Hello, my name is Megan, and I am a workaholic.

One of the great learnings of 2013 seemed to be the power of accepting and even celebrating my humanity.  Claiming I can’t have or do it all; failing is part of flying; re-thinking how I see success.  You get the idea.  This all seemed well and good until about three weeks ago when I started to experience physical pain.  Pain is not new to me.  It’s not unusual.  What is new and unusual is admitting that I have it.  Admitting that perhaps the best way to deal with pain is not to pop an extra ibuprofen, push through it, and pull myself up by my boot straps.  Perhaps they way to deal with pain is actually to do less than more.

Do less than more?    This idea does not sit well with me at all.  What will people think?  What will God think?  What will I think?  

Somewhere along the line I have learned that work=worth.  I am what I produce during the day.  In this case, no pain, no gain.  The list could go on and on.  It probably would if it were not for my husband who has lovingly held a mirror up to me.  

Rather than getting caught in a sparring match with my old friend, lack of self-worth, the reflection I saw in the mirror was my workaholic self.  A workaholic who not only used work to find worth but who also used work to stay in denial.  That’s right.  One of my favorite places to reside.  Denial.  What I saw in the mirror was that when I am busy pushing through the pain and fighting my demon, I am not attending to the reality.  I am not doing things like going to the doctor, sharing the challenge of questionable test results with people, telling my boss about the reality of my pain, allowing people to pick up my shifts.   In short, reality seems to be the gateway into humanity and community.  Two places a workaholic in denial can’t reside.  Today I admit that I am a workaholic…and it’s no longer working for me.

Falling, Failing, and Flying

One of my least favorite parts of the holiday season is the work of de-decorating.  At least in the flurry preparation, there is the excitement of the season and the creativity about adorning the space.  De-decorating is some of my lesser favorite practices:  cleaning and packing.  Needless to say, I did not begin the task in the best of spirits.  Historically, I attempt to accomplish this chore as quickly as possible to the rhythm of 80s music.  Something about 80s music always helps me palate less than favorable jobs.  For some reason, today I just didn’t feel like wrapping to Katrina and the Waves, so I started in silence.  

Rather than racing through de-decoration, I found myself noticing so much about each ornament and decoration.  There are the swans that previously belonged to my grandmother, the old, tarnished glass balls, the beeswax angel made by children I baby-sat 20 years ago..the list goes on.  As I wrapped each ornament, I started to think about the many homes these pieces have decorated–from my first apartment out of college, to my seminary “dorm,” to this home–my first house.  These ornaments have seen me grow up and out.  These ornaments have seen me fall and fail and fly.

It was in the noticing of the falling, failing, and flying that I realized somehow, someway I have learned to fail and to fall down.  More importantly I’ve learned that I only seem to be able to fly if I actually take the risk of falling and failing.  I look back at 2013 and see so many ways and places that I’d make different choices today.  Five years ago I’d look back, see the ways and places and beat myself up for falling and failing.  Today, I feel grateful for all I’ve learned.  Today I see those ways and places and don’t even think of them so much as falling and failing and the beginning of flying.  

 

Keeping Up With the Griswolds

ImageSometimes step-mothering feels like it could be an amusement park ride.  It has the twists and turns, climbs and chasms of an old wooden coaster.  I would be lying if I said I always love the thrill of the ride.  I don’t.  Honestly, sometimes I find myself feeling as turned about and inside out as I do after getting off an amusement park ride.

 Take this weekend.  It’s the second week of Advent.  (Or in the girls’ minds—it’s 18 days until Christmas.)  Snow is in the forecast.  Our calendar is packed with what could be labeled “good old fashioned Griswold family fun.”  From starting with a sleepover, to traveling through cookie baking with friends, and coasting to a close with family snow fun, these are all wonderful.  I love them.  But throw a holiday hair-pin turn in there.  And the rickety-speed that accompanies “blended family life” (there’s a reason the term involves a lot of shaking around), and you get one high-energy, action-packed ride. 

 Anyone who has been to Hershey Park with me knows, I like rides in small palatable doses.  I enjoy the Comet—from the ground.  I delight in waving and smiling at my beloveds on the ride.  Sitting on the ride with my beloveds—not so much.   The sensory overload combined with the lack of control isn’t always my first choice for fun.  In fact, it’s more like the ride provides practice for spiritual disciplines like letting go and letting God.  Like recognizing that feeling in my stomach can be excitement or fear—it’s my brain that chooses.  Like remembering that I, like my beloveds, am along for the ride. 

When I’m honest, I can say—this term amusement is bogus.  It isn’t always so amusing.  The same can be true of step parenting.  It isn’t always amusing.  Many moments it’s tough, and some days it’s down right over-whelming.   Just when I find myself wondering, what’s next, the girls surprise me.  After an evening of over-tired and over-sugared girls, I found myself counting the moments until bedtime.  And praying that it would be that—bed.  Shortly after tuck-in, I heard my step-daughters humming themselves  to sleep with Christmas carols.  It’s like the wind in my hair on a roller coaster.  Grace whooshes all around me.  I can let go of the handlebars, raise my hands in the air, and tilt my head back to enjoy the ride.

 

Beginner’s Mind

Zen Buddhism encourages adopting a beginner’s mind.  Supposedly this mindset is the gateway to true peace, creativity, and wisdom.  

The Christian tradition speaks of following children.  Apparently, becoming like a child is the best way to encounter the Living God.  

On paper, I love both of these concepts.  On paper, I aspire to them.  Praise them.  Embrace them.

In practice, not so much.  

In practice, adopting a beginner’s mind, often means stumbling and fumbling…a lot.  Becoming like a child often entails admitting my own lack of knowing; asking a lot of questions; and trusting myself and God that the outcome will be good enough.  This practice is not easy or fun for the recovering perfectionist.

Malcom Gladwell believes it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a “master” of any discipline.  If one seeks to become a master at beginning, that is a lot of falling down!  That is a lot of fumbling and faltering.  Think of the skinned knees and bruised pride.  

As I settle into the wilderness and begin my tent-making as a barista, I know I have the divine opportunity to practice this discipline.  On paper, I’m delighted.  In practice, my knees are a little sore already.

Plan B

I’m a planner

Always have been.

In seventh grade my Sweet Valley High Calendar

Carefully marked and measured the momentous events of the year:

School plays,

Mall dates,

Movies with friends,

And of course

The last day of school.

I’m a planner.

I was one of those people

That graduated college in mid-May

And had my teaching job by Memorial Day.

Graduated seminary in mid-May

And started my first full time ministry

Before Memorial Day.

I’m a planner

Who has learned from a lifetime of unexpected events

To not only have plan B

But also plans C, D, and E.

How else can a recovering type A, perfectionist

Navigate the uncharted waters of life?

I’m a planner

Who chose to live for this season

Without a plan

Sailing each day

Attending to sky, surf, and sun

And waiting for the Spirit

To blow into my sails.

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

ImageHave you ever heard the expression “robbing Peter to pay Paul”?  Some days I feel this is how I spend every minute.  The reality is that trying to be present both for my new family and the congregation can be an impossible task.  No kidding, right?  How could anyone be simultaneously present?  In my logical mind, I understand this reality and believe there’s enough grace to help balance this continual juggle.

Except that apparently there’s still another part of me.  A part of me that seems to forget that I am, in fact, a human.  Somehow I sipped a little too much of the Wonder Woman Water growing up.  Somehow I still seem to think that I should be miraculously able to navigate pastoring and parenting seamlessly.  Yes.  I can be that delusional.

In addition to the obvious problems and implications of believing I somehow have a super-hero-like capacity, there’s a subtler issue.  If I miraculously and perfectly navigated these worlds so that all needs were always met, neither the children nor the church would do the hard work of learning to name and meet some of their own needs.   And the risk of reaching out to widen the circle of support.  To discern what it is they really need.  What they need to ask for and what they will take care of themselves.  The flip-side of this is that I am responsible for the same.

Yesterday was a day where I robbed Peter to pay Paul.  A day where I said yes when I meant no.  And some of my yeses didn’t align with what I say are my priorities.  Such is the way of Sundays and step-daughters.

I’ve Still Got Sand in My Shoes

ImageIt’s been a week where my brain functions felt more like an iPod playlist than a network of neurons generating creative thoughts.  Maybe you’ve had this too.  Where music plays continually.  The only problem is you’re the only one who can hear it.  In my case it hasn’t so much been a play list as a specific song.  It’s as if my shuffle got stuck in replay.  And Dido’s “Sand in My Shoes” is the background music for my waking, walking, washing.  Even my typing seems to be in rhythm to that tune.  I must say it’s an interesting choice for my brain:  I haven’t heard that song in several years; I haven’t been to the beach recently; I haven’t had a summer romance with someone I won’t see again.

So why that song at this time?

The only connection I can find is this week’s lectionary text.  In it, Jesus tells the disciples to “shake the dust off your feet.”  If you’re familiar with the story, you’re probably wondering how a wistful ballad about summer romance and a commissioning have anything in common.  I admit, I myself have been pondering this.  But I think it has something to do with what happens when we allow the sand to stay in our shoes.

Maybe it’s the number of hours I’ve spent at the beach, but I can literally feel the granules of sand stuck between my toes–cemented with sea water and sweat.  It’s an unpleasant feeling to say the least.  And cleaning off seashore feet and toes is no easy task.  Still, as much as I loathe that feeling of sand rubbing on sun burnt skin, I love it.  It starts a dreamlike memory…once upon a time when life was simpler…

So, you’re still probably wondering how this relates to the commissioning.  Jesus instructs the disciples to “shake off the dust” when they have not been welcomed.  It is a symbolic gesture after difficult and (seemingly) unproductive encounters.  How do fond beach memories relate to that?  I guess for me the point is that savoring sand in the shoes can promote living in a wishful world–I wish it were  or I wish it weren’t.  Neither of these is particularly helpful to today.  Neither of these help us to savor the present moment.  Whether weeping over the woes of yesterday or seeking to restore the perfection of the past, both don’t allow us to be in this place and this time.  How else are we to discern and appreciate today with sand in our shoes?

If You Can’t Get Out of It, Get Into It

When I re-vamped this blog several weeks ago, I shared that I would reflect on finding my fit as I “lived with the lectionary.”  This is all well and good until the text for the week is the stormy sea with the sleeping savior.  You know the passage, the one where the disciples and Jesus get into a boat.  (I assume on a clear day). Until a storm suddenly appears.  And these experienced anglers quake in terror of the ship going down while Jesus sleeps below deck.

Honestly, I’ve always really enjoyed this story.  The drama.  The emotion.  The sea.  But really living this text–not as enjoyable.

You see to be fair, engaging this text means being honest about the reality that storms happen.  They just do.  Even with Jesus in your boat.  And we’re not in control of the storms.  Even the anglers can’t control the sea.  Apparently having an expertise in something doesn’t guarentee smooth sailing.  And as a recovering perfectionist, I resist this.  For a long time, I thought that.  (Scratch that) I believed that if I could learn enough…figure out enough…grow enough…I would know how to avoid the storms.  Simply avoid them.  That’s what good people do, right?  Avoid storms.

Except this has never really worked for me.  In fact, I think I’ve ended up taking on more water being in denial about storms.  Thankfully, somewhere along the line, I started to think, I gotta just sail through it.  And as Louisa May Allcott said, “I no longer fear the storms, for I can steer my own ship.”  So, I came to the text ok to sail through it.  I’ve been sailing.  The waves have pounded some.  The water’s risen.

And as I sail, I think about the storms so many people face. I think about how I model what it means to sail through a storm.  And about how we in the church respond to storms:  individual and communal.  Two weeks ago, I attended a workshop on multi-sensory worship for the 21st century, and the presenter spoke about the role of worship and the worshiping community.  He talked about the worshiping community not being a place to avoid the storms of life but to invite them in.

What does it mean to invite the community to invite the storm in?  Or even to simply name the stormy seas they sail?

The Final Countdown

Hard to believe that it’s only 4 more days until the race.  How did it get here so quickly?

Honestly, all that seems to be going through my head right now are these nagging voices…

To be honest, I’ve never been a good finisher.  By that I mean I seem to be a great starter of projects and then they just sort of tapper off.  I have a handful of 3/4 crocheted scarves, files of half-written stories, strings of beads not crimped.  The list goes on.  I don’t exactly know what my fear of finishing is all about.  Failure perhaps.  Limitation possibly.  Whatever it is, it certainly gets in my way.  And I fear the same for the race.  Friday I ran for 45 minutes and felt great.  I ran over 3.5 miles.  WOO-HOO!  And today I couldn’t get passed 1.75  miles.  Literally couldn’t.  I’d like to say it’s due to the heat and the lack of air circulation at the gym.  (This is partly true–I felt almost claustrophobic today)  But I fear the other part is my strange desire to leave this goal unfinished.  To make it mostly.  To convince myself I tried.

But the week isn’t over yet.  Here’s hoping that in putting this out there, I get back on the treadmill, on the course, on the road, so that next week I can talk about running across the finish line.

Quotations for the Week

Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.–Longfellow

The road to success is dotted with many tempting parking places.  ~Author Unknown

Day of Reckoning

So, if you couldn’t tell from last week’s post, life was going on in full swing.  And having recently returned from the Fairy Tale of Food Heaven, I wasn’t ready for the reality of menuing, measuring, and memoing my health.  So I took a sabaath from tracking, running, and in general thinking about what I put in my mouth for a week and a half.  It was a much needed breather.  Sometimes there’s nothing like a Cookout Banana Pudding Milkshake to cure all that ailes you.  I mean really what can’t ice cream, biscuits and cheese cure?  I have to think all the world’s problems might just be solved by enjoying some good food with some good friends.  Or at least if we took the time to sit around a table, really shared food and drink, and listened to what one another had to say.

At the same time, the lure of veering off the stewardship of self loomed large.  Oh, not only did I indulge in edible goodies last week, I also indulged in some of my other favorite past times:  over-committing, enabling, and controling.  It wasn’t until listening to the sermon on Sunday that I realized–“DOH!  Megan, there you go again!  You’ve both forgotten that you are not in fact a super hero, caped crusader or christ and that you aren’t responsible for other people’s worlds–just yours.  And that is enough.”  It seems that when I’m not taking care of me, I really do believe it is my business to take care of everyone else.  When I say take care of everyone else, I mean solve their problems, tell them what to do, and in general be the expert on everything–excpet well, myself.  I just sort swallow my own self-care down with a giant gulp the way I do a milkshare.  Not so pretty, my friends.

And then I just get irritable, grumpy, grouchy…the list goes on.  So, Sunday I have this a-ha.  It’s Palm Sunday.  We celebrate and welcome the triumphant entry.  And like the crowd, I so easily know what I THINK this salvation thing should look like.  I THINK I know what is best.  And I THINK I want to be in charge of what everyone else should do.  I have this a-ha, but does that stop me?  Oh no!  I might have gotten back to the gym and back on the scale (up a pound–and not beating myself up–this is success for me), but I still managed to pick a fight with boyfriend (we’ll call him Aidan–yes I used to watch Sex and the City and honestly I’m much more of an Aidan gal than a Mr. Big chic, but I digress)  As Aidan shares about his day and the trials of apartment searching, I not only need to give my two cents, I open up the wallet to pour out all my change.  I catch myself and apologize.  And as I drove to the hospital last night for my on-call shift, I couldn’t help but realize…there I go again!  And that my friends is why I have discovered that I need to continue to commit to this stewardship of self.  Apparently, something in the process of me taking responsibility for me helps me not try to take responsibility for everybody else.  But cookout milkshakes, Biscuitville, and dinner with friends…well, that’s a sabaath worth taking any time.

Quotations for the Week

My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and talents, and I lay both of them at His feet.  Mahatma Gandhi

Self-discipline is self-caring. M Scott Peck

As I surrerendered my imaginary power over others, I gaied a more realistic view of my own life