Saturday Mornings

Cooler mornings are beginning to return.

So many mornings are regimented. There are things that must get done.

But today will be different.

With my cup of coffee I head to the porch.

The rocking chair allows me to see both the hummingbirds who will visit the feeder and the squirrels who will play along the base of the trees.

I bring a book. Annie Dillard is my choice today. I drink her words along with my coffee.

My cat joins me, perched on the dry sink to have the same view as mine – hummingbirds and squirrels.

I read as much as I watch.

I drink my coffee.

I sit still and am content.

This is how mornings should be.

This is how to begin the day.

I love Saturday mornings.

 

America’s Beatitudes

Blessed are the powerful, for they will dominate the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for the righteousness of others, for they will be filled with self-righteousness.

Blessed are the theologically merciless, for they will be merciful to themselves.

Blessed are the sure in heart, for they will think they are seeing God.

Blessed are those who wage war, for they will call themselves children of God.

Blessed are the powerful who consider themselves persecuted, for theirs is the kingdom of The End That Justify The Means.

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Empty Nesting

Well, friends, it has been quite a few weeks. We dropped our baby off at college and are settling into a new normal of empty nesting. I remember when we lost our beloved dog of nearly 15 years, I would find myself going to feed her, only to be jolted into the reality that she was no longer with us. I would then tear up and sometimes just weep from the loss. Eerily similar, I get home from work and am about to call up the stairs to tell my daughter I’m home, only to remember she’s not in her room. She’s not in the house. And she won’t be coming home for awhile. But I don’t find myself tearing up, most of the time that is. I find myself feeling grateful for who she is and where she is.

Raising a child these days is no easy task. What they face, what they know, what they see, what they deal with is a lot. Helping a child navigate childhood into adulthood can be overwhelming and hard. Neither do I take for granted the young woman I left at her new college dorm nor all the people it took to help us get her there. I didn’t raise perfect children and I didn’t raise them perfectly. In fact I made lots of mistakes. But I feel proud of the job I did. And I feel proud of the adults my children have become.

In reflecting upon how we got to this place, I have been thinking about what I think I did well, and not so well in my parenting. The efforts I put into being a better parent has made me a better person. There are many things I could share, but I thought I’d focus on just a few.

First, what I think most often got in the way of my being a good parent was my impatience. It was easier just to do something myself. It was easier to pretend I didn’t hear the 15th question. It was easier to redirect for the sake of getting to the point rather than allow them to meander through their thoughts and ideas. I cringe at some of the moments I can recall. Sometimes I would catch my impatience, stop, apologize, and do better. Sometimes I would realize after the fact, go back and apologize. And far too many times I’m sure, I moved on without realizing what I had done and how my impatience must have felt sharp and judgmental. Both of my children are very gracious when I share my regrets and offer an apology. I have definitely improved my patience, but have a looooooooonnng way to go.

What seemed to come naturally for me was to love my kids unconditionally. It has been the most natural relationship I have experienced. And loving them has helped me to love others better. So I can take no credit for this in my parenting. I have heard of others struggling to love their kids unconditionally, often because they have never experienced that kind of love themselves. I am thankful that I could love them unconditionally, meaning it was never their job to love me or care for me. Correction was given for the sake of their learning to be better people, not because they owed me anything or needed to do anything to keep my love. I believe we all need to be loved unconditionally, and the sooner that can be felt, the better.

I think what I did well was decide from very early on that I would know my kids. I don’t just mean superficially. Or know what I want to know or think I know. It has taken time and effort. It requires hearing sometimes what I don’t want to hear or know. It is both humbling and at times frustrating. But this is what allowed me to see them as individuals from the very beginning. Not an extension of me or my husband. Not someone to do what I wish I had done. Not someone who would live into my expectation. Rather to see them as their own entities with their own ideas, dreams, flaws, and needs. This has enabled me to allow them to follow their own paths, and to make their own mistakes.

And it is what has made our empty nesting feel so right. Don’t get me wrong. I miss my kids. When my son came home for my daughter’s graduation, my heart felt like it might burst from joy. I miss my daughter, and I have teared up several times. But my children were never mine to keep. They were mine to raise and then share with the world.

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Mr. Rogers Is My Hero

I will confess that while I grew up with Mr. Rogers, I was more of a Sesame Street fan. Maybe I preferred its pace to the more methodical pace of Mr. Rogers. But this isn’t a comparison of the two. It is merely to point out that it took me almost 50 years to recognize the brilliance and prophetic nature of Fred Rogers.

I took my daughter to see the documentary about Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? I left that experience realizing how hungry I was for kindness, which seems to be in short supply these days. Rogers was a man who lived his convictions beautifully and sacrificially. He respected people and acknowledged their whole selves, which included their thoughts and feelings. He knew their value wasn’t in what they could do or who they had been born to, but simply by being themselves. Fred Rogers embodied the command to love God, and to love neighbor as oneself. And he didn’t ever have to quote scripture to do so.

I have since immersed myself in the theology and philosophy of Fred Rogers. I am finding so much inspiration for my spiritual journey. I see now that it was his simplicity that caused me to miss his depth. I could write about it. Or you could see if for yourselves.

Click here to watch this clip of Mr. Rogers from his television show, introducing Jeff Erlanger to his neighbors. It is long in this day and age of 10 second clips. But I encourage you to watch it in its entirety. And listen to what is shared and explored. Imagine what this meant to Jeff and to the many children (and adults for that matter) who may look different or do things differently, and yet aren’t so different.

Now click here to watch another clip, years and years later, when Mr. Rogers is inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. Watch him climb to get to Jeff. Listen to his words of gratitude. See his face of appreciation and care. You can’t fake that level of love and selflessness. Mr. Rogers was the real deal.

While he received many accolades, Fred Rogers was also often the butt of many jokes. Perhaps it was his singsong voice, his methodical approach, or his childlike enthusiasm that invited these jokes. But when we laugh too quickly, as I believe I used to do, we miss the truth he embodied. And let us note, and be thankful for the fact that he never wavered. I suspect it wasn’t easy. There are glimpses of his doubts and fatigue, when you look closely enough. But he forged ahead anyway. And how wonderful to hear that he did so with his real family in addition to his television family. As I said already, Mr. Rogers was the real deal.

I wish I could say thank you to Mr. Rogers, for his message, his courage, his resilience, his convictions. I am glad so many people over the years did just that. Mr. Rogers, you are my hero.

Milestones

This past week my daughter graduated from high school. I was able to spend time with my adult son and both of my parents in addition to my husband and daughter. I had lots of time with friends too. One of the things that struck me was how many of us had different takes on this milestone’s meaning, what was important or not as important, what to celebrate and might come next.

I got to thinking: Who is right? Should I have been sadder than I felt? Should I have enjoyed the pomp and circumstance more? Was I wrong to relish most the time spent with those I love? What did I miss? What will I think months from now when I look back? The process of exploring my perspective along with the perspective of others is another reminder of how much I value diversity of thought.

We live in a time where most of us find diversity scary. Our ideological differences are at odds with what feels like potential significant changes in outcome. And when we think of those differences in big arenas such as politics or religion, diversity doesn’t seem feasible. One side must be right and the other side must be wrong. One side must be chosen and the other rejected. There will be winners and losers. But the reality is, most of life isn’t spent in a large arena. Most of life is spent doing our jobs, loving our loved ones, talking with our neighbors, spending time with friends, raising kids, taking care of pets, supporting those in need. Most of our time is a collection of small, seemingly insignificant acts, decisions, thoughts and responses each and every day.

I was reminded of this poignantly with the suicide of Anthony Bourdain. He was a man who spent time understanding and learning from others. I admired his approach, which felt both simple and profound.

“We ask very simple questions: What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook? And everywhere in the world we go and ask these very simple questions,” [Anthony Bourdain] said, “we tend to get some really astonishing answers.”

His questions allowed anyone to enter into the conversation, regardless of background or experience. That in and of itself is noteworthy. But then, and probably more importantly, he listened. Listening – really listening, deeply hearing, staying curious, open, respectful – is what allows diversity to not only be feasible but rich and rewarding.

And yet Mr. Bourdain failed to find the hope to live one more day. The stories poured in following his death, of how he made people on the margins feel heard and valued. What he was able to do for others, he was unable to receive for himself. I wish his life hadn’t ended with suicide. I wish he could’ve let someone in, really let them in, the way others let him into their lives.

I could mark the milestone of my daughter’s graduation by how the ceremony went, by who came and didn’t come to various events, by the event in and of itself. Or I could commemorate it with the nearly 18 years of life and all of the countless, insignificant decisions that led us to this milestone. All of the good things and all of our failures and everything in between brought us to this place. I had prepared for the milestone as best I could, was present in it to enjoy it as much as I could be, and I learned from others through their thoughts and experiences.

Graduation is a big deal. But when you think about it, isn’t every day a big deal? An important milestone? Each day has value. Life is an ongoing, marathon-style, do-your-best-because-that-is-all-you-can-do kind of experience. Be proud of what you do well. Learn from and let go of what you wish you had done differently. Listen to others. Share with others. Don’t measure your life or worth against another. Instead, celebrate what is worth celebrating and work on what could be better. I’m not suggesting we diminish the value of a milestone but rather we see the countless opportunities in every day to take one step forward, which is in fact a milestone.

This picture was taken right after her graduation ceremony. But honestly, with the exception of her attire, it could have been taken on any given day. And whether graduation ever came or not, that is one of the most important milestones of all.

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Friday Favorite, 3.23.18

There is an unsettling story in which Jesus tells a potential follower to sell all that he has and give it to the poor first, if in fact he wants to follow Jesus. Some cite this story as what it costs to be a christian. Many christians are quick to say that the story is but one facet, and to make this the litmus test of faith is taking that story out of its context.

Robert Gundry has a different take, and it is his words that I sit with today.

” ‘Jesus did not command all of his followers to sell all their possessions’ gives comfort only to the kind of people to whom he would issue that command.”

When I use my conviction of faith to diminish or judge another, I have missed the point of that conviction. My convictions should make me uncomfortable, not be used to make you uncomfortable. Your convictions belong to you, and are yours to do with what you choose. When we come to different conclusions in our convictions, one does not diminish the other. They are simply different.

I don’t think giving away all that I have would be the most unsettling question asked of me. What I hold onto the tightest, what would be nearly impossible to give up if asked, that is what I am pondering today.

 

Today’s Goal: Underachieve

We live in a competitive culture. And on most days, I love it! You say “A friendly game of Words with Friends?” I say, “Game on!” For me, it is typically not about winning. It is all about the competition. When my kids were young and we would play a game, I would try to come up with a way to handicap myself in order to make it more competitive. They didn’t know what I was doing because it was strictly for my enjoyment. I love a victory, but I have to say I also love a loss, when it was well fought and the match remained competitive to the end.

I love competition so much that I am always seeking opportunities. Can I make the sourpuss barista laugh? Can I find a quicker way to get from point A to point B? How close can I get to spending $50 at the grocery store without going over? Can I diagnose my cat’s ailment before the vet tells me what is wrong? Just thinking of these examples has quickened my heart rate. I LOVE a competition, even if I am the only competitor.

Yet I know that I need to not be competitive from time to time. While competition has its value, it also has a dark side. Winning can easily become the point. And when that occurs, no longer is it about the enjoyment of a competition or the lessons that could be learned. It is solely about beating one’s competitors. And when we find ourselves there, we become masters of justifying our actions for a particular outcome. We not only forget the humanity of others, but we lose our own humanity as well.

I have learned how important it is for this competitor to step out of the competitive ring on a regular basis. I make no apologies for the opportunities I take to sleep in when I am able, to periodically be non-productive, to simply rest even I am not feeling that tired. I remind myself that I do not need to excuse my underachieving days. If I find myself feeling guilty with what I am doing (or not doing), I remind myself that this is not the norm for me. It is on these days I remember some things I may have gotten fuzzy on: I am human. I have limitations. Competition can sometimes counter intimacy. Winning/losing isn’t what defines us; how we “play the game” i.e. live our lives, does.

And so today, I proudly share that it is 5:30pm and I am still in my pajamas. I have less than 1000 steps on my Fitbit. My back is a little sore from spending a lot of time lying in or sitting on my bed.

It has been a good day.

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Hello. My name is Jennifer and I’m a Friendapist.

For years I had the luxury of time. I was raising kids and not working outside of the home. I had flexibility in my schedule and I had a fair amount of free time. Over the course of those 12+ years, I developed the practice of having meaningful one-on-one conversations. I appreciated the depth and the adult connection. I enjoyed the challenge of problem-solving. And the food and coffee that went along with the conversations were icing on the cake. Over the years, I became a friendapist.

Yes, it’s a real thing. There is no formal education required. I didn’t try to do this. It evolved over time. I got better at listening and talking things through. People would call and schedule another coffee to continue the conversation. I had some friends on a monthly rotation, ready to pick up where we left off to discuss what they were struggling with or working through.

I should’ve known this was happening. My husband would say to me, “If you were paid every time you met someone for coffee, we would have our kids’ college education paid for!” But I wasn’t getting paid and those 529’s needed funding somehow. Plus I always intended to go back to work.

And so about 8 years ago I went back to work full-time. Since then I have become increasingly busy professionally. I don’t have the flexibility I used to have or the time I had. But I realized recently that I still was trying to maintain my side gig of friendapist. I was continuing a therapeutic kind of relationship with several people, which is very different from simply being a person’s friend. It’s hard to fully explain, although I imagine the friendapists reading this know exactly what I am talking about.

I think this change will be good for me. My tendency has been to be what others needed me to be, which is what made me a good friendapist. But it’s time for my friendships to be friendships. That means I get to be me, which includes the surly, tired, salty, selfish side of me that is sometimes there. I get to fall apart when I need to. And most importantly, I get to say “No” – “No” when I don’t have the energy to be a listening ear or a theological/philosophical sounding board.

And so the breakup begins. I imagine some relationships will fade while others will take on a new structure beyond the friendapist connection. We’ll have to wait and see. It’s probably going to be hard to do. But it is time.

What Is Normal Anyway?

normal |ˈnôrməl|

adjective

conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected: it’s quite normal for puppies to bolt their food | normal working hours.

I think the idea of what is normal or what should be normal messes a lot of people up. “Normal” gives the impression of certain guarantees. As one prone to analytical thinking, I recognize predictors of outcome. But I rarely see a solid 100% guarantee on any outcome. When an expected outcome doesn’t occur, it can cause a person to question who is to blame for what went wrong. After all, wasn’t the person entitled to a normal outcome?

If I love a certain way, I will be loved in return.

If I save a certain amount of money, I will retire the way I want.

If I parent a certain way, my kid will become the kind of adult I hoped s/he would be.

If I work hard enough, my efforts will be acknowledged and rewarded.

I could go on. Maybe some come to mind for you?

There are several religious systems that support this kind of thinking. In my faith tradition it goes like this: “If I obey God, God will bless me.” Even if that is true, I don’t know that we do much work to wrestle with the ideas of what it means to “obey God”, and what “God blessing us” means. Rather we tend to define it in ways that suitably fit us. If or when they don’t, we go somewhere else.

Normality makes dealing with anything perceived to be abnormal as difficult or worse yet, a failure. The goal tends to be to pull or push or force or squeeze or shove what was happening into some kind of “normal” explanation. For example, when my friend died tragically, I couldn’t reconcile her death. “It shouldn’t have happened!” I cried out to God. Her death had no part in my perception of normalcy. Part of my journey through the grief was having to face the reality that there is no normal. I became increasingly aware that tragedy exists everywhere. I started to see how sheltered I had been from it up to that point. It didn’t make my loss easier, but somehow it made more space for the loss and all my feelings that went with it. Instead of judging whether or not it should have happened, I learned to deal with what had happened.

Believing in a norm can provide comfort. However I find the people who have deeply immersed themselves in normalcy to be fragile. They wall themselves off from anything or anyone that might challenge their norms. Their worlds get smaller as their voices get louder regarding what is acceptable, or what is right, or what should be normal. The thicker their walls, the more demanding of others they become. This is where their fragility becomes most obvious. The demand isn’t, as they surmise, for the betterment of others but rather an ongoing “Hail Mary” attempt to protect themselves. The problem is, superimposing one’s norms onto another can be ignorant, and even quite hurtful at times.

I have seen walls obliterated with one tragic event though some have the luxury of maintaining those walls for a lifetime. And honestly, I guess we all build walls to a certain extent. But for most of us, walls eventually fall down or get torn down. The conclusion I have come to is that “normal” is entirely overrated. Instead of building more walls or repairing old ones, maybe we could pour that energy into what is actually going on in us and around us. Rather than spending time wishing for what we have defined as normal or telling others what should be normal for them, we can spend time navigating what is meaningfully and healthily. That, for me, is the “new normal” or in other words, there ain’t no such thing as normal.