Mr. Rogers Is My Hero

I will confess that while I grew up with Mr. Rogers, I was more of a Sesame Street fan. Maybe I preferred its pace to the more methodical pace of Mr. Rogers. But this isn’t a comparison of the two. It is merely to point out that it took me almost 50 years to recognize the brilliance and prophetic nature of Fred Rogers.

I took my daughter to see the documentary about Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I left that experience realizing how hungry I was for kindness, which seems to be in short supply these days. Rogers was a man who lived his convictions beautifully and sacrificially. He respected people and acknowledged their whole selves, which included their thoughts and feelings. He knew their value wasn’t in what they could do or who they had been born to, but simply by being themselves. Fred Rogers embodied the command to love God, and to love neighbor as oneself. And he didn’t ever have to quote scripture to do so.

I have since immersed myself in the theology and philosophy of Fred Rogers. I am finding so much inspiration for my spiritual journey. I see now that it was his simplicity that caused me to miss his depth. I could write about it. Or you could see if for yourselves.

Click here to watch this clip of Mr. Rogers from his television show, introducing Jeff Erlanger to his neighbors. It is long in this day and age of 10 second clips. But I encourage you to watch it in its entirety. And listen to what is shared and explored. Imagine what this meant to Jeff and to the many children (and adults for that matter) who may look different or do things differently, and yet aren’t so different.

Now click here to watch another clip, years and years later, when Mr. Rogers is inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. Watch him climb to get to Jeff. Listen to his words of gratitude. See his face of appreciation and care. You can’t fake that level of love and selflessness. Mr. Rogers was the real deal.

While he received many accolades, Fred Rogers was also often the butt of many jokes. Perhaps it was his singsong voice, his methodical approach, or his childlike enthusiasm that invited these jokes. But when we laugh too quickly, as I believe I used to do, we miss the truth he embodied. And let us note, and be thankful for the fact that he never wavered. I suspect it wasn’t easy. There are glimpses of his doubts and fatigue, when you look closely enough. But he forged ahead anyway. And how wonderful to hear that he did so with his real family in addition to his television family. As I said already, Mr. Rogers was the real deal.

I wish I could say thank you to Mr. Rogers, for his message, his courage, his resilience, his convictions. I am glad so many people over the years did just that. Mr. Rogers, you are my hero.

Hello. My name is Jennifer and I’m a Friendapist.

For years I had the luxury of time. I was raising kids and not working outside of the home. I had flexibility in my schedule and I had a fair amount of free time. Over the course of those 12+ years, I developed the practice of having meaningful one-on-one conversations. I appreciated the depth and the adult connection. I enjoyed the challenge of problem-solving. And the food and coffee that went along with the conversations were icing on the cake. Over the years, I became a friendapist.

Yes, it’s a real thing. There is no formal education required. I didn’t try to do this. It evolved over time. I got better at listening and talking things through. People would call and schedule another coffee to continue the conversation. I had some friends on a monthly rotation, ready to pick up where we left off to discuss what they were struggling with or working through.

I should’ve known this was happening. My husband would say to me, “If you were paid every time you met someone for coffee, we would have our kids’ college education paid for!” But I wasn’t getting paid and those 529’s needed funding somehow. Plus I always intended to go back to work.

And so about 8 years ago I went back to work full-time. Since then I have become increasingly busy professionally. I don’t have the flexibility I used to have or the time I had. But I realized recently that I still was trying to maintain my side gig of friendapist. I was continuing a therapeutic kind of relationship with several people, which is very different from simply being a person’s friend. It’s hard to fully explain, although I imagine the friendapists reading this know exactly what I am talking about.

I think this change will be good for me. My tendency has been to be what others needed me to be, which is what made me a good friendapist. But it’s time for my friendships to be friendships. That means I get to be me, which includes the surly, tired, salty, selfish side of me that is sometimes there. I get to fall apart when I need to. And most importantly, I get to say “No” – “No” when I don’t have the energy to be a listening ear or a theological/philosophical sounding board.

And so the breakup begins. I imagine some relationships will fade while others will take on a new structure beyond the friendapist connection. We’ll have to wait and see. It’s probably going to be hard to do. But it is time.

A Letter To My Kids

Dear I & L,

As 2017 comes to an end, I thought I would write to the two of you for my year-end reflecting. While my role as your mom continues to evolve, my love for you deepens as it shapes me. And so my letter to you today is an effort to explore some of the convergence of my life with lessons learned as your mom.

For the last ten years or so, I have spent time observing others of all ages to see how they live life. Some questions I ask myself: Are they happy? Are their relationships strong? Do they know who they are? Do they know what they want? Do they have the strength to endure life’s difficulties? Do they have the wisdom to make good decisions? Do they know how to have fun? Do they laugh often? Do they cry? What are they afraid of? What are they avoiding? Can they express how they feel? Do they love well?

In my search, I also looked within myself to answer these same questions. My search brought me to counseling for understanding and healing. It led me to seminary, chaplaincy training, and the work I currently do. I let some relationships go while I worked hard to strengthen others. I have found myself in places and situations that scared the hell out of me, yet I got through them and learned so much. I laugh harder and I cry more than I used to. You two know that I make mistakes often. But the point isn’t being perfect. This work is leading me to a deep and fulfilling place of contentment. And that right there is the big “aha” moment. Did you miss it? Many do.

Your work, and yours alone, is to find your contentment. No one can give it to you just as you cannot give someone else theirs. I don’t think it is meant to be found in your teen years or your twenties, or even your thirties. These are the years for you to be bold and dream big. A little discontentment is good if it enables you to have the audacity to believe that anything is possible.  But remember that at some point discontentment becomes an illness. Over time it fosters emptiness and loneliness in ways that leaves its owner increasingly hopeless and burdensome to others.

When we meet others from a place of contentment, we are able to offer love without condition and receive love in ways we never could have imagined. But contentment needs to be learned. As I sought to parent well, a paradox emerged: my heart had to become both fragile and strong. Holding the paradox rather than choosing one over the other was difficult. As you have grown and become increasingly independent, more space exists between you and me, and rightly so. To not allow for that space or encourage it would be to your detriment. I have had to consciously step back at times despite my desire to move towards you to protect you or hold you. But I knew that my goal, my job has always been to help equip you to live your life, and to live it well. And so I have always meant to work myself out of a job. This, you see, is bittersweet. It requires both fragility and strength.

Perhaps hold onto this idea of contentment somewhere close, like a token kept in your pocket. Periodically you will come across it, more often by accident. Take time to look at it, consider it, before returning it to your pocket. And remember that it requires both fragility and strength. Then I believe it will grow with you as you grow in knowledge and wisdom and experience. This will enable you to learn to love well and grow in kindness, generosity, patience and joy.

As I think of you both, my heart aches for the overwhelming love I feel, and flies because of the gratitude for you two. May 2018 be a year filled with adventure, love, gratitude, and learning, with a seed of contentment planted.

I love you,

Mom

xmas2017

Messy Relationships

I am frequently reminded of the fragility of life. I am often reminded of the fragility of relationships too. I came to a crossroads with a friend, someone who didn’t like what I had to say about how it felt being his friend. My words had been carefully chosen because I cared deeply for him and for our friendship. It was because of my care for him and the hurt I had experienced from him that I felt I had to say what I was seeing and feeling, and what was causing me concern. He didn’t want to hear my words.

A few weeks after that incident, I wrote the following about my work as a pastor:

My dream of a church came from my desire to be part of a community that goes deep. It is in the depths that relationships are forged that can last a lifetime and withstand the storms that can come with life. I also believe that it is in this depth God is most profoundly experienced. The heart of The Other Church’s vision is connection. Connection is fun, but in ways it can feel painful too at times, because in the depths we are most vulnerable, most human. Our flaws are laid bare along with our hopes and dreams and disappointments and hurts. I have felt this pain, along with great joy in these last few years as I have done a lot of my own work as a pastor, spouse, mother, chaplain, friend.

I wrote these words because maybe I needed to remind myself. To be deep, it will be messy. And painful. But it will also be healing and hopeful and sustaining. This is the kind of community I have been called to serve. This is the kind of person I am called to be.

Sometimes when we stumble upon a wound, we touch it and feel pain. I realize now that this is what I did to my friend. I didn’t look for a wound. I didn’t know I was touching it. I didn’t intend to cause him pain. But in my passion of connecting deeply, I did just that. We have a choice whether or not we want to tend to our wounds. My friend had a right to walk away, and he did.

I know the pain because I have felt it frequently in my own work of healing. And I will feel it again. I am thankful to have some people in my life who, when they touch my wounds, stay with me as I work towards my healing. All relationships are messy. But not all relationships are healthy. It is worth the work to find those who will take this journey with us. Jesus is quoted several times saying, “Follow me.” But he didn’t walk ahead of people like the leader of a parade. He journeyed with people. He ate with people. He got to know people. And he touched their wounds. He didn’t judge those wounds or shame the wounded. He offered healing. I think this is why I have so profoundly experienced God in this work. It is about connecting honestly, deeply, meaningfully, sometimes painfully, certainly safely and joyfully too.

I hope my friend is doing okay. I still sometimes feel my own tinge of pain when I think of him. But the pain is my reminder that I connected with him.