Category Archives: Advent

I’ve started this post a million times…

or so it seems. I usually know with a certain level of accuracy how to express what I am feeling, but this week I am at a loss for words. I’m unsure what to say, and I’m unsure what to think, and I’m unsure what to do.

I’ve heard people say that the election resonated with them in the same way that the Pulse shooting resonated with them, but that’s not quite it for me. I’ve heard people say that they feel like a homeless person, because their home has been taken from them by force, but I can’t say that because I’ve never been homeless.

There are countless other ways people have described their disappointment, including a customer who came in, in tears, because she fears for her autistic son’s well-being and the loss of Arctic animals because of climate change. I, too, am scared—no terrified—for my GLBT+, non-white, non-“Christian” friends and the earth. I’m pissed that we are in a war in Standing Rock, North Dakota with indigenous people who are trying to protect the tiny bit of land that they were given by our government. This article by Code Switch is an excellent article about what’s going on there.

I feel like I am inside some bad trip, where nothing makes sense, and someone is trying to help me down, but I can’t come down. I’m just stuck, here, in an alternate world where nothing makes sense and nothing adds up. People, who I previously considered friends, intelligent friends, say things that make no sense, things that don’t follow any kind of consistent ethic, and that don’t align with their previously stated morality.

I keep seeing these things posted on Facebook walls of people who voted for Donald Trump, and I can’t wrap my head around how people can reconcile this bit of Scripture with the running platform of our President Elect:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Everyone around me is angry or sad, and those who aren’t angry or sad are elated and willing to tell me so. Over and over again. People I don’t know post hateful things on my Facebook timeline.  I spent fifteen minutes yesterday with a customer who told me all about how the next four years are going to be the best of his life. When I said, okay, he said, your products are going to be made in the US again. I said, okay, and he just kept talking about how P.E. Trump is trying so hard to establish himself as a good president. I said, okay.

I’m tired. I’m taking a break.

*

About four months ago, on my 42nd birthday, I set some goals. The older I get, the easier it is for me to just ignore my goals, to not care about meeting those goals, or to just be lackadaisical about accomplishing them.

On this coming Sunday, Advent begins, so I think I might try to accomplish my goal of going to church. I think I need it. I think you need for me to go. I say this because I have not been my best self for the majority of November. Maybe a baby Jewish refugee in a wooden cow trough, who was birthed to an unwed teenage mother and father, who was brought gifts by “foreigners,” who was worshipped by the working class, and who was later saved from infanticide at the hands of the ruling class will be just the miracle to bring me around.

Anyway, I set a couple of other goals, too: running, compassion, pay it forward, social media and creativity, and finances.

I am working on running, while also playing soccer and nursing my plantar fascia on my right foot. I won’t be running a full marathon again next summer, but I am going to run a 25K trail race at Afton; 15 miles is a more accomplishable goal for me this year.

Compassion, which includes going to church, seems to be going the best right now, since I am trying so hard to understand what makes people do what they do. I’m also trying to work at allowing myself to be in someone else’s shoes; I’m hoping that maybe I will somehow be able to better understand my fellow humans. I’ve also been a bit of a slacker when it comes to meditation, so I need to refocus on this aspect of my life as well. I can really tell when I practice mindfulness and when I don’t. I’m not so mindful right now. I’ve been vegetarian, but not vegan, which is something I will fix at the new year.

I still haven’t worked on paying it forward, and I’d love to find somewhere to volunteer every week, even though my schedule is a bit wacky, I could just RTO time each week for volunteering.

The social media and creativity goal is the one that I should’ve kept working on with diligence. More than any of the goals. I find that being on social media is really damaging to my psyche. People are mean. I should’ve been drawing or printmaking, instead of spending all those hours on Facebook, getting angrier.

Finally, my finances are slowly improving. I’m paying more on all of my credit cards each month, and I have a separate savings account, where I deposit all of my wages from Caribou, for vacation spending. We went to New York and I paid for all but the dog boarding with cash, but I quickly paid off the dog boarding upon our return.

So, while I’m not making major headway, I feel like I am making some. I’m also taking a break. Until after the holidays. Peace. Grace. Joy. Love. Hope.

Giving Space and Learning Grace

I talk a good talk about giving grace and learning people’s stories and giving people space to be who they are, but in reality, I am pretty judgmental and not very gracious in lots of situations.

For one example, this morning I sat next to a woman in church who kept sighing the whole way through the bad poem that was read, through the sermon, and through the strange liturgical singing prayer thing we did. I found myself really getting angry with her every time she’d loudly answer what I believed to be rhetorical questions asked by the pastor. I have a low tolerance for people who I perceive need to be in the spotlight. But then I stepped back and thought about how I don’t know this woman’s story. Maybe she had a past that really resonated with what the pastor was saying. Maybe she had low self-esteem and needed to feel like she knew the answers. Maybe, just maybe, I was being the opposite of the person I really want to be. We’re in church for crying out loud and there I was judging everything about someone I didn’t know. I was stealing her space, and I was shaming her in my head.

For another example, as I said above someone read a poem in church today, and all I could do was sit there, like I was in poetry workshop, and critique the poem for its lack of poetic-ness and poor imagery. Even better was that it was up on the giant projector screen, so I could critique the word choice, the line breaks, the rhythm or lack thereof, and basically everything about it. I stopped listening when there were too many mommy references. Maybe this poet had a hard time composing because of the pressure of Advent. Maybe she wrote from the heart and not from the head. Maybe she needed to process peace for her own rejuvenation and healing. And, again, I was being the opposite of who I want to be. I was stealing the poem from the poet and from all those for whom it could have been a blessing. My negative waves were likely tangible.

For a third example, I stopped at Caribou this morning before church, and I ordered a medium hot press in my mug. From my perception, the barista apparently thought I didn’t know what size my own mug was, so she charged me for a small. Then the barista at the bar only made a small hot press, so then I had four ounces less of coffee. There was also a whole over ring debacle, in which she made me wait in line while she fixed it, then re-rang my order. From my perspective, she was inept. But maybe the new computer system really had her rattled this morning. Maybe she had a rough night last night. Maybe she was nervous because I was a fellow employee. Maybe, I needed to give her grace instead of judgment, and maybe I could live with only twelve ounces of coffee, instead of sixteen. I scowled, I was short, and I took every opportunity to give her grace to do just the opposite. What an ass!

All of this to say that I am working (still and forever) on giving space for people to be who they are, and I am working (still and forever) on giving grace to people when they miss my high-held expectations for them.

I hate this lesson. I hate realizing how often I fail to recognize the divine spark in my fellow humans. I hate thinking about how this makes people relate to me, like there is some secret handshake to be my friend, equal, comrade.

There isn’t a secret handshake with me. I do believe in grace. I do believe in space. I do believe in all those things I say I believe in.

Being a real person is hard work.

Giving Thanks and Counting Blessings

This year I am thankful for so many things, and I am trying to get into the habit of counting my blessings each and every day, instead of waiting for a holiday to prod me into it. Here is a solid list of things I am grateful for, and they are in no particular order.

1) Mental Health: As I look back through this blog, I notice my thoughts and moods look like a roller coaster (not a fun one), going from high to low, back to really high then back to really low, and there are some flat places like where people stand in line to get on the coaster and then off again. Only I never got off again. I just stayed on the thing and rode it again and again, like when my youth group went to King’s Island one year and rode the Adventure Express ten times in a row, seeing the same sights over and over again. Then when we got off a couple of girls puked in the trash can. That’s an accurate portrayal of how I feel about my life for the past five years or so, but the past year from about August back to the August of 2013 was especially excruciating. Seeing the same sights over and over again began to kill me. Slowly. And definitely made me want to puke in the trash can.

Unknown to most people I was suffering. I thought about killing myself at least once or twice a week, and the thought wasn’t a fleeting whim of considering suicide. I dwelt on it. Sometimes for several days at a time. The days were dark, my thoughts were heavy, and I didn’t want to go on.

Unknown to most people I was also addicted to several things, the mildest of which were beer and cigarettes, but there were other darker addictions, too. There will be other posts, other writings, other stories wherein I discuss those things, but not now, not when there is so much to be thankful for.

Unknown to most people, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to escape my life and do anything but what I was doing.

Fortunately, I remained.

Fortunately, there was an end to my suffering.

Fortunately, there were Zen gardens, long conversations, fellowship, and grace.

And life is not excruciating right now. Now I have no suffering. I am only blessed.

Right now, I am filled with joy, and not the fleeting kind. I am filled with that joy I was looking for this time last year. The kind I had no business of even trying to write about, because I was so far from it, I wouldn’t have known it if it had bitten me in the ass.

Right now I feel mentally well. And content. And at peace. This wasn’t a magical transformation, but a transformation of hard work, diligence, and perseverance on the part of myself and many others.

I am thankful I am not where I used to be.

2) Vocational Health: I am blessed with the ability to work a minimum-wage job with very little stress. My goal each day is to be the person who brings a smile to someone else’s face. I don’t look at my job as making a cup of coffee; I look at it as bringing grace and joy through food to a guest of my hospitality.

I can’t explain how it feels for me to not be teaching; I do miss the thoughtful conversations with my students and my colleagues, but not the rest of it. I enjoy having those same conversations with my coworkers and customers, but moreover I enjoy clocking in, serving people, clocking out, and coming home. No planning, no grading, no emails, and no bull shit. The worst thing that happens at work now is I make someone’s coffee wrong, so then I remake it and no one is harmed.

Probably the best part of my job is my manager, who is the best friend I’ve made since I moved here in July. When she is filled with happiness, her excitement is contagious. When someone does something she appreciates, she tells the person. When someone does something wrong, she has a constructive conversation with the person, not with everyone who works at Caribou. There’s no guessing where you stand with her. No head games.

People who manage other people shouldn’t fuck with the people they manage. Each person should know exactly what she is doing right, or exactly what she is doing wrong, and how it can be corrected or continuously improved.

Nebulous feedback is only detrimental to coworkers. I am so glad I am out of the land of nebulous evaluations and the RISE model that causes all educators so much pain for so little helpful feedback or constructive criticism.

I am thankful I am where I am.

3) Physical Health: This is an area that I still need to work on, but I know I can do it. On Monday, I am going to go swim for the first time since I’ve been up here. I’ve been walking pretty consistently, and I plan to start running three days a week. I also plan to move my bike and bike trainer into the house, so I can bike twice a week. My physical health goal is to swim on Monday and Wednesday, to bike on Thursday and Saturday, and to run on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday. I certainly feel better when I am active, and not just physically. I can tell in my emotional demeanor when I have the chance to do moving meditation and when I don’t.

I’ve been drinking a few too many beers, been smoking a few too many cigarettes, and been having a few too many eat whatever I want days. I know this is not necessarily healthy. I also know that the opposite extreme is not healthy for me either. I do not live well on a restricted diet. I do not live well without the option of smoking a bit now and again. And I do not live well without an occasional alcoholic beverage.

I am well aware that moderation in all things is best for me, and I am striving toward a better and healthier relationship with what I consume.

I want wellness in regards to exercise and food.

I am thankful for being able to tell when enough is enough.

4) Relational Health: I have more friends than I have ever had before. I have a better relationship with my wife than I’ve had in about a year. I am more appreciative of my family than I have been in a long time. I value and cherish people in a way I haven’t before in my life.

Without family and friends, I am fully aware that I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I especially wouldn’t be so mentally well.

Every day, I thoughtfully consider that I might not even be here today were it not for my family and friends who’ve loved me unconditionally.

I am thankful I am here today.

5) Locational Health: Is this really a thing? Haha. I am so happy we live where we live. There are several state parks within a short driving distance. I frequently walk on an island, which is part of what I’ve always wanted. I didn’t imagine the island would be between two rivers in the middle of a huge city in Minnesota, but I have an island to walk around. I can drive half an hour and be in Minneapolis, or half an hour in the opposite direction and be out in the country surrounded by cows. We live in a quiet and working-class river valley, but I work up in the Heights, so I can see everything at night after work or in the morning before work, even the stars. I can drive back to Indiana in one day, so I can visit easily, or I can drive one day in the opposite direction and be in Canada.

I am thankful I live in a second place I love.

6) Spiritual Health: Advent starts on Sunday, and I am so excited to see what God has in store for me for the next year. I have been using Common Prayer before work each morning, and I love how God speaks to me through those words. I can find one phrase or idea and carry it through my day.

I am thankful for God’s grace, peace, and love.

Sunday, Sunday: Some Thoughts About Lent

WARNING: This post is very disjointed. Sorry about the hop, skip, jumpiness of it. In the words of Nehemiah: “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” Apparently, I can’t write today either. Ha!

I sat in church today thinking about the purpose of Lent. I noticed a couple of things that I’d like to find out more about. We didn’t do the confessional part of the liturgy, I suspect because Lent is supposed to be focused on being confessional. Our retired Rector, Fr. Charlie, unintentionally spilled the water that is hidden under the lectern for the speaker or preacher of the day, I suspect to remind us all in a hilariously accidental way of our baptisms and of our own humanity. I learned a new term: Ember Day. With a quick Internet search, I found that ember days are for prayer and fasting, and they are days that mark the quarters of the Christian calendar. I still would like to learn more about this new liturgical observation.

For me Lent has always been a time in the liturgical calendar to pray, fast, and re-find myself in the face of Christ. This year for me Lent is the most wilderness it has been for a long time. Mind you, I have been so far from Christ for a few years that I haven’t really paid any attention to Lent other than it being a season in the calendar. For a couple of years, we haven’t really regularly attended church, so Lent was just the thing that lead up to Easter. There’s this idea that the way we understand ideas or concepts is by gaining a better understanding of the opposite, and I am pretty sure I fully understand the beauty that is Christ because of my propensity to wallow in the opposite. I know the wilderness. I know the desert. At points in my life, I’ve known the barren lands so well that I never thought I’d find my way back, or want to.

But now I am here. In the symbolic wilderness of Lent. I feel the sadness. I feel the temptation. I feel the loneliness. I feel this in juxtaposition to the joy, the warmth, the holiness, and the grace I have felt in Christ since the first Sunday of Advent. I feel like I have been called home only to be cast back into the dark. The cross is covered. The baptismal font is gone. The confessions are removed form the liturgy. We are in utter theological darkness. This concept, as I tried (but poorly) to articulate in my post about the road trip, has never been so clear to me in my life as it is in this particular Lent season.

Because of our impending move, this Lent season brings for me lots of last moments. Yesterday when we were at the Mounds, I said to Bec, “Later this spring, I’ll bring you back and we can walk the route of the race I just ran, because it’s beautiful.” Only I won’t, because she’ll be in Minnesota. Later in the say I said to my brother, “Next year when we run this Shamrock Beer Run, we’ll know to get here really early or really late to avoid the horrible bottle neck at the start line.” He said back to me, “Only you won’t be here next year, you’ll be in Minnesota.” True. My parents brought Bec and me a few dozen eggs, and I thought to myself that pretty soon I’d not be getting delicious farm fresh eggs every week, nor would I be able to just call them up for a coffee or to see me run a race. So far this Lent I’ve had the intense pain and pleasure of having many lengthy conversations with both friends and family to help me discern my future.

Who am I? Who is God? Where do I find my worth? What makes me live? What is my calling? What brings me joy? What vexes me? How can I reconcile the various facets of my life? What the fuck am I doing? Why? Am I seeking God’s will? These are just a few of the questions I’ve wrestled with over the past few weeks.

At church this morning, the Eucharist had a different meaning for me, and I can assume for Bec, since we both shed a few tears when we went back to the pew to kneel and contemplate the mystery of Jesus’ body and blood. She carefully thread her arm through mine and held my hand tightly. I am not sure if it was for my benefit or hers. We both know this time of transition will be more difficult and longer than we’d like. At any rate, the Eucharist today gave me an intense hope in the future. The Eucharist has a beautiful of doing that: reminding me that God is bigger than the wilderness. No matter the darkness, no matter my lostness or helplessness, God is there. Christ is real and present in my friends and family. I am not alone in this journey. Jesus is there. With me. In the wilderness.

I love the season of Lent, because I allow myself time to think about the darker more mysterious parts of my Christian faith. And I hate the season of Lent for the same reasons. Perhaps this is why Easter brings such joy. I cling to this hope. I cling to the promise of a risen Christ.

Advent, Food and Exercise, Writing, and Stress

Most people who know me would not be able to believe that my two favorite liturgical seasons are Lent and Advent, in that order. I love spiritual waiting, because I know at the end of the wait there will be Jesus. I love the anticipation of Jesus, who is in all ways God, coming to earth in all ways human during Advent. I reluctantly wait for his inevitable death with the promise of resurrection during Lent. There is nothing quite like spiritual anticipation to make a person realize how blessed we are on this earth, how much the God of the universe cares for us and gives us grace. I agree with Nadia Bolz-Weber when she insists that our spiritual and theological lives consists of hundreds, if not thousands, of little deaths, resurrections, and rebirths (paraphrase). So it is every day for me. Anticipation of these spiritual events keeps me keeping on. Anticipation gives me hope.

Contrarily, I do not love earthly waiting. Instead I am like the cliché kid in the candy shop, wanting to take as little time as possible to make things happen in this world. I want things and I want them now. Maybe that’s why I put so much stock in Advent and Lent; it makes feel as if I have some otherworldly waiting ability. Anyway, I’m in a period of waiting now, on this earth, for the next steps. I’m leaving teaching at the end of May, at least for a while, until I can figure out what I want to do with myself. I’m hoping to be a bartender, or a barista, or something that involves the outdoors for a bit. I need to regroup and rethink and refocus. So, I am waiting to see what comes next. And it feels like an eternity. And it feels like so many things to figure out. And it feels overwhelming.

*

Well, I tried a Whole 30, but again didn’t succeed. It takes a lot of work for me to be that strict with my food. Food is love and grace for me, and I still want to share in happy hour with my friends. Maybe I’m a weak person, maybe I have no self-control (see above, I want it, now), maybe I need a legitimate starting point like New Year’s to make things stick, maybe I’m just destined to be a fat kid. Who knows? What I do know is that from my lowest weight last year until now, I’ve gained almost 30 pounds. I chalk it up to stress, since I eat my feelings. I chalk it up to the mild depression I feel every fall/winter, since I sometimes don’t even want to get out of bed.

I am nowhere near my fattest, but I am not happy with this weight gain, because I can’t run, bike, or swim as fast. That being said, I’m cruising through the holidays, and then I’ll try to make some changes. It’s too much to try to be festive and self-policing at the same time.

I have also fallen short of my yearly goal this year to move my body 5 miles each day. I don’t think there’s any way for me to accomplish this goal, since my body doesn’t seem to want to cooperate with my grand plan of completing a mini-triathlon each day. I did four days worth, but then my body sort of said, “Fuck you, fatty, this is too much exercise.” And now my foot hurts, and I don’t think I can do it. But I’m going to try again starting tomorrow.

*

I’ve been trying to write with my students this semester, but all I’ve gotten out of it is a load of crap and some really bad starts to several nonsensical stories. I am taking a teaching creative writing class this spring semester, so I can make something out of my classes for my PhD that I won’t be using for an actual PhD, since I quit. I hope the muse comes back to me before I have to start working on my creative project for the Master’s degree I’ll be trying to get. It’ll be in creative writing, and I have to write a new creative nonfiction piece that is publishable. This may be a bit tricky. Anyway, my whole point is I need a muse.

*

I have never felt so much stress at any point in my life up to this date. I can’t imagine being a person who is this stressed all the time, nor can I fathom how some people function while carrying around such a huge load of anger, suspicion, and doubt as I see people carrying. I have found myself wondering how people keep from simply collapsing under the weight of the burdens they bear, because I sometimes feel like I could cave to the small amount of things I shoulder.

During this Advent, my heart hurts for people who experience stress, despair, anger, suspicion, doubt, hate, a painful past, or illness, and I pray and hope for healing, peace, love, and grace to visit them through me. I anticipate that the risen Christ will show through me and my actions as I love people this Advent. I anticipate being grace.