Four Small Words

Still at my parents’ house, snowed in.  The kids and I stayed up late enjoying the good ol’ cable tv.
I slept hard and deep, the particular sleep of being a child once again.  My parents are almost 70 years old, but nothing about them is “elderly”.  They are capable and active and being here always gives me a certain measure of relaxation and a chance to be something other than The Only Grown Up In The House.
So much seems to be happening in and around me lately.  Recently, I remarked that I was “struggling”.  I guess that’s a good word for it, though it feels a bit less active than a struggle.  Some days I feel paralyzed.  Others, I’m just tired.  It’s hard to be creative.  Insecurity lurks underneath the edges of daily life.  I recognize some familiar signs – isolation, fear, feeling responsible for every negative thing, seeing all the things around me that I cannot or do not do.
I know there’s some spiritual tie-in here.  The standard line is that if you’re not being with God on a daily basis, if you are not living in Christ, then you’ll struggle to maintain the daily challenges of life.  Compound that with the responsibilities of working for an institution whose primary concern is leading others towards spiritual health, and we have a recipe for some difficult days.  I will admit that I’m spending more time doing than being, although I’m trying to be.  I’m captivated by what I’m reading in the Bible these days, but the daily routine of study and reflection and prayer is haphazard at best.  It seems like there’s always so much to do, and the doing gets in the way of the being.
Yesterday, I read these words about leadership:

“Hey leader, just give up. Throw in the towel, raise the white flag, just quit trying so hard… After all, is this really worth it? Aren’t you simply tired of taking arrows in the back from your own team? Hasn’t it been long enough to try to change their minds or ways? For all the hard work you’ve been doing to try to help your organization with no one recognizing your efforts, really… just relax, go with the flow… you’ll have less headaches and your days can be so much easier.” Mark Meyer

It terrifies me to admit how much I relate to those words. 

Not so much because I’m feeling beaten up by my team; just that those words of surrender sound so tempting.
Not too long ago I was living deeply in the realization that God had led me to leadership.  I was embracing it, relishing it, and accepting the reality of where I was, how I was serving, and my capabilities.  I even wrote about it here.
The joy of that realization feels a bit more like a burden these days.  And the fact that I can’t enjoy it, live it up to it, embrace it, forge ahead – all these things bear down on me with the crushing weight of four small words that have chased me throughout most of my life.
You’re not good enough.

This seems to be the boulder at the base of my gut, the foundational core of my being.  It is fed, lately, by every mistake I make – every forgotten detail, every neglected email, every error in judgement, every single thing I could have done better.  It fuels the illusion of perfection that has dogged me all of my life.
I thought I had beaten this thing; I thought that therapy and counseling and good decisions and a healthy work environment combined to heal the rawness of this belief that has pushed and pulled me in and out of so many of my life decisions. 
I guess not.
It’s still there.
Funny, the leader in me recongizes that there’s a great spiritual application here; that the basis of my need for Christ in line with my faith system says that this is exactly where I have to start.  “I’m not good enough; I need Jesus.”  Unfortunately, this cycles back to another negative; “You know better.  You need to straighten up and fly right.  You know the answer to this problem.  You are capable of more.  Get yourself together!  Clean your house!  Get back to exercising!  Do the right thing!”
So perhaps the issue is not so much that I’m stuck in the personal negative, but that I’m not functioning clearly in the spiritual positive.  The truth; the notion that in spite of the reality of my “not-good-enough” status, there is something – Someone – greater.  The “propitiation for our sins”.
I’m tired.  I’m feeling older.  I’m having trouble keeping a workout schedule.  I’m dragging around ten pounds that annoy me.  My house is a cluttered mess.  I’m mildly anxious about my financial future.  One of my friends is moving on and it makes me very sad.  My eldest daughter is graduating.  My kids are growing up.  I am falling short in so many ways.
I hesitate to post this, because my blog now feeds into Facebook.  This confession might be read, far and wide.  Part of me struggles with the thought that people who see the “Sunday Beth” might feel cheated, knowing that the cheerful, excited, energetic piano playing Christian is, deep down inside, fighting all sorts of unpleasant battles.  The leader in me is afraid that if you see me real, you might not like me so much.  Or your spiritual life might be damaged.  But I’ve been there before, and the cost of pretending is too high.  
And aren’t you just like me, deep down inside?  Haven’t you been here too?

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. – Romans 8.26-28, The Message

Pony Pasture

My friend Kelley inspires me to do more with my kids than collapse in exhaustion after running them around.  So today I took them to Richmond to check out Pony Pasture, part of the park system on the James River.  It was a blast.  Having an extra hour of sleep made it possible to do without the standing appointment with the couch for my Sunday afternoon nap.

Fun times.  We took along our buddy Joshua.  Upon hearing our initial plans to go see “nature”, he said – with all the politeness he could muster – “Uh, that sounds boring.
But when I told him it was Pony Pasture, he was intrigued.  At one point they were all convinced that we would see ponies there – and if you caught one, you could ride it.  When I began to elaborate on a story of man-eating ponies, I think they stopped believing me.
Regardless, it was a beautiful fall day.  The colors were gorgeous.  Sarah took her camera and captured much of the fun.
Yes, that’s a shot of me – your friendly blogger.
I love this girl, and I love how this shot captures her attitude of confidence and self-posession.  She is an amazing, intelligent, creative and beautiful young woman.
And she’s still got a lot of kid in her.
As does Syd, who jumped as well.
All of Pony Pasture is littered with rocks.  Reminded me of my own childhood in western PA (yeah, I know – I’m one of those “rednecks” mentioned in the recent political conversation) on French Creek.
Not much better than sisters with true affection for one another.

Halloween 08

I haven’t decided if this is a good thing or a bad thing, or just a thing.  A passage of time thing.

First year in many that I didn’t walk around the neighborhood.  The first wave went out from our house – the 16-year old Spice Girl with her un-costumed boyfriend and un-costumed best friend.  They went to one house and came home.  I think she was making one last stab at her childhood, wearing six-inch stillettos.  The 17-year old made no effort; she was taking a nap.
The second wave was 12-year-old boy as Tom Morello with nine-year old-brother as a cross between a pirate and an ex-con (thanks, Bill and Pat!), along with 16-year old family friend Robert as a punk kid, 14-year-old Sydni as a punk kid, 16-year-old Dylan as a “Hippo Lover” (don’t ask; I never did figure it out…)
That was it.
When they hit double digits, it’s just not the same.
I stayed home, handed out candy, and thought about my future grandkids.

On Biscuits and Leadership

I love fall.  Now that we’re somewhat settled into the routine of school, I’m slipping back into a rhythm of life that feels very familiar.  For some reason, fall brings out the ‘mom’ in me just a bit stronger than usual.  Or perhaps it’s more that I return to some habits that resonate with my maternal side.

I cooked this week.  A lot.  When the kids were younger and I considered myself a stay-at-home-mom, I was usually fairly focused on meal preparation.  I grew up in a house where we ate a ‘real dinner’ almost every night of the week – usually meat, a carb and a vegetable.  There were exceptions:  when Dad was traveling out of town, we got to have salmon patties, spaghetti, fishsticks or chicken and rice – all stuff my dad wouldn’t eat.  And now, I realize, all stuff that was a heck of a lot easier to prepare for my mom!
I digress.  
It’s interesting that I cooked this week, because now that I work full-time, there are too many nights when dinner is on the run, thrown together – anything but thought out.  There’s pizza, usually once a week.  Sometimes we fend for ourselves and have sandwiches.  I don’t always feel good about what’s on the table – especially compared to my own childhood.
But fall is here, they’re back in school, and I’m getting back in touch with the ‘mom’ deep inside.  And so, I have cooked.
We had steak.  We had grilled chicken.  We had brisket and pinto beans.  And we had stew and biscuits.  All home-cooked, no pre-cooked sauces or spice mixes or anything.  And I feel like a bona fide mom.  (Just don’t ask me about the laundry…or the baseboards…or the windows…or the bathrooms…or anything else that requires cleaning…)
Sydni was born in July of 1994, and not long afterwards I started work as a consultant for Pampered Chef.  Lonnie stayed home with the kids one or two nights a week while I did shows.  I liked it; I loved the products, loved getting out with adults and really loved being able to contribute to the family by making the van payment while Lonnie was working and going through grad school.  I was good at what I did – I was passionate and excited, and it translated to good sales and a ‘promotion’ into leadership as I started to build a sales team.
I worked for a year or two and then got tired.  Leadership was hard.  I had another baby.  Life got a little more demanding.  I gave it up.
But I loved Pampered Chef and I loved the stuff I learned and the products that I still have, to this day.  And I learned a lot about leadership, never realizing that over a decade later, those lessons would impact my life so greatly.
The point of this story?  I’m not sure, except to say that I cooked homemade biscuits this week – from scratch – and I used Pampered Chef tools.  I think my baking powder needs to be replaced, because my biscuits ended up more like fat saltine crackers than biscuits.  But as I cooked, I felt nostalgic.  I thought back at where I’d been and where I was now, and what I have carried with me.

There are things that you get to keep, no matter what your losses might be along the way.  And some of those things – like leadership skills, loving what you do and cooking for your family – last for a lifetime.

In fact, they become a lifetime.  
Even if they don’t turn out quite right every time, I still know how to make biscuits.  And I get to keep that.