Monday, October 12, 2009


That’s what the light on my dashboard says. It had been flashing on startup for a week or two, but as I was driving home from Fort Collins on Saturday night the light came on and stayed on. I need to get my faithful Honda into the shop, and soon.

It would have been appropriate to have the same message lit up on my forehead. After a 65-hour work week I was toast. Next day at church I abruptly removed myself from conversation with two people who strain my patience, and pretended I didn’t see a third. I put up walls when talking to two or three dear women who came up to me with project ideas to discuss. I didn’t want more things to do, didn’t even want to talk about it. (Might have been a good day to skip church, eh?)

That afternoon I sent an email to my office team leader requesting permission for a comp day Monday. It was becoming clear I would need one. I made a bunch of comfort food – a big batch of enchiladas and some homemade chocolate ice cream (mentioned below). When I finally sat down to write, the process did what the cosmetics industry calls "drawing impurities to the surface." Some ugly stuff.

Will the end result be a "vibrant, youthful glow"? That may depend (in part) on how faithful I am to continue the regular care regiment.

Or, to go back to the automotive imagery – will I change the oil every 3000 miles? Check the fluid levels and make sure the air filter, tires, and belts are looking good? Yes: Maintenance is required.

Looking for something I’d jotted in an old journal, I found an interesting entry from November 2001. I was just a few weeks into my stint in Central Asia, and it had become clear that the war that had just begun in neighboring Afghanistan was not likely to destabilize the region and send me home. Nope. I was there to stay, and a year seemed like a really long time. It was cold and dark and only the seventh day of a month of fasting, to boot.

I’d been there long enough to see that while struggles were par for my course, I wasn’t the only one:

"H. shared more yesterday about how upset she was and still is about making the mistake of giving neighbors broken bread [a cultural offense], and how they laughed, and how her Tatar neighbor turned on her for caring [about the ridicule] and for wearing a headscarf and trying to be [local]. She was really devastated.

"Sounds like none of these others are too far beyond her – nobody’s got this thing down, and everyone makes embarrassing mistakes and is mortified by them. All of which suggests to me that yes, while not every day will be devastating, I’ll not really get beyond that either."

Is that as good as it gets, in some situations, that "not every day will be devastating"? I prayed that day for grace to stay and be a learner, willing to make mortifying mistakes and learn from them. Tough stuff. Really good though.

I also copied into my journal that day a passage from Ann Lamott’s brilliant book, Traveling Mercies. The chapter is called "Grace," and never had it seemed more relevant.

"My fear of failure has been lifelong and deep. If you are what you do – and I think my parents may have accidentally given me this idea – and you do poorly, what then? It’s over; you’re wiped out. All these prophecies you heard in the dark have come true, and people can see the real you, see what a shmendrick you are, what a fraud.

"…Out of nowhere I remembered something one of my priest friends had said once, that grace is having a commitment to – or at least an acceptance of – being ineffective and foolish. That our bottled charm is the main roadblock to drinking that clear cool glass of love."

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