Be kind to your Pastors: A Christmas Public Service Announcement

My number one piece of advice to anyone under any amount of stress (especially a crisis) is, “Be kind to yourself.” If it’s a couple experiencing stress, “be kind to each other.”

I think it’s time to name something. The holidays? This is a crisis, we are all under an amount of stress that is higher than normal. So here’s my advice, “Be kind to one another.” “Be kind to yourself.”

Now, one more thing I need you to do, “Be kind to your pastor.”

I had a parishioner, who is a retired school teacher, tell me today that the holidays were hard for him because he didn’t get out of school until December 23 and he would wake up and all of a sudden it was Christmas Eve.

Guess what? Your pastor wakes up and it’s Christmas morning, kids are running down the stairs, family is gathering. This week I’ve been preparing for 6 services. None of them are the same, it’s not just the same service over and over again, each unique. Next year we will wake up and go back to work Christmas morning.

When I wake up on Christmas morning it’s like someone has been holding my head under water, let me up to breathe and then pushed me back under.

Christmas is such a juxtaposition as a pastor. I have to stay in town, I do not travel to family, and my family doesn’t travel to me (which is their choice). I work Christmas Eve and sometimes Christmas Day. It is my job and I know that and I have made peace with that. But the stress is high, for all of us.

It is my least favorite time of year as a pastor, if I’m honest. People are the nicest to me they have been all year. I get goodies and presents and notes talking about the difference I have made in their lives and how much they appreciate me. And then I get “projection vomited” on by others.

They can’t get their mother, daughter, son, father, husband, wife, friend to do what they want and their frustrated and they’re angry and they can’t yell at them because they don’t want to ruin Christmas so guess who they yell at? Yep. Their safe place, their pastor.

Just this last week a friend, who is a pastor, got pulled aside and yelled at like a child in the hallway because of something petty. (This, BTW happens a lot as a pastor). When we tell our “higher ups” we get the advice to have “thick skin.” We are put on a pedestal we never asked for.

I was told recently that as a pastor I was not allowed to have a bad day, that I am supposed to perfect the art of “faking fine” and should never allow my parishioners to know when life is difficult.

I actually think my parishioners would disagree, I believe they like that I’m real. But I will say this… that is the expectation.

The week of Christmas the Pastor’s stress is high, really high for another reason. I’ll let you in on a secret, it’s the candles.

Every Christmas Eve I hear, “It’s just not Christmas until I stand in church with the candle and sing Silent Night.” Sometimes I wish we could all admit that and show up on Christmas Eve, say hi, light the candles and leave.

One year the person doing the lighting (because the lights go down when we sing silent night) messed it up. I blame myself (because that’s what pastor’s do) for not adequately preparing him for the lighting changes. Which were written out, with a chart, on which buttons to push at which word. Most of the lights were left on while we sang, no “mood” lighting for the candles.

As I shook hands on the way out the door a woman yelled, “that was the worst Christmas Eve service I’ve ever been to and you have ruined my entire Christmas.” Everyone heard her. It was everything in me to stay at the door. I cried through the entire night and Christmas Day. I loved this woman, her opinion meant a lot to me, her family’s opinion meant a lot to me. “It’s not about me, she’s under a lot of stress.” I repeated over and over and over. Still couldn’t shake the anxiety.

So please… Be kind this Christmas, be kind to your pastor, we are all under a lot. I mean a lot of stress. We have family stuff too. Yelling at us will only make US feel bad. We love you, we genuinely do, but we are not your wife, son, daughter, husband, mother, etc. We are not the “sunshine and roses” expectation of the holidays. We are not the person who cut you off in traffic or even the recipe that you’re following but still can’t seem to get your mother’s molasses cookies right.

We are your pastors, we love you, we wish you a very, merry Christmas, we’re here for you, but we have stuff too.

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The Stress of It All

In a week I will be in Cuba. The sun will shine, the humility high, the smell of diesel engines everywhere. I will spend a week with my Cuban family and I will be at home.

Cuba has been in the news a lot lately. More and more people are getting to visit. In the long run these tourists will be good or bad for Cubans, depending on how you look at things. This will be my 3rd trip in the last 2 years. The church I serve has a sister church there since 1999.

When I go to Cuba it is like coming home to a family who has done nothing but sit around and missed me. Of course this is not true but it feels that way. I have a Cuban madre (mother), a cuban novio (boyfriend who is at least 70) and hermanos y hermanas (brothers and sisters).

They are people just like we are, they have hopes and dreams just like we do. They carry a burden of abandonment, of hardship, of oppression. But they do not want our pity.

As I prepare I am collecting the usual things – chocolate to bring, extra shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant. Writing a sermon to be translated into Spanish and I am pulling summer clothes from the closet, but what I am most preparing is my soul.

1422399_10203198787072619_1253925515_nWhen I arrive in Cuba I will arrive on a 747 will all the luxuries and technology of a chartered plane. I will walk through a Caribbean airport and security and then into a parking lot full of cars from 1962. I will be greeted with warm hugs and probably more than a few tears will be shed, a sigh of relief will come from my being. I am in good, loving hands.

The rest of week will be rest, visits, food, worship, prayer, travel, and leading “my people” through the journey of their own spirituality. I will be on Cuban time, there’s no hurry, no stress about being late, no worry at all. I will talk to others about hardship, about cancer, about lack of access.

I will probably play volleyball and dance, I will get yelled at for not covering my very pale skin in the sun (the concept of sunscreen is a little hard to explain to some). I will get stares in the marketplace for my skin color and a few colorful calls for the same reason, children will want to touch my hair and skin and I will smile and delight.

I will have no contact with my family and friends for a week, I will be, in a different world. I tell my family, if something happens, just don’t bother trying to contact me, there’s nothing I can do about it. No phone, no internet, nothing distracting you but the person in front of you and the beauty of the world.

In therapy this morning I was describing this world, the problem is not letting go. It’s coming home.

When that plane lands in Miami I thrill and turn my iphone on immediately. I can’t wait to get home and hold my little people and connect with my friends, but when you spend a week away from the stress of life, it’s crushing to come home to it. Credit Cards, finances, work in the second week of Advent, access to everything and anything I want at any moment. Cars, phone, internet, OH MY!

For people who have had pain management you will understand this metaphor- the plane landing is like the pain medication wearing off. Slowly the weight of life returns. The stress of it all feels unbearable.

I am nervous of this feeling. I am scared and anxious about returning home in the midst of Advent, the stress of Christmas. Truth is, it wouldn’t matter, Christmas or not, the abundance of my life is crushing and I need to figure out how to handle it better, period.

Truth is, being in Cuba just holds up the mirror of life. “You do too much,” it says, “slow down, breathe, live.” but in America, that too feels like pressure.

Don’t Sweat the Small Things (she says gagging)

By the end of the day I have a project due. In January I took a class called “The Bible and the Ecology of Wonder”. The final project was to be a reflection on that subject, we were encouraged to be creative. I could have written a sermon, which I did and preached for the congregation when I returned on Psalm 139. I could have written about a photograph that I’ve taken, I had free reign, a creative final project. I decided (because life isn’t hard enough) that I would write a Lenten Devotional on Wonder in the Wilderness. I combined the theme of the class (Wonder) with our church’s theme for Lent (Thirst in the Wilderness). “I’ve never written a devotional before, not a full one, this will be fun,” I thought. (I know, I need to get out more if that is my definition of fun). I asked for an extension knowing my life was crazy and I would need more time. The deadline I gave myself was today, Friday the 13th. I needed to have it done by today because Sunday is the last Sunday before Lent and I need to get it into my people’s hands. I will also post it on this blog… As the week progressed I started to stress, but not for the reason you think. I started to stress because I wasn’t stressed about it. My lack of stress was causing stress and I started to wonder (see what I did there…) about why. The answer was simple in the most complicated way possible. “Don’t sweat the small things.” I used to loathe that saying. Still do, really. I worry, I have anxiety, I’m a problem solver, I like solutions. I get to solutions through my worry, anxiety, and thinking through scenarios. I have learned not to fight this. Fighting it makes the monkey mind worse. But as this year has progressed, as a reality of what I thought was a “happy” marriage has fallen apart, as I have taken on the reality of divorce, shared custody, financial strain, in addition to the everyday stress of being a pastor and mom, I have learned that I simply cannot sweat the small things. Getting a doctorate is not a small thing. Really it’s not. But in comparison to the health and emotional wellbeing of my children? Small thing. Worse case is I ask for another extension, other worse case is that I fail the class. Not the end of the world. If I do my children will still have food on the table and a roof over their heads. I will not lose my job. But I still need to finish it (so finish this blog dumbass and get to work!) Why? Because it’s a dream of mine. Mine. No one else. I am doing this for me. Education is selfish, in my humble opinion. I didn’t know that until I was out of school with a master’s degree wondering why I felt as if I wasn’t doing anything for myself. Education, learning, reading, furthering your mind and skill is selfish. Until you use it, until you share it. Like art, sharing is what is important. I could have all knowledge, I could be the smartest person, I could know the ins and outs and why things work and how, but until it is shared, it’s just mine. I learn it for me. I think for me. Until education or thoughts are applied, they are completely selfish. This is my theory at least. But I digress. The point is I believe in sharing, I believe in bettering the world and myself. I also believe that there are real stresses in my life, that getting this project done is a priority for me, and that makes it worth while, and in all honesty, I am celebrating the fact that it is almost noon and I am still writing content. This is self love. This is progress. This is a small thing, and I am grateful. heart_6.inline vertical

Over/Under/Over

You want to know the worst kept secret of my life?

blogI over function when I’m stressed.

I know… I know. It’s shocking, you would have never guessed.  When my stress levels are high I look for more work, more stuff to do.  I require myself to do all the things, until I collapse, and even then it’s a fight to get me to stop.

We all go through periods where we are more productive than others but the reality is when I get stressed out I take on more of the things that stress me out. My work isn’t any worse, in fact in a lot of ways it’s better – sermons get written faster, my house is cleaner, things get taken off the checklist, kids get fed. (okay, that usually happens anyway…)

What doesn’t happen when I’m over functioning in this way are all the good things in my life. I stop going to yoga. I stop running, biking and hiking. Yesterday I tried to force myself to sit down and read a magazine, and I couldn’t do it. Better Homes and Garden wasn’t enough for me to turn off my brain, so I moved on to looking at Facebook and Twitter on my phone, but that reminded me of 15 other things I needed to do so the laptop came out.

Have I forgotten how to relax? Have we forgotten how to slow down? Obviously, but how do I use this over functioning to my advantage, can I create rules about it? When I get stressed I must X, Y, Z? Do I have to hike or run everyday? Do I need to go to Yoga once a week, talk to a long lost friend, anything to keep me from going insane? I know it has to be active because when I get stressed my adrenaline is too high to “just sit there”. My brain goes into hyperdrive.

So what to do? Well today I am letting my son sleep in on this rainy, cool morning, I am checking things off the lists and I am writing this blog post. Tomorrow, I will attempt to go to yoga. And by attempt, I mean, I will. Right, yes. I will. Until then, well. God only knows…