Imperfect is Perfect

February 6th

soup for church

Soup for Lenten Supper at church.

I reached out to an old friend a month or so ago. He was my confirmation minister, but left the ‘burbs to lead another United Methodist Church in Central Phoenix 15 years ago. The church is near my office, which is 20 miles from home, and I’m quite comfortable attending the UMC church in my neighborhood. Nonetheless, Jeff pulled me from my comfort zone and lured me to making the ridiculous drive on a weekend to attend services at his church.
I am so glad he did.
The church is a perfect reflection of why I love Jeff. He is the minister who helped initially sculpt my faith. He made me think, ask tough questions and look within myself to find the voice that guides you to what is right and wrong. He then nudged me along to have a conversation with that voice, gently teaching me about the Holy Spirit and how to develop a relationship with God.
His church is a welcome sanctuary to anyone and everyone who wants such a caring guide. Some people wear jeans, while others have on suits. There are swarms of happy, colorful children. There are loving and sweet couples of all persuasions. Mentally handicapped and homeless folk sit in the front row and shout “Praise God” at the most inopportune times. Everyone keep smiling. There is a feeling at this church that I’ve never experienced before — one of complete and total acceptance. I swear this is where Jesus would go to church if he swung by Phoenix on the Resurrection Tour.

simple soup for a day of meditation

A couple weeks ago I asked Jeff if he had any reading recommendations for Lent, which begins today — Ash Wednesday. He suggested “Traveling Mercies” by Anne Lamott. I read it in two days, aching when I had to put it down to work, sleep, drive, etc. I’d never read anything by Lamott prior and I fell for her style. This memoir about her faith emphasizes the importance of accepting your imperfections because “focusing on that last 5 pounds is just really such a waste of time when you could be enjoying a Coke and Oreos.”
Lamott made me laugh:
“I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools — friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty — and said, ‘Do the best you can with these, they will have to do.’ And mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.”

giant jar o soup

She made me recognize a battle I didn’t realize I was fighting:
“You could be all the traditional feminine things — a mother, a lover, a listener, a nurturer — and you could also be critically astute and radical and have a minority opinion that was profoundly moral. You could escape the fate of your mother, become who you were born to be, and succeed in the world without having to participate in traditionally male terms — without hardness, coldness, one-upmanship, without having to compete and come out the winner.”

so they know what they are eating

In a chapter where I couldn’t stop crying, Lamott talks about losing her best friend to cancer and going to sea to spread her ashes.
“I tossed a handful of Pammy’s into the water way out past the Golden Gate Bridge during the day, with her husband and family, when I had been sober several years… Ashes are deeply contradictory — they are both so heavy and so light. They’re impossible to let go of entirely. They stick to things, to your fingers, your sweater. I liked my friend’s ashes off my hand, to taste them, to taste her, to taste what was left after all that was clean and alive had been consumed, burned away. They tasted metallic, and they blew every which way. We tried to strew them off the side of the boat romantically, with seals barking from the rocks on short, under a true-blue sky, but they would not cooperate. They don’t. They cling, they haunt. They get in your hair, in your eyes, in your clothes.”

In reading, I couldn’t help but take a look at my own expectations of perfection. I have been hearing, “You are too hard on yourself.” “You are anal, aren’t you?” “Wow. Miss Type A. Nice to meet you.” since my mother had me placed in kindergarten at age four, because I could be in first grade by five, so why wait? There is beauty in imperfection. Today, I officially resign as chairwoman of the perfection committee. I’ve got Oreos to eat.


P.S. CAOK III kicks off today. Read more about the Calculated Acts of Kindness Campaign and if you decide to play along, please consider posting your photos here.

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31 Responses

  1. Forget anal – what a thoughtful girl you are my friend! Sounds like a very interesting book – on my list after I finish the library pile I brought home last night. 😉 I’m glad you found a place you feel comfortable. SOOO excited for CAOK III (and that I MIGHT be the first commenter if I hurry up)! 😉

  2. I want to come to your church and eat that soup..and the excerpts you shared from that book were amazing–I’m definitely going to check it out..Have you ever read “Girl Meets God” by Lauren F. Winner? Love it..

  3. How lovely. I will certainly put Traveling Mercies on my list to read.

  4. Anne Lamott is one of my favorite authors. I have a few of her books. What a nice post. You are a great person!

  5. i am so glad you are doing caok again this year. did you know that it was a year ago that i fond your blog? because of caok? and what a blessing it has been. thanks kelli!

  6. Anne Lamott speaks to the everywoman Christian, which I find so refreshing. You might also like “Searching for God Knows What” and “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller.

    I too, choose to eat oreos. It’s hard to give up perfection, but it makes life more light. Happy Lent!

  7. I’ve decided to embrace the presence of my own Patty-Perfect, give her limited (critical) audio time, and then proceed anyway. So far, it’s working. Like the capable 4-y.o. kindegartener that you were, Patty is an integral contributor to who I’ve become – but those perfectionist voices can now take a rest and let the messiness of real life begin!
    I loved Tender Mercies, devoured Operating Instructions (I was a younger mom then myself), and later Bird by Bird was my trusty guide during a Children’s Lit Writing course. I refer to her affectionately as Annie Lamott and join you in singing her works’ praises.
    As a CAOK I created a blog for my brother, who needed some fast and inexpensive online presence for a new restaurant endeavor. I’ll post a screen shot on the flickr site. … As always, Kelli, you’re an inspiration!

  8. I’ll add that to my next amazon order. I already have books piling up on my shelf and more on their way! Yikes–I need to take more time to read.

  9. Very powerful post today. I found it thought provoking. I will be picking up the book you refered to. Sounds like a good book.

    I’m in with your CAOK. Love this.

  10. The church you write of sounds wonderfully nurturing – I loved reading about it.
    The book sounds great as well, I’ll have to put that on my list.
    And the SOUP! I am still fighting a cold and that soup looks like it could cure me! : )

  11. I enjoyed that book so much; I gave a stackful away as Christmas gifts the year I read it.

    I almost forgot that Lent was the official kick-off of the new CAOK season. Yay!

  12. We serve pizza every week on the lawn of the local Methodist church. Not only do they allow this, but they go out of their way to help the homeless in the area. They serve breakfast every day. They hand out aspirin, and other small toiletries. They allow them to use the phone. They give out one piece of clothing each week. They allow them to drop off a change of clothes to be laundered. They also let them use the church’s address for mail. They help them get ID cards. And they do this so quietly, most people aren’t aware of it. It’s incredible, and it’s restored my faith in the church as a whole.

  13. That is one of my favorite books! I love her writing style, too. It’s time to re-read it, because those passages don’t sound familiar to me 🙂 And thank You for the reminder that we need to accept our imperfections because they are part of what makes each of us unique.

  14. I am a huge fan of Anne Lamott. She is a fabulous writer. Last year I read Grace Eventually and enjoyed it too. She has such a wonderful way of wording things that everyone feels but can’t express.

  15. I’m so happy to hear that you have such a wonderful church to attend! I feel the same way about my Methodist home. I am looking forward to our Ash Wednesday service tonight. Oh, and I’m ordering this book right now! Hugs.

  16. Anne Lamott is so awesome! Be sure to read the sequel to that book called “Plan B: Thoughts on Faith.” Great post.

  17. Read her ‘Bird by Bird’ too which is about writing. I think you’ll really get it.

  18. Excellent thoughts you posted today, Kelli. As the old but true saying goes, “You are perfect exactly as you are right now.”

  19. Sooooo…goood!

    I have now read three of Anne Lamott’s books- all wonderfully poignant and moving. I love how she doesn’t wrap things up neatly like many authors discussing spirituality….

    Thank you so much for the invite last week to community dinner part 3- I know that I definitely missed out! Hopefully, we will get to meet sometime in the future- I think my wife and I might be out in AZ this April for a Rise Up Grand Opening in Downtown.

    Know that if you’re ever in need of a vacation or some winter snowboarding- you have a place and community to crash up here in bend, Oregon!

    Much peace to you and your Lenten journey!


  20. Anne Lamott is awesome. The first book of hers that I read was “Operating Instructions” and I fell in love with her. I’ll need to read “Traveling Mercies.”

    I am envious of your church. I went to a church like yours a few times when I visited dear friends in Chicago. It was a United Church of Christ and I always left the service with such a sense of peace and well-being. I was raised Catholic but have so many differences with their doctrine that I can’t attend mass comfortable anymore. I searched a bit for a church that is a good fit and have become so frustrated that I no longer look. And the conservative religious movement in this country has done quite a number on my faith.

    Sorry for the long comment. This post obviously touched a chord in me and I read it through tears. You are a blessed woman to have a pastor like Jeff and a church like his in your life. Also, you are a remarkable young woman – glad Anne could help you relax a bit and enjoy some oreos! (Red wine goes great with oreos!)


  21. That sounds like an interesting book. Glad you found a church that is focused on the right things instead of attire and protocol!

  22. When my son turned one, a friend gave me a copy of Operating Instructions- oh how I laughed and how I cried. I should really read some more of her. Operating Instructions should be required reading for all moms!

  23. my gosh your food just looks so delicious – everything you cook a wonder.

  24. I’ve always embraced imperfection (I’m the Queen of that Realm) and I’ve always been suspicious of the people who seemed to be there just to state the difference between me and them (the always-perfect ones)so I’m glad I’m not the only one!
    Knowing you’re far away from perfection, leave you with a very deep feeling of satisfaction when you finally achieve a goal, and a lesser sense of failure when you don’t.

  25. P.S. I’d like to join the CAOK 2008 campaign, but which photos do I have to post?

  26. I’m so glad to hear you found a church that is a good fit for you. Thanks for your comments on Anne Lamott’s book, too. I keep meaning to read one of them, but it always gets pushed off the top of the list.

  27. Is this Jeff Proctor-Murphy?? I remember him as the youth-leader, and we always had a fun time at retreats, Sunday night dinners, etc., etc.

  28. When your heart is in the right place, everything is perfect anyway. Embrace it all.

  29. Thank you for this awesome post, my friend. Loved the rusty tool analogy. I really needed to read that one today.

  30. The rest of Anne Lamott’s books are wonderful as well, but I had the same type of reactions as you did. Her other book, “Operating Instructions” will make you want a child so you could write a parenting manual too!

    It’s been a very long and emotionally draining week for me and your words and Anne’s words were very comforting. Thanks Kelli! Your soup looks great! Might I have the recipe? 🙂

  31. i LOVE the idea of GIVING for lent rather than giving UP something. as you can tell by my CAPITALIZATION.

    really, reading your blog is like hearing from my good friends so far away. makes me happy… so thank you for the CAOK!