Saturday, November 29, 2014

Expecting the unexpected...

The last few weeks have been marked by some unexpected events:

The sudden death of a former neighbor just a few years older than me.
The surprising diagnosis of a serious illness in a dear friend.
The teenage son of another dear friend involved in a severe car accident.
The unexpected death of the kind and gentle associate pastor of our first church home.

We live in a world where unexpected, unanticipated, unplanned for things happen ALL THE TIME. Sometimes they're good things, sometimes they're bad. The point? Every day the unexpected occurs.

For years I tried to pray the unexpected away, tried to ward it off with scriptural spells and fail-safe incantations. My efforts didn't work very well, and they wearied my faith. Accidents still happened, problems still cropped up, people still got sick, and sometimes they died. When those things happened, I was left treading water in a sea of fear, doubt, and self-condemnation with a lot of "if onlys." If only I had more faith. If only I'd behaved better. If only I'd prayed more. If only, if only, if only...

Even worse than the self-loathing and perpetual sense of failure was the opposite response: Climbing atop a brittle throne of self-righteousness, judgment, and holiness-by-works, the whispers that bad things happened because the victims were "in sin," or because they "opened a door" to an attack from hell in some way. After all, this line of thinking surmises, if we just did everything right all the time, if we always listened to and obeyed the Holy Spirit perfectly, stayed out of strife, never made a negative confession, kept our hearts and minds and eyes and hands holy and pure and clean, tithed faithfully, prayed diligently, attended church every time the doors were open, took communion, prayed in the spirit more...

You get the picture, right? And yet I think we're all aware of the terrible truth: No matter how good we are, *stuff* still happens. We are rarely privy to the deepest inner workings of the why's and wherefore's of our planet. In truth, we probably don't want to know.

After much soul and scripture searching, I've come to this: The unexpected is a part of life. We can't hide from it, control it, twist it, prevent it, stop it, or escape it. All we can do is respond to it. In fact, the ONLY thing we have control over is our response.

We can respond with fear, with anger, with sorrow, with judgment, with self-pity (and these tend to be our knee-jerk reactions)... or we can respond with love, hope, acceptance, trust, mercy, and generosity. The negative response is easy, it's the default of the flesh. The positive response, especially in the face of tragedy and loss, is hard. Really, really hard. And it doesn't come from a superficial, casual kind of spirituality. A positive response to the unexpected comes from the depths of the soul, a place we have to visit on purpose; not by rote, not by obligation, not in hope of achievement or admiration, but because we are desperate for that connection to the eternal, the divine, that which is greater than ourselves.

Have you been forced to face the unexpected? No matter what your initial reaction was, you can still choose your response, and your choice will set your compass for the future.

The unexpected happens. We choose our response.
Our response becomes our legacy.
I want my legacy to be one of light, life, and love.
I'm working on my response to life's unexpected events. How about you?

Monday, November 24, 2014

The stretch marks are just the beginning of the scars...

I clearly remember that first stretch mark...

I was about halfway through my first pregnancy when the dreaded stretch mark appeared on my belly. I smothered it in lanolin, cocoa butter, and whatever other topical treatments were available... to no avail. And it didn't want to be an only child... that stretch mark was a partier. Within a few weeks it was joined by its brothers, sisters, cousins, in-laws, exes, friends, and acquaintances.

With each pregnancy I added a few new marks to my collection. By the time I had my youngest, my "album" stretched all the way to my ribcage on one side. Let's put it this way: you know your stretch marks are bad when your midwife gasps and says, "Wow!" when you expose your belly.

Somehow I thought that would be the worst of the parenting scars. I was wrong.

Every time a child has an accident, suffers an injury, gets arrested, or makes a lifestyle choice contrary to the way you, the parent, tried to raise him/her, you wake up to a new wound and a new scar. A new stretch mark, at the very least. Sometimes the scars look more like those left behind by open heart surgery.

Ouch. By the time I die, I figure I will just be one ginormous stretch mark...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

DEADLINE... No. Really. It means DEAD line.

Deadlines: We have a love/hate relationship with them. For some of us, having a deadline on a project boosts our productivity, empowers us to reach our goals, and endues us with a sense of responsibility to which we are honor-bound.

For others, a deadline is a casual thing... like the rules that govern whether or not you wear white shoes after Labor Day. It's more of a guideline, or a suggestion...

 In other words, failure to honor a deadline makes you a pirate. Which is only cool in Disneyland.

Did you see that historical definition? It's called a "deadline" because crossing it means someone is going to want to kill you, literally or figuratively...  

Failure to meet a deadline has repercussions that resonate far beyond the individual who comes up short of time. When deadlines are missed, everyone up (or down, depending on your perspective of how important you are) in the chain of productivity is forced into overtime, which affects profit margins, employee happiness, and customer satisfaction... not to mention the fact projects submitted after deadline are far more likely to suffer from egregious errors that aren't caught until it's too late to correct them.

I'm not talking about a once-in-a-while unusual situation or rare occurrence, I'm talking to repeat offenders. People who consistently ignore deadlines are people who are just inconsiderate of others. Simply put, they consider the time and energy of others less valuable than their own time/energy. Missed deadlines put everyone out of sync. 

I used to be late for everything: meetings, appointments, church, work, you name it. My perpetually punctual spouse told me I was being inconsiderate of others' time. I pooh-poohed his argument. Now I realize he was right. I was being inconsiderate. In the back of my mind, the "party" didn't start until I arrived, so everyone else might as well wait. My more "mature" self recognizes the selfishness and narcissism in that attitude. Ew. I don't even LIKE that person... (And if you are one I made wait, I'm sorry.)

My point? If you're given a deadline, abide by it. Not out of fear of death (although you never know what might happen if you push that editor or manager too far)...

...but out of a sense of honor and respect and basic consideration for others. 

And that's my rant for today. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

When introverts go to church

For the last two+ years I've played visitor at various churches. I've visited the church that sent my husband and I out as church-planters more than a decade ago. I've visited churches of varying denominations. The church I've returned to again and again, is the Catholic church, for a very unexpected reason. (Don't have a cow... this is MY experience, not yours.)

Most Protestant churches, even the liturgical ones, are geared toward familiarity, friendliness, and making everyone feel welcome by placing greeters at every entrance, passing out information cards, and having a special time to meet and greet your fellow worshipers at some point during the service.

THIS IS NOT BAD. I get it. In some part of myself (the part that likes fiction and believes there's a lovely little white clapboard community church out there with no ambitions) understands.

Lots and lots of people go to church every week looking for a connection, for fellowship, for welcome and comfort and a sense they are wanted and that they belong. As the worst-ever pastor's wife, I had more than one person in the space of 14 years tell me I failed in that department... I didn't make them feel welcome, or comfortable, or that I was glad they were in attendance.

What they didn't know is that I was literally shaking in my shoes whenever new people crossed the threshold on Sunday morning. Why? Because I'm an introvert. It's how God made me, and it's not a sin. SURPRISE!

Lots and lots of other people are introverts, too, and whether you like it or not, at least a few of them are showing up at your local church on Sunday.

They probably come late. They've figured out the system: if they show up late enough, the greeter-gauntlet has gone into the sanctuary. They've missed half the music, but that's better than being hand-shaked and hugged into a quivering, twitching mess by near-strangers on their way into the building. (BTW: If you ever get a hug from an introvert, it's INTENDED, MEANT, and VALUABLE, FYI.)

And they probably leave early. I've spent a good portion of many services scoping out ways to escape without having to interact with fellow worshipers who would want to know my name, where I was from, if I was visiting, where I went to church, my Social Security number, and my blood type. No, I know, they were just trying to make me feel welcome. I bear them no ill will. Really!

Some people go to church expressly out of obedience to God's command that we not forsake the gathering together with other believers. We're not looking for friends (we already have them), a substitute family (we're probably there to pray for the family we already have), or a place and position in an organization.

That's why, while I am in limbo between church homes, I keep returning to various Catholic Masses. It's the only introvert-friendly church I've come across. And the focus of the Mass, as far as I've seen. is on Christ alone, period, without apology. Some Scripture readings, a few recited prayers I have no argument with, and a significant part of an hour spent concentrating on the broken body and shed blood of the Son of God. It's not the music, or the personality of the preacher, or the hip and catchy video  announcements, or the cushy chairs (OMG, is there anything more uncomfortable than a wooden pew and a kneeler?).

I know what you're thinking... I have too many loved ones and friends who've been burned by Catholicism to surmise that it's an ideal religion. That's why I haven't gone beyond attending mass and sitting complacently in the back with the divorcees and un-confessed who can't partake of communion (thankfully, I know I can have communion with my Lord by means of a Cheerio and grape juice, as the need arises).

But at the same time, I wish, foolishly, there was a way to participate, to join in, without signing on man's dotted line, without swearing fealty to the denomination, without silently agreeing with every doctrine by virtue of membership, without having to suppress my innate introvertedness in order to make it into the parking lot without feeling uncomfortable.

Is there hope? Yes.
As I was reminded this morning at Mass...
Love God.
Love your neighbor.
Love yourself.

Funny how that last one is the hardest to follow, and how the innately introverted struggle with it the most. Go to church... wherever you can, wherever you are able to worship freely. God loves His introverted children just as much as He loves the extraverted ones! Of that, I am positive!

That said... maybe churches need to institute "introvert-friendly entrances/exits."
Just a thought.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Three steps to regaining control of your inbox

My email inbox used to be pretty simple. These days? Not so much.

I spent most of a Saturday digging out from under a couple hundred emails that needed my attention. Feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, I determined I need a better strategy. The following steps will (hopefully) help us all gain control over that time-sucking void that is our email inbox.

1. Unsubscribe
It happens to us all. While seeking the best deals, we inadvertently sign up for a slew of emails. Most of the time it's easy to just delete them and go on, but every now and then (like spring/fall cleaning for your inbox) it's best to take the time to click "unsubscribe" on those robot mailings. It's kind of like your closet... fashion mavens say we should clear out anything we haven't worn in a year. Perhaps the same is true of our inboxes: those things we consistently delete without opening should be permanently unsubscribed to.

2. Stars, Folders, and Highlights
When you're rushing through your email, you need a way to sort things in order of importance. Depending on which email software you use, sorting might involve "starring" important messages, "highlighting" particular subjects or recipients, or simply moving emails into a folder for later review. Yes, you WANT to read so-and-so's blog post, but you don't have time right now... move that email into a "TBR" (To Be Read) folder. OR, save the link to Evernote or another reader. Sorting is a step toward organization!

3. You Only Click Once
Years ago, before the Internet and before email, I worked with a former CPA. She was the accounts receivable manager for the newspaper I was working for at the time. Her desk was always—ALWAYS—tidy. Mine (I was the production manager) was always a disaster. So I asked her how she kept her desk so clean. Her response: Whatever you pick up you don't put it down again unless you're putting it away in its proper location. It's a rule that works.

Electronic communications have changed the way we interact with each other. On the plus side, I don't have to wait a week or ten days to send a letter and get an answer. On the downside, I'm inundated with emails that demand a response, RIGHT NOW. And replying is not always convenient. So how can we apply the "only click once" rule to our electronic communication?
A, If you know you can't respond right away, don't open it. Conversely, if you've opened it already and realized you can't respond now, mark it unread. The next time you open your email you'll be prompted to respond.
B. Use your email program to ID important messages and set aside a specific amount of time each day or each week, to respond to those messages.
How do you manage your inbox?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

My love/hate relationship with sleep

It started when I was four or five years old... that's when the nightmares started. I don't recall suffering from nightmares or night terrors before then (although I do recall the two rollover accidents), but I clearly recall the dreams that occurred from age 5 and up. They were full color, surround-sound nightmares.

Dracula (we surmise he showed up because my mother was a Dark Shadows fan during her pregnancy) was a main character, snakes (the venomous kind) appeared en masse with startling regularity. Later (and to this day) mountain lions, the occasional bear (one ate my husband, head first, in a nightmare just last week), and random diagnoses of terminal (usually contagious) illness or serial killer behavior visited my sleeping self. And those are the dreams I can share...

For the most part, I've chalked it all up to an "overactive imagination" (thanks, Mom)... It's probably the reason I can write, but it's enough to make you want to swear off sleeping.

Unfortunately, no sleep creates other issues.... you're required to NAP, and go to bed EARLY. UGH. (My husband runs a delivery route, similar to what my parents did... he gets up around 3AM during the week and needs—and deserves—a nap in the afternoon.) My parents worked nights (2AM-7AM), seven days a week. They napped during the day (that's how I got hooked on General Hospital) and went to bed long before dark (hence my evening TV addiction). I think some of my sleep angst is related to childhood rebellion.

I hate naps. N, I LOATHE naps. Naps, and going to bed early, are conceding defeat. I hate them both.
I hate going to bed "early." (Which then causes an issue with my early-to-bed spouse.)
My creativity is at its peak between 8-11PM.
I loathe waking up before 7:30-8AM.

To increase the confusion, lately I can only sleep about 4 hours at a time... And then I spend a few hours trying to go back to sleep, only to catch a few sketchy nightmares before I'm required to join the world of the living again. If I go to bed at 10PM, that means I'm awake from 2-5AM, and then running the nightmare train from 5 or so until 7 or 8AM. Not rest-conducive.

Some of you get up every day at 3:30 or 4AM and function quite well throughout the day. How do you do it? What's your secret? How does one successfully fiddle with one's internal clock???