Thursday, November 29, 2012

"Laughter is Carbonated Holiness"

One reason I haven't sat down to write a book is that I'm lazy. The way I justify my laziness is by acknowledging that I'm really not a great writer. I know my parents strongly disagree with that statement but 1) they aren't reading really great stuff so they don't have a benchmark from which to judge, and 2) they're my parents.

Last night I attended a book reading with Anne Lamott. Anne is a great writer. Not classic literature great, but turn of phrase, rich and relateable great. If you're not familiar with her, Anne is a Christian writer. Sort of. I think she only "came out" as a Christian about 20 years ago, but she was on the path for quite a while before that. Before that, she was also an alcoholic, drug user, hippy enclave-living, dreadlock-wearing college-dropout in California. She's still wearing the dreads and living in California, but she's clean and sober now and considerably older and wiser.

What I love about Anne's writing is the purity of it. The complete honesty and lack of pretense. And her remarkable sense of humor. What she puts on paper most of us can respond to with "Oh yeah, been there." Well before it was fashionable to do so, she was confessing that sometimes we moms hate being moms. Oh yeah, been there. My friend Andria explained that Anne's book Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year helped her tremendously as a new mom. As she put it, "If Anne's child survived all the mistakes she made, I should be fine." Basically, this woman makes you feel better about yourself--all your weaknesses, fears, failings, doubts, etc. When you read her books you realize you're not quite as messed up as you thought you were. Or, if you are, you're not alone. It's probably the same reaction you have when reading my blog. A sense of relief that someone out there is crazier than you.

In her slightly absent-minded, stream-of-consciousness talk last night, Anne endeared herself to a sold-out audience who laughed heartily and nodded their heads in agreement with this woman whom the Christian Right, the Evangelicals, and the Born-Agains would likely find offensive.While Anne calls herself a Christian and believes in God and the resurrected Jesus, she doesn't try to sell it. She doesn't claim an understanding of theology (in fact, some might find hers "loose" at best) or any book smarts when it comes to "religion." She doesn't preach and doesn't appreciate many of those who do, particularly those on a stage with an 800-member chorus. She doesn't care whether you call yourself a Christian or if you pray to Harold, as in "Our Father, who art in heaven, Harold be thy name," or Phil (her personal preference). For Anne it's about recognizing there's someone whose love for us is greater than we can ever imagine. That there's someone for whom we are perfect exactly as we are. That the grace we have been given is what saves us. This quote from her last night really resonated with me: "All we can know is who holds the future, not what the future holds."

Anne spent a good bit of time last evening explaining the blessings of age. She's 58 now and she accepts that her arms will not improve and that her reflection from the iPad screen may actually frighten her from time to time  And she finds amusement in us 40-somethings who still think we can fix ourselves. She explains "The grace of getting older is getting you back." You start savoring time because you realize how vulnerable you are. She confirms that we must indeed "be present to win" in this life, and that everything we need, we already have.

Anne's newest book, Help, Thanks, Wow, does not appear to be a particularly meaty book or one that more "seasoned" Christians may need for their spiritual development, but whether you call yourself a person of faith or not, I highly recommend checking out her earlier titles:
  • Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
  • Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
  • Grace Eventually: Thoughts on Faith
I can practically guarantee that within the first five pages she'll have you hooked by her raw honesty, her sense of humor, and her spirit. Give her a read and let me know what you think.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Thanksgiving Ode to Facebook

Today, among other things, I'm giving thanks for Facebook. While there are those who express concern or outright disdain for the King of Social Media, I would like to propose that it's done a remarkable job of bringing people together, at least for me personally. And when I'm in touch with people I care about, I am thankful.

I'm thankful that through Facebook I'm closer than ever to a few of my relatives and my relatives-in-law. Take my Aunt Joan and my cousin Linda. I haven't actually seen them in years, but now we correspond (and play addictive online word games) on a regular basis. Rob's cousin Anthony and I have likewise bonded. And I connect often with Rob's aunt Jeanie who happens to be one of my favorite people. Facebook even allows me to know something about my sister's life. She doesn't personally post anything, but her husband does, and hey, it's better than nothing.

Facebook has also reconnected me with friends whom I would otherwise likely have never seen nor heard from again: prolific blogger Jim whom I barely knew in high school, my grad school friend Susanne, my former classmate Karen whose writing reflects the beauty of life, and my Freakin' Angel critic (in a nice way) Bryce. And there's Maureen, a college friend and fierce TV-Radio competitor (she won); and Jon, also from IUP Radio-TV who made it big (as in working for Oprah big); there's Tim, one of the many guys I liked in high school who never noticed; and Jen, our high school's most beautiful singing voice. My friends across the pond in Northern Ireland are also within reach compliments of Facebook.

Then there are my best friends from college, the women who knew me before medication and loved me anyway. Though they live too far away to visit even occasionally, I'm blessed to keep up with Kathie and Amy, and occasionally see an update from Lisa and Sue.

Saying goodbye to former coworkers has been made easier thanks to Facebook. I've been reunited with Shannon, Karen, Tony, and Eric from Adams Outdoor. I've reconnected with Diana, the woman who predicted I'd marry Rob the first day we met when I started working at Hot 99.9 radio. Because of Facebook, I know I can count on "seeing" my Judson/ABHMS friends Gale, Lisa, Jen, Aidsand, MaryAnn, Tammy, Joe, and Rebecca. Former coworkers like Michelle, Rick, Sandy, and Obed are also just a click away. I can even enjoy updates from my favorite Judson Press authors, including Alicia, Janet, Bill, Scott, Marvin, Kirk, Susan, Dale, and others.

And Facebook has been about so much more than the number of friends on my list or even the occasional "like" or status update. Facebook has actually enabled and encouraged expressions of love, concern, compassion, gratitude, celebration, and sympathy. While not everyone is comfortable sharing their pain or even their joy, there are others with whom we form an emotional bond in a time of need. My high school friend Beth has endured some of life's greatest challenges, including the very recent death of her five-year old daughter Emma whose life was cut short by Rett Syndrome. Beth provided regular updates throughout her life, and requested prayers when needed for Emma or her other daughter Molly. The prayers and well wishes from dozens of friends near and far provided Beth with some small measure of comfort. And Beth is just one of many who choose to share their pain and sorrow, allowing those who love them from a distance to "be there" during difficult times. Similarly, on Facebook we celebrate the happy things in our lives, marriages, births, healing, accomplishments, and more. And be honest, who doesn't absolutely love seeing dozens of birthday wishes on their special day? That alone is worth the price of Facebook, if Facebook had a price.

As for me, well you know my life's an open book, and Facebook has served as my primary means for sharing these all-revealing blog posts. Through my blog I've learned that I sometimes say what's on others' minds, and by sharing what is private and painful for many I'm able to reach someone who similarly struggles. The greatest gift I get from my writing is hearing from another who has the same doubts, insecurities, parenting dilemmas, faith issues, and visits from the Funkapotomus. It always helps to know we're not alone in this big, sometimes bad, world.

To my Facebook friends near and far, past and present, Happy Thanksgiving. I'm grateful for having you in my life!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What Would Ann Do?

On November 30, 2012, it will be a year since my friend Ann lost her battle with cancer. To celebrate the extraordinary woman she was and to recognize her life-long commitment to helping others, my church, Media Presbyterian, coordinated with Ann's family to establish Ann's Love Builds. Donations to Ann's Love Builds will be used to build The Dr. Ann Bates Memorial Hospital in Ghana.

But Ann's love is not something we only want to share with a country 5,000 miles away. Ann's love needs to be expressed much closer to home as well, and so on Saturday, more than 200 friends, family members, and others whose lives she touched, gathered together to make a difference in the Philadelphia area. We worked with Urban Promise in Camden, assembled bicycles to donate to City Team in Chester for their Christmas Giving Project, and cooked and delivered hot meals to families in Long Beach Island whose lives were turned upside down by Sandy. At other sites, groups were ripping up moldy carpeting and laying new flooring in a school computer lab, constructing playground equipment, and demolishing a home that needed to be rebuilt from the studs up. And my group, more than 20 of us, fixed lights in classrooms and painted the outside of an elementary school in northeast Philly.

And the night before this day of service, I experienced my usual pre-service/mission work second thoughts:
Why do I sign up for these things? I don't want to get up early on a Saturday. I have a million things to do around my own home. 
Because this day was all about Ann, my whining and grumbling were less pronounced than they have been in the past, but I must confess to them nonetheless. And while I'm in confession mode (I am now working for the Catholics, after all), I also admit that part of my attitude problem could be traced back to that controversial commentary I recently shared on Facebook titled "Four More Years of Decline." While I definitely don't want to "go there" again (I am averse to confrontation), the article's disdain for the "entitlement age," had stuck with me. It is without question my biggest concern about many of Obama's policies (crap, I went there). And so I approached this day of service with a major societal issue and personal past service experiences lingering in the back of my mind.

Here's the thing. Give me a home with elderly residents, the disabled, or a single mom trying to make ends meet in order to care for her children. Take me to an organization that cares for kids in need or victims of domestic abuse. Or find me a school that's understaffed and neglected and I'll do whatever you ask. But please don't ask me to clean up a yard or fix a fence or paint a room while a strapping young man sits and watches me work. And don't ask me to pick up needles and bottles in an empty lot next to a community center where the staff complains about having to come in on a Saturday to "supervise" me. I guess what I'm trying to say is don't ask me to help someone who won't help him or herself.

At the elementary school where we worked in northeast Philly, the only maintenance guy caring for this school of 1,700 kids (seriously, one guy) was there with a smile to assist us in any way possible. And the principal was present for the day, too. And she even went to get donuts when she heard someone who looks a lot like me shall remain nameless was whining about wanting donuts. And there were about a dozen kids and one mom who showed up to help as well.  The day was wonderful and we accomplished a great deal, and it was a wonderful tribute to Ann.

And speaking of Ann, she never would have reconsidered her commitment to participate in a day of service. Would have never been hung up on my issues with society. Never would have asked whether someone was deserving. Because Ann was one of the best people I've known. Dedicated to caring for others, no matter their station in life. Ann understood what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ. To "love your neighbor as yourself." And she recognized that "even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve."

May I learn from her example. 

Hope & Abby with fingernails painted. Literally.

The cutest and most enthusiastic helper you've ever seen!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Random Thoughts from the Gym

So in case you're wondering, the new job is going really well. I haven't cried yet! The people are very nice and no one has put my age after my name on my office nameplate. Of course, I don't actually have an office, or a nameplate for that matter. But still, I don't think they'd do that.

While I am happy at Villanova, I am disappointed to report that they're giving me nothing to work with in terms of blog post material. Therefore, in an effort to share something/anything, I offer you:

Random Thoughts from the Gym

The class I take most often is Body Pump which is basically a weigh-lifting class that hits every muscle group in an hour. It's an awesome class with mostly terrifc instructors except for the new girl. When I take class with the new girl I can't concentrate on my form because I'm always thinking about how much I'd like to slap her for her ultra chipper, annoyingly motivational, non-stop jabber. Plus, she's wafer-thin and no one needs to look at that for an hour.

I have another Body Pump confession: I will load more weight onto my bar than I can actually handle just so I look stronger than those standing around me. It goes without saying that this can have disasterous results. I'll leave it at that.

This is how no one in my class looks. Thank God.

I've recently discovered the Red Hot Dance class. Despite my two left feet and complete lack of rhythm, I love this workout. Two reasons: 1) I'm thinner than the instructor (though she knows how to get down and boogie, or whatever the kids are calling it these days) and 2) the rest of the class is actually older than I am (though most of them can dance circles around me).

I would be so much better at Red Hot Dance if I had a few drinks first.

On that note, I would probably have a lot more to show for my working out if I didn't stop for dessert or drinks after leaving the gym.

I have two recommendations for improving self-esteem for women at the gym (don't know that it's an issue for men). 1) In the summer, when the kids are home from school/college, I recommend they establish "Adult Hours." Kinda like adult swim at the pool, except in this case, everyone under the age of 23 would have to work out at a different time than us considerably older folks. 2) 1) I think they should have two separate entrances to the locker room based on weight and age. Not only will this preserve your self-esteem, but it could also come in handy when you inevitably forget your underwear and want to borrow a pair in your size.

Speaking of the locker room, I've learned it's never appropriate to ask "Are those real?" Also where body parts are concerned, while I would find it terribly flattering, some women are not comfortable being told "I would kill for an ass like yours."

Speaking of asses, I hate the way we have to walk past the power lifters to get to our classroom. It's like a freakin' catwalk. I wouldn't mind it so much if the men didn't hold up scorecards. Or, if I scored above a 6.

Finally, based on solid scientific research, I have determined that people who pay more to work out are less likely to have intestinal issues than those who choose less expensive options. A couple years ago I took pilates classes held at our local high school. I also arranged for "Fitness & Fellowship" yoga and pilates classes at my church. These were both bargain priced and during nearly each of these classes someone had gas. Nope it wasn't me. Well, just that one time. In contrast, I have noted that never once has anyone let out a little stinky during Body Flow (pilates, yoga, and tai chi) at the Health Plex. It's a fascinating discovery that clearly requires more research.

Unfortunately, folks, that's all the time I have today. Be sure to stay tuned for our next Freakin' Angels post which will likely be on one of the following important topics:
  • Parental involvement in teenage lives
  • A culture of entitlement and what it means for mission work
  • The mating habits of the Brown Throated Three-Toed Sloth
  • The addiction known as Homeland

Monday, November 5, 2012

So This Police Officer Walks Up to My Minivan...

It was 3:41 p.m. on a particularly chilly Sunday in November. I was en route to Abby's second soccer game of the afternoon having just said goodbye to my parents who were returning home after a week without power. I was happy that life could return to normal for them, though part of me wished they could stay so I wouldn't be alone with my anxiety. Rob's work trip to Las Vegas came at an inopportune time. I really needed him here to help me mentally and emotionally prepare for the big day that loomed ahead. My first day at the new job.

Perhaps it was this anxiety that caused my error in judgement. More likely it was the result of 20+ years of careless driving. I failed to come to a complete stop at a stop sign on my way to the game.

I saw the cop after I passed through it. I had slowed down significantly. I could see there was no one coming from the other direction. Still, something told me he was watching for someone like me. Within moments he was behind me on Avondale Road with its infuriating 25 mile speed limit. I could barely go that slowly. I was holding pretty steady at 30 and he was keeping up so I figured he was okay with my speed. Turns out he was keeping up so he could more clearly read my license plate and pull me over. Which he did.

It had been a decade or more since I was last pulled over by the flashing lights. The ill feeling was nevertheless familiar. Made slightly worse by the realization that I hadn't brought my purse. Or my driver's license. The officer sat there behind me for what felt like hours and when he finally ambled up to the car he took the time to look into my two rows of back seats. Thank goodness I wasn't carrying my machine gun or my stash of narcotics on this particular Sunday. As he approached the window I fumbled in finding my unexpired registration card and lamely explained my missing license. He finally told me the reason for our little get-together: Neighbors on Martroy Lane had been complaining about drivers inadequately stopping at their corner. I should have mentioned how neighbors on my circle have been complaining about the drug dealer residing on our street.

The officer returned to his car and I sat there in the minivan of shame, certain everyone who passed knew it was me, the one with the "I Believe" window sticker. I started to cry, albeit too late in the process to do any good. He remained in his car for another seemingly hour-long stint before returning to very graciously present me with my traffic citation. He thoughtfully pointed out that I could pay the fine within 10 days or plead not guilty and go to court. Surely my word would trump his with the judge. And could you just see me telling my new employer I needed the afternoon off to deal with a small legal matter? On the citation he did indicate green as my car color instead of the correct silver, perhaps I had something to work with there? 
He left with me with a congenial "Have a nice day, Ma'am." I'm not sure which pissed me off more, the "Have a nice day" crap, or being referred to as "Ma'am." Clearly my youthful appearance escaped his notice. Maybe driving a mini-van automatically makes you a ma'am. 

The very best part of this experience, besides gathering delightful blog material, was the "bill" itself. I really appreciated how they break it out for you:

FINE: 25.00 (Not bad. Breath a sigh of relief)
E.M.S.: 10.00 (Well, let's just consider it a donation to our emergency personnel)
MCARE: 30.00 (WTF is the "Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund?")
COSTS:  36.00 (The above aren't "costs?" They're certainly costing me. I may have to protest. What other service provider gets away with a vague "costs" line on their invoice?)
J.C.P./A.T.J.: 10.00 (Judicial Computer Project/Access to Justice. Whatever.)

TOTAL DUE: 111.00

Glad I've been saving money by buying my new work clothes on eBay.

While it absolutely sucks getting a $111 ticket, I had it coming. Nearly a decade ago, while together on a business trip, my friend and former coworker Gale recommended I consider coming to a complete stop at stop signs. It took this long for my failure to heed her good advice to catch up with me.

Driving home from Abby's game afterward, I came to a complete stop at each sign. It was a different feeling, but one I'll try to get used to. Or perhaps I'll just avoid Martroy Lane and Avondale...

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Stages of Grief: Career Edition

As I reported two posts ago, I finally quit complaining about my life and its lack of direction and I made a big move. I took a new job. My immediate reaction to Villanova University's offer was great excitement. Seconds after that my stomach dropped to my knees and I whispered "Dear God, what have I done?" Naturally I was nervous at the thought of starting something new, but bigger than that was my fear of losing what I had.

American Baptist Home Mission Societies/Judson Press is like the Hotel California (albeit without the wine):
You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
Seriously, no one ever leaves this place. Twenty-plus years of employment is perfectly normal. Thirty isn't unheard of. Why should anyone quit when 99% of your coworkers and supervisors are really good people? And it's family-friendly with the flexibility a mom like me needs? And the work is literally about changing lives? And did I mention they have a retirement benefit that's to die for? Actually, it's to live for.

Even before telling my HR director and my boss that I was leaving, I entered the Four Stages of Grief (Career Edition).

No, this isn't really happening. If I just don't tell anyone, then it won't be real. I'll conduct business as usual. Attend and contribute in meetings. I'll even respond to those emails and phone calls I've been avoiding. Yes, it will all be fine. (Note: Denial works well until your soon-to-be new employer outs you to your current employer by calling to verify your employment there. Can you say "awkward?")

Yikes, depression is what got me into this mess in the first place. Now I feel worse. How can I feel worse? I got what I wanted. I should be thrilled. Why aren't I over the moon? People congratulate me and note how excited I must be and I have to conjur up my fake happy face to agree with them. Of course, most of the time I just break down and confess that I'm still waiting for the excitement to hit. Sometimes I just break down, period. Friends must think I'm insane to be so upset. This makes no sense whatsoever. Why can't I just be normal? (As if I haven't been asking myself that question for the last 35 years).

It's okay. This will be good for me. A chance to grow personally and professionally. I'll make new friends. And it's not like I won't see my Judson Press friends. We'll keep in touch. And I can always stalk them keep tabs on criticize my replacement stay familiar with their projects via my their JP blog and my their JP Facebook page and my their JP e-newsletters.

While not officially recognized as a stage of grief by the American Psychological Association, there's a little something extra I experience during times of major transition. I like to call it:

Symptons include:
  • Secretly hoping that those you've left behind are absolutely miserable without you
  • Accepting that this other person/organization is no longer part of your life, but not wanting anyone to replace you
  • Fantasizing that your replacement fails miserably in any attempt to fill your shoes
  • Praying you will be remembered as the best girlfriend student church usher pancake maker marketing director ever 
I am officially no longer an employee of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies and Judson Press. I shed a great many tears on my last day in the office, but I have reached the point of acceptance and figure I'm well on my way to visions of irreplaceability. In less than 36 hours I will find myself on Villanova's campus, ready to start the next stage of my life and career. Wish me luck.