Bone-Tired Tired

I guess I’m fortunate that I haven’t had too many seasons in life that were so chaotic I was stripped of nearly all my reserves. And if I had any reserves right now, I’d be grateful for that. It’s not just been an awful year. It’s been a slow building depletion of the last few years. Thank God I’m good with self-care because I can usually get the energy I need on most days to stay relatively healthy and well. But I recently realized that the reserve tank is empty. On the days I don’t have quite what I need, I simply stall and sometimes putter out.

This is helpful to realize. To name and sit with.

I’m not sure if I can build up reserves right now. That feels too lofty and I don’t have energy for lofty goals. It’s time to be practical and focus on what is right in front of me. So if you are at all with me, I thought maybe it might be helpful to share how I am doing that.

  1. Take care of my physical self. Eat well and get enough sleep. Don’t drink too much alcohol, as tempting as that is. Move and strengthen my body. (Having a very active dog with adorably pleading eyes helps.) I didn’t make huge changes to my physical self-care. But I found small ways to improve how I care for my body. I might not be able to change what I am going through, but my body can help me to better endure the stress and strain.
  2. Know what has to be done and what can wait. Bills need to get paid. Garbage needs to be taken out. House does not need to be spotless. Animals need to be fed. Projects do not need to be started. Plans can be postponed. Annoying friend can wait. Being clear on my non-negotiables vs. negotiables helps me adjust my schedule as needed.
  3. Always make time for what feeds my soul, even if it’s just for five minutes here and there, and do it multiple times throughout the day. Earlier I spent a few minutes sitting on my porch, eyes closed, listening to the rain fall. It was cathartic. I use my breathing app to remind me to take deep breaths, one minute at a time. I fill my bird feeders and watch them be used as I drink my morning coffee. I stare at the dusk sky. I listen to music that gives me hope. I read poems that name my heartache. I knit because it’s meditative. I write. These moments do many things: help me to recalibrate, remind me of who I am, ground me. Collectively the moments make a big difference.
  4. Be accountable. It’s easy to fall off the path on a good day. When life is chaotic, it’s nearly impossible to stay on the path unless I track what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. I set small, attainable goals (I’ve already mentioned most) and track my progress. I don’t beat myself up when I fall short. But I experience much more success when I set goals and track my progress than if I were to just try to do my best.
  5. Practice love and gratitude. It’s easy to complain. It’s easy to hate. It’s easy to divide. It’s easy to be entitled. Love and gratitude require intentionality. I have people who are easy to love and things that are easy to be thankful for. I challenge myself to love those who are not easy to love and be thankful for tasks I’d rather not be thankful for. My experience is that while energy gets depleted, there is something magical about it too. I’m not exactly sure what happens – more energy or better use of energy or what – but it’s the equivalent of physical self-care for my mind and heart. Love and gratitude do something wonderful. And when I am depleted, there can’t be enough wonderfulness in my life.

Maybe there are other things but I feel like those five are the primary ways I have avoided getting consumed by what is going on. So far.

Now I need a nap. I guess that should’ve been number six – nap often.

The Problem with Love

The problem with love is that it’s hard work.

Movies make it seem like the hard work happens until love shows up. But life isn’t like that. At least my life isn’t like that. Life is hard work. Love shows up. Life continues to be hard work. And now you’ve got the work of relationships too. So in fact, love makes the hard work harder.

I don’t just mean romantic love. All love is hard work. There are wonderful perks to love – companionship, friendship, affection, camaraderie, fun… lots of things that make the work more than worthwhile. But make no mistake, love is work. Lots of work.

Wouldn’t it be great if love were easy? If love solved our problems, not caused more problems?

I’m not down on love. I’m just feeling the need to be clear about the reality of love. While I look at those I am closest to and couldn’t be more grateful for those relationships, I also see the effort we have put into those relationships to make them work as well as they do. The relationships that have grown and strengthened and lasted aren’t the ones that have been the easiest. They are the ones that have been mutually worked on.

Certainly in the case with my kids, I did most of the work through their childhood. But I also sought to teach them their responsibilities in a relationship and eventually expected that to occur in our relationship as well. I would not have the relationship I have with my adult kids if they did not at some point start participating in and contributing to it.

Is that to say the relationship with my kids is perfect? Hell no. They’d be just as quick to say that as me. We get annoyed or frustrated with each other. We need breaks every now and then from each other. But I would say (and I hope they would to) that the relationship we do have with each other is deep, reliable, helpful and often enjoyable. And that no matter what, we will always show up for the other when truly needed. We might show up late. We definitely show up imperfectly. But we always, eventually, show up. That is why, while love is hard work, it is worth the work.

The reason I found myself thinking about love today is as I continue to figure out how to survive this awful year, I was reminded that at the center of my faith is love. It is the center of all the commandments according to the Christian faith. It is the most important responsibility. And it’s hard, especially when there are people who are hard to love. But I know that there are always people who are hard to love, including or maybe I should say, especially me.

There are days I don’t feel very loving, and days I don’t feel very lovable. I try to figure out how to love anyway. For those I’d rather dismiss, those who annoy me, those who don’t seem very deserving, those I’d rather not hang out with, I try to love anyway. It’s hard to keep showing up. I fail regularly, which gives me the opportunity to practice self-love as I learn to do better. We know that we can’t be very good at offering love if we aren’t good at receiving love.

I wish the point of faith was to be right. Or to be rich. Or to be protected. Or to be blessed. Those sound so much easier. But since it is not, at least not for me, I am thankful for what my loving relationships have taught me and give me in order to learn to love others, to keep showing up for others. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to the point where I can say I love all. But that’s the goal.

Ugh. I grimace as I write that last part. Because the problem with love is that it’s hard work.

What I See

What I could see is my hair turning white,

Or fine lines becoming more pronounced each year.

I could see the way my face and body are changing shape.

I could see that I still don’t really know how to style my hair, even at 51 years old.

If I look closely, I could see the evidence of battle scars from a life lived, including the hurts, betrayals, and failures.

But that’s not what I see. Not today.

What I see are my eyes that still manage to convey compassion and hope.

I see signs that I smile and laugh regularly.

I see life lessons learned well and applied.

I see joy.

I see peace.

I see love.

I see contentment.

I see me.

Today

Today I didn’t worry about my children being targeted, harassed, beaten or killed because of the color of their skin.

Today I didn’t remind my children what they should or shouldn’t say to police out of fear that their words could bring them physical harm.

Today I didn’t pray that God would protect the vulnerable bodies of my children.

Today I didn’t scold my children for forgetting there are many people who view them suspiciously or callously.

Today I didn’t explain that no matter what the form of protest, my children’s cause will not be taken seriously by many.

Today I didn’t mourn the death of one of my children because someone else viewed him or her as expendable.

But that is not true for all. In fact that is not true for many.

Today, many worried, reminded, prayed, scolded, explained, and mourned simply because of the color of their skin. And that is not okay, today or ever.

Violence begets violence. And while I am not condoning any violence, I understand why violence is sometimes the response. I especially understand it when one has been the victim of violence again and again. The violence must end, and first it must end with me.

Today I am angry.

Today I am heartbroken.

Today I will not be silent.

May today be a new day.

What I’m Learning in the Midst of a Pandemic Situation

  1. Toilet paper is what Americans covet the most. This surprised me. I would’ve thought the answer would be money or unlimited data or selfie filters. But it turns out that we can’t live with the thought of not having toilet paper. When all of this madness subsides, I’m going to make, produce and sell Pandemic Bidets. I think it’s a million dollar idea.
  2. Empty nesting is overrated during a world crisis. I couldn’t be happier to have my kids home with me right now.
  3. The second refrigerator that seemed unnecessary once we became empty nesters would be very helpful during the pandemic crisis. (See #2.)
  4. I have great job security as a hospital chaplain. I don’t love this one because it is the hardest parts of life that ensure my work is valued. But it has been interesting to navigate the crisis without worrying about whether or not I have a job. My heart is heavy for the many people who can’t work or won’t have a job to go back to once this ends.
  5. More information is not necessarily going to make a difference. For weeks we were preparing for the inevitable Stay-At-Home order and learning why it was so important to practice. And yet some (or perhaps many) ignored that information and act like it is time to catch up with neighbors and friends. Hey folks, IT’S NOT SUMMER VACATION!
  6. Spend time not thinking about the worldwide pandemic. Nature is an essential stabilizer. To see the birds go on as if it is any other day reminds me that life is moving forward; that summer will come; that people will rise to the occasion; that we (collectively) will get through this. I watch those who are oblivious to COVID-19 because they remind me of life beyond COVID-19.
  7. Self-care is essential in maintaining my sanity. I learned during my stay-at-home parent days that no one was going to take care of me so I damn well better learn how to do that for myself. My mind and body tell me when I need to amp up taking care of me. Lack of motivation, fatigue regardless of how much sleep I got, excessive negativity are all indicators that I am depleted and need to be refilled. I have learned that what I need to do is do something, anything, to remind myself of who I am. Weeding the garden, making a delicious meal, organizing a closet, going for a long walk in the woods, playing with my dog, zooming with great friends are all things that help recalibrate my mind and body when the work has become too much. And these days, the work is a lot. Self-care isn’t a luxury. Self-care is a necessity.
  8. Financial health is like any other aspect of health. Sometimes a person’s decisions contribute to his or her overall health. Other times it has nothing to do with decisions made and has everything to do with things out of that person’s control. Most of the time it is some combination of the two. I’ve been learning this lesson for awhile, awakening out of my white-middle-class-fog. The lesson began as I better understood the complexities of poverty (FYI It’s not just a matter of working harder). But I see this now more than ever as we learn in the current crisis who is most vulnerable and asking myself how can I help.
  9. Laughter is still the best medicine. Practice it daily.
  10. The purpose of faith in my life isn’t to provide answers but to help hold the tough, important questions. The faith of my past would have told me what God is and isn’t doing right now, but I have become quite skeptical of that kind of belief. Instead I find faith as sort of a book binding. The pages move back and forth, can be bent and even torn. And yet there is something that prevents the pages from flying apart in all different directions. The movement of the pages, the creases and tears all remind me that life is fragile. It is important to take that reality seriously. The binding provides hope that the fragility may overwhelm but does not have to prevail. The binding is the presence of the Collective Good, of God.

Maybe there are more lessons I have learned. I am sure there are more to be learned. But that feels like enough for today. The rest of today will be my own restorative work so that tomorrow I can do the hospital work of how to provide the best possible care under our current circumstances. Godspeed, friends.

Responding to a Pandemic Situation

It’s been a weird month as I’ve watched COVID-19 draw closer to our area. I work for a hospital so information has been ongoing and helpful. It’s been much easier to sort through what my hospital tells me than navigating our news cycles. While it took time to understand this new virus, I have always felt more threatened by the reaction of people than the virus itself.

Some move into panic prematurely. Others ignore good information and common sense. My hope is that most of us fall somewhere in between those two extremes. I was encouraged to see most of my fellow grocery shoppers to have 10-20 items in their carts at checkout. They were calm and good-natured. There was the occasional cart filled to the point of overflowing, often with items that seemed more dangerous to one’s health than the virus itself. But that was the exception.

Difficulty reveals aspects of who we truly are. I have been reminded lately that I am impatient with what feels like hysteria. I loathe a lack of common sense. While those aren’t bad things, my responses can sometimes feel unkind. I’m thinking about that as I practice some social distancing. I’m considering what would be helpful to those feeling frightened or being dismissive, or at least better understand what is not helpful in those situations.

I also realize how important it is to have that circle of people who don’t need you to be careful, who allow you to be who you are. They don’t expect me to be perfect and can say to me what they are thinking and feeling. This is particularly helpful in times of stress and strain.

In my job, I am reminded daily of the fragility of life. Most people deny that and I understand why. But knowledge of that reality does help in times like these. I don’t try to convince myself that if I try hard enough, I can prevent a bad outcome. I know that bad things happen even when everything right had been done. Instead of being paralyzed, I try to embrace the moment I am in and the opportunities it presents. I try to practice gratitude. These actions really do make a big difference in my ability to stay informed but not be overwhelmed; to prepare without falling into a deep sense of dread.

I know the alarmists and the deniers are the noisiest at the moment. It can be hard to turn the volume down. Those of us working to stay calm are simply trying to do our part rather than be heard. Yesterday I spent time helping a friend then planting some flowers. Today I will take a hike. Tomorrow I will go back to work and help my healthcare system continue its important work. It’s a balancing act of doing for others and taking care of myself. Both are important, especially now.

This pandemic virus will pass, just like ones before it. The cost may be high, but does not need to be at the expense of our humanity or the care of our community. Be smart. Stay informed. Wash your hands regularly for a good 20 seconds each time and don’t touch your face. Be kind and patient. Take good care of you and those around you. Make sure those who are vulnerable have what they need. Stay home if you’re sick. Help those whose jobs are being impacted by closures or don’t have sick pay.

Isn’t this what we should be doing all the time anyway?

A Daisy Forever

I like tattoos. I’ve seen some really cool ones. But I never found an image that I thought I would want on my body for the rest of my life… until my daughter announced that she was getting a tattoo of a daisy. Not just any daisy, but one that was designed by my friend who had died unexpectedly a few years ago. Six years ago, to be exact. I knew immediately that I, too, wanted that same image forever placed on my body.

I sat with the idea for a few months. I don’t make big decisions impulsively. Time turned the idea into something that felt so right I didn’t even feel like I had to decide anymore. I reached out to my friend who has some beautiful tattoos and asked him who I should see. He sent me to a local artist and I booked my appointment.

I chose March 5th, the anniversary of my friend’s death, to get the tattoo. It’s been a shitty day since 2014. And while nothing can make the day not be terrible, I wanted something good to go with the awfulness. I wanted to make a new memory, a good memory that I could hold with the painful ones.

I invited her sons and my daughter to accompany me. I normally like to do things on my own. But not this. I wanted these three by my side. We each have had to figure out how to do life without Catherine’s physical presence. And we have leaned on one another as we’ve done that work. I wanted to share this moment of homage with them. They understood its sacredness. They would be able to grieve her and honor her by my side without effort or explanation.

Did getting the tattoo hurt?

Yes. Yes it did. It felt like a needle was being inserted into my skin and dragged. I guess that’s because a needle was being inserted into my skin and dragged. But eventually I got used to the sensation and it felt more uncomfortable than painful. The white knuckling subsided.

And I love the result.

For you, Catherine.

My Favorites

Sometimes I am with people who seem to bring out the best in me. Sometimes it’s the opposite. The people I’ve learned to hang onto are the ones who see the best in me. It’s not that they overlook my faults. But they see my strengths – my love, loyalty, deeply-felt feelings, intentionality, humor – in spite of my shortcomings – impatience, pushiness, tendency to correct whether one seeks a correction or not. These people are My Favorites, the ones I love more than life itself.

I think it’s a choice, that we can actually authentically be who we are regardless of who we are with. But that is a hard, maybe lifelong skill to learn. It’s normal to allow insecurities or uncertainties or hurts or anger to adjust our demeanor. In fact it’s really hard not to be defensive with someone you don’t trust. But what My Favorites teach me is that I can be my authentic self no matter who I am with. They remind me I am worthy, and in turn can make others feel worthy too, of love, of friendship, of kindness, of gentleness, of patience though God help me with that one.

Life feels very different when I am in that place of grace, even though circumstances might be exactly the same. My perspective softens. Hope is a bit more tangible. And with my ongoing existential crises, I’m deeply in need of both.

On March 5th, I’m getting my first tattoo. I’m 51 years old. I never really wanted a tattoo. I had a hard time imagining what I would want on my body for the rest of my life. And then my daughter, Liv, told me she was getting a tattoo of a flower drawn by one of My Favorites. I knew immediately that I wanted that tattoo as well. It felt right before the thought even fully formed. I asked Liv how she felt about her mom getting the same tattoo. Thankfully she thought it was a pretty great idea. March 5th, 2020 will mark six long years of Catherine being physically gone, a reality that still hurts so much.

This morning I’m realizing the tattoo will mean so much more than an homage to one of My Favorites. It will be my reminder to see myself as she saw me. It will be my reminder to be my best self no matter what. I think she’d like that a lot. I just wish she were here with me, but so continues the journey. She will always be one of My Favorites.

The Cost of a College Education

I remember my dad saying to me many years ago that he would pay for my college education because he felt it was important for me to start my adult life debt-free. I wish I would’ve taken him up on that free bachelor’s degree. I left college before finishing.

Shortly after having our first child, Jeremy and I were talking with friends who had also just had a child. Our friend announced that their daughter would be responsible for her own college education. I thought it was weird that the decision was already being made. But it got me thinking about what we would do for our child. It didn’t take me long before I said to Jeremy, “I think we need to pay for Isaac’s college education.” I didn’t really know what I was saying because I didn’t know what the cost would become. But I said it anyway and I kept saying it even after we had kid #2.

As a stay-at-home parent, I often heard, “That’s so great you can afford to stay home.” The thing is, we really couldn’t afford it if you compared our life to the lives of those who were saying this to me. They had bigger houses, nicer cars, fancier vacations, and much better summer camps for their kids to attend. We were regularly reminded how we couldn’t really afford to be a single income household, and yet we made it work. I knew the sacrifices we were making were worthwhile. Summer vacations and sick days weren’t an issue. The pace of our lives was not only manageable, it was enjoyable. I have so many memories of time with my kids. Now that they are grown, these memories have become priceless.

We did have to come up with a plan to pay for college. We decided once our youngest finished third grade, I would go back to work full-time and my income would go towards college savings. Soon enough those 529’s would be busting at the seams. It was a great plan until a year into my full-time job I realized I really wanted to pursue something that would require more education. And so I went back to school, now costing money rather than making money. Our college savings plan was derailed.

But we were used to sacrifice and simplifying. We were experts at modifying our lifestyle. I earned my master’s degree and finally started to earn some money for education. Our son earned his bachelor’s degree. He started his career two months after graduating, debt-free, and has been financially independent ever since. Our daughter is finishing up her third semester of college. We have had to take on some debt in order to get to where we are. All of my income goes to education expenses, either current or past. The college savings plan had to be modified, but it is working.

I remember that friend saying many years ago that he thought his daughter would appreciate her college education more by having to pay for it. Well, both kids express their gratitude regularly to me for their education. They are well aware of what a gift it is to not be drowning in debt or worse, having to walk away from an education because they can’t afford it.

Obviously what a parent chooses to do is up to that parent, and what a parent is able to do can greatly vary. I have never said to someone, “Why aren’t you paying for your kid’s college?” That choice is theirs alone to make. But I would like people to stop saying to me, “That’s great that you can afford to pay for your kids’ college.” The statement fails to recognize the sacrifices we have made and continue to make in order to do so.

Many times I have wondered what we would be doing if we hadn’t made this decision so early on: the trips we would take, the home remodeling projects we would do, the animals I would adopt… Our decision was a big one. We were uninformed and somewhat impulsive. But I think it was the right decision for us. Sure, the cost is high. But the benefits are way higher.

Thanks, Dad.

Moving Forward Five Years Later

Almost five years ago, I began this blog with the post, Why I Left the Church to Start a Church. It’s a good time to give an update on that church. First I am struck by how much that post still reflects where I am. If I didn’t have my community of faith, The Other Church, I’m not sure what I would do to replace it. I have outgrown the organized church. Or maybe a more accurate way to say it is that my faith has outgrown the organized church. I need a space that allows doubt, questions, anger, and disappointment along with hope, joy and peace. And I need the room to go where I need to go, not where the church tells me to go.

Lots of people inhabit this space, “spiritual but not religious” you might say. Many have deep questions of meaning and purpose. As I have sought to provide a safe space for exploring these questions, I have learned several things about that space. I thought I’d share some today.

  • Being vulnerable is hard. In our social media culture, we are more comfortable with our filtered photos than our messy lives. Vulnerability is an invitation to be honest with self and others. For people who carry deep pain, that invitation can be particularly frightening. Unless they are willing to face their pain, vulnerability will feel like too big of a risk.
  • It is easier to be told what to do or believe than to decide for oneself. Believing what someone else tells you to believe removes accountability. It lessens the need for reflection. The parameters have been set and one simply has to move within those parameters. To pick those parameters for oneself can feel scary. My observation is that for most of us, we only do so when those set parameters no longer make sense.
  • If one can avoid hard work, most of us will. Numbing is a quicker fix than feeling the pain. Fighting or blaming is easier than listening. We are a culture of immediate gratification, and we are dying because of it. We refuse the work before us, or we pour ourselves into work that brings little or no change. Maybe that feels safer. Maybe that’s just who we’ve become.

Shortly after my initial post almost five years ago, a church-of-sorts was officially launched along with a website and social media platforms. The tools were developed to find others who were interested in going on this journey with me. In this carved out space for exploration of faith and meaning, I found a group of people. We are learning to be more vulnerable. We are exploring what we believe individually and collectively, and what we will do with those beliefs. We are learning to do the hard work, encouraging and helping each other along the way. We don’t do any of these things perfectly and we fail regularly. But we keep trying as we also do our best to love and care for one another.

As The Other Church community moves forward, know that there is always room for one more. And in our next steps of moving forward, I have decided to shut down the church’s website and social media platforms for now. At this stage, I do not see these tools helping us with the work we do. We are not meant to be a community that is watched, but rather one that is engaged. We all need a community of people who know us, love us, challenge us and accept us. If you have followed The Other Church, I want to thank you. If you have supported The Other Church, a double thank you to you. Now go find a place for you that will embrace all of you. And if you want to be part of mine, you are always welcome.

Godspeed.