Day 101: Have an interesting conversation.

I am a former newspaper reporter turned church secretary turned vampire novelist. I wrote my first complete novel, ‘Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs,’ at night while I was working as the receptionist for a Baptist church. That was an interesting conversation with the pastor. (Molly Harper)

Yesterday, I read a blog post from a colleague (or more accurately, fellow pastor; I’ve never met the man, and I can’t really tell from his blog whether or not, as a woman, he would consider me a colleague) entitled, “Ten Things Pastors Hate to Admit Publicly.” While I didn’t find the list offensive or spot on, I did think that it had more truth to it than many other pastors were willing to admit and way more truth than many lay people wanted to hear. To be completely transparent (or as transparent as I am willing to be in this format), I found the comments to be as enlightening as his blog post. At first, I was engaged by what started out as an interesting conversation.

We need to be willing to have interesting conversations in the church, and everywhere else for that matter. But from what I see, we really aren’t so willing to do that. We want to be Minnesota nice, we want everyone to like us, and as pastors, we want our jobs to be as easy as parishioners imagine them to be. And considering that I am both an ordained minister and a pastor’s spouse (I do refuse to refer to myself as a “pastor’s wife”) I know this issue from both sides. But let me make it clear from the outset that I speak only for myself. While what I write may resonate with pastors both male and female (or not), I am not trying to speak for anyone but me.

I’m frustrated because I find that too many folks are not interested in having good conversations. I’m finding more and more people who want to shut conversations down if they don’t want to hear what you have to say. It’s counter-cultural to have an interesting conversation and downright subversive to agree to disagree. We live in a litigious, contentious society that would rather fight than exchange ideas. This is why Fox News exists. It’s only purpose is to provide “information” that people want to hear — whether or not it is true. It’s secondary purpose is to denigrate the ideas of anyone who doesn’t agree with their version of “information.” They want a good fight. They’d rather start a knock down drag out fight than have an interesting conversation.

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In the comments on the blog I mentioned above, a man named Phil commented that his wife was a pastor, and so as a pastor’s male spouse, he didn’t think that there were as many expectations on him as parishioners place on a pastor’s female spouse (or something to that effect.) Several comments down (and I had to go back and see what this comment was referring to) another man wrote, “So Phil, how does it feel to be married to a woman living in sin?”

As I said, I had to go back and figure out who Phil was and what comment this person was referring to, and then I realized that to this man, I too was living in sin. Bam. Conversation over.

What has happened to civility? This man didn’t know Phil or his wife — who’s only known sin was making the obvious sacrifice to spend her life in service to God. You don’t believe that women should be ordained? Fine, go to a church that doesn’t ordain women. But don’t troll the internet with the expressed intent of offending other servants of God. (And no, I did not call you a sinner, or a jerk.) As Matt so eloquently expressed throughout his post, it’s tough enough to be a pastor.

And no, I’m not complaining. I love what I do and I can’t imagine doing anything else. God has called me to it and I feel blessed to be living my life in service to God in a formal way. (And just to be clear, I think that all Christians do this as well, but in less formal ways.)

I just want to say “thanks” to Matt for his transparency, and all those who were willing to engage in the conversation without trying to shut it down. Don’t be afraid to have an interesting conversation.

 

Day 96: Talk with your hands.

file0001005216081“The first language humans had was gestures. There was nothing primitive about this language that flowed from people’s hands, nothing we say now that could not be said in the endless array of movements possible with the fine bones of the fingers and wrists. The gestures were complex and subtle, involving a delicacy of motion that has since been lost completely.

During the Age of Silence, people communicated more, not less. Basic survival demanded that the hands were almost never still, and so it was only during sleep (and sometimes not even then) that people were not saying something or other. No distinction was made between the gestures of language and the gestures of life. The labor of building a house, say, or preparing a meal was no less an expression than making the sign for I love you or I feel serious. When a hand was used to shield one’s face when frightened by a loud noise something was being said, and when fingers were used to pick up what someone else had dropped something was being said; and even when the hands were at rest, that, too, was saying something. Naturally, there were misunderstandings. There were times when a finger might have been lifted to scratch a nose, and if casual eye contact was made with one’s lover just then, the lover might accidentally take it to be the gesture, not at all dissimilar, for Now I realize I was wrong to love you. These mistakes were heartbreaking. And yet, because people knew how easily they could happen, because they didn’t go round with the illusion that they understood perfectly the things other people said, they were used to interrupting each other to ask if they’d understood correctly. Sometimes these misunderstandings were even desirable, since they gave people a reason to say, Forgive me, I was only scratching my nose. Of course I know I’ve always been right to love you. Because of the frequency of these mistakes, over time the gesture for asking forgiveness evolved into the simplest form. Just to open your palm was to say: Forgive me.”

“If at large gatherings or parties, or around people with whom you feel distant, your hands sometimes hang awkwardly at the ends of your arms – if you find yourself at a loss for what to do with them, overcome with sadness that comes when you recognize the foreignness of your own body – it’s because your hands remember a time when the division between mind and body, brain and heart, what’s inside and what’s outside, was so much less. It’s not that we’ve forgotten the language of gestures entirely. The habit of moving our hands while we speak is left over from it. Clapping, pointing, giving the thumbs-up, for example, is a way to remember how it feels to say nothing together. And at night, when it’s too dark to see, we find it necessary to gesture on each other’s bodies to make ourselves understood.”
— Nicole Krauss (The History of Love)

Day 93: A dream deferred.

A #2 pencil and a dream can take you anywhere.  (Joyce Meyer)

I’m not exactly sure what Joyce Meyer meant by that, but when I think of #2 pencils, I see those standardized “darken the circle” tests that we took as kids, the ones that got scored by machine. I think of getting an education. I think of becoming the person God created me to be. That #2 pencil has gotten me a long way.

Although, I know others that hated those tests — my creative friends whose creativity was never tested, their dreams were never measured, their ability to think outside the box never praised. They hated #2 pencils, and everything that they stood for. Test days were purgatory at best and sheer unadulterated hell at worst.

On Tuesday, I made a new friend. I’m pretty sure she was one of the creative kids, because she is definitely one of the creative adults. We met as I was walking around the quaint little town of Chester, Connecticut and happened into a store called Lark. I didn’t realize that this was the first day that she had opened the doors of this new store to the public, nor did I realize that she hadn’t celebrated her “grand opening” yet.

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The beautiful “vegetable ivory” bracelet I bought at Lark.

Lark is not a typical gift store. It is a store whose spirit you can feel the minute you walk in, if you are attuned to listening to the spirit move in your life. She has beautiful pieces from around the world, gathered in a way that ensures the sustainability of the environment, and the economic welfare of communities. She also has artisans that she has “collected” — not only because they make beautiful things, but because they have beautiful stories and amazing spirits.

I was only in her store for a matter of minutes, but I knew that I had met a kindred spirit. We knew each other almost immediately. What a gift. This is for her the culmination of a dream — a dream she only recently realized that she had. She has been an artist for many years working the art shows and street fairs before she ever thought about opening a store.

Today, Suzie is officially opening Lark with all the bells and whistles. It is her official Grand Opening. Congratulations!  If you are anywhere near there, please stop by and meet Suzy and visit this wonderful little place.  If she hasn’t run out, she will give you a little stone to keep with a word that may mean something to you. Listen to what it says to you. I, of course, forgot to pick my stone, but I hope to go back there again soon.

In the meantime, I’ll doodle with my #2 pencil and dream.

 

Day 81: Own your stuff.

“We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.” ― Katharine Hepburn, Me: Stories of My Life

We all know someone who believes the lie that it’s always someone else’s fault. Sure, there are bad people in the world, and there may be a few that really are out to get us. There are also situations that are beyond our control. It happens. Get over it.

At the end of the day, we have to be responsible for our own life, our own decisions, and our own actions. We don’t change because we don’t really want to change. We stay stuck because it’s easier to stay stuck than it is to do the hard work to get unstuck. We may not like where we are, but it’s easier to stay where we are than it is to change.

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As a spiritual direction and life purpose coach, I see people all the time who want to do things differently, but don’t know where to begin. Or they know what to do, but haven’t decided to just do it. Working with a coach, they are able to both outline their action plan and be held accountable to do what they said they will do. This is the “magic” of coaching: there really is no magic at all. But it works.

We can choose to make changes, we can choose to live differently, we can choose to do the work that we need to do to take responsibility for creating the life we want to live. You get to do this. You get to choose everyday the life you want to live. And our lives change with every decision we make.

So decide today what things you need to change in order to create the life you want to be living. Own your stuff. Make different choices. Live like you already are the person you want to become.

Day 72: Just be there.

The friend who holds your hand and says the wrong thing is made of dearer stuff than the one who stays away.  ~Barbara Kingsolver

I have read more than my share of posts in the ilk of “10 Things You Should Never Say” or “7 Ways to Support Friends in Crisis.” Here is the essence of all of those posts: drop the cliches and just be there. And in truth, even if you can’t do the former, doing the latter will make up for it.

We all say the wrong things when we least want to. We hurt the ones we love. But saying the wrong thing beats saying nothing — every day of the week.

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I’m reminded of the days immediately following my separation from my first husband. When people don’t know what to say, or are afraid to say the wrong things, all too often they decide to say nothing. They stay away. The silence is deafening. While I appreciate that the pain that I was experiencing was too raw and vulnerable for the faint of heart, it hurt a great deal to feel a lack of support from the very people I expected would support me.

I know that it’s scary to be married and watch the marriage of a couple with whom you are friends disintegrate in front of you. It feels awkward because you didn’t see it coming, or you did and were afraid to say anything. And now it’s over and you don’t know what to say that doesn’t sound trite, overly optimistic or mean.

But we don’t usually have to say anything; we just need to be there. To reverse a common phrase, “Don’t just do something; stand there.” Your presence can be more profound than your words. And saying the wrong thing and being present for friends in times of distress can be more important than saying the right thing.

So the next time a friend is going through a rough time, see if you can find a way to be present for them — a card, an email, a text, a meal prepared with love, a visit. Don’t wait for them to reach out, they probably won’t have the energy.  Trust me when I say that your presence and your love will mean more than you can ever know. I will never forget those who were there for me during my toughest times, and I am forever grateful to them.

Day 68: Be dangerous.

“Damaged people are dangerous. They know they can survive.” (Josephine Hart)

Most of us don’t really know how tough we are, until we need to be tough. We don’t know how much we can take until we have to take it. We don’t know if we can survive until we do. As Nietzsche is quoted as saying, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.”

Most women I know are pretty dangerous. They’ve been through some stuff and they are still here. Once I’ve been through it, you can’t destroy me.  You can’t throw anything at me that I can’t take. You can’t hurt me more than I’ve already been hurt. I’ve developed resilience — the ability to rebound from adversity.

file241275309742Perhaps you haven’t had much adversity in your life. Perhaps you haven’t been through much, had to be a survivor, had to exercise your resilience muscle. Don’t worry. You will. Just keep living and you won’t have to seek out adversity. It will come and find you. When it does, you have a choice: you can accept it, learn from it, get the exercise you need in your resilience muscle and move forward, or you can be stymied by it, struggle with it, accept it’s validity, and fail to learn from it. If I were you, I’d choose the former before the latter.

But I’m not you, and these are lessons that we all need to learn for ourselves. No one can learn that for you. No one can create the life you want to live. Only you can do that. Only you can go through the experiences that remind you that you can survive.

And that will make you truly dangerous. Welcome to the club.

Day 63: Make a friend.

The best time to make friends is before you need them.  ~Ethel Barrymore

Some say that the older that you get the more difficult it is to make friends. You see they believe that there are only so many relationships that we can have, only so many connections that we can make, and once our quota is full, we simply are not available to be a new friend or to make a new friend. While I’m sure that this theory is valid to a point, I don’t want to believe that I am too old, or too connected, to connect to someone new. I want to make a friend.

I find that I am always adding people to group of folks who I call special — my friends. People that I share history with, even if that history is measured in days and not years; people who are kindred spirits, or sisters/brothers from another mother. I collect friends as I would precious stones.

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But they are not stones, they are people with needs and loves and pains. I sometimes get to meet those needs, and sometimes I come up woefully short. I pray that when I do there is grace, forgiveness and love.

I have learned that I cannot be all things to all people; I cannot meet everyone’s needs. But I can reach out and I can try to meet them where they are — with the give and take that comes with all friendship. And yes, it has to go both ways. I cannot always be the giver or the taker.

So thanks, friends. You know who you are. Thanks for staying friends, or becoming my friend, before I needed you to be there, and walking with me through some challenging times. I appreciate that you were there before I needed you.

Day 53: Hard work becomes you.

“Being a woman is hard work.” — Maya Angelou

Do you remember the Enjoli perfume commercials from the 1980s? A woman comes out in a business suit and sings, “I can bring home the bacon (and puts on an apron) fry it up in a pan (enter the husband) and never ever ever let you forget your the man, ’cause I’m a woman. Enjoli.” It was to the tune of “I’m A Woman” first sung by Peggy Lee and re-done by Bette Midler. The point was this: in order to be a woman, you needed to be able to be a career woman by day, the perfect homemaker in the evening and a sex kitten at night. That’s more than hard work — that’s impossible. But apparently, if you wore Enjoli perfume, then life was a breeze. You could do it all and you could have it all. (And in case you were wondering, you can still buy Enjoli on Amazon.com although I haven’t seen it advertised in years.)

Thirty years have passed, and women now make up more than half the workforce. But the expectations of  women have changed little during those years. To have a husband that more than carries his weight at home (if you are married) is still an anomaly. I hope it’s getting better, but I haven’t seen it. Certainly among my generation (women in their 40s and 50s) and those who are older have been expected to not only work outside the home but do the lion’s share of the work around the home — cooking, cleaning, child-rearing. My relationship with my husband is a real anomaly among my friends and colleagues in that he does as much or more of the cleaning than I do. Even after children leave the home for college or careers, most of my women friends still find that they have two jobs — one they get paid for and one they do not. And it’s hard work. It’s such hard work that many women have opted to go it alone — working and parenting without a partner. As one of my friends has said, “It takes an awfully good man to beat no man at all.” No wonder that 1 in 2 marriages ends in divorce.

Is there a way for us, as liberated women and men to come together and share the work so that we can all flourish — especially our children? We want our children to be able to become whomever God has called them to be without  stereotypes and defined roles putting limits on them, but it’s increasingly harder (rather than easier) to find toys that are gender neutral, and do not send implicit or explicit messages about what girls should care about (being pretty) and what boys should care about (being tough.)

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As humans who desire to be in relationship with each other, we have some hard work to do. We need to work hard to encourage our children to be good and brave and smart. We need to encourage our girls to be smart engineers if that’s what they like, and our boys to be tender caregivers and excellent cooks. We need to push our society to value child-rearing as much as they value monetary success. We need to value balance — true balance. We need families where both partners cherish the unique skills that each brings to the table in equal measure. Couples that love one another fully and equally, and share the joys of parenting as well as the work involved in sharing their home and their lives with children.

Hard work looks good on you, friends. It becomes you. Don’t shy away from it, or become troubled by it. Roll up your sleeves and get busy. It’s tough work creating the kind of world we all want to live in.

Day 51: Hold your grief.

to love life, to love it even

when you have no stomach for it

and everything you’ve held dear

crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,

your throat filled with the silt of it.

When grief sits with you, its tropical heat

thickening the air, heavy as water

more fit for gills than lungs;

when grief weights you like your own flesh

only more of it, an obesity of grief,

you think, How can a body withstand this?

Then you hold life like a face

between your palms, a plain face,

no charming smile, no violet eyes,

and you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you, again.”

Ellen Bass

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Day 41: Don’t limit yourself.

“Don’t limit yourself. Many people limit themselves to what they think they can do. You can go as far as your mind lets you. What you believe, remember, you can achieve.” — Mary Kay Ash

This past weekend, I spent time with some of the most powerful and successful people that I know. They are life coaches and hosts on the Life Coach Radio Network and we came together in New York City to do a series of workshops on various topics under the banner, “New Year, New You 2014.” It was a truly inspiring time — wish you were there!

The message was this. You are as powerful as you believe you are. You are as successful as you think you are. If you believe you are a failure, you will be. There are external circumstances that are often beyond our control, and I understand that. But more often, we put up our own roadblocks to achieving the life we want, or even appreciating the life we have, and making the changes we want to make in our lives, our relationships and our careers.

Believing in yourself can create a lot of work in your life. You will then have to live up to the expectations that you set for yourself. If you want to create a life that allows you to do what you have dreamed about, you may have a lot of work ahead. Dreams as they say are 10% inspiration and 90%perspiration.

It’s a fairy tale to think that just believing is enough. But believing is the necessary first step. You then have to decide how you will live out or live into what you believe about your life. And that is indeed hard work.

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Maybe we limit ourselves because we don’t want to put in the hard work to do what is required. That’s a real possibility. If I say, “I really don’t have the talent to write an entire book,” it may be that I am really not willing to make the sacrifice that is required to do the hard work of sitting down every single day and writing. But if I keep talking about writing my book in many and public ways, there will only be so long that people will believe that I am sincere about it.

Today, take a minute and try to identify the ways that you may be placing limits on yourself — through your words, your thoughts or your actions (or inactions). And then decide what it will take to put your limits behind you. Hire a coach if you need one — someone to encourage you, help you think through what you want to accomplish and to hold you accountable for following through. What is the difference between someone who makes things happen and one who doesn’t? It’s often in the follow through. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Move from just do it, to just did it. Don’t limit yourself.