The Modified Modified

Photo by Ms. Phoenix on Flickr

Photo by Ms. Phoenix on Flickr

After having two babies over the course of two years, I decided I needed to get in shape. I joined a gym and was happy to receive two free sessions with a personal trainer. The trainer was lovely — a young mother like me, kind and encouraging. However she was in great shape and I was in horrible shape! I pushed through my ever-present body image issues and kept my eyes on the prize, realizing that if I did nothing then nothing would ever change.

The first session with the trainer included  a standard fitness test — sit-ups, push-ups, walking on an inclined treadmill, etc. And I will never forget one thing that happened. When it came time to do the pushups she asked me to give it a try, to see if I could just do one good push-up. Toes on the ground, body stiff, chest lowering to the floor then back up. Well I couldn’t. Not at all. Not if my life depended on it!

So she tried again. She showed me how to do a modified push-up. She had me put my knees down on the mat and asked me to keep my body straight from my knees to the top of my head while I lowered my chest to the ground then back up again. Unfortunately I couldn’t do it. Not at all. Not even one.

So she tried one more time.  She asked me to try to do a “modified modified push-up.” Feet on the ground, knees on the ground, butt in the air — bending my arms and lowering my chest to the ground hinging at the hips. In the modified modified I would only need to be able to support the weight of the top third of my body. Well it worked. I did it. The modified modified push-up.

Now I wasn’t proud of myself for being able to do a modified modified push-up. In fact I was mortified. Who needs a double modified push-up? Apparently me. But as horrifying as it was that I had to modify the modified push-up, it actually reminded me of some important life lessons.

1) You’ve gotta start somewhere! It is easier to not start at all, than it is to admit your weakness and start there. We hate to see our weaknesses. We’d rather just ignore them and let them remain, than face them head on and become stronger.

2) It’s better to do something than nothing. And you can always do something. Even if it’s just a fraction of what you were hoping for, it’s better to go ahead and do that than to do nothing at all.

3) You can’t let your failures have the final say. As silly as a modified modified push-up sounds, it’s actually not a bad way to increase your upper body strength. If I had walked away in disappointment because I had failed the push-up test, I would have never done anything to increase my upper body strength and move toward being able to actually do a real (unmodified) push-up one day.

I go back to these principles over and over in my life. You see, I have a long list of things I know I should do. I should make dinner every night. I should exercise everyday. I should pray and read the Bible every morning. I should read to my children every night before they go to bed. I should recycle. I should write thank you notes. I should wear make-up and blow dry my hair. Etc, etc, etc.

But I’m just one person and the list of should far outweighs my actual time and strength. So I remember the modified modified. I also remember one of my seminary professors who said this: Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. Words to live by. I pray, I cook, I recycle, I exercise, I read to my kids. Every day? No. Every week? Hopefully. I even blow dry my hair — every once in a while.

But there is no salvation in perfectionism. And in many parts of life, the modified modified is an agent of grace.

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Liturgical Envy

Photo by Brian A. Petersen on Flickr

Photo by Brian A. Petersen on Flickr

I am a low church kind of girl. I supposed if you look at a spectrum of high church to low church, we aren’t as low as you can go, but we are close.

The Churches of Christ are doggedly democratic in leadership. We really believe that every person in a congregation should be given an equal invitation to participate in leading our Sunday worship services. Prayers, communion meditations, even song-leading and preaching in some instances are done by a whole range of people, some of whom show no particular suitability for their assigned task other than the desire to participate. Thus, Churches of Christ around the world are led every Sunday by a rag-tag group of men. (Therein lies the catch, of course. We are not as committed to inclusivity as we’d like to think we are. We have a whole host of biases that lead us to value certain members over others, the most obvious of these being gender. But I digress… )

Another one of our low church commitments is to extemporaneous prayers. Prayers are not read. In fact, few are even composed by the pray-er ahead of time. Generally prayers are composed and prayed on the spot. There may be a prayer list in the bulletin that is read during an intercessory prayer, but generally there is no template. So the idea of liturgy is completely foreign to us.

Now I should add, most churches do use a liturgy in their services, they just don’t realize it or call it that. We often talk about the “two songs and a prayer” pattern in churches, and the words “guide, guard and direct us” were never canonized as an official prayer ending, but in certain circles they are as predictable as “and also with you” would be in other denominations.

In some ways I believe this low church tradition has served me well. There is something so beautiful and so true about being invited to speak to God straight from the depths of your heart. I’m grateful that I was introduced long ago to a God who really wanted to hear from me.

But I have a problem. I have found that I personally have trouble sustaining a prayer life made of extemporaneous prayers. I want to pray. I was to pray often. But I grow weary of hearing my own words. And often, I just don’t have the wherewithal to compose.

I know I’m supposed to speak to God like I’m speaking to a friend. I know. But sometimes I start to feel like I’m just talking to myself. Or my mind wanders off and before I know it I’m not even praying any more. And sometimes, not all the time but sometimes, I long to approach the king of the universe with beautiful words. The way you should speak to a king.

So I dabble in liturgy. I use it a little here and there when I lead the church in worship. But I use it more personally. The phrase I have found most helpful recently is this.  “Lord in your mercy, hear my prayer.” This is a very common phrase included in the prayers of my high church brothers and sisters. I love to say it, and I love to pray it. Because when I am asking God for help – for healing, for protection, for rescue – I am appealing to the mercy of God. The phrase helps me to remember that God is merciful and hears my prayers.

Indeed, God’s mercies are new every morning. Hallelujah.

Of Baseball and Babies

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Photo by Beverly Goodwin on Flickr

My fourth child was born in the month of March, which is a wonderful time to have a baby especially when you live in a four-season part of the country like I do. He was my only baby with jaundice and the best treatment for jaundice is sunlight. I will always remember sitting outside with my new baby stripped naked to his waist, taking in the sun. If the neighbors hadn’t wondered about us before they definitely started to wonder about us then. But we were so grateful to have our jaundiced newborn out of the hospital, away from the medical “light therapy,” and into the sunlight of our own front porch.

As I look out my window this morning at a snow-covered landscape I can’t wait for a sunny warm day, and I can only hope that we will get one of those in March this year. But as much as I long for spring, there is a part of me that dreads spring. Sunshine, flowers, warm days, snow melting — yes, I can’t wait. But along with all of that comes BASEBALL.

The profound significance of baseball in my life, both for good and for ill, has to be the subject of another post. But suffice it to say that a March baby born into a little league family is not afforded the luxury of a slow acclimation to the world. Or rather, I should say that the baby’s mother is not granted a long period to revel in the beauty of her newborn before jumping into the most demanding season of the parenting year.

And that, my friends, is how I found myself pumping in the car. Baby at home and me and the breast pump in the little league parking lot. And it strikes me that pumping in the car is a pretty accurate metaphor for the life I’ve found myself to be living. Running from place to place, trying to be multiple places at once, but also trying to express and contain that which is true, real and good. So join me, why don’t you? You can sit in the passenger seat and we can chat while I pump in the car.