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on vulnerability, connection, and that time the police came to my door

Saturday, June 14, 2014

This thing we do - writing and reading blogs, emailing one another, talking over social media, the whole thing - is really about connection.  I don't write to build a career, I don't write to be heard.  I write because years ago, I was barely getting through the day. I was miserable, trapped, and I couldn't see my way through. Until one afternoon when I stood in my kitchen for almost an hour, reading the same blog post over and over. Someone had been where I was. I couldn't get over it.

Words became my lifeline. For the next year, blogs, emails, and articles were the bread crumbs that led me away from anxiety and fear and toward an entirely different way of life. Now, I write. I write because somewhere there is a woman standing in a kitchen, feeling the way I once did. Freely I received, freely I will give.

But connection doesn't just develop online. It also happens on back porches and in coffee shops, over phone calls and play groups. Everything in us longs to be a part of a whole. We look for it in
churches, in our families, in our friendships, with our kids. No matter where you are in life, the endgame for all of us is to build meaningful connections.

What I didn't realize until I started writing, though, is that real connection requires vulnerability. I can't connect to my neighbors or friends if I don't share my life with them, and if they don't do the same with me. I can't connect to the woman in the kitchen if I'm not willing to share my story - my real story, the way things actually happened, and not just the way I wish they'd happened - here.  Intimacy necessarily means exposure. It means honesty and compassion and valuing the person in front of you more than any philosophy or religious conviction. Connecting with others happens when we look, really look, at another person, and recognize the image of God.

But not everyone is safe. Not everyone wants to connect or values vulnerability. Sometimes you reveal the thing you love most in the world, the idea or passion or person you once tucked close to your chest, and they stare back numbly. Crickets. Or worse, you offer a sacred piece of yourself, and they point out where you went wrong.

And all at once I feel like Donkey in Shrek, skittering across a rope bridge as it sways over a bottomless inferno. Shrek essentially tricks Donkey into crossing the bridge, then tells him not to look down. Partway across the bridge Donkey loses his nerve and starts screeching, "I'm looking DOWN, Shrek! I'm looking down!"

That is exactly how I felt when the cop rang my doorbell last week.

My Colorado neighborhood is very different from my neighborhood in the Deep South. Almost no one here has air conditioning, which means in the warmer months, there isn't much privacy. Windows are open, people are outside more than in, and lives start to intertwine. I hear a mother soothe her disabled child late into the night.  I hear the fussy baby in the backyard behind ours. The family that lives five houses down? I can't quite piece together how they are all related, but they have kind faces, and my children love to play with their dog in the front yard. Summers in Colorado build both vulnerability and connection into daily life.

I'm outside every single day. I'm with my kids more or less every daylight hour. So I was floored when the officer said someone called about my daughter. My daughter is three years old. What could she possibly have done to garner the police's attention?

"One of your neighbors called because she was worried," the officer said. "They saw her riding her bike in the road without any clothes on, and they were afraid of who might ride by and what could happen to her."

It's true. Lately my little girl has been pushing boundaries, and following her brothers down to the cul-de-sac where most of their friends live. Like most three-year-olds, she is also flippant about clothing. Yes - my entire street has seen her streaking behind her brothers on her little bike. But if they have seen her, they have also seen me. Standing in the middle of the street to make sure cars slow down until she is safe, calling her name over and over, bringing her back to our yard and reminding her that three-year-olds are not allowed out front alone. They have heard her cry, "I'm not three! I'm five and I can ride with brothers to see friends!" and they have heard me say, "No, honey. Not yet."

Our street has certainly seen her in all of her glory. They have also seen me parenting, in all of mine.

I assured the police officer I am watching her closely, and I will make sure she doesn't go outside without clothes on again. The officer was clearly uncomfortable with the conversation. Relieved, she quickly left.

All at once, I was looking down too. After the officer left I looked down and around, wondering which neighbor had made the call. I have devoted my life to honesty and connection, and I hold sacred the vulnerable moments I observe in my neighborhood. But someone did not feel the same way about me. They were watching my family life unfold, and they didn't like what they saw.

At first, I wanted to retreat. Close the blinds, keep the kids inside, tell no one. Hide. If a neighbor was concerned, why didn't they come to me? Better yet, why didn't they help shoo my meandering girl home? Goodness knows I could use a hand most of the time. If they feared for her safety, there were many opportunities to voice their concern to me. Why call the cops? And if they weren't willing to connect with me, why should I continue to be so transparent with them?

Because as a society we are disconnected. We fight so hard for connections because they are not an intuitive part of our daily life. We search out deeper relationships, we choose vulnerability, we keep doing this hard thing because without the deliberate act we will stay isolated - staring at one another from behind our screens, our blinds, our pews. Staring at each other day after day, but never looking for glimpses of the image of God.

I wanted to pull away. But if I do, I lose a part of who I am. I lose the freedom and hope that connections bring into my life. I remember when I was that woman in the kitchen, and I don't want to be her again. I don't want to be isolated and put together. I want to be transparent - whether that's here, on the blog, or standing in my yard, chasing a naked toddler. I want to be vulnerable. I could pull back to where I'm always safe, and no police officer ever rings my doorbell again. But if I do, I give up who I am.

This week I have practiced not looking down. Instead, I keep looking up and around. I've reminded myself how much I love this way of life. I've remembered the value of connections, and why it's worth it to pour out my life to the wide wide world. Not everyone is safe, not everyone values connections the way I do. But how they act does not determine who I am.  As for me and my house, we would rather be vulnerable and connected than safe and alone.


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