Confessions of a Pandemic Overachiever

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Do More of What Makes You Happy

By Donna Frischknecht Jackson

I wasn’t sure how the disorganization happened nor how my to do lists multiplied like out of control rabbits, but this was the morning I was going to face the mess on my desk. As I looked at the unbelievable task before me, I felt panicky. The panic wasn’t that the piles of disorganization were symbolic of all the work I was facing. I was panicky because this wasn’t me. I was always the organized one.

Back in my Manhattan magazine days, I was the writer everyone looked at suspiciously because my desk was so neat. Each story deadline was clearly marked on my wall calendar. Each story assignment — notes, word count, a list of sources to call for quotes — all placed in its own manila folder. Sometimes I would go to the supply closet for a colored folder — red, yellow, blue or green — just to give my cubicle a pop of color. The files were placed in order of importance in a file holder. Next to my computer would be a yellow legal pad with the day’s tasks prioritized. The mail was in its own little pile and magazines that I would read along with my afternoon cup of coffee — were methodically stacked on the floor near my desk. Everything was under control. I was able to focus and be productive. I was able to breathe.

But now? What happened to that organized, in control person?

It seems these days I’m always behind the proverbial eight ball. I’m always being reminded of something that had fallen off of the 100th revision of that darn to do list. Deadlines that are circled on a calendar seem to come all too quickly. My heart races, leaving me dazed and confused, wondering where did the time go?

This morning I was going to take my life back by organizing every piece of paper before me. That’s when the answer to my gnawing question of what happened to me came. I picked up a blank notepad that was thrown into one of the many piles. Its cover read, “Do More of What Makes You Happy.”

It was then the stressed-to-the-max floodgates holding back tears broke open. The piles of disorganization weren’t because I was doing too much or that my workload was unrealistic. The piles of disorganization on my desk were telling me that I had forgotten to do more of what made me happy — what fed my soul, what renewed my spirits, what restored my creativity.

This morning’s task: Do more of what makes me happy. Lighting candles on a dreary autumn day and listening to Rev, the cat, purr is a good start to finding joy.

I had forgotten that it was okay to step away from deadlines and go for a hike. I had forgotten that when faced with writer’s block that worst thing you can do was force the words to come. Rather, when faced with the frightening feeling that you have finally run out of words, that’s when you need to do something that makes you happy. Yet instead of unfolding that beautiful material I recently purchased to make another quilt, I had imposed a “no fabric therapy” rule until the story was written. Where did that get me? Stressed out and still missing a deadline.

I realized that these past few months I haven’t done anything — let alone more of — the things that made me happy: cooking over an open fire outdoors, laying the foundation for my 18th century bread oven, tilling the soil to expand my garden, scouting out the future site for my chicken coop and perhaps even a goat pen, even writing more for this blog, Accidental Country Pastor.

I stared at the mess on my desk, admitting that I had become a “pandemic overachiever.” I have been trying to gain a sense of security, of certainty, of control in a world that is out of control by focusing on things that can be measured in terms of progress and productivity. I haven’t allowed time to dream, to play or just be. When was the last time I allowed myself to nap?

Another Zoom meeting invite? Sure, sign me up. After all, I can’t give the excuse that I am not available, right? I am home most of the time. Yet with Zoom meetings come the extra work of having to actually wash my hair and throw on some mascara. Back in the good old days, meetings with colleagues were done over the phone, which was a lot less hassle. Not only could I forego my primping (saving time to perhaps sew some quilt blocks together for that fabric therapy that is worth the cost of all the material I bought), but I also didn’t have the stress that comes with wondering, praying, holding my breath that my rural internet would not act up. Yes, that is a real stressor. There is nothing worse than being in the middle of an important presentation, only to have the screen freeze and the warning appear “Internet Connection Unstable.”

The projects that would have prevented the drought my soul was now in, had been pushed aside as I fell victim to “webinar binging,” seizing the opportunity to attend free seminars and classes companies and organizations were offering. I didn’t want to miss any valuable information on how to navigate this new world the pandemic has created. Instead of filling my head with knowledge, though, I was robbed of valuable hours of my time as many, not all, but many of the webinars didn’t live up to the promotional hype. After my million and one free webinar, it hit me. No one knows how to navigate this world we are in. Period. All we can do is find peace in the chaos and live with the ambiguity. All we can do is “do more of what makes you happy.”

I am a pandemic overachiever. My messy desk is a sign of that. This morning I was going to take back my life by organizing the mess so that I could be more productive and face those looming deadlines head on. The mess, though, is still there. The work to be done is still there. Yes, there are stories to write. Copy to edit. A sermon to prep for Sunday. There’s even a webinar I was scheduled to attend. But not today.

I have things to do that make me happy, that restore my soul, and that reconnect me to my authentic self, not the self I think this pandemic world wants. I have a quilt to work on. I have cream to churn into butter. I have a run on the rail trail to go on. I have a video to shoot for worship at Old Stone Well Farm, which I love doing.

What about you? If you were to do more of what makes you happy, what would it be? I would love to hear from you. Email me at accidentalcountrypastor@gmail.com

Day 4—The Index Card

A Little White Church Advent

Come on an Advent journey and walk the rural roads and snow covered paths with Donna Frischknecht as she shares stories of God’s promises being fulfilled in the most amazing ways. These stories of “Emmanuel”—God with us—were gathered during her time serving as minister in a historic white clapboard church in upstate New York, right on the border of Vermont, from 2007-2013.

December 4

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit. Matthew 25:35-37

On my desk sits an index card with the initial “R” written on it in blue marker. I have thrown this index card into the garbage at least three times so far and, so far, I have reached three times into the waste paper basket to retrieve it. I am struggling with this index card with the initial “R” on it. I don’t want to see it for I don’t like how it makes me feel for it reminds of something that I don’t want reminding of. And yet I can’t seem to free myself of it and just throw it out. How can an innocent white index card with “R” written on it cause such turmoil in my heart?

It was at the youth group breakfast at the little white church, where every Wednesday morning teens would gather before school in what was known as Mackenzie Chapel—a chapel/fellowship hall built in faith during the depression years, reminding the congregation that with God all things are indeed possible—that they were invited to write an initial of someone they knew who needed a friend to stand up for them, a confidant to confide in, a brother or sister in Christ to rely on, a fellow human to let them know they are loved and not journey alone in this world.

They were invited to write the initial of someone in which they can show the love of Christ to this Christmas.

As the teens scribbled the initials of those they had in mind, I sat there staring off into space not wanting to write out the initial I had in my heart for I didn’t want it to materialize onto the index card for me to see. The war waged inside of me. I fought back the tears that began to sneak up behind my eyes, forcing them away with every stinging blink I took. “I am not going to cry,” I kept saying. No, I am not going to cry. Hesitantly my hand began to write “R.”

The youth leaders finished up their lesson, closing prayers were said and the kids were invited to hang on to their cards as a reminder of the task they have before them as they went about their day: be Christ to the one in need, be a friend to the one who is friendless, be a light of hope to the one walking in darkness.

I threw “R” into my bag and went on with my day. When I got home and emptied out the contents within, out came “R.” And that is when the waste paper basket game of throwing out and retrieving began.  Unknown

I have decided to stop the game. I have decided to keep the index card. I have decided to let it remind me of what I really rather not remember. That is, there is someone in my life who needs my love. There is someone in my life who walks in darkness and needs the light of Christ. There is someone very close to me who needs to know he is worthy; he is special; he is cared about greatly. There is someone who needs more of my time that I have claimed I do not have.

There is someone I can be Christ to this Christmas. “R” is my older brother with special needs. “R” is my brother who has given me the greatest gift ever without even knowing he gave it. He gave me eyes to see the least in this world. Now I just need to find the strength and guidance to give the gift of my time to him.

What initial do you need to write down on an index card this Christmas?