Reverb #23: New Name

December 23 – New Name. Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?

I’ve met this question in various forms over the years and I never know what to make of it. I can’t imagine having a new name. There are other names I like, and there are things I would like to change and improve in myself, but a new name? No. Names are important, and I have the name I’m meant to have. If I had another name I’d be someone else.

I’m MaryAnn. I’m content enough, being me. My greatest goal is to continue to be me, only more so. Of all the MaryAnns out there, I guess I’d like to be the MaryAnniest.

Reverb #21

December 21 – Future Self. Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?)

Words to my current self, from the future… nothing too profound:

1. Keep walking each day. You’re establishing some patterns that’ll make life easier for me.

2. Today is their childhood.

3. Keep writing. It keeps you sane.

4. “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” -Howard Thurman

5. “I can’t give you a formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody.” Herbert Bayard Swope

6. Say no to more stuff.

7. But stay in touch with your family and friends. And keep up the date nights.


In terms of the bonus, I don’t resonate with assignments to look back and offer advice. I do wish that we had traveled more before we had kids, and I honestly don’t know what we did with our time. I’m not saying that in the sense of realizing our time was spent on trivial matters—I’m saying I really don’t remember! But other than that… I don’t look back in quite that “I wish I had known” way.

Reverb #18-20

I’m way behind, so I’m going to be quick.

December 18 – Try. What do you want to try next year? Is there something you wanted to try in 2010? What happened when you did / didn’t go for it?

Like a friend of mine, I feel I’m starting to repeat myself.

Big answer I’ve already addressed: writing a book.

Smaller answer: I really wanted to take a dance class at the rec center, and had it narrowed down to belly dancing and salsa. (Why not?) But the schedules and locations were not ideal. I’d still like to do this, and Tiny Church is light enough on evening meetings that I think I could pull it off, but it’s a disruption to the family rhythms. I do a lot of self-care stuff already; I don’t feel a lack of me-time. So maybe it’s a matter of letting some more intellectual me-stuff go to make room for a more embodied experience.

December 19 – Healing. What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011?

I wrote a lot about my dad this year, and that was healing. Dad died suddenly almost 8 years ago, and I have always felt cheated out of saying goodbye. I think I’d convinced myself that the long goodbye was better, because at least there could be closure.

Well, I still think the sudden death sucks in a lot of ways, but I’ve walked with enough people this year to see how very agonizing it is to see someone linger for a long time. The truth is, the human body is damn stubborn, and sometimes keeps on trying to live past the point of mercy. I also think I had put more faith in the power of palliative care than is really appropriate.

Maybe the best we can do is to live as if each day could end with a goodbye. I’m not saying we tearfully pour our hearts out to our loved ones—every day—but that we live and love such that, if the unthinkable happened, we would at least have the peace of knowing that our dear one knew he or she was deeply loved.

In 2011 I would like to do my best to avoid drama and rank negativity, whether it’s in Internet blog comments, cable news (which I don’t watch anyway) or in person.

December 20 – Beyond Avoidance. What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?)

Aside from the dance classes, I actually can’t think of anything I avoided… which may say less about my courage and more about the modest nature of my dreams.

This is a little off-topic to the question, but I’m going to do a lot more writing on paper next year, as opposed to the computer. I’m curious to see how the experience of writing is different this way. I’ve bought a couple of journals for specific purposes. One is for Sabbath book stuff. The other is a new thing I’m trying in which I’m going to write one sentence about each of the kids each day. Just one sentence. I’ve already started this and it’s very fun. It takes five minutes before bed and I think it’ll be fascinating to look at the course of a year. (Like many of my ideas these days, this one comes from Gretchen Rubin.)

It’s also a place to put my kid one-liners so that Facebook doesn’t have to be the default.

Reverb #15

December 15 Prompt: 5 minutes. Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010.

Here’s a link to a Wordle in response to this prompt—my first Wordle ever, actually. Thanks to Georgia Preach for the idea…

Reverb #13: Action

December 13 Prompt: Action. When it comes to aspirations, its not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step?

My aspiration is to write a book next year, and my next 13,455 steps are: write it.

I’ve been writing and noodling about Sabbath for many years, in sermons and articles and on blogs. It’s a practice that’s grounded in specific religious traditions, yet is expansive enough to appeal to lots of people. I think it is one of the keys to a fruitful life. So I put together a proposal many months ago that’s been accepted. You’ve heard of The Year of Living Biblically? This will be The Sabbath Year—12 months of disciplined, intentional Sabbath observance by a two-career, three-kids-with-activities family. The “human guinea pig” conceit will be a structure in which I will also put general ideas, research, and interviews.

So I have a number of next steps set up, some of which are triggered automatically. Every Monday, my to-do list prompts me to take notes about the previous weekend’s Sabbath time—what went well, what was disastrous, snippets of conversations or images I want to remember. I also will schedule a writing/thinking day every so often—several uninterrupted hours to make more headway, push through problems, etc.

As many of you know—because I can’t shut up about it—I am a big Getting Things Done disciple, and David Allen is very big on next actions. You can make forward progress on even the most daunting projects by taking small actions; in fact, the more specific you can be on a to-do list, the better. This is very true in my experience, with one caveat: you can trick yourself into seeming productive by coming up with “next actions” that really don’t move yourself forward, but keep you busy. (You’ve been on e-mail chains with the endless back-and-forth volleys of “I don’t know… when can YOU meet?” Stuff like that.)

That is to say, the weekly note-taking is relatively easy and painless, and necessary right now; but I know the time will come when the work will get more difficult and taxing and will require more than just bite-sized pieces. But for now, I’m enjoying the nibbles.

Reverb #11: 11 Things

December 11 – 11 Things. What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life?

Like Gretchen Rubin and Ben Franklin, I believe in the power of making resolutions and tracking them. (Actually I call them intentions, because it feels more gracious, like there’s a bit more give there.) So that’s the how—concrete, incremental steps toward change.

As for the effect? I would hope that letting go of this stuff would lead to a more abundant life. My mission (yes I have a statement—shouldn’t people have them, like organizations do?) is to create a life-giving story with my life and work and to call forth life-giving stories in others. So maybe jettisoning these things would help me get there:

1. perfection

2. haste

3. trans fat

4. fear

5. blandness

6. resentment

7. control

8. people-pleasing

9. torpor

10. busyness

11. “should”

Reverb #9: Party

Prompt: Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans.

Last year a friend referred to the church as the island of misfit toys. I laughed at the reference but it also touched me deeply. That is exactly what a church should be—a place for authenticity, where nobody is perfect, shiny and flawless. A place where the quirks are accepted and even celebrated. (As I remarked to the family when we watched Rudolph earlier this week, “I would love any of those toys. OK maybe not the squirt gun that shoots jelly, but the cowboy that rides an ostrich? The bird that swims? Charlie in the box?”)

Sadly, too many of our congregations look more like FAO Schwartz.

I’ve been to some great gatherings this year, but when I considered this prompt, I thought about a special service our congregation hosted last month, a Service for Wholeness and Healing. In most ways it bears little resemblance to a party. But it “rocked my socks off,” in the words of the prompt.

This was a new thing for Tiny Church. I wasn’t sure what the response would be, but I knew there was a need. We’ve got a lot of people who are hurting, concerned for loved ones, caring for aging spouses, and so forth. Presbyterians aren’t of the fall-on-the-floor-be-HEALED ilk, but we do believe that there is great comfort and renewal in coming together, sharing concerns and places of brokenness, and being prayed for by the community. And we believe that healing and wholeness can come in mysterious ways, whether a person is cured or not.

When you throw a party, you have no idea who will come. There’s that moment, 20 or so minutes before it starts, when the high-school insecurity kicks in and you think “Nobody’s going to show. I’ve made all these preparations, and this thing’s gonna bomb and it’s gonna be me in this big empty room by myself.”

But people showed. It was one of the best-attended evening services we’ve had over the past year, including Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. Only Christmas Eve was better attended.

People brought a little something—offerings of themselves to share with the group. A woman sang a solo that flowed over us like the Balm of Gilead—all the more remarkable given that she had buried a parent just a few weeks prior. The song she chose was a piece that a member of the church had requested that we sing in worship, but it just hadn’t fit. It wasn’t going to work.

That member happened to be there to hear it.

I had enlisted a few folks to help me get ready. I did this mainly so I’d know that at least some people would be there. One elder wanted to be one of the pray-ers. He’d never done anything like it, but he was drawn to the idea. We took turns, so I was able to watch him receive people as they came forward, sharing whatever it was they wanted to share.

He had written some prayers and scripture verses on small slips of paper, I think because the idea of praying extemporaneously worried him. But as people came forward, the cards stayed in his pocket, and he went with the flow. It was lovely. I was reminded of all the times I have overprepared for a party, then realized that I didn’t need that extra stuff. I just needed to be present to the guests.

One person had written down concerns on index cards because there were so many. Another person, a very practical, no-nonsense type, reported afterward that she’d heard the voice of the Spirit whispering to her, a simple message that has sustained her.

I love a good party. And I’ve been to a few this year, although parties aren’t as big a part of the social repertoire as they were before children. And our little service was nothing like a party, in a way.

There were no belly laughs. But I felt lighter when I left.

There was no lavish spread of food, unless you count a chalice and a loaf of bread as lavish. And I do.

And yes, there were some shenanigans there. They just took place on a level beyond seeing.