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Monday, October 31, 2016

Dancing Like a Unicorn



I think I have at least five or six blog posts rolling around in my head.  That’s what happens when I don’t write for over two weeks.  Have mercy, this is either going to be really long or totally incoherent…

Last Sunday (not yesterday… the other last Sunday…), I found myself a little lost.  OK, I’m not sure whether or not it’s fair to use the phrase “a little” if you have crossed state lines that you didn’t intend to cross, but whatever.  GPS isn’t always awesome.  There’s room for some grace here.

My children were slightly panicked at the thought that we didn’t know where we were or how we would get to where we were going.  I was not.  In that moment, it occurred to me that I should probably tell them why, and this is it: wherever you are, there is a road to get you to the place you need to be.

I explained to my kids that even if they were lost in California and needed to be in Maine, there is a way to get there as long as you have enough gas in the tank.  Everybody relaxed.  I didn’t bother to tell them we were running short on gas.

Then, this past weekend I did it again.  Twice.  If God ever calls me to Chicago, I am going to have to live within walking distance of everything and everyone I need, because I stink at driving there.  True story. 

I spent my Saturday at the #SheLeads conference, and as you may already know conferences are one of my happy places.  This one did not disappoint.  It was affirming.  I love the connections, both with new friends (I went alone—not because I forgot that people travel to these things in groups, but because none of my local friends were available) and with established friends around the country, texting from the venues at which they took part.  I hear someone even saved a seat for me in Nampa. 

I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but there was definitely a moment when things turned upside-down for me.  Jo Saxton was speaking, and she asked, "Are you fully living your calling or doing what you think you can get away with?"  Oh…  Ouch…

Sometimes I think I’m really living it, but sometimes, friends, I think this whole #LessFearIn2016 thing is a farce.  Look, everyone who knows me also knows that I will push the envelope… but how far?  Lately, I think the answer to that is, not far enough…  I’m learning something about the reasons why, though, so at least there’s that.

The other day I was thinking about the kinds of things that have held me back in life.  Today feels like a rather appropriate time to talk about this, because I spent the morning singing and dancing, dressed in unicorn pajamas.  Stay with me.  I did not just fall down a rabbit hole.

I have never particularly liked unicorns.  When I was in third grade, my school participated in a young authors competition.  I thought my story was great… it probably wasn’t, but I thought it was.  The girl who won wrote a story about unicorns.  I thought that was dumb.  Thus, there has been little unicorn love in my life, because… clearly… this is the kind of thing about which it is reasonable to hold a grudge for three decades.

Then, let’s fast forward a couple of years to my fifth grade Christmas concert when my teacher (whom I adored) pulled another child in front of me on the risers, praising her great singing voice and actually said, “You can stand in front of Lisa!”  Wait.  What?  Seriously, even if you’re dealing with a loud, tone-deaf kid, there is no way you make a spectacle of this kind of thing.  I’m not a participation trophy kind of girl, but we also don’t have to be mean.

And don’t even get me started on my elementary school art teacher who vocally called me out for my ugly art.  Never mind.  I’ve changed my mind.  I really wanted an “Artist of the Week’ ribbon, just once, even if it was a pity prize.

So, just backtrack with me.  Here I sit, writing a story about how I dressed as a unicorn and sang and danced for a living, this morning. I might thrive on doing things that other people say I can’t.

And yet, it’s as if I can never quite forget the sting of being a disappointment.  That’s what actually holds me back.  Fear of failure.  Fear of not being enough for other people.  Fear of not being enough for myself.  But I can’t keep living like that, because I have something to offer, and the call is compelling.  I can’t run.  I can’t hide.  I don’t even want to.

I woke up, this morning, thinking, “This is day one…”  That statement is far more loaded than I am going to attempt to unpack in one sitting, or maybe ever, but it’s true.  I’m not exactly sure where I am.  I’m not exactly sure where I’m going.  But I know there’s a road to get me there, and I’m going to find it—unicorn pajama dance parties, and all…

This I know, that God is for me” (Psalm 56:9, ESV).

L.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

I Want A Lot



Psalm 20:1, 4, “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress… May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed” (NIV).

I am an excellent planner, but everybody knows I have these moments (OK, read this, decades) during which I am certain I can accomplish more than any human being actually can.

There have been many times in the past couple of years when I have felt like I either have to choose to be a fabulous mom or a brilliant theologian.  The truth is, I’m probably not either, but if you’ll humor me for just a minute here, perhaps we can all admit that I would like to be both.

Yesterday I spent eight hours in my vehicle.  I promised myself that when I finally landed a job, I was not going to be the jerk who complained all the time on social media about how busy I was and how difficult the schedule panned out.   When I promised myself this, I somehow thought the job was going to be ministry related.  I was going to be a pastor or a chaplain or on staff doing something… anything… at a University.  Never, in all my life, did I think I was going to be singing and dancing for a paycheck in an early childhood setting (or… let’s be real… anywhere…  it just so happens this is the only venue that would ever work for me for this type of vocation).  Everybody laugh.  It was funny.

It is difficult to look at your life and think to yourself, “This is what I always wanted to be doing…  twenty years ago…”  At this stage, oh my goodness, I never would have imagined that I would reach that far back and become “Ms. Yisa” again.  (Not a typo, I have the most precious child in my Friday preschool class who calls me this). 

In these first five weeks, there have been a few rough patches.  There have been a few incredulous moments when I stop to wonder if I’ve lost my mind.  There has been a ton of singing, and I don’t just mean at work.  I sing pretty much everything now.  All day long.  Everyday.  I’ve cried a little bit, but I really need people to understand that it’s not about the job.  My job is actually pretty fun… and I love the kids… and I love the parents and grandparents and babysitters… and I love the music.  In some ways, it’s like living a dream.  But it feels like someone else’s dream… which is OK… because I know whose dream it is.  It’s the dream of 17 year old L.  And I can do it.  I’m even good at it.  But I have to put some boundaries into place that keep me grounded but not pigeon holed.

For months now, my motto has been “Stay the Course!”

At the moment, that means a couple of very specific things.  In addition to my new/old life as an early childhood educator, I am very close to the completion of my M.Div.  As of this second, I still have a 4.0 in the pastoral ministry part of the program.  I would have to really bomb out on my last few assignments (which are already turned in) in the current class to lose that status.  Then I have a week off and just one more seven week session.  I need to finish strong. 

I have a number of tasks that I need to complete in order to be ready to apply for doctoral fellowships for next fall.  I honestly have no earthly idea if I am actually good enough to land such a fellowship, but I am giving it my best shot.  I want to say things like, “A nice, long break would be nice,” but the truth is, if I don’t get in I am going to sob so long and hard that I expect to be unrecognizable.  Anyone who may run into me deserves to know this upfront.  (There are months, yet, to prepare).

The most life giving thing I am doing, right now, is editing essays for a prolific theological blog.  I haven’t talked about it, because I know it is probably the most likely thing that someone looking at this from the outside would suggest as a reasonable “cut” if my schedule is too busy.  But I need this.  I need infrequent synchronous chats and my name on an email list that feels like it matters.  It’s the weird introvert who suddenly needed extrinsic motivation thing.  I don’t know where that came from, but I’m living with it now.

And I need theological conferences.  Because I love them.  And somehow, they give me focus and purpose.

What I do not need is for anyone to think I am less of a person or less of an academic or less of a worthwhile risk, because I also care so deeply about my family it hurts.  And this weekend, it physically hurt, because I was so exhausted when I got home yesterday afternoon that I couldn’t get my paper done in time to make the drive to Quizfest to watch my kids win and my oldest daughter three-peat as the top quizzer.  I feel a little bit sick about it, but it will be OK.  I mean, it has to be OK, because I can’t change it now.         

Balance is hard. 

Balance is hard, and I’m not great at it.  I’m like a steamroller.  I see a task and I push and push and push to completion, sometimes at the expense of everything else around me.  It’s not that I can’t multi-task.  Clearly, I can.  But there is a point at which I max out.  And I’m there.  And I’m going to need a lot of mercy to push through to whatever’s coming next.          

Psalm 116:1-2, “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.  Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live” (NIV).

L.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Unmemorable



True story…  I had already written this post before I read the daily office, but when I saw this, I laughed… and laughed…  Fair warning, it’s seriously out of context…

Psalm 13:1a “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (NIV)

There was this awkward moment, this morning, when I sat down to have coffee with my friend Erin and looked across the room.  I turned to her and began to ask, “Erin… behind you… is that…” And since we have fallen into an old familiar pattern, where we can apparently finish each other’s sentences and answer each other’s questions, even if they are not complete, Erin replied, “Yeah, that’s Mr. Wilson.  He’s here almost every Wednesday.  I talk to him all the time.”

Well, OK then.  Nothing like starting your morning off feeling like you’re in 10th grade geometry class again.

When Mr. Wilson walked by our table, I jumped up and said, “MR. WILSON!”

I instinctively knew what was coming before he ever uttered a word…

“Uh-oh…  name… I don’t remember who you are…”

I gave my name.  Then my thought process went something like this:

I had you for geometry…  and honors algebra II/trig… and driver’s ed… and I was your TA for a year!  Oh my goodness, I must be completely unmemorable.  Wait, did he just ask a math question?  At 37, I don’t have to answer that, do I?

Mr. Wilson graciously pretended to remember me at this point and asked what I have been doing.  Because they only thing I could think was, “Drinking a mocha at Panera,” I was especially glad that Erin came through…

“She’s raising five kids… and teaching music… and working on a third degree, because she’s always working on another degree…  She’s basically a professional student… and lives in two states…”

Um… yeah… insert me saying, “Life is kinda weird…”

Now, here’s the truth.  I shouldn’t expect Mr. Wilson to remember me.  It’s been close to twenty years, and I am certain he had hundreds of students pass through the doors of his classroom after me.  He did, in fact, make something of a profound impact on my life, because he pretty much saved me from repeating my sophomore year of high school due to lack of attendance.  I was hospitalized for asthma three times that year and risked failure, even though I was an honor roll student, because of truancy.  This made it pretty difficult to pass a speech class, which is how I ended up as his TA.

Well, Mr. Wilson finished off our conversation by saying, “Keep working and paying taxes, so I can stay retired,” and we all laughed and went on our way.

But this interaction got me thinking…  I don’t really want to spend several years of my life with someone just to be forgotten.

I have long since stopped worrying about being credited for anything I do in the world.  I don’t feel the need to see my name in lights or even to have it whispered from across a coffee shop.  If no one ever asks, “Hey… isn’t that L,” I’ll be OK.  And I mean that.  I honestly mean that, so don’t go worrying about whether or not I’m legitimately alright with invisibility as a super power.  I am.  But I’m only OK with this if the things I am doing and saying are making a real and lasting impact on the people with whom I come into contact.  I want to be redemptive.  I don’t care if people remember who I am, but I do care that I’m doing something that matters. 

I recently read a quote by Mother Teresa.  Apparently it was her motto: “I don’t do great things.  I do small things with great love.”  I could definitely live with that.  I hope I can live like that.  Unmemorable can be OK, as long as it’s accompanied by loving action.
 
L.

Monday, October 10, 2016

I Don’t Want to Talk About Politics



And yet, here I go.

I really don’t want to talk about politics here, on this blog that is supposed to be devoted to topics like theology and philosophy, sacraments and spiritual disciplines, the ways in which the liturgical calendar and readings are impacting my life, and practical ministry issues. 

I really don’t want to talk about politics, this year, because the entire election cycle has felt more like a bad reality TV show than a serious push for leadership.  I have been critical of everyone involved, it has cost me friends, and I’m not sure it was worth it, because it’s not like I have the solution.

But there are a couple of things I want to say.

I’d like to begin by admitting that I have an eclectic voting record.  I’m pretty sure I came by this honestly.  I will never forget the 1992 election when several of my “toe-the-party-line” Republican family members went to the polls and voted for Ross Perot.  I was thirteen years old.  In the years that followed, I often heard them talk about how they had wasted their votes and would never again vote for a third party.  Over the course of this election season, I have heard many people claim, once again, that a vote for a third party is a “wasted” vote.  I would venture to say that it is not.

I feel rather strongly about voting.  I cannot imagine choosing not to cast a vote, because it is a privilege for which countless people around the globe would give their lives.  But I do, indeed, understand the dilemma of many Americans in the current context.

It’s not much of a secret that I was going to cast my vote for Bernie.  Cue gasps from my Republican family.  It’s not that I’m a socialist (and… well… neither is he), but I do think there is much value in sharing what we have for the greater good of… everyone.  I know a lot of people who use the line, “vote your conscience.”  I think it’s a good line, although I surely don’t mean the same things as the majority of people who use it.  Voting my conscience means choosing the candidate who will do the most redemptive work for the greatest number of people.  From my perspective, Bernie was that guy.

I don’t claim to know everything about the nomination process or super delegates or much of anything related to the internal workings of politics, but I feel as if the Democratic Party made a poor choice.  I’m as much a feminist as anybody else (OK, more…  I’m more…).  I would love to see a woman as President of the United States, but I was never going to vote for Hillary.  I have no inclination to produce a laundry list of reasons.  She’s just not for me.

But if the Democrat’s choice was abysmal, the Republicans broke the glass floor.  As much as I feel that I do not need to disclose every reason I am not voting for Hillary; I do not feel the need to even engage in conversation about why I was never, will never, and am not voting for Trump.  His words of discrimination and hate have spoken loudly and clearly on their own.  As a side note, the latest allegations in connection with the lewd comments made about women were not, in any way, a deciding factor for me.  I was not surprised.  Those are exactly the kinds of things I have come to expect from Donald Trump.  This is not to say the words didn’t make me sick.  They did.  This is not to say that I wasn’t horrified as my fourteen year old daughter reacted, in shock and anger, to the words.  I was.  It was enough to make me want to vomit.  But it didn’t seal the deal for me.  Trump has been talking like this for a very long time.  I already knew he had little respect for other human beings.  I was never going to vote for Trump.

But where does this leave me?  Honestly, it leaves me in the exact same place as so many other American voters, and I have decided that a third party vote, for me, is not a waste, at all.  As an American citizen, I have a right to vote.  As an American citizen, no one can tell me that I must vote for one of two parties.  This is not a binary choice.  If you think about it, that’s kind of the point.

If I’m honest, I’m still not 100% sold on any one candidate.  I don’t know that I can make a solid “endorsement,” but after as much research as I have time to conduct, I have made a decision.  This November, for the first time, my vote will go to the Green Party, and as I walk away from the polling place, I don’t want a single person to imply that my vote has been wasted.  I think the chances that Jill Stein will be the next President are slim, but at least I’ll be able to live with myself and sleep at night.

L.