Tag Archives: Brother Lawrence

On Tying Shoes

It is the dusk of my 35th birthday.

Wow. 35 years. I can see tinges of the classic “midlife crisis” creeping in. All day I found myself looking back and wondering if I have spent the last 3 1/2 decades well.

I think I can say that I am (mostly) proud of the person I have become. I have (sort of) learned to stop and think before I speak. i have matured to the point where I can (grudgingly) admit that my parents were right about many things (shhh…don’t tell my dad). I can (sometimes) admit that I was wrong.


But there is one thing I have always known about myself, but did not realize was a problem until today.

I am not a process person.

I am a results person. Unlike my sister, I do not revel in the repetitive and routine. I mean, I like to be clean, but if I had the choice between showering and pushing a “clean Kristin” button, I would choose the button every time. For me, the process is just the means that get me to the results.

It is not that I don’t recognize the importance of process, of how process impacts results. I took ballet for 12 years, and ballet is all process. How you learn and practice your movements determine how well you can perform. The way you move your body into each position is as important as the position itself. Quality process equals quality results.

I know process is important, but I just hate having to do it.

This summer, we made the brave idiotic decision to ditch the velcro and purchase tie shoes for our 3 and 4 1/2 year olds.

Kristin! What were you thinking?!

I know.

Honestly, I’m not sure what possessed me to do it. I think the girls told me they really wanted tie shoes and I thought, “Wow! How mature of them! I should encourage this!” So with visions of my prodigy preschoolers tying shoes themselves flashing in my brain, they were purchased and brought home.

My positive enthusiasm lasted for about 3 days before I realized that Lidia did not have the dexterity to tie her shoes yet and Madeline was just way, way, way too slow. Most mornings, we left the house with both girls crying and me screaming to just “grab those (mumble under breath) shoes and don’t you dare try to tie them in the car and get them all tangled up and I will just have to tie them when we get to where we are going.”

Over the past several weeks, there has been a recurrent theme. In conversations. In prayer time. In watching an amazing artist chronicle the creation of her works. In the post on how you respond when life changes…or doesn’t.

The message is the same:

The process is not just important because it gets you results. The process is important because it is a result in and of itself.   

So this morning, as we were getting ready to go, I sat down with Madeline to help her tie her shoes. I stopped, took a breath and really paid attention to what I was doing. As Madeline tied her first shoe, I watched how the muscles for fine motor skills were honed as her tiny fingers had to work really hard to correctly grasp and twist and pinch the strings just right. I noticed how she stopped everything else and really concentrated on what she was doing. I marveled at how she handled the frustration of dropping a lace by closing her eyes, taking a deep breath and trying again.

Strength. Concentration. Perseverance. Patience. All the things needed to climb giant rope ladders at a playground, have healthy friendships, and succeed in the future. All this gained from the stupid process of tying one stupid shoe.

Then, as I tied her second shoe (because, really, preschool shoe tying is SO SLOW), I took the opportunity to look right into her eyes down at her level and smile. She flashed an enormous, rare, giddy smile, said, “I love you, mom,” and gave me a big bear hug.

Wow. So much better than screaming and crying.

This. This is what I need to work on during the next 35 years. 

Ugh. But it is so hard for me.

I need to take lessons from Nick. You see, I am married to an extreme process person. Nick is actually an ancient Japanese man born into a modern American body. Results are important to him, but it is the process, the howthat gives him joy. He becomes alive doing all the tedious things that would drive me crazy: gardening, cooking, practicing scales on his guitar, shaving with a straight razor, fitting a hearing aid. Nick graduated with a Japan Studies concentration in college and he tells me that the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony, Chado, epitomizes traditional Japanese culture. People would spend their entire lives working to fully engage in and master the process of their craft. The beauty and joy lie not just in the end result, but in the journey of getting there. If you have ever read Marie Kondo’s Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you can hear this undercurrent running through her words.


As I thought through this today, I realized that this is why this phase of my life is one of the most challenging. So much of what I do is purely process. The changes and results of the work I am doing with the girls are either so far in the future, are imperceptibly small or are so short lived, that I often feel like I am achieving no results at all.

I hear the platitude “enjoy the journey” all the time, but I never really grasped the depth of what that means in my day to day life before today. If I never do more than put up with the process while waiting for results, I will have missed my life. Because nearly all of life is just that, a series of processes that refine us and make us into who we are. The how is not just the how. The how is also the what.

The process is not just important because of the result it produces. It is important in itself. Because of what you learn. Because of who you become. Because it can be enjoyable, fulfilling and beautiful. The process is the result. The process is the now.

So, on the dusk of my 35th birthday, I make my quasi-midlife resolution. Much like Brother Lawrence that Laura just wrote about, I will seek to find enjoyment, beauty and appreciation for the tedious, mind-numbing processes that make up life. I will listen for God’s whisper in the common and the mundane.

It will probably take me the next 35 years to even start to scratch the surface. Because by later this afternoon, as we were onto the third iteration of putting on and tying the shoes to get somewhere, I was back to the screaming and crying routine.

Sigh.

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Sabbath?

I love when God chooses to communicate with me by (lovingly) slapping me across the face with clarity. Now that the Lyric‘s opera season has begun, I get a day off about every week to 10 days. Whenever that day happens to land on a Sunday, I am thrilled to be able to go to church. Today was one of those days! My beautiful 15 minute walk to church was spent mentally organizing all of the work I was going to get done when I got home. I have to work on the next opera role I need to have learned and memorized soon (since my days are now filled with sitting in rehearsals for the current IMG_2160role and understudy responsibility), memorize a number of arias in preparation for upcoming auditions, translate the massive German and Italian roles I have coming up (after the previously mentioned upcoming role), send in a couple of competition applications, catch up on emails, set up my upcoming Pub Theology meeting (yep, I’m a geek… I’m sure I’ll expand more on this venture in future posts), write this blog post, and do all the life things I don’t have time for during the week, like grocery shopping and laundry. That list was what I got done on my walk to church.

And then the sermon today was about the importance of the Sabbath and resting well.

As much as I personally HATE HATE HATE admitting to faults (the curse of the Wilde trait of “Always Being Right”… it’s a real problem), I have NO problem admitting that I do not rest well. I am terrible at this. When I was working with a fabulous therapist last year dealing with some situational anxiety issues, I was given the assignment to spend time “just walking.” I was told to wander aimlessly without going somewhere in particular, doing it for exercise, or listening to music I needed to learn. My therapist laughed as I literally shrank in my chair at the thought of doing something without a purpose. As much as I took pride in following all the steps to conquer my anxiety issues (I basically thought I was THE BEST at therapy. Ha!), doing all the exercises, and asking for regular assignments, I have yet to do this one, simple task.

I know how to relax, to sit and binge watch Netflix or lazily sleep in, but I don’t know how to really REST and to rejuvenate. The hard part of a job like mine is that the work is never done and 75% of the “work” I do is not counted as work hours. The translating, learning, memorizing, and figuring out how to sing each role is done before the first day of scheduled rehearsal even begins. How do you prioritize rest when there isn’t an end to improving the craft or knowing the languages well enough. Or there aren’t “work hours”? When you can’t delegate any work tasks to anyone else? Where do you draw the line when all that you really get paid for is the product? No one cares how much or how little work went into a performance, only that you can deliver. This self motivated aspect of the career is often difficult for the less naturally organized, artistic-types, but makes my type-A side light up with delight and motivation. However, it’s also very easy for me then to slip into a state of burnout and not realize it until it’s too late. If all of this rest stuff is that hard for me, I can’t even imagine how much more difficult it is for those of you who are also parents, like my sister. How do you do it?!

Binge watching Netflix is relaxing, but I end up just as drained as I was before. One question Brian, my pastor, asked today was “what activities in your current life fill you up and give you Life?” I paused and realized I couldn’t readily answer that. I remember discovering something similar when, after going on a couple of different dates, I couldn’t answer the “What are you hobbies?” or “What do you do for fun?” questions. I love spending time with friends, having good conversations, being involved with my church and small group, and have started this Pub Theology group, but I am primarily an introvert, without introverted activities. If I don’t refill my energy, all of those social fun things can become just as draining as work.

I have only recently started finding some introverted, life giving activities. This Blog has very quickly become a beautiful way for me to spend time with myself and process through varied aspects of my life. I’ve also started reading for fun again. I’m getting back into working out regularly and hopefully going on walks. The easiest thing for me, still, is to turn on the TV and veg out, but I’m hoping that will change as I train my body and mind to remember how much more fulfilled I am after an hour of reading or taking a walk.

IMG_1402But to be honest, the most important aspect of the Sabbath and resting well is God. I so often find myself leaving Him out of the equation when trying to get filled up by activities or external things. I feel like He quietly walks with me through each day, helping me take on struggles, carrying me when I’m depleted, and celebrating in my successes, all the while quietly and unobtrusively asking me to stop and spend some time with Him. He never leaves me, but wants to give me so much more each day than simply “getting through.” I’ve been reading Brother Lawrence’s book “The Practice of the Presence of God.” This was a man who invited God into every moment of his day, allowing God to give meaning to even the most mundane tasks. It’s overwhelming, inspiring, and at times discouraging when I compare Brother Lawrence’s approach to his life and mine: the amount of time I’ve spent complaining about the mundane, switching on my phone or checking social media every time I am without stimulation or want instant validation, avoiding interactions with people around me for fear of awkwardness, or assuming God has given me this voice and then peaced out on the process of developing it. But the truth is, I am not obligated to MAKE Him part of my daily life, I am invited to ALLOW Him to make his presence known and give meaning to every moment.

The Sabbath is my day to stop the craziness for a moment, spend time with the One who gave it all to me, and reorient my heart and mind back to Him. I know I will fail over and over, allowing this crazy career and life’s trials to overwhelm me and give me tunnel vision, but the soft voice of an invitation to stop and rest will always be there.