Midway, Ministry, The Inner Landscape

Perceiving

I went to a Myers-Briggs workshop for pastors today. It's not my first go-round with Myers-Briggs. I remember being so fascinated with the type indicator when I first learned about it that I could not resist "typing" everyone I met. My karma ran into my dogma when my daughter became equally fascinated a couple of years ago and started to do the same thing. I remember trying to figure out my parents' types, getting them to take the MBTI short form, talking to them about it. 

"Daddy," I said, "just because you scored as Thinking doesn't mean you don't have feelings, too."

"Well, Mawtha," he answered in his slow drawl, "maybe I don't!" 

Funny.

My mother came out right on the line for 3 out of 4 categories; it would have taken a more subtle version of the instrument to capture her, perhaps. And at the age she took it, I suppose she had done some of the lifework that brought her closer to the middle, naturally. My attempts to comprehend her did not end with her death, but there was one breakthrough moment that came for me the last time I did one of these workshops, an insight into how our relationship influenced my approach to the world, at least in her lifetime.

I've done some official version of the MBTI four times: twice in 1992 (for a church couple's group event and for a church governing board retreat, different facilitators so I did it twice within a few months); for a pastor's retreat about five years ago, and for today's workshop. There were differences between the first two scores, and I attribute those to the loss of a baby in between. I was grieving, and felt significantly less extraverted than usual. But even then, my letters were the same as the previous time, ENFJ. 

It became a complaint from a certain person in my life (you know who you are–if you're reading…), that I was "just so J."

So it came as a surprise to take the test some years later, 13 or 14, and get a different set of letters, and to have them be ENFP.

Well. 

I remember sitting in the living room at Rockcraft Lodge, surrounded by people I knew pretty well, wondering if I knew myself! I read the materials on ENFP, including that famous prayer interrupted by, "Look, a bird!" 

They have a lot in common, those two ENF types. It's no wonder I felt okay about the other type description. But I've come to believe that in the dozen years between tests, the first two being followed closely by my mother's death, I came out from under her influence. 

I realized that as a child, my people-pleasing little ENF self had bent toward J because it seemed like the simplest way to fit into her world. 

I couldn't be I. 

I couldn't be S. 

Maybe I could be J. Maybe I could strive to be more orderly, to organize my brain like the one that penciled beautiful lists on paper lined and unlined. 

I guess I gave it a good try. But in the years after her death and my divorce, I loosened my grip and found it felt right, and all those years later, a test validated the emergence of what was there all along.

P.

Perceiving. 

I don't know why I'm a person who tries so hard to adapt to the people around her. I suspect it's a combination of my nature and the way my mother raised me, and I don't want to lose that quality entirely. But at 49, I wouldn't mind a life that fits like a hand-knit sock instead of the high heels borrowed from my mother's closet.

Midway, The Inner Landscape

Forget-me-not

Blue and white My neighbor's backyard is full of these little flowers, spreading in an area where she would just as soon not mow. She lets them go until they are past their prime and mows then. Last year she offered me some for a bare patch in my backyard, but we never got around to transplanting them. 

Left to their own devices, though, they found their way to both my back and front yard. I asked for a dispensation for this little clump in front when the lawn mower roared its way around yesterday. 

They don't fall within the confines of a flower bed exactly, so their disposition needed settling. 

This morning I crouched beside them to take this picture, a cat by my side. They're lovely and hardy and profuse when left to ramble.

If you mow them down, they will come back next year.

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? (Matthew 6:28b-30,NRSV)

There's something thrilling about a little wild flower, popping up unexpectedly, beautiful and joyous. Bright white and Bahama ocean blue, they look like summer and heat and outside and possibility. 

On this first day of being 49, I look ahead to new possibilities, hoping to be wild and beautiful and joyous, just like the forget-me-nots, for as long as I last.

The Inner Landscape

Where You Put Your Feet

On Facebook, I'm friends with several of #1 Son's friends, and I always enjoy seeing their updates. I guess they're old enough now at 24 or 25 that it's no longer embarrassing to be friends with their friends' parents. After all, I was married and expecting a child at that age. Not that I want them to do that, any of them, because there's no need to be in a hurry. But as much as I feel that way, I'm glad to have that particular son, conceived and born in a particular time frame, complete with all his genetic quirks and graces. Maybe it's because I'll be 49 next Tuesday that I'm looking back across those years, seeing myself at 24, idealistic and excited and a little bit terrified at the prospect of being a mother. 

I remember walking out of Clemons, the undergraduate library at the University of Virginia, where I worked while The Father of My Children was in law school, walking out at the end of a summer day in a bit of a hurry to get to the bus stop to ride back to our apartment on Copley Hill, a hive of married students and students with children. I was wearing a madras plaid dress in muted tones with a fitted bodice and buttons down the front and a full skirt, and a white cardigan, and I was just the least little bit pregnant. I hadn't told my co-workers. It was a secret, a happy and scary and life-altering secret.  

Moi 001
 

This was before, not long before, but those are the clothes I was wearing, except for the white flip flops that made my feet hurt. That's the Lawn at U.Va. and I was at a party for a younger friend about to get her undergraduate degree. I was just 24. I had a job and a husband and a lot of dreams about what the future would hold, children and a station wagon and a golden retriever, maybe, even though I had never lived with a dog, and maybe those particular dreams came a little later. 

After work, a few months after this picture was taken, I hurried along in a pair of white espadrilles that had stretched out a bit too much, and I lost one of them, and I fell. I fell forward and smacked against the sidewalk. I scraped the palms of my hands and I cursed the once-sprained ankle that I thought might be the culprit, but looking back I simply flew out of the shoe and hit the pavement.

I'm not writing about a loss–everything was fine in the end, in the least interfered-with pregnancy I would ever have, with the most textbook of first labors and the placing in my arms of the first person I ever knew who was truly related to me. That was all still to come.

But in that moment, when I hit the pavement in my madras dress and my white sweater and those darned espadrilles, I felt it could all be lost. That was the day I began to learn that when you're carrying a treasure–a secret, an idea, a love–it's not enough to simply look ahead starry-eyed; you have to know where you're putting your feet, too.

Holy Week, The Inner Landscape

That the Darkness May Not Overtake You

It's pouring here. It felt dark all day. Even the background on my Gmail page (I use the "Tree" setting, which reflects the weather) features dark, dark clouds. I happily sent Sam out with the dog walker this morning and tried to convince him that he really didn't want to walk in a downpour this afternoon.

It felt dark all day.

Jesus said to them, "The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light." After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them. (John 12:35-36, NRSV)

It feels dark on the inside, too. Holy Week feels heavy. The stories in the lectionary for these days feel heavy, ominous and, well, dark. 

This week has been hard for me in past years, for a variety of reasons, and I suspect I'm more inclined to go there emotionally because in my spiritual life, I'm headed to the bottom. Because it's not as simple as what the Romans did or which Jewish leaders may have colluded with them. This is about more than history. It's about a state of disconnection, a belief that we can get what we want somehow, a desire to block out our own responsibility for how screwed up the world can be. 

Jesus_scourged When "Passion of the Christ" came out, I remember feeling irritated by the personal response of people interviewed for local news stories. After seeing that horrific movie, a movie that was more about a film maker's love of gore and torture than about Jesus, a young woman said, with a sort of delighted wonder, "I had no idea he went through all that FOR ME!!!"

Honey. 

No.

Humanity as a collective reacted the way humanity so often does to goodness, to God-ness: with violence and disruption and a hope that a lot of sound and fury will turn the clock back to a time when we felt like we had more control.

And whatever that thing was we controlled–market forces, votes for women, minority rights, the earth itself–whatever it was, we cheerfully plunge back into darkness because the light hurts our eyes.

"Walk while you have the light, so the darkness may not overtake you." 

The good news is, we can still perceive the light. It did not dissipate forever. In this dark, dark week, I'm trying to remember to look for its sources, that the darkness may not overtake me.

Bearnaise Sauce Dogs, Call, Ministry of the Meantime, The Inner Landscape

Home

This morning Sam and I went walking outside our usual neighborhood and made our way to the street where I lived before my divorce. I wanted to diverge from our usual route in part to see whether last week's storm had damaged trees in the old neighborhood. Sam went along with me cheerfully, sniffing eagerly at message boards he doesn't usually get to read, so to speak. 

We walked past the yellow house where I lived from 1993 to 1997, from soon after my mother died until just before my father did. We circled that block and passed the park where my boys learned to ride their bikes. Then we walked toward the University and through the campus via an unfamiliar route, finally meeting up with the Law School side of the street, a landmark we walk past almost daily. 

Then, and only then, would Sam do his more serious "bidness." 

We might call it his home turf, his territory, his neighborhood, his comfort zone. I wonder if for Sam, as for me, it isn't that he feels better in his particle space?

I wrote about our neighborhood, our street and my sense of gestalt on my previous blog a few years ago. I made a case for this being our right place, and then at the end I pulled out the pavement beneath my feet, suggesting the inner world mattered more than the outer. I wrote the post at a time I was coming to realize I had to leave Small Church, as they were no longer going to be able to support a full-time pastor. I was trying to prepare myself for the possibility of leaving Esplanade Street, as I called it. 

Yesterday after church, Snowman and LP and I walked Sam together, and we talked about our trees, the way we would feel if our street didn't have this esplanade of maples. "It would just be any street," we agreed. We've lost a lot of trees in this neighborhood, many in the Patriot's Day storm of 2007, more this past week. The tree in front of our house, overspreading our yard, helps describe home to us.

As it turned out, we didn't have to move for me to have another job. What had to happen was for me to move, once, twice, now three times. And it's important to me today to remember how becoming settled here mattered so much to us. Would I keep changing jobs every year or so in order to walk on these sidewalks and check in on these trees? 

Do I have to trade one kind of stability for another?

Much as I have enjoyed my interim jobs, and I hope I've done them well, I wish I could have both a settled community of faith and my settled particle space at home. I've come to believe the two don't have to be in conflict, but I haven't seen yet where they might be in relationship. I hope that the way will become clearer, soon, that I will see my way home.

Chez Songbird, The Inner Landscape

Rearranging

In our 1928 Dutch Colonial, there are old cast-iron radiators, and in the long, narrow living room, there is one long radiator beneath a double window. The floor plan of the room presents challenges. The vestibule opens right across from the door to the kitchen, and there really is no way not to have that divide the space into one small space to the right as you enter and one large space to the left.  

It's not a space designed for modern living.

When we moved into the house in 1998, the living room became a holding area for things that belonged to my parents and grandmothers, other people's living room furniture. When Pure Luck first came into our lives, he defined it as "old lady." It didn't matter to me much because we used the sun room as our family room: the place we hung out together, watched TV, talked, received visitors.The living room served as the place for a party or the Christmas tree. The small side had just enough space on one wall for my spinet piano from childhood and on the shorter opposite wall for the oversized china cupboard passed down from my great-grandmother. We rarely inhabited the other end, the one with the fireplace, and the oriental rug I love from childhood, and an assortment of over-fancy end tables and such. 

This had to change when we added a tall man and two big dogs to the family. We needed more space to hang out together. I brought in a carpenter to create a TV shelf for the built-in bookcase by the fireplace. We reupholstered a couch and brought it down from #1 Son's room, and the same with a chair from my room. We made the fireplace more appealing to use by taking off the glass doors and the filthy "curtain."

We moved out the uncomfortable and fancy furniture from olden days. 

I realized it did not fit the live we were living. 

That life became increasingly casual as I saw the havoc created by the two big dogs. Washable slipcovers became part of the equation. There are still touches of long ago, in particular two old chairs I love (my grandmother's rocker, my mother's corner chair), but on the whole the emphasis is on comfort and community, within the limits of a long, rectangular room. 

Except for moving another rocking chair in and out to make room for the Christmas tree, we haven't moved or changed the furniture for years. And I realized that's not like me. I've always loved moving the furniture around. Dorm rooms and bedrooms were rearranged regularly. But with this living room, I had reached the conclusion there was only one way to make it work.

Radiator  Then I pulled a throw off the back of the couch and felt how warm it was from sitting right above the radiator, and it struck me that all the radiator could possibly be doing was heating up the back of the couch.

This morning, Pure Luck humored me by moving the furniture.I'm sitting on my couch, typing this, warmed by the now exposed radiator. I'm looking at my house, my world, from a different angle. 

There have been many times in my life that I convinced myself there was only one way to do something. Many. At crucial moments, I've rooted myself in one way of looking at the future, one way of reckoning the possibilities. 

What moves us to try something new, to see a different way become clear?

Sometimes it's as simple as a practical realization. It's cold this weekend, very cold, and I want to feel the heat the radiator can give me! I wonder, what else have I been muffling? And what will I need to rearrange to stop it?

Christmas, Grrrls, Midway, The Inner Landscape

Secret Santa, or please don’t mention this to anyone…

Santa Light Princess belongs to a student group that will be having a Secret Santa Exchange tomorrow afternoon. She spent a long time deciding how to inscribe the tag, or rather the "From" portion.

The possibilities included

  • From: ?
  • From: S.S.
  • From: Secret Santa
  • From: Santa
  • From: Your Secret Santa

What worried her is that this is the Asian Student Association, and she's not sure how much the Vietnamese student whose name she drew knows about Christmas, because he's a recent immigrant.

She wanted to do the tag exactly the right way.

Sadly, I identify with this.

Oh, I'm not a fussbudget about tags anymore. I've come a long way from thinking I had to make them look as good as my mother's did, she of the beautiful handwriting. But I spend a lot of time examining my world and my work and feeling fairly certain that if I could just determine the right approach, all would be well.

This is, of course, a trap.

No, really. It is.

I never liked being told "Do the best you can." It felt like a command to always be the best, and I imagine it can also be heard as a limitation to a person who pictures her best to be on the low side of average. I've gone from being a kid who resented being asked to do well, as if that were the only reason I might be loved, to being an adult who strives to do well, as if that were the only reason I might be loved.

Yes, I see the problem there.

I suggested to LP, as I frequently do when I feel she is over-examining
her English homework or a social quandary, that she just decide and
move ahead. In some areas of life there are no perfect answers or
solutions. We stumble along in our full humanity, lacking secret
knowledge of who is actually naughty or nice, only knowing for sure
that we contain both, really we do.

If I could write a letter to a beneficent saint keeping a list and doling out gifts, I would request a flagon of anti-perfectionism this Christmas, flavored for mother and daughter.