Thursday, May 31, 2012

That'll preach

I have a sermon to write, so for the past few days I've been relentlessly checking Facebook, browsing Pinterest, volunteering to help with other's projects, and generally finding any other way to distract myself from the work that needs to be done.  My ultimate downfall is having the fabulous university library right next to my office.  I promised myself I would wait until I finished...but alas, the draw proved too strong.  I came back loaded down with 3 DVDs and 4 books (2 of which were on my wish list for when I finish the other 6 books waiting patiently on my nightstand).

My name is Jenny, and I am a procrastinator.  But my particular block only comes when writing sermons.  With any other project, you'll find me digging in, eager to clear my desk of anything that might cross its surface, lest it become part of a dreaded pile (eek!).  With sermons, my way has always been to spend much time analyzing the passage, making copious notes, doing some research, and then making some more notes.  Then comes the overwhelming point where I see the pile (yikes!) of notes, and decide I need a break.  I may come back to write an outline, then a paragraph, and then I'm spent...or distracted.  You would think that after being in ministry for over a decade I would have become better at this.  The thing is that I don't write a traditional sermon all that often.  I do studies and meditations and devotions and reflections that are thought out, but not meticulously written into pages of witty, insightful, theological prose (okay, that never really happens...even with my completed sermons).

For a while, I blamed it on motherhood.  It does deserve some of the flack for turning my once organized brain into a pile of mush.  I now feel ADD as I can't (or I'm not allowed) to focus on any one task at a time, but am expected (demanded) by my little minions to bounce from order to order at their beck and call (cry, whine).

You might think that writing itself is what I detest, but look at me, taking a break from writing to WRITE about it.  Ironic, huh?  I've always had a part of me that feels like a writer and dream of someday doing more.  I feel a call to write and reflect and process through the written (typed, blogged) word.

Perhaps it's ministry itself that has me hesitant to stop and devote the time to a sermon.  With the impromptu office visits, the emergency calls, the important and numerous meetings, and the need to be with those whom I serve, it feels like a superfluous luxury to sit in the office and focus on the Word of God and my own thoughts, especially when I may be interrupted at any moment.  And yet, all of these tasks and the expectation to be available are part of the unseen work of a minister.  It's funny to me when I ask my kids for their impression of what I do at work.  Maryn says that I play on the computer and eat candy all day (as that's what she does when she comes to visit me).  Some days, like today, that's not far from the truth!  :)

(Maryn pretending to be me at work)

What else could be causing my hesitance?  Maybe it's the holy fear of speaking on behalf of God...and getting it wrong.  It is a sacred and holy task, when I often feel irreverent and informal.  It's a reminder of the BIGness of this calling and the accountability that is inherent within it.  Again, it's the fear of leaning on myself (and my weaknesses and insecurities) instead of on God.

Whatever may be the causes, I'm running low on candy and time, so I'd better get to work!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Losing the battle of wills

Sitting at dinner tonight at a restaurant with my family, I was trying to have a conversation with my husband over the kids' fighting and yelling.  Dinner time is not a happy, pretty scene in our family, and it is not for the faint of heart.  Brady, who falls apart when he is hungry or tired, was yelling that I was mean for making him eat when he did NOT need to and did NOT want to and most definitely was NOT hungry.  John and I eyed each other over our red-faced teary boy (the sure sign that he is hungry) and I came up with a brilliant idea.  If I could only invent a device like an epi-pen that instead shoots food right into his bloodstream.  Maybe then we could avoid the mealtime drama and tantrums.  We could sneak/shock feed him when he wasn't paying attention and he would never have to admit that he's secretly hungry.  He wouldn't have to give in, and we wouldn't have to fight him.  The relief for all of us would be near instant.

It's been an on-going battle for six years now.  Since he was born at a tiny 4lbs 12.5oz, he has resisted eating.  We stayed with him extra days in the hospital due to his low blood sugar, and he had to receive IVs and even briefly had a feeding tube.  I remember the moment of walking into the hospital nursery and the shock of seeing our tiny boy looking like this (IV in his head and feeding tube in his nose):

It was a terror then, and yet now, sometimes I miss that tube that guaranteed he was being fed.

We left the hospital with our tiny package and instructions to wake him up every 2 hours at night to feed him.  It would take him 45 minutes to drink an once, and then we'd have to wake him (and ourselves) again an hour and 15 minutes later to repeat the process.  That created a monster that today resists sleep and food and denies ever being hungry (unless you're offering snacks) or tired (even though his actions and attitude prove otherwise).  I still feel like we're force feeding him constantly.  After years of worries about his small size and every variety of test, his pediatrician has finally admitted that he's just going to be small (he finally made it ON the growth chart at his last checkup, with the astounding measurements of being in the 10th percentile for height and the 5th percentile for weight...this is big growth for us!)

I know that in the scheme of things this isn't a major problem.  We are blessed by healthy kids that are sweet and smart and polite 35% of the time (that's pretty good, right?) It is just another reminder of what little I can actually control.  It's the ongoing lesson of parenthood that I would rather forget, and yet I guess it's the lesson I most need to learn (or God would stop beating me over the head with it).  It's why I'm trying to learn more compassion when people stare at my screaming kids in the restaurant like they could better control them if they had the chance, and why I'm aiming to show more grace to other parents.  It's always easier to judge another than it is to fix your own issues.  I saw a word once that I've liked and stored away so that I could use it one day--blubbernecker:  a stranger who gawks at your tantrum-throwing kid.

So will you join me in my new creed (thanks to and let's put an end to blubbernecking:

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Seeking identity in the Spirit

It's been an interesting couple of weeks.  I recently interviewed for the permanent version of the chaplain position that I have held as an interim over the past 10 months.  I have written and spoken often of my love for Hollins University and her diverse and wonderfully eclectic students, faculty, and staff.  It's been a calling that has felt like home from the very first moment I stepped on campus, almost a year ago.  It's been a beautiful answer to years of prayers.

And yet, it was a bit nerve-wracking to interview for this position, to say the least.  I went a little crazy with worry and insecurity as I faced competition, and I began to doubt myself, Hollins, and God.  It wasn't pretty.  When the job offer came last week, it was offered with some caveats and a reminder of the professional and sacred nature of the role.  Instead of the victory I had been hoping for, I felt like I had just scraped by.  It was pretty humbling.

I spent some time afterwards reveling in the flood of congratulatory texts, emails, and Facebook messages to make myself feel better.  So much, in fact, that my phone was on the verge of dying within an hour due to overuse.  But it was one note that helped me to re-frame this transition in a helpful light.  A seminary friend and fellow minister pointed out the timeliness of this gift of celebration happening at Pentecost.  Pentecost is like the birthday of the church.  It celebrates when the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples after the death and resurrection of Christ.  As they were gathered together, the sound like a rushing wind filled the room, and something like tongues of fire appeared among them, and the disciples began to speak in other languages so that the each person of those of many different nationalities gathered within the room could understand the speakers in his own language.  Pentecost is a day of celebration of the Spirit, who works in powerful, yet unseen ways to bring rebirth and renewal, to give us the strength and the gifts to share God's love with others.

The greatest gift of my journey over the past year is the way that the Spirit has guided me, unseen, unrecognized at times, yet powerfully leading me into this calling.  Part of my fear was that I was not trusting in God, and not trusting in who God has created me and is calling me to be.  Instead of finding my value and worth in God, I was leaning too much on others' evaluations and praise.

And now, moving from Pentecost into Ordinary Time, I must remember the work of the Spirit, both within me and around me.  I must seek that still, small voice inside as I seek to live out my calling here.  My plans can only succeed if they are grounded in God's vision for the ministry here.  I will fail (again) if I spend too much time seeking others' praise (or listening only to criticism).  I look forward to moving ahead, but not forgetting the lessons I've learned (and continue to learn) on the way.  I have room to grow, and that's what the journey is all about.

I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue to minister, serve, and learn alongside such excellent mentors, and I'm even more grateful to be reminded of the One in which I place my trust and discover my identity.

Friday, May 18, 2012

On beginnings

Yesterday I celebrated my 35th birthday.  It was a beautiful day of special greetings and love.  It was also a little surreal.  I remember when I was about my daughter's age and MY mom was 35.  She was the center of my world.  It wouldn't be until years later that I would realize that she was an "older" mom for her time, having had my brother 13 years prior to my birth.  She would always be older than my peers' mothers.  Yet I stand in a different time when many of my friends waited until later to have children.  It's a mixed bag for me...somedays I feel older than my years (with the gray hairs to show it), and other days I still feel like a kid playing dress-up, waiting to "feel" like an adult.

It's also interesting to me that this is commencement weekend at Hollins University.  My own college graduation was 13 years ago, an amount of years that it took a calculator to figure for me.  And yet, it seems like yesterday in a sense.  I think that's the thing about the cyclical nature of time.  Although the calendar continues its relentless march forward, we are granted seasons and milestones to remind us that it ever circles back.  Fall always makes me think of new beginnings, just as if I'm preparing for a new school year (and in this case, I was).  Spring reminds me of being sent out...graduation, marriage, births...a new beginning that is more uncertain, more adventurous.

There are so many milestones this Spring.  June will mark my 10th anniversary with my husband, and we just celebrated the 6th and 4th birthdays of our children.  I await news of whether my interim position will become a permanent calling.  One of our dogs ended his journey with us and began a new one in Dog Heaven.  There is so much change, and yet, so much is familiar.  I can still remember the feelings of that Jenny beginning high school, graduating from college, starting seminary, getting married, having children, seeking a new calling.  She is close to me, although she feels like a different person; she is a different person.

What a gift that God gives us in chronos and kairos.  It is infinite, and yet with many endings.  It is linear, yet it cycles.  It is full of new beginnings, only some of which we recognize at the time.  When I was preparing prayers for commencement, I couldn't help but think of the ironies of this celebration of the ending of a degree program, when the word itself points us to beginnings.  And that is truly what it's about.  We focus on the goal, the destination, the ending, and yet God is always there, pointing us to the new journey, the new beginning.  One ending is just the step to the next adventure.

The past year has been one of my best, but it followed a couple really rough ones.  Through it all, I've learned so much about trust, about letting go, and (as I'm talking about in my Baccalaureate sermon) the importance and power of struggle.  From this perspective, I can see how all the endings I faced in the dark times were really the start of new beginnings.  And this is my gift to share now.  May we all see and seek new beginnings, trusting in God to lead us through.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Learning the hard way

Some things I have (unintentionally) learned this week:

-Sometimes you don't understand how much someone cares until you hurt them.

-Good intentions don't prevent the hurt, or make it go away.

-A year of trust built can be broken in a moment.

-In these difficult times, support can come from surprising places.

-I hurt someone by going against my own gut and listening to others (who were also well-intentioned).

-I didn't listen to myself (or to God) because I let my fears and insecurities lead me.

-My fears were unfounded.

-The hardest part is forgiving myself and moving forward.

-I believe this, too, will help me grow as a minister and a person if I let wisdom speak instead of shame.

-While I was working outside of my comfort zone and being "bold", I see now that my greatest gift lies in my own vulnerability, honesty, openness, and trust.  And those may be just the gifts to get me out of this pit.

Monday, May 7, 2012


There are gifts that are eagerly anticipated, and others that are welcome surprises.  Some come easily, with no strings attached, and others are hard-earned as we emerge, weary from battles fought.  Over the past few years, I've experienced gifts of many kinds, and they've all had something to teach me.

This morning I was surprised with a lovely gift from a student and friend who is close to my heart.  I've had the honor of being part of her journey over the past year as she's begun the process of discerning a call to ministry.  I've felt such joy and excitement for her, and also a little worry and protectiveness as I know how difficult it can be.  My heart has hurt for her more recently as she has gone through a difficult time personally.  She shared that this was the first painting that she has done in a while, and she wanted me to have it.

It is one of my most favorite gifts.  What a gift of incredible beauty...her painting, her gift, sharing her heart, sharing her growth.  What a perfect metaphor...the butterfly, a symbol of rebirth, of resurrection, of Christ.

It is such a reminder to me of the gift of the past few years.  Not so long ago, I felt cocooned in the darkness of depression, hopeless about my job and my own gifts.  It weighed on me personally, emotionally, and spiritually.  My family felt the effects, and yet, I felt powerless to change.  I kept praying through the suffocating darkness that God was preparing me for something...different....better...just anything else than where I lay, immobile, stagnant.

And then one day, it happened.  The gift of new life was such a surprise.  I emerged from the cocoon and could feel my wings.  I saw color and light, felt the breeze, embraced hope again.  I took off and soared, experiencing the joy of new life once again.

Sometimes, I take this gift for granted.  More often, I question it.  Will it last?  What if it doesn't?  What new things are ahead?  Sometimes the tasks feel so big, and I feel so small.  Sometimes I feel so unworthy of these gifts.  I see others struggling and I remember the pain of that.  I want to free them as God freed me.  I wonder why I was given such a gift when others struggle, empty-handed.  Ironic, huh?  I pray for new life, and then struggle to embrace it once it arrives.

I'm learning, though, that the struggle was part of the gift.  It's a reaffirmation of my calling, which was given to me in verses from Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives 
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor 
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn

I have been brokenhearted, I have been a prisoner (to my own fears and doubts), and because of this, I know the way out.  The Way for me was Christ, holding on to faith, to the hope of salvation even in doubt.  Now, from a place of empathy, from a place of healing, I can proclaim good news.  I have been given this gift, and it is mine to share.

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Eulogy for a Best Friend

In memory of Matisse, May 4th, 2012

Sweet, goofy dog, you captured our hearts from the beginning.  When we went to the SPCA, "just to look", hoping eventually to find a suitable companion for your "big brother" Max, we saw you right away, wiggling and prancing with puppy enthusiasm.  After selecting Max because he just looked so sad, this was an unexpected greeting.  In the puppy room, you ran around on legs too long for your small body, and yet, you were so very happy.  Your tail wagged constantly, and with it's white tip, it looked like a paintbrush flying across a canvas.  Thus we knew that you deserved the name of an artist.  We brought you home after little deliberation, and Max was not impressed at first.  You, however, were thrilled with everything.  So excited were you to see the world that you squeezed your tiny body through the gate and went for an adventure in the wide, wide world.  We found you later, the center of attention in a neighbor's yard, already having made a new circle of friends.  You wagged your tail when you saw us, just two more of your many admirers.  Max continued to maintain aloofness, but he would cry, heartbroken, anytime we had to separate the two of you.  Upon your return, he would greet you eagerly with jumps and all-over sniffs.  When you thought we weren't looking, the two of you would curl up to sleep together at night.

You were primarily John's dog and as a puppy you loved to climb up on his head and shoulders when he was laying on the couch.  Over time, your body caught up with your legs in size, and when you jumped up, your paws could reach our shoulders.  Your excitement never waned, and your tail would wag even when you were in trouble.  There was always love and the spark of joy in your eyes.  Your job became to protect us (with your ferocious barking) from the diesel trucks passing by our road .  You took "vacations" to our elderly neighbors' house, sneaking away after you learned to open the gate lock, which was a joy for them (and for you, as they kept dog treats they would share with you).  This was only second in fun to the rides you would take with John in his truck, with your ears flapping in the breeze.  John would hold back those same ears as you puked up numerous gallons of dog food you exuberantly ate after you learned how to open the container where it was stored.

You never learned to give hugs like Max, but you made up for it in your kisses, which he always refused to give.  I'll always remember you sticking your big head down to greet baby Brady in his carrier when we first brought him home from the hospital.

We always said you'd have a free ticket to heaven as you're "special" (in oh so many ways).  After near emergencies from eating rocks and your escapes, we were afraid you'd meet your end in a head-shaking tragic (yet comic) way.  So it's a cruel twist of fate, for you, our ADHD one, to be brought down by a degenerative condition that made you unable to move.  This morning, as we said goodbye to you before leaving for work and school, you stood, unable to sit or lie down, with your body hunched, head down, tail between your legs.  You did not look like our Matisse, and pain clouded your happiness.  Maryn petted you and said, "He feels like he's dying."  At the vet, you found a bit of your spark again, enough for us to remember the difference in who you were and who you had become.  It would not have been fair to you to leave you in such a state of pain.  We were there to love on you and remember silly stories about you, ones that frustrated us at the time, but were now a source of amusement.  You have brought so many smiles for us, and now, I like to think you have your big smile back again, running around happily barking at trucks and other dogs, enjoying the free life once again.

As John said in a Facebook post, "My dog was put to sleep today, then he woke up on the other side. Cheers to Matisse."  Run in peace and health, sweet friend.  We love you forever.