Author Archives: MaryAnn McKibben Dana

I Am Neither Slow Nor Fast.

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Not long ago I was speaking to a group of pastors and church musicians. The focus of the conference was on small congregations–their particular gifts and challenges.

It’s easy sometimes for small churches and their leaders to feel down about themselves. They often feel an abundance of the family vibe, but a scarcity of resources. They may have lots of down-to-earth authenticity but lack the programs and “flash” of larger churches.

After the presentation a man came up to me, thanked me for my comments, and handed me a small piece of paper. “This quote has really helped me keep things in perspective,” he said.

Here it is:

Avoid adjectives of scale. You will love the world more and desire it less.

This is former poet laureate Robert Hass, paraphrasing the poet Basho. And I can see why this colleague has been carrying it around. It’s been working on me for the past couple of months. I love the distinction between loving the world and desiring it. To love the world is to love what is, to experience contentment and joy. But desire… desire is insatiable. We are never satisfied.

Love is a hand, relaxed and open. Desire is a clutching fist.

Through the lens of this quote, I’ve been seeing anew how much of consumer culture centers around comparing ourselves to others—usually in a way that draws us up short.

Too fat.
Too old.
Not wealthy enough.
Not white enough.
Less popular.
Not as talented.

Or we compare ourselves to our past selves:

I wish I had that body back.
Look how many more wrinkles I have! 
My marriage was more romantic back then. 

Of course it’s fine to want to better ourselves. Last year I had only one running goal: to get faster. I didn’t have specific time goals, I just wanted to improve. And I did: I achieved PRs (personal records) in three recent races of various distances recently. There’s lots more room to grow, and I hope to finish the Marine Corps Marathon faster than I did Disney, even though it’s a tougher course.

But why? If I’m pursuing these goals out of desire, I will never be satisfied. I will always be slow compared to someone. But if I set goals out of love for the sport and for discovering what this 43 year old body can do, I can’t lose.

The running group I belong to uses Facebook to set up group runs and share running successes and challenges with one another. Without betraying the confidentiality of that space, we constantly check each other when using words like “slow.” Slow, compared to what? To whom? Everyone’s slow compared to Shalane Flanagan. Everyone’s fast compared to someone sitting on the couch. Much better to say, “I’m planning an X mile run at about a Y pace per mile. Who’d like to come?” Much better to see ourselves as we are, and to describe that as faithfully and graciously as we can.

Sooner or later, whether due to age or other physiological factors, I will plateau and decline. And that’s as it should be. Continuous growth is not sustainable for our planet; continuous improvement is not sustainable for a body, either. So I’m working on embracing the spirit of Gandalf, whose cheeky comment to Frodo (above) feels a lot like radical contentment. I am neither slow nor fast. I am the speed I am meant to be right now.

Last Week’s Muffin: Brown Sugar

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Muffins are usually easy to make—one of the reasons I love them—but this recipe is one of the easiest I’ve found. The ingredients are staples, and there’s a lot of round numbers… none of this “1 1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons” business.

From the lovely Taste and Tell blog–please check it out!

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup nuts, chopped coarsely (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 375F. Grease or line 16 muffin cups with paper liners. (Or if you have 5 people in your family like we do, 15 cups)
  2. Combine the melted butter, brown sugar, egg, milk and vanilla. Add in the flour, baking soda and salt and mix just until combined. Stir in the nuts, if desired.
  3. Fill prepared muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Speed, Haste, Popsicles and Earthworms

“Mommy, you ruined my savoring.”

For a few years I was what you might call tri-vocational: I pastored a church, I wrote books and spoke to groups and retreats, and I parented three elementary-age children along with my husband. Life was a wonderful crazy-quilt of scheduling: writing an article at the library down the street from the piano teacher, finishing a sermon in the bleachers at swim practice.

It also wasn’t sustainable, I now realize. If you ask my kids, they’d probably tell you my two most common phrases were “Just a minute” and “Hurry up.” Ironic, eh? We still had times of Sabbath together, but they were shorter and less frequent than a few years ago. Part of that’s to be expected as our kids age. Part of it’s a by-product of a too-full life.

Now I’m bivocational, having left the sweet church I was serving. In the same time period, Robert adjusted his work schedule such that he’s no longer working in the evenings. Consequently, we have more space in our schedule, though I’ll let him speak for himself as to whether it feels more spacious. But for me, I know as I figure out a routine and my freelance work, the crazy quilt will be turning into something slightly more structured, geometric.

The problem is, I’m still in just-a-minute-hurry-up mode mentally. It’s like when you’re on one of those moving sidewalks at the airport and then you get ejected out the other side. Everything’s a bit disorienting when you take that first step onto solid ground; your brain hasn’t caught up to (or slowed down for) the new pace.

Which is why, the other night when the younger two kids were enjoying their popsicles after dinner, I hurried them along to bath time for no good reason. It wasn’t that late, and hey, these were the first popsicles they’d had since last summer… but I couldn’t help myself. That’s when the seven-year-old busted out with the quote that still makes me want to laugh and cry simultaneously.

Mommy, you ruined my savoring.

People ask me sometimes how the kids feel about the idea of Sabbath time. As if it’s something we’d have to drag them into. Are you kidding? Children get this stuff in a way adults rarely do.

Some years ago I read a quote about the difference between speed and haste. It’s long gone now, but my version is that haste is speed without mindfulness. Sometimes, life moves quickly, and speed can be healthy and appropriate. If I’m crossing the street and a car is coming faster than I’d anticipated, I’d better pick up the pace. But sometimes we are—or I should own it and say I am—in a hurry without purpose.

Our 12 year old is a bus patrol, which means she leaves the house about 5 minutes before my son and I do. This morning J and I left even later than usual because it was rainy and we had to find umbrellas. Still, when we got outside and saw C on the sidewalk, she was only about two houses ahead of us. She was also walking funny. I called out to her, “C, what’s up?” She whirled around in alarm: “Be careful! Look down!!”

There were earthworms everywhere.

We picked our way down the sidewalk, point out each skinny pink wriggling thing to one another so we wouldn’t squish it. I’m sad to say that “hurry up” was in my throat, trying to escape. But this time, it didn’t. This time I didn’t ruin the savoring of spring.

One of you posted this to Facebook this week:

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I’m glad of this—it means my kids will be in my life for a good long time.

Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose.

53648f3a4db9210c5de15f61Oh my goodness. J J Baskin, a great man and a good man, has died.

Every now and then someone offers the gift of letting us witness their journey through illness, and their transition from this life to the next. Steve Hayner was one of those people. So was J J, though the tone of his public posts was different than Steve’s. He was defiant and feisty, evidenced by his invoking of Friday Night Lights’s signature slogan and the way he refused to dwell on medical details publicly. He fiercely kept private things private.

I didn’t know J J well. I write this not as an intimate friend but as a friend on social media and a fellow Texan/Presbyterian, which is a smaller tribe than you might think. This tribe knows well that God lives at Mo-Ranch and Montreat is at most her summer home. Like many, I was a proud member of J J’s Fight Club. Like many, I wore the shirt as a defiant F U to cancer.

A friend and I were texting back and forth this morning. This one hits hard. The last journal entry on J J’s CaringBridge site reports that the boys are doing OK; they were currently snuggled up with their mother watching Pokemon. No one young enough to watch Pokemon should be without their father today.

For her part, my friend said she couldn’t get “His Eye is on the Sparrow” out of her head.

That’s just right. Just right.

I can never think about that song without remembering this rollicking bit of audio by Anne Lamott, Knocking on Heaven’s Door. Take 18 minutes and listen, or at least listen to Anne’s friend Renola sing it at the end. I post it in gratitude for J J and in hopes that Anne’s irreverent reverence would please him.

Rest in peace, rise in glory, and Texas forever.

This Week’s Muffin: Perfect Corn Muffins

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No, these aren’t Jiffy, they’re homemade, but I do have special affection for the little blue and white box.

I don’t have a photo of my corn muffins because I actually made them several weeks ago and froze them, and now they’re gone. Devoured.

The recipe comes from The Ultimate Muffin Book and I like it because it has buttermilk, sour cream AND butter. These are the way corn muffins should be. Giddyup.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 T sugar
2 1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 large eggs
1 c buttermilk (regular or low-fat)
2/3 c sour cream (anything but non-fat)
4 T (1/2 stick) butter, melted and cooled

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 and grease/line 12 muffin cups.
  2. Whisk cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. In a separate large bowl, whisk eggs, then buttermilk, sour cream, and butter until smooth.  Stir in the cornmeal mixture until incorporated.
  4. Fill muffin cups about 3/4 full and bake for 22 minutes, or until the muffins have bumpy rounded tops and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  5. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes; remove muffins from pan and cool 5 minutes before, and serve. Or cool completely before freezing.