New Normal

For a while those first few days of vacation, I didn’t know what to do with my phone or hands. 

I couldn’t check twitter. Couldn’t google that question that came to mind. Couldn’t color a picture first thing in the morning. Couldn’t snapchat my kids. Couldn’t mindlessly scroll instagram.

I couldn’t use my phone for anything at all but taking pictures. Slowly, my hands found they were relaxing their grip. So did my soul.

Burned

Truth is, I’ve been feeling on the cusp of burnout for a while. Pastoring through a pandemic is not the casual stroll some people seemed to think. (Oh, you don’t have to do anything but record a sermon. How great is that? You must have so much free time!)

Yep. Learning new technology, and having to change it every time we had a new iteration of church, was easy peasy. So was dealing with mental health crises in the community. Helping our little church cope in their own loneliness and fear. Working with people who couldn’t pay their rent. Purchasing our first church building and planning a major reno project on it. Not taking a Sunday off in over a year because you can zoom from anywhere and people needed me. 

The stuff of idle leisure, right?

And doing all this while never getting to hug my kids or even my husband, a man who spends all day in peoples’ respiratory systems, so not a good bet during COVID for immunocompromised me.

It was a lot. It was a lot for you, too. I know without asking that you went through and did a LOT. 

I don’t list those things for pity. I list them to explain why I, like a lot of you, teetered on the edge of wanting to chuck it all and move to New Zealand to become a hobbit village guide. (Still not a bad option. I’d consider it.) 

I was tired, cranky, physically weak, and weary to the bone of doing One. More. Thing.

So I went on our overdue, twice canceled trip of a lifetime last month with high hopes of rest and renewal.

I got those. It was the most glorious time of my life. Yet reentry created other problems I hadn’t anticipated. I’d planned for rest—but I’d put all my expectation on those two weeks. I’d assumed they would be a magical step away from reality that brought me back to earth somehow changed into a new me ready to take on anything in my path.

Pro tip: You cannot undo 14 months of overtime with two weeks of vacation. It does not correlate.

Sabbathing Well

I’d begun a sabbath with all the wrong beliefs about what it was for. Even though, given I’ve written and taught about sabbath as one of my favorite topics, I knew better. 

Sabbath isn’t meant to give us a rest from work or to bring us back to work ready to break new records.

Sabbath is intended to refresh us by rekindling our relationship with the One who knit together our souls. It’s meant to remind us that we done’t run the universe, and the world will turn on its axis without us giving it a nudge. 

I love Eugene Peterson’s work on this.

I hadn’t treated it like that.

Because I’m me, I crammed the time before and after our trip with ALL the things.

  • Of course I could send out an important, long email for a new group I was chairing.
  • Of course I could write the sermon for the day after we got back and deliver it even though we got into the airport AT 1AM Saturday.
  • Obviously, I could prep the June newsletter so it could go right out two days after we returned. (You know it didn’t.)
  • Clearly, I could run 25 errands, prep for a cat sitter, pack, and still do a normal week’s work. Also take the computer in for a complete wipe and reset.
  • Of course I could, given that computer wipe, start right up Monday morning after we got back with a full week of meetings, agendas, sermon writing, social media handling, and 3 doctor appointments.

Of course.

I set myself up for returning to the exact state I’d left rather than taking what I’d learned on the trip and putting it into practice. Fortunately, God stopped me in this nonsense before I could undo all the good.

I find myself asking the same questions post-vacation that I’ve pleaded with my congregation to ask themselves all year about life post-pandemic.

What kind of “normal” do you want to return to?

What are the best things you want to keep from this time?


How are you going to go about intentionally making sure you reboot life 2.0—the version you really want as an operating system?

New Normal

I want a normal that remembers—I matter, but I’m not indispensable.

The world can do without me for two weeks. Or longer.

Not that I don’t matter to my congregation and to others I interact with. However, I matter more to them whole and healthy, recognizing my role as facilitator and friend rather than savior or enabler. We’re partners—and that means free communal give and take, not one-sided offerings. 

It’s going back to relying on and respecting their God-given gifts. That’s taken a backseat during pandemic when stress was everyone’s worst passive aggressive friend. It’s time for a resurgence of trusting people and letting go the reins. If you, like me, have been grasping them a tad too tightly, slack up. Let people surprise you again with what God is giving them to share. 

I want to make available, not necessary, part of my new normal.

I want a normal that makes time for quiet wonder.

Snorkeling right in the face of penguins, sea lions, iguanas, and turtles does something to you. I’ve loved all of God’s wild creation since the day someone first put a book of ABC animals in my hands. That wonder tends to fade in our every day though, when we’re not close enough to a pelican to see its feathers ruffling in the moonlight.

Pandemic allowed my inner over-achiever to amp up the work level and ignore the rest of the world outside my home. I couldn’t leave the house anyway. Why not be more productive? 

Hiking and snorkeling every day required me to see with grateful eyes all the wonder of the world. Going face to face with a penguin or struggling up a volcano’s side reminded me that I’m part of a stunning creation. The author who set it in motion surely can give me what I need to do my work without me going at it 24/7. A grateful me surely will produce better work. 

I want to make awe, not achievement, part of my new normal.

In the future, I plan not to hyper-schedule the time around my full-on breaks. I’ll prepare with joyful anticipation rather than cramming all I can in the last few days. I’ll ease back in. I will refuse to feel guilty about that. It’s in the easing that we remember lessons learned and slowly apply them to a refreshed and possibly reoriented life. That takes time, and it’s equally as important as the vacation/sabbath itself. 

So no, I haven’t done all the things on the list in June. I’m going to enjoy the birds a little longer. Take a few more walks in my garden. Ease back into life so that maybe that easier way will become the pattern. Because you know what? Work isn’t life. All of life is life. I’d just forgotten. 

I want, plan, to make a whole, shalom life, not a piece by piece one, my new normal.

The Wonder of Creating

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Photo by Sabine Ojeil on Unsplash

On a side street in Seattle, one of those streets filled with artsy shops and lined with glass sculptures that look like Willy Wonka has been there, in other words, a street made just for me, we watched artisans create miracles out of blobs of molten amber glass.

The Fascination of Creation

They shoved the golden blobs into the furnace on the end of poles, waited for just the right temperature, and pulled them out. Quickly, before the glass could cool, they pulled and trimmed and twisted it, until we could see four legs and a neck begin to form. A long nose appeared out of nowhere, then a mane and a tail, flowing wildly in the imagined wind. Finally, we saw the horse the artist intended from the beginning, though all we could see at first was a lump of glass.

Sometimes they broke a leg pulling it too far, or the mane didn’t flow the way they wanted it to, or it wouldn’t balance on those magnificent back two legs, pawing into the air. They would thrust it back into the flame, beginning again, intent on making that horse exactly as they had planned it.

We were fascinated. 

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Photo by eddie howell on Unsplash

Creation is fascinating. Creation out of nothing is miraculous. Creation with an intentional plan is . . . it’s an act of God.

At church, we’ve started working all the way through the Bible. The Creation story is familiar to us. Like Goodnight Moon, we could recite it with little effort. If not word for word, we know the idea, and we imagine there is little more to glean from it than what we know—God created everything. The Garden of Eden was awesome. The end.

There is so much more.

Look at some of the first few words.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1.3)

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Photo by Dmitry Bayer on Unsplash

“God said.” We never see God forming anything until humans. Always, God simply speaks, and whatever he wants to happen does.

I wish I had that power over, say, making dinner.

God’s word is enough to accomplish his intentions. This was true at creation. It was true when Jesus spoke to the Roman centurion about healing his servant. It’s equally true now. Nothing stands in the way of a God intent in creating blessing and beauty.

“The Spirit of God was moving over the waters.”

God moved. You know when you hear the words God’s Spirit moved, something is going to happen. This, too, is true today; it’s not a nice little fact of creation alone. When God moves, something is going to happen. Something big.

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Photo by Anastasia Taioglou on Unsplash

“In the beginning.” 

These first three words of Scripture, according to Old Testament expert John Walton, have a rich meaning we don’t get from knowing the meaning of those three words individually. It’s a phrase used to talk about plays and orchestras and the reign of kings. It’s a prelude—the time leading up to the big deal that’s coming.

In this case, it leads to the reign of kings indeed—the kings God is planning to create as the crown to his work. All of creation leads up to this—it’s the soliloquy before the play starts, the overture before the curtain opens, the bridesmaids walking down the aisle before the music swells and the bride steps out.

Why Order?

We see God creating morning and evening, concepts of time he doesn’t require in eternity. He fashions sun and moon, the ebb and flow of tides, the barriers between sky and sea and land. He forms flowers and trees and hyenas and platypuses and walking sticks—all, it says, reproducing “according to its own kind.”

What does all this mean? It means God knows how to craft a blown glass horse. He doesn’t need time in his eternity—but we do. He doesn’t need wheat that reliably reproduces wheat, not marigolds,  and cows that systematically reproduce cows, not jackals. But we do. It doesn’t matter to him if the ocean overtakes the land, but it matters to us.

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Photo by Vadim L on Unsplash

God, like the craftspersons in Seattle, knew exactly what he wanted the end to look like, and he would not settle for less. He may have begun with a blob, but he always had in his mind what that blob would become.

What blows my mind is that what was in his mind was to create a universe perfectly suited to us. We were the finale he had in mind. We were the denouement of the play. We were the kings meant to begin our reign.

He was pulling and twisting and turning a chaotic, empty universe into a masterpiece—with giving it to us in mind.

The intentionality of the creation astounds me. The beneficiaries of it outright slay me. Yes, we could get proud at the notion that the creation is for us—and we could abuse it and use it selfishly and carelessly. We could think we must be something else if God put in so much effort to bless us.

Or we could fall on our faces in wonder and humble awe that he would do such a thing for beings who would never deserve that gift.

God still creates order out of the chaos of our universe. God still speaks; God still moves; and God still fashions order in our lives, if we choose it. Often, like Adam and Eve, we opt to be our own god, but this leads to a chaotic, formless existence, as it did before God gave us order.

Rich Mullins had a song called With the Wonder, and I wish I could quote it all for you here, but copyright. (Which I deeply respect, given I live off it.) He sings about a God who filled with world with sights and sounds and concludes—“you filled this world with wonders, and I’m filled with the wonder your world.”

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Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

I’m filled with it, too. I’m filled with the wonder that its intentionality, its craftsmanship, came out from a master craftsman because he wanted to gift us with Swiss railroad-like precision, where every created thing has its purpose and plan. That we threw a spike in that perfect cog of order doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate it and work with him to re-create it.

Read Genesis 1 today. Marvel in its craft. Stand, or kneel, in awe of its intentionality. Then thank God for his wonder-filled gift.

Amen.

Word, 2019 Version

insert fabulous word here

So, the word of the year thing . . . I’ve meant to. Really. And what, it’s only January 17th as I write this. Maybe I’ll go with this popular sentiment I’ve seen floating around.

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Except February is just around the river bend.

I Do Love Words

I never picked a word last year because, well, one never picked me. I find it disingenuous to force the issue if no one word is calling to me. Or maybe I’m just too lazy to search. But this year, I know I want one. I just can’t quite decide which one. And one has not decided on me.

What I’m searching for is more a feeling than a word—and I can’t find the exact word for the feeling. This coming from someone who makes her living finding the right words.

Last year was hard. Exhausting. (Maybe if I had picked a word it would have made it better?)

It was also valuable and beautiful, but these things commingle often, don’t they? We’re already facing some potential significant loss in 2019, so I’m not certain the new year promises better things. I am certain they will also be valuable and beautiful, and I will find that the anchor of Jesus holds still, giving meaning and hope to both joy and loss.

Yet I am at a loss for the word that encompasses it all.

We’re All Just Tired. And Toxic.

Last year was emotionally exhausting, too. When the Oxford English Dictionary chose “toxic” as their word of 2018, they baptized an entire year with an overlay of anger. They’re not wrong.

toxic

There are so many parts of 2018 I am angry about. So many things I simply cannot. I cannot with jailing children, erecting walls, shooting children, fine Nazis, drowning children . . . I cannot. I cannot with the defense of any of these things by people with whom I share a faith.

And yet . . . I also cannot let the toxins invade and make a captive of me. To quote, well, myself when I gave two talks on this topic last year,

“When we begin to attack other humans we are engaging in the tactics of the enemy, and he is not our friend. He will use us. We will end up being what we fight against.” 

We will end up being what we fight against.

I say “no” to that toxin in 2019.

So what words have I considered top define this longing?

Candidates have included:

  • Rest
  • Peace
  • Wonder
  • Joy
  • Adventure
  • Return
  • Restore
  • Simple
  • Me

(Yes, I’ve considered “me.” I have. I find no shame in that, even while I’ve looked for it, assuming that choosing “me” as a focus word for an entire year must contain more than a drop of self-absorption. It doesn’t. It’s time to be good to me for a bit.)

More Than a Feeling

What am I longing for this year?

  • A pulling back, a recalibrating of what I really need and what rabbit trails I don’t need to follow.
  • A reminder of what battles I don’t need to fight and which ones I really, truly do.
  • A restoration of some things that have fallen away.
  • A return to some of the joy-sparking things that I’ve let go. (Let’s channel Marie Kondo here, because why not?)
  • A peace in the midst of evil that isn’t going away but must not wash me out in its tide.
  • A solution to this perennial puzzle of what matters versus what demands my limited bandwidth.

A way to do this unhurried, unscheduled, restful thing perfectly so that I get it exactly right and accomplish all my other goals as well.

. . . . . .

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She appears skeptical. Photo by Thomas Jörn on Unsplash

I’m longing for wonder this year. The kind that gobsmacks you full in the face and and leaves you wide-eyed, smiling with dumb amazement that you never saw it before.

Because the thing about wonder is that, almost all the time, it’s always been there.

(Also, I wouldn’t mind bringing back the word “gobsmacked.” Because how perfectly descriptive of its own action is that word?)

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Photo by Kenny Krosky on Unsplash

Most years, I find a song as well as a word that I believe will, or has, defined my year. Like the words, they find me. This year, I think the song that has found me is Sarah Groves’ Expedition. She sings about going toward that next river bend—but unhurried, refusing to rush there just to say you’ve been. Not going down the river because you have to get to the next port or cross off the next point of interest on the to-do or to-see list.

Going because the bends are the exciting parts, and taking the trip slow allows us to savor those parts with wonder, not anticipate and strategize them until there’s nothing left but the same water you’ve traversed, thousands of times.

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Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

In defiance of her words (you really should listen):

  • I rarely approve of extravagant, and never wasteful.
  • Striving is sometimes my middle name.
  • I don’t have time for deliberate and slow.
  • I always feel I have something to prove.

“Strategy” is among my top five StrengthsFinders, and I am an enneagram 5!!! Do you not understand these important realities, Sarah???

This simply floating stuff does not come naturally. At all.

Yet for this year, I want to venture downriver and see what God has for me there, and I want to embrace it without reservation of whether or not I have the time or the capability. (Enneagram 5’s don’t do anything unless they feel they will be undeniably capable. That’s also exhausting.) I want to go around the turns and marvel at the glory and wonder of it rather than have it already planned out and categorized.

I want to be gobsmacked.

(No, that is not going to be my word. Even though it would look great in calligraphy hanging on the wall. A conversation starter, to be sure.)

What’s your vote? What’s your feeling or longing for this year? Do you have a word? What should mine be? I’d love to talk with you about it. After all, if I want to focus on what matters, one of those things would be you.