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 19: Eat chocolate.

“I’m pretty sure that eating chocolate keeps wrinkles away because I have never seen a 10 year old with a Hershey bar and crows feet.”
― Amy Neftzger

No question. The world needs more chocolate. It makes you feel good eating it, or giving it, or smelling it. There is something about chocolate that makes things better.

As women we are told that we must keep the wrinkles in abeyance. To be beautiful means to have smooth, taut skin — no wrinkles, no age marks, no sun damage. Beauty is inexorably equated with youth.

But as many have said, youth is lost on the young. I wish I knew then what I know now. I wish that I had believed that I was beautiful just they way that I was. But I didn’t. I never felt like I measured up to the unrealistic standard that I set up for myself (and that was reinforced in the media). I was never thin enough. If I had a dollar for every time I thought or said to myself, “If I could just lose 10 pounds…” I would be rich. I’m guessing there are more than a few of you who are reading this that that would also be on the receiving end of a multitude of those dollars.

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Why is it so hard for us to accept ourselves as we are, in every stage of our life? I’m not saying that if you need to change your life by eating more healthfully or walking more to become less sedentary that you shouldn’t do that. Healthy is one thing. Skinny is another. Even when we are healthy, we are all too often not willing to be satisfied because we aren’t skinny.  Skinny = beautiful for too many of us in our society.

So go ahead. Eat chocolate. Not pounds of it. A little. Share a piece with a child. Feel good about it. Love yourself.

No, it won’t make your crows feet go away. It won’t be the fountain of youth.  But for most of us, it also won’t hurt us to eat a little chocolate every now and then.

Day 16: Eat your vegetables.

“I don’t care that you don’t like them. They are good for you. You have to eat your vegetables.”  — Shirley Kottler (my mother)

I’m guessing that many of you heard these same words come out of your mother’s mouth. Eat your vegetables. Finish your dinner. Don’t you know there are starving children in China? (Feel free to insert India or Africa here depending on your generation.)

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At times I know that I have rebelled against doing the very thing that I know is best for me, and I know from my experiences working with my clients that others struggle with this as well. Read your bible. Spend time in prayer. Eat more healthfully. Cut down on alcohol (or sweets or chips or sodas or whatever your food/drink of choice is that is less than healthful.) Lose weight. Gain weight. Exercise more. Cut down on the “screen time.”

But none of these are necessarily easy in the busy lives that we have fashioned for ourselves. We often spend our days in front of a computer or on the phone. We live in communities without sidewalks which necessitates driving from place to place. We want to eat with our families (and not at midnight) so fast food may replace a more balanced meal. We make tradeoffs. We pay others to do what we no longer have time to do for ourselves.

So today, I’m suggesting that you take a baby step toward the well-balanced life that we are all striving for. I want you to do something truly radical. Eat your vegetables.

Seriously. Eat your veggies. Do something that you normally wouldn’t do that you know is good for you. If you like veggies, great! Do something else that is hard. Lean into the difficulty that it causes you. Do whatever it takes to make it happen. Put it on your calendar.

In my spiritual direction and life coaching practice, I often encourage my clients to do something that is hard for them. And they get to choose their hard. Any changes that we make in our life — especially the ones we have been putting off — are hard. That’s why we have been putting them off. But change is a muscle that you have to exercise. And I believe that the more able you are to make changes in your life, the better quality of life you will have.

So go ahead. Eat your vegetables.

Day 1: Food is good for the soul; so is cooking.

Welcome to 365 Days of Women’s Wisdom! It is my intention to share my insights about the things that so many women in my life have taught me over many many years. In this year, I will turn 50 so it seems apropos to embark on this journey.

New Year’s Day has always been about food. I learned from my mother that it is good luck to eat sauerkraut on New Year’s Day (we are of German descent) and learned later than many others around the country and around the world eat different foods on New Year’s Day — ostensibly for luck or good fortune or health or happiness. As I spent a good deal of my life living south of the Mason Dixon Line, I am cooking black-eyed peas today. And greens. There must always be greens.photo-3

Food is indeed good for the body and the soul. It reminds of places where we have lived and people that we have known. (Thank you, Karen, for teaching me how to make greens.) The aromas of a day spent in the kitchen reminds us that food made with love and shared with friends and family around a table can be far more than just a meal.

Miss Gussy Williams was a friend of mine in Chicago. She taught me the wisdom that there is always enough for one more. It never mattered what she had to do that day, there was always food on the stove. Cooking was good for her soul. Feeding others was good for her heart, even if her cooking was less than heart-healthy.

So today, I remember the wisdom of food and fellowship that Miss Gussy embodied in her little apartment in Chicago. And I am thankful for her wisdom — today and always.