Study Break 2011:8

It’s a slow reentry. Started with a little extra sleep, a trip to the chiropractor, some phone conversations, a trip to the Y, some reading, some thinking about Newfoundland, a full one-hour massage ( ! ), a little bit of time at the piano (where I realized that I’d been thinking deeply about a friend’s comments and questions about prayer – so deeply that I was completely unaware, until it poured out of my hands), a home-cooked meal for my busy family, a little more quiet and contemplation, checking of the email, planning for tomorrow, careful thoughts about how to do What I Do more effectively, prayerful awareness of those suffering in the southern path of the tornadoes I danced around yesterday, a trip to Target and Sweet Frog with two of my kids…

I’m ready for bed, and tomorrow I’m getting my head back in the game. So grateful for this time, so grateful for my life, my kids, my home, my kitchen.

And my husband. I am beyond blessed tonight.

Study Break 2011:6

Last night I couldn’t sleep. I got up and read, and wrote, and then crawled back into bed and began to pray.

And just a few moments later, I so clearly, tangibly felt calmed. It’s hard to explain; as close as I can get is to tell you that I felt like an infant in the arms of a mother. I felt that closeness, and a sense of relaxation and security that was unlike anything I’ve experienced in such a moment. My muscles unwound, and I slept.

Then today, finally, I gave in to the point of this get-away and settled. My head cleared, the streaming million-miles-a-minute pace of my thoughts slowed and I was centered.

That was a good thing. I was about ready to pack up and go home and call this adventure a bust.

I always try to have a few tangible take-aways from a study break, and thus far I have three things on my list. They have grown out of the introspection and self-examination of the first few days, which has to be dealt with before I can approach the more pragmatic stuff. More on that list later; but first, I’ll share this, with the thought that it may impact you as much as it did me. I’ve heard John Ortberg teach on shadow mission and remember it well. But this quote today, from a post by Pete Wilson at Without Wax couldn’t have come at a better time. At the heart of these three paragraphs is the foundational challenge of what I struggled with earlier this week, especially when he speaks of inadequacies, sense of lack and the odd conflict when the private me has space to stretch and breathe. Ortberg (and Wilson) helped me name the rollercoaster ride of emotions this week.

As a preface, here’s this tidbit: Preparing to leave Powhatan Sunday evening, I went to Starbucks and then to Food Lion. At both places, I had spontaneous encounters with folks who knew me from church. In both cases, we had great – and important – conversations. I met someone’s new fiance, got the back story from another who was entranced by our use of a marching snare on Easter Sunday. I wouldn’t trade those encounters for anything. But they both required investment – of emotion and time (when I got home, my family wondered what it in the world took so long; but they’ve heard the answer too many times. “I ran into somebody at Food Lion….”). Because of the size of the church I serve and the role I play there, it’s become practically impossible for me to “just” go to the store. There is always the awareness that Ortberg writes of here; this is not a bad thing, but it is there, and it feels always like a responsibility. Anywhere I go, someone might need a moment – a conversation, a kind word, a listening ear. It comes with the territory.

And that is why I drove 4 1/2 hours to hole up alone and work this week.

Here’s the Ortberg quote. Read Pete’s entire post here. And tell me I’m not the only one who feels this way.

There’s the public me. I prepare talks, and lead meetings, and say words that I want others to hear. This public me isn’t deliberately false. But I am always aware, when I am in the presence of other people, of how they will hear what I say. This awareness is a kind of filter that I cannot put away. This public me will always be gauging other peoples’ responses and adjusting accordingly. I often do not like this dynamic. But I cannot flip it off as if it were a switch.

There is the private me. This is the me who watches and listens and feels. I sometimes avoid this me, especially in seasons of great busyness. When I slow down, and bring the private me before God, I often become aware of my inadequacies or sense of lack. I sometimes can slow down to a level of deep peace, or of awareness of my longing for God. This private me often seems surprisingly conflicted—moved some times by genuine desires to serve and grow, and other times by reflexive habits of greed or resentment.

There is the real me. This is true person who inhabits my life; the mixture of what is admirable and what is squalid and what is small. This me must exist, and must be fully known if justice is to prevail.

Study Break 2011:5

2:44AM and I cannot sleep. Wondering if this is to be the study break with no sleep.

Then I remembered that I sat at Panera for three hours this evening, reading. And drinking coffee.

Well, then. A few bullet points to process my nocturnal brain activity (which is going 100 miles an hour. Thank you, Panera’s light roast.)

  • I awoke with the opening riff of “Christ Is Risen” echoing in my brain. I wonder how many other churches included Matt Maher’s song in their Easter worship set? We did ours with ballet dancers, en pointe. Pretty cool.
  • We had a choir as well, although the turnout was less than I expected. We had some great, faithful participants, and they sang well and added a lot to the service. But I’ve been wrestling for some time now with the thought that I should be investing time into having a choir at our church. For Easter, I set a schedule in advance and offered an opportunity to sign up early. We served as an “additional voice” alongside the worship leaders, which I think is a great way for a choir in a church like ours to function. But turnout was small and there were no men. In the recent still, small moments of the night (as in when I woke up about an hour ago and couldn’t get back to sleep), I think perhaps this is a good sign for me to let this worry go. This is an investment that will have to wait for another leader’s time.
  • It just started to rain. The windows are open, and I can hear the wind and the water surrounding me. In the middle of the night, it feels intimate and private.
  • I met Bob Lauflin of West End Assembly of God a few weeks ago at a conference. As long as I knew him, Bob Pino had been encouraging me to connect with his former worship pastor. I wish I had made the time. After listening to Lauflin speak and chatting with him for a few moments, I was intrigued by the thought of doing a major production event (other than Christmas Eve) to invite folks in the community to stretch their artistic wings. Something other than choir to open the door to more than just the weekend experience musical and technical artists. At PCC, what happens on the weekends drives everything else we do. I’m wondering how this possibility might fit in with our vision and purpose. Looking forward to connecting with Mr. Lauflin in the near future for a more detailed conversation….

There are so many seemingly random bullet points in my brain; I wonder how I can hear anything of value? Thoughts of scheduling musicians for the remainder of May and who’s on vacation and whether or not we’ll have a bass player at both campuses and how I can integrate the new folks and how to juggle drummers and who needs to be singing more frequently and what new songs we should introduce and when can we have another creative team meeting and are we going to paint the back wall for this series and is Elijah going to be back for the summer and where are we going to get a set of stairs for the series after that and where I’ll find the budget money to cover all the new licenses we need and why the projector bulb failed so early and where we’ll find the budget money to cover that and why does ustream keep choking for the online campus and did I remember to schedule a commissioning service for the missions teams this summer and are we changing rehearsal to Thursdays and did the DVD equipment to finalize our videos get ordered and what to do about the equipment issues for new projection software and why is Dave having such a hard time getting videos uploaded and can we get him new equipment and on and on and on….

and it’s no wonder my brain is mush.

I’d really like to go back to sleep.

And I miss Bob Pino, for the record.

Study Break 2011:4

This morning’s reading from the BCP included this snippet, credited to Dorothy Day:

To just lie in the sun and let God work on you is to be sitting in the light of the Sun of Justice, and the growth will be there, and joy will grow and spread from us to others. That is why I like to use so often that saying of St. Catherine of Siena: ‘All the Way is Heaven, because He said I am the Way.’ 

And then a reading from Bread In the Wilderness, which my mom pressed into my hands and encouraged me to consider carefully this week:

The Israelites were able to reach the promised land, in part, because they remembered Moses and his father-in-law…perhaps there is a lesson for you and me, self-sufficient North Americans, people on the move, writing out our goals and working toward them, making the world a better place. Perhaps there is a still, small voice speaking to us too. “What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out…The task is too heavy…You cannot do it alone. (Exodus 18.17-18)

And then Eugene Peterson, in writing about the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, says this:

God is emphatically personal; God is only and exclusively God in relationship…We do not know God by defining hi but by being loved by him and loving in return. This is living, not thinking about living; living with, not performing for.

In the hours of this day, in which I had planned to read and thinking and contemplate and write, I managed instead to do very little of those things. I talked and listened and waited and accepted. This day of my break had very little of the element of escape and isolation I usually seek out. Tethered to issues at home, I was on the phone and writing emails and seeking to serve my extended family.

I cannot help but reflect on this: that all the way is heaven, because Jesus said “I am the Way”.  And that living with – doing the daily duties of my life – moves me deeply into the relationship with the God I serve.

And that perhaps this desire to organize the chaos of my life, write out my goals and make the world a better place – perhaps this is not altogether a good thing. Maybe I am to simply be still. Lie in the sun. Listen to the rain.

A quick aside, after the confessional tone of one of my previous posts: I appreciate the encouraging words, here on the blog and via Facebook. That wasn’t my intent, but I am grateful for them. Interestingly, though, tonight I was sitting at Panera reading. Unkempt, more or less (because I am at the beach, after all), with a simple knit sundress (i.e. NOT TIGHT AROUND THE WAIST!) and flip flops, I was a comfortable beach bum. And a lady walked by and said, “By the way, I love your dress. It’s so cute. You look great.” Smiled and walked away.

I heard God laughing. I laughed with Him.

Study Break 2011:3

When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child. ~Sophia Loren

It occured to me (as I lay in bed trying to sleep) that one of the primary changes in my life in this current season is not only my own aging, but that of my daughters. With five children in various stages of life, perhaps I easily overlook some of the more typical passages of maturity that impact me as much as they do my kids.

I have two daughters in college and one about to be a senior in high school. All beautiful, intelligent, well-adjusted young women who have brought me great joy.

But they’re growing up, and I’m often left standing back watching them live and move and breathe and choose. They have a closeness together that is astounding. There are many places that they go together without me – literally and figuratively. They have one another, which I sometimes think is the best thing I ever gave them. Each other.

I am their mother. But I no longer choose their outfits or even buy their clothes, in many cases. They shop for hair care products and drive cars and cook their own food. I do a lot of listening, and worrying, and giving (of money). I look for ways to encourage and worry about whether or not I’ll scar them, at 20, because the Easter Bunny didn’t come.

Their independence forces a natural reduction in their dependence on me. This is a good, good thing; something for which I have worked for two decades.

But I’m surprised to discover that part of my current affliction (IDENTITY CRISIS!) is rooted in my role as a mother of adult women. I’m not really sure how to do that. It’s good to put my finger on this and have a chance to think through it and put it to rest. Or at least acknowledge its existence and impact on my life. That Sophia Loren quote? True. And so how do you manage that constant thinking and re-thinking and checking when they’re out on their own, and your thoughts are often relatively irrelevant?

And then there is the how-to-mother-teenage-boys issue; but that’s another post for another time.

Study Break 2011:2

The beach is restorative; the wind, the waves, the unrelenting tide. The rhythmic, persistent motion sets everything in perspective.

I have set up camp here just a few feet from the shore and tonight I walked. For a decade now I’ve been coming to this same place. Ten years ago I was in a very different place in life – the mere fact that I was in my late thirties rather than my late forties is huge. My eldest was only eleven, the current age of my youngest.

Life has progressed in surprising ways.

Most every time I have walked this beach, I have done so with questions. This is the place I come to open the floodgates, to dump the truck, to do the internal work that is impossible to do in the quick pace of life. On many occasions there have been rich conversations with those who know me best as we walked together; my mom, my dad, my brother and sister-in-law. My husband. My kids.

Tonight, I walked and tried to assess exactly where I was, emotionally and physically. Looking at My Life, I began to  consider which act I was in, what scene was playing out….I came to a few conclusions:

  • In a few short weeks, I will be 48 years old. That sounds so old, but perhaps that is because I am considering that number from a 20-year-old’s perspective. Back then, 48 WAS old. Now, it just is what it is. I have lived every one of those years, and as I walked the sand tonight it occurred to me that it might be entirely possible that I have only lived half of my life. It would be a stretch, for sure, but I could make it to 96. In which case I have a lot of time left!
  • For the first time in my life, I feel and look my age. This is disturbing to me. It probably shouldn’t be. I imagine it’s a matter of pride, perspective and priorities.
  • I have carried a cloud with me daily for the past few months. It is a constant source of mild depression, discontent, sadness; a feeling of disappointment. It is always with me. I have wondered if it is, indeed, depression. Tonight, I think I came face to face with the truth. I think it is a cloud of disappointment centered on my physical health and appearance. 
    • Item one: Around the age of 10 or 11, I was exposed to pornography; naked women in seductive (and airbrushed) poses. The expectation was set early on in terms of what a woman ought to look like. The images seared into my brain, and though somewhat dimmed, the impact on my young, impressionable psyche has never completely faded. A women should be slim, voluptuous and taut. I’m a LOT healthier than I used to be regarding my self-image, but some things never completely fade away. My ideal has always been skewed.
    • Item two: I’ve always been tall and relatively slim. For most of the last decade, I’ve been pretty consistent with exercise and I’ve been healthy. Never quite matched up to the early messages about body image, but I was slim, healthy and content.
    • Item three: In the past two years, I’ve added about 20 pounds to what was a healthy weight. Exercise hasn’t been a priority. I’ve had some pretty stressful life passages, and I’m a stress eater. 
    • Finally, here’s the deal: Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I think to myself is this: I am fat. I’ve never “had” to lose weight. I’ve never dealt with a metabolism that didn’t function at a high level. Now suddenly (but not really; it’s been a slow creep), I am buying the next-larger-size and feeling uncomfortable in my clothes. And I find myself dumbfounded by it all. Which is sort of ridiculous; I know the formula. More food+less exercise=more calories stored=heavier weight. It’s a no-brainer. But for me, it’s become this huge emotional anvil.

I feel like a failure. I’m so far from that ideal woman that I don’t know exactly what to think of myself. If I can’t stay fit and trim, am I still valuable? People have always said to me, “I can’t believe you have FIVE kids! You look GREAT!” But nobody says that any more. And what if I never hear that again?

(I think I have some pride issues to deal with here).

And here’s another big issue for me, what started to unfold as I walked tonight, and what – I think – is behind the sudden tears that have been lurking (and sneaking out) behind my day-to-day composure. I feel like everybody I know is looking at me and thinking, “Damn. That girl is letting herself go. Beth is putting on some weight. Beth is getting fat.”

It’s ridiculous. I have an over-inflated sense of my own importance. But part of this time away has to work through the layers of what is keeping me from being healthy, and this is huge. I have this feeling that everywhere I am – work, home, the grocery store, teaching, shopping – people are looking at me and wondering why I’m letting myself go. I realize that this is about my own insecurity, but at the bottom of all of this paranoia is the sense that I’m letting everybody down. People are disappointed in me. I’m disappointing the entire world.

I think this has something to do with being in the public eye, in a large church in a small community. I sometimes feel so responsible, in an unhealthy way. And that, I think, is part of what I need to work through tomorrow morning. And I am  responsible, for many things. But when it comes to my health, my self, my responsibility is to me, I suppose. And it just confounds me.