Perfect, but not quite perfect ...

When my kiddos were little they had a piano teacher who was originally from Poland. Communist Poland.

She was intense.

WAY too intense to be teaching my children how to play the piano.

For awhile, I didn't realize this was a bad fit. We had never had a piano teacher before and I just kind of thought maybe it was all supposed to be this intense.

Until one day, my middle daughter, who was beautiful, socially self-conscious and pretty intense herself, played a little piece she had memorized for her teacher. It was lovely. A little wooden, and perhaps played with a tinge of fear, but lovely nonetheless.

Ms. Intense Piano Teacher said to my somewhat fragile child:

"You played that perfect ... but not quite perfect (imagine a Russian accent here). Therefore, I will give you a gold star on your sheet of music, but I will Ri-i-i-p one of its arms off to make you remember that you played it perfect, but not quite perfect."

The next day, I fired Ms. Intense Piano Teacher.

But her phrase, "perfect, but not quite perfect" has remained in our family through the years, and we are able to laugh at it now.

But there is a lot of junk underneath and within and around that phrase.

So many of us see our lives this way - Perfect, but not quite perfect. And that last part - not quite perfect - detracts from our joy, our wonder at things, and our satisfaction in a job (pretty) well done.

So, here's a humorous little example of this:

Yesterday, I wrote a pretty serious post about finding God in the ordinary.

Lovely writing about a lovely moment in my life.

And I edited it, or so I thought.

And then I posted it! Out there for all the world (well, maybe 47 people) to see.

And in it, there was this hilarious mistake ...

I meant to write: "I felt the wind ON my cheeks..."

and instead wrote:

"I felt the wind OF my cheeks ..."

which kind of makes it sound like I enjoyed a good round of farting on my porch.

Which, of course, is NOT what I meant to say.

I read it this morning and my initial reaction was disappointment in myself:

"How could you have missed that? Everyone is is going to notice that, and they will think you shouldn't blog, you are not worthy to blog. You made an error ... perfect, but not quite perfect."

Instead - and I am starting to think this may be the truest sign of maturity - I laughed aloud at the hilarity of it all. And my own ridiculousness ...

My husband read it and e-mailed me: "Perfect, but not quite perfect."

And I smiled.

Life is good.

Life will always be perfect, but not quite perfect.

And so will I.

And so will you.

So, enjoy!

These walls of separation ...

The years of all of us are short, our lives precarious.

Our days and nights go hurrying on, and there is scarcely time to do the little we might.

Yet we find time for bitterness, for petty treason and evasion.

What can we do to stretch our hearts enough to lose their littleness?

Here we are – all of us – all upon this planet, bound together in a common destiny, living our lives between the briefness of the daylight and the dark, kindred in this: each lighted by the same precarious, flickering flame of life, how does it happen that we are not kindred in all things else?

How strange and foolish are these walls of separation that divide us!

(A. Powell Davies, 1902 - 1957)



Tourist Preaching ...

Tourist Preaching - by Frederick Buechner

ENGLISH-SPEAKING TOURISTS abroad are inclined to believe that if only they speak English loudly and distinctly and slowly enough, the natives will know what's being said even though they don't understand a single word of the language.

Preachers often make the same mistake. They believe that if only they speak the ancient verities loudly and distinctly and slowly enough, their congregations will understand them.

Unfortunately, the only language people really understand is their own language, and unless preachers are prepared to translate the ancient verities into it, they might as well save their breath.

What can I overlook?

When my kids were young I would often find myself overwhelmed with all of the chaos.

The homework,

the play dates,

the sports schedules,

the chores,

the parties and doctor's appointments and laundry and toys and clothes and decisions and

everything.

One thought helped me mentally dig out from under the pile of constant, daily, hourly, minute-by-minute decisions about where to give my attention, where to expend my energy, where to put my focus.

William James, the father of American psychology, said this:

"Wisdom is the art of knowing what to overlook."

I found this quote in a magazine,

ripped out the page,

and taped it on my wall in the kitchen.

It was the perfect piece of art for those days.

It is still a guiding force in my life today where different kinds of decisions must be made,

many more weighty than those I made decades ago.

What good work do I want to give my energy to?

What people can I make space for today?

How do I keep my attention freed up enough to hear God's wise, guiding voice?

What can I let go of?

What can I say no to?

What should I overlook?

What or whom should I NEVER overlook?

King David writes in Psalm 90,

"O God, teach us to live well! Teach us to live wisely and well." 

As you pursue a life of wisdom, a great question to ask yourself each morning is:

What can I overlook today?

The perfect is the enemy of the real ...

I wonder if any of you have this experience ...

Let me try to describe it to you, as it all happens in my own head:

I wake up in the morning, say at 6:45.

I kind of wanted to wake up at 6, but I didn't. I woke up at 6:45.

It is still early. The day is still new. I still have lots of time in front of me.

But ... I didn't get up at 6.

I unconsciously start to think that if I had gotten up at 6, rather than 6:45, my day would have been "perfect."

Now it is not. It is not a bad day, but it is not perfect. And I subtly assign a ranking to the day thus far and it is a slighty lower ranking than the day really deserves.

But I do it anyway.

This can (and too often does) continue:

I go through my morning routine, which is actually pretty good, pretty balanced, pretty healthy, but I have to skip several steps, I have to rush through some things, I don't read or pray and sit in silence as long as I hoped I would. So I unconsciously, very subtly assign my morning routine a ranking, a grade ... and it is like a B - or even a C. And I can sense my spirit sinking a bit.

Then I get to work. Maybe I don't greet my friends in the office as cheerfully as I think I should. My office is a mess, and I whisper to myself "Your office should be more clean." Maybe I start to work but before I do, I check a bunch of social media and news sites, and once I break out of my technology stupor, I think to myself, "C'mon! Stop procrastinating! You should ALWAYS just get right to work and never get distracted!"

And on and on it goes. It is not really a bad day; not at all. In fact, it is a pretty darn good day.

In fact, it is the only day I get today. This one real day. I don't get the idealized, perfect day I think I should have. No matter how hard I try I can never have that day. All I get is the very real day playing itself out right in front of me.

Too often, becaue of the noise in my own head - the noise that tries to tell me how my ideal day should look - I end up MISSING the very real day that is playing out right in front of my eyes.

The idealized perfect day becomes the enemy of the messy real day.

The perfect is the enemy of the real.

The perfect is the enemy of the real.

The perfect is the enemy of the real.

This is my new morning mantra.

As soon as that voice tries to tell me that my day would have been "perfect" had I only woken up at the "perfect" time of 6 a.m. I start to whisper, "The perfect is the enemy of the real, Alice."

Don't miss what is right in front of you.

It is real.

It is imperfect.

But it is so, so good.

And so are you.

Real, imperfect, and good.

Or at least good enough. 

(smile)

 

The pursuit of perfection ...

I used to have a Flipboard app on my phone.

It was flooding me with articles like this:

7 Steps to a Perfect Morning Routine!

27 Ways to the BEST Marriage Now!

16 Ways You Are Drinking Water Wrong!

A Failure-Proof Bible Reading Plan!

12 Must-Read Books for September! 

You get the point ...

After awhile my mind became toxic with the idea that my life was sub-par unless my wardrobe was perfect, my closet color-coded, and my workout plan was a perfectly balanced, never-ending rhythm of cardio, strength, balance, stretching and high-intensity intervals (did you know your muscles have been wasting away since you turned 30?).

I felt like a loser unless my home was minimalist, organized and toxin-free, I had the perfect work-life balance, whatever that is, and I developed a wind-down-to-bedtime routine that guaranteed an uninterrupted 8-hour sleep.

I felt life had passed me by unless I had read the classics, my career was on an upward trajectory, I devoted myself to multiple charities, volunteered endlessly, and ran triathlons.

I felt life wasn't worth living unless I had an organic, locally-sourced diet, a perfectly-manicured lawn (please, no chemicals), the just-right number of friends who never disappoint, a hangnail-less manicure, an ageless body, an ageless mind (brain games, anyone?), and a satisfied soul ...

blah, blah, blah ...

Good Lord, this made me so, so tired! Thankfully I realized what was happening inside myself before it went on for too long. I read a chapter called "Perfecting Ourselves to Death" in Chuck DeGroat's book Wholeheartedness, and this seemingly trivial pursuit of the "perfect everything" was revealed for what it is - darkness.

Listen to what DeGroat writes:

"Self-perfection may be an instinct as old as Adam and Eve. From the very beginning, it seems, human beings have been driven to build ladders to heaven. Ashamed of our humanness, we're constantly aspiring to become gods. The relentless drive to perfect ourselves leads to feats of extraordinary achievement ... And utter exhaustion."

The advertising world has found thousands of ways to bombard us with a sense of shame and self-despair over our humanness, along with a never-ending stream of products and services designed to provide the perfection we think we seek, yet really offering self-centeredness, weariness, and debt.

It is up to me to block these messages lest I drown in them, and thus miss the messy, imperfect, beautiful, ordinary, glorious, sometimes painful, real, life God has given me in the process.

So, I deleted that Flipboard app from my phone.

The pursuit of perfection is a joke.

There are ZERO wrong ways to drink water. In fact, ice-cold from a dirt-encrusted summer garden hose is close enough to perfect for me.

 

 

Letting Go ...

I am a bit of a control freak.

This has served me well in my life ... at times.

And it has also caused me to ruin many a moment; to miss things because I am disappointed or frustrated with how reality is playing itself out.

This makes me sad.

So, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to live fully present in each moment, with open hands, open heart, open mind. No trying to rip control from the universe. No more judging, insisting on labeling each moment as "good" or "bad."

What might my life look like if I stopped trying to force things to go my way?

How might all the small, ordinary, daily moments have more meaning, more richness if I give up coercing, manipulating and pushing?

I pulled out a book I bought over two decades ago - Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn - and it is so helpful on this journey.

For instance, his short chapter entitled "Letting Go" is something I have been dwelling in all week.

Here is what Zinn writes,

"Letting go means just what it says.

It's an invitation to cease clinging to anything - whether it be an idea, a thing, an event, a particular time, or view, or desire.

It is a conscious decision to release with full acceptance into the stream of the present moments as they are unfolding.

To let go means to give up coercing, resisting, or struggling, in exchange for something more powerful and wholesome which comes out of allowing things to be as they are without getting caught up in your attraction to or rejection of them ...

It's akin to letting your palm open to unhand something you have been holding on to."

 

I wonder how many moments you might be missing because, like me, you find yourself judging each moment rather than simply noticing it, experiencing it, paying deep and close attention to it, actually LIVING it.

Might we all try today, as a gift to God, to let our palms open - literally or figuratively - as each moment unfolds in front of us, sometimes boring, sometimes frustrating, yes ... but also, sometimes joyful, sometimes beautiful, sometimes unbearably sweet. 

Each moment a gift.

Each moment one-of-a-kind.

Each moment with something to teach us, or give us, or say to us.

Try it. Open your hands.

More on this in the coming days...

These days are dangerous ...

Read this today and thought it was so spot on:

"These days are dangerous.
Virtue is choked with foul Ambition,
And Charity chased hence by Rancour’s hand."

(William Shakespeare, 1564 – 1616)

Oh Bill Shakespeare, how can you be so wise?

Look at the view ...

Some simple, profound words of wisdom today ...

"I found one of my best teachers on the boardwalk at Coney Island many years ago.

It was December, and I was doing a story about how the homeless suffer in the winter months.

He and I sat on the edge of the wooden supports, dangling our feet over the side, and he told me about his schedule, panhandling the Boulevard when the summer crowds were gone, sleeping in a church when the temperature went below freezing, hiding from the police amid the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Cyclone and some of the other seasonal rides.

But he told me that most of the time he stayed on the boardwalk, facing the water, just the way we were sitting now, even when it got cold and he had to wear his newspapers after he read them.

And I asked him why.

Why didn't he go to one of the shelters?

Why didn't he check himself into the hospital for detox?

And he stared out at ocean and said “Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view.”

And every day, in some little way, I tried to do what he said.

I tried to look at the view. That's all.

Words of wisdom from man with not a dime in his pocket, no place to go, nowhere to be.

Look at the view.

When I do what he said, I'm never disappointed."

(Anna Quindlen, b. 1953)