Taking Away the Joy

The other day I was happily browsing in a cute small shop. I picked up an item and had a question about it. I cheerfully approached a shop worker to ask a question. Before I could say anything, she brusquely said, “The check out is up there.” I replied, surprised but still cheerful, “Oh, I’m not ready to check out, I just had a question…” She looked annoyed and only said a quick “yes” in response to my question. I put the item back on the shelf and left the store. I was surprised at how our small interaction deflated me.

As I mulled over this interaction, I was reminded of when I was a receptionist at a busy radio station in Chicago. I was just out of college with a degree in Radio Broadcasting. This wasn’t my dream job but I was glad to be working at a radio station, at least. The station had five phone lines that I was in charge of answering. At that time, we hosted a music concert series and the only way for people to buy tickets was by calling me (back in the olden days before online ordering!) . When an announcement for the concert series was made on the radio, my phone lines lit up for ticket orders along with callers who had general questions for the station. It was stressful and many people were angry and disappointed about being on hold for such a long time while I took orders. One day, a cheerful woman called in and was excited about surprising her husband with concert tickets for his birthday. She asked a question and I quickly answered her question, then said shortly, “How many tickets do you want?” – hoping to quickly complete the transaction so I could move on to the next person. She paused and said, “Well, I have another question first…” She asked and I quickly replied and repeated, “How many tickets do you want?” We repeated this pattern one more time before she sighed and said, “You’re taking all the joy out of this for me.” She hung up, saying she’d call back when someone else could take her call. I felt terrible – it wasn’t like me to be so rude and I felt unable to break out of the pressure of the moment.

The shop worker had taken the joy out of my browsing… I wonder how many times I take the joy away from someone else’s day? Perhaps unintentionally or intentionally. It would be good to embrace the quote by the Dalai Lama: Be kind whenever possible. It’s always possible.

For me, engaging in the Examen daily is a helpful practice to become aware of these moments in my day (and awareness of what triggers impatience in me). How about you? What are some ways that help you extend kindness? Taking a breath before responding? Journaling? Prayer? Art?

PS – FWIW, part of me is uncomfortable with this phrasing: “stealing someone’s joy”. I cannot MAKE someone feel a certain way and others cannot force me to feel something. Yes, I am only responsible for my own responses – I cannot control anyone else’s response/emotions. But, we can (should?) endeavor to extend kindness, peace, and compassion to others.

Being Childless

“So, do you have kids?”

I hear this question every time I meet someone new. Every time. It doesn’t bother me to be asked – I get it. Most married women my age have kids. It’s a normal question. I struggle to answer it in a way that puts the other person at ease, but there’s usually an awkward, “Oh.” when I reply lightly, “No, no kids.”

My husband and I are unable to have children, biologically. Honestly, this hasn’t been a sadness for us. Sure, when I was little I imagined I’d be a mom one day. But, as an adult, I’ve never had a strong desire to have children. We’re happy and content with our life together – just the two of us. We’ve considered adoption, but due to various reasons (not all of which are mine to share) we haven’t pursued that route.

But.

Recently, on social media, I saw pictures of a group of friends on a mom/daughter outing. A smiling group of happy moms with their young daughters. My first response was, “Wonderful! I love that intentionality! It’s so important to have that focused time as mom and daughter! And, how fun to do that in a group!” Then, as I looked at more pictures, my heart began to crack and hurt. Jealousy, perhaps. I heard a little, sad voice say, “That will never be me. I’ll never experience that. I’ll never be included in that space. I don’t fit anywhere.” I told myself again how I’m missing out on a huge life experience: pregnancy. I’ll never know how that miraculous event feels.

But.

I shush that sad voice. I tell it: “This has been our choice. No choice is perfect – there are gains and losses with every choice.” My husband and I will often sigh with contentment and say, “I love our life together.” We’re happy – our lives are full and rich in relationships. We wouldn’t want it any different than it is.

One time I was wrestling with some guilt over not pursing adoption. There are so many children who need a good, safe home. My pastor at the time said, “Do you feel called to adopt?” Her question suddenly halted all the swirling guilt. I replied, “No, actually. I don’t feel called to adopt. It’s a ‘should’.” Whenever I feel conflicted or second-guess our choice not to pursue adoption, I remember this little conversation, answer the question again honestly, and allow the burden of false guilt to lift.

Life is not a one size fits all. My life choices are not the only way to live, but they are our way to live. It fits us and how God wired us individually and as a couple. And hopefully, we’re becoming more like Christ in the process. Thanks be to God.

 

Have you wrestled with sadness or guilt over any non-traditional life choices? How do you come to peace? What voices of the past or present are informing your sadness or guilt?

Teen Party Fail

When I was about 15, I had a painfully powerful crush on a boy. I hoped against hope that he would think I was special, too. I orchestrated events to spend time with him, often using his sister as an excuse to be near him (not cool, I know). One of the biggest displays of my obsession was an Autumn Party that I threw that year.

My parents were so supportive – helping me find bales of hay to place around a campfire, setting up tables outside for snacks, suggesting things to do with my friends. I sent out hand-written invitations to teens I knew, using different acronyms that didn’t actually spell anything (R.C.A.Y.P. = Really Cool Autumn Youth Party. Obvy.). I felt so grown up!

Six of my friends RSVP’d – including my crush! I daydreamed and planned how this was going to be the day he would finally fall for me.

Cool and damp from a rain the night before, the day finally came. I set out “How many beans are in the jar?” on soggy paper next to a large jar for some outlandish guesses from friends. Toilet paper rolls were available for a wacky “How quickly can you use up a roll by wrapping it around someone?” game. I designated a starting line for the wheel barrel race.

People began to arrive and I froze. Suddenly the games were childish. The food wasn’t right. My crush was ignoring me and he even hurt my feelings with some careless words. I escaped into the house, panicked and unsure what to do. People were here, looking to me to host them but everything was wrong! I was unable to see past my wounded heart.

My parents, wanting to give me space with my friends, gently suggested I lead a game with the group. I was mortified at the suggestion and couldn’t even imagine these teens would want to  do something so uncool, so silly.

Soon (painfully soon), two girls said, “Um. We’re going to go. Thanks for inviting us.” My insides were a swirl. I felt so unprepared and embarrassed and disappointed. I’d failed.

After that, more friends got bored and left. Soon only my parents were there. I’m sure they were at a loss and had sympathy for m. I’d talked about nothing but this party for weeks! My dad started the campfire and I sat quietly with them, my heart sore, relieved that I could let the adults take care of things now.

When you look back at those painful, awkward teen moments, what truths do you see about yourself? Can you extend compassion to your younger self?

Books, Books, Books – Part 1

I post about books all the time on social media… inevitably, when I mention a title, someone will ask me to write a list of books that I’d recommend. While I do keep my Goodreads account up to date, I thought it might be fun to chronicle books here from time to time.

So, here’s a list of what I’ve read so far in 2017:

Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Warren
– Spiritual memoir of sorts. Beautiful writing. She talks about encountering God in the small moments – brushing our teeth, stuck in traffic, eating leftovers, etc. Recommended.
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
– Letter to his son. Insightful, difficult at times for me to read. Convicted me that I don’t take enough time considering how others experience life. I really, really wanted to be in conversation with others while I read. Lots to process. I appreciated that he talked about how his views changed as he learned more and grew up and was exposed to other ways of thinking. Recommended.
On Writing, Stephen King
– This was actually much more of a memoir than I thought it would be. Honestly, I thought it was just “okay”. I enjoyed Bird by Bird so much more… but there were some moments in this book that were moving, made me laugh, and were very enjoyable. Glad I read it, but it was just kind of meh for me. Some profanity, fyi.
A Hidden Wholeness, Parker Palmer
– A book about listening, discernment groups called a Circle of Trust. Not what I was expecting. I am a big fan of Parker’s and I thought this book was going to be much more about false self/true self. Good for those who want to start these groups. There were several good nuggets in the book, so it was just okay for me. I’d recommend pretty much anything by Parker Palmer, though.
When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi
– Oh my. Memoir. Very moving. Loads of medical talk, which I found facinating and sometimes gross (I have a weak stomach). I cried several times. Recommended – especially if you are in the medical field and/or are friends with someone who completed a medical treatment (not currently undergoing treatment – I fear that it could cause anxiety).
Recapturing the Wonder, Mike Cosper
– Enjoyable book with loads of current cultural references (hello, 30 Rock!). This book is for those who are perhaps a bit disillusioned about faith and are trying to sort it out. (this book isn’t available yet – I read an early manuscript) Recommended.
Dog on It, Spencer Quinn
– This book was unexpectedly very enjoyable. Fiction from the perspective of a dog. I was bracing myself for it to turn cheesy, but it never did. Totally believable “dog voice” the whole way through. Loads of fun – I laughed a lot. Some profanity, fyi. Recommended.
A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman
– Oh my yes. This book. Fiction. Ove (pronounced “oo-vah”) is a cranky older man and I loved him. LOVED him. The character development in this book is positively delightful. Sobbed at the end… laughed a lot all the way through. Highly recommended.
Pilgrim Principles, Lacy Ellman
– This is a kind of devotional-type of book. Seven weeks of short, daily readings. Lacy uses a metaphor of pilgrimage to talk about going deeper in our spiritual journey. Familiar territory for the most part, but she brought in some zingers here and there that were really great for reflection. This isn’t Bible-y, fyi. She is talking about practices that help us become more aware of God in our everyday. Recommended if you’re new to these kind of faith practices.
Comfort Detox, Erin Straza
– Thoughtful book about how to get our of our comfort zone. Engaging writing. Enjoyable and convicting (but not in a big time guilt-inducing way). I’m all about paring down – and I love her take on that. Recommended.
Struck, Russ Ramsey
– Memoir. Engaging, thoughtful. Couldn’t put it down. There are a few paragraphs that I can’t get out of my mind – Russ addresses depression, emotional healing the comes with physical healing, faith, and more. Recommended.

What I’m reading now:

Word by Word, Marilyn McEntyre
– Loving – LOVING – this book. Short, daily readings that are insightful and unique angles on familiar concepts. I feel like I’m having coffee with a wise older woman and she’s sharing what’s on her mind. Highly recommended.
Born a Crime, Trevor Noah
– Memoir. Trevor is articulate, smart, and has depth, which makes this more than just a simple autobiography. Some of his insights make me pause and agree out loud, “YES! Well said!”. It’s feeling a bit long, though, and I’m looking forward to moving on to my next book… but, I’m still glad I’m reading it. Some profanity, fyi.  Not sure if I’d recommend this one.
Faithful Presence, David Fitch
– Helpful, interesting book that is perhaps a bit more “academic” than most books I read. But, I’m enjoying it and learning some great nuance about church/faith community. Recommended to anyone in church leadership (or emerging leaders).
The Sound of a Million Dreams, Suanne Camfield
– Memoir. I’m only on chapter 2 and I can already feel the lump in my throat while I’m reading. She’s touching on some tender places in me – about dreams. Recommended.
In the Land of Blue Burquas, Kate McCord
– Non-fiction. I love Kate’s writing. This was her first book and the flow is a little more dense than her other books, IMO. But, the content is fantastic, eye-opening. I love how Kate tells stories. I think I’d recommend Farewell, Four Waters (fiction) by Kate above this one… but, this one is good, too.
Little Lessons from the Saints, Bob Burnham
– 52 reflections and practices. I’m friends with the author and really enjoy how he engages in life, so I’m having fun reading this book. His faith perspective (he’s Franciscan) is a bit different than mine, so I’m reading these reflections a bit differently based on my faith.

Other books I’m reading for work (aka, not available yet) and enjoying:

An Unhurried Leader, Alan Fadling

Vintage Saints and Sinners, Karen Wright Marsh

Movies are Prayers, Josh Larsen

Single, Gay, Christian, Greg Coles

Squeak

It happened again today. It took me immediately back to second grade.

I’d been called upon to read a portion of a book for our little group sitting around the table at school. I liked our teacher. She was kind, motherly, young. Our little Christian school had about 20 students in total. It felt safe and familiar. Each time I was called upon to read, my throat would close up so that only a tight, wispy squeak came out of me. It was really frustrating when I couldn’t use my voice and I was grateful for an understanding teacher who gently asked questions (are you feeling okay? are you nervous?) and then let me pass on reading for the day. I didn’t think my throat was closing up due to nerves, but it stumped my parents and my teachers – though, I did hear more than once that it was probably all “in my head”.

Today, I led a meeting and that familiar annoying tightness that squeezed out the strength and fluidity of my voice suddenly appeared. No amount of hot tea, water, or coughing was helping. Maybe it was all “in my head”, but still very frustrating.

Still, I’m grateful for the experience today. I remember big brushstrokes of my childhood, but details tend to evade me. To remember the echo-y classroom with the cold metal folding chairs where we took turns reading was a surprise. I immediately remembered who I was then. Little “me” was rather fearless. I was tough, lively, always-in-motion, happy. I like to think I’m still those things, but they may look less obvious now. It feels good to recall the freer (albeit childish) expressions of who I am. Today, I loved having that physical reminder that I still carry that little fearless, feisty person with the occasional tight, squeaky voice with me.

Has a smell, a sight, or a physical experience triggered memories for you? What does it remind you about yourself – little “you”, who may have been less censored than adult “you”? What are 4-5 words you would use to describe little “you”? Do you see traces of those words in yourself today?

Why Do I Run?

In September 2016 I ran my first 5K. It’s now December 2016 and I’ve lost count of how many I’ve run. For some reason, I’ve really connected with running these past few months. I have never been a runner (except for a short time in college when I took a running class one semester), so this has all been rather surprising. I’ve seen this addition to my life as a gift – the right element at the right time.

The other day, someone said to me, “You’ve been through so much change lately with a new job, new home, new church – and now running. Is this kind of a way to distract yourself?” What a great question! It got me thinking of the reasons why I run…

  1. I tend to stay in my head most of the time, so running helps me become more aware of my body – to actually feel my limbs, my back, my hands, my feet.
  2. It’s showing me that I’m stronger than I think. So much of running is mental. If I speak self-defeating words to myself, running is harder and more painful. If I speak encouraging words to myself, running is much more fun and I can go farther. That awareness is overlapping into other areas of my life.
  3. It feels great to be active – especially in the winter when I usually struggle mightily with depression
  4. I’m encountering a thriving community of runners for the first time. They are enthusiastic and connected. 
  5. I’ve been able to see so much more of my community by signing up for 5Ks all over the Chicago suburbs.
  6. Running as been a great stress reliever and I sleep better at night.
  7. I  can use my running time to listen to audio books. I don’t have other time in my days to listen to audio books or podcasts, so it’s like “bonus” time.
  8. I’m feeling strong and I can see my progress as I continue to run.
  9. I love having a hobby that is improving my mental and physical health.
  10. It’s been fun to compete at 5Ks (who knew I was so competitive?!). It’s helping me to stay motivated and keep running and improving.
  11. It’s been fun to see different 5Ks – big and small – and the various things that event organizers have done to make them unique.
  12. Even though I don’t really do fundraising for these 5Ks, each one raises awareness and funds for excellent organizations. I usually feel like an “outsider” looking in on a strong community, unified by a great cause. So inspiring!
  13. I know that some people use their running time as an opportunity to pray. While I don’t specifically pray while I run, I regularly feel great gratitude to God for the ability to run and the gift it has been to me.

It’s still amazing to me that I’m running for the first time at age 42. I know it isn’t for everyone, but I guess it’s never too late to experience something new. It can enliven the mind, body, and spirit.

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

Running in Front of Trucks

When I was about 7, I lived to spend time with my best friend, Leatha. (Yes, “Leatha”, not “Lisa” – everyone asked.) Summer days with her were the best days. We imagined we were sisters – both of us tanned by long days spent in the sun, both with long brown hair and brown eyes, and quick smiles and laughter.

One afternoon, our moms were talking inside the house while Leatha and I played outside. Her family lived out in the country, like me. We were used to safely roaming around by ourselves in fields and yards. I remember feeling so happy, enjoying the summer day, and imaginative play with my friend. In my happiness, I spun around and darted across the road.

I immediately heard screams. “NO!” “LORI!” Confused, I looked up and I saw the grill of a semi truck and looked up a bit more and saw the face of the man driving. I ran as fast as my legs could take me and collapsed on the other side of the road. I sat in the grass for a bit, trembling at how close I came to getting hit. I thought, “I could have died.” I felt ashamed, embarrassed that I hadn’t looked before crossing the street. I knew better!

Leatha crossed the street to be with me and it felt too disjointed to play again after that, so we went inside the house.

Still feeling shaken, I found my mom. She was sitting with a glass of ice tea in her hand, chatting. I leaned up against her and said, “I did something wrong.” She calmly said, “Yes, I thought you’d died or something.” I was confused. She was so nonchalant. If she was concerned, why hadn’t she come out to find me? Why didn’t she punish me? Why wasn’t she alarmed? (By the way, my mom doesn’t remember this event at all, so I can only go by my memory.)

Even though I didn’t talk about this event again or think much about it, it has been a core memory for me. While my friend yelled her warning to me and obviously cared, I internalized the message that the adults did not care and that was puzzling to 7-year old me. The driver kept going and he didn’t seem to slow down when he saw me. Our moms didn’t seem concerned at all. Perhaps I shouldn’t believe this near-accident was a big deal and maybe I might not matter.

It wasn’t until 20 or so years later that I realized that I’ve been carrying around this false message of “I don’t matter.” It wasn’t until a counselor suggested that I take a look at some childhood memories from the perspective of Adult Me that I could imagine this event differently and speak clarifying truth to myself. Maybe the truck driver slammed on his brakes. Maybe he thought about stopping to tell me to stay out of the road, but decided to keep going when he saw I was safe. Maybe my mom was used to hearing kids yelling outside, but was concerned and got up right away to make sure I was okay. Maybe when she saw I was okay and went back to her needed adult conversation. Of course she loves me and cared about me. Time and life had proven that over and over.

It’s interesting to look at these core childhood memories and examine what messages we’re carrying into adulthood. Are you holding onto some misinformation from childhood?  What might the truth be as you look at it as an adult?

World’s Best Boss

I am very choosy about which mug I use eachworldsbestboss day at work. Do you do the same thing? I need just the right size and shape – and message or picture. I find that I often pick up the mug in our office that says “World’s Best Boss”. I’m boss to no one at work, but for some reason I just love this mug.

Today, as I drank coffee out of the mug, I realized that I’m not a boss of anyone but myself. Hm. Am I the best boss of me? Would I be delighted to give myself the World’s Best Boss mug? Honestly, probably not. Though I’ve come a long way, the voice I use to talk to myself is still often harsh. I don’t have much patience for my mistakes, limits, and messy humanness. But I want to be a compassionate, encouraging, grace-filled “boss” to myself. My favorite bosses have believed in me, let me fail well, encouraged me to keep going – they helped me improve, be the best version of myself, and do things I never thought I could. Can I be that kind of presence to/for myself? Sure, this also happens in community, but I can see great value in extending this grace to myself. The only person I can change – and boss – is myself. And, before you protest, “Wait! God is my boss, so this is irrelevant!”, certainly the more compassionate I am to myself and see myself as genuinely loved by God (and speak to myself in ways that are congruent with that belief), the more compassion and love I’ll naturally extend to others.

How about you? Would you give yourself this mug? What are the characteristics of your favorite boss?

Indifference

Yesterday, I went on a little hike with mom. She wanted to get out and walk since today 15085585_10154602531757976_1658862637640513339_nshe’s in a surgery that will mean less activity in the next few weeks. She talked to me about a possible negative side effect of her surgery and said, “I kind of hope that doesn’t happen.” That struck me as funny because I would have said, “Man, I don’t want that to happen!” She said, ever practical, “Well, I can’t do anything about it – it either is or isn’t. No sense in fighting it.” She isn’t denying it or giving in to it, just sitting in a neutral stance. A rather realistic and mature view.

It made me think of the Ignatian Exercises that I’m engaged in now. St. Ignatius talks about living with “holy indifference”. That’s not dismissing or denial or even not caring. It’s an open-handed way of living. Trusting that God is at work and desiring whatever will bring us closer to God. The Principle and Foundation, written by St. Ignatius, says “The goal of our life is to live with God forever. God, who loves us, gave us life. Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit. All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily. As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God insofar as they help us develop as loving persons. But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives, they displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal. In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some obligation. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God. Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me.” (modern translation)

I’m certainly not there yet. I honestly DO want health, success, long life, enough money. I know that “everything has the potential of calling for in me a deeper response to God”, but I still find that I crave comfort, ease. I’m grateful to see that God is showing me the possibility of how I could get to a place of greater open-handedness.

Shingles

I had shingles about one month ago. When the doctor diagnosed me, my mouth literally dropped open. I was not expecting that! Dealing with the pain of shingles for about 10 days was the most physically painful experience that I’ve dealt with. A friend of mine who also had singles in the past said, “The pain is singular, isn’t it?” Indeed, it is. The horrible stabbing nerve pain turned me into a crying mess each day – feeling tired and just wanting the pain to end. The sores appeared on the right side of my face (MY FACE), neck, tongue, throat. To say I was utterly miserable is an understatement. (I’m kind of tempted to post a picture for sympathy points, but it’s rather mortifying.)

I tried praying through it. I thought a breath prayer would be perfect since I couldn’t do anything but sit there and try to breathe. “Lord, Jesus Christ…ugh, ouch…ow” (breathe in) “have mercy on…ow, OWW, ow… me… owwww… a sinner” (breathe out) “Lord, ow, ow, OW… oh, forget it!”

Now that the pain is gone (I have deep respect now for those who deal with chronic pain.), I’m left with some residual numbness on my right cheek. I can’t really pinpoint where it is, but I can tell that something is odd, numb, and not quite right. The doctor said this could last for months and it could even be permanent. I also have a few scars on my face that will probably always be there.

This whole terrible shingles thing takes my mind back to the pain of grief that I’ve been trying to sort through well. The grief I cried my way through over the past year has been miserable. I tried praying through it, but I often don’t have words. Now, I’m left with some residual scars and I can’t pinpoint where it still hurts, but it does still hurt. My spiritual director told me the other day that a person can’t fully grieve when they feel unsafe or are in crisis mode. Now that I’m finding my footing in my new job/home/community, more grief will no doubt surface.

Sometimes, the numb spot on my cheek suddenly tingles. The doctor said that’s a good sign of healing. Sometimes these days, my heart is unexpectedly light and I find myself smiling. Surely, that’s a good sign too. I think I’m going to be okay.