Last week my daughter Cate managed to do two things that, for different reasons, were real challenges: fasting from food for thirty hours and singing a solo in front of a large group of people. It took courage for Cate to do these things and I’m very proud of her for conquering the fear associated with both. I don’t know that she will be racing to do either again anytime soon. I also imagine that being in a vocal recital will still cause Cate stage fright. The difference next time though is that she can draw from her previous experience and remember that she can open her mouth and sing.
I recognize the anxiety that Cate was feeling. There are things that I know I need to do that quite frankly, scare me. Sometimes when I think about those things that enliven fear in me I can feel my stomach drop out from under me. Lately this has been happening when I think about the long-term life of The Dale. To be clear, I don’t feel anxious about the community or its ability to continue to gather. What I wonder about is my capacity to fulfill the role I have in it: pastor, director, administrator, fundraiser. I feel ill-equipped.
When I confessed this feeling to my husband recently he simply said, “then you are exactly where you should be”. I know he’s right. Being in this place forces me to lean on others, ask for help and rely on God. Here I have to choose to take leaps of faith, which isn’t so different from what I was encouraging Cate to do right until the moment she had the last bite of food before her fast or when her name came up in the recital program. Some of the best things have happened because I decided to jump despite the fear and trepidation.
In truth, I also have scars because not all the jumps have resulted in the desired outcome. With time these scars do take on a different form. A song I love says, “they are less like scars and more like character”. I want to battle fear with a certain abandon and trust that my wounds will turn into scars of character. This life of mine requires stepping out in faith, over and over again. It also affords me the opportunity to be a part of a radically beautiful place like The Dale.
The next time I am overwhelmed with my role I want to recall the way Cate stepped up to the stage, composed herself and sweetly sang “The Swallow”. She was anxious the entire song AND she did it. I hope I can do the same.
I am going through an “accreditation” process right now for work. For the first time in a long time I am reading books with a highlighter in one hand, writing papers and even developing a Personal Growth Plan.
The whole growth plan thing is quite an exercise. I have to assess things like my personal capacity and stage of life, receive feedback from influential people around me and come up with action steps and goals. It is a good exercise in humility to hear from others the ways in which they think you need to develop. On my own I have come up with quite a list. The challenge is to set a clear focus and reasonable goals, recognizing too that there is no easy formula for all this. I do always find there to be this interesting tension between being present to the moment and preparing for the future. I’m still looking for the balance.
One of the things I want to work on is curbing the tendency to procrastinate. In many ways I am a decent time manager, especially given the number of roles I have. Sometimes though…oh dear…procrastination rears its head and I put off that thing that I really shouldn’t. Every single time this happens I swear I won’t let it happen again. Ha.
I need to come up with some focus words and I’m convinced that there must be a good one that means the opposite of ‘procrastinate’ or ‘procrastinator’. I’ve asked some of my wordsmith friends, looked around the internet and pulled out my beloved dictionary (yes, I love a good dictionary), but have yet to land on a word that captures it. According to the Urban Dictionary a definition of procrastinator is: One who will do anything, including spending an entire day looking up random words on urban dictionary, to get out of doing work. This habit often has a terrible effect on that person’s relationships, work, or grades. Ouch.
Since it would be rather sad if I put off finding a word that means ‘to not procrastinate’, I’m looking for help. Does anything come to mind? My personal growth plan and I will thank you.
My Mom lives in complex continuing care at a local hospital. About a decade ago she needed to have a brain tumour removed and has called various hospitals home since then. The surgery took away much from my Mom, including her gag and cough reflex. This loss means not being able to eat food via her mouth.
Think about it: my Mom never gets to taste anything other than a bit of toothpaste. Though I feel close to this reality, I still can just not imagine.
My Mom is occasionally able to come over to our house, usually for visits that last an afternoon. She lives just a couple of blocks away from us, so she always keeps a close eye on the weather reports to see if riding in her wheelchair over will be possible vs. taking a special cab. This Saturday promised to be beautiful, so we decided it would be the day for our traditional Easter dinner of ham and scalloped potatoes.
Given that my Mom can’t eat, you might wonder why we would plan a feast that would coincide with her visit. The reason is twofold: my Mom loves to visit around a table and she loves to smell. I spent the morning cooking with this in mind. We affectionately call it creating an “aroma buffet”. Once we settle around the table I put together a plate of food that I then pass under my Mom’s nose. I always wonder if it just makes not being able to eat more difficult, but she always happily takes a deep breath.
They say that when you lose a sense the other senses are heightened. There is something incredibly moving about witnessing my Mom’s willingness to participate in meals in a different way now. I hope that her sense of smell somehow helps to compensate for her lack of taste, even if it is just a little. Though I can still take food into my mouth, I want to learn to deeply appreciate my nose. I don’t want to take being able to eat for granted.
Bring on the aroma buffets.
I work very hard to be present to the moment. This does not come easily for me. I have this imagination that likes to run amuck devising what may or may not happen in the future. When this happens I have learned to shake my head and sometimes literally grab it in order to turn my gaze on what is right in front of me. My inner voice asks, “what can you focus on?”. The answer is sometimes the coffee I am drinking or the dishes in the sink or the book in my bag- seemingly simple things that bring me back to reality.
For a long time a friend has persistently asked me to go to a Zumba class with her. Zumba, for those who don’t know is a dance/aerobics fitness program inspired largely by Latin Dance. Zumba isn’t new to me, though I hadn’t participated in a long time [ahem]. After a particularly hard week, er month, this friend told me she would pick me up and take me with her. She kept telling me that it would be the best way to shake off my stress. She was absolutely right.
I haven’t been too many times, but I already hate to miss. I am not very good at it (read: I am terrible), but for that hour I get lost in the music and don’t worry about anything other than making my legs and arms go in the right direction. I sweat. Occasionally I think I might faint. And I have the BEST sleep after it all.
I know that the more strategies I have for living in the now, the better. I am learning to do what I suggest to so many people in my Dale community on a regular basis: take things one step at a time. Even the baby-est of steps are to be celebrated. Zumba is one of my steps toward a healthier life.
With this in mind, I better go practice my salsa.
I identify as a Christian. I don’t think anybody who knows me would be surprised by this. When once asked about what difference my faith makes, I quickly answered, “I have a transformed life because of it”. I can’t imagine this life without this faith.
It is all too easy for Christians to misrepresent Christ. I’m not here to point fingers at others in this. I’m here to point a finger at myself. One of the most common complaints I hear from the world is that Christians are a bunch of hypocrites. Over the course of my life I have come to believe that the issue people have isn’t so much that Christians mess up, it’s more that we don’t admit it and continue to claim the moral high ground. Therein lies the hypocrisy, and I’m certain I have contributed to it. I am here to acknowledge that I do things wrong all the time: some lie deep in my heart and I mask well, others are blatantly obvious. When I describe myself as having a transformed life, I am not claiming that I have it all together. Friends, I am far from it.
I do believe that God knows and sees all of my wrongs, including those things I have hidden away. In God I have discovered a grace that covers all these things. I am forgiven. I am constantly aware of the now and not-yet aspect of my faith though: while I am completely forgiven I am not yet whole. In the context of my faith I have to work out the fact that I need to receive mercy over and over for continuing to do those things I actually hate.
What I desire to do is choose love, again and again and again. I choose what Christ said Himself: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” What sounds simple is astonishingly hard.
I have sought out community, both in Parkdale and elsewhere that endeavours to acknowledge what much of the world thinks we don’t (or won’t): our individual and collective brokenness. In these places I am learning to love God, to love myself and to love others. I am learning what it means to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly. I am grieved when my humanness gets in the way of people seeing the true Christ and relieved when I remember that it isn’t just up to me.
“Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth”. Oh God, make it so.
It was a long winter (see how I used the past tense there? I’m really hoping spring is here). I didn’t find winter easy and I live in a house. I can’t imagine how much harder it would all be by sleeping outside night after cold night. I can’t imagine and yet I have many friends who did it. For some of my friends who do live inside, winter still served to further isolate, made it harder to get around and magnified challenges that already seemed only somewhat manageable.
I’ve been asking these same friends what they are grateful for. What are the good gifts that they have received lately?
In no particular order, here are some of the responses:
- a good cup of coffee
- a friend’s health is getting better instead of worse
- a song that the jamming group played at the Monday Drop-In got people dancing
- doughnuts as “large as my face”
- a few weeks of sobriety
- the sidewalk is clear and DRY
- The Dale is becoming my family
- people listened when I got so upset
- I needed a blanket and out-of-the-blue someone actually gave one to me
- I got a job
- the sun is shining
- I heard birds singing
- I slept on a couch instead of in a stairwell
- I was able to see an old friend
- I’m still alive
Helps me keep things in perspective.
Now I’m going to pour myself a good cup of coffee, remind myself that I am indeed alive and make my own list.