“Dig deep.  Find your way to your soul.”  –Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl, Beautiful Creatures

I want.  I want more.  Everyone wants.  Money, food, sex, possessions, fun, achievement, admiration…  Want is definitely a part of the human experience.  It’s inescapable.

And yet…

We mostly try to do the impossible.  To escape the wanting.  To quell the craving.  Even to shame that wanting part of ourselves.  To say to the part of ourselves that craves, “This is not acceptable.  This is not good.  I must extinguish this wanting.  I must learn not to crave anything at all.”

This dissonance between who I am and who I have believed I am supposed to be is in my story.  Is it in yours?

Sometimes it’s about food, sort of.  On Sunday morning I had a frozen caramel latte (extra shot, no whip of course!) on the way to church.  Around noon I was on my way to school to work in my classroom for awhile, and I wanted another espresso drink.  I really, really craved one.  I was hungry for more of that milky coffee flavor, and I knew another dose of caffeine would motivate me through a few hours of work when I’d rather be at home.  So I drove through Starbucks and got an iced caramel macchiato.

You would think the voices in my head would say, “You don’t need that.”  Or, “You shouldn’t spend your money on that.”  Or, “You shouldn’t eat that much sugar.”  But they don’t.  It’s my money and my body, and those choices are mine to make.  It’s not that I believed that I was making a healthy or financially responsible choice.  It’s just that guilt and shame weren’t present in the decision making.

No, the voices were actually saying:  “You shouldn’t want this.  You shouldn’t crave this.  You shouldn’t be hungry for more.  Why are you always hungry for more?  Your desires should fit in the boundaries of moderation.”  The guilt and shame is not about the food.  The story of the expensive coffee is one, small, mostly uninteresting part of a larger pattern.  In your story, you might replace the expensive coffee with binge-watching a TV series, or playing a video game, or shopping.  The hunger is human experience.  The object of the hunger is just details.

“I am a hungry woman.  I am hungry for love, for acceptance, for belonging, for meaning.  I am desperate for God.  I am aware of the aching abyss inside me of which many have written.”  –Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself

What if this hunger is not a brokenness, but my true, beautiful nature?  What if God made me this way so that I would not be satisfied with myself, satisfied with this world or with the empty things we find here, but always wanting more?  What if my always wanting more is meant to show me what God is like, always bigger, always more than I can experience?  What if this always wanting more shows me what I am, as an eternal being, as a soul who one day will not be confined in an earthly body?

“What we need is a relentless appetite for the divine. We need a holy ravenousness.”  —Jason Todd

This ravenousness is beautiful.  It gives me a great capacity for life, for love and fun and achievement.  It keeps me moving forward, always growing and changing and learning.  It shows me what my relationship with the divine can be, what I can be.

So I encourage you, as I encourage myself:  Go deep.  Let the hunger be big, let it be beautiful.  Dive into the insatiable abyss and seek what your soul is truly wanting.


Authentic Faith

What I’ve always wanted to tell my friends and family about my faith:

Please, don’t care about how much I know.  Don’t care about what I think.  Don’t care about where I stand on an issue.  Please, please, don’t care where (or if) I go to church.

Care about how much I care.

I have had several experiences or conversations in the last few weeks that have pointed to a particular issue:  Passing judgement based on faith.  I have seen two sides of this coin.  Let’s call one “Bobby and Mary,” and the other one, “Jane and Joe.”

Bobby judges Mary because he knows Mary calls herself a Christian.  So he makes assumptions about Mary’s past and present choices.  He assumes she has never had sex, doesn’t drink, doesn’t swear, doesn’t watch R-rated movies, and worst of all, he assumes that Mary will judge him for all those things and more.  So he censors himself around Mary, and is afraid to let Mary see who he really is, or to move past his assumptions and see Mary for who she is.

Jane judges her brother Joe because she calls herself a Christian, and she feels that gives her the responsibility of passing judgement.  So she focuses on Joe’s behavior, and tried to get him to stop drinking and swearing and watching R-rated movies.  She tells him that if he brings his girlfriend to visit, they will need to sleep in separate bedrooms because she is a Christian and doesn’t approve of Joe’s choices.

Now let me tell you about myself.  I am Mary, more so than anyone else in this little parable.  I follow Jesus.  And I’m not very good at it, but it’s not because of what I think about sex and alcohol and the F-word.

I’m an imperfect follower of Jesus because to follow Jesus is to follow him into LOVE.  Complete and total love, and nothing but.  And I’m just not good enough at loving.  I want to be comfortable and safe.  I want to protect myself.  I want to keep my distance.  I want to choose whom I will love, and who I will let pass by my life.  I want to be in charge.

Does that sound familiar?  We all do.  That’s the imperfect nature of humanity.  We are, on some level, selfish, self-preserving creatures.  And that is why I need to follow Jesus.  Because without him, I will gravitate toward selfishness, and with him, he moves me toward love.

I could tell you what I think about sex, and drinking, and swearing, and watching R-rated movies.  And if all you know about me is that I follow Jesus, those conversations might shock your socks right off.  We could also discuss the more serious “hot button issues.”  But I don’t want to talk about it right now.  Because there is only one thing you need to know about me following Jesus:  My goal is to do the most loving thing, in whatever situation I find myself.  And as I said, I’m not nearly good enough at it.  But it’s what Jesus did perfectly, every time.  It’s what he did for me.  And for you.  And I am following him.

I cannot, through any force of will or resolve, get better at loving.  I can’t earn my way.  The goal is too big and my humanity is too small.  It is an inside job: God working inside my heart, before anything on the outside can change.  I have, all week, been stuck on this prayer:  “God, do whatever it takes in me to accomplish Your will through me.”  It’s a dangerous prayer.  Whatever it takes in me.

I am all turned around on many issues.  I don’t always know where God would like me to stand, and sometimes I’m shocked to see where he puts me.  And sometimes I’m shocked to find out that I thought it was him, but it was me who put myself on one side of a fence.  So I don’t trust “take a stand” types of situations.

And I don’t think any of those issues matter as much as the two things I know for sure.  One, judgement is not my job.  Two, it’s all about love.

So, I hope you will never hear me telling you that Jesus wants you to quit drinking, or to vote for a certain candidate, or to try to change your sexual orientation.  I don’t know what Jesus wants you to do.  I only know what he want me to do:  love you.  And imperfect though I am, I really hope I can do that for him.

Human Transportation & Fresh Produce

This morning, I (slowly and carefully) drove my car to the repair shop in my neighborhood to be fixed, and then I walked home.  This afternoon, I walked back to the repair shop and picked up my car.

This evening, I left my freshly repaired and perfectly working car at my home, put $5 and my cell phone in a drawstring backpack, and walked to the farm stand a few blocks away.  I came home with red potatoes and a muskmelon.

I guess healthy choices really do breed more healthy choices.

In generations past, we didn’t need $30-per-month fitness clubs or gym amenities in apartment complexes.  Our ancestors traveled distances too long to walk by horseback or horse-drawn wagon…and I bet the aerobic activity and “weight-lifting” required to care for the horses was more activity than many of us get in the 21st century.  And that doesn’t even take into account the energy expenditure that was required to grow/raise, harvest/slaughter, and prepare food.  Or to wash the laundry.  Or to chop and carry the wood just to heat the home during the winter.

Even today, in the 21st century, even in industrialized places like ours, there are people who naturally expend a lot more activity than I do.  I wouldn’t know, having never been there, but it is my understanding the New Yorkers mostly walk and use public transportation.  The typical New Yorker’s walk to their subway stop is many times longer than my walk out to my car.

And remember college?  In college, I walked all day long.  Briskly.  No matter what the weather, I walked.  If it was hot, I left a little earlier (when I could) and walked a little more slowly.  If it was cold, I wore a hat and mittens.  If it was raining, I carried an umbrella.  I arrived to class with rain soaking the bottom five inches of my jeans, or snow collected in the grooves of my backpack, or sweat trickling down my back.  It didn’t matter what the sky was doing, we all walked.

Why do I get in my car, when it’s not very far away, I’m lucky enough to have legs that work fine, and I have enough time to walk?  Or ride my bike?  Truly “authentic exercise” is when it takes me somewhere I want to go.  Our world, at least here in this city, does not provide us with enough truly authentic exercise, so we need good exercise habits on top of that.  But why can’t I break out of the peer pressure of using my car five times a day?  It turns out, most of my routes today actually had good, safe sidewalks and crosswalks.  (I have my doubts about whether the traffic actually yields to pedestrians, but that’s another issue.)  Why can’t I try to think more like a college student?  Or a New Yorker?  Or, evidently, a French woman?

Which brings me to my second point, and the reason for the delicious picture you see above.  I’m in the middle of the book French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano, and I’m finding it delightful, anti-diet, pro-joy, and all about balance.  Despite the title, which doesn’t sound as holistic as the actual advice inside.  Apparently, the French have a habit of going to a market every couple of days, rather than doing bulk grocery shopping once or twice a month.  (And it’s described like a farmers’ market, not a supermarket.)  They buy the produce, meat, and dairy that they have immediate plans to cook, and leave the monthly shopping for things like flour and toilet paper.  The benefit is that you eat the food when it’s at its best.  You don’t eat tomatoes that have been in the fridge for a week and taste like sawdust.  You don’t eat chicken that has been frozen in boneless, skinless pieces, maybe months ago, or the frost that has been collecting on it.  And you learn what really good food tastes like, and you become a snobby French woman who won’t settle for less.  🙂

So, I was inspired to prepare myself a dinner of something that was absolutely ripe and at its best.  I went to the farm stand just to see what they had today, and planned to decide what to make later.  I ended up with a delicious omelette made with a tomato that I picked off my tomato plant, red potatoes grown not 20 miles from my home, and the most perfect, sweet, almost-mushy, sun-warmed muskmelon slices with sea salt.  (If you’ve never tried melon sprinkled with just a little bit of sea salt, proceed with caution.  You’ll never go back.  On the other hand, this is how I finally learned to like muskmelon and cantaloupe.)

Supermarket tomatoes taste like water, compared to a homegrown tomato.  Supermarket melon feels like biting into styrofoam, compared to the ripe, sun-warm melon that melts in your mouth.  I don’t know what the difference is, other than whether it ripens on the plant or off.  Supermarket produce is picked early, because it needs to travel before it reaches it’s peak of ripeness.  Farm stand or farmers’ market produce was picked this morning, or maybe yesterday.  A home-grown tomato can be picked and eaten within moments.  It ripens while still receiving nutrients from the plant, so maybe that’s the deal.

It’s all about balance.  I am grateful for the transportation that makes it possible for me to have pineapple, seafood, and coffee.  I’m grateful for the transportation that allows me to go places, daily, far outside the distance I can walk in a timely manner.  But I’m also grateful for the occasional perfectly ripe muskmelon and the fact that I can walk to find it.

Authentic Exercise Habits

Victim of a perfectionist #1:  exercise

Exercise may be the first and biggest casualty of my perfectionist habits.  Exercise is very important for health.  Back in the day, women achieved physical fitness by washing laundry, churning butter, milking cows, chopping wood, working the fields.  In this era, we drive to the store to buy our milk, butter, and corn.  We heat our homes by paying the electric bill.  And no one ever becomes physically fit by doing laundry.  Most of us need to find other ways to get the physical activity that our bodies so desperately need.  It is “simply” a four-step process.

How to achieve healthy muscles, bones, heart, lungs:

1.  Put on workout clothes.

2.  Go to the gym, or outside, or to your yoga mat, or in front of a workout video.

3.  Do some good hard work for about a half hour, longer if you want.

4.  Do it again tomorrow.

We are going to work backwards when we talk about this, because step #4 is actually the one that sabotages me.  Or the one that I use to sabotage myself.  I will be in a good routine for a week or two, and then suddenly one morning, I use any excuse not to go to the gym.  “I stayed up too late.  My stomach hurts.  My head hurts.  It’s too hot.  It’s too cold.  I can’t find my headphones.  I didn’t charge my phone.  I have a hangnail.”  You see how this goes.

But those are all just procrastination.  “I don’t have to exercise today; I can do it tomorrow…next week…after this big project is done…I’ll start in January, I promise!”  🙂  And what did we learn yesterday about procrastination?  It’s caused by perfectionism!!!

In my case, as a perfectionist, I go to the gym with an idea of the workout I should do today.  The Plan.  But because I am a perfectionist, The Plan is not related to where I am today physically or emotionally.  The Plan only takes into consideration the imaginary but perfect standard-Dawn.  Whatever she looks like in my head on this particular day.

So I get on the treadmill, and I implement The Plan.  Nine times out of ten, The Plan is misery.  I’m all in my head, if you know what I mean.  I have a mentality of punishing myself, doing penance for the unforgivable sin of not being 115 pounds.  I mean, that’s the standard, right?  You know the formula.  “100 pounds for 5 feet tall, plus 5 pounds for each additional inch.”  I am 5 feet 3 inches, so my standard is 115 pounds.  I am….NOT 115 pounds.  So I owe a whole bunch of penance.  Right?

OF COURSE NOT!!!  Lest you started to think I was seriously going to keep living in the formula…I am NOT made according to a formula!  So in the interest of letting go of perfectionism in favor of authenticity, let’s work backwards.

#4- Do it again tomorrow.  Don’t think about doing it every day for the rest of your life.  Just take care of one day.  It’s not hard if you…

#3-  Do about a half hour of good hard work.  NOT a half hour of misery or self-punishment.  Don’t worry about what the clock says, or what The Plan was, or what the “standard” is.  Good hard work will feel like more work than sitting on the couch, but still a pleasant discomfort.  Pay attention to the different systems of your body.  Good hard work will make you feel like you’re working, but not so hard you couldn’t do it again tomorrow.  It might be a different speed on the treadmill depending on your current state (of fitness, of your monthly cycle, of how much vigorous housework you did last night…don’t worry about what’s causing it, just live in this moment), but it feels about the same, whether today it means walking at 2.5 mph for 30 minutes, or another day it means running intervals between 5.5 and 7.5 mph.  Someday it might take an hour of exercise to feel like good hard work.  Experiment with the intensity and duration until you find good hard work for today.

#2- Go to the gym, or go outside, or to the yoga studio.  Or the ultimate frisbee field.  Or the pool.  Or to your living room in front of a Zumba DVD.  Or get your hula hoop.  What do you want to do?  Don’t think about what you want to do more than anything in the world.  What do you want to do enough that you’ll want to choose something (this or something different) again tomorrow?  To use an analogy that I’ve nearly beaten to the ground:  You choose toothpaste.  There are certain flavors or textures or brands that you like, and others that you can’t stand.  For the health of your teeth, one toothpaste isn’t much better or worse than another, and ANY toothpaste is far, FAR better than not brushing your teeth at all.  It’s the same:  For the health of your body, one kind of exercise isn’t much healthier than another.  And ANY half hour of good hard work is far, FAR, FAR better than not exercising at all.  So what do you want to choose for today?

#1-  Put on your workout clothes.  Have enough that there are always some clean and ready to go.  Buy the fabric, fit, and size that are comfy for you.  Buy a whole bunch of different kinds if you want, and see what feels best for the shape you are and the exercise you do.  Do not wait until you have lost __ pounds.  I have played that game.  Trust me- Refuse to play.  Let the future you take care of the future you.  You take care of the CURRENT you.  Make yourself comfortable so that you will want to do this again tomorrow, remember?

This advice is for myself.  I’m lecturing myself.  If you find it useful, great.  Personally, as part of letting go of perfectionism, I will be focusing on “good hard work,” and not a plan to run a 10K.  I do not know if I will run a 10K this year or not.  I do know that it was perfectionist-me who made that resolution.  Authentic-me is going to do some good hard work and live in the moment.

One last concept that is keeping me sane:  Stay in THIS moment.  I can step on the scale and read the number, and I can’t do anything about what made it what it is.  I may have been the one to make the choices, but at this moment, I can’t choose a different body or a different past.  I also can’t, in this moment, definitively choose all the moments of the next six months, or what the results will be at a certain future point in time.  All I can choose is what I will do THIS MOMENT.  I need to remember that.  Every.  Single.  Day.

Sometimes even more often.

(Authenticity > Perfection)

“They say that nobody is perfect.  Then they tell you practice makes perfect.  I wish they’d make up their minds.”

–Winston Churchill

I am a card-carrying perfectionist — if they made cards for this personality trait, that is.  I like made beds and clean floors and empty kitchen sinks.  I don’t like being late or when the kids don’t push in their chairs in my classroom.  I like A’s.  I love A+’s, if anyone is giving them out.  I hate feeling like I could have done better, but I always feel like I could have.  Even if I get an A+.

I have been challenged lately to take a good, hard look at my perfectionism.  The pursuit of perfection makes me rigid and judgmental (especially of myself).  Perfectionism makes me procrastinate.  Perfectionists are procrastinators — don’t let anyone tell you differently.  I am afraid of not doing it well, so I avoid doing it at all for as long as I can, and the avoiding becomes a habit.

Truth be told, being a perfectionist never made me a better friend.  It never made me a better teacher.  It never made me a better musician.  When that perfectionist energy is channeled into the present moment, it becomes action, rather than anxiety or procrastination, and that action does make me better.

So, what is it about perfection that we think we want?  At it’s most basic definition, “perfect” is about conforming to a standard.  When you buy a set of dishes, you want them to all be exactly the same.  The designer makes one cup, and the factory makes thousands that exactly match the first one.  If something is perfect, it matches something else that is deemed to be the “standard.”

For me, being a perfectionist is about always finding someone to imitate.  (I won’t speak for other perfectionists on this point, but I imagine I’m not the only one.)  The perfect hair, the perfect body, the perfect way to be a friend, to be a girlfriend, to teach first grade.  I’ve spent my whole life looking for someone (fictitious or otherwise) to follow.

And let’s be clear, following is not all bad.  Having a mentor is a good and helpful thing in all areas of life.  Looking at someone as a teacher is wise and helpful.  Looking at someone as a pattern is, at best, mildly self-destructive.

Well, guess what?  I am not made according to a pattern.  There is no “Dawn-pattern” somewhere in the world whom I should imitate.  I’ve been challenged to let go of perfectionism in favor of authenticity.  I’m happy to realize, authenticity is something others have seen in me all along.  I’m dismayed to realize that the perfectionist me, the one who took so much emotional energy, is entirely in my head.  When I’m being free and truly myself, I don’t know or worry about what others would do.  Someone once described me to a blind date as “sweet and genuine,” and to this day, it is one of three compliments that have stuck with me over time.

(Another lesson:  Say authentically nice things about people when you can.  Words make a difference.)

Perfection says, “Here is the standard.”  Authenticity says, “That’s not a standard; it’s an example!”  We are not made according to a pattern.  Clean floors are great, and vacuuming is one of the best anxiety-tamers that I know.  Made beds are lovely, if you prefer them that way, and I do.  Being on time is, in my opinion, a way of being respectful of others and responsible with your commitments.  A perfectionist’s behavior could look exactly like a non-perfectionist’s.  It’s all about the motive behind it.  A long time ago, and frequently since, I committed to “blogging authentically,” saying what I really feel and not putting on a facade for any reason.  Sending my real soul out into the world, as it says at the top of my blog.  I am going to work on being consciously authentic in my life as well.

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”

–Anna Quindlen