Lowering the bar

So that contented and balanced and creative way I was feeling last week? <poof> Gone, all gone.

But, in truth, it wasn’t <poof>. It was a slow and predictable change, brought on by many days of working in a row; not getting enough sleep, exercise, or alone/down time; frustration at work; and perhaps just a tiny bit of hormone soup.

And, of course, yet another mass shooting. Between the guns, the lunatics, the hurricanes and the earthquakes, I have nothing to complain about. Really. All of the issues I’m facing will pass much quicker than the grief of untimely death and the rebuilding of homes and lives. I’m blessed, and I’m grateful. Really.

But I’m not feeling my best, and so this afternoon I tried a little exercise. I believe it’s called cutting oneself some slack? A foreign concept, but it went something like this:

“I don’t have to be fabulous today. I just have to be competent.”

And, since what I had yet to do — teaching music lessons — is something at which I truly am competent, I let go a little.

After four lessons, I didn’t feel so bad. I was competent, and my students cheered me up.

This little experiment has been so successful, I may just try it again tomorrow. But now, I am going to take my competent self off to an early bedtime. Peace out, and who knows? Perhaps I’ll feel like being fabulous tomorrow, after all.



A ray of light

My schedule has settled into its new rhythm for the fall. With more of my work hours spent on the evenings and weekends, it means I have more free time during the weekdays. I’m liking it quite a bit.

Of course, with a little more time on my hands, I’ve been feeling that creative nudge. It doesn’t happen when my days are too filled with work, or when the free time I have is spent with other people (like the dear ones of my family!) But here I am, four weeks into the new rhythm of my days, and, dare I say, the nudge is more or less right on schedule: “Why don’t you see if you have anything you’d like to write about?”

To be honest, nudges don’t happen in a vacuum, at least not for me. I’ve been listening to the Pray-as-you-go podcast on my daily walks, and something about Monday’s Gospel reading and reflection provided the nudge this time. This is the teaching about lighting a lamp and not hiding it under a vessel or a bed, but putting it on a lampstand, so that all may see its light. The passage ends with this admonishment: “To anyone who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away.”

To me, that’s always sounded really unfair. God will give more to those who have more, and take away even the tiny bit another has? How does that square with the idea of a generous, loving God? It’s never made much sense to me.

As I walked along on Monday, listening to the Gospel reflection, it occurred to me that perhaps it’s less a commentary on what God will or will not do, and more of a statement on how gifts and talents work, in the natural order of things (which, of course, is God’s creation.) Use it or lose it, if you will. Talent grows when it is nurtured and practiced, but it withers when it isn’t.

This principle isn’t necessarily limited to creative talents, like music or writing. Relationships, work satisfaction and success, physical fitness, hobbies, passions…they all improve with intention and attention. When we use what we have, we end up with more of it. I think that’s just great, and I appreciate the role I have to play in the scenario, rather than worrying about a seemingly arbitrary decision by God.

So this has been my tiny offering of light from the lamp of my writing, nudged out from under the bed, at least for today.



Lenten Reflection

I gave a short talk at the evening prayer service at my church yesterday. I thought I’d share it here as we move into Holy Week.


We’re now in the fifth week of Lent. We’ve been into the three traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving for more than a month. As we are reminded every year, Lent requires some surrender, some “letting go” of those things that hold us back from full communion with God.

With fasting and almsgiving, that “letting go” is obvious. If we give up something for Lent – say, chocolate, or television, we are letting it go, at least temporarily. Likewise, when we give alms, we’re letting go of some of our material goods or wealth for the benefit of another.

But what about in prayer? How do we let go, or surrender, in prayer?

I’m going to propose that surrender in prayer means letting God be God.

Now, that may sound kind of silly; God doesn’t need our permission to be Lord of all Creation. God is who God is, independent of us – independent of me and what I think.

But letting God be God, if we dig deeper into that idea, is a big deal. Because suddenly, we are faced with the fact that we, our needs, and our wants, and our plans, and our vision — and our ego — are not the center of the universe. Life is a wonderful teacher of this truth. Have you ever had something turn out far differently from how you planned it? But we can still cling to our illusion of control, despite being proven wrong, time and time again.

To acknowledge God as God means that we have to surrender our own plans and desires, and even our worries. Maybe especially our worries! Only then will God be God – sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big ways – but we will never see the hand of God in our lives as long as we insist on trying to control every last detail ourselves.

We can see this principle at work in the Gospels. When Jesus and his disciples came to Nazareth, his hometown, the people were full of their own ideas about of who Jesus was, saying, isn’t this the Carpenter’s son? Don’t we know his Mother? Don’t we know his family? Where did he get all this? Their presumptions about Jesus took up so much room in their minds and their hearts than there was no space for God to get in there and show them something new. And the Gospel tells us Jesus didn’t work many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

By contrast, Jesus healed the centurion’s servant when the centurion emptied himself of all pride and said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof, only say the word and my servant will be healed.” This past Sunday, we heard the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus worked that miracle only when Mary and Martha, devastated by their terrible loss, let go of their concern about their brother having been dead four days already, and, showing great trust, had the stone removed as Jesus commanded. And only when Jesus himself let go of everything – his friendships, his dignity, his very life – only then did God perform the greatest miracle of all – raising him to new life again.

If we want to see God in our lives, we need to empty ourselves to make room for faith.

What do we need to surrender to God?

What do we have let go from our lives, to give our faith room to grow, and to let God be God?

He won’t come barging into our lives. We have to make room, and then invite him in.

And we never know the miracles God may do when he’s got the room to work.

The end of the IEP?

We had a meeting at school today to determine Abby’s continued eligibility for special education services, based on evaluations completed over the past couple of months. Abby has generally done well in high school for the past year and a half. She’s a good student, a hard worker, and it seems that my biggest worries about her social development (bullying, being isolated) aren’t materializing. Today’s big question was, could Abby continue to make progress without the (minimal) special education services she’s been receiving? Would educational accommodations (preferential seating, extra time on tests, etc.) be enough?

After much thoughtful discussion, including review of the testing reports, we decided that Abby would be dismissed from special ed services in March. That gives her a chance to make her way over the next month of school without sped supports, and gives us a chance to see how it goes and, importantly, see her progress report grades, before the dismissal. I feel mostly confident that she will be fine, especially with extra encouragement to connect with her teachers when she needs clarification or extra help. And, after all, this was our vision for her, that one day she would be able to succeed in a regular educational program without special education support.

Thinking about Abby being removed from special education makes me feel both proud and concerned. It’s been such a part of our lives, and her entire school career has been built around it since preschool. I don’t think she’ll fall through the cracks; enough teachers and other staff at the high school are vested in helping her succeed. We’re pushing her out of the nest a bit, but I think it’s time. And if it’s a disaster, we can always reconvene and go through the procedures to get her the supports she needs.

A tiny bit of letting go, this.






A tiny step back from the edge

My annual studio recital was yesterday, and my students all performed to make me proud. It was short and sweet, and while I didn’t feel at the top of my game, I think that it went well, and students and families enjoyed hearing everyone. Some parents emailed and posted recital photos and video on Facebook, which was nice.


(and this has nothing to do with my students)

Holy cow. I was so unhappy with the way I looked in said photos.

Yes, the camera angles were anything but optimum (looking down at the camera is not advised.) No, I wasn’t wearing my most flattering outfit. And, as  I mentioned before, I wasn’t feeling my personal best.

But all the camera positioning, flowy tops and tiny mood issues in the world could not have been responsible for what I saw.

I’ve been feeling pretty unhappy about my appearance for some time now. Some of it is due to age, of course, but most of it is simply because I weigh too much. And did it ever hit home yesterday in the photos of what should have been proud, happy moments for all involved.

So, I did what anyone would do in the situation, really. I came home, put on pajamas and kind of drooped around for the rest of the day. I won’t mention the Oreos, grilled cheese, tomato soup or chips and dip I ate, in that order. I will mention that I passed on Earl’s famous blueberry milkshake, however. Go, me.

I watched not one but two episodes of the X-Files, but even the David Duchovny eye candy of old couldn’t move me out of what, I feared, may have been the beginning of a bigger funk. It wasn’t just the photos, of course; I’ve been feeling like I’ve been teetering on the edge of a depression for a little while. Maybe a few photos were going to kick me over the edge.

I resolved, as I went to bed, that I was going to get up early and exercise. I was going to slash my carbs and get myself into shape. No matter what.

Thus bolstered, I slept. And then, when the alarm went off, I hit snooze, as is my habit. Earl said, “Why don’t you shut the alarm off? You don’t really need to get up early today.” So I did.

And then, I remembered.

And I hauled myself out of bed, put on some exercise clothes, and went downstairs, where I did a short on-demand workout. It wasn’t much, but I remember twenty years ago, when I first got myself into shape, I started by riding an exercise bike for six minutes. Six minutes! So I decided I wasn’t going to tell myself it wasn’t good enough to do a short workout today.

It’s almost absurd how proud I was of myself this morning after that short workout. One has to start somewhere, I guess.

New Year, Same Old Me

Several months ago, I wondered whether not having a deadline every two weeks would mean I just didn’t write. I guess the posting activity on this blog has settled that question.

I’ve been mostly on vacation for a week and it’s only now, two days before I jump into the craziness with both feet again, that it occurs to me that maybe it would be fun to post something on the blog. What has happened to me?

In short, I’ve been working more. My responsibilities at my church job have increased, and I’m still teaching at home, and that all adds up to full-time, and then some. Then there’s the home shift, and, well, I don’t have deadlines for the blog, which would force me to publish.

Be that as it may — I am doing some writing for my job, so it’s not like I’ve suddenly forgotten how to string words together. But when I forced myself to sit earlier this week and write my family’s annual “year in review” — my New Year’s greeting, which I send instead of Christmas cards — I realized that, while every year has its moments, my life is mostly settled. For this I am grateful, full stop. I don’t think, however, that it makes very compelling writing, or reading.

As a writer, I know that my gift has always been not with scintillating subject matter, but with the words I choose to communicate it. That’s all well and good, assuming that there’s at least a little spark of a subject to get me going. But who wants to read — or write — about getting up, going to work, coming home, going to bed, and getting up to do it all over again? Plenty of interesting stuff happens at work, but I’m not comfortable writing about that. The kids still say funny things, but I don’t typically have the time, or the inclination, to build a column out of a quip.

I guess it’s not writer’s block. Liver’s block, perhaps, but I’m not dissatisfied with my life. Perhaps it’s mostly a time issue, combined with the sneaky suspicion that the day-to-day of my life doesn’t need to be written about so much any more.

Tim’s writing assignment

My 9-year-old just shared his journal entry — his 4th grade homework — with me. Here it is, reproduced in its entirety:


One Sunday like any other Sunday, I went to church. We sang a hymn, heard the opining prayer, and sat down to hear the reading. The reading was nice, and when it was done, we sang a psalm. We heard the second reading. When it was over we sang the Gospel acclamation. Then we stood for the Gospel and sat for the homily. We had communion, prayed, sang the closing hymn, and left. When we came home, I read the bouliton. It said: (I was overjoyed!) Alter Servers Wanted! I was so happy I could’ve gotten 1,000,000 bucks.

The End