Rewriting Synapses

Rewriting Synapses

I am an American, which is to say that our culture of goals, work, outcomes, and more work is well-written in my brain. Too often I measure my worth by the things that I do rather than who I am. My struggle to worry less about doing and focus on being is a continuing area for growth.

morning-runRunning is about being of the earth with each footfall. It is about being as my spirit soars as the sky opens up. Running is the sacred entanglement of the Imago Dei within, my physicality, and the Gaian whole.

And so being sidelined by an injury impacts my mind, body, and spirituality. This unwanted segue off the gravel, trail, and pavement is about being. Letting go of doing more distance, more speed, or more runs is miserable as I yearn for a good run like non-runners yearn for chocolate. The American cultural drive to perform and achieve trifles and philanders with self-worth.

Though I do not believe that the one I call God tests anyone, all moments and experiences provide the opportunity for learning. I can choose during this time of healing and rest to idolize goals, work, and outcomes. I can wallow and strengthen the brain synapses that support our unhealthy culture within myself.

Instead I choose to sit in the moment with those unhealthy feelings, neither wallowing or fighting, but letting them dissipate. I recall the lessons I learn running beneath transcendent skies and through embracing woods. I opt for being.

It’s What I Do. 

When one of our beloved flock are nearing death, we live in dread of the next phone call or text. That’s the way it is for clergy.

When the call comes, our carefully planned day or day-off drops to the bottom of the priority list. The dreaded communiqué and our response disrupts schedules and family time. Yet, we don’t complain. This is the job. We respond in love without resentment. That’s how it is when you’re called by the divine. Though I don’t exactly find joy in this aspect of my work, I have a sense of satisfaction and peace in being with families.

I also feel a private sense of grief. Always.

My grief can be simple and straightforward: I feel sad for others. If it is someone with whom I’ve had a deep or longterm relationship my sadness can take awhile to process. Nonetheless, out of love I set my feelings aside to be God’s presence for the deceased’s family and friends. That’s the job. That’s the calling. It’s what I do.

Sometimes, however, the death triggers a personal emotion. That’s what happened recently. Both clergy, my wife and I minister 165-miles apart. We manage the distance well. I feel as called to my rural congregation as she does to the suburban hospital where she is chaplain. Still, I don’t like it.

Dealing with unwanted separation in my own marriage I am sensitive to the grief of departures and time apart. The death of a parishioner’s spouse is prone to trigger my own feelings. This can especially be true when an aspect of the couple reminds me of my own relationship.

***

When the text came recently, I was over a hundred miles away. When the text came recently, I didn’t question where and with whom I must be. This is the job. This is the calling. It is where I needed to be.

This time the triggered emotion, coupled as it was with a tragic death the week prior, and the too soon departure from my own wife, I found myself sobbing as I drove the freeway to be with the widow.

I thought about the grieving family. A family I love has been struggling for far too long. I sobbed and prayed for them. Without the drive, my emotions would have remained in check until the quiet of the evening or days later.

I didn’t just sob for the family, however. I sobbed for myself. My personal feelings had been triggered. This is the job. This is the calling. It is what I do in my alone time surrounding a death.

My own overly sensitive feelings about detaching from my wife cascaded down my face. I thought about the choices we make for our jobs, our God. I thought about quitting outright and becoming a househusband. I fantasized about living with my beloved full-time. This is what I do when we must part. These were familiar thoughts, not enough to cause sobbing.

And, so, I prayed for my own relationship. I did not pray for our circumstance to change. I know that, at least for now, this is the job. This is our calling.

I thought about our deaths with eyes open. One day, one of us will die and leave the other. The widow with whom I would soon sit, was not an aberration. This is the nature of life, death will come.

I thought about the depth of aloneness one of us will one day feel. I prayed that when the time comes, my wife should die first. I hate the constant separations of our present, dread going on alone after her death, but I do not want my beloved to have to feel that pain. I will gladly take it upon myself, I told the loving spirit that connects all of creation.

This is the marriage. This is a calling. This is love.

Running from Embarrassment

Running from Embarrassment
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Retired. Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

 

Costumed in a kelly green tracksuit with yellow stripes down each leg and arm, I left our tiny apartment for a run. I must’ve been a sight! I didn’t get into running consistently in college despite that green polyester jogging suit.

 

My feelings of conspicuousness coupled with the memories of public school gym classes led me to abandon running in a few weeks. I associated exercise with being targeted, taunted, and ridiculed.

Running was a punishment in junior high school.

In my thirties and forties I dabbled in running, never getting serious. Still, I couldn’t help myself in my pre-dawn walks, often shifting to short runs. Because no one could see me, I was free to move my body. Those adolescent feelings of negative self-image die hard. Today, the taunting of my poor athletic skills and my husky childhood body still lurk within my psyche.

In the last few years, as my running became frequent and regular, I’ve begun to identify as a runner. That identity is qualitatively different than previously.

My aging body is certainly not qualitatively more graceful or attractive. You will not see me on the cover of Runners World. I am, however, healthier and more comfortable in my own skin. Major surgery coupled with the natural aging process, has changed my mind and spirit. I care less about what others think.

I am healthier and happier because I run.

Re-starting this kind of intensive activity in your fifties can and did lead to a few injuries. I listened to my body. They were minor and I recovered well. As I set personal goals, I challenge myself but am respectful of my limits. Despite craving the daily endorphin fix, I’ve learned my body cannot handle running more often than every thirty-six to forty-eight hours.

I choose to learn from the experiences of others, but I focus on health and self-care rather than anything close to competition. Maybe that’s why I do not participate in group running events. Others say they are about personal challenge, not competition. I have no reason to mistrust other runners but for now races do not appeal to me.

Runs are physical and spiritual journeys that mirror life. Some days I meet goals and challenges. Other days I struggle and run slower or not as far as I’d hoped. Some days I just want to go home.

Running is embracing the imago dei within myself. Created in God’s image, I have nothing to be embarrassed about the limits and skills of my body. My mind, body, and spirit are all facets of who I am.

And so I run. I sweat too much, my fat jiggles with each stride, and maybe I look a sight! This is me, as beloved by the divine as the fittest athlete. But run I must because it heals past hurts, strengthens me in the present, and fortifies hope for the future.

I am runner, watch me go.

A Morning Pause

Divine Moment
Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

Make the bed.
“Should I change the sheets today?”
No time. Tomorrow.
Do the dishes.
Water the grass.
Shower.
Dress.
Deal with dog.
Eat. Don’t dawdle.
Ding. Ding. Reply to texts.
Teeth. Don’t forget to brush your teeth.
Floss, too.
“I’ve gotta start a load of clothes before I go!”

In the midst of my morning routine I found sabbath. As the laundry detergent slowly and intently flowed into the cup, I took a breath. My body relaxed and my blood flowed in rhythm to the steady, unhurried liquid as it flowed from bottle to tap to measuring cup.

In and out. Sigh. I am here in this now.

That’s when I knew who I am. That’s the moment when I felt the divine presence in my morning routine.

Amen.

 

I Beeped, He Flipped

I Beeped, He Flipped

From his perspective, I came from out of nowhere. He saw an opening and pulled his Jeep out of the center turn lane. That’s when he heard a beep, looking back to see the bright green car.

I turned into the drive lane from the side street. Assuming the Jeep in the turn lane would stay put, I accelerated. That’s when it  pulled out, nearly taking the front end off my car.

I beeped; he flipped.

He showed me his middle finger from inside his car. Going the same way,  I stopped behind him at the light. Apparently, not sure I’d seen his middle finger, he held it out his window.

I suppose I should have reacted so he knew I’d seen his finger. He pointed at me using the outside mirror and showed me his middle finger again. I didn’t react.

Red-faced, he energetically pointed at me and showed me his middle finger yet again. I didn’t react. He pointed and showed it to me a fifth and sixth time. Finally I understood. He needed some closure. I gave him what I hoped would be a submissive shrug.

That seemed to satisfy him.

***

Like the driver of the Jeep, we all want to be seen and heard. I could have felt threatened. (A small part of me did.) However, I chose to remain calm, mustering empathy. Like my companion driver, stressors can negatively impact my driving or my relationship with others.

I am thankful for the empathy that helped me perceive what the angry driver needed. In calmness and empathy, I saw the divinity within a sojourning human being.

___

Luke 6:27-31

Greater Than Fear & Annoyance

Greater Than Fear & Annoyance
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Photo by Tim Graves. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

I avoid her. I fear running into her at the post office or the grocery. She has a way of taking a chunk out of my spirit.

Just when you wanna hate people, though, they go and do something nice. Just when I’m ready to have nothing to do with someone, I become aware of their struggles and like the Grinch my heart grows three sizes.

In my small town there is a woman who feels I’m entitled to her opinion of my driving. In addition to my atrocious driving habits, I apparently pastor a not-Christian church. I need to know that, too. Apparently.

Emotionally it is easy to become annoyed with this woman. I don’t have any first hand understanding of her struggles. Nor has my personal driving instructor done something nice for me. However, I know she volunteers to do tedious work in our community.

People are complicated and messy. I’m sure she has challenges of which I’m unaware. Her behavior tells me that she does. Our “stuff” often spills over onto innocent people. As a local pastor, who won’t strike back,  I’m an easy target.

My faith tells me that we all hold the sacred within us. I can’t just write her off if I believe what I claim.When I remember this, I find my heart growing and softening. I’m more tolerant. I find ways to interact with her in love rather than mere tolerance.

I even find myself seeing the good within her. Love really is greater than fear and annoyance.

 

 

Manhood

Manhood

I get that.

The whole world tells us we’re supposed to be strong,
but I’m not.

I’m just tired.
I’m hurting and fragile.

We’re supposed to be gruff and unfeeling.
Provide and protect, we’re told.

But I can’t.
And you don’t need or want that.
Not really.

I can’t help it. I feel deeply.
I think it all in my heart.

They, the others, say I should be,
but I’m not.

Sometimes it bothers me,
but sometimes it doesn’t.

I know I don’t need to fit a mold,
but I feel the world trying to squish me into it sometimes.

Or is that my loneliness doing the pushing?

They say I should but I can’t.
I sometimes try anyway,
because the cravings and yearnings are powerful.

I am me. I choose my am over their shoulds.
(Well, most of the time.)

I hope you get that.

Am I Wasting What Time I Have?

It can be extremely rewarding and gratifying but this month, it is hard. Ministry is hard.

We spend half our time 165-miles apart and I’m done with it. Done, done, done. I ache. We’ve been at this for over three years. Before that we dealt with 350-miles for the three years while I was in seminary. There was a brief period between in which we lived together, in which we slept in the same bed every night.

I shouldn’t be surprised that we’re challenged by separation and distance. In my focused meditative Bible reading leading up to my seminary years, I perceived the Holy Spirit speaking to me about the cost of my call. Following God can sometimes involve leaving family behind, at least for a time.

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus. Turning to them, he said,  “Whoever comes to me and doesn’t hate father and mother, spouse and children, and brothers and sisters—yes, even one’s own life—cannot be my disciple. Whoever doesn’t carry their own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:25-27 CEB

No, I don’t think God is trying to break us up.  The still speaking God, however, hinted to me about the very kind of challenges we’re enduring. I naively thought they would end once we finished my seminary years.

I’ve grown weary about what it means for a clergy couple to respond to our individual calls from God and remain true to our marriage vows. We both work hard in our respective ministries. We also remain strongly committed to one another and make good use of texting, phoning, and Facetime to maintain our relationship.

But it is hard.

Ministry can be lonely work under the best of circumstances. When you are faced with personal struggles of loneliness, there is often no one to whom you can turn. The role of the pastor (me) and the chaplain (my wife) is to listen to others rather than talk about our own problems.

I have found healthy ways to cope. I exercise regularly. I maintain friendships of mutuality outside of my tiny community to the extent I’m able. I sit with my feelings and accept them without judgement. (Well, sometimes.)

But it is hard, especially in weeks like the last few.

Having survived Holy Week with its extra pressures and services, I looked forward to some downtime with my wife. As is prone to happen, death comes on its own schedule rather than on mine. Word reached me that a beloved member of our church was nearing his final breath. I kissed my wife and traveled 165-miles to be with the dying saint of the church. I did not get to pray with him the one last time I’d hoped. He died while I was en route.

The time apart from my wife has been more emotionally difficult since this death. I’ve been weepy. I’ve been clingy. I’ve been a bit on the controlling side.

This is what sometimes happen when standing and praying with a widow as she bids the body of her husband of six and a half decades goodbye. Her emotions mingle with my own and I wonder if I’m wasting the little time I have with my own beloved to minister to others.

Ministry is hard, especially when my emotions get all tangled with others.

I don’t know whether I’m wasting the little time I have with my own spouse. At the end of the day being a non-anxious presence for others, I just don’t know. All I can do is sit as quiet tears fall down my face.