Confession of a Perfectionist

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When I made the decision to take summer classes, it was a pragmatic one. I have to finish my studies within six years since I will need student loans and grants to do so. I expected during my first summer course to deepen my knowledge and understanding of the Gospel of Luke and The Acts of the Apostles. What I didn’t expect was what it would teach me about myself.

Going back to Sacred Heart University has been one hell of wild ride from the beginning. I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around the fact that one day my RA was in full-blown flare and the next, through the power of prayer and God’s grace, it was in remission and has remained so. I still haven’t quite wrapped my head around the fact that I was able to talk my way back into the school at all. But it happened. I excelled where my teenage self once failed so miserably. I earned my way off academic probation and onto the Dean’s List and even managed the somewhat dubious honor of being on both at once. So after being granted academic forgiveness and being freed from near impossible expectations, I should be celebrating and I did, for however brief a time.

I started my online course and that took some getting used to. I argue online all the time but I’m not used to doing it for actual points. But what really got to me was the midterm. The test was true/false and multiple choice, open books but very detailed. I had three days to complete it. I sat down and did it all in one five-hour marathon. I couldn’t stand having it hang over my head. Once complete, I submitted it and my grade was available instantly. 96. A 96?! That’s it?! What I did I miss? How did I miss those two questions? I spent another forty minutes looking up what I got wrong. Then I looked at my overall grade in the course: 94.32 and the feeling that welled up inside was a deep disappointment.

I have an A in a difficult, super-compressed summer course at a university that wasn’t even going to let me back in and all that after a chronic illness that had stripped away so much of my life miraculously went into remission and the feeling I have is disappointment? Yeah, something is seriously wrong with that picture. I recognized it immediately. Well almost immediately. “Immediately” being defined as the moment in which I put down the three books and the lecture notes I had frantically read through to see what I got wrong. Upon realizing that this was not okay, my initial reaction was to crack jokes, always my best defense. So I posted on Twitter:

If you score a 96 on a difficult midterm & are disappointed, you’re:

A) perfectionist

B) honor student

C) taught by nuns

D) all of the above

Ha ha ha – yeah it’s not funny. It’s sad. When I first went back to Sacred Heart, there was a legitimate use for my perfectionist tendencies. Nothing less than perfect was going to cut it. But that’s no longer the case. I’m free to do reasonably well without any external demand for perfection and yet I’m still pushing myself for it. Why?

I’ve been asking myself that for a week. It’s been an emotional week for the nation and for me. But time waits for no one and I took two more quizzes this week. I posted my arguments and should be writing a paper as I type this. My quiz grades were perfect and my overall grade is now 95.43. I had told myself I would be happy with a 95. Now that I have it, I want a 98. Why?

How good is good enough? And why can’t I accept that what I’ve done is good enough? I don’t know. But I know where to start.

My name is Christine Pelfrey and I am a perfectionist.

My Parting Gift

My Parting Gift

Given the events of the past ten days, this is small news but for me it’s huge. I wrote the Prayers of the Faithful for St James Roman Catholic Church for this past month of June. This would be the last time that I do so. It was the last place I still held on to at St James and just as I settled into another parish, my name came up on the rotation. So I did what I’ve done for six of the last eight years. I wrote. For the past month, as I attended my new parish, I read the lectionary readings, I prayed, and I wrote the prayers for St James that I would not hear read aloud. They were my parting gift to a community that gave me so much over the past 28 years and it was one which few will ever know that I gave. The writer’s ministry is virtually unknown. We are not publicly praised or acknowledged for the small piece we contribute to the liturgy nor would any of us want to be. We are meant to be the voices of those in the pews. Knowing it would be the last time, I wrote with all my heart. I wrote for the natural world, for Charleston, for an acknowledgement and end to racism, and called for civility in our discussions of the Supreme Court ruling no matter what our opinions may be. As of Friday afternoon, I made it official. I am no longer an active member of St James. And Sunday when I go to Mass, I will hand the usher a census card and officially join my new parish.

I will miss all of my dear friends. I tried to work things through to stay but I needed the leadership to be willing to talk, and to take a definitive stand. My pleas fell on deaf ears leaving me with no other choice but to leave.

Perhaps I can bring my ministry with me. Perhaps I will find a new one. God has great plans for me and I am not afraid to follow Him into new territory.

On Darkness and Rainbows

Over the course of the past ten days this nation has faced two major events, the horrific shooting at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston and the Supreme Court decision declaring marriage equality as a civil right.

When the news on the shooting first broke, I didn’t know the history of Emanuel AME Church or that it was called Mother Emanuel. It was awful enough to me that someone would sit and pray with folks for an hour then stand up and shoot them because of the color of their skin. I’d like to think I’m not so naive as to think that racism in this country is no longer a prevalent issue but attacking people in church just doesn’t happen in the U.S. in 2015. But it did and the more I read, the more it broke my heart that such evil was done to this community that has faced hatred so many times in the past. The darkness that I feel can only be a pale shadow of what they feel. I wonder how we can still be so backwards as to judge people by the color of their skin. Have we learned nothing? I am frustrated, angry, and sad that such insidious evil lurks in this country and I feel powerless to combat it on my own. I have tried to remind myself that I have raised my children to see people for who they are and not for anything else. This is how we change the world. But it is a slow process and on June 17, 2015 it felt far too slow. I watched President Obama’s eulogy for Rev. Pinckney and cried. If you haven’t watched it in it’s entirety, you should. It is powerful.

Nine days later, the Supreme Court of the United States reached the landmark decision declaring marriage equality to be a civil right. Members of the LGBTQ community and their supporters erupted with joy. Those who see the decision as a threat to the traditional and/or biblical definition of marriage expressed a myriad of emotions ranging from dismay to outrage. One of my usual online debating opponents went so far as to post the picture of the White House lit up with a rainbow and call for the three days of darkness to descend. I understand not everyone supports the idea of same-sex marriage but to call for the Apocalypse seems a bit extreme. I have too many friends and family members who have waited for their relationships to be considered valid to be anything but thrilled by this ruling. The language of the ruling clearly states that First Amendment rights of religions to continue to object to same-sex marriage will be protected and that is also important. I’ve spent far too much time online arguing and celebrating in the last 36 hours. Although for once no one has told me I’m going to hell.  We have so far to go in the realm of civil rights but we have come too far to give up hope. What I saw yesterday on the faces of so many couples was exactly that, hope.

These ten days have been a time of darkness and of rainbows, of despair and of hope. As a nation, may we pay attention and learn well. Grace often finds us in the darkness.

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One Drop At A Time

The first few times someone told me I was worthless, I didn’t believe them. Everything inside me screamed that this was a lie. But after hearing it long enough, it overwhelmed me. In essence, that poison dripped into my understanding of who I was until I nearly drowned in it.

The funny thing about drowning is that it’s silent. Forget what Hollywood shows with all the dramatic splashing and flailing. Once you’re really in trouble, it becomes physically impossible to struggle or to yell for help. The brain overrides the conscious control of your body, conserving precious oxygen for as long as possible. I know what that feels like. I was 9 when I almost drowned. Not knowing how to swim but fearless in the calm waters of Chesapeake Bay, I waded out into water up to my shoulders. A wave came in and as it went out, it took me with it. I had been standing on a sandbar and the wave pulled me off into deeper water. I slipped under immediately and my family didn’t see it happen. I remember so clearly drifting down, arms outstretched, back and way from the shaft of sunlight coming down through the water. I remember thinking how strange it was that the light was cold instead of warm. I drifted lower than the light could reach just before I blacked out. The next thing I remember was being in my father’s arms as he carried back into shore. I choked up saltwater for most of the afternoon.

Drowning emotionally and spiritually happened much more slowly. The lies sunk in a little at time, so slowly in fact that by the time I realized I was in over my head, it was too late to yell for help. I desperately tried just to survive. I couldn’t argue anymore. I couldn’t ask for help. I felt parts of me die and found I was powerless to do anything about it. I still remember it was one line in one book that started to reverse the process: 

“The Bible says, ‘The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those who crushed in spirit.'” 

That was enough to send me looking for my Bible and then for this passage. Rick Warren didn’t exactly tell me where to look.  Took me awhile to find it in Psalm 34. I read more of the Bible that night than I had in years but some of it started to sink in, just a tiny bit.  That was 8 years ago tonight. 

It would seem only logical then that if the bad stuff had to seep in slowly, the good stuff would likely have to do the same.  It has been a long, slow, steady one-drop-at-a-time process. It started with the simple realization that maybe, just maybe God wasn’t going to let me drown. And when I couldn’t reach out to anyone else, I reached out for God, only to find He already had me in His arms.