Echoing Footsteps

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
– Alfred Lloyd Tennyson 

Our congregation is taking a “slowed-down” approach to Lent this year. Our main theme is “Restore My Soul” – finding ways to feel renewed and refreshed in the faith. We are focusing on being “un-busy.” There’s just too much in our culture that fights against a deeper, richer spiritual life.

I chose to use coloring again for my personal Lenten discipline as a means of reflection and self-expression. Especially with my current physical challenges from knee surgery, I need to be intentional in reflecting and listening to the Divine. So, I pulled out one of my favorite coloring books which has page after page of labyrinths to color. I flipped open to a fresh page and saw this:

labyrinthpast

The colors of a completed labyrinth from a previous Lent bled through the page opposite of the new labyrinth I began coloring today. I paused to wonder, “What echoes from my past am I walking with today??”

Positive or negative, challenges or success stories, I have internalized all of these past events. Some memories are faded, others push through with more of an impact. All of them are a part of me. All of them are essential to who I am and how I serve as a pastor and a chaplain. And even the hardest memories can be an asset and inform how I serve. But they also can be triggers and block me from doing my best.

Stumbling. Falling. Trying again. That’s a life that walks with Christ, day after day, year after year. Walking in the Divine’s grace and love. Always until forever.

Blessed be.

ALL the things

On Monday, I am having a knee scoped to tend to some irritations and pain I’ve been dealing with since Labor Day. As anyone knows, even “minor” surgery requires a lot of preparation. It’s been a hectic few weeks. Squeezing in extra visits to patients, and getting all the requisite paperwork filed. Then there were doctor’s visits, physical therapy sessions, and lab tests. I tried to be organized without being crazy about it.

Friday afternoon, I tied up loose ends at work, changed the message on my work phone, and signed off on my caseload. I felt pretty good, but was honest about my feelings of trepidation.

I came home to a to-do list a mile long. Laundry, cooking, groceries, and errands, plus paying bills. I also put away the last Christmas decorations! (Hey! It’s barely into Lent! That’s an accomplishment.) I started looking for the info I need for our taxes. I treated myself to a nice relaxing pedicure Saturday afternoon.

Someone said, “you look so CALM!” But inside, I was acting out Allie Brosh’s art:

cleanallthethings
(c) Allie Brosh, Hyperbole and a half

Clean all the things!
File all the things!
Wash all the things!
Do all the things! ALL of them!

Yeah. I’m calm on the outside, crazed on the inside.

It’s ironic and, at the same time, fortuitous that this year’s Lenten focus is on REST. Reconnecting with the Creator God who knows us best, and understands our needs. And even commands us to rest! (Oh yeah. That.) And it’s almost funny-not-funny that in our Lenten sermon series, I am preaching on…REST.  The Divine’s sense of humor is unreal.

So for what it’s worth, there many things left undone on my to-do list. There are tasks I will have to deal with when I have a brain post-surgery later this week. And, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that will stay “un-done” until someone (possibly not even me) gets to it.

And yes. I’ll rest. And let my body do the healing work it needs to do. And be very, very intentional about finding Rest in the One who knows and loves me best.

As my burdens bury deep into my heart
And the pressure starts to suffocate my soul

Your voice calls out from the clamor
Drawing me close to where You are
I rise up out of the chaos
Fall to my knees and meet with You

My soul finds rest, my soul finds rest in You
My heart will sing in the shelter of Your wings

Rest in You, by DK Worship, featuring Andrea Folet

 

 

 

Self-care (A review for the stubborn one)

I am learning how badly I am following my own teaching on “self care.” I wrote recently about a bad fall that I had on our patio, which left me bruised and with a swollen and painful knee. While I did follow basic first aid practices (ice, rest, elevation, anti-inflammatories), I did not take any time off from work. I soldiered through the week. I limped around. I dealt with joint pain and referred pain from limping.

I am stubborn.

In addition, there have been some intense situations (unrelated to family and friends) which have also taken a lot of my emotional and spiritual energy. It’s not just the news and following a hurricane, it’s the little nasty micro-aggressions. The insulting emails. All of my usual self care strategies weren’t working and I couldn’t turn “off” my reactions. My coping mechanism of choice was to veg on the couch. Not very productive nor self-restoring.

Fortunately, this week I had a long chat with my spiritual director who reminded me of the song by Rabbi Sofer and Rev. Carolyn McDade: (words found here)

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

At first, it didn’t set well with me. Isn’t that contrary to the expectations of a pastor to serve others? What about Philippians 2 where we are reminded to  “…look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others”? What about Luke 9 where we are exhorted by Jesus, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me”?

Balance. It’s about balance!

YES.  I am called to serve sacrificially. Every penny I make is not to be spent on myself. All of my time and talents are not for my own pleasure. But neither are they all to be given away and not meet the needs of those who depend on me. If I deplete myself on other tasks and obligations, and am not aware of my own emotional and physical exhaustion, how can I then look out for others’ interests?

Short answer: I can’t!

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

Time after time, I have encouraged parents of young children to take time to refresh themselves emotionally, spiritually and physically. I have exhorted them to trade off on childcare and household chores, and if one parent is at home, have made the point that the stay-at-home parent is not the other’s personal servant. [Translation: pick up your own dirty clothes, do loads of laundry, wash dishes, take the kids and care for them. Because you both have “evening shift” responsibilities when the “day shift” is done!]

Yet I find myself, an empty nester, worn out and hard-pressed to respond to the things I need to do for my own health. Simple things like creating things with my hands, reading, baking, or enjoying nature. It didn’t help that we’ve had heavy rains all week so I couldn’t really get outside. But I wasn’t cultivating anything on the inside.

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

Why was I stuck in some self-destructive patterns? I asked myself some hard questions, and maybe they will be helpful for you:

  • what am I doing that is not really my responsibility to do?
  • who am I trying to please (besides God?)
  • who is draining my spirits rather than building them back up?
  • where am I spending my time that is not the best use of my God-given gifts?
  • what activities would help renew my love and compassion for others?
  • what excuses am I giving to avoid tasks I need to do?

It’s a process. It’s an ongoing challenge to balance my desire to be God’s person vs pleasing all people. It’s allowing God to work within my brokenness, rather than going to pieces trying to fix it all myself. And it’s recognizing when I am beyond my threshold and need to simply… rest.

Serve God? Serve others?

Absolutely!! But only within the limits of my own brokenness. Let’s repeat that phrase one more time:

No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself.

image: Serve within the limits of your brokenness
image (c) Rev. Deb Vaughn; may use with permission

Running on empty

Empty from Flickr via Wylio

My parents had some pretty clear rules. One of them was inviolable… NEVER EVER leave the car gas tank at less than 1/4 tank.

This was especially true when one drove one of the family cars. The next driver would not appreciate driving on fumes. And since my parents were generous with gas money whenever we needed it, there really was no excuse!

Growing up in Rock Hill, SC, there was a gas station that kept a running tab for all of the teen drivers. The owner would settle up with my dad whenever he came by for a fill-up. We lived outside the city limits and, at the time, there weren’t any gas stations close by. (Times have changed! I checked out the old neighborhood and there’s been a lot of new developments!)

You’d think, hearing the pointed reminders at the dinner table that I would not forget to keep my car gassed up. And you would be… wrong!

Last week I was running here and there, busy with tasks for work, home and church. The “low fuel” light came on as I was headed home from a big church event. “I’ll fill up on my way to church in the morning,” I thought.

I ran late on my way to church on Sunday… so I figured I would just stop on my way home. And then forgot. And didn’t fill up on my way to work on Monday morning… And you can guess what happened. I realized in a panic that I was cutting it a little too close when I coasted to a stop at the gas pump, just as the engine cut out.

Whew. (I can hear my dad chuckling…) 

I found out that my car’s 19.2 gallon tank holds 18.55 useable gallons of gas. I didn’t really need to know that bit of trivia.

All’s well that ends well… except… It is a cautionary tale. Beyond the obvious common sense not to run your tank dry, of course.

Whatever the reason, no matter how good it is, there is nothing that should keep us from taking time to refuel. To rest. To heed the warning that we are low on energy. To find ways to rejuvenate that are more than just a pit stop. IMG_0883

In fact, it wouldn’t hurt any of us to just simply stop. Find a moment of beauty, of peace, of tranquility. Celebrate the renewal of the earth, the first flowers of spring, the giddy romp of the rabbits in the back yard.

Too often I push myself past the limits of my energies and emotions. I wear down. I get tired and careless. I lose patience. I don’t have the perspective that I need to solve a problem.

I’m counting the daffodils as they bloom in our yard (so far there’s five!) and remembering I was made to work, create and worship, yes. But also to rest. Refuel. And remember Who created me.

Selah…

 

The “OFF” button

This weekend I have been practicing something that I haven’t done in a long time. I practiced using the “OFF” button. This particular one is on the cell phone issued to me by my employer. Though I am not required to use it to field voicemails and answer emails, on previous weekends, I have “just taken a quick look” at what is waiting in the queue. I’m not expected to be available on evenings and weekends. If they need me, they know how to find me!

As a pastor, there is ALWAYS another call to answer, another email to write. It’s ministry; there’s no timecard to punch. It’s part of our calling and our passion – to love and serve God and our people.

I love what I do, but I’m learning that as a hospice chaplain, the needs and questions are non-stop. I want to be helpful. I want to be there when I’m needed. But I can’t be “on” all the time. I just can’t. There is no “S” on this “Super Chaplain’s” chest!

The problem is, the emails and voicemails ping over to my phone 24 hours a day. If I forget and leave the ringer on, the little “beep-beepity-beep” is audible, even if I leave it in another room. (I guess my hearing is too good.)

So this weekend, after a couple of heart-breaking cases, I decided to turn off my phone. For the entire weekend. I buried it in the bottom of my work bag, and left it there. And it’s been a good thing.

Daughters were home for part of the weekend, and I did a lot of cooking and baking. My husband and I both got a lot of non-work tasks accomplished. I read, knit, and relaxed. I stopped and admired the leaves as they are beginning to change. I spoiled 2 cats. I wrote more for the essays I need for my certification paperwork.

leaves1

In short, I let other things go and focused on those things (and people) who were more important at the moment. I absorbed the love and beauty around me. I cleared my mind and my heart. Once again, I learned the lesson inherent in resting and waiting:

It. Can. Wait.