Sunday, August 7, 2011

Final thoughts

The book is in.  The prints are made.  The marathon is run.  The retreat is over.  

I guess that means I have to go back to work. 

And, actually, that's okay with me.  If sabbatical lasted forever, it would not be as useful as it actually is.  And it'd be boring. 

I love my job.  Really really love my job.  I know that is a luxury, to love one's job, and so I feel very fortunate to love mine.  But I definitely needed a break.  Here's some of what I wrote about being on sabbatical when I was at Mercy Center:

When I was heading out of the office last May, I had this overwhelming feeling of entitlement, as if this sabbatical was something I had earned, something I deserved, it was my right.  I'm not sure what exactly changed my attitude (except maybe distance) but I have come to a place of profound gratitude and humility.  This time away was a gift to me from my parish, from Lilly and from God.  I did work hard to get to this place, but many people work hard and very few are rewarded with such an exceptional gift as three months to spend with family, traveling, relaxing, visiting, cultivating a long-lost hobby.  Entitlement got me nowhere (as is usually the case) but the switch to gratitude has released a lot of little stressed-out demons from their duties on my brain and shoulders.

I'm not going to lie and tell you all that I experienced some kind of major personal growth.  I, in fact, did little deep thinking.  But I did find that rest that I feared was so elusive in the beginning.  And I am coming back to this job that I love so much-- my vocation and life's calling-- with renewed energy and renewed excitement.  That is the point, I suppose.  I didn't deserve it any more than anyone else, but I did get the time that I needed to "accomplish" this rest.  And so I'll respond by continuing to do what I do best: loving the church community, teaching about Christ, preaching love and respect.  I am not smarter, deeper or more profound* for having left, but I am ready to return with an energy for the work that I haven't really felt in years.

I can't wait to see you all next Sunday!

*but, truth be told, I may actually be a little cuter since this rest has helped me lose the worried look and the perpetual bags under my eyes.  HA!

Day Whatever: Wrapping this thing up

Well, friends, after I got my book off to the printer's and headed headlong into pre-marathon mental hygiene, I gave the blog a much needed-rest (or maybe it was I who needed a rest. Whatever).  

Unless I come up with something profound that I need to share with you in the next few days, I am going to make this my final sabbatical blog entry [updated: okay, there's one more].  Whatever will you do without me?  Well, you can come to church, for starters.  Because I'll be there starting on Tuesday and because Jesus is far more interesting than me anyway.  And he didn't even get a sabbatical!

So, the last two weeks...

I took off for San Francisco last Saturday and stayed in Union Square at a great little hotel about a mile from the marathon start/finish line.  This little mile figures into our story a bit later.  Sunday morning, I woke up at an ungodly hour, dressed and marched on down.  It was beautiful that morning, a cool and perfect 57 degrees.  San Francisco is such a gorgeous city and this morning as 5,000 runners gathered for the 5k, 1/2 marathon and full marathon, it was just right.

This was my view waiting in the port-a-let line.  Seriously.  That's the Bay Bridge over to Oakland.

The start of the run was idyllic and serene, even with all 5,000 people.  I ran well and felt fantastic.  I snapped this around mile 5.  (For the record, I carry my iPhone when I run, not my DSLR!) 

That is our friend the Golden Gate Bridge.  A few minutes later, I ran over it and then made a loop and came back.  Very, very cool and just as iconic as it sounds.  On the way back across, however, the bridge sprouted tentacles and wrapped them around my ankles.  Or maybe I just tripped over my own foot.  Either way, I took a sprawling wipeout at mile 9.5, scraped chin and palms and knocked the wind out of me.  Mean old bridge.  I recovered in a couple of minutes but kind of lost my running mojo after that.

I kept on a decent (for me) pace for another 5 miles but kept getting slower and slower-- still running-- until mile 20 when it seemed that my whole being began to break down, right down to my soul.  I suppose this is what they call the dreaded "wall" and friends, it was terrible.  The scenery was so beautiful and I was miserable.  

But I kept on and finally finished--still running-- at a depressingly slow pace.  

But I finished!  So I can cross "MARATHON" off my bucket list.  I never have to do that again.  Whew.  And the shirt is really fabulous.

After grabbing one of those weird foil blankets,  I tried to wander back to my hotel.  My phone (with GPS) had died and there was nary a taxi to be found.  They were all taken by the faster, sprightlier marathoners.  I kept getting turned around and lost.  By the time I got a taxi, 40 minutes later, I was only 4 blocks from my hotel but still couldn't find it.  Inside my head was a dark place.  Yikes.  

I showered, ate (read inhaled) some pancakes, got a massage and then took to my bed, where I watched a pay-per-view movie and ordered Chinese food.  Then slept for 13 hours.  

The next morning, I took this picture while waiting for an omelet (you see a theme here? I was hungry!) to say "hi!" to my kids.  I hope my husband didn't actually show it to them because I look about as awful as I felt: swollen, bleary, stiff.  But a marathoner!

After I did a touristy limp through Chinatown, I headed to the Mercy Center in Burlingame, where I spent three days on retreat, doing yoga, writing, praying the offices, and walking the labyrinth.  It was renewing and restful.  Mercy Center is a really lovely place and I highly recommend it for simple retreats.  It is not luxurious but has everything one needs for time to think, rest and pray.  The beds are comfy and quiet, the food is simple and delicious and the grounds are very pretty.  It is in California, which is rather inconvenient for me, but it was just the right thing at the time.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Day Seventy Five: Book!

I just sent my (self-published) book off to be printed.  It is a labor of love and I can't wait to see it!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Day Seventy Two: Pressure

One week from tomorrow I will get on an airplane bound for San Francisco where I will run my first marathon.  26.2 miles.  I've gone as far as 23 miles and I am still not really convinced I can do this.

I have put a lot of pressure on myself with this one.  that kind of pressure is pretty much the opposite of what a sabbatical is about, I'm told.  apparently, I'm supposed to be resting and rejuvenating, getting myself prepared for the next seven (or so) years of parish ministry.  There is enough pressure from all directions in my vocation and family life, I shouldn't be adding my own artificially-induced expectations to the mix.

But that's just what I've done.  The closer I get to this event, the more I realize that, friends, I'm going to be REALLY upset and disappointed in myself if I don't make it. My goal: finish the damn thing before they clean up the course.  It seems like something I should be able to do. But I'm just not sure.  In fact, I'm pretty unsure.  And I'm scared.  I'm scared that I'm going to come back from this great gift of three months of restful, worry-free, happy time feeling strung out, knotted up and sad, all because I didn't make a goal that has become very important to me.

So why do we do this to ourselves?  I preach sermons about and really do believe that we are forgiven, loved and freed by a loving God that knows each of us to be worthy despite our own shortcomings.  I mean it.  I do.  But when it comes to my own shortcomings, or even my own POSSIBLE shortcomings (heck, this marathon hasn't even happened yet!), I can't let go of my own need to prove again and again that I am indeed worthy of something.  I'm proving it to myself, of course, but if God believes it and I know that, then why can't I believe it, too?

God has that divine ability to see those things in us that we are blind to, even--or maybe especially-- in ourselves.  And so we, in our very shortsighted human way, set up tests for ourselves: I will be a better parent if..., I will make more money if..., my spouse will love me more if...,  Running this marathon is just one more way I am trying to prove myself worthy to keep walking on this planet, trying to feel accomplished.  I'm not God and I'm just not capable of loving myself the way that God loves me.  So I fill the space with these little tests.  My hope for myself as I get older (and wiser?!?) is that I will feel the need to test myself less and believe in my untested goodness more.

In the mean time, I have a marathon to run!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Day Seventy One: Poor Little Preacher's Kid

I decided that since my kids were such good sports putting up with me all summer, I'd include them in the book.  Linden couldn't stand still long enough for me to get her hands, so I just took Eli's.

When I asked him my requisite interview question, "What is the most important thing you do with your hands?" he pressed them together up under his chin and said, very piously but seriously, "I fold them up to pray.  That's very important."  Then he walked away.  Kevin looked at me and said, "You can't print that, it sounds like a plant." About ten seconds later, he happily bounced back and practically shouted in my face "OH!  I LIKE TO RIDE MY BIKE TOO!!"

You can't make this stuff up.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day Seventy: Holy Comforter

This evening I made my last church visit.  I visited My friend Mike Tanner at Holy Comforter here in Atlanta.  Holy Comforter is a unique congregation that has a large population of people with mental health diagnoses.  I have visited Holy Comforter several times over the last few year and have celebrated and preached there once.  I find it equal parts scary and holy.  Many of the people who worship at Holy comforter are unpredictable in their behavior, speech, even personal hygiene.  I never really know what to expect when I show up.  I find that frightening, disconcerting, disorienting at first.  It takes me a while to get settled in.  But then the Holy Spirit shows up, just like the Holy Spirit shows up everywhere.  We sing and pray together, we share the Meal together.  It is still frightening and unpredictable, but a little less so for the commonality that we all share, the Eucharist, the Bread, broken for all of us, those who are obviously broken themselves and those who put up a good show of pretending not to be.  And then, after that Bread is broken, we all remember (re-member) that we are beloved, broken bits and all.

Taking pictures and Holy Comforter was a hoot.  For starters, Mike invited anyone who wanted to to come have their hands photographed.  Nineteen people came forward.  Nineteen!  I got some good shots and some great quotes.  One man told me that the most important thing he does with his hands is "wash them."

Visiting HC was a fantastic way to wrap up this phase of the project.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Day Sixty Seven: Hands

Barbara is a Methodist pastor who joins in an Episcopal healing service from time to time.  She used to be a professional violinist.