I have always loved school.
The day I graduated from college I wanted to go back. Each morning on my way to work and each evening on my drive home I passed my Alma Mater and the pit in my stomach would often bubble up into tears. Part of it was the mundaneness of my work and even the remote possibility that I might sit at that desk for the next 40 years. Adulthood was not what I'd thought. But mostly, I missed the classroom. Learning new things every day. Analyzing theories, discussing ideas and formulating opinions. I loved it when my brain hurt and when a concept clicked and when I was able to articulate a point clearly.
On the day of my graduation ceremony I requested the day off. I was working as a trainer at Discover Card and in the middle of a new hire class. Richard and I were newly married and he was unable to get the time off. It didn't matter. I donned my cap and gown and approached the arena with the sea of other graduates.
It all seemed so anticlimactic. A meaningless formality.
I was so alone and I couldn't hold back the tears of sadness and loss as I entered the building. While I watched other graduates pack up their cars to head back to their new, post-college life and what I assumed was a bright shiny new job or the opportunity to continue with their education, I headed back to work. The same job I had the day before. One that didn't require a college degree or a love of ideas.
Its not that I had any idea of what I wanted to do or what I would get my Masters in if I could go back. In one sense it wouldn't have mattered. Had I known then what I know now I would have just picked one and started the process. But I was still fairly fragile emotionally and wasn't able to identify what I wanted and even if I'd have known what I wanted I had not yet found my voice.
Richard and I agreed that he would complete his Masters and then I'd pursue mine. He knew what he wanted to do and he had a scholarship to move forward without any cost to us. It was a logical decision and I fully supported this path. The one downside was the length of the program. It was a 96 hour Masters, involving four years of study. But we were young and time seemed abundant.
Richard is smart and hard working and he completed his M. Div. in the time he promised. I'm the one who changed the program. By the end of his studies I was desperate to start a family. I knew that meant my Masters would have to wait. I had poor problem solving skills, was a black and white thinker and was struggling with depression. In my mind I only had a couple of options.
Looking back I think I could have made it work with just slightly more patience and emotional strength, but it was not to be. Soon I was pregnant with Caleb and my direction was set.
In one breath I will tell you I wish I'd pursued more education earlier in my life. But then I consider my years as a mother and its simply no contest. 'Mom' is my favorite title. My kids are such a source of joy and character building and amazement and learning! I postponed a piece of paper and traded it in for one of the greatest gifts of my life--parenting my kids. Not to mention that apparently I didn't need more formal education to accomplish all that God had for me to this point.
But now its time. This week I started my first class in my Masters program--Introduction to Spiritual Formation. I'm enrolled in a Masters in Spiritual Formation and Leadership at Spring Arbor University and am completing an online degree. Only 19 years after I originally intended to begin.
In his book, The Wonder of Girls, Michael Gurian suggests that one of the most important lessons we need to teach our daughters is the reality of choices. With the great strides made in opportunities for women, many of our girls are overwhelmed by their choices. And, they are mistakenly told that they can 'have it all'. They can have a successful career, a thriving marriage, be the perfect mom, a marathon runner and a wine connoisseur. All of those things might be possible, but not at the same time! Our girls need to know (and have modeled) how to make choices about what they want to excel in at different seasons of their life. Identifying their values, then learning to prioritize accordingly.
I've found this to be true in my own life and I hope Madison is watching. I may not be able to have it all. But I have all I need and more than I deserve! It was definitely worth the wait.
I've got to learn to be more specific when I pray. This morning I asked God to direct me to the road I must travel (from Psalm 143). I should have also asked him to help me pace myself. Perhaps then I wouldn't have received my first speeding ticket in thirty years of driving.
Rushing to Rest
Ironically I was traveling to Saratoga to meet with a spiritual director. I was rushing to a time of stillness and quiet and discernment. Inspiring, isn't it? Google maps told me it would take me forty-five minutes, but I knew I could make it in forty. And I could have, too, if it hadn't been for that stupid Ford Fiesta!
Coming out of Santa Cruz on Highway 17, I ended up behind a slow car in the fast lane. This bothers me when I'm in a hurry (which is quite often). Its an etiquette thing. As an introvert I live concerned with how others perceive me so I'm naturally conscious of times I might be impeding the progress of others. In my opinion, this car was not as concerned as he should have been about how he might be holding me back. But after what seemed an eternity, he pulled over and let me pass. Here's where it all went wrong.
I could have simply passed him at a normal pace. But its possible I had been a little close up on his bumper for an extended amount of time and now that I was past him I felt a little ashamed. So I sped up so I could put some distance between us. I didn't want to be driving next to him for the rest of the twenty minute journey. Yes, I processed all of this. Its' what I do when I'm in the car. I analyze lanes, drivers and traffic patterns. I have a problem.
Do you know why I pulled you over?
I saw the police car as I sped past it. It was too late, but I pressed on the brake out of instinct. There were cars behind me so I peered in the rear view mirror hoping he stayed parked on the shoulder and praying for mercy. Sure enough, he pulled out. I did have a brief thought that I might have time to lose him, but then I remembered I wasn't in a movie.
He positioned himself behind my car and I waited for the inevitable flashing lights. Sure enough, he was pulling me over--just as the very slow Ford Fiesta was cruising on past.
Strangely, I didn't feel any anxiety or anger or the sinking feeling in my gut I was dreading. As I lowered the passenger window and he approached I felt a sense of calm. It was almost eerie.
"Do you know why I pulled you over?"
"I was speeding?"
"Do you know how fast you were going"?
"No, but it was well over the limit I'm afraid."
He asked for my license and registration and returned to his car to write up my ticket. I called my spiritual director to tell her I was going to be late. I was getting a ticket. It didn't escape my awareness that had I been willing to make that call earlier, I wouldn't have felt the need to speed in the first place. Note to self.
When he returned to hand me the record of my offense he asked an interesting question.
"Did you know I was going to pull you over when I came up behind you?"
"Yes I did. I knew I deserved to get a ticket."
He smiled. "I've got to say, ma'am, you've got a great attitude and I appreciate it. Most people don't see it that way." I felt old when he called me ma'am.
Owning Up, Slowing Down
I'm quite surprised by my emotional response. No matter what, I would have been polite, but there was something about my internal state that kind of freaked me out. I was guilty and I didn't feel a need to defend myself or beat myself up.
I thought about the time my mentor got a ticket in a school zone and she wasn't frustrated at all. She told me it was God reminding her to slow down. Maybe that's what I heard in the quiet today.
"Kelli, slow down. You don't have to rush. What I have for you to accomplish doesn't require racing from thing to thing."
I'm headed back home now. I've learned some valuable lessons today. Sadly, punctuality isn't one of them. I'm definitely going to be late to pick Madison up from school.
If I had to do all over again (and I were much smarter) I would definitely be a neurologist--or a professional surfer. But let's stick with neurologist for the sake of this post. I am fascinated with the brain. Everything about it. The delicacy of moods and emotions and memory. How fragments buried deep in my past subconsciously affect my experiences of today. How the brain is wired for healing and how all that works together in my spirituality. Fascinating!!
With all that in mind I've been analyzing my last couple of weeks (perhaps over analyzing as I'm prone to do) and making some interesting observations.
As I mentioned (see my previous post), I've had a stellar couple of weeks. Two weeks ago I experienced five days that were not just productive, but full of great family moments, laughter with friends, good gifts and lots of highlights. Last week, I was in Hawaii. No further explanation required.
Superimposed on that reality was a spiritual practice I began again a few weeks prior. Each night before bed I spend five minutes writing down things I am thankful for that day and then direct that list as a prayer of gratitude.
So here's what I've been wondering...did I just pick the best couple of weeks of my year to begin a daily gratitude practice or did my daily gratitude practice have something to do with the outcome (or my perception of the outcome)?
I was leaning toward the former until our plane ride home from Hawaii this morning. For the second week in a row, a daily gratitude practice seemed almost silly. Designed to help me recognize God's goodness, this routine bordered on ridiculous. So much good. So much beauty. Too much to possibly even name. But I did it because I was on vacation and feeling lazy. As luck would have it, I was practicing gratitude this season, not poverty or solitude so all I had to do was express gratitude and I would be engaging in a spiritual discipline. Wasn't everyone doing this?
Apparently not. We arrived at the airport last night to discover chaos afoot. A flight back to the mainland had been cancelled and people were frantically scurrying to make other arrangements. Tired, sunburned and often hungover, this was not an ideal way to close out the day. But the levels of rage, entitlement and outright despair seemed a bit dramatic given a couple of factors:
1) They'd just spent days or weeks in one of the most idyllic locations on the planet
2) Worst case scenario, they'd have to stay a couple of extra days in this aforementioned paradise.
Was I missing something?
Don't Make Me Stay Here!
The last couple to make it on to our non-cancelled flight must have spent their time on the torture side of the island. Clearly they did not want to stay and, rumor has it, may or may not have offered to have their baby raised by natives to ensure immediate passage off Kauai.
As the distraught wife dragged her armful of baby toys , car seat, and overstuffed bags brimming with island booty behind her brave, baby--carrying husband she let out frequent sobs. "They were horrible!" She cried to anyone who would listen. Who? I wondered. The flame carrying natives? With that level of distress she must have been at a different luau than we had attended. The hapless TSA employees? The gate agents working their butts off to try to get everyone home from their hellish week?
All the other passengers seemed outraged on behalf of this young couple while I was enraged that I had to turn my music up louder to shut out all the tsk-tsking so I could get some sleep. (Clearly my practice of gratitude has not served to increase my expression of mercy. )
I'm no neurologist, but...
So, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that gratitude makes the heart more grateful. At least for me. In his fascinating book, The Anatomy of the Soul, Dr. Curt Thompson details the stunning effect spiritual disciplines have on brain chemistry. How telling our stories to an empathic listener rewires the neuro pathways of both the teller and the listener. As he discusses brain functioning and spiritual disciplines, Thompson states that "to be...acutely aware of God's beauty in anything leads to awareness of God's beauty in everything, save that which is evil."
I think that's what gratitude is beginning to do in me. And for that, I'm thankful.
When I'm running, "all downhill" is a sweet phrase. But in this post, I mean it in the "I've arrived at the peak and now I'm on the way down" sense.
At the Summit
Or the "it can only get worse" sense. Not because I'm a pessimist, but because there is nothing in my history to indicate that I'm capable of sustaining this for any length of time.
I'm only telling you this because I want people to remember me as I was at the peak when they find me mumbling and drooling while I feed my family Costco pot pies for the third week in a row.
On most every personality indicator I've completed I am told I have an ability to adapt to different environments. I am able to quickly assess what is required to thrive in a situation and perform accordingly. (It doesn't take much brain power to figure out how those powers could be used for evil as well as good.)
Over the years, Richard has affectionately named my adaptations. They are all genuinely 'me', but I do act in predictable ways in many settings. Kind of like Malibu Barbie and Townhouse Barbie--they're the same doll in a different wardrobe.
So here are a few of my favorites:
Vacation Kelli: This Kelli is nonstop fun. She doesn't take naps because she doesn't want to miss a thing. She doesn't worry about money because 'she's on vacation!' and will probably never get to do this again. She stays up late, gets up early, and can't soak up enough of the sites. She begins dreading her return to real life as soon as she arrives and may mourn for as long as a week upon returning home.
Upfront Kelli: This Kelli is full of energy and passion. She talks fast, sings loud and generally expresses a full range of emotions. In spite of years of practice, she still usually regrets about half the things she says in this mode.
Celebration Kelli: This Kelli freaks out at every birthday celebration, major holiday or special event that involves a formal or informal gathering. Afraid her efforts won't adequately portray her affection for the honored guest or her creative skill, she spends way too much money on things like streamers and glitter.
Burnout Kelli: This Kelli can be found playing games on her phone, checking her facebook and laying in her bed reading. Anywhere, really where there are no people. If forced to be in a social situation she is distracted irritable and impatient. A real charmer, this one!
Domestic Kelli: Ha! Just kidding. There's no domestic Kelli.
Introducing....Getting It Done Kelli!
This week I discovered another possible adaptation--Getting it Done Kelli. This Kelli lists her roles at the beginning of the week, then considers the primary tasks she must accomplish in each of those roles. She crafts a to-do list for the week, including exercise, social interactions, and spiritual desires. She creates a menu on Monday, along with a shopping list. Each day she revises her to-do list to reflect what she has already accomplished. She actually does the things on her to-do list (this may be the key!). She spends quality time with her family, she leads a small group, and sends encouraging texts to her niece and son--with Bible verses, no less! She does laundry, exercises every day, and spends time with God each morning and evening. She writes three pages of ideas each morning as part of her 'morning pages' ritual and actually returns emails and phone calls in a reasonable amount of time. She prepares the budget for the next month and completes all the coursework for her online class. She makes dinner two nights in a row! She writes even when she doesn't feel like it and finishes projects. She reads for fun!
How much do you hate this women? A lot! And I was her for five fantastic days!
And now for a dose of reality...
Its not that there aren't some really good things that came out of this refreshing experience, its just that all the stars had to align for this to happen. It is nice to know that, if I were able to control everything, I really might function more effectively in the world. But the reality is...life happens. Kids get sick. They need the car. They damage the car. We run out of money. I get sick. I get depressed. I lose a job. I never make it to the grocery store and we're eating cereal again. I write and write and write and its all crap. You know how life works.
Not to mention that, at this pace, one little hiccup and "Getting it Done Kelli" quickly becomes "I'm Freaking Done! Kelli"
So boys and girls, what have we learned today?
I'm actually not trying to be a downer. In my own sick way, I'm celebrating! I had a really good week. I'm going to remind myself about this week many times in the next few months. But I've also learned to hold experiences like this loosely. To soak up the gift without demanding a new standard. I trust I'll have some more weeks (or hopefully, at least hours) like this in the future, but I'm growing in my acceptance of my imperfection and weakness and inconsistency. And in my ability to recognize the grace that was afforded to me this week by God. All I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you!
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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