Last week I had the joy and challenge of watching one of my nieces. The niece who continues to teach me what it means to thrive in the wilderness. This niece is the same niece that was “not supposed to make it”; “not supposed to sit up”; “not supposed to feed herself….” The list goes on and on. And so do her check-marks accomplishing items on the “not supposed to” list.
Her current challenge–walking. And I got to see her take three baby steps with her walker.
Three steps that in one moment can seem both insurmountable and insignificant. What’s the big deal about three steps? It’s only three steps. What’s the big deal about three steps? Three steps that were never supposed to happen.
I think what’s more amazing is to watch her with the physical therapist. My niece grits her teeth and grunts to take each step. You can see the sheer determination. At the same time, she’ll fake a yawn to get out of an exercise and sign “all done” at the sound of the physical therapist’s voice. Needless to say, her spunk and spirit seem to be equal measure of help and hindrance. It’s become the therapist’s and our job to lovingly travel this path with her—cuddling in some moments, challenging in others. Right now it’s a balance of when to push for one more step and when to pick her up and simply breathe. Pushing too hard only leads to a complete melt down. But a little push gets her beyond her faux yawn and in touch with a spirit of determination equal to no one I know.
When it comes to my niece, the list of not-supposed-tos don’t apply. Like so many of us, her journey isn’t a straight line on a flat road. But that doesn’t seem to slow her down. She’ll take it one step at a time. What better company could you have in the wilderness?
Last week Anne Lamott posted a friend’s quote on Facebook: “I have a fatal disease of Extreme Coping. When I was little, in my family, and ever since, if you needed someone to do Extreme Coping with you, I am your go-to guy. It didn’t matter that I was only six, or thirteen…I could cope, no matter what shape you were in, no matter how heavy the lifting. But I grew to be a man who needs someone to need me to do extreme coping, in my work, in my relationships. It’s how I felt fully alive, and of value. But the price has been extreme, too. Some AA woman told me that healing begins with Step Zero: we wake up and say, This shit has got to stop. I am on that step. It feels like a huge act of disloyalty to my family of origin. And it feels like a miracle.”
I think I have this disease, too. Extreme coping that manifests in over-yesing, over-accomodating, and over-nicing. For years I believed that these traits were requirements for living. Merit badges of worthiness, if you will. Today, I don’t find them as useful. This once necessary skill for survival has become a detriment to life in the wild. The lions, tigers, and bears of the wilderness don’t respond well to yeses, accommodations, and nice girls. OR perhaps they respond very well–as in–hello nice prey. Not the response I’m hoping for.
Don’t get me wrong, kindness, compassion, and care are vital in or out of the wilderness. I’m not speaking of these virtues. I’m talking about the nice girl. The one who stays silent when the not-so-funny sexist/racist/heterosexist joke is told. The one who offers ideas freely and doesn’t comment when credit is given elsewhere. The one who says, sure, I’ll switch my schedule and juggle my life to make yours easier. That’s the nice girl. And I have been her or played her at times.
Today I find that role no longer fitting. I believe it is time to retire her costume, remove her script from my library, and prepare to mourn her death. Rest in peace, Nice Girl.
Saturday nights are strange in the wilderness. It’s 9:00. The girls are snuggled in bed; my husband just tackled the dinner dishes; laundry spins in the dryer. And I look about for what to do. If girls were down and home seemed fairly ok, Saturday nights became a night of seclusion and reclusion. I’d steal away to my study, nestle in with the sermon in whatever form, and take time to breathe and be still. Saturday night stillness became a ritual to prepare for Sunday’s business. Or “put on my game face” as Joe would say. (God bless the man for marrying a woman whose Saturday nights were often spent “putting on game face.”)
Tonight I sit at our dining room table. I am preaching tomorrow–but supply sure feels different. The prep and polishing feel so different, almost distant. After several years of travel preaching, I forgot how different it feels to ride in circuit-rider fashion on a Sunday morning. I come bringing text and time. The community gathers in prayer and praise. I fumble through their tradition and then ride away. Other than a few pleasantries, I am not spending time thinking about what tomorrow will bring. I am not the person whose sleeve will get tugged; I am not the ear that will be whispered into; I am not expected to discern how to deal with whatever difficulty might arise.
What a difference that makes on a Saturday night.