Ten for Tuesday

Away we go!

This Guy Noticed Jigsaw Puzzle Companies Use The Same Patterns, So He Made Some Mashups

I remember having some Sesame Street puzzles as a child and doing the same thing! Fun. My favorite, the church carnival:

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The Rewatchables

I am obsessed with this podcast, in which the panel discusses a rewatchable movie and lovingly dissects it. The Field of Dreams episode made me cry a few times…

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Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain

Working on it. So glad Apple has introduced Sreen Time—it has helped me rein in the dumb-dumb time I was spending on my phone.

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The Bible does not condemn “homosexuality.” Seriously, it doesn’t.

It doesn’t.

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As I worship on Easter, I'll wrestle with the same question: How do I keep believing this?

How indeed? Great reflection (and hey, Easter is over but we’re still in Eastertide…)

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Intuition is the Highest Form of Intelligence

“If all you do is sit in a chair and trust your intuition, you are not exercising much intelligence. But if you take a deep dive into a subject and study numerous possibilities, you are exercising intelligence when your gut instinct tells you what is - and isn't - important.” Good stuff in a complex world.

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The Uninhabitable Earth

UGH this was a tough read.

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The War Photo No One Would Publish

When Kenneth Jarecke photographed an Iraqi man burned alive, he thought it would change the way Americans saw the Gulf War. But the media wouldn’t run the picture.

Gut-dropping image. War is hell.

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Why We Spend Our Brief Lives Indoors, Alone, and Typing: Or, how I justify teaching my students the dying art of writing

I hope writing isn’t dying, but… yes.

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You’re not getting enough sleep—and it’s killing you

This is something I’m really working on… and it’s So Hard. I can’t wait to watch this TED talk!

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Reflecting on My Failure to Build a Billion-Dollar Company

A wonderful article about Yes-And in business.

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What are you reading lately?

The Freedom of 50: Ultramarathon Thoughts

In 115 days, I’ll be running my first 50-mile race, the Marquette (Michigan) Trail 50. 

It’s an 11-mile loop, followed by a 20ish-mile loop run counterclockwise, then clockwise. The race features beautiful views of Lake Superior, which you can see from one of the four mountains you climb… twice.

Sugarloaf Mountain

Sugarloaf Mountain

Just typing that makes me want to lie down.

I’m also really, really excited about it.

I signed up for Marquette on the suggestion of a friend during a very stressful time in my life, when all I could see was the situation I was mired in. Running 50 miles seemed impossible to me—it kinda still does—but it felt important to hit that Registration button. It felt like an act of hope that life would not always be consumed by the crisis at hand. And even if things were still unspooling in that part of my life, signing up was a kind of stubborn defiance: as important as that situation was, and is, I refuse to let it consume my entire life. I need something that is just for me. Many people say not to make any major life decisions when you’re in the midst of extreme stress or grief. For me, the grief was a major factor in the decision. Have you read Mary Oliver’s The Journey? There was this wild sense that in signing up for this race, I was saving the only life I could save.

After I committed to Marquette, I realized I should probably do a shorter ultramarathon before tackling a 50 miler… and yes, I get the humor in the phrase “shorter ultramarathon.” So this Saturday, Lord willin’ and the Potomac don’t rise, I’ll be running the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K here in DC. 

The Potomac Heritage Trail

The Potomac Heritage Trail

That K makes a big difference. I mean, 50K is no stroll on the beach, but it’s 31 miles, not 50. Once you’ve run 26.2 a few times, you can kiiiiiinda get your mind around running 5 more. Still, these two races are the first things I’ve signed up for that I can honestly see myself not finishing for some reason or another. I could get injured. I could hit the wall. I could have tummy troubles, or botch my hydration. I could simply go too slow and not make the time cutoffs—ultramarathons have strict cutoffs along the way, and they will pull people from the course who aren’t keeping the minimum pace. This is probably the biggest risk for me. (A Boston qualifier I ain’t.) I have many friends, good runners all, who’ve had these things happen.

To all of that I say, “Bring it on.” There’s something invigorating about striving for something that’s potentially out of reach. 

People often say about marathons, “Respect the distance.” You can train and prepare, but the marathon will do what it does and you are not in control. This is even truer at ultra distancs, and especially on trails rather than roads.

I need the reminder that you can get ready and trained up and do your best, and what happens next is not entirely up to you. And if things go haywire, it doesn’t necessarily mean you did it wrong or weren’t good enough. It’s just the way life works sometimes.

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You may know the number 50 as the number of jubilee in scripture, the time every fifty years when debts are cancelled and enslaved people set free. I got a bit obsessed with this numerology—50K, 50 miles—to the point that I made Freedom my word for 2019.

On one level, it seems contradictory. Where is the freedom in getting up early, sacrificing leisure time, running up to 50 miles in a week? Isn’t there freedom in letting go, doing less? True. This is a major time commitment, not just for me, but for my family. The training has been hard, harder than any other training I’ve done. I’ve fallen multiple times. I’ve stumbled on roots. I’ve gotten muddy and (temporarily) lost. I got bitten by a dog on the very route I’ll be running in a few days. I rolled my ankle a week ago. 

But it’s also beautiful out there. There is freedom on the trails. You have to stay loose and flexible, yet focused at the same time. 

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When you’re running, you can’t be managing the family calendar, or finding someone’s lost sunglasses, or emptying the dishwasher, or working. You can only do one thing: relentless forward progress, fueled by one’s breath, mile after mile. There is freedom in that—freedom from multitasking, or performing; freedom from doing anything other than an activity that brings mental and physical well-being to so many of us. 

By saying yes to this, I’m surrendering to a mystery that’s beyond me. And while the falls and the bites and the bad stuff happened to me, none of it defeated me.

I’m reading one of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs novels (a current favorite) and ran across this quote:

“When a mountain appears on the journey, we try to go to the left, then to the right; we try to find the easy way to navigate our way back to the easier path. But the mountain is there to be crossed. It is on that pilgrimage, as we climb higher, that we are forced to shed the layers upon layers we have carried for so long. Then we find that our load is lighter and we have come to know something of ourselves in the perilous climb.”

Yes. This is a pilgrimage.  

Maybe the ultimate freedom isn’t in what we pick up along the way. It’s in learning what we can do without. I have this feeling, this hope, that that freedom is waiting for me out on the trail this weekend.

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.

Ten for Tuesday

Lots of links to clear out today.

But first, a bonus: Have you checked out my Living Improv conversations on YouTube lately? Two new short videos every two weeks! The latest deal with improvising through illness, and listening for what people really want and need, rather than what you think they do. Watch ‘em! Use the discussion questions with friends! Etc.!

And away we go!

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1. I had an improv teacher who would send a weekly email, prefaced by a link to a song with the note, “Please listen to the following as you read to enhance your email experience.” In that spirit, here’s New Order’s “Blue Monday” played on 1930s instruments. *chef’s kiss*

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2. Speaking of improv, I love how empowering it can be. Read about this recent administrative mistake that turned into a gift, courtesy of Washington Improv Theater. Kudos to that courageous improv student!

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3-4. We have a high school sophomore, which means we’re just at the beginning of the college conversation. These two Reddit threads, written by young people in college, have been very instructive.

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5. On the topic of young people, the Washington Post reports on a Maryland school in which Teen boys rated their female classmates based on looks, and the girls fought back… In a really great, empowering way, it should be said.

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6-7. In the What Really Matters category, these two are deep reads but worth it: The only metric of success that really matters is the one we ignore (Jenny Anderson, Quartz) and Three Magical Phrases to Comfort a Dying Person (Jenny Harrington, Medium).

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8-9. How about a few badass ladies? This article made the rounds recently, about two sisters who would seduce Nazis in bars and lure them to the woods where they would summarily execute them. I’m not a fan of vigilante justice, but I make an exception for bona fide Nazis.

And I love this amazing photo of two Scottish women, rock climbing in the 1900s in blouses and ankle-length skirts:

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10. And finally, a linguist who argues why we all need to start using y’all. Way ahead of ya, dude!

Onward.

Ten for Tuesday... Including Free Stuff

Away we go!

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1. What’s going on in this picture? Click the link to find out.

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As Trevor Noah put it, “I only cried twice watching this video.”

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2. The Modern Trap of Turning Hobbies into Hustles (Man Repeller) This was an interesting article, as someone who’s cobbled together full-time work with a series of side hustles. But the real gem was the paragraph that began, “Whenever I have some time to myself, I panic. Unstructured time — especially spent alone — is phenomenally rare in my life and I feel an overwhelming obligation to make good use of it.” Ahem…

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3. And on that note, The Religion of Workism Is Making Americans Miserable (Derek Thompson, Atlantic)

The rich have always worked less than the poor, because they could afford to. The landed gentry of preindustrial Europe dined, danced, and gossiped, while serfs toiled without end. In the early 20th century, rich Americans used their ample downtime to buy weekly movie tickets and dabble in sports. Today’s rich American men can afford vastly more downtime. But they have used their wealth to buy the strangest of prizes: more work!

…Workism offers a perilous trade-off. On the one hand, Americans’ high regard for hard work may be responsible for its special place in world history and its reputation as the global capital of start-up success. A culture that worships the pursuit of extreme success will likely produce some of it. But extreme success is a falsifiable god, which rejects the vast majority of its worshippers. Our jobs were never meant to shoulder the burdens of a faith, and they are buckling under the weight. A staggering 87 percent of employees are not engaged at their job, according to Gallup. That number is rising by the year.

One solution to this epidemic of disengagement would be to make work less awful. But maybe the better prescription is to make work less central.

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4. Everyone Around You Is Grieving. Go Easy (John Pavlovitz) A gentle reminder.

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5. The Latest Diet Trend is Not Dieting (Amanda Mull, Atlantic) On “intuitive eating,” in which people learn to listen to their bodies and eat what they want. When it comes to nutrition, when I’m at my best, I am some combination of intuitive eating, Michael Pollan’s seven words, and Carter Good’s entire Instagram feed (left).

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6. The Minimum Wage Saves Lives (New York Times) A living wage is an antidepressant. It is a sleep aid. A diet. A stress reliever. It is a contraceptive, preventing teenage pregnancy. It prevents premature death. It shields children from neglect.

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7. Patriarchy Chicken (Charlotte Riley, New Statesman) In which a woman experiments with not getting out of the way of men on the street. I don’t officially condone colliding with people, but I’ve done a milder version of this game and kept a mental tally, and it is amazing how effectively I’ve been socialized to get out of men’s way, and how few men get out of mine.

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8. A Sermon on Depression (Michael Gerson) I hate depression. I really do. I will say “f*** cancer” with the best of them, but depression gets my biggest F-U every time. This was just fantastic. “In our right minds, we know that life is not a farce but a pilgrimage – or maybe a farce and a pilgrimage, depending on the day.”

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9. Ten Ways to Untwist Your Thinking (PDF, The Feeling Good Handbook) I heard this list recommended on the Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast (a show that should be a recommended link all its own) and have been pondering this wise rationality ever since.

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10. And a final recommendation: don’t forget that the Living Improv videos debut this week via my newsletter! Be sure to subscribe. To sweeten the deal, new and returning subscribers will be entered in a drawing to receive one of three signed copies of God, Improv, and the Art of Living.

"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.

Ten for Tuesday

Some of this stuff is a few years old, but it came to me recently, right when I needed or was ready for it. Sharing in the hopes it will be such for you as well. Whoosh! Away we go:

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Reality Bites at 25 (Studio 360)

This movie about recent college grads in Houston came out when I was a college grad in Houston. How could I not love it? I’ll fight anyone who argues against its charms. That said, listen to the segment and tell me whether starting the piece with a reference to the Big Chill is not the most aggressively Boomer thing evah. News flash: not everything is about you, behemoth generation… which is one of the subtext of the film.

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Free beyond Wires

Been pondering this piece of art since a friend posted it… what do you think?

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Climate Wars: The End of the Beginning? (Washington Post, Capital Weather Gang)

A word of cautious optimism about a story that seems to have very little.

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Equal-Opportunity Evil (Slate)

A new history reveals that for female slaveholders, the business of human exploitation was just as profitable—and brutal—as it was for men.

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Poet Jane Kenyon’s Advice on Writing (Brain Pickings)

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More at the link. Like most writing advice, it’s good advice for life too.

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Ft. Myer Construction Stories

A Facebook friend shared this page—a construction company whose employees share stories of what they do in their pursuit of the American dream. They are as diverse and infused with everyday strength as you’d expect. This site reminds me of a workshop I took many years ago about helping organizations find their purpose and mission. The trainer once worked with a group of city employees who helped fill potholes. He helped them move from “I fill potholes” to statements like “I help people get home from work safely to their families.” A lovely reminder for all of us of the power of framing and finding that deeper Yes that animates us.

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Why I Hope to Die at 75 (Atlantic)

Written by a doctor, who makes a very compelling argument… which I say with trepidation, given that I have several family members in their 70s and I’d like them to stick around for a few more healthy decades.

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“Closeness Lines” Visualizations of Relationships Over Time (Olivia de Recat)

Sweet and thought-provoking:

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An Illustrated Talk with Maurice Sendak (The New York Times)

An illustrated segment of a four minute snippet of a 2012 interview with Maurice Sendak:

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The Delicate Cages of a Stranger’s Hands, Robert Bly (Improvised Life)

In a jewelry studio at the legendary 92nd Street Y, an instructor stopped in to chat with a colleague. Her hands were adorned with more rings than I’d ever seen anyone wear. When I asked her if I could photograph them, I learned she was Honey Jeanne Laber, who had been teaching jewelry-making at the Y for 30 years. Of her 40 or so rings, only one had not been made by her — of wonderfully incongruous-but-right-at-home emeralds and diamonds that was her grandmother’s. When I asked which was the oldest, she pointed out the first ring she ever made.

But more astonishing than the rings were her hands. They were to me a surprising symbol of how very beautiful we can become as we move deeply through life — the big gift of my day.

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Onward, friends. You are all beautiful!










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