Monday, June 14, 2010

Widening Circles. Plus Cat Armor and Too Much Fried Shrimp.

So reach out and welcome one another to God's glory.

Romans 15:7, The Message

Excuse the sandy shoes and piles of dirty laundry, y'all.
We're just back from a few days at the beach, and we've got the wet bathing suits and tummies full of fried shrimp to prove it. (I shall be eating lettuce and carrots for the next three weeks lest my vital organs band together and picket in protest!)

It was a wonderful trip, but it was different.
It wasn't because of the oil spill. We go to the Carolina beaches, which are still clean, thank goodness. Still, every time we looked out at the horizon, we thought about areas that aren't so lucky.
No, the difference was of a more personal nature.

For the last eleven years, it's been just the five of us. Me, Todd, Sarah, Ben, and Sam.
Mother, father, sister, brothers.

This year we turned a new page, a page that sort of blows my mind.
A page that makes me feel old and crinkly, like a dried apple doll left to rot in the sun. You know what we did?
We added a boyfriend and girlfriend to our circle!
Yes, to the delight of my almost 20 year old girl and almost 18 year old boy, we invited what my mother-in-law used to call their "special friends."
I knew this boy and girl and enjoyed them already, so I was happy about this.

A small voice inside me wondered how this might change things.
What if they weren't willing to stand on the porch for hours at a time, playing our hook the ring game?
Or what if they thought it was weird that we park our lawn chairs under the pier with the other pale people and eat at Miss Ella's three nights in a row? What if they didn't want to see a nature movie at the IMAX theater or eat snow cones until their teeth turn blue?

No, it wasn't our usual trip.
It was even better.

Because they were with us, we behaved ourselves! And we made even more of an effort to have fun.
We even tried some new things and made up new traditions, though I'm not sure our trip through Ripley's Believe it or Not needs to be repeated. One tour of the shrunken body parts, the belly button lint collection, and the suit of armor for a cat may be enough to last a lifetime.

Anyway, because they were with us, we laughed harder, talked more, and listened longer than ever before.

I'm so glad that we widened our circle.
It's made me think about widening the circles in other areas of my life.

Widening my circle means that I have to let go a little, and change can be scary.
We wonder what changes newcomers might bring to our comfy way of life, to our traditions and habits. We worry that their presence might make things awkward, that they won't fit in, or maybe even that we won't fit in anymore, at least not in the same way.

But when we let go of fear and drop the concept of insiders and outsiders, we open ourselves for all sorts of possibilities.
We get to know more unique children of God. We open ourselves to more joy.
And occasionally we get to see a suit of armor for a cat.

(Be glad I didn't choose the photo of the belly button lint collection.)

Maybe God calls us to welcome each other because He knows it can make us happy. After all, God is the Great Welcomer.
I want to welcome others to my circle like God does. The way He does in Psalm 5:

But you'll welcome us with open arms when we run for cover to you. Let the party last all night! Stand guard over our celebration. You are famous, God, for welcoming God-seekers, for decking us out in delight.
Psalm 5: 11-12, The Message

Have a great Monday, y'all! I hope it's decked out in delight!

Before you go, I'd love to hear about the circles you run in. Do they widen easily, or does it take a crowbar? What about faith communities in general? How well does yours do at making room for others?

Love, Becky


Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

For me, most of my circles widen easily--the only exception is my old gang of work friends--we get together a few times a year and our history spans 15 years of friendship, so I wouldn't "introduce" a new person there--but the rest, well, "the more, the merrier!" I'm so glad to read your vacation went well with the new blood in your mix!

Barb said...

Hi Becky,

Your family has hit a milestone and there is no turning back. My circle is so open that i have lost friends over it. That is o.k.
I have learned to look at people through the eyes of my special needs son (through the eyes of God). When we open our arms, we may be opening them to Angels unaware.

big hugs,

lotusgirl said...

We do all right at widening our circle. In fact we may have a significant other at our beach trip in August if he can make it. Glad to hear it went well for you.

Susie said...

I always think of this Edwin Markham poem when I think about enlarging my circle: "He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in."

Laura said...

He is the Great Welcomer! I love that image.

Ours are widening more easily now, but it's taken some practice, I'll admit.

Loved that you shared your vacation story with you, and let us learn with you. Blessings!

Sandy Mastroni said...

what a wonderful post with wonderful scriptures .... an encouraging message
Happy for you and your family ... !!!!!

Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus said...

My oh my. What a lovely blog and voice you have. I'm delighted to meet you and wave a big "hello" from Iowa!

My children aren't old enough to widen circles with significant others, but this one has me thinking of ways I can widen circles in my own life.

Monica Sharman said...

Is there such a thing as too much fried shrimp? Oh, right. There is---and it leads to the *unwanted* widening circle (waistline). :)
I was just talking with a friend about her trouble accepting new neighbors. My trouble with widening the circle is the past experiences with rejection or the others not wanting to enter the circle I widen. Well, it's worth the risk.

Kristin T. (@kt_writes) said...

What a wonderful post! I love your voice and your thoughts, especially this:

"...because they were with us, we laughed harder, talked more, and listened longer than ever before. I'm so glad that we widened our circle."

The "listening longer" part really hit me. We get in our routines (dare I say ruts?) and everything we see starts to look the same. We are only half seeing, and half listening.

You're absolutely right about how and why God wants us to widen our circles—there is so much more joy to discover. This is a lesson my small groups (perhaps most church small groups?) could stand to learn from. We need to let go of our fear of change (particularly changes in dynamics) and see what God's going to do.

Leah Skaggs said...

I love the picture of the birds!
I love your take on widening circles.. it is RISKY - but worth it.

joyfulploys said...

You changed your colors and blog format... I like it...great post too!

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Rebecca, this is a great question. Mine have changed somewhat this year. I've turned inward to my family more than usual, in some cases. But in other ways, I've branched out. And I've kept a firm grip on my lifelines. But I definitely felt the letting go and the change that always brings about some trepidation. I'm feeling pretty good right now how I've moved through it all, scary as it was at first.

I love your positive report, because I can understand the initially conflicting feelings. So glad it worked out so well. This is a good post for me to remember for a time not so far into my future, when our family will no doubt change and expand, especially with five in our fold. :)

Blessings in your week!

Graceful said...

This is awesome -- I love your positive perspective here! It's hard to change; it's difficult to try something new, especially when the "old" seemed to be working so well. I admire your willingness to be open and embrace and new situation. Your kids will love you and appreciate you all the more for it!

Rebecca Ramsey said...

Beautiful comments, ya'll.
Susie, I love that poem! And I should have mentioned your circle widening in my post. You were the one who got me thinking about widening circles in the first place.

I love you people.

Heidi Mann said...

One of the hardest-to-widen circles our whole country is struggling over right now involves hospitality for immigrants. I was on a webinar yesterday connected with Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service -- the webinar, based on a Bible Study called "On the Move" and a webpage/community called "Faith on the Move," for anyone wanting to check it out -- where the presenter, my dear friend Pastor David Vasquez of Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, was the presenter. He spoke in answer to a question about how hospitality relates to the whole matter. He (rightly and insightfully, I believe) pointed out that hospitality *sounds* good -- like the way we need to take in widening our circles to immigrants -- but then we reach the point where those we are being hospitable to want to do more than just come in and sit on our couch and join us for coffee. What happens when they start rearranging the furniture, or setting out their own unique foods in the circle? That's when we often feel insecure and challenged. (He is an amazing preacher/teacher in his ability to stand firmly on one "side" of an issue -- his name might give away where he stands on this one! -- AND at the same time stand in the shoes of those experiencing it from a different place and holding other fears.)

We know it's the Christ-following thing to widen our circles ever more broadly. How do we do so, and help others to do so, when that means being *more* than hospitable, but being open to being changed and learning from the newest among us as well?

What if "special friend 1" and "special friend 2," Becky, had said even the smell of fried shrimp makes them sick? Would the family have abandoned that beloved tradition for the sake of the *comfort* of the newcomers? Sorry, that sounds like I'm picking on you, and I'm absolutely NOT. Knowing your graciousness, your family probably *would* have changed the game plan! But it just popped into my head as another analogy for the immigration issue.

I *want* to welcome and support and care for these new generations of immigrants I don't see as any different from my great-grandparents who came from Norway and Switzerland. But it's certainly an entanglement for the U.S. as a whole. And I dare not think myself incapable of being "miffed" by some change that might come along as a result of the wider circle either. I'm not perfect. I do know from experience, though, what a joy it can be to meet and learn about people from other walks of life!

(Sorry for the long, long comment!)

Rebecca Ramsey said...

Heidi, what a great comment. And such an appropriate question for this period in our country's history.

Yep, widening our circle also means opening up ourselves to change. As we let go of what has always been, we can change in new and beautiful ways. We can also be frustrated and thrust into questioning what is really important, and what kind of persons do we really want to be.

I believe that Christ is always on the side of the oppressed, the hungry, the needy, even when it seems that they don't gush with thank yous at our charity or bend to our ways of life, as we would like for them to do.
You've got me thinking.
Thanks, Heidi!