Monday, June 26, 2017

Happy Birthday!

Do you remember the last time you had one of those days when nothing exactly went wrong but you were still "off"?

For me, today was one of those days. Partly it was the weather. Cloudy, rainy summer days happen. I get that. But a summer day when the temperature barely reaches 60°? In a string of gray days that only rarely reach 70°? (I don’t like it when the Raynaud’s leaves my fingertips blue-white in June. It’s just not right.)

In honesty, it’s also my birthday and, lots of well-wishers notwithstanding, the number that marks my age today seems a lot bigger than the number that marked my age yesterday. I know it’s all in my head – I’m still the same me – but there it is.

Still, I tried to make the best of it even if I wasn’t inspired to work out in the yard in the wind. I went to a local big-box store to look at tile and faucets and shower heads. Then I went for a free frozen custard sundae (I’m on an email list) even though every ingredient except the nuts is on my no-no list. As I spooned bites of custard, pecans, hot fudge, and candy bits into my mouth, I learned that an overly sweet frozen dessert is not as much fun to eat by myself as it is when I share it with someone. Still I ate it. I didn’t feel guilty about ordering it, but I wish I’d stopped when I realized I wasn’t enjoying it.

Now I sit here with the cats, watching Mama Mia. (Kay’s helping her brother and sister-in-law get ready for their business’s grand opening on Friday.) Taking a break to wash up some dishes I wondered – in keeping with the movie theme – what unexpected turns my life might take in the next year.

We’re only experts about ourselves, so though I don’t know about others, I accept that some days are like this for me. Some days I have reasons for feeling low (as Alexander’s mother explains, “Some days are like that. Even in Australia.”) and some days I don’t really have a reason. Like today.

On the plus, I know that God Is. I accept that life is generally good. I acknowledge that I lead a life of privilege. (That hot bath felt delightful this afternoon.) I have much to feel gratitude for.

To the negative, my tummy hasn’t felt good since my afternoon splurge. I’ve felt guilty and a bit foolish. Reading a bit of BrenĂ© Brown I realized I was dealing with some shame. Surprisingly, just knowing this helped me to feel better.

It’s nearly 9 p.m. I’m going to let myself off the hook. “After all,” borrowing this time from Margaret Mitchell ’s character, “tomorrow is another day!”

May you too let yourself off the hook when you find yourself hanging by your overly high self-expectations.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

In the gap between Endings and Beginnings.

"Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. ... So Abram went ... Genesis 12

I had some tough moments this week as I continue my transition from what has been to what will be. This weekend I preach my final message at the church that's been my home for the last three years.

But it hasn't been so much preparing for this last time of worship in Appleton. Rather it was noticing how I was completely in my "business-no-emotions" mode during Wednesday's final worship planning meeting. And then, not being in that mode, having to sit in the bathroom for a few minutes and focus on breathing after the afternoon's Volunteers in Mission team meeting. In both cases, I've worked closely with these people. I've sweated with the VIM team and that always seems to add another layer of intimacy for me.

A few weeks ago, a colleague who's retiring offered a book recommendation that he's finding useful in his own transition – William Bridges' Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes. I bought a used copy. Reading it, I've been finding ways to help make mine a healthy transition. The author writes about three stages that must happen in this order:
  1. Endings. "We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new one – not just outwardly, but inwardly, where we keep our connections to people and places that act as definitions of who we are." 
  2. The Gap. A time-out when we seem to do nothing, a "moratorium from the conventional activity of [our] everyday existence." This is when we do the inner work that allows us to make a break from the old and embrace the new.
  3. New beginnings. It's endings that make new beginnings possible.
So I've been paying attention to endings – the last meeting, the last rehearsal, etc. – and I've been creating space for doing nothing by limiting my evening screen time and coming in from the gardens earlier than I normally would. Why? As much as I love putzing around in the yard, I find that this can be as much of an avoidance as watching old TV shows. And I need to do the inner work.

We all do, though our culture makes it awkward. Transitions are seen as no more complex than crossing the street. When we try to explain what's going on, why we're going away for a couple days, or aimlessly wandering the park at night, people look at us askance. In looking for pictures to go with this entry, I found one that illustrates our challenge – a person trying to step over a barbed wire fence. Yikes! That's not the transition I want.

Other pictures showed butterflies in their stages of development. Friday, Kay and I went to High Cliff State Park and while we were in the rangers' station, we looked at an aquarium filled with tadpoles. Imagine their conversations..
George: Oh, look at my gorgeous tail. Don't you love it?
Fred: Grand. Mine's just like it. I can swim so fast. 
        ... days later ... 
George: I'm dying! Look at my tail. It's half what it was.
Fred: How will we ever swim? Oh, I miss it already! And these growths on our sides ... Life is so brief. It's been nice knowing you, George.
We may feel like life's ending sometimes, too, but thankfully when we practice gratitude, when we're open to joy, we find that life continues to be good.

You know the changes you're facing. The changes I've heard about this week include:
  • A parent wondering where their baby went now that she's running around and talking;
  • A 90-year-old talking about moving to an assisted living facility;
  • Another parent lamenting about the graduate who's going (too) far away to college;
  • A teen going on a first date...
Right up 'til our last breath, we'll face changes, but we don't have to let them swamp us. To paraphrase Dory, "Just keep breathing." Allow the endings, make time for the emptying, and find joy in the adventures that follow. This is what I'm trusting to.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Love ... yourself


I didn’t realize when I first read, or heard, about loving your neighbor as yourself that Jesus was “quoting” from Leviticus. (I put “quoting” in quotes – no pun intended – because, of course, there were no voice recorders back then. All the red words in those red-letter bibles are merely best guesses a few decades after Jesus’ death or each gospel-writer’s way of hopefully getting his readers to accept the point he’s making.)

Someone asks Jesus which of God’s commandments is the most important. He responds, Love God. And love everyone else. (My paraphrase. If Jesus was around today, I like to think he’d extend it to say, “Love everyone and everything else.” After all, everything is “of God.”)

First, did you notice that the two commandments Jesus references aren’t from “The Ten C…”? Although Jewish people were never stuck on this grouping – they know there are 613 commandments in what we call the Old Testament – Christians have gotten a bit stuck on them. (Funny thing, when Paul says that we’re “not subject to the law” Galatians 5:18).

Next, my point about loving as we love ourselves. I was a teenager when I started reading the bible or paying real attention to sermons. I’ve learned since then that not loving yourself is common for teens. At the time, I only knew I didn’t have much love for myself. How could I when no one liked me, my parents were constantly finding fault, my face was broken out …? I was an odd one already (I now realize) but while I was pretty much able to ignore this in my childhood, by my twelfth year, my not fitting in and not being good enough came crashing down around me. How could I possibly love myself?!

Still, when I found this in scripture, I worked on it. (Who knows? Maybe the practice kept me from being further messed up.) I believed God loved and accepted me, which surely helped.

Another monkey wrench in the path to self-love is that erroneous teaching – more to girls than boys – that humility demands that we abase ourselves. The accompanying “too big for your britches,” and “well, don’t you think a lot of yourself” type comments only reinforce the idea that we’re at about the level of the dirt and the sidewalk.

I’m at a much different place now. (Most of us are able to navigate beyond the pains of our youth though not without scars.) I love. Still, as I was reading BrenĂ© Brown the other day, I was caught by her words, “We can only love others as much as we love ourselves.” (This from a woman with at least ten years research into the topic under her belt.)

God calls us to love all those around us (even our enemies, per Matthew 5 & Luke 6), yet how can we do this if our self-love is lukewarm?

I was doing my yoga practice yesterday, and I caught myself scolding because I kept stepping out of tree pose (vriksasana). My balance just wasn’t there. Now I’ve been practicing compassion for myself and others for a few years; I’m better but with lots of room for improvement. Still, I’d never scold someone for missing a stair or tripping over their feet. Why do I hold myself to such a standard? (I stopped scolding.)

I love. You do too. My hope is for us each to love our beloved ones with every fiber of our being. It seems that in order to do that, we need to love ourselves similarly. I know I’m not there; I’m guessing you’re not either.

What one thing can you do this week (or this year) to grow in love with yourself? 

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” 
Leviticus 19:18 also referenced in Mark 12:31