Thursday, March 29, 2012

My (busy) little secret

I have a secret to share.  It's a big one, and has the potential to affect my reputation.  You may look at me differently.  My employer may have concerns.  But it's been weighing me down, so I feel as if I just have to share.  Okay, here goes (deep breath)...

I'm not really all that busy.

Yep, shocking, I know.  You may pass me and ask how it's going and I might reply, "Oh, it's busy!" and you'll nod, knowingly.  I may sigh at having to take on one more responsibility, and I will likely continue having "who does more" battles with my husband (and I'll never tell him that he's really the winner these days...even though it still doesn't make up for the past 9 years of busyness on my part).  :)

The truth is, I have a lot to do, just like you.  And sometimes I get really productive and amaze myself at what can be accomplished in a day.  But I'm also finding more and more that I need to carve out blocks of time to renew my spirit.  I've joined the couch to 5k program that jogs on Tuesdays and Thursdays at lunchtime (which is probably the greatest indicator of my free time...who would have thought I'd be running...VOLUNTARILY).  I stop between errands to chat with students, friends, and staff.  I take prayer walks through the garden in the afternoon when my energy flags and make time to walk and talk around the loop with friends.  I spend a (little) time on Pinterest seeking inspiration.  I take time to read and write, knowing that these are spiritual disciplines for me.

Do I feel guilty?  Yes and no.  I feel pushed by society and culture to do more, to be more.  The thing is, I've been there and done that, and I completely burned out.  I was miserable and depressed, and was a bitter and uneasy person to live with and be around.  The dark cloud engulfed me and it wasn't pretty, fun, or productive. And so, I'm trying it a different way.  I'm trying to practice what I preach, er, taught in my "Spirituality for Busy People" class in January.

I've experienced the benefits of providing space in my day.  When students need to talk, I can make myself available.  When someone needs help on a project, I can volunteer.  When my kids drop by to visit me at work, I can indulge in a little play.  All of these help to build the nurturing, cooperative, compassionate, playful side of me.

I'm learning that these are also ways to connect, as I spend time out of my office and open my eyes to the real world and work that is Hollins University.  I see students, and they see me.  I hope they see me taking a break, relaxed, and smiling.  I hope they learn that it's okay for them, too.  As I walk and rest and look with new eyes at the world and people around me, I pray that we might all seek to be who God created us to be, and worry a little less about what's expected of us.

 

Psalm 131:2

New International Version (NIV)

But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

Matthew 11:28-30

The Message (MSG)
 28-30"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Now we are six



Today is my sweet boy's 6th birthday, and he couldn't be more excited.  After months of counting down the days and telling complete strangers about his upcoming milestone, he has arrived.  As I flipped on the light this morning, he instantly responded (as if he had been waiting for hours), "It's my birthday!  I'm 6 today!"






After a breakfast of cake batter pancakes (thanks to Chef John), he opened a present and was excited to report, "It's just what I wanted!" (fortunately we knew this from the multiple birthday wish lists and the constant reminders).


We packed up a sweet snack of fresh fruit in sugar cones for his kindergarten class (finally using some of those Pinterest ideas!), and off he went to celebrate with his friends at school.

After school, he will visit me in the office, where a few more presents await (have I mentioned how much I LOVE my child-friendly workplace?!).  Then we'll head out for a family dinner at Red Robin.

My boy constantly amazes me with his big heart and creativity.  While doing birthday preparations last night, I discovered a story he had written by himself about our trip to Great Wolf Lodge to celebrate both kids' birthdays:


I'll transcribe it:

Brady's Adventures by: Brady

Once upon a time there was a boy named Brady.  He loved his parents.  One night, Brady went outside and did an adventure.  I went to Great Wolf Lodge.  I went outside at night.  I went under the bucket of water.  I slept in room 1201.  I came back a different night.  Mom and Dad were glad.  The end.


My dear boy, may your adventures never end!  

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Day Before You



It's the day before my boy's 6th birthday.  The countdown has been going on for months, and it's hard to believe the date has arrived.  It's hard to grasp this milestone in itself.  There's something that's so big about six. Brady is definitely his own little person, with his own (strong) ideas.  We see glimpses of ourselves (his proclivity to wake up singing and chattering, like John; his meticulous way of categorizing things like dates, like me), but his likes and talents are his own.  He can be so BIG in some ways...his pride in learning to tie his shoes and getting his own water, the ways he cares for and helps his sister, the love he has for going off on the bus to a full day of school.  And yet, there is much growing left to do (and sometimes less ability to listen as we instruct him).  I'm still glad for the feel of his small hand reaching for mine, and for his interest of sharing much about his day with me.

On the eve of his birthday, I'm taken back to the day before his birth.  It's ingrained in my mind as it was so life-altering.  And yet, it's hard to remember with much detail the days and years before.  John and I have many half-joking conversations in which we wonder, "What did we do and what did we talk about before we had kids?"  We've now reached the point in our almost 10-year marriage where we have been parents longer than we have been a couple without kids.  In hindsight I sometimes miss those carefree times when we could have a conversation without interruption, live by our own schedule and interests, and indulge in hobbies and rest.  The thing is we don't appreciate it while we're in the moment (which is probably why I can't understand when people tell me I will miss these crazy child-raising days someday!)  I am grateful for those early years with John in which we built our foundation as a couple and continued to deepen our friendship.  But I'm also grateful for parenthood, which has developed us as true partners, built more trust and understanding, and also helped us to lean on one another (and also dream of an empty nest one day!)

I remember that day before, struggling to get through a massive to-do list, while believing we still had two weeks to prepare.  Ready for the pregnancy to be over, ready to meet the son we had dreamed of for years, yet not truly prepared for what was ahead.  I still laugh at the memory of that to-list left on the table, where it would remain for our week-long stay in the hospital, and remain there to greet us on our return (my wonderful in-laws had completed some of the remaining projects in our absence).  That list has a prime spot in Brady's baby book, my first clue that babies have their own plans (that often don't match ours), and that much of parenthood is out of our control.

Having a baby has changed us, but even more so, having Brady has changed us.  He has developed such a deep love in us from the beginning.  He has taught us about protecting and sheltering since his early difficult days in the hospital, and his many sick days over his first two years.  But he has shown us his own determination to fight, and has made us stronger as a result.  He has opened me up to more playfulness and kindness as his sweet and loving spirit is such an inspiration to me.  He is teaching me that nothing is more important than now.  As the Matthew West song says,


"Now you're here and everything's changing 

Suddenly life means so much 
I can't wait to wake up tomorrow 
and find out this promise is true 
I will never have to go back 
to the day before you"



Thursday, March 22, 2012

Gratitude

I taught a class back in January called "Spirituality for Busy People" in which I extolled the virtues of writing gratitude lists to help fight stress and negativity, and to lift our spirits and remember from "whence comes our help" (Psalm 121).  I tried to give up negativity for Lent last year, to no avail.  I just took a mini-vacation with my family, and then complained about it on this blog.  Clearly, I'm in need of perspective, and it's time to count my blessings.

-Spring break on campus...time to rest and recharge

-the beautiful spring weather

-preparations for my boy's 6th birthday next week

-the gorgeous view from my office window


-the sound of a child playing in the garden outside

-my own children safe and happy at school

-a fantastic husband who is my love and my partner, who takes care of the house and kids so I can fulfill my dreams and who also successfully runs his own business and helps to fund our extras (school, vacations, savings, etc)

-although I've killed three wasps in my office today, no birds have flown in to terrorize me

-plans for a "Hunger Games" movie date with my sweet husband

-currently reading four great books






-succeeded in running a 5k, something that I never thought I could (or would want to) do

-hopefulness that this dream of a job will continue

-my mama's girl, who cheered this morning when I parked to walk her into school (instead of doing the drive up drop-off, which gets much gratitude from me).  She asked me to push her on the swings, laughed delightedly, then murmured "I love you, too" as I left.  LOVE.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

I'm here...now what?

After a long period of waiting, I feel like I've finally arrived at where I'm supposed to be.  This calling to Hollins University just clicked, it feels right, I feel at home.  And yet, I'm still figuring it out.  What now, after I've spent all my time anticipating this?  What is next, or more importantly, how do I exist in the now?  How do I thrive in this setting to which God has called me?

It's not what I expected, but it's wonderful.  I have made lots of connections, but not the way I thought it would happen.  I've started a weekly worship service that has weak and fluctuating attendance.  I love those who come (mainly a different group each week) and they seem to get something out of it, but I'm still struggling to find a way to connect with the other 840 or so people on campus.  I see them, I know them, we talk and they even say good things about me, but I don't know how to help guide them in their spiritual journeys when I can't get them to come to the chapel.  I guess I've bought in to the "if you build it, they will come" consumeristic view of ministry (which I hate in theory, but it seems to be somehow ingrained).  I've been told I need a "gimmick" or for popular people to come in order to draw in crowds.  I've been told all I need is a good worship band with cool music.  I say it's not about me, but then I feel hurt when no one shows up.  The view of ministry I've always known is a group coming together to meet (in church, in a service, for an activity) that builds community and supports one another.  My campus ministry was my main source of support in college.  But we're not living in the world of 20 years ago where most everyone went to church (or at least believed they should be).  I'm volunteering with the youth at my church, and we have a hard time getting them to come to anything due to their multiple commitments, even though they have grown up in the church with faithful families to support them.

And writing this, I hear a voice saying that I have it all wrong.  It's not about getting students to come to the chapel, or to my events, or to be connected to me.  It's not about sitting in a church service and finding God anymore.  We can all find God anywhere and on our own terms (and the sad reality is that many feel uncomfortable with the church, like in Rachel Held Evans' post "15 Reasons I Left  Church").  I'm the first to say that all things are spiritual, but the downside of this is that it gives us the freedom to interpret for ourselves, to pick and choose.  That's not all bad, but it's not all good either.  We need community to support us, to remind us that it's not a solitary journey, and that it's not just about US.  We need to keep growing, keep searching, keep making meaning, keep listening for that still small voice, and keep sharing what we're learning with others.

Oh, but that's a risk.  What will they think of us?  What if we disagree?  What if I'm not accepted?  What if I'm wrong?  What if I'm right...what then?

I've been reading a lot about how youth ministry is changing.  Many churches are doing away with a paid youth minister (out of financial necessity).  Others, like mine, are having conversations about how to make ministry in general more inter-generational and less about age-specific programming.  After reading the book Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids, I see the benefit in this.  But what does this mean for my college students who are exploring independence for the first time?  Some intentionally leave their faith behind at home (perhaps it was never truly theirs), while others get busy and it slides into oblivion behind multiple other priorities and explorations.

I'm doing serious thinking about what ministry means to me here now, in this time, in this place.  I realize that they may never come to me.  Even if I design the most fantastic worship service with all the flashing lights and rocking music, it's not going to appeal to everyone, and it doesn't guarantee spiritual growth for those who do.  I'm understanding that it is less about what programs I offer, but about providing the space and time to safely reflect, to pause and connect, to renew the spirit and to explore how our inner spirit connects us to the Divine Spirit that is always surrounding us, in all things, at all times.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Quiet

It's spring break here on the Hollins University campus, and everything is uncharacteristically quiet.  Ahh....I'm soaking it up.  It is much needed peace after a short family "vacation" to Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg.  I know it's ungrateful to complain about a vacation, but a four-hour trip to a water park with two kids under 6 who don't nap or sleep well and need constant interaction is not much of a break.  There are fights to referee, boo boos to kiss, questions to answer (and answer and answer...), and orders to issue (for their own well-being and safety...and for my mental health and stability).  There are meals to procure, which they won't like, won't eat, and will demand a snack exactly 14 minutes later.  The days are long, from their 6am awakening to their 10pm surrender to sleep, with no breaks in between.  And yet, memories are being made.

Like, this, a reminder of my greatest gifts, who have grown so much in their 6 and 4 years.  I'm certainly grateful for travel that doesn't involve diaper changes and feedings every two hours!



And, there was the opportunity to take them back to the College of William and Mary to show them where I studied and worked, and to even introduce them to my former boss.  It's hard to believe that almost 13 years have passed since my graduation.





I'm reminded more and more of what a gift this time truly is.  The battles of will show me what strong little people they're becoming, and that they have minds and needs of their own.
It's also cute and amusing when I'm not in the moment!  

I'm grateful for a job that allows me time off to do things with my family, and for the financial resources to do so (mainly due to my husband's income, so thanks, honey!).  I know a time will come when the simple pleasures that delight them the most (bunk beds!) will not elicit excitement, and a time when they won't be as thrilled to spend EVERY.SINGLE.SECOND of their free time with us.  I know I will at least miss the snuggles and the delighted giggles.  I will miss the adorable smile with two missing teeth, and the feel of tiny hands cupping my face.  

And when they finally leave the house (and not just threaten to daily, as is Brady's new thing), I will be facing a new and uncertain world of quiet that I'm sure I will face unprepared.

So for now, I soak up the quiet, and then I'll return home to the loud chaos where my heart resides.





Wednesday, March 7, 2012

If you choose...


Mark 1:40-42
40 A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ 41Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ 42Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.  [bold emphasis added]

I have had a certain reminder note up on my bulletin board since the passage above came up in a devotional reading.  




The phrase "If you choose" struck me, as it's reinforced by Jesus' assent, "I do choose."  What a powerful moment that must have been.  

I wrote the note as more of a reflection and reminder of what I choose to do.  So many times, I get caught up in the "ought to, should of, have to" and forget about using the power of my own choice to make good use of my time in life and ministry.  Ministry should be life-giving, as the story of Jesus healing the leper illustrates.

But today, another eternal question was raised.  What about the times when God chooses NOT to?  What about the times we are not saved, not healed, not led?  What about those wilderness wanderings, and the times we feel utterly abandoned and unloved?  What about Job, who lost it all, and the personal Job stories we encounter of good people struggling with so many evil consequences?  Where is God, or as Philip Yancey asked in his book, 

We want, we need to believe in a God that loves us so intimately and cares for us so personally that this Divine One can step right into our lives and intervene for our benefit.  And sometimes we witness those divine moments (or at least credit them as such).  But more often, we are left struggling with a God that appears to not show up or get involved.  We can say that "God has a plan" or we can't understand it all, but it's not all that comforting.  We can try to live in the tension between holding on to faith even our hope ebbs away.  "I believe...help my unbelief!"

Sometimes faith is a choice, an unlikely one, but sometimes it's the only hope we can hang onto in this perilous world.  We don't understand the plan, perhaps we never will, but sometimes the glimpses we see are breathtaking.  There's just enough light to guide us to the next step, just enough strength to hang on for another day.  And someday, perhaps years down the road, we look back and see how we been carried through.

I don't have an answer for the question and I'm in a lifelong process of trying to embrace the divine mystery of God.  Fortunately, when the question was posed to me today I was struck mute (due to bronchitis, but perhaps there was a little divine intervention?? there to keep me from sounding like Job's bumbling idiot friends making excuses about why bad things happen to good people.)

But what I hang onto is hope, and love, and goodness, and when I see and feel those things, I thank God and I feel connected to God.  When I encounter pain and suffering, I seek God because I'm not strong enough on my own.  And when I've made it through, I hope I'll remember that it was not on my own merit, but because of the God who carried me.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

We're all doomed!! (not really)

Today started off with an emergency drill, which is not the most desirable start to a morning.  At least it wasn't on a Monday.  But to spend an hour focusing on all the potential catastrophes is a little like feeding an addiction for a worrywart like myself.


I discovered recently that as the interim university chaplain, I'm on an emergency response team for the campus.  In the event of an emergency, I get to hole up in a command center full of land-line telephones, laptops, generators, and a bunch of large and in charge personnel.  It's yet another experience that makes me feel like a child playing dress up, na├»ve and unprepared.  However, as a minister and chaplain, I have not been sheltered from disaster.  In my first months here at Hollins, I ministered to a grieving campus after the unexpected loss of a beloved faculty member.  I have lost former congregants and co-workers to suicide and death, and have performed several memorial services.  For me, there is a sweet sacredness in this part of the job, the journey with others through the darkness of grief, to the eventual hope.  I'm not afraid of walking with others through the valley of the shadow of death.

But there is a fear in the imagined possibilities and in the thought of the responsibility I hold.  Our tabletop scenario drill today quickly escalated from a supposed fire to the proposed idea that the fire itself could be a staged and intentional set-up for an ambush by an attacker at the evacuation site.  While it seems a little preposterous, events at college campuses in the past few years have taken a turn that no one could have predicted.  This is one of the reasons for the mandatory emergency plans and the drills we undertake, as well as the metal tool I have behind my office door that is intended to bar my door in the case that a violent intruder gains access to the chapel.

It's a struggle for me.  Part of me tends to look for the worst that could happen (my pessimistic side, which I like to call my "realist" nature to spin it in a better light), while the other part gets frustrated by a culture that seems to use fear as a tool.  There are terrorist alerts and warnings used as justification for all manner of policies, governmental interventions, and wars.  There is so much more red tape which often stops real and positive good that could be done.  There is the fear that stops us from living real and wholehearted lives (of which Brene Brown speaks).

A more realistic fear for me is the responsibility I carry to the future generation.  This hit home for me this morning in my devotional reading from http://www.d365.org/journeytothecross/:


We are creating the future today! It is hard to imagine what doesn’t yet exist. But the choices we make today will define future generations. We get to decide if we want to be part of blessing future generations. Our behaviors today impact the future of the environment, our health, our church communities, and our families.
We decide if we help to create a future of love, hope, and compassion or a future of hatred, fear, and judgment.
Bonnie Cassida


It's a reminder of the sacred calling of God to be a blessing to others, to show love and grace, to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.  What a responsibility, what a gift.

Monday, March 5, 2012

My husband, my hero

Be careful what you wish for.  The other day, in my busyness, I thought about how nice it would be to have a day to lounge around, read in bed, and generally be lazy.  That's pretty impossible with two active young kids and a full-time job.  In fact, it usually only happens when I'm sick, so sick that movement is nearly impossible.  Yesterday happened to be one of those days.  I slogged through church, then came home to "rest" with the sound of elephants stomping above my head (or perhaps it was my kids in their "quiet time").  Somehow, the dream of lounging in bed didn't connect with the reality of coughing achiness.  My brain couldn't focus on reading, and I just stared like a zombie.

My sweet husband, however, was my hero.  I had committed to taking a meal to a family that had lost their husband/father, so he cooked and delivered it for me, taking the kiddos with him.  There was quiet and actually a little rest, which made me feel a little better.  He even slept on the couch and got the kids all ready to go this morning, so that I could stay in bed until the last possible minute.  He joked with me that I must have "the man cold", which he tells me is much worse than the normal variety.


The thing is, I don't give him very much sympathy when he's sick.  As I try to be a martyr and power through feeling yucky, I expect him to do the same.  But sometimes, I'm brought down.  I feel guilty.  I think of all I SHOULD be doing.  And he is there, with gentle reminders to take care of myself and rest.  He makes the space for me to do that by picking up all the responsibilities.  He is so much kinder and more grace-filled with me.

And I feel grateful.  Grateful for his care, and for the reminder that I don't have to do it all alone, even on a good day.  I can't save the world; I can't even save my household from erupting into fits and tears.  But when it's all said and done, we hold each other, and we realize that we, in turn, are held by God.  And that is a strength greater than I can ever have on my own.

2 Corinthians 12:10

Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A not so SUPER start



Today, I sent my son off to school dressed as the lesser-known Dr. Seuss book character, "Superman".  What, you mean Superman didn't appear in any Dr. Seuss books?  Oh well, our costume choices were between that and Spiderman, and poor Spidey couldn't figure out how to get off the one-piece costume to go to the potty, so that was out.  Those are the kind of decisions you get in our house on little notice.  Ah, I've written before on my frustration of the notes that arrive home from school mandating that everyone wear red polka dots or mismatched socks.  I know it's all in fun or must have some educational value (questionable), but when I'm scrambling around trying to find the requisite items while the boy is on the verge of tears because "We HAVE to do this...they SAID SO...my friends are going to be dressed up", and then I hear that the teachers spent the day showing movies, I get a little crazy.

This morning was one of those crazy times.  Between getting out and putting away the three loads of laundry I ran last night (kids need underwear for sure), unloading the dishwasher, and scrounging around for a costume, there was much whining from the littles, who wanted a DIFFERENT costume, and Dora background music to NOT eat their breakfast to.  There was hair sticking up in all different directions that the did not WANT to be sprayed and brushed, and tears and questions and needs.  In frustration, I banged the hairbrush on the counter (which, in my defense, seemed better than yelling or hitting someone), which brought on more yelling and tears. It was a horrible, no good, very bad day, and I think I'll move to Australia.

But before that, I have a lunch date at school with Superman, who most certainly does NOT want a sandwich and chips, but maybe McDonald's because that is what some other parents sometimes bring their (much luckier) kids.

So I'm not quite savoring every moment like I've been advised to do, but I am trying to find the joy in the little moments.  I loved this reminder.  There is so much joy now, and so much to look forward to.  I anticipate all the grumpiness melted off of my sweet boy's face, and a smile on mine as well as we share lunch together.