On Being a Fully Functioning Adult

One of my favorite jokes these days has to do with being a fully functioning adult.

The other day I tweeted, “I just ate mint chocolate chip ice cream for breakfast BECAUSE I AM NOT A FULLY FUNCTIONING ADULT.” And when the nurse at the doctor’s office asked me if I had taken my temperature at home, I responded, “No, ma’am. Because I don’t own a thermometer. BECAUSE I AM NOT A FULLY FUNCTIONING ADULT.”

People laugh, and they commiserate, because they too were once young and stupid. Which I fully admit that I am– young and stupid, that is. Do I have the resources to go out and get a dang thermometer? Absolutely. There is literally a CVS within walking distance of my house. So why don’t I walk my buns of steel down there and get one?

(All together now!) BECAUSE I AM NOT A FULLY FUNCTIONING ADULT.

Source: gifsfln.tumblr.com

However, every now and then things happen and I think, “Oh my gosh…. are you being a fully functioning adult right now?”

I took my dog to get spayed and microchipped the other day. ADULTHOOD.
This morning, I emailed the guy who’s doing my taxes an itemized list of my utilities for the year 2012. ADULTHOOD.
Last night, my neighbor came over and asked to borrow something that I ACTUALLY HAD in my fridge! ADULTHOOD!

Source: cardigansandsweatpants.blogspot.com

Now. You may be sitting there reading this and thinking, because you are a member of my family or a particularly worry-prone friend, “Oh, Erin. This is not the sort of thing to blog about.” Or perhaps, “Get it together, oh my gosh…” Or maybe even, “I WILL PURCHASE AND MAIL YOU A THERMOMETER, GOOD GRIEF.”

You guys. Thanks. But you needn’t worry.  This is going somewhere.

When I went to college, I was sixteen years old. I was the runt, the baby, the one who couldn’t go into other dorms or hang out at Waffle House all hours of the night because I had a curfew. It was awesome, and I would’t trade those years for all the puppies and rainbows in the world, but it was also a little embarrassing.
And when I went to seminary, I was twenty. I couldn’t have a beer in the pubs with my friends. I was the baby, the child. And my friends were wonderful about it, and never treated me differently besides a young joke every now and then, but there was always an underlying understanding, I think just in my own head, that I was the pipsqueak. The tagalong. The kid sister forced upon exasperated older siblings, who wasn’t really supposed to be there.

When I walked across the stage at my Annual Conference to get commissioned as a United Methodist Elder, no one said, “We now present, at the tender age of 23, Erin Beall.”  No one said, “And now our youngest candidate for commissioning, Erin Beall!” There were no jokes about how one so young could be called an “Elder” (be sure, I had steeled myself for them).

My mother sat in the crowd and smiled at me in a collegial, friendly way, not in a “Dear toddler daughter, stand up straight and don’t twirl your hair” kind of way. My friends stood for me as the bishop put his hands on me.  I grinned from ear to ear and wasn’t even concerned that I looked like a child in a candy shop– no, I was told later by a dear sweet friend, I looked like joy.

Yesterday at church, a parishioner came up to me offering some very sound advice on a change in worship. He didn’t say, “Could you tell the guy in charge?” or “I know you’re just a baby, can you point me to whom I should talk to about this?” or “You know, when you’re a real pastor, you should think about doing it this way.”

And last week a woman three or so times my age called me “Pastor.”

And in my Disciple class the girls revealed to me (I’m very bad at guessing ages, so this was truly a shock), that while I thought they were all in their mid-20s, really they’re all about 7-20 years older than I.  But they’ve never treated me like a child. They treat me like I have wisdom, something to offer, something that matters.

And finally, in one of my most memorable moments from my ministry so far (that was a lot of m’s), when I was set to preach at the 7pm Ash Wednesday service, I thought the kids from my Wednesday night eleventh grade small group would just cancel the small group.  Instead, as I stepped up into the pulpit, I gazed up and there they were, all of them, spanning across the whole front row of the balcony.  They told me later that they waved and smiled, but I couldn’t look at them for fear I might cry.
And after the service, they all but attacked me in the hall. Big giant boys who fish and hunt leaning down to hug me around the neck, telling me what the service meant to them, asking me questions about the ashes (“OMG wait, are they dead people’s ashes?!”). Beautiful, fashionable-to-a-tee girls telling me how much it meant to have me impose the ashes on their flawless foreheads. They stopped a younger kid and asked to take a big, goofy group photo with me. I don’t know how I held my tears until I got in the car.

For the first time in eight years, I’m not the runt, the kid, the one who somehow sneaked into college early and somehow sneaked her way into Duke and has now sneaked her way into this job.

I’m actually starting to believe, thanks to these people– by seeing myself though their beautiful eyes– that I was never the runt, that I was always exactly where God always meant for me to be, and that, somehow, it’s okay if I’m not a “fully functioning adult,” because I’m functioning enough for God to be at work in me. And if it’s good enough to touch the hearts of a dozen eleventh graders, four women in my Disciple class, and that man who treated me like a real pastor, it’s good enough for me.

Source: girls-gone-geek.com

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Six Months Down, Or: How Long Until Retirement?

Dear friends, can you believe it? Today marks six full months of ministry for me. While I am tempted to make a humorous list of the more bizarre things that have happened to me or bigger mistakes I’ve made, I thought instead six months deserved a bit more.  So I went back to the drawing board, or the writing journal, as it were, and I hope you will indulge me a reflective post.  I’ll offer you something humorous later in the week, I promise!

***

There are a great number of things about ministry for which I was very well-prepared: preaching, liturgy, hospital visitations, nursing homes, funerals, Bible studies, Sunday school, and charge conferences.  Seminary, as well as field and personal experiences, taught me just about everything I’ve needed to know so far about the typical weekly and occasional events of the Church and her life.  I know what Point A and Point B are, and I know how to get from one to the other and back.

What I was not prepared for was everything in between.

Source: United Methodist Memes

Source: United Methodist Memes

I was not prepared, for example, for the hum and drum of working life.

I was not prepared for the particular, abiding fear that comes with a job like ministry where you are constantly discerning and articulating your ever-changing “call,” and trying to either build a job description around that or muscle it into fitting the job description your ministry setting provides and/or needs.

I was not prepared for the constant self-evaluation and doubting that comes with a job in which personal relationships are 98% of what you do.  Though I am not the type to have social anxiety, I find myself panicking over every small interaction:

Source: United Methodist Memes

Source: United Methodist Memes

“Did I say ‘no’ with too much negative emphasis when they offered me wine at that Sunday School Christmas party?”

“Was I insensitive when that mother was telling me about her daughter’s disease and related bowel issues?”

“Did I laugh out loud when that man in Trader Joe’s looked at my clerical collar and said, ‘So you’re a nun, then?'”

I was not prepared for the elderly woman who told me in a matter-of-fact, almost chipper voice that she was ready to die and prayed every night that she wouldn’t have to wake up and do this all again tomorrow.

I was not prepared for the battering loneliness– the daily barrage of never quite being a part of anything, because I consented, by pursuing ordination, to be set apart.

I find myself envious, many times, of those worker bees whose jobs are quantifiable, tangible, visible.  I envy my friend Claire who creates the bulletins for all our worship services– every week she knows what her tasks are and ever week there is something that she created that she can hold in her hands and be proud of. I was not prepared to feel so positively unmoored by not receiving constant feedback, syllabi, tasks, and results.

I was not prepared to enjoy the spotlight as much as I do. I have struggled mightily to recover any semblance of humility I may have once had– no one told me how hard that would be.

I was not prepared for the disappointment I felt when a baby was too sick to be baptized to be more disappointment that was not getting to do a baptism than disappointment that the baby was ill.  In short, here, I wasn’t prepared to have to fight so strongly against being a total, self-absorbed, emotional, envious, discontented jerk.

I was prepared for what I would be doing, but I wasn’t prepared for the emotional,  psychological, relational, and physical effects of the HOW of doing it.

***

I wonder if my unmoored, bewildered, emotional feeling is kin at all to Jesus’ experience in Gethsemane.  His prayers were so earnest, so devastatingly honest and terrible. He said to those whom He called friends, “I am deeply grieved, even to death.” He went back and forth, up and down– not this, Father. Your will, Father. Please no, Father.  Yes, Father.

He Qi, "Praying at Gethsemane."Source: http://thejesusquestion.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/jesus_gethsemane-qi.jpg (Go to this blog for an assortment of Gethsemane renderings... quite beautiful!)

He Qi, “Praying at Gethsemane”
Source: The Jesus Question (Go to this blog for an assortment of Gethsemane renderings… quite beautiful!)

Answering the call, as I’ve said before, is the easy part.  Then you actually have to go and wander in the desert, or be nailed to a cross, or sit in an office and wonder if you’re doing this “adult” thing, or this “ministry” thing, or this “life” thing right at all.

***

So here’s what’s working for me to survive, even (hopefully) to flourish in all this.  If you’re feeling at all like I am, new clergy out there, or if you seminarians are feeling terrified by my honest account, follow these simple rules and you’ll be alright:

1. Read. Not just Scripture, although read a lot of that. Read memoirs, read blogs, read biographies and books of ancient letters.  These types of texts will allow you to inhabit the mind and soul of another person, which gives you perspective, and companionship, and camaraderie, and empathy.
My suggestions: Follow the hours or the daily office to get your fill of Scripture. Books: Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God and Still, all three of Anne Lamott’s books of musings on life and faith, Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church (not her best work at all, but an honest and perspective-giving account of the pitfalls that haunt clergy) and above all else Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain.

2. Listen to music. New music. Old music. Listen to it in the office even if you have to put headphones on. Listen to the stuff you listened to in high school. Listen to the stuff the current high schoolers are listening to. Listen to Mumford and Sons, Bob Dylan, Esperanza Spalding, and Sinatra. Music lights the soul in a way nothing else can.

3. Limit your consumption of garbage.

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Source: United Methodist Memes

By this I mean junk: junk food, junk television, junk internet content, junk movies, junk phone calls with junk, gossipy friends.  Toss it out as much as you can.  I think it’s pretty true that you are what you eat, or watch, or say. So try to eat, watch, and say true and good things. (This, I’m still not good at. I just love pizza. And twitter. And the dang Sister Wives.)

***

So, at the end of 6 months, I’m coming around to the realization that being totally and completely uprooted, unmoored, and bewildered is not the worst thing in the world.  It’s not even the end of the world.  It’s an invitation to engage with a deeper kind of reality, the kind where Merton is more soul-soothing than a good Duck Dynasty marathon.

It’s an invitation to live.

***

Source: United Methodist Memes

Source: United Methodist Memes