Pastor Linda and Anne Lamott

Do you ever wonder if a person was brought into your life for a reason? I’ve never really thought about it until recently, but I have lived a life full of strange coincidences. And some people say there are no coincidences; it’s just God working in your life and I tend to believe that.
Our United Methodist Church was recently appointed a new pastor. She started a few months ago. She’s the first woman pastor in this church, which is a good thing. Our church had begun to become stagnant in the last few years, almost to the point of standstill. Life – and death, and possibly God intervened, and Pastor Linda was transferred to us. Not only the fact that a woman is leading us – a mostly “older” congregation, – has shook up things a bit, but also the changes she’s implementing. It’s shaking us up in mostly a good way. At least those of us who were wanting and needing some shaking up. Even the people who are irritated at least are getting involved and speaking up. Unfortunately, she made some changes with regards to where the coffee pots will be each Sunday morning and that has caused some very bad feelings; threats of some leaving the church completely and others just complaining nonstop. Obviously, you don’t mess with the coffee or the pots!
While I admired and respected our previous pastor, he was never the type of person you could get close to or who made others feel comfortable in confiding in him. He gave great sermons, just excellent messages, but he could never be called a people person. Pastor Linda, on the other hand, is very easy to talk to and is very approachable. It feels good having a pastor lead us whom I can call a friend. We’ve had a few long and good talks, and I hope we have more.
During one of her sermons, she referred and recommended an author, Anne Lamott. A book on prayer. I’m a voracious reader, but was fairly surprised (and just slightly insulted since I consider myself a literary snob) I hadn’t heard of this writer. After church, I went home and Googled Ms. Lamott and read about her and all the books she’s written. I checked one out from the library, one on grace and devoured it in nearly one day. I couldn’t stop reading it and didn’t want it to end. It was fantastic. She wrote a lot about her life, from childhood forward and I could completely relate. In fact at times, I felt like I was reading about my life. I felt someone else somehow knew all the feelings I had about my childhood, about my entire life thus far really, and had written them down and published a great book about all of it! It was like she put my life down on paper, changed a few of the details and embellished others and put her name down as the author. She’s even written a book about writing a book. Maybe, just maybe, it will be the inspiration I need to finally write the book everyone has always said I should write. If you haven’t read any of Ms. Lamott’s books, you should. I ended up purchasing 3 or 4 of her other books on my Kindle and read those in quick succession. And last night, purchased her latest book and have already made a big dent in it. Also a winner. Her books make me realize that there are others out there who didn’t have great beginnings and or thick enough skin and still somehow survived and made a success out of their lives. And there are people who still work through issues that stem from those residual feelings that I think started years ago. And that it’s okay and possible to get those feelings or that story down on paper and you won’t die of mortification or alienate friends or family. And her books are funny and full of faith and wisdom and grace and good characters. I hope she keeps writing because I’m almost done with this latest book and will be looking forward to a new one! I’m trying to read this new one as slowly as I can, which is very very difficult, so it lasts.
If Pastor Linda hadn’t been transferred to our church, our church probably wouldn’t be moving forward at this time, wouldn’t be teeming with new service projects and newly resurrected youth groups (of which I’m very grateful because my two teenage sons are very involved), and possibly wouldn’t have the energy that seems to be running through it now. I wouldn’t have this new pastor who I feel will minister to me and our congregation with love and understanding and compassion. I wouldn’t have this new friend. And I wouldn’t have heard about Anne Lamott and her wonderful stories nor have read her wonderful books. I wouldn’t have this good feeling I have from this connection to this author, or have this motivation to again start trying to write.
Is it a coincidence that Pastor Linda and Ms. Lamott have each come into my life at this time? Call it what you will, I call it a God thing, and I’m very grateful for these blessings.

When I was 28

When I was 28 years old, I was living with my sister and her family and working at a bookstore in a mall and finishing up a college degree. When I wasn’t working or going to school, I was helping my sister and brother-in-law with their young daughters, driving them to school and back home, making dinner occasionally, grocery shopping. I was a late bloomer, and wouldn’t have exactly called myself “very mature” at that point. I was still figuring myself out at 28. I was still somewhat financially dependent on various family members. I still fought with my sister occasionally, and would call my mother to mediate. I wasn’t terribly immature then, but even I knew I had some growing up to do. I could not have led a country at that point.
These days, Prince Harry is 28. So is Kelly Osbourne. Katy Perry, Haylie Duff, Scarlett Johansen and Ashlee Simpson are all 28. All fun-loving young people who still like to have a good time. Of all of them, Prince Harry is possibly the most well-versed in politics, but I’m sure most of Britain would be fairly uneasy if he were leading the UK right now. I think they would be planning a coup if they thought he was in charge of ANYthing that had to do with nuclear power.
Kim Jong-un of North Korea is 28 years old or thereabout, depending on which source you read, and he is in charge of that country and he is moving nuclear missles into place and warning the US that it should take that action as a very “grave” warning. He is the world’s youngest head of state. According to various stories, he was a poor student and had poor attendance while attending school in Switzerland or wherever he went to school. Those who knew him in school said he was shy and awkward with girls and indifferent to politics. He admittedly likes to party and drink all night. He has imported state of the art sauna equipment because a good sauna helps with hangovers and fatigue. His father thought he would be a good leader because he was a “big drinker and never admits defeat”. Amazingly, an older brother was knocked out of the running of heir to the country because he was caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport because he wanted to go to Tokyo Disneyland. Reportedly, the men who his father left in place to advise Kim Jong-un have “disappeared” or at least are no longer in power, and haven’t been seen in public for a while.
Now, in my opinion, being a big drinker and never admitting defeat isn’t always a good combination when looking at the character of a person and they aren’t qualities I would look for when choosing a leader. And I was also shy in school and was fairly awkward with everyone which were direct symptoms of low self-esteem and zero confidence. And I actually drank – lots sometimes – to try to overcome that shyness and those awkward feelings. And when I drank lots, I acted really stupid and did really stupid stuff. And 28 year old guys who are shy and awkward, possibly not very intelligent, and who are big drinkers shouldn’t necessarily be in charge of a country and in charge of that country’s nuclear missles and plants. Because guys who are that young and possibly that immature, who have surrounded themselves with “yes” men, and who want to posture to the world, sometimes want to prove to others that they’re tougher than the rest and more powerful than the rest. Throw the nuclear power privileges in there and we have a problem on our hands. Picture a guy or a bunch of guys, drunk on the Strip in Vegas, a bunch of blowhards with inflated egos, bragging about how tough they are to another group of guys, and then tell those drunks they can prove their toughness with the ability to fire some nuclear missles and that picture gets really scary.
Wouldn’t it be a shame, a real shame, if a nuclear war was started by some really young, really immature guy, who wasn’t thinking clearly because he got very drunk again trying to cure a bad hangover that was a result from getting so drunk trying to show off in front of his friends?

Never say Never – except in this case

I’m single and have been for about 10 years. My husband died, less than two weeks after we divorced. A long unfortunate story that has altered all of our lives – but I’ll save that for another time. This is about me being single – and how I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t even like dating. I don’t even like the thought of dating. The mere thought of having to work up the emotions to even make small talk over dinner with some man sounds exhausting and torturous. It’s not the “man” part that sounds torturous – it’s the process. I’m at the age where I’m too tired, too preoccupied and too fixed in my ways to try to impress someone else, much less date them. Plus, I don’t like to eat in restaurants and I don’t like to leave the house unless absolutely necessary, like for events my sons are in or to check on my mother or for church. Or to get food and toilet paper. Being snowed-in and not being able to leave my home is my idea of nirvana.
I’ve been in a number of relationships, and most have been long-term. I’ve always been attracted to men, I’ve enjoyed the attention, I enjoyed being part of a couple, but I was never a serial dater. And while I enjoyed those relationships, especially a couple of them, I was never a woman who had to have a man to complete her life. As a matter of fact, I would describe myself as a loner for the majority of my life. It’s not that I don’t enjoy others in my life, it’s just that I also love being alone and have never had a problem with being by myself. The hard part of any relationship for me is having someone else put expectations on me. When that happens, I start getting irritated and start feeling smothered. I also get very bored very easily. I get irritable and moody if someone is around me all the time. Looking back, I can see some of the relationships I was in came about because I thought I was supposed to be part of a couple; a social approval type of thing. And as I’ve become older and more confident and more self-assured, I don’t need that type of approval or acceptance.
It’s amazing to me in this day and age, when women are supposed to be so supportive of each other and so progressive in their thinking and views, that there are still those people that automatically think if you’re single, then you must be “on the hunt”, as one ex-friend of mine so crudely put it. Just as there are those who think an unmarried woman in a long-term relationship is just dying for the man to put a ring on her finger, there are those who think no woman in her right mind would choose to be single. There are so many well-meaning friends of mine who think they should “find a man” for me and don’t look convinced when I plead my case for modern spinsterhood. I actually had one woman who asked me if I ever got “____?” Never mind – I can’t even type the word. Who thinks like this, much less says it?
One of the only drawbacks to my self-imposed spouseless life is that my two sons, now teenagers, would have benefitted from having a good male role-model around on a full-time basis. When they were younger, they actually would ask me when I was “going to get them a dad”. And even now, I’ve heard them tell friends that they miss their dad although I doubt at this point, they can remember very much about him. I think what they’re saying is that they wish they had a dad in their lives. I worry that they’re lacking in any examples of how a good man treats a woman or wife well on a daily basis or even how a couple works through issues or problems so they can sustain a relationship on a long-term basis. They’re not learning how to be good fathers. They don’t have a man to encourage them in sports, or to shoot baskets with. I couldn’t even throw a baseball with them because I was afraid of the ball when they threw it back to me. I blinked and ducked. I tend not to push them when I probably should and I overreact at things a father would probably overlook. I don’t let them play football because I’m afraid they’ll get hurt. There. That alone says it all about why they would have benefitted from having a dad around full-time. Not to mention that they’re teens now and I could use a full-time male sounding board for a number of issues, not the least of which is they do not want me talking to them about sex. I could also use some backup during conflicts.
The other few disadvantages to this kind of life are not having a full-time handyman living here to help with leaky faucets, basements that leak, and gutters that need to be cleaned out. I would love to have a big burly man talk to the manager at the service garage at the car dealership – the manager who can figure out before I even open my mouth that I know nothing about cars except how to drive them and am an easy target for trumped up service charges. (One time in my late 20’s, when I was having a lot of trouble with a lemon of a car, I actually thought seriously about having one main requirement in any future boyfriends; only candidates with expert mechanical skills.) Having an extra income or retirement package to cushion my solitary income would be nice also. All selfish reasons, I know, but I’m nothing if not practical.
But again, I’m very fixed or set in my ways. I live out my days in a certain manner and have a certain routine and don’t want to have to entertain someone else’s habits or preferences. I like sleeping by myself. It feels crowded for me if someone else shares my bed, and I have a big bed. My sons and I have certain ways we live and I, for one, don’t want anyone encroaching on those. I’m afraid if anyone else suggested a different way of doing things, he would be overruled immediately and without question. We can go on trips where and when we want. My mother and sisters can come and go as often as I like. We spend our money on what we want to spend it on. We watch what we want on TV. We keep the house the way we want it. We eat what we want to eat. So, short of being able in the near future to hire a full-time butler, mechanic, plumber, and gardener all rolled into one plus a “manny” for teens, I’m on my own. And loving every selfish minute of it.

Motha _____a

I would do anything for my sons. Well, maybe not anything and not even almost anything – but I would do a lot of things for my sons. For instance, if someone or a group were attacking us, I would plead with them to just take me and leave my sons alone. I would willingly accept the threat of death if it meant saving my sons. I think most mothers would. If the house was on fire, I would push them out first and make sure they were safe before saving myself. I also think most mothers would do this. Anything that has to do with risk of harm or death to them, let’s just say I would do whatever I could to ensure their safety at the risk of my own.
On a less serious level, I actually do a lot for my sons. Probably too much. I wash jeans or a certain shirt late at night if they decide before bed that they want to wear a certain item to school the next day. The few times I haven’t made enough food for dinner, I go without or don’t eat until I know they’ve had all they want. I’ve driven over to school in the middle of the day with books or homework assignments or clothes for sporting events or practice that they’ve forgot to take that morning. I probably let them get by without doing enough chores. I drive them down to the Community Center to play basketball, even tho they are teenagers and we only live 10 blocks from there.
But what I won’t do is help them get something they didn’t earn, especially at school. My sons are smart and very capable and usually make A’s, and if they don’t prepare enough to get an A on a test or assignment then that’s their problem. They will have to accept the lower grade. What I won’t do is contact the teacher and insist through any means that my son get to retake a test or redo a speech or redo an assignment as many times as needed to get the “A”. And if my sons don’t qualify or get chosen to take advanced classes I don’t call the teacher who teaches the advanced class and insist through sheer force and intimidation that an exception be made and my son be allowed to take the class. If my son doesn’t qualify for a reward lunch because he made one B instead of all A’s, I don’t call the teacher who gave him the B and insist the B be changed to an A and that he be allowed to go to the lunch. If my sons don’t qualify for the gifted program because of scores they made on a standardized test, I don’t complain constantly about the school district or call the school administration and insist my sons be retested or that they be let in the class based on other criteria. I don’t do my son’s science project to help ensure he gets an award at the science fair. In other words, we try not to be sore losers.
But there are mothers out there who will go to these lengths for their children. And this practice isn’t limited to just academics. It happens in sports too. There are mothers out there who complain to the school superintendents and try to get the coach fired if their son is taken out of play sometimes during games instead of just playing the entire game without being taken out. And I know of one mother who was so beset by fear that another player on a team was going to qualify for an honor that her son maybe wouldn’t qualify for, that she went to the parents of the other child and encouraged them to not let him accept the honor if he was awarded it – because she said she didn’t think it would be fair to the other players on the team! There are parents who yell at players during games if they think that player may be perceived as a better player than their son, even if they’re on the same team!
I’m guilty of a lot of things, but envy isn’t one of them. I’m thrilled when my sons do well, but I’m also thrilled when some other student I know does well in his or her studies or sports. My sons are also really good athletes, but there are others who are better than they are and there always will be and that doesn’t upset me. I’m just happy my two are staying involved and enjoying it. My sons golf, but they don’t excel at it, and another young man we know is doing very well and has had two nice articles written about him in the paper recently, and I congratulated him lots at church on Sunday when I saw him and his dad. I’m very happy for him and his parents, because I know they’re proud. One of my sons didn’t get to go to an academic award lunch and fun day one semester, so he put in more effort to make sure his grades would warrant him getting to go this time. He earned the right to go – I didn’t throw a fit to make it happen.
Why do parents act badly, especially mothers? Aren’t we all in this together? Is it insecurity on the part of the parent? If so, I’m one of the most insecure people I know so why don’t I engage in this behavior? Is it envy? Lots of us don’t have as much as others so why don’t we all operate this way? Do they love their children more than I love mine? I doubt anyone could. I’ll probably never understand what drives well-educated and otherwise successful people to turn into green-eyed monsters who almost become ruthless when it comes to their children, even to the point of it affecting the other kids in the class or on the same team.
As a Christian, I’ll just pray about it and try to accept it. I’ll try to not let these outrageous tactics irritate me when it affects my own son and I won’t confront the mother, as much as I would like to. I’ll try to remember that person is lacking somewhere in their lives somehow and so much that it drives them to get their child recognized and acknowledged as one of the best somehow and someway, even if it means their child gets rewards they haven’t earned, they irritate teachers and administrators or that their child might be ridiculed by other students who are aware of this. Because one thing worse than the types of mothers who demand unfair rewards for their children are the ones who let themselves get petty and angry and fixated about it. And I don’t want to be “that” type of mother.

Am I Good Enough?

Some background. I’m a Christian – a lifelong one. The first 15-20 years I practiced Christianity because my parents made all of us attend church and Sunday School every week. Every week. I don’t remember ever missing a Sunday. Proverbs 22:6 is true. Bring your children up in the way of the Lord and they won’t stray from it. After the age of 18 or so, I attended church of my own volition. And now I get my sons up every Sunday and always have for church and Sunday School. We are United Methodists. And one of the best gifts I received this past season of Lent is when my 16 year old came in the kitchen last Sunday evening after church had been cancelled that morning due to a freak snow storm, and said to me – “I hate it when we don’t go to church on Sunday, because it makes the whole day feel weird”.
I’m not a zealot, but my faith and beliefs and love of Christ and of my church have steadily grown with each passing year. I read my Bible every morning. I pray every day, sometimes all day as I go through my daily chores and errands. I go to the Lord daily with my joys and concerns. And yesterday, during Easter services, I could barely get through the last hymn, “Christ has Risen”, because I was fighting back tears with the knowledge and love that God sacrificed his only son so that we may have eternal life and of my belief that Jesus rose from the dead and continues to walk with us through these scary times. I was nearly crying because I do love Christ that much and am grateful for his many many blessings.
Some more background. I’ve never been the most confident person on the block, but my confidence has also grown with each passing year. And at this stage of the game, I’m fairly sure of who I am, and am very aware of my strengths and weaknesses. Especially my weaknesses. Anne Lamott described herself in one of her books as something like, an insecure narcissist, and I can completely relate. But I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I like who I am or at least I’ve accepted myself – 80% of the time. But like everyone, I’ve made many mistakes in the past so that acceptance has been a long-time coming. I continue to err frequently now, albeit not so flagrantly. So I don’t like myself 20% of the time and am still not proud of some decisions I make or of some my behaviour or my words or my attitude. But I feel I have a close relationship with my God and have complete faith he is with me always, and I know I’ve been blessed so many times in my life they’re too numerous to count. I depend on him with 100% faith. I do actually feel he is always with me in everything. Surely losing patience at times – but always with me.
Yet, how much should he be expected to take from one person? Lately I’ve been thinking that maybe he won’t like me when I meet him in person – when I cross over. There’s been plenty of people who haven’t liked me in my life – but most of those people were ones who, looking back, were people whose opinion today wouldn’t matter to me although at the time when I was very insecure, their aversion of me really stung, especially because I didn’t know the reason for it. Now I realize they didn’t always have a reason; most of them were just mean and regarded most people with contempt. But what if Jesus, with his infinite compassion and love for us all, actually doesn’t extend this love towards me? Maybe I’m just not good enough. I teach the first and second graders in my Sunday School class that as disciples, we need to try to be good people with loving hearts at all times. But I don’t always practice what I preach. I get offended easily and then get angry at the offenders. I rarely confront, but I imagine fantastic fantasies of confronting that person in real life, or I imagine scenarios in which the offender is exposed for the whole community to see. Needless to say, God “sees” or hears these fantasies also and ain’t impressed. I hold grudges. Although I’ve gone through phases where I do try to help others on a regular basis, including the elderly or the poor in our church, more often than not, I go through even longer phases where I keep to myself, rarely performing any acts of service for anyone. I don’t help my elderly mother as much as I should. I tithe, but am a terrible steward of my money and my time. I engage in gossip occasionally. I judge others sometimes, even tho guilt accompanies my judgements. I get mad at things or attitudes of people in my own congregation. I complain constantly, it seems. I’m vain and care too much about how I look. I focus too much on myself.
So lately, I’ve been really worried that I’m not good enough. For God. Are my intentions good enough? I don’t think so. Does my guilt erase my gossiping and my judgmental attitude? I don’t think so. Recently I’ve heard the word “meh” a couple of times, a Jewish term for describing something that’s so-so, or something that’s not so great. So, what if when I finally get to stand in front of Jesus, he shrugs his shoulders and says “meh”. And then I don’t get to stay with him and all my loved ones that have gone before me? What if I’m not good enough? The Bible says that only a “few” will be saved. Well, how many is a few? Obviously there are many many Christians who have much more loving hearts than I do.
I hope God surely sees that at my core I am a good person. I cannot stand seeing anyone treated unjustly. I try to be kind and loving to most people. I try to be good, but do I try hard enough? I get sucked in too easily to life’s little bad and ugly moments. Moments or words or attitudes that I regret and that I’m not proud of. And then I ask God to forgive me. Constantly. And I’m sure I am forgiven, but what if his Love isn’t infinite enough to include such a sinner as I – a person who consistently tries to be a good disciple, but just as consistently, fails on a daily basis? A person who says she’s a good person, and who tries to be a good person, but who really isn’t a lot of the time. I feel like one of those people in the Bible who say they’re a Christian, but whose actions don’t depict it. Do I even deserve his Love? Are my faults outweighing my goodness? I want to know exactly how good enough I have to be – to be one of the few. I wish there were more definite guidelines or standards. Yes, I follow the Ten Commandments and try to follow the Beatitudes, but no one is perfect. But how perfect do I need to try to be? If only a few are saved, then even God must have a cut-off point. And I wish I knew what constituted that cut-off. Am I screwing up one too many times? Am I remorseful enough? What if I never get comfortable enough or brave enough to talk about my faith to a stranger or invite someone to church and actually offer to pick them up and take them with me? What if God, while seeing that I am trying, concedes that I could have tried a hell of a lot harder?
There’s been a lot of stuff written on how people stress themselves out trying to be perfect in all areas in this society and that’s why we fail. Well, I would never be accused of being one of those people, but I do think we all need to try to be as perfect as we can be in our discipleship. Not with superficial stuff or jobs or with “having it all” – but with our hearts and our words and our actions. I need to suck it up and finally hold myself accountable and stop the bad stuff. Stop the gossiping; squash the critical attitude; get my values on track and quit worrying about stuff that doesn’t really matter; get rid of my apathy. I need to be more grateful for these days he blesses me with and make them count. I need to quit excusing these behaviours with the knowledge that “God will still love me anyway – I mean, if he loves and forgives murderers, surely he’ll forgive me for saying that little mean thing about that person”. I need to try to be “good enough”.
Maybe, like with my faith and my confidence and my relationship with Christ, my actions and my words and my attitude will get better with age. I will try even harder not to take his love and forgiveness for granted. I’ll continue to pray and study the gospels and while I don’t exactly expect Jesus to say, “Well Done, faithful servant” when I meet him (although I wish my life would warrant that), I do hope he says something like “You made it – by the skin of your teeth but you made it!”, or You receive the award for one of the Most Improved – welcome” – or even, “Maybe not well done exactly, but good enough – you’re in!”.