relationships

The Cost of Connection

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Her name is Ferida. She lives in the Spanish style house at the end of my street with her husband Charlie. They are are both in their 80’s, and Charlie’s health is declining; thus, they don’t participate in our weekly neighborhood curbside gatherings. (Those are a real thing. I live in present-day Mayberry.) Until last week, my relationship with Ferida consisted of the pleasantries exchanged while getting the mail or the happenstance of walking in or out of our houses at the same time.

Last Tuesday night, there were emergency vehicles at Ferida and Charlie’s house. The other neighbors and I discussed the trucks at our Wednesday curbside gathering. None of us knew what happened; and we all agreed that someone should walk over and see if everything was ok. I waited for someone else to volunteer. It was close to dinner time and my spaghetti pie wasn’t going to make itself. More than that, I wondered whether knocking on Ferida’s door would open my eyes to a new person to care for—someone I couldn’t unsee due to our close proximity. Did I have room in my schedule—or my heart—for that?

As a strong two on the enneagram, I’m a helper and a connecter by nature. I pride myself on being able to form deep relationships with people—sometimes to my detriment. I take on too much. I say “yes” because I feel like I SHOULD. I offer to help when I don’t really have the time; and I feel people’s pain deeply. Oh, how deeply I feel things.

I’m getting better about managing my “twoness” as I get older. I’m learning to prioritize the essential over the urgent and giving my family, friends and their burdens over to God, rather than trying to shoulder them on my own. Still, developing a relationship with my elderly neighbors seemed like a step backward in my tidy schedule management as well as a potential tax on my emotions.

Long story short, another neighbor volunteered to check on Ferida and Charlie, and I (in true Two form) walked over to check on them with her. That visit opened the door for a series of visits with Ferida this past week.

As it turns out, Ferida needs very little from me, other than someone to sit shoulder to shoulder with her and help her sort through information and her emotions related to her husband’s impending death. As it also turns out, the heart that I didn’t think was big enough to hold one more person’s pain expanded just a little to let Ferida in. After Sunday night’s visit, Ferida looked at me through tearful eyes and said: “Thank you for helping me process this information. I think I just needed someone to listen.”

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I won’t lie, I woke up yesterday feeling depleted. Not just from supporting Ferida, but from a week—maybe even a couple weeks—full of connecting with people. People I legitimately love. People I would give the shirt off my back if they needed it and who I willingly give my time to. Unfortunately, I think I’ve become so good at connecting with other people that I’ve forgotten how to connect with myself.

In their book, The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath say that connecting with others requires two things: responsiveness (e.g.- validation and caring) and openness (e.g.- vulnerability). I’d add time and availability to that list; and I’d venture to say that the same principles that apply to connecting with others apply to connecting with ourselves (e.g.- self-care). We can’t nurse our own emotionally depleted souls back to health unless we do the following:

  1. Acknowledge the problem.

  2. Understand the cause of the problem.

  3. Make time to fix the problem.

Here’s what this looks like in practice:

1.) Acknowledging the problem: I’m exhausted. I feel like I never have any time to do the things I love because I’m always doing things for other people. (This is pretty much the siren song of Enneagram twos, by the way. Please don’t take pity on me. I’ve done this to myself.)

2.) Understanding the cause of the problem: I’ve told myself that the world—or at least the people in my world—NEED me. That their lives will fall apart if I am not there to HELP them. While I genuinely LOVE helping other people, the problem arises when I start to derive my self-worth from the helping. Lately, I’ve not only derived my worth from the helping, but I’ve become resentful of the very thing that’s “supposed” to bring me satisfaction.

3.) Making time to fix the problem: Notice that I didn’t go straight to “fixing the problem.” For people like me, who value connection, our calendars can be so booked with volunteering and meetings and coffee dates and helping, helping, helping that we often need to clear our schedule before we even have TIME to helping ourselves. For me, making time to fix the problem means making time for myself. Clearing my calendar for a week to do things that I enjoy—for no other reason than the fact that I enjoy them.

Fixing the problem also means connecting with THE ONE who gives me life and remembering who I am in Christ. I am loved, and I am worthy. Not because of what I do or who I help but because I am HIS CHILD. As Brian Frost, the pastor of the church I attended in grad school, once said:

“Jesus, not my productivity, is my justification.”

The older I get, the more I realize that when I take my eyes off of Him—whether that’s by focusing too much on others or on myself—everything falls apart. This doesn’t mean I won’t keep checking in on Ferida or that I’ll stop trying to connect with people I love. It simply means that on weeks like this one, when I feel my body and soul growing weary from all the doing, I need to pause and redirect my focus. The biggest help I’ll ever be to othesr is in pointing them to Christ.

ALL EYES ON HIM.

Living By Faith and Being a Good Sibling: An Interview With My Brother

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Every once in a while, we are fortunate enough to have someone in our lives who always seems to know the right thing to say, who challenges us to be a better person, and who loves us unconditionally, despite having seen us through our awkward middle school days and angst-ridden teenage years. For me, that person is my brother, Fred Hadra.

Nearly four years my junior, I would not characterize our relationship growing up as “close.” We fought over everything and had very little use for each other during our days at home together. As adults, however, we talk weekly, text often; and, just this month, have called each other for advice on multiple occasions. (Somewhere, our mother’s heart is exploding.)

The way my brother and his wife, Teesha, live their lives is a constant inspiration to me. Two years ago, the two of them left their comfortable existence as DINKs (“double income, no kids”) in Atlanta, GA for a smaller, more humble existence in Pasadena, CA. (Think 500 square foot apartment, no car and meager salaries.) Their reason for making this change? They wanted to live a more intentional life that kept them open and available to what God might have for them.

Today, Teesha is finishing up the manuscript for her first book and Fred is two months into starting a non-profit—the Pasadena Community Supper Club—that provides meals and faith-based community service to the poor and marginalized in Pasadena. Below, my brother shares a bit more about their lives, their new endeavors and how their faith plays into every aspect of what they do.

Jenn Prentice (JP): Oh, hello brother dear. Thanks for joining me in this space. Can you tell everyone a little bit about you and Teesha?

Fred Hadra (FH): We are the artists currently known as Teesha and Fred. We have been married for about 2.5 years, during which time we upended our quite comfortable lives in Atlanta, GA, and moved across the country to southern California in order for Teesha to attend school full-time at Fuller Theological Seminary, where she is pursuing her Masters of Divinity degree in preparation for pastoral work, and possible/likely ordination. I (Fred) cheekily refer to my wife as a recovering attorney, pastor-in-training, soon-to-be-published author, ordinary radical, and somewhat reluctant occupier of the limelight.

I have been enjoying semi-retirement for about two years, since moving to Cali. It allows me much more time to practice what I like to call Artisanal House Husbandry  I “work” from home selling podcast advertising to help pay the bills, and spend the remainder of my time sorting out life’s daily detritus, including some cleaning but with a heavy emphasis on and interest in cooking. We recently started a small nonprofit called Pasadena Community Supper Club, through which we prepare and serve community dinners at a nearby low-income housing facility.

JP: You just served your third dinner through the Pasadena Community Supper Club. Tell me more about the organization—how it started and where you are hoping to see it go in the future.

FH: Pasadena Community Supper Club is an outgrowth of friendships formed through the breaking of bread.

Myself, Teesha and our friends Corey, and Brooks (the founders) - together with respective spouses and other friends - met through a weekly church-sponsored community group. It became clear rather quickly that the dinner portion of our time together was an entrée (pun intended) for deep conversations about our shared faith and the call to love one another, particularly the poor and marginalized around the city.

However, a tension arose: how to reconcile the material poverty we saw on the streets with the meals we ate together each week at our community group? While never extravagant, the food we prepared and served to each other required time and disposable income. All our talk finally turned into action, and we started volunteering together through Union Station Homeless Services’ Adopt-a-Meal program. The goal? Serve the same quality of food we enjoyed each week to the shelter's guests.

The conversations, the Adopt-a-Meals - and, yes, the weekly dinners - continued, and gradually the outline of a more ambitious plan emerged. The group, with the support of friends and family, local churches, and other organizations, would put the pieces in place to serve more people, more often.

The Pasadena Community Supper Club officially launched on July 22, 2018, with a dinner and faith-based community service for the residents of Centennial Place, a supportive residence for formerly homeless citizens of Pasadena. The Club’s dinners will continue on the fourth Sunday of each month at Centennial Place, made possible by the generosity of volunteers and donors.

As financial support grows and new opportunities arise, Pasadena Community Supper Club will expand its dinner events to serve more people in the Pasadena and greater Los Angeles area.

JP: In the past three years, you've gone from being DINKS with two cars in a large townhouse in Atlanta, GA to now living off of two partial salaries, with no car in a 500 square foot apartment in Pasadena. How does your faith play into the things you are doing—or not doing—and the way you are spending your money? 

FH: Faith in God’s design for our lives and desire that we serve those around us is the primary motivating factor in our decision making, which included our decision to get married, to move to California, and to do things such as (but we hope not limited to) starting a nonprofit that serves the poor and write books that breaks the chains that bind us and divide us. 

Money is, at root, a faith issue. It’s about trusting God to provide for our needs, even when we also feel led to, say, spend thousands of dollars of our own money to get a new project off the ground. It’s about the courage to not pursue any and every professional opportunity, because while doing so may be lucrative, it may also preclude you from being able to serve the more immediate needs of others to which God wants you to attend. It also means sacrificing your desires - say, to go on a really cool trip, or to buy this or that perfectly legitimate thing - because it’s not the right time. Materially speaking, the greatest sacrifice we had made in the last ~2 years is in not having a car. Essentially that was and continues to be a financial decision, as car payments, insurance, gas, upkeep, etc. are all expensive. It would have torn through our savings at a much faster rate. I’ve partly justified the no-car decision as one of lifestyle. Where we live is walkable, and in many day to day scenarios, driving to run an errand would take as much or more time than walking, and you would have to pay $10 in parking. Presently, it’s looking as though it might be necessary that we get a car in order to facilitate some of the work we’re doing for the nonprofit, but even if we do make that change, our intent will be to look at a car truly as a tool, or as a means, something we use intentionally and not something we use mindlessly or frivolously to engender poor time or financial decisions.

JP: What are your recommendations to people who are looking to downsize? What about people who are making a cross country move? What would you recommend to them? 

FH: My recommendation is not to think about it too much. Just do it, as they say. You will always find reasons NOT to make decisions that force you to feel uncomfortable, but in reality, they will actually liberate you from ways of thinking and being that are holding you back, without even knowing it. As I wrote earlier, selling all your stuff, quitting your job, and moving across the country into a tiny house (or the equivalent) is not the right decision for everyone. And if you’re married, and if you have kids, you have to think about the full range of what that will mean for the futures of the people for whose lives you bear some mutual responsibility. The answer is not always “Do it!” That being said, it’s always worth asking “Why not?” Be brutally honest about what’s holding you back, as well as what’s pushing you into something. Those motivations, the pushes and pulls, may in fact be selfish, or merely silly, but at least you and your spouse or other life stakeholders will know. They probably have their own selfish or silly reasons for wanting or not wanting to do something as well.

JP: Last question. At the end of your life, what do you hope people say about you? What type of legacy are you hoping to leave? 

FH: I want to be remembered as someone willing to sacrifice and do hard things for the sake of others. Life is hard. But we, as followers of Christ, especially privileged ones who have the privilege to think about their lives in terms of significance and legacy, are called to do hard things. Not out of a sense of guilt, though sometimes a little guilt is not a bad thing. So, get a move on. 

******

Last week, Fred and I were talking about what helps the two of us maintain a close relationship. As I mentioned above, we weren’t that close growing up, so developing a strong relationship in adulthood is something we’ve worked hard at doing. While there’s no magic bullet for improving a sibling relationship, we both agreed that 95% of having a good relationship is just about showing up: Talking regularly. Texting back. Making plans to spend time together—and actually doing it.

To be honest, my brother and I don’t actually have that much in common; but what we do share is a deep love for one another and a belief that at the end of the day, family is one of the only things you’ve got. Once we started being intentional about our relationship, finding common ground became easier.

I realize that some sibling relationships are beyond repair; but for those of you who don’t have much of a reason why you’re not close with your brother or sister, I’d encourage you to give them a call today and start putting in the time and effort to grow closer. I promise you won’t regret it!

12 Ways To Live Intentionally Today

In 2008, I started a blog called The Style Geek where I wrote about the intersection of fashion and technology----years before Instagram and Pinterest launched and well before the term "brand influencer" was in our common vernacular. Women like Emily Schuman of Cupcakes and Cashmere and Joy Cho of Oh Joy started blogging around the same time. They, along with so many others who hopped on the blogging bandwagon back them are now millionaires..and I'm, well, not. 

So what happened? Why did Emily and Joy succeed and I didn't?

First, they didn't give up. They consistently produced quality content, even when it felt hard or they weren't motivated. I, on the other hand, was often too tired from working a full time job and binge watched "How I Met Your Mother" on Netflix instead of pursuing my dream of being a successful author. 

Second, they remained confident in themselves. I'm sure they had days, weeks or even months of self-doubt, but they didn't let temporary discouragement or anxiety influence the course of their lives. I spent a lot of time looking at what THEY were doing, told myself "I could never be like them" and threw in the towel. 

Third, they managed the "everyday chaos" of life (their minds, schedules, relationships, money, etc) so that they could focus on what mattered most and reach their goals. Ten years ago, I was still getting control of the basics of life: managing my anxiety, learning how to be a good friend and wife and figuring out how to spend my time and money. Launching a blog and pursuing my dreams was pretty far down on my to-do list and seemed like something only people with money, intelligence or some sort of magic could do.

If I had known then what I know now, I might be farther along in my career than I am today. Emily and Joy weren't richer (at the time), smarter or more magical than me. They just kept going, remained confident and controlled their chaos a little better. And yet, I'm grateful for my journey--for the struggles and the self-doubt and even for the fact that I shuttered The Style Geek after a few months--because all of it brought me to today. To thirty four years old. To this blog and this post. 

My goal with (re)launching This Is Thirty Four is to create a space on the Internet where women can come to find encouragement and practical tips for how to find freedom from the "everyday chaos" of life, so that they can live more intentionally and spend time on what truly matters. To be honest, I'm still a work in progress myself. Most of what I write on here is just me, preaching to my own heart. By God's grace, I'm growing in new ways every day, and if something I write on here can make another woman's life a little easier, then I'll consider this whole thing a success. 

Now about those practical tips I just mentioned...

Since this blog is called This Is Thirty Four and since I'll be talking primarily about how to manage our minds, relationships, time and possessions, I created a list--a manifesto, if you will--of 34 things you can do RIGHT NOW to start living more intentionally in the aforementioned areas of life. I've listed 12 of my ideas for intentionality below, and you can join my newsletter list below to get the full list! The Monthly 34 email goes out on the 30th of every month, so you'll get this month's edition delivered to your inbox tonight! 

For now, here are 12 ways to start living more intentionally TODAY: 

Intentional minds:

  1. Start your day off centered- Meditate, pray or read your Bible. Then, write down three things that would make today great and three things you are thankful for. 
  2. Listen more than you watch- Queue up podcasts about topics you enjoy (I'm always sharing my favorites in my Instagram stories), and listen to those instead of watching TV. I quit watching TV (with the exception of a Monday night Bachelorette viewing party with friends and the occasional Netflix comedy special) earlier this year. I cannot believe how little I miss it or how much I've grown from listening to podcasts instead. 
  3. Realize that people think about you far less than you THINK they are thinking about you. That conversation you keep dwelling on or that thing you had stuck in your teeth or that time you ran into your boss while you were wearing a bikini at the beach. No one is thinking about it more than you are. Stop wasting mental energy on something that's not really that important after all. 

Intentional relationships: 

  1. Make a list of people who are important to you, but who you haven't talked to in a while then text them just to let them know you're thinking about them. I guarantee it will make their day! 
  2. Don't mix phones with food. If you're eating a meal with someone, put down the phone and engage in conversation with them instead. 
  3. Let your "yes" be "yes." If you told someone you would be there, be there. Keep your commitments to others and they'll keep showing up for you. 

Intentional time: 

  1. Put down your phone- Full disclosure: This is something I'm still working on. I'm TRYING to designate specific times of day to check social media and texts and then put my phone down the rest of the day. I think I'll be a lot more productive, and I know I'll be more present with my friends and family. 
  2. Prioritize your day- At the end of each day, take a look at the next day's schedule and to-do list and decide what MUST get done first and what can't be put off one more day. 
  3. Share a calendar with your significant other- Seeing what each of you has going on during the week helps avoid surprises--and conflict. If you haven't already listened, Rachel and Dave Hollis just did an entire RISE Together podcast on how to plan with your spouse

Intentional possessions: 

  1. Control what comes in- One of the main benefits of going A Year Without Clothes is that there's not a lot of new stuff coming into my house these days, and thus, it seems a little less cluttered. Be aware of the ways new "stuff" creeps into your home. It comes in through shopping and through things like party or wedding favors, hand-me-downs, artwork from preschool, mail, etc. When you figure out the source of the clutter, you can stop it before it starts. 
  2. Clean your kitchen every night- I know it sounds painful, and at 10 p.m. when you just want to go to bed and the dishes have piled up in the sink, it FEELS painful. But starting your day off with a clean kitchen will help you better manage the state of your entire household throughout the rest of the day. 
  3. Realize you need far less of everything than you think you do. 

If you like these suggestions and want more of them, don't forget to sign up for The Monthly 34 Newsletter. And, if you've got a tip of trick for living more intentionally, leave it in the comments below! 

***Updated 7/30/18 @ 9:00 PM***

I had high hopes of creating a beautiful PDF entitled "34 Ways To Live Intentionally RIGHT NOW" and send it out to everyone who subscribes to my email list. At 9 PM, after working on said PDF for two hours and then realizing I didn't actually know how to include it in my newsletter, I decided to pivot. I'm listing the additional 22 ways to live intentionally below. If you're still reading this post and you aren't subscribed to my newsletter, you win. If you are subscribed to my newsletter, I'm sorry; and I hope you know that I mean it when I say that "perfect is the enemy of the good." 

22 More Ways To Live Intentionally RIGHT NOW

1.) Plan your week- Every Sunday, sit down and look at what's coming up on your schedule and your to-do list. Mark down when you want to accomplish what and where you need be when. 

2.) Identify your time sucks- Determine the things that take more of your time than they should and figure out a way to stop doing those things. 

3.) Stop multi-tasking- Focus on one thing at a time. I guarantee that whatever you're doing will get done so much faster than if you were multi-tasking while doing it.

4.) Learn to say "no"- It's the most powerful word in your vocabulary when it comes to protecting your time. 

5.) Schedule seasonal purges- Especially of toys and clothes. (Pro tip: You can make a decent amount of money by selling toys your kids no longer play with right around late October or November. Market them as Christmas presents. People will go nuts. 

6.) Hang wash and line dry your (nicer) clothes. It's a pain, but they will last longer. 

7.) Focus on quality- It's better to buy one pair of shoes that cost more but lasted longer than six pairs of shoes that only last a week. 

8.) Read before bed- Get out your Kindle...or a headlamp..and read a book before bed. You'll go to be happier than if you spent the night looking up other people's Instagram profiles. 

9.) Text people back ASAP- I am so guilty of not texting people back in a timely manner. In fact, I can think of one person I owe a text to right now. BUT, I'm working on it. Bottom line: Texting people back within a reasonable amount of time, shows them that you truly care about them.

10.) Identify your people- You can't be friends with everyone; and you definitely can't develop quality friendships with lots of people. Figure out the people who matter most to you. Put them first. Spend most of your time with them, and cultivate those relationships. 

11.) Try to "out-give" the other person- This is especially helpful if you're in a long term relationship. Do more for them than they do for you, and don't keep score. 

12.) Keep learning- Never stop. If you think you know everything you need to know, you're wrong. 

13.) Workout- Do something active every day, if possible. This is probably the best tip I can give for mental health. 

14.) Eat healthy- Cut the alcohol and processed food. Add in the veggies, proteins, fibers and fats. Read Body Love by Kelly LeVeque for more.  

15.) Go to sleep- Everything looks better and less overwhelming after a good night's sleep. 

16.) Stop listening to music that makes you feel something you don't want to feel- Maybe music doesn't affect you the way it affects me, in which case, this recommendation is not for you. But if the songs you listen to put you back in a relationship you don't need to be focusing on or a season of your life you'd rather forget, then STOP LISTENING TO IT. 

17.) Realize that you have a choice- You control your mood, what goes into your mouth and what comes out of it. You choose what your day is going to look like and who you are going to spend it with. You get to choose your life. 

18.) Unfollow people who make you feel bad about your life. Social media can be a great place, and it can be a terrible one. If someone is causing you to feel insecure or insignificant, then UNFOLLOW THEM and don't think twice. 

19.) Know yourself- Make a list of your core values as a person. Start with three to five, if you need a number. Then structure your schedule and your life around those values. 

20.) Stay organized. 

21.) Surround yourself with people who push you to be a better person. 

22.) Know that one mistake doesn't define your day or your week...or who you are. 

From Ignorance to Understanding: A Conversation About Race With Cadian Lawrence Hooker

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I’ve been waiting to post this interview for two months. It’s not that I didn’t want to post it. I waited because I wanted to sit with the interview, digest it and give it the time and attention it deserved. I realize now that no amount of time spent writing could do this post justice…and it’s not MY words I want you to remember anyway.

I first met Cadian Lawrence Hooker (Cades, as I call her) during our freshman year of college. Our boyfriends at the time were roommates. While our relationships with them didn’t last longer than a semester, Cadian and I became lifelong friends. We lived together our sophomore year of college. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding, and I flew across the country to attend hers.

But it wasn’t until the past few years—maybe even the past few months—that I feel like I’m starting to understand a bit more of who Cadian is…where she comes from…what she values…and what it means to be her—a black woman raising a young black boy in a world that all too often values whiteness.

To be honest, I feel unworthy of posting this interview. I am a white girl who grew up in an upper middle class suburb of Richmond, Virginia. I went to college and worked for years afterward in Raleigh, North Carolina. I lived in Sacramento, California for a brief period of time. These cities were extremely culturally diverse; and many of my classmates, friends and colleagues were black. Yet, it never occurred to me to ask them about THEIR life experience; and until some of the atrocities of the past few years, I honestly never gave much thought to the fact that the lives as a black man or women were that different than mine.

My ignorance makes me both embarrassed and deeply grateful for people like Cadian who came alongside me, answered my (often ignorant) questions and helped me expand my worldview.

This interview with Cadian is different than the ones I’ve done before. Other than the formality of an introduction, I jump right in to the tough questions. These are questions I wasn’t always comfortable asking, and I’m sure Cadian wasn’t always comfortable answering. Unlike my other interviews, which seemed to have a sense of closure after the last question was answered, this interview feels like it’s just the beginning.

And, in fact, it is just the beginning. Cadian and I are teaming up for something fun—and challenging. But you’ll have to read til the end of the interview to find out what it is. I said it earlier, but I’ll say it again, I’m so thankful for Cadian, her friendship and her willingness to talk about the hard things. 

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Jenn Prentice (JP): Tell me about yourself.

Cadian Lawrence Hooker (CLH):

I had what I feel is a very diverse upbringing. My folks both hail from the Caribbean. 

I was born in a California and lived in Germany until I was six. I was an “Air Force Brat”. My father was stationed at several bases, so we moved often…luckily not as much as some of my fellow military kid friends. Today, I’m a wife to Isaac and a mother to my almost two year old son, Isaiah. I’m very lucky for the blessings I’ve received.

JP: How old were you when you first became aware of racism and/or encountered racism? What were the circumstances surrounding that?

CLH: Hmmm…I was aware of racism from childhood, but I don’t recall personally experiencing it until college. My brother and many of my friends had experiences with it at a younger age because, sadly, it’s not uncommon. My first encounter with racism was when I noticed a women clutching her purse and stepping away from me on a sidewalk. Mind you, I was just walking past her.

Another encounter occurred during a soccer tournament in college. One of the girls on the opposing team said some incredibly vulgar and hateful things to me, which were disgusting and embarrassing for her. I actually didn’t hear what she said, but my teammate got so angry that she cursed the girl out… All because of something that happened on the field. Crazy, right?

JP: You have an older brother. Do you think his experience with racism is different than yours? Why?

 CLH: I’m sure my brother’s experience is similar, but different. In the black community, experiencing racism is very prevalent.  I say his experience is similar in that he and I are both black, but we have definitely had different personal experiences. As a black male he got targeted for the car he drove, clothes he wore, or even just being in a place others didn’t think he belonged.

I grew up in the 90s. Things were fun and laid back. I sometimes wonder living on Air Force bases might have been more like living in a bubble? Maybe? Others may disagree. My brother is 5.5 years old than me so I know for a fact that he experienced different things than me. People just hate—on him, on black people--for no reason and don’t expect us to excel or succeed simply because of the color of our skin. It’s a shame.
 

JP: What impact did the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and others have on you? When these horrible things happen, how can we as white people, Asian people, people of different races reach out and show love and support to our black friends?

CLH: They have each had a huge impact on me. It’s sad because this has been going on for years but with technology and social media these events are finally coming to light. People need to communicate and get involved. Speak with your friends. Ask questions and don’t sit idly by expecting the world to change with their silence. No one is asking you to disregard your race but when you know

something is wrong speak up. Say something. It is beyond frustrating when people know right from wrong and stay quiet.  Young black men and women are losing their lives for nothing. I don’t think the media helps either. 

JP: I feel like there is a resurgence of racism and racial tension in the last few years in America. Do you feel that way or do you think these issues have always been there, but we, as a culture (or at least some people in our culture) are just more aware of them? 

CLH: Some may call it a resurgence, but it has always been there. This goes back to what I just said about technology and social media making us more aware of the racial issues and racially motivated hate crimes. With our current political state, I do think people are starting to feel more comfortable committing some of these racist acts. Unfortunately, the issues have always been there. Some people may be more aware of racism now, and really, that just means that we as people and parents who are more aware of these atrocities need to lead by example. We have to teach our children right from wrong and to speak up when something isn’t right.

JP: How are you going to explain racism to Isaiah? What do you hope his life growing up as a black man in America will be like?

CLH: I will explain it to him when he is old enough to understand. How I will to say it specifically I don’t know yet. A black man in America is a target. Period. I’m heartbroken over all of it. 

Now that I have brought a son into his world I’m extra paranoid. As a mother we always want what’s best for our children. I know when he gets older I’m going to have to speak with him about how to act in public and what to do if he gets pulled over by a police officer. I’m already worrying for about him growing up black, and he is a toddler. That’s not normal. Parents should not have to bury their children--especially when they are being murdered for no reason. 

JP: What are things that white people say—perhaps unconsciously—that can be hurtful or offensive to black ppl?

CLH: Let’s just list a few. Keep in mind, there are several that people say and not just whites people. These are just a few examples I’ve heard:

“Why don’t you sound black?”

“You don’t sound ghetto.”  (As if a race has a sound. How does one do that?)

“Do you wash your hair?”

“Can I feel your hair?” (Why is there a phenomenon with feeling black people’s hair? We are not pets. If the situation were reversed, other people would be upset.) 

“Do you wear sunblock and can you get sunburned?”

“You’re beautiful. What are you mixed with?” (Why can’t someone just be beautiful without asking what their ethnicity is?)

JP: What does being a black woman mean to you?

CLH: How much time do you have for this one? Haha. It means so much to me. It means love, courage, wisdom and strength. It means I have to stand strong with my head held high no matter what is thrown at me and be a Queen in a world that sees me as less. 

My culture and heritage run through me. I’m not saying others are not just as proud of their culture and heritage, but I just love being black and love where I come from and what it means to be me. 

JP: Ok. Last question. For now. Because we are continuing this conversation. We have to continue it. It's too important to stop talking about it. I'm asking everyone I interview this question: At the end of your life, what type of legacy do you hope to leave?

CLH: I want people to know that I was steadfast in my faith. That I loved my family, helping others and that I didn’t take no for an answer. 

***************

Re-reading this interview made my eyes well up with tears. As a friend, a mother, and a woman, so many of Cadian’s answers broke my heart; and in many ways, I feel powerless to do anything about what she said.

Recently, I listened to Jen Hatmaker’s podcast interview with Austin Channing Brown. In the podcast, Austin talks about how “one cup of coffee with our black friend” is simply not enough to change the way we (as white people) think or change the way the world works.

Racism didn’t happen overnight, and it can’t be fixed in one conversation or one interview. Austin points out that each of us has a responsibility to dig a bit deeper…to continue the conversation and figure out where we can contribute to greater change around issues of race and racism.

This blog is my corner of the world, and if I’m being honest, it’s one way I hope to change the world…or at least the hearts and minds of some of the people who read it. In August, Cadian and I will be reading and discussing Austin Channing Brown’s new book, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness.

AND (drumroll please) WE WILL BE DISCUSSING THE BOOK ON MY NEW PODCAST. I can't give many details about the podcast yet, only that it will launch in August and center around a different book each month. If you want to join the fun, order a copy of Austin's book and start reading! 

The One Relationship Worth Fighting For

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I'm forcing myself to write this post. Nothing in me feels inspired, and I haven't felt inspired for days...maybe a week. Something's wrong. I can feel it. Yes, there are a few major things happening in my life right now. My husband's grandma--the matriarch of his family--just passed away and next weekend's funeral is looming. There are also some health issues in my extended family that have my anxiety working overtime; but I know how to manage anxiety. What I'm feeling is more than that.

My current emotional state harkens back to how I felt last year: A sense of aimlessness. A deep seated discontent with where I'm at in life. On my best day this week, I went through the motions and checked everything off my to-do list. On my worst, I wasted too much time on social media or other things that don't matter, argued with my husband, yelled at my kids and felt like a failure...the worst wife, mother, friend, teacher. EVER.

Before you start sending me notes about how I should give myself grace or how I AM a good wife, mother, friend, teacher, etc., know this: I'M NOT LOOKING FOR YOUR PITY. I know what's wrong. I know that I have NO ONE to blame but myself, and I know how to stop feeling this way.  

Sending out a warning signal

I spent part of last Friday touring Piedras Blancas Lighthouse. At one point, the tour manager mentioned that most modern lighthouses weren't used to guide ships into port. They were used to warn mariners of hazards like rocks and reefs. 

The feelings I've experienced this past week are my lighthouse. They are my warning that if I continue going in the same direction, something bad will happen. What are they warning me against, exactly? These feelings are telling me that I've neglected the most important relationship in my life--the only relationship that really matters and the one relationship I need to fight for the most: My relationship with God. 

Slow fade

I'm never quite sure how it happens, but I think it has to do with being busy and putting too much emphasis on things that don't matter and working hard to achieve something (that probably doesn't matter either) or trying to impress the wrong people. All of a sudden, I look up and a few days have gone by without spending time in prayer or reading my Bible or listening to a sermon. Or, if I have done those things, they've been done out of habit, not a desire to truly connect with the ONE who gives me life. 

The deterioration of my relationship with God is often a slow fade. And I'm always the one who does the fading. 

There is a reason that Jesus called himself the vine and referred to us as the branches. In that same breath, He said: "apart from me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5). In a very literal sense, if a branch is disconnected from the vine, it withers. It doesn't bear fruit. It's useless.  

At times when I'm feeling disconnected, unproductive and useless, it's almost always because I'm not being intentional in my relationship with God. My internal lighthouse is flashing. It's up to me to decide whether to heed its warning and change course. 

Fighting back

So, how do I change course? Sadly, I've cut myself off from the vine enough times in my relationship with God to know how to "fix" the problem. At a very basic level, to mend a broken relationship with God, I do what I'd do to fix an earthly relationship: I PRIORITIZE our time together. 

But this time I don't just want to "fix" things. This time, I want to fight. I firmly believe that I am engaged in a battle for my heart and my mind. Satan would love nothing more than for me to get distracted and discouraged and give up on my relationship with God--or, perhaps even worse, to be ok with a mediocre spiritual life.

I am not a quitter and I hate feeling average, so why should my relationship with God be any different. 

Earlier today, in an effort to begin that reconnection with God, I listened to a sermon by Priscilla Shirer titled "How to Win the Battle." In it, she lays out three ways to fight a spiritual battle. I won't give away all three of her points because the sermon is worth listening to; but I will share one of them. 

The first way to win a spiritual battle is to hit your knees and thank God for the victory. 

I don't know how long it will take to start "feeling better" about myself and where I'm at in life; but I do know that God is bigger than my feelings. Today, I'm hitting my knees and thanking the one who triumphed over death, for the LIFE He is going to breathe into my soul. 

No matter where you're at in your relationship with God, don't get discouraged. If I've learned anything over the past thirty four years, it's that a solid relationship with God makes all other relationships fall into place. It truly is the one relationship worth fighting for. 

XX, 

Jenn

My Go-To Resources For Mending My Walk With God 

1.) Sermons from J.D Greaer at The Summit Church and Brian Frost at Providence Baptist Church- I put them on while I'm folding laundry or driving to work or cooking dinner and am always encouraged. 

2.) New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp- This short but impactful daily devotional is perfect for busy mornings when I've got to get out the door but want to center my heart and mind before the day starts. 

3.) Any video by Priscilla Shirer. Her talks on God's patience, the armor of God, and not fearing are particularly good. 

4.) The Audio Bible App- Sometimes there's a scripture I want to memorize or meditate on. So, I'll find it in the app and put it on repeat in the car as I drive. 

5.) The Read Scripture App- If you're looking to read through the entire Bible, this is a great way to do it. The app gives you three chapters and a Psalm to read per day and provides videos that set the stage for the historical context of the chapters you're about to read and how those chapters fit into the larger story that God is telling through the Bible. 

Making Meaning in the Chaos

This month's theme on This is Thirty Four is CHANGE. Today, I'm talking about how unwanted change (read: the impending death of a loved one) and sitting at a table with eight men I'd never met caused me to make a few changes on this website. 

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In a few weeks, maybe days, my husband’s 88-year-old grandmother will leave this world and enter the gates of Heaven and into the arms of Jesus.

Kay Prentice is a strong woman who eloped at 18 with her high school sweetheart, Waller. She and Waller have been married for 70 years. He still calls her “baby” and tells her she’s beautiful. She still beams every time he gets close to her.

Their relationship survived war, financial hardship, long years of hard work (she owned a flower shop and he was a captain in the Oakland Police Department) and numerous illnesses. Together, they raised two boys—one became a lawyer and one an architect. Those boys had boys of their own and those boys (my husband and his cousins) now have boys of their own.

She is the matriarch in a family of men who run to greet her with a kiss when she comes in the door and who stand at the end of the driveway waving goodbye as she leaves.

Her impending death is not a surprise to anyone, and my husband’s family will emerge from the fire that is grief more bonded to one another than ever. I can say that with confidence because in addition to leaving behind her doting husband and family, Kay leaves an even greater legacy: She LOVED WELL and taught those around her how to do the same.

Success to Significance

Last Thursday, I was at an event full of local business leaders, sitting at a table with nine older men. The speaker posed this question: “What would it take for you to go from success to significance?” He asked everyone to share their thoughts with the people at their table.

Other than my husband, I didn’t know any of the men I was sitting with; but lately, something in me says “SPEAK UP” when I’m out of my comfort zone—especially around men. I am tired of letting them dominate the conversation. (#sorrynotsorry) So, I went first:

“For me, success to significance would mean being more intentional about the way I interact with my husband, my boys and my friends. I want to love them well and leave a legacy of love behind me. Significance would also mean extending my influence among my students and in the online community I’m building so that I can help others learn to live with intention and leave their own legacy.”

BOOM. MIC DROP.

I know I’m biased, but I saw the faces of the men around the table, and (minus my husband) they were clearly not expecting me to give that answer. As I listened to their answers, which were mostly all the same (focus less on their careers and more on their wives and kids), I realized that women have known for years what a lot of men are only starting to figure out:

IMPACTING THE LIVES OF THOSE AROUND US IN A SIGNIFICANT, POSITIVE WAY IS FAR MORE FULFILLING THAN ANY WORLDLY SUCCESS COULD EVER BE.

That’s what my husband’s grandmother has known and modeled for the past 88 years, and that’s why I started This is Thirty Four. I believe you and I are created to make an impact on those around us; and I want to create a space for us to figure out what that looks like in each of our lives…TOGETHER.

What now?

It’s been over two months since This is Thirty Four officially launched. Every day, I feel a bit more clarity on the type of content that I want to produce here. Today, I’m ready to put a stake in the ground and further crystalize what This is Thirty Four is all about.

Here’s a preview:

At This is Thirty Four, we (I chose this pronoun because I’m dragging all of you along with me) are MAKING MEANING IN THE CHAOS.

Life is busy. Every day, hundreds of things clamor for our attention and threaten to distract us from what is really important. If we don’t know what’s most important to us—what type of legacy we want to leave—then we can’t prioritize our lives around those things. If we aren’t intentional about our thoughts, choices and actions, then society or someone else will tell us how to think, what to choose and when to act.

When I look at the last 34 years of my life, I see that the more chaotic seasons stemmed from an imbalance in one of these four areas:

Myself—my emotions, my spiritual walk, my health

Relationships- my marriage, my parenting, my friendships

Possessions – my finances, my focus on material things

Time- my over commitment and lack of margin in my schedule

If all, or even one, of these four areas of our lives are out of whack, we CANNOT live intentionally and the legacy we may end up leaving could be one of little consequence.  

So, what type of content can you expect to see on This is Thirty Four in the future?

More of the same…with a bit more focus on the four aforementioned categories.

I’ll still have a monthly theme, but those themes and the related posts will (mostly) fall into the self, relationships, possessions and/or time categories.

I’ll still be conducting interviews with awesome women who are doing amazing things related to the monthly theme or one of the those topics. Why? Because I am not an expert on, well, anything. By God’s grace, I’ve figured out how to do a few things well, and I’ll certainly be sharing some of that advice on here; but I also heavily rely on the advice of others to guide me along the journey that is life.

Finally, what do I need from you, the This is Thirty Four community? I NEED YOUR INPUT! What topics do YOU want to see more about on the blog? What are some of the things you struggle with related to self, relationships, possessions and time? Who do you look to for advice in those areas? Who would you like to hear from in a blog interview? (Bonus points if that person is not a mega star and I can actually get in touch with them.)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: We’re all in this thing called life together. It’s better if we lean on and learn from one another along the way. Thanks for sharing in my journey and sharing your journey with me. 

XX,

Jenn

 

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Availability + Authenticity: The Community Equation

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My husband and I are currently deciding where to send our oldest son for Kindergarten this year. I had no idea what a complex decision choosing a school would be. So many things are factoring into our decision, but do you know what factor is becoming increasingly important to us as we search? (Hint: It’s NOT education.)

COMMUNITY.

We’ve looked at public schools, private schools, charter schools and everything in between; and the schools that bubble up to the top are the ones where our son can be part of a diverse community of good, kind kids--and my husband and I can become FRIENDS with those kid’s parents.

The Community Equation

The word community gets tossed around fairly frequently these days; and I think the definition of the word differs a bit from person to person, depending on age and stage of life. 

As a young adult, I found community in school clubs, church singles ministries and at my job. As a mom of two young boys, I find community in other moms of tiny humans and in my older friends, who are either more experienced moms or just more experienced at life. They all provide me with camaraderie, advice and help when I need it. Nearly five years ago, my husband and I moved onto a little cul-de-sac in our coastal California town, and the people on this street—young, old, married, divorced, kids, no kids—are like family to us. And now, venturing into the realm of blogging and social media, I’m finding a new community in people I’ve never met face-to-face but am learning to care about deeply.  

I’ve moved five times and lived in four different states in my life. While I don’t consider myself an expert on anything, I do think those experiences made me pretty good at making friends and building community. Connecting with people, nurturing relationships, and connecting people with OTHERS when they need it, feels life-giving to me.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case. I’ve learned how to be a “community builder”—which sounds super cheesy and is mostly just a fancy term for being a good friend--by being a pretty crappy one. My early 20’s were a string of broken commitments and choosing significant others over my girlfriends. And phone calls? I wouldn’t return those for weeks. As a result, I have very few close friends from my young adult life; and I have no one to blame but myself.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve made a concerted effort to change my ways. I’m still not the BEST at responding to text messages or voicemails (WHO LIKES LISTENING TO VOICEMAILS??), but I’ve learned a lot from my past shortcomings and I think I’ve landed on a decent formula for building friendships and ultimately, community:

Availability + Authenticity = Community

Availability: Time is the best gift you can give.

You cannot be a good friend if you have no time to spend with the people you’re trying to be friends with; and you cannot build community with a group of people if you are not able to be a good friend to them.

Having time is much easier said than done in a culture that values busyness. In fact, I’m not really a fan of the term “having time.” We all have the same amount of time in a day and very few of us "have" a lot of those hours to spend with other people. What I’m learning is that you don’t HAVE TIME for other people, you MAKE TIME.

Making time means building margin into your schedule. It means saying “no” to things that don’t matter and saying yes to things—to people--that do. It sometimes means putting aside your desire for “me time” or putting away that to-do list in order to have coffee with or take a phone call from that friend you want to connect with.

Most importantly, being available means letting your “yes be yes.” As previously mentioned, I used to be the QUEEN of broken commitments. My husband is the exact opposite. If he tells you he is going to do something, then come hell or high water, he is doing it.

Early on in our marriage, he caught me trying to break commitments to some of my friends; and he called me out on it. I believe his exact words were “Let your ‘yes be yes,’ Jenn.” This is also a Biblical truth, so ya know, I couldn’t really argue with him.

Nearly 10 years later, I still remember that conversation. I legitimately try to do what I say I’m going to do, when I say I’m going to do it--regardless of how much I might not feel like it (I am a homebody at heart) and no matter how many other things I might have to do. (Disclaimer: This is where being a mom to tiny humans makes availability a bit tricky. Breaking a commitment due to sick kids or even questionably snotty ones is always OK. No one wants your kid’s boogers to become their kid’s boogers.)

Authenticity: If you can’t be real, you can’t be friends.

Don’t confuse sharing basic information about yourself with authenticity. People can know a lot about you without really KNOWING you.

Being authentic means being real, genuine and unafraid to share yourself and your opinions regardless of how different they might be from someone else’s. I spent years stifling my point of view and trying to be who other people wanted me to be. If my friends didn’t like something, I didn’t like it either. I just wanted them to like ME.

People can tell when you’re not being YOU. The older I get, the more comfortable I become in my own skin and the more willing I am to share my thoughts and opinions on things. And ya know what? The friendships I have now are some of the best I’ve ever had.

Additionally, the older I’ve gotten, the better I’ve become at discerning the type of people I cannot be my authentic self around. Honestly? I try to limit my time around those people or choose to hang with them in group settings in order to minimize one-on-one interaction.

Don’t misunderstand me, though: Just because someone has a different lifestyle or point of view on a certain issue than you DOES NOT MEAN you can’t be your authentic self around them.

The best friendships are the ones in which you can be honest with each other and talk through issues when you don’t see eye to eye. The best communities are the ones composed of different people from different walks of life, striving to live, learn and love alongside each other. That’s how we grow as individuals, how we grow together and how we change the world.

The Kindergarten Dilemma

I still don't know where my son is going to Kindergarten, and there's no real way to tell if the community of people at the school we decide on will be everything we want, until we get there. What I do know is how I'm striving to build community with the people I'm surrounded with RIGHT NOW. Teaching my son to do the same once he launches into his own community of friends is one of the most important lessons I think I can teach him. 

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