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.
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.
Sometimes 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.
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.
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:
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.
Have 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.
It’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?