Day 31: Don’t be afraid to live.

“Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.” ― Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

 I’ve had a lot of folks in my life die lately. Too many. I’m tired of considering death. I’m tired of feeling the loss of people who I love – the spouses and partners and children who are left behind. I don’t fear the Reaper (so to speak) but I wish he’d take a break.

Enough already. I’m ready to live.

No waiting for me. I love travel and seeing the world and experiencing other cultures. I hike and bike and spend time in my own backyard. I am blessed with a career that gives me maximum flexibility to set my schedule and make my hours and it doesn’t matter where I live to do it. My husband and I move for a living (ok, so that’s not quite true, but we do move every couple of years; in order to make our living.)

When we moved to Manhattan in 2011 we made a decision that we would try to do as much as we could while we were there, because we knew we wouldn’t be there forever. And then 7 months ago we moved to the Hudson Valley – and now we are trying to “conquer” this area as well. We want to experience all that life has to offer while we are still young enough and healthy enough to enjoy it. And we will likely be moving again in 2014.

People live life fully in different ways. We travel and live an active life – hiking, biking, enjoying the blessingings of  friends and family, drinking good wine. Other folks love to hunt or fish, do martial arts, paint or draw, write and speak, go to movies, walk their dogs. But we all have to find those things that give us joy, and then do them. Live life full out

As I’ve mentioned before, I turn 50 this year. I’ve likely lived more in the years that have past than years that I have left. But I plan to keep on living until I die.

If I think too far in the future, I get afraid – of illness, of diminished capacity, of death. So generally, I don’t think that far ahead.

But I was challenged to do that last evening by an acquaintance of mine Geradine Sweetman. Gerry invited me to become an “elderette.” As we spoke she shared how she loved to consider herself and her friends as “wise older women.” The word “crone” has far too many negative connotations, so she’s come up with “elderette.” It sounds sassy and a bit sexy and very energetic – a lot like a 60’s girl group — not unlike the Supremes. Who doesn’t want to be Diana Ross in their older age?

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So let Gerry and I know if you want to join the party. And it will be a party. Bring your wisdom, your experience and your love. And your music. What would a party be without music?

But leave your fear at home.

Day 30: Be authentic.

The authentic self is the soul made visible. (Sarah Ban Breathnach)

Do you know who you really are? Do you live like you know who you really are? Are you living your most authentic life?

It’s not easy to live a truly authentic life. Sometimes it feels like you are wearing your heart on the outside of your body. You are literally baring your soul. To live authentically may require that make yourself vulnerable in a way that little else does.

But for me, I’ll take the vulnerability of being myself over only showing the face that I’m supposed to show to the world. You know, the mask that shows me in the best light possible. The re-touched photo of me. The one that makes me look pretty and skinny and smart and funny. I want to be all those things for sure. But only if in the course of being all those things I’m also being my authentic self.

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There are days when I’d rather wear the mask. And so sometimes I do. At these times the pain of not wearing it is too great. There are things that make us feel too much or are too raw and too vulnerable so we retreat. We need to retreat to keep from baring our soul too much and too quickly.

In the end, I choose to live an authentic life. I will listen deeply, love fully and feel everything. I shall let my soul be made visible for all the world to see. And I pray that in so doing many people will be willing to honor that. Some won’t and while that will hurt, I choose to feel so as not to close myself off to other more beautiful feelings. Feelings of love, acceptance and dignity.

Be who you are. Love who you love. Do what you do and do it as well as you are able. You are a child of God, and as such, you are inherently valuable and unquestionably loved.

Day 29: Imagine a different world.

“Imagine a hectic procession of revelers – the half-mad bag lady; a mumbling, scarred janitor whose ravaged face made the children turn away; the austere, unsmiling mother superior who seemed with great focus and clarity to do harm; a haunted music teacher, survivor of Auschwitz. I bring them before my mind’s eye, these old firends of my soul, awakening to dance their day. Crazy saints; but who knows what was home in the heart? This is the feast of those who tried to take the path, so clumsily that no one knew or notice, the feast, indeed, of most of us.” ― Mary Rose O’ReilleyThe Barn at the End of the World: The Apprenticeship of a Quaker, Buddhist Shepherd

Imagine all that for a minute. Do you want to be there? Then come with me.

This June 26-29, 2014 I will be in Hot Springs, NC for the Wild Goose Festival, a spirit led festival for those who are still trying to figure out what it means to live authentically as Christians in this wild and wonderful world of ours. (By the way, I don’t know that Mary Rose O’Reilly has ever been to the Goose (as it is lovingly referred to by those who love it) but I’ve not found a quote that better describes exactly how I have experienced this festival in the past and how I expect to find it this summer. It is an amazing menagerie of people from all over the country and around the world.)

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The Goose gets its name from the celtic Christian image of the Holy Spirit as a “wild goose.” As seekers and practitioners of Christianity, we may find ourselves at different periods of our lives in what can be called nothing other than a “wild goose chase.” We may never catch the spirit in a literal sense, but it is in the chase that we find both ourselves and our companions for the journey.

That’s how I understand the Goose. It’s a time for those of us who write or sing or create beautiful things in the visual arts or speak or play an instrument or enjoy any and all of the above to come together for a time away — four splendid days in the mountains of western North Carolina. There will be singers and dancers, pastors and preachers, sinners and saints, spiritual directors and spiritual practitioners and a time for beer and hymns. There will be worship and times for singing, for listening, for being heard, and for sharing our stories over coffee or food. The blessings of our life together are never more profound for me than in these days together.

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I am not getting paid for this, and I’ve already bought my ticket. I just love it so much that I want others to know about it too. And it is likely that they will run out of tickets this year, so buy them now if you want to go. It feeds my spirit, and it just might feed yours too. Plus, I’ll be there, and I’d love to meet you.

Day 28: Give up perfectionism.

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” ― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

My name is Jennifer and I am a perfectionist. (Hi Jennifer!)

If there was a 12 step program for perfectionism, I would write the Big Book. Maybe I should. As catharsis, if nothing else. I could lead the meeting, recite the Serenity prayer (what could be more perfect than that??), and give the talk. I get high on being the perfect cook, the perfect coach, the perfect wife, the perfect minister, the perfect writer, the perfect speaker. I want it all to be perfect. And the more I cling to my perfectionistic notions of what life should be, the more my very soul withers and dies.

This blog is one way that I am fighting my perfectionism. I can’t write the perfect blog if I am writing everyday. Some days, my “shitty first draft” (SFD) is as good as it gets. Thanks for reading them. Other days, the SFD isn’t really so S. Thanks be to God. Either way, don’t tell me which you think are which.

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I think that most people’s perfectionism gets thrown out the window when they have children. Since I never did that, it’s taken me a bit longer to solve. But as life goes on, I am realizing a number of things:

  1. There are people who are better at the things that I am my best at. Ouch.
  2. There are people who aren’t better at the things that I am best at, but they are better at getting attention for it. Double ouch.
  3. There are people who will never like me no matter what I do.
  4. There are jobs I will never get, no matter how perfect I am for them.
  5. There are books that I will never publish because I will never write the SFD to begin with.

Life is less a puzzle to be solved than a drama to be lived — fully and completely with all the gusto I can muster. Try as I might to keep the doctors, the diseases, the wrinkles, and the pounds at bay — they will catch up with me. And I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.

So enjoy today’s SFD. It’s all I’ve got the energy for. But come back tomorrow; it just might be perfect.

Day 27: Deserve me at my best.

“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” ― Marilyn Monroe

As women, we want the significant others in our lives — the women and men that we love — to deserve us at our best by accepting us at our worst. We all desire that. We want to know that we are loved fully and completely accepted. Warts and all.

It’s not easy to find that other person that can do that. In fact, it’s a miracle that any of us do. But for many of us, that person does eventually come along that does indeed deserve us at our best, because they will love us at our worst.

I was single for 10 years between my two marriages. I knew what I wanted, or at least I thought I did, but I wasn’t sure that I would ever find it. I dated a number of guys who didn’t deserve me at my best, (or my worst, for that matter.) But then I met the man who would become my husband. And thankfully, he knows all my warts, challenges, and pains — and loves me anyway. Sometimes finding that person who can love you in the way you need to be loved feels like a miracle.

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I’ve done a number of weddings, both same-sex and opposite sex, since I have moved to New York. And I have been blessed to marry people who I truly believe belong together — some met in high school, some met in college or later, others met in middle age or even older ages than that. I have loved every wedding that I have performed, and every couple that I have married. I consider it a great privilege to be with that person in the deepest and most profoundly meaningful moments in their lives.

Yesterday, a dear friend lost her husband as the result of a car accident several days ago. She has kept her friends posted about the situation with her husband via FaceBook so that we could pray for him — in the end praying for him to not linger, so that he might see the face of God. He was her life partner, and now he is gone. And we are left to love the one who is experiencing so much pain at his loss.

Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Indeed. Better, but not without cost.

Whether we are married or single, partnered or not, widowed, divorced or never married, straight or gay — we need people in our life who will love us regardless. Sometimes we find that person in our intimate partner, other times we find it in our dearest friend. And we are blessed beyond measure to know that we are loved.

Day 26: Don’t compromise.

“Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.”
—Janis Joplin

I just got off the phone with one of my coaching clients who has been learning the lesson of this quote. And she is doing amazing work on her life. This is the most gratifying part of my coaching and spiritual direction practice — watching people make real, significant, and lasting changes in their lives.

It’s often easier to compromise than to have firm boundaries. We want people to like us. We want to be helpful. We want to be a “team player.” (And while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, too often as women, we sacrifice more than is appropriate for the “team.”) It’s often easier to compromise even who we are at our core for our family, our relationships, our jobs, or our friends. And if we have always done that, then those closest to us come to expect that.

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Change is hard for all of us, but I truly believe that through working with a coach, a counselor or other helping professional, you can get the tools and motivation to learn to trust yourself and your inner wisdom. Coaching is not for the faint of heart. It’s not easy to make a mid-course (or in many cases, mid-life) correction. But it sure is nice to have someone in your corner, cheering on your successes and reminding you that it doesn’t all happen at once — and that’s ok. It’s also so empowering to have someone to remind you where you started and witness all the progress you have made.

It’s a little like losing weight. Many of us can do it on our own, but it can be a lot more fun if we have social support to encourage us to stay the course. My husband and I do that for each other. We are not on a “diet” so much as we have committed to eating healthy and staying fit. It always seems easier to take on the challenges of our lives with someone in our corner.

Don’t compromise. Be loving, but be firm. Know who you are and what you want. Know what’s best for you and your family. Find a way to get the support and coaching that you need. And celebrate your successes. The little ones and the big ones. You are all you’ve got. 

Day 25: Life’s a beautiful thing

“This life is what you make it. No matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up. Girls will be your friends – they’ll act like it anyway. But just remember, some come, some go. The ones that stay with you through everything – they’re your true best friends. Don’t let go of them. Also remember, sisters make the best friends in the world. As for lovers, well, they’ll come and go too. And baby, I hate to say it, most of them – actually pretty much all of them are going to break your heart, but you can’t give up because if you give up, you’ll never find your soulmate. You’ll never find that half who makes you whole and that goes for everything. Just because you fail once, doesn’t mean you’re gonna fail at everything. Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie? So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life’s a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.”

Marilyn Monroe

That pretty much sums it up, don’t you think? (No, really. I want to know what you think.)

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Day 24: The rat race.

The trouble with being in the rat race is that, even if you win, you are still a rat.  (Lily Tomlin)

I was amazed to see that the cover of the new issue of Time Magazine is on “mindfulness” as the new mantra of our time. It’s our zeitgeist. And it speaks volumes. We are too often not mindful of what we are doing. Distracted driving. Eating while watching the television. Watching our kids basketball game while catching up on work emails on our smartphone.

The technology that we have created is now recreating us — at least how we live our lives. Sure it makes some things easier (like finding a recipe for just about anytime in a few key strokes — thanks, Google!) but it makes thing more complicated as well. How well do we attend to the people in our lives — the ones who live under our roofs? Do we try to do too much and forget to take the time to be more than…a rat?

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Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been on the treadmill and so far into the rat race that I think I was growing whiskers and a tail. But I’m not now and I don’t miss it. I know that far too many people are working multiple jobs just to make ends meet, and falling woefully short. Just the other day, Bill Gates intimated that wages are not as big of a problem for low income people as working enough hours. How many hours would Bill Gates have to work at $7.25 an hour for his income?

But there are large and small changes that you can make in your life to slow the pace of your life. If you work late often, try coming home earlier one evening a week. If you stay on your smart phone 24/7 try to step away from that for some quality time with your spouse once a week. Make dinner with your kids. Play tennis with your spouse. Take a bike ride as a family.

Presence is indeed a gift. Being truly present for one another not only takes time but attention. It requires that we listen and speak. We look into one another’s eyes and attend to one another when we share. It means quality time, yes — but quantity time too. It means being there and being mindful of the gifts that are right in front of us.

Day 23: Expect the unexpected.

“Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.”  (Margaret Mitchell)

Just this morning I got word from a friend that her husband was going to have surgery to remove a brain tumor. This wasn’t exactly how they thought they would be spending their time at this time in their lives.

But we never expect the tragedies, traumas, illnesses and trials that come in our lives. They always seem to catch us off guard. We don’t know how or why this might have happened. Some of the worst things that Christians say (or shouldn’t say as recorded in innumerable blog posts called, “The _ things you can’t say and be Christian” or the like) often surface at these times. It’s not God’s will, there is no greater purpose, and everything will  not be fine. Sometimes we simply need to live with the grief and the sadness, and adjust to life in its “new normal.”

file1801281015946But God is with us in our sadness and our grief, regardless of whether we recognize it or not. We don’t have to ask God to do it — by the time we get around to that, God already has us covered.  In fact, I trust that God is simply as close as our breath. Always.

But that won’t make everything better. Nothing can. When we lose a spouse, a child or a parent, we can never go back to life as it was. It is forever different. Yes, we choose to live but life after is never the same as life before.

Regardless of all the tragedy that surrounds us in our lives, we are always surprised when we happen to be the person onto whom tragedy falls. We live optimistic lives. We hope against hope that grief and sadness will not visit us — not today, not tomorrow, not ever. But it does eventually. It’s inevitable that those who we love will disappoint us, leave us, or die.

Thankfully, for many of us, we live these lives of incredible optimism because we have had the good fortune to experience life as more good than bad, more happy than sad, more life-giving than death-defying. Even if we have had challenges and traumas in the past, we are able to look ahead to a better day tomorrow and the day after. And the day after that.

So while life is under no obligation to give us what we expect, life goes on. And so do we.

Day 22: Light a candle.

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. (Edith Wharton)

Give light and people will find the way.  (Ella Baker)

Have you ever seen the amount of light that is given off of a single candle when it is lit in a completely dark room? The amount of light that the candle gives off doesn’t change, but the environment (a brightly lit room or a very dark cave) will determine the impact that a particular light on it’s surroundings. Perhaps it’s helpful to remember that our lights shine most visibly in times of profound darkness.

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We often think that we can’t do enough to make a difference, enough to change our world, our community or our lives for the better. We feel that there isn’t enough that we can do to make a difference.

Someone once said, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” We can’t do everything, we can’t change everything, we can’t fix all that needs fixing. But we can do something that means something to someone today. And the day after tomorrow. And the day after that.

I want to make a difference. I want to be a light in a very dark world. I want you to do everything that you can to bring light to your community and your world. In what way can you be a light? How can you light a candle?

Maybe today it’s using your snowblower to clear the walk in front of your neighbors house or perhaps the entire block so that the children in your neighborhood can walk safely to school. Maybe you can cook food for a friend who has lost a parent, or check in on a neighbor during this desperately cold weather. Maybe you can do more. Or not. It’s ok to do anything that you can.

Last night when the sun went down, much of the northeast US was blanketed in snow. It’s growing colder by the day. Just being aware of the needs of the most vulnerable around you may prompt you to make a call, drop in on a neighbor or shovel a driveway.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to [God] in heaven.” (Mark 5:16)