Tag Archives: joy

Monday Runday: On Being a Family of Runners

James is doing a running challenge with me, in which we’re running 26.2 miles over the next 8 weeks. It’s been astounding how dedicated he’s been to this task.

13092151_10154101255193164_439828891086948370_n

Thanks to Facebook memories, I’m recalling that three years ago, I took the girls through Couch to 5K, two years after going through it myself. Since then, each girl has participated in Girls on the Run and assorted races here and there.

318841_10151558035868164_2009620124_n

2013

946020_10151587558328164_699821321_n935791_10151587558483164_1771938294_n

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert also runs, although he’s currently sidelined with a cranky Achilles.

Somehow, over time, we became a family of runners. 

I’m tempted sometimes to enroll my kids in club running activities–recreational track or cross country or somesuch. It’s startling how easily that thought jumps into my head. My kids enjoy this, therefore they should do it in an organized way. It’s what we do as parents. A kid’s interested in the guitar? We get them private lessons. They like to do art? Sign them up for pottery camp. They want to learn tennis? We find a league to join. At least where I live, that’s an implicit or explicit responsibility of a parent. We nurture through providing opportunities. And as the mother of a kid on the swim team told me a few years ago, it’s never too early to think about a child’s college application. (Her kids were in elementary school.)

Certainly there are benefits to team sports–a good coach can be one of those inspiring childhood influences that impacts a person’s whole life. And while running is an activity that we most of us learn to do naturally as children, there’s always stuff to learn. Still, I’m trying to resist the impulse to formalize this interest of theirs. Kids today are continually evaluated, graded, scantronned, judged and compared. Not with this. This is our limit.

Part of that comes down to money and time–there’s only so many enrollment fees we can handle, and only so much carting around we’re willing to do. (I have a friend who calls this phase of parenting “Carpool.”) But on a broader level, I want my kids to have something they can do purely for the joy of it. They can set goals, or not. They can strive to improve, or not. It’s entirely up to them.

And they’re teaching me a lot. I realize, as I continue to claw my way back from last fall’s injury, how easily I’d fallen into a mode of improvement and incessant goal-setting. This is painful to admit about myself, though will surprise nobody who knows me. (My friend J took a personality inventory that suggested she stop thinking about life as one big self-improvement project, and she was incredulous: “What else would it be???” Oh, my sister.)

And so, this is a new touchstone for me:

13047920_1156738141026975_8626597374710688407_o

 

 

 

My hopes and dreams are to be able to run for my entire life, to stay healthy and injury-free, to get an occasional PR through smart training, and to have a spirit of adventure in what I do.

When James runs, he says, “Look how fast I am!!!” I suspect if he joined a kids’ running team he would discover that, comparatively speaking, he isn’t fast. That’s the McKibben/Dana genetic lottery at work, and there’s only so much you can do to overcome that.

But at the end of our runs together, when the house is in sight, he turns to me, waiting for the signal. I say, “Now, James, turn on the gas!” and he does, leaving his mother in the dust… busting through whatever 8-year-old hopes and dreams he has, scattering them like leaves in the wind.

Don’t Just Accept… Over-accept

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Turns out there’s a deep theological principle at work there.

I’m reading Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics by Samuel Wells in preparation for my presentations next week. Wells, the former dean of Duke University Chapel, uses the rules of improv as a lens for viewing God’s work in the world and our response to it. There’s a good summary here.

Wells calls the things that happen to us “gifts.” Of course, not every gift we’re offered is a happy thing. I think he means to use the word literally and neutrally: a gift is a thing that is given. But he’s also nudging us to try to see the potential in the gift—that there may be something positive that can be imagined from this unwelcome (and even downright crappy) circumstance.

Wells offers us three options when we are given gifts, and these come out of improv, and it turns out, the scripture story itself.

You can block the gift. You can simply refuse to receive what’s being offered. You could argue that the people of Israel do this in the wilderness when they construct the golden calf as an object of worship, rather than relying on the God who brought them out of Egypt in the first place. Blocking, it turns out, doesn’t work so well.

You can accept the gift. You can receive it, picking it up but doing very little with it. Think of Jonah after the big fish. He finally accepted the call to preach to Nineveh, but he didn’t exactly put his shoulder into it, did he? One sentence of prophecy and then he pouts when the wicked city repents of its sins.

Or you can over-accept. This is how Wells describes the experience of accepting a gift and then building on it. I don’t like the word, because it doesn’t connote its meaning well, but in any case, it’s a fancy way of saying “yes-and,” which is the basis of improv. There’s lots of yes-and in scripture, including the pivotal event for Christians, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Jesus’ message and his movement led to his execution by the powers and principalities. He did not block this outcome, nor did he merely accept it. Instead he over-accepted, proclaiming forgiveness and grace from the very cross that was meant to humiliate and defeat him. And of course, the resurrection story is the ultimate yes-and.

Our little church is witnessing a yes-and right now. An over-acceptance so beautiful, it hurts your eyes to look at.

I’ve written before about the family who lost not one, but two sons to the same terrible childhood illness. It is an awful, wrenching thing. I cannot call those losses “gifts” except in the most absolutely literal sense: a thing that is offered. Some “gifts” should be fought against. Some should be blocked, if they can be blocked. In fact, the family and the boys fought this illness fiercely and valiantly. But Eric died, and three years later, Jacob died as well.

To accept the circumstances is all anyone could ever ask or expect. To come to terms with the loss and to keep living. But the family is determined not to accept, but to over-accept. To yes-and.

Within the next several days, two little ones from the Ukraine will arrive in Newark, along with a couple dozen other children from that country. The brother and sister will travel on to Dulles Airport, where the family will meet them and host them for a few weeks. When the way be clear, hopefully within the year, they will become a forever family.

Leslie is a wonderful, honest, thoughtful writer, and has started a blog about this process. (If you want to read their story thus far, there are links to the CaringBridge sites. Yes, that’s plural.)

The title of the blog, Invincible Summer, comes from Albert Camus:

In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.

Yes there is. There is.

~

Image: KL Bailey

Sheep Need Underpants, Kids Need Play… And You Need a Free Book

I am very excited to be hosting Lee Hull Moses today at The Blue Room. She is co-author of Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People, available from Alban and from Amazon. Believe me, it’s good—really good. Smart and funny, eloquent and real. It’s John Wesley meets Tiny Fey.

We’re also excited to be giving away a free copy of this book. See the bottom of this post for details. And now, take it away Lee…

4766601577_93ec78a50b_b“Let go of your tongue!” the mother next to me shouts to her daughter, who is lining up with the other five-year-old soccer players in the middle of the field. The girl looks over at her, still gripping the tip of her tongue with her finger and thumb. “Let go of your tongue!” the mother shouts again.

The girl lets go long enough to shout something back, something about a hurt finger. Neither the other mother nor I can figure out what this has to do with her tongue, but then the coach blows the whistle and play resumes. The mom looks at me in exasperation: the things you never thought you’d have to say out loud.

(“Yes, sheep wear underpants,” I once told my daughter Harper, trying to move along the getting-dressed routine on the morning of the church Christmas pageant.)

This is our first foray into organized sports, and I have to admit, it’s not as terrible as I feared. I signed her up for this 8-week league partly out of peer pressure (all the other parents seem to have their kids in activities like this), partly out of guilt (she’s been asking for dance classes for years and we can’t seem to get that together), and mostly out of opportunity (a half-price Groupon offer showed up in my inbox.)

I thought she would probably enjoy it, but I didn’t think I would. It meant getting her to practice every Monday night, and games on Saturday mornings, and buying new equipment (and keeping track of it), and getting used to new schedules and people and procedures. I was wary of another evening commitment, and dreaded tying up our Saturday mornings – our only at-home family time. Also, there was this: I’m pretty awful at not being in charge of things. Most of the activities we do are related somehow to the church, and I generally know everybody involved and have made a lot of the decisions about how things get done. To be just another parent on the sidelines is a weird place for me to be.

So these eight weeks of practices and games and looking for the shin guards have probably been as good for me as they have been for her. And I have to say, I’m a convert. It’s been, well, fun. There’s something wonderful about 5-year-old soccer. Nobody keeps score. The teams are small so everybody gets to play a lot. There’s no ref – just the coaches, who nudge the ball back onto the field if it goes too far out of bounds. Everybody cheers when somebody makes a goal, regardless of whose team it is. I’ve heard the horror stories, of bad-tempered coaches and mean-spirited parents, but for us, it’s just been fun.

cover imageOne night recently, we were in the kitchen laughing, all four of us, in a few found minutes before the next thing happened – before I had to leave for a meeting, before bathtime needed to begin – and for once I was ignoring the pile of dishes in the sink and the mess on the living room floor. I don’t know what silliness we were laughing about but it doesn’t matter; I could see that Harper was watching us. She was laughing, participating in the silliness, but also she was watching. And all of a sudden I could see that she is hungry for this, this all-out fun we are having. This sort of moment is rare enough that she noticed, and soaked it up. More than any meal, this whole-family laughter feeds her, fills her up.

I forget that sometimes, I’m afraid. I forget that she needs us to have fun together, to know that we are happy.

I’m firmly in the I-won’t-martyr-myself-for-my-children camp. I like doing grown-up things. Reading books with more depth than the Berenstain Bears. Walking across the kitchen without stepping on smashed up raisins. Watching West Wing reruns after the kids go to bed. I like the work I do beyond my family, and often, I wish I had more time to do it. And sometimes – oh, I love my children dearly, but sometimes – the kid stuff, packing lunches and signing up for soccer and cleaning up the puzzle pieces for the eight-hundredth time, start to seem like chores that get in the way of what I’d rather be doing.

But my kids are not tasks we have to take care of, not items on the to-do list to be checked off.

My daughter needs those tangible things, certainly: food, shelter, clothes and shoes that fit. She needs me to sign the permission form so she can go on the field trip, and she needs me to remember to make her an appointment at the dentist. But she needs more than that. It’s her family, too. She lives here. It’s her life, and she needs me to help her live it. She needs me to listen to her stories. She needs me to ignore the dishes so I can play with her. She needs me to laugh, and mean it. She needs me to have fun, with her. She needs me to sign her up for experiences she’s never had and stand on the sidelines with the other parents and cheer my heart out, for her.

Turns out that sometimes, that’s what I need, too.

~

bromleigh-and-leeLee Hull Moses (right in photo) is the co-author, with Bromleigh McCleneghan, of Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People. She is also the pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Greensboro, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband Rob and their children, Jonathan and Harper. She will be spending this Saturday morning cheering at the final soccer game of the season.

BOOK GIVEAWAY: To be entered in the book giveaway, leave a comment, sharing your thoughts on this post and/or a similar sense of joy in the midst of the busyness of life. We’ll choose a winner Monday morning. Limit one comment per person per day.

Soccer ball photo credit: Great Beyond via Photopin

We Fight Back with Beauty

We had a great day yesterday at Tiny—week 2 of the Harry Potter series-within-a-series. (This Sunday’s installment of “parables and pop culture” is about reality TV and I have NO idea what I’m going to say. Anyone? Anyone?)

After yesterday’s worship and last week’s Young Clergy Women conference, today is a quiet, even melancholy day. I’m sad about the shooting in Wisconsin at the Sikh temple. (Read this.) A friend of mine got very disappointing news. A family I care about has been walking uphill in a health crisis for way too long.

Last week at the conference we explored many of the blocks to Sabbath-keeping. One of these, a big one, is the undercurrent of anxiety in our culture: anxiety over money, aging, time, you name it. This anxiety tells us that we can never stop. We cannot submit to the inevitability of getting older, we must resist it with products and self-punishment. We rest only if we’ve earned it.

To represent the pervasiveness of this anxiety, we made collages that we displayed on a big board:

(Incidentally, finding “anxiety” within newspapers and magazines is like shooting fish in a barrel. It’s their currency.)

The next day I told them the story of Mario Batali’s restaurant after 9/11, how he stayed open and offered hospitality to shell-shocked New Yorkers as an act of defiant beauty. (I have talked about that story before on this blog.)

We fight back with beauty, I said. We fight against the chronic anxiety of our time with sabbath moments and a posture of trust. We fight back with unhurried glimpses of magnificent beauty.

I had placed colored paper on the tables and had people write moments of beauty they had witnessed or participated in. Then they placed these over the anxious messages.

It ended up looking like a crazy quilt of small and sometimes silly moments:

The anxiety does not go away, does it? It still peeks out. But it’s not the first thing you see.

So I will let today be a quiet, melancholy day.

Friday Link Love…On Wednesday

I leave later today for a big honkin’ gathering of Presbyterian Women (that’s the organization and the demographic), where I will be leading a workshop on Sabbath-keeping. I’m bringing Margaret and James with me for some fun time with the Florida cousins. Meanwhile Caroline heads to Chicago for a choir camp, and Robert dances around the empty house in his underwear. Or something.

Since I’ll be out of pocket through the weekend, why wait on the link love? Here you go… for all your hump-day procrastination needs:

~

My First and Perhaps Only LOLcats Link

This puts the LOL in LOLcats:

h/t to Kathryn Zucker Johnston, who knows from humor.

~

11 Ways You Allow Your Life to Suck — Inc.

I can’t recall which Facebook friend posted this, but it’s a pretty good list:

5. You’re looking for a big idea.

Stop trying. You won’t hit the big idea lottery.

And even if you did come up with the ever-elusive big idea, could you pull off the implementation? Do you have the skills, experience, and funding?

Me either.

But here’s what you do have: Tons of small ideas. You don’t need to look for a big idea if you act on your little ideas.

Happiness is a process, and processes are based on action.

~

Big Campaign Spending: Government by the 1% — Atlantic

I get a lot of my links from Andrew Sullivan and this one is no exception. This installment of link love is full of pep, so I’m sorry for the poop in the punchbowl, but as I’ve written before, the campaign spending issue drives me nuts:

Because of the way we fund the campaigns that determine our elections, we give the tiniest fraction of America the power to veto any meaningful policy change. Not just change on the left but also change on the right. Because of the structure of influence that we have allowed to develop, the tiniest fraction of the one percent have the effective power to block reform desired by the 99-plus percent.

Yet by “the tiniest fraction of the one percent” I don’t necessarily mean the rich. I mean instead the fraction of Americans who are willing to spend their money to influence congressional campaigns for their own interest. That fraction is different depending upon the reform at issue: a different group rallies to block health-care reform than rallies to block global warming legislation. But the key is that under the system we’ve allowed to evolve, a tiny number (with resources at least) has the power to block reform they don’t like.

A tiny number of Americans — .26 percent — give more than $200 to a congressional campaign. .05 percent give the maximum amount to any congressional candidate. .01 percent give more than $10,000 in any election cycle. And .000063 percent — 196 Americans — have given more than 80 percent of the super-PAC money spent in the presidential elections so far.

Some call this plutocracy. Some call it a corrupted aristocracy. I call it unstable. Just as America learned under the Articles of Confederation, where one state had the power to block the resolve of the rest, a nation in which so few have the power to block change is not a nation that can thrive.

Sigh. Movin’ on…

~

A Girl and Her Room — Brain Pickings

A photographer captures images of teenage girls from the United States and around the globe, all in their natural habitats:

I was discovering a person on the cusp on becoming an adult, but desperately holding on to the child she barely outgrew, a person on the edge between two worlds, trying to come to terms with this transitional time in her life and adjust to the person she is turning into.

Amal, Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp, Beirut, Lebanon 2010
© Rania Matar | raniamatar.com

Ai, Boston, MA 2009
© Rania Matar | raniamatar.com

I agree that the images are “visually stunning and culturally captivating.”

~

The Perfect Compliment — Esquire

The author sets out to compliment as many people as possible, to parse out what makes for a good compliment. I love the reckless joy and whimsy in this practice:

One rainy afternoon, I went to a crowded street corner in Manhattan and started again. The landscape of the city looked sturdy and polished, my heart was open, my head right. I walked the box of crosswalks at that intersection for two hours, waiting at each corner for the light to change, looking — really looking — at the people around me. I poached them across the street, crossing perpendicular to their approach, sidling up as they watched the light change. I abandoned simple and direct, gave up on the humble declarative expression. A true compliment is a complex expression of unrequired appreciation — how could three words do the job? It worked better when I grew more audacious:

“You seem really happy. That’s a pleasure to see.”

And more concrete:

“All I can say is, that is a classy umbrella. It looks old-timey and right for you.”

And unafraid of a little complication:

“My mother always wanted me to wear a corduroy coat like that. Now I see why.”

People responded. Sure, some passed without acknowledging what I said, but most smiled, thanked me, gave firm little nods. I could sometimes see them stand up a little straighter. One guy told me a story about where he got his tennis racket, and a woman noted that the purse I liked was a knockoff but that her cousin Celine had an even worse one. A kid told me his watch was his grandfather’s and asked if I wanted to see the inscription. Some of these people turned to me and waved when they left. They locked eyes.

Much, much more. Open heart. Clear head right. Audacity. Yes.

~

What Does Space Smell Like? — Science Soup

It’s strange to think that the near-vacuum of space could have a smell, and stranger still that humans—atmospheric creatures—can actually experience it. Astronauts have consistently reported the same strange odour after lengthy space walks, bringing it back in on their suits, helmets, gloves and tools. It’s bitter, smoky, metallic smell—like seared steak, hot metal and arc welding smoke all rolled into one.

~

Since it’s only Wednesday, feel free to add your own links in the comments. I’ve also written a guest post on Sabbath for Jana Riess’s blog Flunking Sainthood and I’ll share it when it goes live.