by Diane Miller

After sojourning in my blended urban environs over 2 decades, I have some tips to encourage others on the journey of living different (what’s a Ccd mama)…

1) Seek God, pray & listen hard. Develop a personal &/or family mission statement & stick to it… adapt it when God leads you to & flex with what you learn. (For my friends who don’t claim a faith, I dare you to try this… God speaks to everyone!)

Many people come to cities because they hold colleges, jobs or adventure. Those are great draws! But, like so many other things in life, you can get stuck in siloes… in school, work, party, event or church mode. Having a quiet place to meditate & hear God helps to ground you. When I was a corporate gal, my best quiet place was my car. I could read uninterrupted while parked, listen to music & sing loud, or simply have quiet road travel time with sunbeam warmth through my open sunroof.

A mission statement is key, too. It is like having a moral baseline. You need something to go back & check your life decisions against. Are you doing work, relationships & activities because of your God-calling & gifts? Or, are you being sucked into activities because of friend, family, work, school or church requests with more of a feeling of obligation? Figure out who you are, what your mission is and how to limit your going & doing for some balanced margin in your life.

2) As a single or married person, your work & free time hours model your values. Choose in alignment with your personal mission statement & honor Sabbath, whatever that might look like for you.

I was single and had an extroverted, large capacity bend for being on the go all the time. It was fun & I traveled a lot; but, the commitment that always grounded me was giving back & learning about others not like me. Once a week for 7 years, I spent an afternoon at a kids club, hanging out with young gals growing up in an under-resourced Chicago ‘hood. It handed me an invaluable understanding of my dominant white culture privilege (which I thought was normal for everyone) and systems that were unjust and kept people trapped in poverty.

Sabbath or rest is a big deal as well… it’s not just going to church. It is finding a way to relax & enjoy life’s simple things. Being an extrovert that loved adventure, I struggled with this. I stacked as many activities as possible into each day. That behavior produced even more work, as I then had to manage my too full weekends that included no margin. I had to learn how to relax or chillax ~ as my teen now says. Doing less and taking a day for nothing planned now gives me rest (or Sabbath) for both my mind & body. Less is always more when you live in a culture presented with so many opportunities for continuous activity.

3) As a family, your school choice models your life values. It is also where you will spend much community time. So, make a choice aligned with your family mission & ideally within walking distance.

Grade school community can be somewhat like sharing an apartment or marriage, if you are actively involved. You work towards the betterment of your children together in the blended community; and, your ways get routinely challenged by other’s normal ways! You can embrace this as a learning experience as a parent; or, pick a school where all attendees share most of your core life values and/or look like you. There is a balance and tension with this choice… we all need some homogenous community for support; but, too much does not stretch children or parents to learn how to navigate with people from different cultures in our changing world. We can simply become too comfortable always being around others who share most of our values & privilege.

4) Commit to live & base a majority of your life in a geographic neighborhood. Limit your doing & going by picking a neighborhood where you can develop both relationships & activities, giving your family a deep sense of belonging to a geography.

This is a big deal for what American life has become. Academics coupled with economics has created a Western culture where relocating for a better job or new adventure has become an accepted norm. We also go a lot… out of our home neighborhood for work, school, church and various sport or vacation activities. Some going can be very good. But, too much prevents a sense of belonging to any geography for both adults & children. And, it creates an exhausting constant transporting lifestyle.

5) Commit to have friends not like you… not of your socio-economic status, your race, your age group, or your faith. How else can you stretch, grow and be able to relate to people in a globalized world?

I think most like the idea of this. However, it is challenging as a lifestyle. We humans tend to like short-term vacation, mission or service trips to go in and out of cultures that are not our own. Let’s face it, it has simply become more comfortable to go, do & leave than stay in one place. And, with always being on the go, we don’t have to press in beyond minimal exposure and accountability to others. However, if you commit to live in a neighborhood with people not like you (culturally & socio-economically), you are forced to stretch out of your normal mindset and comfort zones. You have to learn how other people really live… others without supportive parents or family, connections to jobs, provision to buy enough groceries, or the ability to afford decent housing. Short-term service experiences, unless there has been a crisis, can also become betterment activities to help poor people become more like us who have much. We simply give things or service without realizing the implications of not empowering people to use or develop their own gifts. That type of charity gives us the fix of checking the box on our “do good” list; but it possibly becomes what Bob Lupton would label as “Toxic Charity”. We simply should not do anything for others that they are capable of doing for themselves. Service should instill a sense of dignity to all involved parties.

So, these are my top 5 mama lessons… I do own that I can slip back into old pattern behavior & not always respond or conduct these learned lessons very well. It takes determination, many engaging conversations and accountability to undo pattern behavior, which you have thought of as normal, good, American, Christian… or whatever you may label your responses or behavior towards others!

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