Category Archives: Advent

Giving Thanks and Counting Blessings

This year I am thankful for so many things, and I am trying to get into the habit of counting my blessings each and every day, instead of waiting for a holiday to prod me into it. Here is a solid list of things I am grateful for, and they are in no particular order.

1) Mental Health: As I look back through this blog, I notice my thoughts and moods look like a roller coaster (not a fun one), going from high to low, back to really high then back to really low, and there are some flat places like where people stand in line to get on the coaster and then off again. Only I never got off again. I just stayed on the thing and rode it again and again, like when my youth group went to King’s Island one year and rode the Adventure Express ten times in a row, seeing the same sights over and over again. Then when we got off a couple of girls puked in the trash can. That’s an accurate portrayal of how I feel about my life for the past five years or so, but the past year from about August back to the August of 2013 was especially excruciating. Seeing the same sights over and over again began to kill me. Slowly. And definitely made me want to puke in the trash can.

Unknown to most people I was suffering. I thought about killing myself at least once or twice a week, and the thought wasn’t a fleeting whim of considering suicide. I dwelt on it. Sometimes for several days at a time. The days were dark, my thoughts were heavy, and I didn’t want to go on.

Unknown to most people I was also addicted to several things, the mildest of which were beer and cigarettes, but there were other darker addictions, too. There will be other posts, other writings, other stories wherein I discuss those things, but not now, not when there is so much to be thankful for.

Unknown to most people, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to escape my life and do anything but what I was doing.

Fortunately, I remained.

Fortunately, there was an end to my suffering.

Fortunately, there were Zen gardens, long conversations, fellowship, and grace.

And life is not excruciating right now. Now I have no suffering. I am only blessed.

Right now, I am filled with joy, and not the fleeting kind. I am filled with that joy I was looking for this time last year. The kind I had no business of even trying to write about, because I was so far from it, I wouldn’t have known it if it had bitten me in the ass.

Right now I feel mentally well. And content. And at peace. This wasn’t a magical transformation, but a transformation of hard work, diligence, and perseverance on the part of myself and many others.

I am thankful I am not where I used to be.

2) Vocational Health: I am blessed with the ability to work a minimum-wage job with very little stress. My goal each day is to be the person who brings a smile to someone else’s face. I don’t look at my job as making a cup of coffee; I look at it as bringing grace and joy through food to a guest of my hospitality.

I can’t explain how it feels for me to not be teaching; I do miss the thoughtful conversations with my students and my colleagues, but not the rest of it. I enjoy having those same conversations with my coworkers and customers, but moreover I enjoy clocking in, serving people, clocking out, and coming home. No planning, no grading, no emails, and no bull shit. The worst thing that happens at work now is I make someone’s coffee wrong, so then I remake it and no one is harmed.

Probably the best part of my job is my manager, who is the best friend I’ve made since I moved here in July. When she is filled with happiness, her excitement is contagious. When someone does something she appreciates, she tells the person. When someone does something wrong, she has a constructive conversation with the person, not with everyone who works at Caribou. There’s no guessing where you stand with her. No head games.

People who manage other people shouldn’t fuck with the people they manage. Each person should know exactly what she is doing right, or exactly what she is doing wrong, and how it can be corrected or continuously improved.

Nebulous feedback is only detrimental to coworkers. I am so glad I am out of the land of nebulous evaluations and the RISE model that causes all educators so much pain for so little helpful feedback or constructive criticism.

I am thankful I am where I am.

3) Physical Health: This is an area that I still need to work on, but I know I can do it. On Monday, I am going to go swim for the first time since I’ve been up here. I’ve been walking pretty consistently, and I plan to start running three days a week. I also plan to move my bike and bike trainer into the house, so I can bike twice a week. My physical health goal is to swim on Monday and Wednesday, to bike on Thursday and Saturday, and to run on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday. I certainly feel better when I am active, and not just physically. I can tell in my emotional demeanor when I have the chance to do moving meditation and when I don’t.

I’ve been drinking a few too many beers, been smoking a few too many cigarettes, and been having a few too many eat whatever I want days. I know this is not necessarily healthy. I also know that the opposite extreme is not healthy for me either. I do not live well on a restricted diet. I do not live well without the option of smoking a bit now and again. And I do not live well without an occasional alcoholic beverage.

I am well aware that moderation in all things is best for me, and I am striving toward a better and healthier relationship with what I consume.

I want wellness in regards to exercise and food.

I am thankful for being able to tell when enough is enough.

4) Relational Health: I have more friends than I have ever had before. I have a better relationship with my wife than I’ve had in about a year. I am more appreciative of my family than I have been in a long time. I value and cherish people in a way I haven’t before in my life.

Without family and friends, I am fully aware that I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I especially wouldn’t be so mentally well.

Every day, I thoughtfully consider that I might not even be here today were it not for my family and friends who’ve loved me unconditionally.

I am thankful I am here today.

5) Locational Health: Is this really a thing? Haha. I am so happy we live where we live. There are several state parks within a short driving distance. I frequently walk on an island, which is part of what I’ve always wanted. I didn’t imagine the island would be between two rivers in the middle of a huge city in Minnesota, but I have an island to walk around. I can drive half an hour and be in Minneapolis, or half an hour in the opposite direction and be out in the country surrounded by cows. We live in a quiet and working-class river valley, but I work up in the Heights, so I can see everything at night after work or in the morning before work, even the stars. I can drive back to Indiana in one day, so I can visit easily, or I can drive one day in the opposite direction and be in Canada.

I am thankful I live in a second place I love.

6) Spiritual Health: Advent starts on Sunday, and I am so excited to see what God has in store for me for the next year. I have been using Common Prayer before work each morning, and I love how God speaks to me through those words. I can find one phrase or idea and carry it through my day.

I am thankful for God’s grace, peace, and love.

Sunday, Sunday: Some Thoughts About Lent

WARNING: This post is very disjointed. Sorry about the hop, skip, jumpiness of it. In the words of Nehemiah: “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” Apparently, I can’t write today either. Ha!

I sat in church today thinking about the purpose of Lent. I noticed a couple of things that I’d like to find out more about. We didn’t do the confessional part of the liturgy, I suspect because Lent is supposed to be focused on being confessional. Our retired Rector, Fr. Charlie, unintentionally spilled the water that is hidden under the lectern for the speaker or preacher of the day, I suspect to remind us all in a hilariously accidental way of our baptisms and of our own humanity. I learned a new term: Ember Day. With a quick Internet search, I found that ember days are for prayer and fasting, and they are days that mark the quarters of the Christian calendar. I still would like to learn more about this new liturgical observation.

For me Lent has always been a time in the liturgical calendar to pray, fast, and re-find myself in the face of Christ. This year for me Lent is the most wilderness it has been for a long time. Mind you, I have been so far from Christ for a few years that I haven’t really paid any attention to Lent other than it being a season in the calendar. For a couple of years, we haven’t really regularly attended church, so Lent was just the thing that lead up to Easter. There’s this idea that the way we understand ideas or concepts is by gaining a better understanding of the opposite, and I am pretty sure I fully understand the beauty that is Christ because of my propensity to wallow in the opposite. I know the wilderness. I know the desert. At points in my life, I’ve known the barren lands so well that I never thought I’d find my way back, or want to.

But now I am here. In the symbolic wilderness of Lent. I feel the sadness. I feel the temptation. I feel the loneliness. I feel this in juxtaposition to the joy, the warmth, the holiness, and the grace I have felt in Christ since the first Sunday of Advent. I feel like I have been called home only to be cast back into the dark. The cross is covered. The baptismal font is gone. The confessions are removed form the liturgy. We are in utter theological darkness. This concept, as I tried (but poorly) to articulate in my post about the road trip, has never been so clear to me in my life as it is in this particular Lent season.

Because of our impending move, this Lent season brings for me lots of last moments. Yesterday when we were at the Mounds, I said to Bec, “Later this spring, I’ll bring you back and we can walk the route of the race I just ran, because it’s beautiful.” Only I won’t, because she’ll be in Minnesota. Later in the say I said to my brother, “Next year when we run this Shamrock Beer Run, we’ll know to get here really early or really late to avoid the horrible bottle neck at the start line.” He said back to me, “Only you won’t be here next year, you’ll be in Minnesota.” True. My parents brought Bec and me a few dozen eggs, and I thought to myself that pretty soon I’d not be getting delicious farm fresh eggs every week, nor would I be able to just call them up for a coffee or to see me run a race. So far this Lent I’ve had the intense pain and pleasure of having many lengthy conversations with both friends and family to help me discern my future.

Who am I? Who is God? Where do I find my worth? What makes me live? What is my calling? What brings me joy? What vexes me? How can I reconcile the various facets of my life? What the fuck am I doing? Why? Am I seeking God’s will? These are just a few of the questions I’ve wrestled with over the past few weeks.

At church this morning, the Eucharist had a different meaning for me, and I can assume for Bec, since we both shed a few tears when we went back to the pew to kneel and contemplate the mystery of Jesus’ body and blood. She carefully thread her arm through mine and held my hand tightly. I am not sure if it was for my benefit or hers. We both know this time of transition will be more difficult and longer than we’d like. At any rate, the Eucharist today gave me an intense hope in the future. The Eucharist has a beautiful of doing that: reminding me that God is bigger than the wilderness. No matter the darkness, no matter my lostness or helplessness, God is there. Christ is real and present in my friends and family. I am not alone in this journey. Jesus is there. With me. In the wilderness.

I love the season of Lent, because I allow myself time to think about the darker more mysterious parts of my Christian faith. And I hate the season of Lent for the same reasons. Perhaps this is why Easter brings such joy. I cling to this hope. I cling to the promise of a risen Christ.

Advent, Food and Exercise, Writing, and Stress

Most people who know me would not be able to believe that my two favorite liturgical seasons are Lent and Advent, in that order. I love spiritual waiting, because I know at the end of the wait there will be Jesus. I love the anticipation of Jesus, who is in all ways God, coming to earth in all ways human during Advent. I reluctantly wait for his inevitable death with the promise of resurrection during Lent. There is nothing quite like spiritual anticipation to make a person realize how blessed we are on this earth, how much the God of the universe cares for us and gives us grace. I agree with Nadia Bolz-Weber when she insists that our spiritual and theological lives consists of hundreds, if not thousands, of little deaths, resurrections, and rebirths (paraphrase). So it is every day for me. Anticipation of these spiritual events keeps me keeping on. Anticipation gives me hope.

Contrarily, I do not love earthly waiting. Instead I am like the cliché kid in the candy shop, wanting to take as little time as possible to make things happen in this world. I want things and I want them now. Maybe that’s why I put so much stock in Advent and Lent; it makes feel as if I have some otherworldly waiting ability. Anyway, I’m in a period of waiting now, on this earth, for the next steps. I’m leaving teaching at the end of May, at least for a while, until I can figure out what I want to do with myself. I’m hoping to be a bartender, or a barista, or something that involves the outdoors for a bit. I need to regroup and rethink and refocus. So, I am waiting to see what comes next. And it feels like an eternity. And it feels like so many things to figure out. And it feels overwhelming.

*

Well, I tried a Whole 30, but again didn’t succeed. It takes a lot of work for me to be that strict with my food. Food is love and grace for me, and I still want to share in happy hour with my friends. Maybe I’m a weak person, maybe I have no self-control (see above, I want it, now), maybe I need a legitimate starting point like New Year’s to make things stick, maybe I’m just destined to be a fat kid. Who knows? What I do know is that from my lowest weight last year until now, I’ve gained almost 30 pounds. I chalk it up to stress, since I eat my feelings. I chalk it up to the mild depression I feel every fall/winter, since I sometimes don’t even want to get out of bed.

I am nowhere near my fattest, but I am not happy with this weight gain, because I can’t run, bike, or swim as fast. That being said, I’m cruising through the holidays, and then I’ll try to make some changes. It’s too much to try to be festive and self-policing at the same time.

I have also fallen short of my yearly goal this year to move my body 5 miles each day. I don’t think there’s any way for me to accomplish this goal, since my body doesn’t seem to want to cooperate with my grand plan of completing a mini-triathlon each day. I did four days worth, but then my body sort of said, “Fuck you, fatty, this is too much exercise.” And now my foot hurts, and I don’t think I can do it. But I’m going to try again starting tomorrow.

*

I’ve been trying to write with my students this semester, but all I’ve gotten out of it is a load of crap and some really bad starts to several nonsensical stories. I am taking a teaching creative writing class this spring semester, so I can make something out of my classes for my PhD that I won’t be using for an actual PhD, since I quit. I hope the muse comes back to me before I have to start working on my creative project for the Master’s degree I’ll be trying to get. It’ll be in creative writing, and I have to write a new creative nonfiction piece that is publishable. This may be a bit tricky. Anyway, my whole point is I need a muse.

*

I have never felt so much stress at any point in my life up to this date. I can’t imagine being a person who is this stressed all the time, nor can I fathom how some people function while carrying around such a huge load of anger, suspicion, and doubt as I see people carrying. I have found myself wondering how people keep from simply collapsing under the weight of the burdens they bear, because I sometimes feel like I could cave to the small amount of things I shoulder.

During this Advent, my heart hurts for people who experience stress, despair, anger, suspicion, doubt, hate, a painful past, or illness, and I pray and hope for healing, peace, love, and grace to visit them through me. I anticipate that the risen Christ will show through me and my actions as I love people this Advent. I anticipate being grace.

Oh, Boy. WHOLE 30-ish!

Well, in my last post, I said that it was my goal to write here every day this past summer. As we can all tell, that in no way happened. I took the summer as a giant vacation to train for the Muncie 70.3, which I successfully, though not speedily, completed on July 13. I refinished floors, I watched my diet, I read books, I planned for the school year, and I did every thing except write and do art, which were my two goals for the summer. So much for goals, eh?

In my true fashion, though, I have a whole new list of goals that I am trying to achieve over the next couple of months. As timing would have it, I’ve begun a new journey near Advent, but not quite on it. I’m always slightly out of step, off kilter, sideways, backwards, or whatever words you’d use to describe someone who never does anything exactly in the right manner. Of course, this is part of why my goal setting is always a bit comical for those who know me best. My goals are lofty, but infrequently met. It’s a goal: to get better at reaching goals. It’s a goal I’ll likely not meet.

For the next 30 days, I’m keeping track of my goals on a private page, and when the 30 days is over, I’ll transfer my thoughts over here. But for now, all you need to know is that I’m starting my fourth Whole 30, two of which were utter failures, one of which was successful, and one of which is just beginning. The past two days of healthy eating have gone smashingly and I am beginning to feel a bit less bloated already. I am not, however, experiencing the miracle cure that others experience, nor have I ever, but I do feel more well-fed and less like crap. This go around I am trying to avoid the trap of food envy that has derailed my other two Whole 30s. I mean a person can only “enjoy” so many kale chips, right?

I’m going to try to post here more regularly, but school and life get in the way sometimes. Until later, then.

The Day Before the Day Before Christmas: Spiritual and Physical

Spiritual Things Today was the last Sunday in Advent, and I am a bit ashamed to say that I didn’t make it to church one time during my second favorite season in the liturgical calendar. I’ve been using my Sundays to catch up on grading and the like since school started this year, and apparently the impending coming of the Christ child really didn’t make enough of an impact on me for me to change my ways in anticipation. Unwittingly, I’ve become one of those Gen-Xers who just doesn’t have time for a child, even a holy one. Sadly, I think I’m becoming a Gen-Xer who doesn’t have time for anyone; I’m so focused on career-oriented trivialities that it seems as if many of my relationships aren’t what they could be, or should be, or used to be.  Maybe my posting of this quote on Facebook was some sort of wake-up call to myself: “There comes a time when it is vitally important for your spiritual health to drop your clothes, look in the mirror, and say, ‘Here I am. This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul’s address.” Barbara Brown Taylor is hands down my favorite theologian/preacher, and her words remind me that I need to get my spiritual shit together. My spiritual life doesn’t look like anyone else’s, because it is mine. My body, my physicality, my experiences and how they’ve shaped me, like it or not, are my soul’s address. The scars and the decorations are all a part of who I’ve become in Christ. My soul’s address, unfortunately, looks a bit more tattered and torn than some of yours.

Physical Things The newest goal I’ve set for myself is to complete a Half Ironman. There’s a race here in Muncie on July 13, just a week before my 39th birthday. My friend Teresa has already signed up for the race, and I plan to sign up for it in January. That being said, I’ve got a long way to go in seven months to be able to complete it. I’d love to complete it in some sort of respectable time as well. I am pretty sure the running will be the most difficult for me and the swimming will be the easiest. I’m still hoping to finish a trail marathon before I’m 40, but I think this goal takes precedence over the 26.2 mile jog. All of this means I really need to step up the exercise regimen f0r the next seven months, including adding some strength training to the running, biking, and swimming. I really wish the morning swim was an option, but I just can’t deal with the grumpy ancient ones, so I’ll deal instead with the master’s swim team who works out at night. Yay.

Strange, then, with all this thinking about my body and exercise that I can’t seem to kick my addiction to sugar. I feel so much better when I am not eating sugar, but unleash me on some fudge and watch me go! I have devoured nearly a whole recipe of eggnog white chocolate fudge this week: that’s THREE cups of straight-up white sugar in one week, which doesn’t even include all the other candies I’ve eaten. Wow. I’m going to try another round of this Whole 30 business starting on January 7. A friend of mine who’s been quite successful with her Whole 30 adventures is willing, yet again, to have me tag along. I made it 16 days the last round and then ate some ice cream. This time I am going to have plenty of legal fruit on hand for those nights when ice cream seems like the thing that will cure all of my ills. Fruit and water seems like a legitimate replacement for ice cream, right? I just need to keep reassuring myself with the words of Violet Beauregard’s mother from the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: “Eyes on the prize, Violet. Eyes on the prize.” Perhaps if I remind myself in such a way not to eat sugar, it’ll happen. And, hey, I’ve got this pesky 40 pounds I’d like to lose before lugging it around for 70.3 unnecessary miles.

Unnerving Things I have been trying to avoid thinking about the stuff in Connecticut, but in trying to avoid it, I think my mind just keeps returning to it. Sometimes not thinking about something, failing to deal with it, really becomes the means by which the thing haunts you. My God-daughter is 6 and in kindergarten. My grandchildren will one day go to public school. My President broke down in tears. I cannot even imagine the terror in the hearts of the parents whose children attend Sandy Hook. I cannot imagine the giant holes torn in the fabric of the hearts of the parents whose children died in those classrooms. I can, however, imagine the last fleeting thoughts of the teachers in those rooms, because they are the same as the thoughts I’d have in that situation. They are the same thought that any teacher of any type of worth would have: I must help these children. I must save them. I must do something, though I feel as if I can only do nothing. I feel helpless in the face of this.

In a similar vein, I feel helpless in the face of the sadness experienced on a daily basis by so many of the teenagers I work with. I am Facebook friends with many of my students through a teacher-only account I’ve set up for this school year, and I can scroll back through previous posts and just sense this overwhelming sadness. Is it cultural? Is it spiritual? Is it emotional? Who’s to blame? The parents? The teachers? The students? Politics? So many of my students just appear to seem so hopeless. When I was sixteen, I thought I would change the world. Were we more naive then? I just don’t get it. I feel helpless, but not hopeless.