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.