Check, Please!

Do you find yourself learning the same spiritual life lessons over and over?

Or is that just me?

I recently took a class in CPR/First Aid from the American Red Cross, and it got me thinking. Check it out:

I'm thinking about CPR and circus clowns. As you do.

What do you think? What do you need to "check" in your own life? I'd love to hear.

Before I go, a few quick notes. I'm traveling throughout the fall to lead retreats and workshops, and am currently scheduling events for 2020--email me at the link below or contact me through my website.

On the coaching side of things, I'm co-leading two cohort groups for Presbyterian church leaders through NEXT Church. These groups start in September, run for six months, and will include a monthly group session as well as individual coaching sessions. It's a great way to learn in community and blast through the stuff that's keeping you stuck as a leader. Read more and sign up here.

Saying Yes-And... But Not Yet

Last Monday, I was finishing up a trail run along the Potomac River when I came upon a man with two dogs on leashes, sprawled across the trail. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, so I paused my music, approached slowly, and asked if he was OK. He said, “Yes, I’m trying to get a photo.” Then I saw his phone and understood the weird angle—he was taking a closeup. And yes, the blue bells are lovely right now. 

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I was so focused on the man, I didn’t even register that the smaller dog was yapping at me. As I ran around them, it had enough slack in the leash to leap up and bite me on the leg through my capris. 

It didn’t hurt much, so I knew it wasn’t a bad bite, but it did startle and infuriate me. I stopped briefly and said to the owner, “Your dog bit me!” 

The man, still prone, responded, “Oh.” 

It may have been followed by a “Sorry,” but it was the kind of sorry you’d say when brushing by someone in a crowded hallway. And again, I may have supplied the apology in my imagination, because what kind of person doesn’t even say Sorry?

I was so shocked by the bite, and the man’s non-reaction, that I just kept going. I also had a sense that a man who left it at “Oh,” and perhaps “Sorry,” wasn’t a man that a woman wanted to confront on a deserted part of the trail. (This is something many men won’t get, and almost 100% of women will. No, we’re not paranoid.) 

A little further down the trail, I inspected the bite. The pants weren’t even torn, but the bite broke the skin. Dammit. 

So I went back to see if I could find Oh And Perhaps Sorry Man and find out if the animal had had its rabies vaccine. I’ve been bitten before, lucky me, so I know the drill. I was in high school, riding my bike home from a babysitting job. A dog charged me from behind its house, tearing the skin at my ankle. Thankfully I knew which house it was, and Animal Control did its thing. No problem.

Unfortunately, when I doubled back, Oh Perhaps Sorry Man had left the premises. Of course he did.

It probably would have been fine to leave it alone. Rabies in dogs is exceedingly rare. But as a friend put it, it’s 100% fatal and 100% preventable. I’ve never been a gambling woman, and my life has enough uncertainty as it is. 

So as of this morning, I’m one week into a two-week course of post-exposure prophylaxis for rabies. 

[Obligatory questions answered: the first treatment involves several needles, but there are no shots in the abdomen, unless that’s where you got bitten. The follow-up shots are singles in the arm, and are no worse than a flu shot. The treatment is expensive, even with insurance. And yes, I could have taken up to 10 days to try and identify the dog and its owner, and animal control can help with that, before starting treatment. But it’s not like I ran past a particular house, or even a small neighborhood park. Riverbend Park is a big place. There was very little chance we’d find this guy.]

I was unpacking all of this to a mentor/friend of mine a few days ago. I laughed a little as I told the story, admitted how hard it had been, but also reflected on some deeper stuff as I moved forward with it. Churn and learn. Grist for the mill. The moral of the story. Three points and a poem.

She said, “Yeah… It’s good to reflect and learn and all that, but can we just pause for a minute and sit with the fact that you were assaulted by a dog on the trail, and that now you have to go through this inconvenient and traumatic treatment for it?” 

Oh. Yeah. That.

She’s right, of course. 

As we approach the one-year anniversary of God, Improv, and the Art of Living, it’s been so fun and gratifying to share that work with groups, and to hear from readers how it’s impacted them. People get the power of Yes-And. It’s how we’re wired—to find the hope and the redemption, to write the next chapter, even mid the most dire of circumstances.

As I write this, Notre Dame Cathedral is still smoldering, and the damage being calculated, as if such a thing could be quantified. Is rebuilding even possible? So much has been lost; I don’t know. 

But I do know this. People sang hymns on their knees as Our Lady burned. The people of God will continue to worship; if services were planned there this weekend, those prayers and readings and songs will be shared in other places instead. To say nothing of the members of African-American churches in Louisiana, whose worship spaces were also consumed this week, albeit in the fires of hate and white supremacy. Will those saints sing praise to the resurrection, and life out of death, and love being the last word, this Sunday on Easter? Hell yes they will, because that’s what we do

All that being said, I always try to offer this caveat to people: Yes-And on stage, in comedy improv, usually comes very fast and furious. But in life, it unfolds more slowly, deliberately, with discernment. And it’s OK to take your time getting to the And—and maybe even awhile accepting the Yes.
It’s OK to sit with the suck for a while. 
It’s OK to sleep more than you normally would. 
It’s OK to eat the comforting stuff you normally dole out thoughtfully in normal times, because taking care of yourself is always important, but taking care means different things at different moments. 
It’s OK to feel sorry for yourself for a while. 
And it’s OK to lament. It’s OK to sing hymns on your knees, for a long time perhaps, before taking up the cries of “we will rebuild.”  

Yes-And is powerful, but I try to remember to offer that caveat to others… and sometimes I need others to offer it to me. Thank you, M. Message received. 

So… yeah. Some day it’ll make a great Moth story or book chapter or article or something. Some day. Or not. But right now… I’m sad. And mad. It’s been an exhausting week. 

I’ll Yes-And it, but not yet. And that’s OK.

"Monkeys and Sloths": The Living Improv Videos Are Here!

I'm SO excited to share my latest project!

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Introducing Living Improv, a series of video conversations in which people reflect on the challenges and perplexities of life, and how improvisation helps see us through. I can't wait for you to meet these wise, insightful, and funny folks. A special preview video is linked below, called "Monkeys and Sloths." Enjoy! It’s a fun one.

The conversation partners in this series are a lot like you, my readers:

Some of them are "church people"... but many are not.
Some of them are students of improv... but some are not. And yet as you will see, all of them tackle the trials of life with a spirit of Yes-And. I was inspired and energized by these conversations, and I trust you will be too. I came away from these interactions even more convinced that improv offers a powerful set of tools for approaching the world.

Here's how it will work: starting the first week of March (that's next week!) I'll begin releasing the videos via my email newsletter. There are 12 in the series, about 4-8 minutes each--perfect bite-sized pieces for reflection. Emails will arrive every two weeks, with two Living Improv videos in each message--which means the newsletter will follow the same twice-a-month schedule it always has.

Are you part of a small group? Book club? Sunday School class? These videos are great for group discussion as well as individual reflection. Each will be accompanied by questions and exercises, plus scripture suggestions for Christian groups. If you're studying God, Improv, and the Art of Living, I will include ideas for connecting the Living Improv videos with the book, but they also stand alone.

Living Improv will be archived on YouTube and on my website, but I'll be releasing them first and foremost through my email list. Don’t miss out—be sure to subscribe here.

Without further ado... here's Monkeys and Sloths, part of a conversation with my friend Tim Hughes Williams, pastor of Light Street Church in Baltimore. (You’ll see him twice more in the series.)

And thanks to my awesome brother Luke McKibben of Lukrative Visual, who shot and edited the whole series.

Subscribe to receive the series here.

Gratitude... and a Pre-Announcement Announcement

The following was sent to my email newsletter earlier today—to receive content like this right to your inbox, about twice a month, subscribe.

“Increasingly I discover that being alive involves taking a chance, acting on less than certainty, engaging with life. All of this brings change, and for me the process of change is life. I realize that if I were stable and steady and static, I would be living death. So I accept confusion and uncertainty and fear and emotional highs and lows, because they are the price I willingly pay for a flowing, perplexing, exciting life.” 

-Carl Rogers

I heard this quote on a podcast while driving to a women’s retreat I led over the weekend. Carl Rogers was an American psychologist and one of the founders of modern psychotherapy as we know it. I was so struck by this quote that I pulled over to jot it down so I could refer to it later. It seemed a perfect segue into a weekend of considering improvisation as a spiritual and life practice. When we say Yes-And to what the world offers us, in a spirit of curiosity and possibility, we often find ourselves in a life that’s flowing, perplexing, and exciting. 

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It’s also a deeply meaningful message for me personally. This week marks the beginning of my fifth year of ‘free-range’ ministry. That ministry has included writing, speaking, a couple years of managing social media and communications for a global non-profit, and now, approaching my third year of leadership and ministry coaching. Not to mention running coaching, the side hustle for all my side hustles. Life is often hectic, but it’s a grand improvisation and I love it all. 

Over the last four years I’ve spoken at some 70 retreats, conferences, workshops, and guest preaching opportunities. Wow! That’s a lot of seeing the church in action, and I’m grateful for the bird’s-eye view. Add to that the wonderful perspectives I get teaching medical students at George Washington University once a month, and a new role as parish associate at Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon.

There’s plenty to fret about in the world, but spending time with so many fine groups of people, and being inspired daily by coach clients, reminds me that, as Carrie Newcomer says, the things that have always saved us are still here to save us. 

Speaking of those connections… I’m excited to offer a teaser of a new initiative I’m rolling out in March, called Living Improv. These are short video conversations about how people engage with the challenges and perplexities of life in a spirit of improvisation. Some are clergy, some are not; some have studied improv, but many have not. These videos will be accompanied by a short reflection by me, plus some questions for reflection/discussion. You don’t need to be reading God, Improv, and the Art of Living to engage with these videos… but if you’ve been looking for an opportune time to get a book study going, this is it!

The videos will be released via email newsletter, so subscribe if you want to receive them.

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I am beyond grateful to each of you for these bonds of connection and curiosity we’ve forged over the years. Thank you for your wisdom and companionship.

Onward!
MaryAnn

The Joy of Yes-And

The following was sent to my email newsletter earlier today—to receive content like this right to your inbox, about twice a month, subscribe.

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You may have seen the amazing video of UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi absolutely nailing her floor routine—with precision, energy, and sass. If you haven’t, please check it out, and the Washington Post story about this amazing athlete.

My friend and colleague Kathryn Johnston summarized what was so powerful about Ohashi's performance:

What really caught my attention is how Katelyn Ohashi stepped back from training to be on the Olympic elite level because it was breaking her body and spirit. She decided to focus on her college career instead, and have fun doing it. Obviously from the video you can tell, she's still pretty damn elite. There's a sermon in there about going for our joy even when it's not what society says should be our joy. 

I need that sermon, as I’ve gotten myself in a bit of trouble with Yes-And lately.

Many of you know Yes-And as the cardinal rule of improvisation—we receive what is offered on stage (or in life) and build on it in some way. I’ve written about this, I speak about it, and it’s the place where I start in God, Improv, and the Art of Living.

And it’s something I still get turned around about. Too often, Yes-And becomes an excuse to add more and more to my schedule without removing anything.

We had our first snowfall in the DC area this past weekend, which meant a snow day for my kids on Monday. Meanwhile I had a number of phone calls scheduled, and a lot of “thinking work” I really needed to do.

Now, my kids are old enough to entertain themselves, and also entertain one another. I could have made those calls. I could have sequestered myself for a couple of hours and gotten the work done, popping out from time to time to make sure everyone was OK. And I have done that—it’s a staple for working parents, and a Yes-And of a sort… to say “Yes, this is a lot, and I’m going to embrace the chaos, juggling these handfuls of Jello as best I can, and being kind to myself when some of it splishes through my fingers.” A full, abundant life is a gift.

But for whatever reason, this time I took my own internal temperature, looked at the bigger picture, and Yes-Anded in a different way. I rescheduled my calls and subbed in some less taxing mental work. This enabled me to help my eldest with a looming school project, consult with the middle child on making the traditional snow-day pocket pies, and when my youngest came back in the house, stomping snow boots and shedding gloves and coat, I was ready with the hot chocolate. Most importantly, I saw this as a faithful expression of who I am and who I wanted to be that day.

Now, as Kathryn points out, Katelyn Ohashi is still performing at an extremely high level. But too often, our culture looks at people who take a step back in terms of what is lost. Maybe Ohashi will not end up at the Olympics as a result of her choice... but it’s clear from that performance how much has been gained.

Sure, sometimes Yes-And is a process of sheer addition, and making it work imperfectly and beautifully.
But other times—maybe more often—it’s about subtraction. Clarification. Deepening. 

One of my favorite follows on social media is elite runner Tina Muir. Tina is a serious athlete, logging hundreds of miles a month, and winning and placing in all kinds of races (she won the Army Ten-Miler here in DC in 2015). 

A couple of years ago, she left running altogether—arguably at the pinnacle of her own physical conditioning—because she hadn’t menstruated for nine years and had simply had enough of putting her body through that. She and her husband Steve wanted to start a family. 

Now, a couple of years later, she has a baby daughter, Bailey. She’s training again, but she trains differently. Her body has changed. She logs a bunch of her training miles with a jogging stroller. The demands on her life are more complicated. She’s also happier than she’s been in a long time.

She entered this weekend’s Disney Half Marathon with no expectations, but determined to run the 13.1 miles as best she could—to run them hard, and to run them joyfully.

Well… she won:

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...Now, just because you Yes-And and shift priorities and embrace the journey and all that stuff doesn’t mean you’re going to “win,” whatever winning means in your context. Results not guaranteed; this isn’t a formula.

But using Yes-And as a way of aligning with your deepest purpose means that winning no longer matters. The joy is its own sweet reward.

When You're Tempted to Give Up

I'm on vacation this week, so in lieu of a post written by me, I want to pass along a story that's been resonating with me lately.

Many of us know and love Humans of New York, the book, website and social media presence. HONY is the brainchild of Brandon Stanton, who took a simple premise and made it a huge phenomenon: to photograph ordinary New Yorkers, telling their stories. It's a testament to the power of attentive listening and radical empathy, and has become wildly popular--an outpost of kindness on the Internet. (HONY is now nomadic, with recent trips to Pakistan, Brazil, and more.)

Brandon Stanton.

Brandon Stanton.

But have you ever heard the story of how HONY began? Here is Stanton talking about the tumultuous--and lonely--early days. I'm not going to offer any commentary or pithy summary at the end of this--I'm simply going to share it, so we can rest in these words and let them do whatever they need to do, for each of us:

“I’m in New York, and I’ve been trying to make it work for 6 months. I worked every day, including Christmas and Thanksgiving. All I did was photograph all day long. I had gotten thousands of these portraits and not many people were paying attention.”

“The hardest part about it was especially when I got started, and Humans of New York didn’t have any fans, and it wasn’t made into any books, and my family didn’t believe in it, and my friends thought I was crazy. I had no photography experience. I’m in New York City stopping random people and asking them questions. I’m feeling insecure.”

“When you walk up to somebody and you ask them if you can take their photo and they respond like you’re some sort of freak or that you’re weird, it’s hard to not internalize that because you’re so insecure at the moment about whether or not what you’re doing is weird and if it’s something that – am I weird for asking these people for their photographs? I’d go out some days, and ten people in a row would make me feel like I’m some sort of freak.”

“Like, “Do you know what city you’re in? You can’t be stopping random people. Get out of my way. What are you doing? No, you can’t take my photo. Get out of here.” And during my formative and impressionable early days when I’m trying to figure this out, five reactions like that in a row when nobody’s paying attention to your work, and you’ve been trying for months, and you can’t figure it out, psychologically was very tough. There’d be days where that would happen, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I would just go home and lay in bed.”

“It was all of the doubt, and not having any money, and nobody’s paying attention, and I’m just doing this all day long for months. The loneliness too, I didn’t know anybody in New York. I knew two people. There was a Christmas break where those two people went home, and for two weeks, I didn’t see anybody that I knew. I remember I spent Christmas Eve alone at a diner. Then I just went out and photographed because it was the only thing that would keep me from thinking about how unlikely it was and how stupid of an idea it might be.”

“The only thing that I think kept me from thinking about the possibility of failing was doing it, was just photographing. Whenever I started to think, “Is this gonna work? Is it not gonna work?” I’d just go out and photograph. That was my only way of keeping those wolves away of, “Is this ultimately going to be a success? Am I wasting my time? Am I stupid?”

“The only way to keep those away was to go out and work. So that’s what I would do just all day long and do it and do it and do it. These negative things like the rejection of people and people saying no that I was talking about, all of the negative stuff, the thing that was counteracting that all the time was just loving it so much. I just loved it so much.”


Onward.
MaryAnn

This reflection was sent to my email newsletter; subscribe to receive articles such as this, twice a month, right in your inbox.

interview source

The Art of Coaching Improvisationally

“The five minutes before the coaching conversation begins are the most important five minutes of the whole encounter.”

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I remember hearing this in coach training and feeling surprised. Surely the wrap-up is most critical, I thought to myself, in which actions steps are articulated and clarified. Or, the initial check-in, which sets the stage for everything that is to come. As a coach, I now see the wisdom of this instruction. If I come into the appointment distracted and scattered, I cannot be of service. In my pre-conversation time, I try to center myself, prepare to listen deeply without agenda, and most of all, trust the process and my role in it. There’s always a bit of nervous excitement, too, because I have no idea what will happen and where we’ll end up at the conclusion of our conversation.

Interestingly, that anticipatory energy is exactly what I feel when preparing to walk out on a stage to do improv comedy.

READ THE REST at Coaching World, the blog of the International Coach Federation (ICF).