Friday, March 21, 2014


I am sitting in Starbucks on my day off, post-workout. I worked out, y'all; I did!
I have been motivated off and on for a few weeks now - a couple full weeks of consistent cardio and getting my sorry, 50-year-old butt to the gym.

But then I skipped an entire week and felt like a loser so I just gave up.

And then I went shopping for wedding shoes with my beautiful, red-headed daughter and we walked through the pretty dress department in Macys and she said Mom when are you going to get your dress for the wedding??? and I realized that the last thing I want to be thinking about on her wedding day is whether or not my arms look fat.

And so came motivation.

Perhaps my arms will still look fat on my daughter's wedding day, but it won't be because I didn't do a darned thing about trying to get myself in shape.

So I've been motivated, and every time I'm in the middle of it, when the sweat is starting to roll into my eyes and my knees start to feel the pressure of the motion of running, it comes; that realization that I really like this. In the moment, once I get there, it feels good.

It's just the getting there.

I am distracted by the warm comfort of my bed, the fact that I have never, not once in my entire life, woken up BRIGHT EYED AND BUSHY TAILED AND READY TO GO. I hate the process of waking up because I so much love love love the comfort of sleeping.

I've thought for a long time that there was something wrong with me.

My mother cheerfully wakes up before dawn every day, and accomplishes more before 10AM than I do by 5PM. She actually likes this; and she's retired and could choose to stay in bed but she doesn't.

Sometimes I feel like a failure.

And then my boss, who says all godly people, including Jesus himself, get up early and get busy; he's working out and working and making all the magic happen before 8AM every stinking day. Sometimes I'm sending emails and headed for bed at the same time he is waking up.


The things we love, that aren't always bad things, sometimes keep us from moving forward, towards other things that we also love. It just takes motion.


I found some, in the guise of an upcoming gathering in which we will celebrate and rejoice and enjoy the presence of family and friends. A day that my daughter and her fiance we commit their future to one another.

I intend to enjoy that day to the fullest, undistracted by the things I can control right now. And so I find myself willing to move.

Would that every day inspired me so.

I'm working on that, too.

Also, my mother and my boss and all the other morning people can just go ahead and gloat about their early morning activity. I like my bed and my lazy mornings and Jesus still loves me. So there.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Spouting Ideas On A Snow Day

Perched on a barstool, slowly and painfully realizing that the padding on the seat has seen better days; I am half draped across the island, listening to Coldplay's Magic and enjoying the aural landscape, with a hopeful bouquet of spring flowers six inches from my face.

I'm working.

It's another snowscape Monday, and here we are again on our umpteenth day off from school. I'm laboring from home, because even if I could get out (and honestly, I could; Tony left hours ago and my mother-in-law is out and about as well. Obviously, it's not that bad...) - even if I could, at my heart and soul I'm a teacher. And a mom. "Snow day" means stay home.

I'm fortunate that I can do just that, and thankful for the technology that makes possible virtual meetings and instantaneous communication. So I'm doing laundry and reading and cooking grilled cheese for my boys and listening to potential songs and making phone calls and casting vision for a video shoot and meandering. My brain is wandering from place to place, and I know that these circumstances are the creative ingredients where the soup begins to simmer. It's important, this meandering that looks useless. Things are stirring inside.

Shot from this morning's meeting
We had a short creative retreat this weekend; several of the people with whom I work most closely gathered together to talk and think, learn more about one another and determine how to best serve our community with our partnerships and team efforts. Part of the discussion included a look at Stephen Brewster's take on collaborative teamwork; he advocates characterizing the contributions of individuals to a creative process as FLAVORS, and identifies those he thinks are essential. Incredibly enlightening, I saw myself most clearly as a Conceptualist.

The Conceptualist processes and passes on their ideas and innovative thoughts to others. Conceptualists are dreamers...Conceptualists often are solutions people – problem solvers that excel in think tanks. They have a unique way of making ideas appear out of nowhere. They can walk into a meeting, sit down, and – with little or no notice – begin to spout ideas...They are great at beginning the creative process. Conceptualists make it rain ideas. 

Yeah, that's me. I spout ideas. It's like having an illness or a disease and having the doctor finally take you into the office and say, "Look, this is what you're not going to die, but it is going to complicate your life if you don't manage it well." So finally - after decades - I have learned to embrace this wandering, this pointless moving from room to room, literally and figuratively (you should see inside my brain...), as what I do best. At least in terms of my current work responsibilities, it's functional and makes me a working part of the team I serve. I spout ideas, and they come when synapses fire to connect the dots between the motion of folding underwear, reading news stories on CNN, devouring Esther Emery's latest post and listening to JohnnySwim on the best Spotify playlist ever.

It doesn't look like work, but it is. And it doesn't feel like work, but it is; and boy oh boy, do I realize how fortunate I am.

There are drawbacks to this creative FLAVOR I inhabit:

The downside to a conceptualist is that, as amazing as they are at creating ideas, they really struggle to execute. The process and management of the idea drains them...

Anybody who has ever worked with me, shout hallelujah. And amen.

That's how I function, and recognizing that strength - as well as the weakness - makes me better. It helps me absorb these unstructured moments at home as an incredible privilege and a wide open gift of space, one that I enjoy in the present and appreciate for the good things it will bring to my productivity tomorrow and for the rest of the week.

But hey - for the moment, we have two inches of snow on the ground, it's 28 degrees, and I've got most of the laundry folded. My boys cheered when I handed them perfect grilled cheese sandwiches, and they're playing video games. The house is warm. Our houseguest floats up and down the basement stairs, bringing grace into every room he enters.

Last night I listened to this story from the TED Radio Hour; one segment explored the notion of happiness being only obvious and embraceable when one is in the moment. Multi-tasking, it seems, is the enemy of joy.

Anyone surprised?

I am the queen of multi-tasking, in my daily routine; and yet, as someone who can easily identify as a conceptualist in terms of team and work responsibilities, the spiral of multiple tasks calling for my attention is obviously not a good place to reside.

I need a word for what it means to "multi idea"; to wander around the house with multiple streams of influence, to layer ideas and concepts and creative moments into something that simply is, that needs no "tasking".

Or maybe we have that word already; maybe it's close at hand and perfectly obvious:

snow day

Go listen to that TED Talk - it's excellent.

Find my Spotify playlist - it's called FRESH - by finding and following me on Spotify; I'm bethstoddard, and I give loads of credit to my kids for any hip and cool music.

Find Stephen Brewster here; if you like creative thinking, you'll love what he has to say. 

Have a nice day.

Monday, March 10, 2014

How My Day Was

A  real day; an ordinary Monday. No snow, no disruptions to the schedule.

It felt like grace, all day long. Routine and a full schedule.

We have a houseguest, a friend staying in the basement room while he sorts out some big life changes. He comes in through the back door and often I don't see him until he pads upstairs, into the kitchen for a cup of instant decaf.

"So how was your day, Miz Stoddard?" he'll ask.

Because he's a guest; that's appropriate. I find it interesting that nobody else ever asks - not in that fashion. My husband always supposes the best - "Did you have a good day?" - because usually, I do, and that's an easy answer. At this stage of life, my sons mostly grunt in reply to my queries about their day; they don't have too many questions for me.

But our guest, he asks every day.

And so today, I thought about his questions, my arms in soapy water massaging the grease out of a frying pan.

"My day was....good. Long. Busy. I'm tired."

He went on to talk a bit about his day; the first visit to a new counselor, getting stuck in traffic...but my mind meandered in my own traffic as I worked the sponge in and out of a plastic cup.

I strained for extra sleep this morning, after seeing David out at 6:40. I crawled back into the warmth of the covers and stole another hour of sleep, dreaming fitfully that I'd had a stroke and was paralyzed on one side.

I stumbled through the early hours of the day, forsaking coffee since my first meeting was at Starbucks and I knew I'd get my fill there.

Our team meeting was productive and rejuvenating; we've missed one another and were glad to be back on track. The coffee was good. I spent several hours working; I headed to the high school to play the piano for an hour for the concert choir. I gave a piano student a ride to the music store and wrestled Chopin and Mendelssohn with her.

I listend to my son cough and made a doctor's appointment for tomorrow. I answered email, planned a retreat, managed time logs and wrote reviews.

I bought pizza for dinner.

It was a busy day, and it's yet to be over; David is wrangling algebra problems (with Tony's help) and coughing. There's so much going on, so many productive moments, so many responsibilities.

But there was space today - breathing room - and I'm not sure that I didn't just seek it out after the gentle rhythm of doing things that mattered and refusing to stress over the rest. I filled that space, short as it was, with a 20 minute visit to my parents. They live five minutes away, and I don't hardly ever just drop by to say hello.

Today, I did just that; and at the end of the day, when questioned, I can say My day was good and know that the best part of it wasn't the productivity or the checklist.

It was the coughing boy, learning algebra.

It is twenty minutes on the phone with my brother, enough for a quick update and debrief on his most recent sermon.

It was a ten-minute phone call reminding a beautiful friend if it is within your power, make peace with all people.

It was the husband's favorite Italian dish alongside the pizza.

It was the guest, sipping coffee in his Batman pajamas and praising Jesus.

It was my father, gently rocking the swing on the back porch.

It was my mother, excited to show me the new pattern for Daniel's graduation quilt.

It is the little things, but mostly it's the people, and the space to see them and hear them and acknowledge their value.

We took the time to stop and snap this sunset photo outside of Graceland Baptist Church
on the way home from my parents' house.

I swear, this Facebook fast is much bigger than I ever imagined. There are so many cracks, and so much light is seeping in...

Friday, March 7, 2014

Our Amazing Capacity For Missing The Point

It pretty much got real up in here tonight. When everything had wound down, the events of a busy day that was supposed to be a Sabbath drizzled to a stop and I had a moment to stand in the kitchen and catch my breath - that's when I felt it.

Like an addict, I yearned for it.

Like an addict, for a brief fleeting moment I wondered if I could just have a taste...just one tiny look. If I reactivated and just slipped in for a quick look, who would know?

Practicing our 'fake smiles'
When that thought slipped through my mind, I knew that this was a good decision.

Hello, my name is Beth, and I have a Facebook problem.


In other news, this girl came home tonight and brought light and joy with her on a gloomy, rainy day. In just four months she'll be a married woman; but this evening she walked into the house and into her mama's arms and I held her tight. Extra long. I inhaled the familiar smell of her, my baby girl, my little redhead. I'm glad she's home for a few days.

There is much going on in our community; devastating diagnoses, struggling kids, addictions, family estrangements, suffering marriages, death far too soon. I have sought all week to simply be present as much as possible, for it is in these difficult moments that I find I want to revert to my old ways of trying to force and fix things. It's the control freak in me. It's the fear of intimacy in me; for if I can wave a magic wand and fix you, then I don't have to go to those deeper wells of pain and sorrow, and neither do you, and then we can make everything all better. And I can be a Fix It Hero.

Ironically, the title of today's Lenten Devotional is "Our Amazing Capacity for Missing the Point". It is so easy, so tempting to gravitate toward the attitudes and actions that make us feel better about ourselves, to shore up existing dysfunction in ourselves - even while we serve others. To miss the point of opening ourselves completely.

I have to fight against this; it does not come naturally to me, to serve with humility and openness and complete disregard for whether or not I am doing the right thing. It's so easy to make it all about me.

What I've learned is this: It's not that I'm a uniquely selfish person. I am a human being, and when you get right down to it, we're all selfish. So here's the thing; in dying to our selves, we can learn to live with humility and openness and presence. We can really help one another, and we can do without the pat on the back from ourselves or anyone else. There's a deep resonance in me; I know that I know that I know that this is the miracle of Christ in me. This is the deep hunger, fed. This is the yearning, satisfied. For if I believe that the light of Christ is somehow in me; if I embrace the concept of letting go and trusting God, then there is no effort needed on my part to fix anything at all. If I truly believe, then all I have to do is get there and sit down. There's no spiritual scorecard, nobody checking off whether or not I said or did enough of the right things, pointed somebody in the right direction or quoted enough scripture.

Half the time I think it's just showing up and shutting up. Being willing to listen. Pushing down the surge of ideas and plans and platitudes that would "fix" a situation that, in truth, can't be fixed.

Most of our stuff can't be fixed; it can just be lived, ridden out like a fierce hurricane or a bloated wave. We flex our muscles and flail in the chaos, and then we fall, and then we pick ourselves up and see the grace of another day.

And we keep going, and we hold one another up and pull and push and tug and keep moving, together.

And if you doubt that, ask this guy. He gets it.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Making Us New

I walked through this day with black ashes on my forehead and an openness in my heart. For this Lenten season, I have chosen Richard Rohr's Wondrous Encounters: Scripture For Lent to remind me, daily, of the need to die and be born again.

Early this morning, I read:
Remember finally, that the ashes on your forehead are created from burnt palms...New beginnings invariably come from old false things that are allowed to die. -Richard Rohr

Tony and I ventured into Richmond for a noontime service; I Googled and Redemption Hill at The 400 seemed close enough and at the right time, so we drove to the south side of Richmond and made our way into a beautiful old building, held up by huge, four-story white columns, snug in an old, familiar neighborhood of homes and sidewalks and leftover piles of greying snow.

It was a church, to the bones; black and white checkered linoleum in the slightly off-center landing, creaky stairs with well-worn balustrades, pews and stained glass and a enormous ceiling. It was a beautiful room, with space to breathe and headroom for the breath of heaven.

We settled in and heard music, simple and without amplification. A soprano sax, a banjo. A cello and acoustic guitar, some sort of odd miniature keyboard thing and a few voices.

Psalms were sung; old folk tunes and a hymn with familiar words and a strange melody. Surrounded by strangers, I felt oddly comfortable in the spirit of grace.

The pastor spoke of seasons; Advent and Lent and the cyclical center of the church calendar that brings us around, year after year, to familiar days and times. He pointed out that we need to be reminded, of more than the changing weather and the places we've been. We need reminding that we rise from redemption for cleansing and renewal, only to sink back down in some other muck and find ourselves in need of redemption again. It is not the past, bogging us down and clutching us to the breast of regrets and recriminations; it is simply our humanity.

We are human. We fight and fail and grow a little bit more like Jesus. And thus requires the constancy of grace.

In redemption, we are reminded of our need for a savior, of the great promise that He will never leave us or forsake us because we are so ridiculous in our efforts to arrive and succeed and overcome and be brilliant.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my many transgressions, wash away all my iniquities, cleanse me from my sin...create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

We gathered at my home church tonight for small group studies, and we sang before we sat down. Surrounded by friends, I felt the glory of grace; known stories, prayed-for battles, broken hearts mending.

You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things of of the dust

You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us

I know this to be true; I saw and felt and heard it all around me, the beautiful things that God is making out of our brokenness. Out of our adultery. Our pride. Our addictions. Our fears. Our anxiety. Our depression. Our raw, rank places, placed before one another and before the One who works in and through us to act according to His good purpose.

You make me new, you are making me new

It is a new beginning for me, one that is offered daily, but most poignantly and passionately at the beginning of this Lenten season. It is a step forward in a journey of expectancy; for if God does not surprise me in these days, I fear my cynicism is rooted far too deep.

But nothing is impossible for God.

I am a sinner - if it's not one thing, it's another
Caught up in words, tangled in lies
You are a Savior, and you take brokenness aside and make it beautiful

Making us new.

All photos taken at Redemption Hill.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Why I Am Giving Up Facebook

I love Facebook; I really do.

Therein lies the problem.

It appeals to the core of my extraverted introvert, this desire to know what's going on everywhere and speak into all that's going on everywhere when I am so inclined. The voyeur in me, the same sneaky thing who loved to peek in medicine cabinets and rifle through the desk drawers of the people I babysat for as a teen; that girl runs wild through the status updates and comments.

She's still too naive to remember that what people show you is often a far cry from what really is.

But it appeals to me, and it calls to me way too often, in the middle of just about anything.

It's a distraction. And I find myself, more often than not, choosing this; latching onto a life lived absent from the things and people right in front of my nose. Whether or not I'm scrolling through the news feed, more and more it seems I am unmindful. Heedless.

Social media feeds into the best and the worst of me, sometimes simultaneously.

This is not good, for I am a weak-willed woman who embraces a lack of discipline and calls it freedom. Too often.

I offer myself much grace, but I have also learned to tell the truth when I can.


Tomorrow begins Lent, a season of preparation. Easter comes in about six weeks, and tradition holds that for those who follow Christ, the six weeks before his torture and crucifixion offer a time to dig a little deeper, to consider the very real impact of the scandalous mystery that resides at the core of Christian faith. The alleluia's and exclamations will come Easter morning; the shouts of, "He is risen!" and the faithful reply, "He is risen, indeed!" Easter is victory, the grand slam, the winning celebration.

But there is no Easter without the suffering that comes beforehand. The hero's resurrection is devoid of power less his death.

The entire crux of Jesus' teaching - his words, his life, his attitudes - all that is exemplified in the gospel stories of his life; these things turn the world as it is on it's head. All that stuff about the last being first, the suffering he promised, the division in families, the healing of disgusting diseases, the forgiveness of the outcast heathens; Jesus turned power and privilege into a open grave of decay. He promised the good things to those who suffered, who were hungry, who were poor and broken. He offered ridiculous grace to those whose shame stripped them of any confidence in the kindness of their community.

And so His life takes us to the cross where he died and the tomb where he laid and the open yawn of empty space on the third morning, and that is what prompts our singing and shouting and hats and new dresses and fancy shoes and appearance in churches. We hold fast to this call to celebrate, because deep inside, isn't that what we all long for? A reason to rejoice, a hard place to stand secure, a party where all is well not only here but throughout the universe.

We hope for these things.

Too often, the hope and the hard lean toward the merrymaking blinds us to the contrast that makes Easter rise up like a relief map, undeniable in its truth.

He is alive. He is risen.

But before, he was dead.

He was tortured.

He bled and cried and suffered and died an agonizing death.

There is something there for us, in all that suffering. Time and again we return to spring, to new life, to a movement beyond the cold, dark winter. There is light. There is life.

But first, there is darkness, and there will be death.


I am giving up Facebook for the next six weeks, to die to the desires and lazy indulgences of my weaker self. To move beyond my comfort and my sense of ease, to embrace the tangible spirit of life made manifest in the creation around me.

I will likely move into some other sort of denial as well. I know there is a movement afoot that encourages us to embrace some new thing, a new action, during this season; to move into grace and start something rather than stop something. But I need this. I need to say, "No." To hear and feel deniable and the tiny little deaths that can be offered as sacrifice.

This is, by no means, anything close to real sacrifice; brothers and sisters in war zones, starving, sleeping on dirt, freezing in the cold. I am well-aware of my privilege.

But I am starting from where I am, and holding fast to the one who will be with me here, and everywhere, and always.