Monday, December 31, 2012

A gray day

It's a gray day, and it's like the fog has seeped into my soul.  New Year's Eve seems appropriately melancholy, but much is weighing on me today.  I'm mourning for another minister who has lost her 11-year-old daughter to a lengthy and difficult battle with cancer.  While I ponder what 2013 will bring, I can only imagine that family's struggle just to make it through this day.

It has been a year full of bearing witness to the struggle and grief of others.  While it is a sacred and holy privilege as a minister to be with people on their journeys, both through pain and through joy, it seems like a hard burden to bear sometimes.  There are students who stay on my mind as I worry about them and their battles with depression.  There are faculty who have lost a colleague this year, and staff who have buried family members.  It always seems a little lonelier at the holidays when you consider that someone you know is looking at an empty place at the table.

I'm longing for sanctuary, for a place of rest and renewal.  I'm searching for that light of hope that shines through the darkness.  I'm hanging on for myself, and desperately trying to hold on to others who are limping along in their journey.

I'm struggling with my children who are fighting for their independence while John and I fight to teach them appropriate manners and boundaries and keep them safe.  There has been way too much yelling today, and I alternate between wanting to hold onto to them fiercely and wanting to shake them because they just can't understand (thank God) how tenuous it all is.  While my son screams that we don't love him as we don't give him everything he wants, I want to tell him (but not really) about how lucky he is just to be alive.  I want him to be grateful for the many gifts with which he's been blessed, but how can I impart that without scaring him, without pulling back the cover and showing the ugly realities of a world that's often filled with pain?

I don't know where I'd be without the hope of Christ, without the reminder that God's mercies are new every day (great is his faithfulness).  I am strengthened by the reminders of God's love in all the loving people who surround me, even in the tear-stained face of a little boy that can't wait to grow up and be an adult, so that he can finally get everything he wants and do whatever he wants (and I mutter, "Good luck with that" under my breath).  Oh buddy, may God bring you many good dreams to fill your long and full (please God) life, and may these be even richer than the things you want now. May you know you are held always in love, even in the times of frustration, disappointment, and punishment. May I find sanctuary from the anger that sometimes overwhelms and offer a safe place for my children and all of God's children...may I reflect God's peace, even in my own fumbling confusion and doubt.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The things we surrender

I'm a big fan of de-cluttering.  People who enter our house are often surprised by how sparse it is.  There are no knick-knacks, few items on display, and just a few photographs hang alongside my husband's artwork.  Toys are mostly neatly hidden away in bins or closets, and we regularly purge stuff so that it doesn't overwhelm our small house.  One of my favorite times is the lead up to Christmas when I ask the kids to select which toys they are ready to get rid of to prepare for the new ones they will receive.  Sometimes we share them with other children we know or donate them to Goodwill or to charities.  Sometimes we sell them and use the money towards their new gifts.  We also practice giving to others by filling shoeboxes for children in need, understanding that we have much to be grateful for and much to share with others.

But there are times when the giving is more difficult.  Sometimes fear leads me to hang on to what I have, afraid that I won't have enough.  I know this isn't the truth, but just a lie of scarcity that lingers from an insecure financial past and a consumeristic culture.  There have been rare times when my personal (emotional) attachment to objects have almost prevented me from sharing with others.  The pictures above show two examples.  Two years ago, I was excited to purchase for Maryn an interactive stuffed animal, Abigail, from Hallmark that responds when you read her story.  I had bought another character for Brady as he was just learning to read and I figured it would be a good incentive for him.  I was even more excited for Maryn's reaction, though, as she loves all things pink and girly, and I thought this talking ballerina bunny with fit perfectly.  I was wrong.  She showed little interest in Abigail,  and handed her back to me a couple days later, telling me I could return her.  Nothing I said could persuade her, and I was crushed with surprise that I didn't know my girl as well as I had thought.  I could finally relate to the intense investment my mother had in each Christmas, carefully gauging my reactions and looking for the excitement she had felt at picking out the "perfect" gift.

The second gift, the gray koala, was donated this year to Toys for Tots.  It was actually a present from Brady to Maryn for her birthday.  He was so excited to select a present for her on his own for the first time and wanted to go to Build-a-Bear.  He carefully picked out each part with love, actually considering what she might like.  I was impressed by his maturity as I knew that he wanted one of his own, but he stayed on task and said that maybe he could make one for himself another time.  I was floored when he insisted on paying for it with his own money, which he had received and saved from his birthday the previous month.  He could hardly wait to give it to her and his excitement was infectious.  I don't even think he waited until her birthday, but had to show it to her right away.  And she was underwhelmed.  Again.  My heart broke for Brady, but he took it in stride.  I thought he would be happy as she told him he could have it and it lived on his bed temporarily.  But I guess he learned the gift of giving and realized that it was not truly his.  He was quick to surrender it in the pre-Christmas purge this year, and it gave my heart a twinge to put it in the donation bin.

There is a price that comes with giving sometimes, more than the value of the item.  Sometimes we give a bit of our heart as we surrender a dream.  Sometimes it's the realization that the kids are growing up and outgrowing the marks of childhood (the strollers and cute onesies), and sometimes it's understanding that we can't control who they are and what they like (for good and for bad).  Often, it's all the hopes that went into each gift, wishing that it will show our love and bestow happiness on those close to us, and seeing that that, too, is unpredictable.  And there's the thought that while we are casting off our "rejects" from our (over)abundance, they will be given to those who have so little.  It seems so unfair.  But time keeps turning and we hope that our gifts will touch hearts, not just with the material value, but with the love with which the gift is offered.

May I surrender in love, and through that gift, may others find hope.  May we all keep dreaming new dreams...

Monday, December 17, 2012

A light shines in the darkness

I've been a little removed since news of the Newtown, CT tragedy spread.  I've been avoiding reports as much as I can because I cannot handle the intensity of the tragedy.  I've been trying to numb myself before the actual shock settles in.  I am the parent of a 1st grader, and so I'm afraid to allow my thoughts to go where they inevitably will.  I know it's horrible for me to say, especially as a minister.  I feel so much for those hurting much that it feels like it would be a terribly selfish thing to wallow in the misery that is not mine to bear in reality, but just to carry in prayer. 

Ironically (or not), the watchword for this week in Advent is "joy", and we light the special pink candle to remember the joy that Christ brings.  In the present we feel so far away from that.  But perhaps it's the perfect light to hold onto.  We cannot fully live joyfully now as we grieve and worry.  We cannot carry the light when we feel engulfed by the darkness.  So much of life is out of our control.  And yet, the candle still burns as a reminder that there is still joy, and one day it will be fully realized.  We look at the light (though it is far off in the distance) and remember that a "light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it."  

Advent reminds us to wait for hope, peace, joy, and love.  Although they are not realities now, they are promised in the Kingdom of God.  As we wait, we watch and pray, we mourn, we dream, and we work to share the vision of this kingdom with others. 

As hard as it's been, I recognize the importance of holding on to hope instead of letting the darkness win.  There's something defiant and strong about hanging on to the light and remembering that love wins, even in the midst of evil and doubt.  It's a struggle, though, to be present (and not hide), and yet not be consumed.  In reading Kimberlee Conway Ireton's blog today I found an image I could hold onto.  She talks about Mary, and particularly her prominence and importance in the Catholic faith.  She is not simply the poor mother of Jesus, but literally the God-bearer (theotokos).  By saying "yes" to the angel's message, Mary invited Jesus into her body so that the work of redemption and restoration might begin in her.  Mary's journey was not one of ease or apparent joy.  She had to bear the pains of childbirth that continued throughout her son's life, from the beginning of his ministry as he cut family ties until she finally bore witness to his humiliation and suffering unto death on the cross.  And yet she bore that pain, through grief and tears, never surrendering her hope that the Word spoken to her would be the light to heal the world.

And so we wait, carrying what we have of God within us, straining for our lights to be seen in the darkness, trusting through our pain that the Messiah will be born again.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A day in the (ministry) life

I enjoyed reading the Baptist Women in Ministry's blog series recently, "A Day in the Life" of different women in ministry.  Vocational ministry provides many blessings, most often found in its variety.  I love using gifts of creativity, organization, and empathy.  Although I'm a planner, I've learned that you never know what you will get in a day, as ministry is about responding to those in your care and to God.  With this in mind, I was inspired to document my own day yesterday.

I woke up grouchy, in contrast to my perky boys (big and little) and my silly girl.  Staying cocooned under the covers until it was time to send my little guy off to the bus helped me to ease into the day a bit.  Driving my girl to school and seeing her funny faces in the mirror along with her giggle was a great mood adjuster.  I tried to sneak into my office in order to have prayer time before jumping into the chaos of the day, but made the mistake of turning on my computer first.  Attempting to ignore the dings of reminders, incoming email, and Facebook messages from students, my phone rang, the intercom buzzed, and the computer continued to demand my attention.  I was asked to say the blessing for a holiday meal (much better than the day-of notice I received last year), our media services person dropped by to answer my questions about an event set-up for the weekend, and the chapel housekeeper knocked on my door with a question about his tasks.  As I sat down again, my husband called, and we agreed to meet shortly to refuel our cars (yay, 60-cent per gallon Kroger gas savings times two!).  Seeing my sweetie was a nice pick-me-up, and we agreed to squeeze in a quick lunch.  There are perks to my erratic yet self-dictated and somewhat flexible schedule. 

Then it was back to running errands (picking up candles and lighters for a service, and searching, to no avail, for suitable corsages for the leaders of the service).  Upon returning, I briefly spoke with a student who had had a disappointment about internship plans, checked in with a student I’m mentoring, and then I spent an inordinate amount of time on my credit card statement paperwork, which was an impressive half-inch thick due to Thanksgiving and Advent/Christmas purchases for my department and the three clubs I advise.  I missed an appointment due to the paperwork, but it was necessary so that I could get it signed and submitted after my afternoon staff meeting.  I corresponded via email about a potential Lottie Moon memorial event (she was a Hollins alumna), a May wedding I’ve been asked to officiate, and received and updated a handbook and policy statement on what to do in case of a student, faculty/staff, or donor death (please, God, of the first situations I dealt with in my early days of my chaplaincy here was an unexpected faculty death).  I eagerly received a shipment of books that I could only give a brief and longing glance to, then stacked them away to read over Christmas break in preparation for January and spring term planning.  Trying to unclutter my chaotic mind, I blogged, and reminded myself to breathe to abate the spontaneous bursts of panic that kept arising over my impending Advent service on Sunday, my biggest event of the year.  Following this, I read and returned emails from the participants in the service (many saying they can’t attend Saturday’s rehearsal…cue more deep breaths).

On to the weekly staff meeting…spent time talking about all the great (and many) projects everyone is working on.  Got “rewarded” with two new ones.  Returned to the office to find a student waiting for me to talk about an emergency loan request, and then another with whom I was following up with pastoral care from a conversation the previous week.  Kept ignoring calendar reminders to work on Sunday’s homily.  Planned to leave work early as I had to return for a 6:30pm meeting, but looked at the clock to realize it was already 4pm with a full email inbox and a stack of work on my desk.

Discovered through final emails that I am committed to an event for 2014 (more like was committed to an event over my protests).  I attempted to turn it down when it was first suggested, and when I replied that I knew little about the subject, instead of dropping it, they just gave me an extra year to become an expert.  Fabulous.  What can you tell me about Lottie Moon?

I rushed home for dinner with my family, only to have to turn around and return to work for a meeting an hour later.  I'm blessed with a husband that is supportive and carries more than his weight at home, cooking, maintaining the house, and getting the kids to bed, among many other tasks.  I'm grateful to be able to give my time to my family as well, leaving work for lunch at the kids' schools and to attend their performances.  I love when John brings them to visit me at work and to be in a setting that encourages family involvement.  I'm also awed with a calling that is so perfect that I enjoy coming back at all hours and connecting with the students and staff that are so close to my heart.

Ministry:  it’s never what I’ll think it will be.  To-do lists are useless, and measuring impact by turnout is unreliable.  My seminary textbooks sit mostly unused on the shelves as I mentally annotate my list of "things they didn't teach me in seminary."  Some things, though, are only learned through experience and relationship.  Although there is more paperwork, more meetings, and less planning time than I hoped for, the unexpected connections and conversations are sacred and holy ground that make up for the time-consuming negatives.  After 14 years in the trenches, there's nowhere else I'd rather be (except maybe, some days, on a week-long retreat by a body of water with lots and lots of time for reading, walks, and naps).  But knowing me, I'd instead be dreaming up new ideas to share and try when I returned to work.

I'm already anticipating what I'll be surprised with tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Blah humbug

It was one of those grouchy mornings.  I have a hard time getting up on a normal day, but when it's especially dark and I've spent the previous night working instead of relaxing, it's nearly impossible to find the motivation to get up.   When I do emerge from my warm cocoon, I'd prefer silence until, oh, say 11:00.  But instead, I have a loquacious morning boy who chatters nonstop while having to be reminded over and over again to focus on getting ready for school.  I tried really really hard to snap out of it, but was just having a hard time finding the sunny side.  Some days are just like that, kind of like

In my head, I can rationalize how it could be so much worse.  I have my health, my family, and a job I love (although it wears me to the bone).  It's the most wonderful time of the year (as I keep getting reminded by the Christmas carols and ads constantly pounding in my ears).  And I do love it all.  And yet, there are just days where it all seems like too much.

In all caring professions, "compassion fatigue" is a term is often tossed around.  It's easy to get worn down as you care for others, especially if you don't make the time for self-care.  In our world, though, everyone is now subject to "emotional labor", the work of responding to many different emotionally difficult situations at once.  We are exposed to this as we watch the news (or our Facebook feeds) and see all the disasters and also confront loss and difficulty in our own lives.  MaryAnn McKibben Dana elaborates on it here.  In our busy and disjointed culture, when we're expected to bounce from one thing to the next, we often neglect the time and space to process and be gentle with caring for ourselves, leading to days where the funk settles in.  When we refuse to care for ourselves, sometimes our minds, bodies, and spirits remind us

But in taking a few seconds (literally) to reflect today, I think these times are necessary.  How can we embrace the light if we haven't walked through the darkness?  As I recently heard James Forbes preach (on DVD), although we put our focus on Easter, you can't have resurrection until you've experienced the death.  In the same way, I think you can only find the light and hope of Christmas after you've wandered a while in the darkness and despair.  The birth of Christ is good news because it reminds us that hope is born anew in us each time we return to wait in faith.  It is not an easy journey by any means, but the great thing about light is its power to overcome the darkness.

May you find your faith strengthened as you wait, and may your journey through Advent bring you closer always to the light of Christ.  May your spirit be reborn as you celebrate the birth of the Messiah.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Parenting: the dream and the reality


There are days when my children seem to feed on my despair.  Like the warning that animals can sense your fear and prey on it, they sneak up behind me unawares and push all the right buttons until I snap.  You would think they'd see it coming; what other response could they have expected?  And yet, they rant and wail and scream with me, and no one is chastened.

Every day, I wake up determined to do it better, to BE better, until the sound of feet pattering into the room at 6:30am on a Saturday precedes the jump on the bed and the elbow to the stomach and the unrelenting demands food, TV, or attention and I groan yet again, hopeless that I will find adequate rest again before they leave for college.

And I know I should be grateful.  And I know they are incredible blessings.  And I realize that many are wishing for such mundane "problems" as a child who simply needs them.  They are truly beautiful, brilliant, endearing, kind ones that without a doubt have my very heart.  They are my very life, in all its complicated chaos, in all the mystery and struggle and messy perfection.  I would give my very life for them in a second...and yet it's the daily and prolonged loss of my own life, who I was, who I wish to be, who I fail to be, that is at the very heart of my frequent despair.

John and I have been on a bit of a "Les Miserables" kick, anticipating the new movie's release on Christmas. So to keep ourselves sane during these trying times of difficult child phases, we sing the song "I dreamed a dream" with the line, "I had a dream my life would be, so different from this hell I'm living."  And we sing it in jest, knowing that the momentary struggles (although they seem insurmountable in the moment), are just that...temporary, passing.

Our life together, even in these times, is such a gift.  Although I joke with John when he's pressing my buttons, "This is not the way I imagined married life would be," the true side of that is that it is so much better than I could have imagined.  Even when he sends me this truth:

Real life is not a gorgeous Pinterest board or a parenting magazine with all the easy answers.  It's a stumbling day by day journey of many mistakes with just enough light and success thrown in to keep you moving forward.  It is not a competition, as we often make it out to be, and the only thing we stand to "win" is the realization that we are enough, and that with God's help we will make it through.

I'm grateful for many who journey with me on the road, those friends and supporters who are real and vulnerable enough to admit that they don't have all the answers either, but are willing to seek them out with me, one long day at a time.

Inspiration for this week:

Katie Orr's Why I need the neediness of my kids at Inspired to Action

Monday, November 19, 2012

Obligatory thanks

"Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your blessings, see what God has done..."

"Give thanks, with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One, give thanks, because he's given Jesus Christ, his son..."

It's that time of year.  A brief pause in our relentless quest for "more" to stop and acknowledge the many blessings we have.  I know the importance of gratitude and have experienced the change in my perspective that has come through starting my day with writing a gratitude list.  I've cried through Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts and have joined the 30 Days of Thanksgiving bandwagon on Facebook.  I know that I have so very much to be thankful for, and have held onto that in the midst of some (minor) trying times.  But I have to wonder, does it make a difference in the long run?

I think about my children, who are so blissfully unaware of how blessed they are.  They are loved and safe and healthy, as all children should be, and yet, I know this is not the reality for many.  Perhaps they are too sheltered.  As we collect donations for food banks, write letters to our sponsored child through Compassion, and shop for our annual Christmas shoe box project, I have moments when I see that they are not really "getting" it, regardless of how intentional we are trying to be.  There was the major meltdown over the purple hairbrush in the shoebox that Maryn just HAD to have even though she has multiple hair brushes.  When we pass by the homeless on our way to church, it's an opportunity to speak about the gifts we have and how we are to share them with others.  The first time I had this conversation with Brady, he actually laughed and said, "No! Everyone has a home!" and nothing I said could convince him otherwise.  I wish he were right.  Part of me wishes he could continue to live in his utopia where everyone has enough, and yet I know that nothing would change if we lived in ignorance.

Then there are the times that I groan in frustration with their lack of gratitude for what they receive.  I suppose it's part of the egocentricity of childhood, but everything is about them and their demands, and it is impossible to think outside of it.  Wants become confused with needs, and "love" means "give me what I want, because I NEED it NOW."  Snacks are demanded and snatched up with greedy hands and no thanks (although manners are always emphasized).  Weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth ensues when one does not get one's way.  Today, I spent my rare free time between school drop off and pick up buying snacks for Brady's class party tomorrow (which I will help with instead of indulging in more "free time"), running errands, cleaning the house, and then preparing a special picnic of snacks for him after school.  After that, we ran on the playground, played board games, watched a movie together, and had a dinner of hot dogs and mac and cheese.  How did this end?  With screaming and tears that I NEVER do ANYTHING for him (i.e. I wouldn't let him play on my phone).  When I asked about the special picnic, he only spat out criticism about how it could have been better.

I wonder if it will always be so.  Will I one day get a phone call gushing with gratitude for all I sacrificed and offered for their benefit?  I like to daydream about this, and yet, I know it's only a dream.  I never realized the depth of my own mother's love and devotion to me until I became a parent, and even though I greatly cherish it, I don't take the time to tell her often enough.

I guess that's the gift of parenthood.  You pour in all you have, not because you expect anything in return, but because you are so blessed with love for them that it's just impossible not to share.  Unconditional love is not a child's gift to us, but a parent's gift for their child.  This love sees through the temporary pains and struggles and holds onto hope for a beautiful journey ahead for our children, where our happiness is found in their independence.

But if I have one (selfish) wish, it's as Tina Fey wrote in "A Mother's Prayer for Her Daughter" in her hilarious book Bossypants:

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back. “My mother did this for me once,”she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.

May it be so.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A picture that means more than all my words

Sometimes I see more clearly through a picture than in the reality that stands before me.  I took this photo to document a morning that had gone all wrong.  I was running late (yet again), and Maryn kept interrupting my mad dash to get ready, demanding that I put her hair in two ponytails.  I tried to get her to drop it to no avail; unfortunately, I had put her off the previous morning with the promise that I would do ponytails the following day.  I had already discovered after she got dressed that she had grown overnight and her shirt was about two inches too short whenever she dared to move, showing her (adorable, yet not usually up for public view) belly.  Her pants were not the sparkly princess ones she wanted (to her dismay and my relief), but they were also apt to show much of her rear end if she decided to do anything crazy like, say, walk or (heaven forbid) bend over.  But we were LATE and they would just have to do.  But the ponytail thing...sigh.  I am not a hairdresser.  And her hair is unruly like mine.  And she had picked out mismatching elastic bands.  Did I mention I was running late?

But there is no one more persistent than this saucy 4-year-old, so I paused to do her hair, and then quickly gave up as it just looked ridiculous.  I took it back down.  She continued to demand and beg and whine, and against my better judgment, I did the two ponytails to the best of my ability (and now you'll understand why my hair looks exactly the same every day).  I started to try to talk her out of it, but I saw the joy in her eyes and her smile and I stopped myself.  I took a picture, intending to send it to John for a laugh, but when I looked at it, I didn't see the raggedy picture I imagined, but a beautiful and happy girl with so much sparkle.  She was completely content with how she looked and who she was.  She wasn't concerned about how others would view her, but was excited to look just the way she had planned (well, minus the princess pants).  She was full of pride, and instantly I was, too.

The biggest life lessons for me have come in my two small, yet wise ones that have turned my expectations upside down.  Previously, one of the greatest frustrations in my journey has been being confronted with just how little I have control over.  And yet, each day, these beautiful children teach me the gift of surrender, of letting go.  There is so much to be gained by not getting my way, and by opening myself to learning to live in their rhythm.  The more I follow them, the closer I get to that "childlike faith" that draws me further in to the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What counts more than the votes

I was determined not to watch the election coverage, afraid that my nerves couldn't take it.  But here I sit, even though it's too early to call and it seems pointless, a lot of talk and speculation about what we don't yet know.  I've tried all day not to worry, and yet it creeps up from time to time, and I force back panic about what might be.  I know, or I believe, that overall, regardless of what happens, we will be fine.  My faith is not in a president or in our government, but in God.  I trust that God can work through either candidate, and yet...the polarity, the division, the mud-slinging of our country worries me.  It's nothing new, and yet, it seems more damaging, as the arguments and dissention have blocked our government from moving forward over the past four years.  I don't think a different person will solve that problem.  I think it demands a change of heart, of attitude, a spirit of cooperation from WE THE PEOPLE of the United States of America.  My fear and hopelessness rests in my doubt that this will change. 

But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,

   his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23)

But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope:

Maryn has been drawing and handing me multiple rainbow hearts today, and in her love I find faith.

But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope:

The excitement and involvement of my students who voted, some for the first time, brings me joy and peace.

But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope:

The turnout of so many in support of the right, responsibility, and privilege of voting, and the good spirits and camaraderie of those who waited in long lines with patience and unity, even in their differing political leanings.

But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope:

I believe that the Church can be the answer in our hurting, broken world.

But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Take back the night

In honor of last night's marking of "Take Back the Night" and the brave survivors of sexual assault, rape, violence, and abuse that spoke, grieved, and continue to seek healing, a prayer:

God of love,
Shatter our silence with words of truth, with works of justice, with songs of hope,
Bring your light into the darkness, into the unspoken, the hidden, the cowering fear,
In our anger, bring change,
In our sadness, bring peace,
In our words, may others find community.
Break our hearts for what breaks yours, and into our broken places, bring your healing.
Remind us that our cracks are what lets the light in, so let our scars be a way of connecting with you and sharing your love with those who are grieving.
Let us not live in fear, but courage and hope and strength.
Help us to stand, one day at a time, and each day stand a little straighter and stronger.
Surround us with your loving presence so that we are never alone.
When we question your absence and your uninvolvement, let us feel your tears and know your suffering for us and with us.
May our sorrows be the beginning of healing for ourselves, our sisters, and our world.
In your compassionate name we pray,

photos from Hollins University's CASA (sexual assault survivor assistance) clothesline project, 
October 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Like throwing spaghetti at the wall

I'm the type of person, who, when confronted with a problem, heads to the nearest library to get a stack of books with the answers.  Parenthood has been the greatest tester of my skills, and so I've read approximately 1013 books on getting your kids to sleep through the night, and more recently, at least a 205 on "the strong willed child(ren)".  You would think I would have figured it all out by now.  Sigh.

It seems that life itself is an exercise in trial and error.  I'm sure that's pretty self-evident to most, but I like it nice and tidy, with a nice set of rules and a "if you do _____, then ____ will happen" set of expectations and outcomes.  Instead of my sets of organized plans, it's more a task of throwing spaghetti at the walls and seeing what sticks.

As a parent, my days are full of so many instructions and reminders ("Chew with your mouth closed!  Say you're sorry.  No sitting on the table.  Take your shoes off.  That's inappropriate.  Do your homework.  Go to SLEEP!!) that I'm sure I start to sound like the wah wah teacher on Charlie Brown.  I never know when they're really listening until they surprise me.  Recently, on a short stop in Williamsburg (short because we needed a diversion for the grumpy travelers in the backseat), we were browsing in a toy store.  Brady picked up something and asked what it was.  It was a colonial firearm of some sort and I told him it was a gun.  He put it down gently and said, "I know we can't have that" without me even having to explain, for once.

In the car on the way to church the other day, the kids were adding to the ever growing Christmas list (in spite of our efforts to derail our consumerism).  Brady was arguing for a Kindle Fire and spouted off lots of reasons why he wanted one ending with the convincing, "You can also read books on them."  Maryn was quick to chime in, "Yeah, it will help me learn to read."  Just as if they had rehearsed their strategy.  Brady even explained to Maryn how they would have to give up their current game system (a Christmas gift of years past) as he knows we have to give something away to get something new.

Ministry has its own parallels.  I wish that I could find a system, a method, a strategy that would draw seekers and meet their needs.  But ministry is relational, and relationships are messy and unpredictable.  And yet, God works through the mess, continually providing new connections and new inspiration.  Not everything "sticks", but sometimes the important things do.

I'm thankful for the uncertain, never ending, yet hopeful process of work.  As I heard the great preacher Fred Craddock once pray,

"God, we are grateful for work that is more important than how we feel about it on any given day.  Amen"

Thursday, October 11, 2012

An acceptable sinner

In support of my friends on National Coming Out Day...may you feel God's love and acceptance on the journey, and find many allies along the way.  Count me as one.

I thank God that I'm an "acceptable" sinner.  My life is pretty easy.  I can sit in the pew and not risk condemnation.  I can preach, and be relatively sure that people aren't judging my lifestyle (or even investigating it too closely).  I'm considered a good person and not many people question that.

I thank God that losing your temper isn't preached on that often.  I yell way more than I intend to.  I may be calm and patient to those with whom I work and serve, but unfortunately my family bears the brunt of my impatience and frustration.

I thank God that judging others isn't looked down upon.  In fact, we Christians do pretty well at that and remain pretty smug in how we help God decide who is right and who is wrong (and I mean this on both sides of the political and social spectrum).

I thank God that struggling for perfection is highly lauded in our society and culture, even though I get the nagging sense that God would frown in disapproval over the time I spend worrying how my actions will be perceived by others instead of wondering What Would Jesus Do.

I thank God that I was born a heterosexual.  It's so much easier this way.  I don't have to struggle with my identity or worry how I will be received in society.  I don't have to fear losing my job or be denied benefits just for whom I choose to love.  I don't have to argue for my choices with people who don't even know me or my background.  I don't have to worry, as a Christian, whether I will deny my heart and live a celibate life, or deny God's word and "live in sin."  I don't have to worry about being a poster child for an issue that is deeply political and religious and personal.

Thank God I can be me, with my only worries and stresses being those I bring on myself.

Dear God, help those who have real and daily struggles, with identity, with inclusion, with faith, and with finding their place in such a polarized and hateful world.  May God's love shine upon them.  May that light shine through me.

(and Dear God, help this to be received with all the love I intend, even as it is a little tongue in cheek.  Help me to be brave to stand up for those I love and support even when I know not all will agree. )

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Freya love

Walking shadows, lit by the light within
and candles.
Crunching leaves in a march that surrounds the campus with hope.
You are held in the light of community,
you are surrounded by love.
We are more in our connection than in our individuality.
We are never alone.


Freya Walks
Freya Walks take place on nights of special events or issues. Members of this secret society walk at night to call attention to or celebrate current events. They wear black-hooded robes to protect their anonymity and carry candles to symbolize hope. Since 1903 Freya has sought to emphasize the notion that "concern for the community is a creative and active force."

Tonight, Freya walks in memory of Klaus Phillips, Professor of Film and German language and Brandon Brown.
Freya walks in a spirit of tolerance and community for the entire Hollins sisterhood, past and present.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Moments of parenthood beauty

His small hand grasps mine and we walk down the road.  He picks the direction, and as we walk, he talks.  He opens up about his day, which is rare, and instead of "I don't remember" or a sigh and "Why do you always ask me so many questions?" it's "Hey, Mom, guess what?" and I hear the real reasons he got in trouble at school for the first time all year.  We stop to look at lichens on the tree branch, and he asks about the plants we see (and I'm tempted to make up names like his daddy does when I don't know).  He is glad to be walking with me, and there's no place I'd rather be.

I visit him at school for lunch, and even though he knows I'm coming, when he sees me at the bottom of the steps, his face lights up like Christmas.  And in between the boys posturing their coolness, my little boy runs and jumps straight into my arms, covering my face with kisses.  I feel like a celebrity as he drags me around, introducing me to everyone in the cafeteria, "This is my Mommy!"  And though the cafeteria smell takes me back twenty years to times of awkward isolation, suddenly I feel cool for the first time in my life.

She sits behind me in the car and chatters about her day and her friends.  Sometimes, she speaks so properly and grown up for a four-year-old that I have to hide a smile, or she would become embarrassed.  This morning, she reminded me as I was getting shoes that I "needed socks as well".  And when she was asking for clarification she said, "Am I correct in that we went there yesterday?"  She grows before my very eyes and sometimes I don't recognize her for her blaze of beauty and confidence.  But I know her in the shriek of excitement when I open the door every evening and that sweet smile that lights up her brilliant blue eyes.

These are the moments I want to freeze time and savor.  I want to replay these when the hurtful words and tearful tantrums make me fear that nothing we are trying to teach them is sinking in.  I want to hold their tender hearts in mine and be reminded that their sweetness, not their anger, is really who they are at the core.  I need to see this beauty when the chore of getting through the day seems an insurmountable task.  I want to feel their strength, confidence, and resilience when I fear sending them out into the big, bad world.  I want to know, deep down in my soul, that every day is oh so beautiful, just the way it is.  Let me love them just for who they are, even in the moments that aren't so profoundly sacred.

Monday, October 1, 2012

One Who is Not Busy

I recently had a conversation with a student in which I confessed that I had not been practicing what I preach.  I feel that my calling as the university chaplain at a small yet bustling and stressed campus is to be a minister of sanctuary, providing the space, opportunities, and reminders for all to find Sabbath to rest, pause, breathe, and to care for their souls.  It is hard to fight against a culture that measures success by how much we get done, and a rite of passage to complain about how busy we are.  As I was preparing for this new school year, I heard the still small voice inside my heart reminding me to stop.  To do less.  To be more.    And yet, in each interview for my position, I was asked what MORE I would be doing, which NEW programs I would add IN ADDITION TO what I was already doing.  And the loud and numerous voices overpowered that still small voice within.

I scheduled an array of programs, one for every day of the week.  I have been visible and have had well-attended programs.  I have reached more students and developed deeper connections.  I have been able to minister and share God's love.  But I have not been able to rest.  I have hopped from one activity to the next until my brain is a jumble and my body is at the point of collapse.  And after several tearful nights of taking home work in order to plan for the next day's events, I've realized that I can't keep going at this pace.  I am exhausted.  And I'm not modelling the rest and peace that I want students to value.

I've made my commitments, though, and I can't see anything that can be surrendered at this point (certainly not my sweet family, who is seeing less and less of me).  But I know my focus and my attitude must be adjusted, and I must find Sabbath in whatever pockets of time I can.  I've been working to shut my door more when I need that boundary to process and plan, and yet, I also appreciate the renewal that visiting with my students can bring.  Sometimes human interaction is strangely just what this introvert needs.  I have been trying to walk weekly with a minister friend, giving us time to catch up.    Lunch dates with my handsome husband are always good for my heart and spirit.  And when I truly need to hide and have some "me" time, sneaking away to the library to catch up on a little reading is always a treat.  Running as often as I can and my weekly yoga class allow me to care for my body and renew my energy.  And I've canceled one event this weekend (with some prodding from my students) so that I can take a much anticipated trip to the beach with my family.

I realized, though, that I can't always control my schedule or its demanding pace.  A minister's job is full of unplanned crises.  So I must learn to somehow find calm in the midst of my busyness.  I've been reading a book entitle One Who is Not Busy: Connecting with work in a deeply satisfying way.  It uses some Buddhist koans and meditation exercises to teach the principle of "simultaneous inclusion" which is the ability to be both "busy" and "not busy" simultaneously, finding focus and flow in our work so that we find pleasure in each task we complete and doing everything with our whole heart.  This is the antithesis of multitasking; instead, it is about applying singular focus to what we need to work on right now.  It involves not classifying tasks into "work", "home", or "pleasure", but engaging all of life in a flow.

Many studies have shown that true contentment comes from living in the moment, not anticipating what is to come, or longingly holding on to the past.  The trouble is that the present is often stressful and messy, especially in a household of two young children.  There are tantrums and lessons to be learned.  There is noise and clutter.  Something always needs to be fixed or explained or taken care of.  But I'm seeing more and more in my children's insistent voices is what they really need is for me to stop and listen.  One exhausting night, my daughter was insistently repeating, "listen to me, listen to me!" over the clamoring of her brother, and when I finally did, she took my face in her hands and just looked into my eyes.  Nothing else needed to be said.

It's a journey for me, but I'm working on embracing the William Morris quote I found while reading Gretchen Rubin's Happier at Home:  
"The true secret of happiness lies in the taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life." 

I'll start now, with this moment...

Friday, September 28, 2012


I grasp at moments, seeking to hold on to a minute or two of pause in a busy day, and they slip through my fingers like sand as the telephone rings, and someone knocks on the door.  I hide myself away for a moment of peace, and there is a need, as the tears flow and I comfort the hurting as my heart beats out the rhythm of time passing.  Minutes race by and appointments pop up with no time to plan, and I grasp for my papers, unfinished, the sermon still forming in my head as I take a deep breath and pray that it all falls into place.  There's the grasp of a hand on my shoulder in passing, and I stop again, smile, and summon my swirling thoughts into stillness as I reach for a greeting, a word of connection.  I grasp, seeking, and yet what I find is not what I had searched for.

I seek rest, and find connection.

I seek peace, and find hurt.

I seek stillness, and find that I am caught up in the chaos of busyness.

I seek myself, and find You.

I grasp the sense that You are here through it all.  You are in it all.  You are guiding me to a new understanding that although I can't control time, I don't need to.  When I am in your grasp, you are bringing all things together for good.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Finding Nemo: a parable for parents

We're in another rough phase around here.  It seems that happens whenever we slip into a comfortable place.  I understand that these are the "growing pains" with two young kids who are growing into independence, especially two who inherited the strong wills of their parents.  As much as we prod, cajole, reward, push, demand,encourage, and punish them into obedience, they push right back with attitudes, yelling, defiance, and rude words.  It's a frustrating business of needing to teach them how to behave, and yet feeling my own behavior unravel in the fruitlessness of it all.  The only breakthroughs seem to come when my calm words break through after a day of yelling and reprimands, and I end up with a sad and sobbing boy in my arms, who covers his face and says through hiccups, "I'm in trouble."  I feel broken as well, especially after the girl wakes up in tears twice during the night, and I imagine she is having nightmares of "mean mommy". After reassurances and love, grace and new beginnings, we promise to try again the next day.

Today, I sit in a blissfully quiet house.  John and the kids are off early to church, and I get to lounge around a bit as I'm going to visit a different church this morning in preparation for preaching there next month.  Before they left, Brady cued up an audio version of the "Finding Nemo" story for me to listen to while they are gone.  My sweet boy, his attitude of defiance washed away in his morning bath, wants to share what he loves with me.  Yesterday, John had taken the kids to see the "Finding Nemo" movie in 3D.  (Yes, my husband is awesome.  He's the one who stays at home with the kids, then takes them out on a Saturday morning so that I can get a break.  Bless him.) 

This movie has always tugged at my heart, so it's probably best that I wasn't in the theater with them sobbing my eyes out.  Of course it starts with the death of the mother fish and her eggs, with the exception of Nemo, who has hatched during this traumatic time.  His father, Marlin, is left to raise his only son as a single parent, and is haunted by his losses.  He becomes tightly attached to his son and frets about giving him any freedom or independence, afraid that something bad will happen and he will lose him.  In spite of his best efforts at control, something bad does happen.  Nemo rebels, and swims away into the very danger his father had warned him about.  He is captured by divers, leaving his father and a memory-impaired fish named Dory to search for him.  John came home and shared one of the movie lines with me:
Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.
Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.

I can so relate.  As a parent, there are so many worries.  Responsibility number one is always to protect our children, and beyond that, we always want to shield them from anything that could hurt them.  All of our rules are either an attempt to keep them safe, or to teach them how to live well in the world.  Part of me naively believes that if I control them and control our situation, then I can keep bad things from happening to them and to our family.  I can keep us in this nice safe bubble.  Although I know that is not reality.  If I've learned one thing in parenthood, it's the fragility of it all, that my sense of control is only an illusion.  I see the harsh realities all around: children battling cancer, accidents, depression, rebellion, death...there is so much hurt and pain, and we can't do much to stop it, only hope and pray that it doesn't touch us.

I know, too, that it's a disservice to protect our children from failure and pain as those are the things that help them to grow, to find their strength and resilience, and to become independent.  Shielding them from experiences also keeps them from experiencing the joy and adventure of life.  As the movie dialogue continues:

Marlin: What?
Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

In the end, Nemo finds his own strength through his journey of independence, and is able to be the hero, saving both his father and himself.

I pray that I will have the faith to trust that the values we are teaching are sticking somewhere, as evidenced by the moments in which they allow their caring hearts to shine through.  May my letting go of control be for them the gift of independence that will help them grow in strength, courage, and faith.  May we always find one another again and again, even as we fight the currents of the ocean around us.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

the 99 things that went right today, and the ONE that went WRONG

It was a day of beauty, puddle hopping, and loving messages scrawled on my office door, of meetings with good friends, and students coming together to share in worship.  There was productivity, and the promise of family hugs and good books at the end.  All was well, except that ONE thing.  It was really not a big deal, but it clouded my thoughts all day.  I had sent out a memo to faculty and knew that some would find it unwelcome or unimportant, yet I tried my best to send it from a humble and supportive place, hoping some would find it helpful.  And the first response was very positive and affirming.  But there wasn't much of a pause between that and the second ding of an incoming email that blasted me for my insensitivity and my erroneous information.  This faculty member felt personally insulted by how I had presented the memo and the timing of it.  Her words seems to scream at me through the email and I recoiled, shutting the message window without even reading it completely.

My first response was anger, as I felt the heat rising to my face, and my immediate impulse was to fire back a response.  Fortunately, I was in the company of friends, so I took a deep breath and tried to put it out of my mind.  It kept popping back, intruding on every positive moment, and I found myself complaining in a meeting about what a crappy day I was having, a day that outside of this one instance had seemed pretty ideal.

Isn't it strange how 99 things can go right, and all we can focus on is the one bad thing?  I continued getting positive responses from my email, so I felt affirmed that my attitude and tone in it had not been insensitive.  I wanted to feel justified, but I mainly felt shame--that someone had pointed out my mistakes, that I had been seen in a different way that what I intended, and that I had unintentionally hurt someone.  Fortunately, I've been reading Bren√© Brown's new book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.  If you haven't heard about Bren√©, you should check out her amazing TED talks .  She is a researcher studying shame and vulnerability at the University of Houston.  She talks about "shame gremlins" and how they sneak up on us and feed on our fears, making us feel that we are not enough.  Because of shame, we often act out in anger and defensiveness and try to ease our pain by hurting others.  

Because of this reading, and because of a lack of time today due to back-to-back meetings, I was unable to react and had to wait until the end of the day to craft a response.  Thankfully, I'd had the time to identify my shame triggers, think about how the other person was reacting out of pain, and I was able to apologize for my errors and the hurt I had caused.  I received another response later that thanked me for my kindness, and continued to correct me, but this time out of a spirit of helpfulness and cooperation instead of attack.  I'm grateful that we now have the potential to work together instead of having an adversarial relationship.  How easy it would have been for either of us to go in a different direction.  After hearing about the divisions between faculty and staff on campus, this was my first experience of the tension that exists.  But it's hopeful to know how it can be cut with vulnerability, openness, and communication instead of reactivity. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Where did you come from, big girl?

There are times when each day seems like a year, and others, when I look away for a second and turn back to see that she's suddenly grown up.  Overnight, the kids have outgrown their car seats and their clothes.  She, my clingy mama's girl, once shy and reserved is now my chatterbox, full of giggles and observations about everything under the sun.  She came home from preschool this year, just as I had begun to accept her introversion and not push her, and announced with pride, "Mama, I'm not shy anymore!" And her teachers concurred.  Each day another one at her school and church comments on how she has come out of her shell and has become a leader.

I look, and see my beauty, all legs and bright blue eyes, twinkling smile...she just glows, and I am struck with wonder that she came from me, and that she is the same child I carried and carried and carried.  Now it's, "Mama, want to color with me?" and she does swirls of raspberry and glittery blue, hearts and stars, and a mommy wearing a pink heart dress.  Every inch of the page is covered with rainbow hues and each piece tells a story that she is eager to share.  It's "Mama, come play something special with me" and she directs "Lalalucy" (aka: Lalaloopsy) and all her "babies" as I watch with a bemused smile.  She asks me questions about what we should do next, and my suggestions are always met with, "Ok, let's do this instead..."

I am not so caught up in nostalgia. Up until this point, I was submerged in the monotony of a daily routine that never diverged from the endless tantrums, messes, no sleep, and growing pains of two young children.  I was floundering and I do NOT want to go back.  It is still not easy, but I'm more struck these days by the beauty of random moments.  I'm more melancholy, wanting to grasp these moments that are slipping by so quickly.  The moments when I can savor their sweetness and not become a screaming mess of impatience and frustration (that is mirrored back to me in their responses and tempers).  Time when my boy and girl claim to be "best friends" and demand weekend "sleepovers" in Brady's room.  The afterschool competition to see who can fill me in on his or her day without interruption from an eager sibling.  The knowing smiles from other mothers, amused by her animated chatter as she gets a pedicure (an indulgence she discovered early in her young life).

And then, today, her question murmured to me at lunch as her daddy left the table for a moment:
"Do boys kiss girls, or do girls kiss boys?"  I stammered a little, unprepared, "Well, I guess it can work either way.  Why do you ask?"  She said, unsure, "I don't know that I want a boy to kiss me."  I told her with relief that it was perfectly okay, and she should never be kissed unless she wanted to be, and that she could always say "no" to anyone who attempted it.  I asked her if she wanted to kiss anyone, and she thought for a moment and said, "Maybe Brady".  He said, "Yay!" and then turned back to his video game.

These are the days I'll remember.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Truly interfaith

"How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell in unity."  Psalm 133:1

One of the joys of my position is planning an annual Religious Communities Fair on our university campus so that our students can learn about the opportunities to connect with different houses of faith in our area.  For a relatively conservative little town not much out of the Bible belt, it's surprising the diversity of spiritual paths that are represented.  My anxiety as we set up is always about who to place at each table, as two different representative groups share one six-foot table.  Who will play nicely together and not be offended?  Who can learn from one another respectfully?  Who might have something in common in which to share during the two hours of the event?  And which ones will interact with students in an appropriate (and not confrontational) way?

And then, after the hectic rush of set-up, I pause and look out and see the groups intermingling and laughing. I see handshakes and hugs, and business cards being shared.  I see students sampling from the wide array of faith backgrounds and testing what feeds their soul.  I accept thanks from the groups for inviting them and expressing what a wonderful experience it was for them, and offer my own gratitude in return. I smile, thinking it's just a little vision of heaven.  A vision where we are not divided and we don't stereotype or exclude.  A dream where violence and hatred and bigotry are not linked with religion.  One in which we're one big happy family, with different practices, different eccentricities, and different ways of being, but held together in love by the same parent and the same shared hopes.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A snapshot of my brutiful life

There are so many thoughts swirling around my head that it's hard (near impossible) to stop on any one.  It's been a busy few weeks of back-to-school preparations for my kids and for the students at Hollins.  I thought last year, my first year as interim chaplain at Hollins, was chaotic, but this year the entire weight of programming, decision-making, and official chaplaincy duties have fallen to me.  I've been reminded time and time again (usually in reassuring and celebratory ways) that I am now here to stay.  It's intimidating when I think that it all comes down to me, but fortunately I've been reminded lately that it is not all about me and I am not in this alone.

So in an effort to sort through my thoughts, here are some snapshots from my busy mind:

  • My baby girl, once tearful and shy at the thought of school is now excited and fearless in her last year of preschool.  She rushes me in the morning in order to get there as quickly as possible, and chatters away incessantly about her day once I return home.  She is already daydreaming about riding the bus with Brady to kindergarten next year.  How I love it.

  • Seeing the students and families arriving for my first event during orientation, and the connections made as we celebrated our individual and collective spirituality.

  • The sweet spirit that was present in our small but faithful group at our first Midweek Prayer service, and the invitation that went out from one who attended, encouraging others to join us next week.  Three students provided music for the service, and that group is growing and becoming a praise band as God continues to lead, inspire, and gather them together.  Their enthusiasm is contagious and warms my heart.

  • Watching Michelle Obama speak and connecting as a women, wife, mother, and leader.  Hearing "Don't stop believing" as Bill Clinton took the stage took me back to my hopefulness during his first campaign when I was a middle schooler, idealistic and determined.  In all the rhetoric, the arguments, and the negativity, I still hold out hope.  Not in a particular person or candidate, but in the spirit of goodness within humanity that seeks to help those in need, that realizes we can't make it on our own.  My faith informs my politics, and I believe that faith can transcend party lines and empty promises (on both sides).
  • Remembering the "real ministry" that takes place between the events, meetings, worship, and planning...those unexpected connections, the surprising tears, the joyful laughter, the reunions, the talk of love and dreams and grief, the "I just wanted to stop by and say 'hi'" visits that brighten my day...all of it challenging, and uplifting, and painful, and beautiful...Glennon Melton of Momastery would label it "brutiful" (a combination of "brutal" and "beautiful").
In the midst of multiple anxieties, I'm grateful for space to breathe and write and dream, to express gratitude for all my gifts, to seek rest, and pray for God's continued unfolding plan in every space and area of life.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

If you ask, they will come

Sometimes, I like to think I can make it on my own.  I get this independent streak, combined with my obsessive need to do things my own way, and suddenly it just feels easier to do things myself.  Last night, John called me in to watch a movie clip with him.  He'd been watching "Date Night" with Steve Carell and Tina Fey, and thought I would appreciate it.  They are this "boring married couple" (in their words) with kids, living the monotonous life that parents with young children know well.  Their couple interactions have come down to talks about the kids, discipline, scheduling, and the like.  They've just learned that a couple of their friends are splitting up because they've just become "really good roommates" instead of relating as husband and wife.  In the movie, the Steve Carell character asks his wife (Tina Fey) if she ever thought about having an affair.  She adamantly denies it, and he continues to push, asking doesn't she just fantasize about running off with a certain man?  She answers, "God, no!  If anything, on my very worst days, I fantasize about just running off to a hotel room, by myself, sitting in the air conditioned room alone, with no one touching me, and eating lunch and drinking a Diet Sprite."  The husband responds, "That sounds awful!"  I laughed in connection, as did John.  It's easier on your least in the fantasy world.

There are times, too, that I fear I will be all alone.  I feared that before I met my sweet John, and my greatest fear is always that I will lose the ones closest to me, John and the kids.  At work, I often fear that no one will show up for events, and there will be no interest in the activities I do.  I worry that I will be on my own with no connections and nothing to show for the passion that grows in my heart.

This summer, in the quiet, lonely hours of a deserted campus, I prayed for the students, those I know and those I don't yet know.  I prayed for the campus, and for it to be a safe and nurturing place in which to explore faith and spirituality.  I prayed that students would have a desire for God and would seek God through their college journey.  I prayed for our student chaplains, who I help mentor in faith and ministry as they minister to our campus alongside me.  And I prayed that I would have the wisdom, faith, and spirit to guide them as well as to care for my own spiritual life.

I prayed, not knowing what God would provide, but trying to trust in God's will and work to put in place what was needed.  This year, as I helped with new student check-in and had them fill out a religious preference form, it seemed as more were indicating an existing faith and a desire to grow in faith.  As I met students, some had already heard about chapel programs from other students, who had encouraged them to get involved.  By the time I returned to the chapel late that afternoon, several students had already stopped by to visit.

As I greeted returning students, one of my student chaplains from last year stopped by with a friend, who wanted to know more about being a student chaplain, and within minutes of our talk, another of their friends dropped by who also got pulled into the conversation.  In a meeting with the student chaplains later that day, we had two new ones join us, in addition to another two newbies who are not yet on campus, and three very excited returners.  I was hesitant to share that we needed an increased level of commitment this year, knowing how overcommitted they already are, but I noticed they were already sharing how they desired for faith to be a larger priority in their lives.  When I mentioned an event that I had planned for early this morning, they asked if they could help.

I hate to ask for help, but I'm learning to accept it when it's offered.  There's another line in "Date Night" where Tina Fey is complaining about how she has nothing left to give her husband because she spends all day taking care of everything and everyone.  And he replies, "Well, I know someone that can help you with that."  Just like my husband, he's been offering to help, but she refuses to let go of anything.  This morning, as I arrived at work at 7:30 and rushed around like a madwoman setting up, I left little work to be done.  But my faithful helpers came anyway and offered their help and supportive presence.  When I asked for something, they were quick to get it done, and stayed to help clean up.  As we were cleaning the kitchen one remarked how she had been praying this summer about how to have a more spiritual experience at school this year and how to keep growing in her faith after a summer at a Christian camp where that was the focus.  And she, like me, was amazed at how God was already working to bring people together in faith.

The room this morning filled, and we had to move to another space.  There was good conversation and connection, and one student spoke to me about how the activity we did connected to a time of spiritual growth in her life and was a good reminder in this uncertain transition.

Sometimes, I think I can do it on my own, but more often, I am so overwhelmed by how God sends those I need to help me, to guide me, to teach me, and to remind me that I am never alone.  I need others just as they need me.  I am right where God placed me for a reason.  If I need help, I need to ask, and they will come.  And when I pray, God always shows up.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Orienting in faith

art by Suzanne Vinson, 2012
Take a deep breath, here goes.

The energy and the anxiety on campus is palpable.  After a long quiet summer, the momentum and noise is building as students return to campus.  It's a trickle now, but by Thursday we'll have all the new students, followed by the rest of the community over the weekend.  It's exciting for staff, as this is what we're here for, but also overwhelming as we think about the responsibilities that loom.  It's been said that the first two weeks are critical in getting students connected, and that is a big concern to me as so few choose to connect with their faith anyway.  Some are so concerned with cutting ties with family that religion is severed as an artifact.  Others want to explore for themselves, while the majority of students these days have no identified spiritual connection to begin with.

And yet, this is the time when young adults seek to establish their identity and search for meaning, and faith is a crucial part of that.  According to the book Big Questions, Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Emerging Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith,

"Faith is not simply a set of beliefs that religious people have; it is something that all human beings do...Though faith has become problematic, the importance of meaning has not...the purpose of an organism is to organize, and what human beings organize is meaning...It is this activity of composing and being composed by meaning--this "faithing"--that I invite the reader to associate with the word faith."

The task is huge--to connect students with one another and to their studies, as they also seek to figure out their roles and identities in this new culture, and in their new world of emerging adulthood and independence.  So much rides on it, and so we have created so many different opportunities to learn, grow, and explore,  As I look over all the programs and events that have been planned, I'm simply stunned.  There is just so much...I can't even keep track of all I've planned or figure out a simple way to share it with the students.  I have the sinking feeling that my plans are counter to that still small voice inside that keeps imploring me, "Do less.  Be more."  In this community of overcommitted women, I feel that my calling is to show an alternate way, to model a life that makes room for the spirit, for nurturing the soul in quiet and still moments.  But I bought into the culture, with the pressure of the community asking me at each interview and in each meeting, "What MORE will you be doing next year?" when my inclination was to do less.  But I am not paid for less (well, I'm sure my pay would be less if I went in that direction).

So my struggle now is to work against the system I have created, and to carve out those moments to pause and reflect and to encourage the students (and faculty and staff) to do so as well.  I've named our weekly worship service "Sanctuary" for this purpose, and the logo for this, "find Sanctuary", will soon be plastered all over campus as a call to do just that.

It's appropriate that my devotional reading for today included this:

"Augustine of Hippo said, 'Let us leave a little room for reflection in our lives, room too for silence.  Let us look within ourselves and see whether there is some delightful hidden place inside where we can be free of noise and argument.  Let us hear the Word of God in stillness and perhaps we will then come to understand it."

"Teach us to listen, Lord.  Quiet the noise of our lives so we can hear your voice.  Amen."

In these moments of preparation, I'm soaking up the moments of stillness and silence, hoping they'll take root in my heart and soul, carving a place I can retreat to even while the chaos swirls around outside me.