I’ve just finished reading Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and a Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor and general bad-ass. This isn’t meant to be  a book review. I liked the book – okay, I loved it – but that doesn’t mean you will. She’s a recovering alcoholic and swears like a sailor. In fact, she reminds me a little bit of Anne Lamott (if St. Anne had gone to seminary and taken up Cross-Fit). The only thing more fascinating than Nadia’s 6 foot-tall, tattooed body is her beautiful and gritty theology.

Pastrix3Nadia, like me, like all of us if we admit it, are slow-learners. We might have gotten straight As in school, have college degrees, be able to complete the New York Times crossword puzzle (at least the first half of the week), but when it comes to the really important stuff, like life and death, change, anger, love and just general human challenges, we generally don’t rise to the occasion. Most of us (all of us really, but if you want to keep pretending this doesn’t include you, that’s okay) just keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again – whether its going out with the wrong guy, losing our temper, saying ‘yes’ to too many things to make ourselves feel better, or having “just one more drink” when we should have stopped two drinks ago.

Chances are that at one point in our lives, we learned our lesson well; we made the mistake, faced the consequences in an emotionally, physically, or fiscally painful manner, and thought, “I am never going to do that again.”

And we don’t.

For a while.

And then we do.

We let our guards down; we think we’re different people, or that the experience changed us on some cellular level. Sometimes it does, but often as not, when the pain fades away, the old scripts and habits resurface and we are back to where we started – dating the jerk, yelling at our kids, drinking the vodka, or handing over the credit card.

There have been seasons in my life when I have beat myself up over my apparent need to have certain “Life Lessons” repeated ad nauseam. They almost always have to do with how to love someone better (usually my husband, my kids or myself), or how to forgive more quickly and completely (usually my husband, my kids or myself). I seem to be continually enrolled in Love and Forgiveness 101.

Nadia’s book helped me understand that there is no shame in this repetition; it’s part of the human condition, but it’s not completely unavoidable either. We usually have a choice. We can race through life, insisting on learning our lessons the hard way, crashing and burning, leaving us, our loved ones, and even society scarred in the process, or we can watch for the warning signs and make adjustments. (Congress, take note. We’re in a downward spiral here.)

Now Nadia is not one of those crazy, “God directs everything I do” kind of people and neither am I. I do plenty of things that God isn’t directing and in fact, probably isn’t crazy about, but when I remember that I am still a student – that I haven’t, in fact, graduated to perfection just because I’m a grown up – I can be attuned to the lessons I still need to (re)learn. Throughout her memoir, Nadia describes the experience like this:

“God comes and gets us, taps us on the shoulder and says, ‘Pay attention, this is for you.’ Dumb as we are, smart as we are, just as we are.”

Unfortunately, it’s too easy to ignore the tap and miss the lesson. The universe is full of opportunities to learn, but we have to be open to the interruption. Every day, we hear and see things that could remind us who and how we want to be in this world. We encounter stories and people and problems, songs and articles and traffic jams and most of the time, we don’t pay attention to what they might have to teach us. We simply take them at face value, as entertainment, or annoyance. They go in one ear and out the other. They fly across our screens with a flick, or a click of a finger and they are gone, hardly registering. The moment is lost.

I hate that.

I hate that most of the time I’m too preoccupied to pay attention when God says, “This is for you.” Someone in my home loves to sing in the shower and I could share the joy, but instead I think about how much water is wasted.  Listening to Kiko play the ukelele could relax my heart and soul, but instead I fret about the homework that still needs to be done. When Tim stops me for a hug after work, it could remind me that I am loved, but it could also annoy me if I’m in the midst of something else. I wish I weren’t too busy, too anxious, too wrapped up in my own little world to see the very things that could get me to slow me down, so I don’t crash and burn.

But I’m trying. Nadia’s stories have inspired me to stay in the classroom a little longer each day. Whether I’m in Love and Forgiveness 101, Silence and Stillness for Beginners, or Holding Your Tongue for Dummies, I’m trying to take more notes and listen when the teacher say, “Pay attention, this is for you.”



A couple of you have seen me since I posted my last blog about fear and loathing in the afternoon. You kindly gave me an extra long hug and asked with raised eyebrows how I was doing, an obvious indication that you are fully aware how not fine I was doing a couple days ago. I’m not complaining; compassion is a beautiful thing. But it did make me think that a follow up post might be helpful. I often want to go back and add a post-script to the stories I tell. The lessons are never over, at least not for me.

So this week, I had planned to publish a blog about the first fear I mentioned – growing older, but then I came across a passage from one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott. She recently published a book with her son Sam, called Some Assembly Required about his first year of fatherhood. While reflecting on her days, she said

Life is mostly okay right now, sometimes lovely and peaceful and when it’s not, it’s hard and weird… and the scary parts feel like they could break you, but then those parts pass against all odds and then things are mostly okay again, temporarily, until they get hard and weird again and break your heart. It’s not a great system. If I were God’s West Coast rep, I’d come up with something easier, something you could bank on.

I read Anne’s words and I smiled, because that is exactly how I feel. One day last week, things were really hard and weird, and I sat and cried because it felt like it was breaking my heart, but by morning, things were okay again and by the weekend, they were really, really lovely. I checked out of reality and went to the beach with my kids for about 7 days straight. We surfed and swam, played with our little primos (cousins) and ate ice cream every day. If I had my own personal dictionary, that would be the definition of lovely and a whole host of synonyms, like bliss, and awesomeness and joy.

But school started for Kiko today; the others follow in a week and then I start a new teaching job. (Did I mention that I am going back into the classroom to teach at a university again? That’s a post-script for my blog on vocation I might need to write.) Everyone will be experiencing busyness and stress and the pressure to perform, so I can almost guarantee that after last week’s loveliness, hard and weird are just around the corner. But I want to do what I can to not get to the heartbreak stage too quickly again.

Instead of going in blind and coming up shocked like I seem to every fall, I am working on a strategy to keep me from going down the rabbit hole of fear and all that entails. I am going to start by being extra diligent about getting up early to walk. The rest of the day is dedicated to going really, really fast, so G (my personal endearment for the Big One upstairs) and I are going to go really, really slow. (God is an old soul after all and doesn’t like to be rushed.)

And what I am going to feel is this (I know that sounds awkward but thinking does me no good at all. My “thinking” is what gets me in trouble in the first place.) For those 20 or 30 minutes, I am going to feel loved. I am going to be God’s beloved. I am going to forget all the ways I fall short of the idea I have in my head of who I am ‘supposed to be.’  I am going to repeat the mantra I learned from Thich Nhat Hahn, the Buddhist monk and child of God, “Dear One, I am here for you.” I am going to say it for myself; I am going to say it for my children; I am going to say it for my students, my family and friends. If I can bring it to bear in my life, it encompasses all that true Love is – a kind, compassionate, joyful presence that brings freedom, not fear to all who experience it.

Now, that’s my plan, but we all know how plans work. We make them and then life breaks them, which was Fear #2 on my list – The Unknown. The only thing I really know is that things fall apart, sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small. I can count on the fact that things are going to be hard and weird and then okay and then lovely again. Saint Anne may not think it’s a great system, but I do think it’s something we can bank on. Even just knowing that’s how it works can help a little bit.

I also know that the more I can believe in Love, stay in Love, allow myself to experience true Love from the Love that never leaves, the more lovely things will be and that sounds pretty good to me.

So to all my readers and friends who are wondering if I’m okay, I am. I am breathing deeply, trying to be present in this moment, fearless and free and in Love.