Wow. Thanks.

Have you ever found yourself replaying the blooper reel of your life, only you’re not laughing?

It seems the highlight tape — all the moments where you really shined —  has been lost or erased and the only film left is your missteps, failures, and blatant rebellious choices?

And you watch it over. and over. and over.

Yeah, I’ve been attending a private viewing for a while, so when our pastor opened up Titus on Sunday morning and started ticking off all the requirements for leaders in the church — being hospitable, self-controlled, upright, disciplined — and all the disqualifiers — being arrogant, quick-tempered, insubordinate, or greedy– I knew right where to cue up examples of how I have blown it and have proven myself to be unfit for the call, which is ironic, since my husband and I have spent our entire adult lives in church work.  It wasn’t long into the sermon when I found myself slinking down into the pew, buried under the weight of conviction.

And at 52 years of age, it’s tempting to think “I’ve ruined it all. I can’t go back. I’ve caused so much damage.” And once that thought has formed, it threatens to become a truth that one might believe, even cling to.

So, I was sitting there slunk down, feeling pretty pitiful, when I heard the words, “to the redeemed, all things are redeemed.” I wrote them down; my ears perked up.

I heard my pastor admitting his tendency to be so exceptionally hard on himself, afraid that he will get it wrong and fail his family, his church, his God. He said that when he had admitted this to a friend earlier in the week, the friend had replied, “If you are teaching your child how to ride his bike and he falls down, don’t you run to him and say, ‘it’s ok, we’ll try again.'” And I could see the scene: I could see my pastor bending down to his child, scooping him up, wiping his tears, and speaking those words of encouragement.

And as I saw my human pastor in my mind’s eye, I simultaneously saw my Father, looking at my blooper reels. I heard Him say, “It’s ok. You can try again.”

And then, while I was still taking in that image, I heard my pastor say, “Every failure has been wiped clean because we are in Christ.”

And then we were receiving communion.

And then I heard myself singing: Let no one caught in sin remain/ inside the lie of inward shame/ but fix our eyes upon the cross/ and run to Him who showed great love/ and bled for us/ freely he bled for us (full song here.) 

And I was choking on the words because they were what I needed to hear.  Inward shame is a lie. I have been caught in sin, but I don’t have to remain there, wallowing, slinking, hiding.

All has been redeemed.

If I believe that Christ died for my sins, then I believe that my sins are paid for — they are redeemed.  I don’t owe a penalty.

It sounds really cheesy and Sunday school-ish.

Unless it’s true.

And it is.

Tonight, a full 36 hours after the pew slinking and song singing, I was reading Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow, and I saw this prayer:

Hi, God, 

I am just a mess. 

It is all helpless. 

What else is new? 

I would be sick of me If I were You, but miraculously, You are not. 

I know I have no control over other people’s lives, and I hate this. Yet I believe that if I accept this and surrender, You will meet me wherever I am. 

Wow. Can this be true?  If so, how is this afternoon — say two-ish? 

Thank You in advance for Your company and blessings.  

You have never once let me down. 

Amen. 

And I think to myself, didn’t He just meet me where I was yesterday? Say noon-ish?  And didn’t He prove again that He will never let me down?

He sure did.

Wow.

Thanks.

Romans 8:1

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus

 

Routine

I’m such a creature of habit.  Once I find a groove, I like to stay there.  I like to wake at the same time, eat the same foods, listen to the same podcasts, drive the same roads, and watch the same shows. 

Lately, I’ve been getting up at 6am, doing a little yoga, showering, fixing some kind of breakfast egg scramble, listening to my daily Bible reading followed by a favorite podcast, and driving to work.  At lunchtime, I take a walk and finish my podcast. Then, on the drive home, I listen to music, make a phone call, or simply drive in silence.  Once home, I typically spend some time in the kitchen  — cooking or prepping food for the week’s lunches.  My husband joins me for dinner, then we might take a walk or watch some TV.  We read, then we sleep. 

Now, of course, weekends are a little different, and sometimes I have an appointment or some other detour, but typically, the routine is pretty consistent.  

However, the last week has been a bit out of the ordinary. We had a couple of our kids over for visits. We accepted an offer on our Missouri home. We voted in the primary election. I attended a day-long training. We took a day trip to see my parents, and a few more out-of-the-ordinaries popped up. Most of these were welcome interruptions; nevertheless, my routine has been tampered with, and although I managed well for the first few days, the cumulative effect is grouchiness and irritability. 

I’m sitting on the couch in my pajamas right now, tapping at keys, though I am thoroughly exhausted, because I really need to process and shake off this funk before I ooze grumpiness on any more innocent bystanders.  I “put myself to bed” around eight tonight because I was just that tired, but I’m still awake after 10 because the grumble just won’t be put down.  

I crave my rhythms that much!  I really need each moment of every shower, each breath of every yoga pose, each bite of every breakfast, and each step of every noontime walk. I can’t skimp — not for more than a couple days in a row.  

I’ve become high-maintenance; I admit it. I’d feel guilty if these rhythms didn’t contribute to my overall health, but they do! 

Life in this chapter has taught me that if I want to be kind and attentive to the people in my path, if I want to do my job well, if I want to reduce my pain and increase my stamina, I must oxygenate myself first every day.  And, for me, oxygen is obtained in the purposeful rhythm of routines. 

One of the routines that sustains me is writing.  And, for me, maybe three hundred words a day is just a stop-gap for the days that I can’t write just a little bit more.  It seems that my preferred rhythm is to write anywhere from 700 to 1400 words at a time.  I think it takes me that long to dump out what’s building up, find out where it’s headed, then write myself back off the page.  Perhaps that is what I am doing now. 

It took me the first several paragraphs (the blue text) to dump out my frustration.  Only when I had fully expressed those initial emotions could I move on. The next few paragraphs (the green text) allowed me to analyze those feelings. And now (in gray) I’m just trying to finish.

I’m trying to tell you that I think I use this same model every time I write — I come to the page with some logjam of ideas and words that is just begging to be put down. I write and write until I see that I’ve shifted from expression to contemplation — figuring out why the logjam existed in the first place. I then keep on writing until I can find a way to end, because by the time I’ve gotten to this place, I feel better, I think I might be able to sleep, and I’ve remembered why this part of my routine is one of the most important of all. 

I need all of my routines — the sleeping, the eating, the exercising, and the relaxing — but perhaps the routine that holds all those other routines together, the one that allows me to understand all the others, is the writing.

Now let me go get some sleep.

In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4:8

 

Target Practice

One thing I’ve learned about setting goals in life is that sometimes you hit them and sometimes you miss.

I’ve been trying, as Anne Lamott prescribes, to “put down 300 words a day.” It’s really not hard to do.  In fact, if I can put myself in one spot for 10-15 minutes, I can typically make it happen. I might not say anything profound, but that’s not the goal right now.  The goal is to merely put down 300 words a day until something happens.

Still, like any other goal, if I want to hit it, I’ve at least got to take aim.

I tried on Friday — I used my thumbs to write what I thought was about 300 words while walking on my lunch hour — I felt that I rambled on and on, but when I got a  chance to log-on to my laptop, I discovered that I hadn’t even reached the 200-word mark!

I’ve got to admit — it was a half-hearted attempt.  If I’d been serious, I would’ve taken my pro stance, lined up my sights, and zeroed in on my target.  Instead, I was walking, bent over my phone, and probably trying to show off a little.

Over the weekend, I stepped out of the box altogether, put down all my weapons, and took in my surroundings.

I had conversations and collaborated on decisions. I completed the mundane (groceries and laundry) and the monumental (joining my husband in selling a house). I laughed until my guts hurt as my son told a story and wept soft tears of lingering grief as I strolled down memory lane. I sprawled on the floor to watch a movie and sat at a table to watch my daughter talk to my mother. All weekend, I drank in the fullness of life.

And now, at four o’clock in the morning, I find myself pointing once again at my target.

Hit or miss? We’ll see.

Philippians 3:12

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on…

 

 

Stepping outside

What if I branched out and, in an attempt to put down 300 words a day, I wrote on my phone while taking my lunch time walk?

Would that be weird? Say, hypothetically, I left the office as I usually do, bag flung over my shoulder, name tag still affixed to my chest, and I simultaneously got in 2,000 steps and 300 words? Weird?

I mean, I rarely pass anyone else on my walks. Sometimes I catch up on a podcast; one day recently, my husband and I negotiated a counter-offer on the house we’re selling during my walk. It’s 60 minutes I have every day that get spent on something. Why not spend them on my blog?

The only problem is that on my phone, I can’t see a word count, so I’ve got to go by feel. I bet I’m getting close. I mean, the goal is just to get down 300 words a day until something happens, right?

Well, there you go.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as though for the Lord. Colossians 3:23

First Steps

It’s  really not hard to reach 300 words if I just start clicking keys.  I used to tell my high school students this.  I would put a prompt on the screen in my classroom and tell them they had ten minutes to fill a page.

Most of my students could easily fill a page (or two or three) in ten minutes, others routinely struggled to put down two lines.  Was it because they didn’t have anything to say?  Not likely — teenagers have lots on their minds. Was it because they had difficulty forming sentences? Probably not, because I had no requirements for spelling, grammar, punctuation, or syntax during free writes.  More often than not, if a student didn’t fill a page in the allotted time, it was because she had difficulty putting the first few words on the page.

It’s not too different from running.  If you want to run a 5k, you have got to first pull on your shoes and get out the door.  Nothing happens until you move your feet and take step after step after step.  The first few steps might take a sheer act of the will, but once the muscles start moving, they actually find comfort in the repetition, the movement, the rhythm.  That comfort somehow morphs into a sense of determination when the first mile is covered, “I think I can actually do this!” The arms pump to encourage the legs along; the mind travels down the halls of memory, sorting and filing images that lay strewn on the floor.  Suddenly, as though no time has passed, the finish line appears.

All is euphoric — applause and bagels and brand new t-shirts.

Until the next morning when you’re lying in bed thinking, “Ugh, do I really want to do that again today?” Then, with a sheer act of the will, you drag yourself from beneath the covers, tie on your shoes, and shove yourself back out the door.

 

James 1:4

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

 

300 A Day

A friend texted me last week.

“Do you ever read Anne Lamott?”

“Of course.  She wrote one of my favorite books on writing, Bird by Bird.”

“She’s coming to Ann Arbor in October. Wanna go see her?”

“Yes!?!”

Then, I pulled Anne off the shelf and began to read.

I’ve been struggling to write for months.

I’m working more.

I don’t have the time.

And there’s too much to say.

So, I keep pushing it aside and saying, “I’ll be back.”

I mean, really, how do I put all this down on the page?

But I know that’s always where the sense starts.

For me.

Meaning appears through the words that show up when my fingers hit the keys.

It doesn’t happen on command, but unexpectedly, after days and days of discipline, word by word by word, I begin to see what I think, what I feel, what matters to me.

Anne Lamott reminded me that some days I’m not going to know what to put down.  I’m going to stare at blankness for a while.  And when I finally manage to write something , it’s going to look empty and useless.

“But don’t stop,” she says,  “Commit to getting three hundred words on the page every day.” This one is number two hundred eight.

I’ve been doing yoga for a few years.  The first time I tried, I could barely reach my toes when bending from the waist.  I couldn’t hold a down dog for more than a few seconds.  I just finished twenty minutes of practice — moving easily through a series of poses.

It didn’t happen quickly, but one day, about two years in, I noticed that I was strong.

So, I keep doing yoga, and I keep writing down word by word by word.

 

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.

Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Hebrews 12:11