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

The Hallowed Halls of ‘Back Then’

It’s a humid and gloomy afternoon. The kind of afternoon in which you just want to sleep away, but I don’t dare pull the covers over my head. I have a sermon to write, to which I’m failing miserably at.

It seems my mind has a mind of its own. It doesn’t want to help me out in coming up with any eloquent prose on the significance of Jesus casting out many demons plaguing a man.I keep wondering why Jesus just didn’t vanquish the demons? Instead, he relocated them to live in a bunch of unsuspecting pigs who were, up to that point, enjoying life—as much as a pig can enjoy life before becoming a slab of bacon.

Can I really write a sermon sympathizing with the pigs? Probably not. I do love bacon. So I say to my mind, “Take me where you want to go.” It does so happily, taking me away from the here and now and into the hallowed halls of “back then,” where memories have the power to either sadden or gladden. I anticipate both happening. For the back then I go to is a country wedding taking place in a little white church five years ago this week.

I can see the sun shining brightly behind the soaring white steeple. Its rays have chased away all of the drizzle-filled clouds that had me, the bride-to-be, biting my manicured nails.

I can see the sanctuary graced with flowers from the gardens of all the dear women who insisted that flowers were needed in each of the windowsills of the old church. Right before the organ begins the first notes to the bridal procession, I smile with approval at one of the white-haired ladies smiling back at me.

This was one occasion I was glad she didn’t listen to me when I said we didn’t need flowers in the sanctuary. We did need them. I needed them. For they weren’t flowers bought from a florist, arranged in a stiff, artificial way. They were flowers collected with love from local fields and hills and gardens, gathered in bunches and placed in vases that have been hanging around the church for countless years. I bet those vases were happy to be out of the cupboards and once again part of a memory-making day.

I can see the many flower girls. They are a picture of perfection with their floral wreaths in their hair and their cream colored dresses tied with champagne-colored sashes. Perfection is fleeting though. Soon shoes come off, sashes untie and floral wreaths wilt as the girls play outside on the church lawn. In these hallowed halls of “back then” I spot a picture and stop and stare. Some of the girls are sitting on the wooden rail, with dirty bare feet telling of one fun afternoon. There’s that gladness mixed with sadness, as time has turned these girls into young ladies. That means, I too, have grown older.

I can see the tables in fellowship hall filled with homemade treats that would put to shame feasts typical at an Amish barn raising. I can see my mom and dad beaming with joy. I can see my husband’s parents smiling, with a tear or two. I can see the family of faith gathered who that day became more of a family than I had ever realized. I can see my sister and my new teenage daughter standing together as bridesmaids, bonding over all the stress I put them through in finding the right shade of antique pink for their dresses. And I can see the man God had waiting for me through all those years of heartache and loneliness. There he is standing at the front of the church, my friend, my partner, my love, waiting to begin life together.

I can see it all. And if I allow myself to enter more deeply into the hallowed halls of “back then,” I don’t only see. I can smell those flowers collected with lots of love. I can hear the flower girls laughing on the lawn of the church. I can feel my father’s hand as I grabbed it tightly to walk down the aisle with him. I can taste the rich vanilla in the wedding cake baked by a friend from a neighboring church. I can feel the hugs of all those who have journeyed with me. I can hear God whispering a promise I had often been deaf to.

I am with you…always.

I drift back to the gloomy here and now. I am gladdened and saddened. Where have the five years gone? I wonder about decisions made. Things I could have done differently and should have done differently. Words that should have been said and should have never been said. Dreams still being dreamed and hopes still being hoped. Home still waiting to wrap its arms around me and my husband.

My mind is not quite ready to focus on Jesus, demons or pigs, so I linger a bit more in the hallowed halls of back then, realizing I do so not to live in the past. I do so in order to gain strength for the future, to remember God who has done so much for me is not yet done with me. It’s to help me hear God’s whispered promise of being with me that I need to hear especially on these gloomy here and now kind of days.

flowergirls

A picture from the hallowed halls of “back then”…a country wedding in a little white church, where flower girls played all afternoon on the church lawn.