps of delight and of pain, long drawn calming breaths and even choking sobs that refused to stay in my lungs.
So far I have breathed the joy of getting my first car, of walking across stages at graduations, and across an altar as my beautiful bride came down the aisle to me.  My breath has caught in my throat waiting for the first newborn cries of my children.  It has stuck there saying final goodbyes to my parents.
I’m grateful for every one of them. However, with each breath I have come closer to the realization that our attitudes, our feelings, our moods and personalities are largely a product of how we choose to exhale.
In times of joy and contentment it is easy to exhale kindness, patience, and affection.  But in times of conflict and strife, it is much easier to blow out hatefulness.  So herein lies the real question, my friends.  Are you going to breathe in anger and bitterness only to spew out ugliness and hurt?  Or are you going to breath it in and transform it into grace, hope, and love?  From this breath on, you do have a choice!
How have you been breathing so far?  

Kevin L. Williams is a child of God, the husband of Angie, and the father of Emilee, Grant, and Gabe.  He is a facilitator of learning for phenomenal 5th graders at Reed Elementary.  

Friday, May 6, 2016

Overcoming the Odds by Carolyn

Last New Year's Day as I drove home from visiting a friend, I saw a billboard that made me smile. Since then, it has made me think.

It said:

Kermit the Frog

Has green skin

Eats flies

Dates a pig

. . . 

Hollywood Star

. . . 

Aim High

It was a public service announcement telling whoever read it that, just like Kermit, we could reach unimaginable heights no matter what our background, no matter what strikes we have against us. Although it may be a little outdated (I have heard that Kermit and Miss Piggy have broken up), it is still a powerful message. 

Our country is currently in a state of unrest that feels uncomfortable to me. I am afraid that the coming presidential election and all the hoopla that leads up to it will be the most divisive time period in our country for decades. I fear that we may be moving backwards in our quest to be an inclusive and peaceful society.

However, in all of the chaos that looms on the horizon, and no matter who is elected to be the chief executive of the United States, I hope that we - all of us - do not forget that our country has been built on the ideals that all people are created equal and that we all have the same rights. 

In addition, ours is a nation in which anyone can succeed, no matter what color their skin, or what they eat, or the friends they claim. Let's remember that all of us have the right to aim high.