Thursday, November 3, 2011

Lashing out…

I wrote recently about my emerging interest in running, and the exciting day I finally learned “to pace myself.” Well, like most serious new pursuits, my growth as a runner has included negative moments too. And I want to share something today that inspired neither pride nor pleasant feelings!

It’s about my dog, since I bring Fawkes on most runs. Which is good theory: Exercise for me and the puppy, all in one fell swoop. I’m healthier; she’s happier, and so eats fewer sofa cushions. It’s become where now, when I reach for running shoes, her tail begins wagging mightily in anticipation.

But the downside of Fawkes-the-canine-running-partner is her great, big lack of self-control. Especially around squirrels. Like in the movie Up, when a squirrel enters view, my dog stops everything to focus all attention on that little beasty. But rather than simply stare, Fawkes runs after the squirrel, initiating an unsolicited game of chase. In our backyard, that’s cute and funny. Indeed, the one time she actually caught a squirrel, Fawkes was so surprised/confused, it wiggled out and ran away before Fawkes decided what to do. But when I’m running, with Fawkes on her leash, every squirrel she chases means another strong pull against my arm and shoulders. Thus, I must stop my regular stride and breathing, restrain her, tell her no, then tug her along.

Mostly, this behavior’s just a nuisance, one I hope to train away. But I’ve learned that the longer the run goes (i.e. the more tired we both get), the worse her attention span becomes. And…the worse I respond. I recognized this dynamic soon after we began running together. Early in runs, she’ll go for squirrels, and I’m like, “No big deal.” Later on, though, when I’m sweating hard and breathing heavy, I’ve found myself yelling at my dog, aggressively and angrily- No! Stop!- trying to intimidate her into obedience, or whatever. I’ve made scenes in the middle of the street even- awkward dog owner screaming at pet. Not that anyone’s ever watching, but still, we use positive reinforcement with her as much as possible, since dog trainers claim that’s most effective. But apparently, when I’m tired, my patience plummets, and at least in this instance, I act in ways I don’t approve.
As I said, I’m learning about myself though running, even lessons I’d prefer to need! But at least, since I identified the tendency, I’ve become less controlled by it. Now, when I’m tired and Fawkes tugs, I restrain both her and myself! But I haven’t eliminated the instinct entirely. It’s still present, alas, and waiting to lash out.

Have you ever felt something similar? Not to avoid blame, but I suspect this whole “reacting poorly when I’m tired” phenomenon isn’t unique to me. Consider parenting. Since this happened, I’ve thought, “God bless my parents!” For not acting ridiculous when I was bratty and they were super tired. Sure, I remember times when they’d snap or lash out irrationally. But they did so much less frequently than I suspect they felt the urge, given how often I pushed and how tiring life can be! And never in abusive or damaging ways. Or how about schoolteachers? I remember some who seemed arbitrary with their punishments or emotionally fragile, even though they faced similar circumstances as other, more effective teachers. Perhaps they simply hadn’t learned to cope well with fatigue.

Years ago, I heard a Martin Luther quote that basically said, “I pray one hour a day. When I’m busy, though, I can’t survive with less than two.” I always thought that goofy, but this experience has shifted my perspective. I wonder if Martin also became less kind or patient or focused when fatigue, stress and busy-ness threatened to overwhelm. I know prayer, especially when done ahead-of-time(!!), helps me moderate the exhaustion factor and endure difficult times. That’s true for running with my dog, but also work, relationships, paying bills- whatever threatens emotional tranquility. But the key, perhaps, is simply learning what triggers you to lash out, and committing to responding better when they’re set off. That helps me, at least. And Fawkes, I’m sure, is grateful.

Grace and Peace,
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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Good Life…

Last month I had a “milestone” birthday: on October 9, I turned thirty. If you weren’t in service that morning, you should know they called a surprise “congregational meeting.” The one item on the agenda was presenting me with gifts- Depends, Geritol, reading glasses and a Gift Card. For the generous gift card, I want to say Thank You! For the other stuff, I’ll get to gratitude in a few decades.

Anyway, the expectation with birthdays that end in -0, so it seems, is that you ‘reflect’ on “what it all means.” Honestly, I think that’s overdramatic. Turning 30, 50, or 90 means whatever you choose to make of it. Nevertheless, in recent weeks it’s sunk in that I’m approaching the day I must officially drop ‘young’ before self-describing as an ‘adult.’ I’ve still got a few years, but it’s coming, I realize now. Thus, some might say, “Panic!” But it’s alright by me.

I mean, I’ve never fully understood why some folk fear aging as much as they claim. Sure, our culture nurtures some deeply hostile attitudes toward old age. Youth is idolized while many older adults are encouraged to live segregated from much society. Perhaps many young folk, then, never spend time with their elders; never learning their wisdom, understanding their struggles, realizing that we’ve all got a lot in common. Who knows?

One distinction worth thinking about, though, between people at different stations in life is the amount of time spent looking forward or looking back. I’ve never seen any studies on this, so I’m just guessing here. But I imagine that the older one gets, the more one’s mix between reminiscing and ‘dreaming about the future’ changes. If for no other reason then you have more memories to ponder the older you get! I know some who’d say all that’s dangerous, that we must always strive to live “in the present”, not muse over days gone by or fantasize about what might come. Which is an alright idea, in some regards, but I’m not convinced it’s always the best goal.

Consider this: We Christians are approaching Advent; it begins November 27, in fact. So from then until Christmas, we’ll spend time remembering the past, one particular set of events even. And we do this annually; talk of angels and shepherds, Magi and the baby Jesus, trusting that somehow we’ll discover something new, enriching and meaningful in the same ole stories. Is that the same as ‘living in the past’? Maybe. I know some churches for whom every Sunday, but especially those around the holidays, are excuses to dwell in days gone by; better times, they tell themselves, simpler and serene.

To those churches and their members I would absolutely say: Stop remembering, and start living- Now, in the present! But I don’t think that describes Plymouth Creek. I hope that whenever we look back- to the birth of Jesus, the founding of our denomination, the good and difficult times this congregation has faced- we do so expecting to rediscover God’s presence, and thus get a better sense of what to look for in days ahead. That’s how faith works, when it’s working well. The people of God remembering what good things God’s done, so we’re better prepared for the exciting mission to come.

It’s with that double sense of time- of what was and what will be- that I hope we enter this Advent/Christmas season together. In fact, taken from the lyrics of a gleefully infectious pop song by the band OneRepublic, I’ve decided to give the 2011 season the following theme: “This Could Really Be a Good Life”. It applies, obviously, to the birth of Jesus, and our remembering what great things that baby would do for the world one day. But I hope that as we celebrate all the wonder and joy of his good, good life, we’ll re-claim those things for ourselves, our families and our church. For truly, in the life of faith, what was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. And as the birth of the baby Jesus reminds us, what that is is good. Very good. For all the world.

Grace and Peace,

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