Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best of 2013

I'm a sucker for end of the year reviews.  I love countdowns of the best songs of the year and scrolling through friends' best books lists and blog posts of the year.  I anticipate the New Year, even though I'm way too boring to actually ring it in, usually falling asleep hours before the ball drops.  But I love the hope it brings--a new start, a fresh beginning, like the potential of all the blank pages of the journals I start.  Granted, the journals collect on my desk unfinished, along with the resolutions and intentions I persist in setting.  But as we talked about in my Sunday School class this week, it's okay to have areas of incompletion in our lives.  As much as the young Jenny thought there would be a day when I would "have it all figured out" and truly feel like a capable and mature adult, I'm starting to realize as I get closer to 40 that it isn't likely to happen.  Instead, as I wait for God to complete me, I need to be okay with where I am in the ever-evolving process of growth.  There are changes I can work towards, but I need to also seek contentment in the incompleteness and imperfections of life as it is now.

As I look forward, I also look back on a year that has been full of opportunities, and also stress.  I have been challenged to grow in the job I love, which has demanded a lot of my time and energy.  My family has been wonderfully supportive, but I can also see where I need to swing the balance back to devote more of myself to my relationships with them (and developing more patience with the challenging phases the kids are in...there's something about the odd numbered years for us: 1, 3, 5, 7.  I'm glad they'll be turning even numbers early in the year!).  Thanks to the growth of John's business and his care of the kids and home, we've been able to maintain our schedules and also had a great family vacation to end the year.  While my extended family has had health set-backs, it's given us a chance to reach out more and strengthen relationships with them while offering assistance (John has been my hero in this).  I've had the chance to grow as a writer through this blog and through three published essays:

The Modern Magnificat: Women Responding to the Call of God


Thank you for reading and for your kind comments and encouragement of this lifelong dream.

Here are some of my favorite things from this year, in no particular order:

(I'm not a very avid movie watcher, and most of the ones I do see in the theater are kids' movies.  My favorites just happen to be ones I've watched recently during this break, and I hardly remember others I've seen.)

"Saving Mr. Banks"


"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"

"Despicable Me 2"

(Still want to see "The Book Thief")

(I usually read about 100 books a year, but according to my Goodreads records, I only logged about 60 this year--evidence of how my workload has increased).  Here are some I particularly enjoyed:


The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving: A Novel by Jonathan Evison

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

The Last First Day: A Novel by Carrie Brown

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell


Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening by Diana Butler Bass

A Million Little Ways : Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily P. Freeman

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women by Sarah Bessey

Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Melton

Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair by Anne Lamott

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist

Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People by Lee Hull Moses and Bromleigh McCleneghan

Monoculture: How One Story Is Changing Everything by F.S. Michaels

Blog posts from others:

How the Hidden Dangers of Comparison are Killing Us {and Our Daughters}: The Measuring Stick Principle (Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience)

Little Girls, Get Up!  Get Up and Eat!(Glennon Melton, Momastery)

The Pursuit of Enough: When God Makes it Beautiful (Micha Boyett, Mama Monk for Pantheos)

Dear Less-Than-Perfect Mom (Lea Grover for Huffington Post Parents)

In Which (love looks like) an Empty Parking Lot (Sarah Bessey)

"All Right, Then, I'll Go to Hell" (Rachel Held Evans)

In addition to these, I regularly enjoy writing by Katherine Willis Pershey  and MaryAnn McKibben Dana, along with the blogs of my friends Linda Moore and Julie Ball.

My most popular blog posts of 2013:

When Baptist Women Go Wild

Empowering the Good Girl: A Disney Princess I Can Get Behind

Art and Vulnerability

Being a Sanctuary for Others (part of my 31 days of Sanctuary series)

Watching Her Sleep

Birth Pangs in an Empty Womb

As we enter 2014, this is my prayer:

May we let go of the old things that have weighed us down and held us back, while reaching for the new promises that lie ahead.  May we always trust that we are lovingly created in God's image, that we are enough and have enough to meet the challenges of the present and the future.  May God guide us all forward into the ever unfolding Story, and may we delight in each new page along the way.  Blessings, my friends.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

When the light of the season feels heavy

It keeps coming back to light and darkness, joy and pain, and I realize how both good and bad are linked, drawing us into this season of Advent.  We wait joyfully, expectantly, to celebrate (again) the birth of Jesus, but no birth is without pain, tears, or mess.  We long for rebirth and renewal because of the darkness, the brokeness we all feel.  We grieve, with empty spaces around the table and within our hearts. We carry the heavy burdens of packages we can't afford, years of regret, and the thoughts of those we know who are suffering.  We need to lighten our load.  We search for the light, but fear that the darkness might overcome us.

Christmas is in the dead of winter for a purpose.  When the days are short, dark, and cold, we needed a real reminder that what we see is just a surface reality.  Beyond the ordinary time we experience is the world of miracles, where a baby born to a poor young mother would be the Messiah, an event that called wise men to leave the familiar and journey to give precious gifts to a lowly one that would one day be called a King, a shepherd born among real and smelly sheep.

We sing songs of peace and joy, realizing that these are already within us, just as Christ is with us.  We light candles of hope, peace, joy, and love to remember the gifts that God gives us through Christ, the lights that reveal to us that the darkness will not win.  We light our candle from the Christ candle and go forth to be lights of the world.   We seek the light from a star that will draw us ever forward into the Kingdom of God, which is among us.  We celebrate what we have know, but what is also made new to us again each year.

So we hold our light higher, knowing that the darkness still lingers, but that the light pushes it back.  We celebrate in joy, knowing that love has already won and that we are held in its embrace.  Now that we remember that we are beloved, we are ready to face the world and be love.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Empowering the "Good Girl": a Disney Princess I Can Get Behind

I don't go to movies often as I would prefer to curl up with a book, but checking out the latest Disney movie, "Frozen", seemed like a nice family activity to wind down Thanksgiving.  I had heard positive reviews of both the movie's message and music, but I was still surprisingly blown away.  This may become my favorite Disney movie of all time.  While the animation was lovely and the characters were charming, I resonated with the themes of the story as they connected with a book I've been reading.  After savoring Emily P. Freeman's latest book A Million Little Ways, : Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live, I began reading her earlier work, Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life.  

I'm a self-proclaimed "good girl", and was often derided as a "goody-two-shoes" in my younger days. Performing well at school and at church became a mask for me, a way of creating an image of having it all together.  The outer shell of "perfection" hid the fears and chaos I held inside.  Somehow I had received the message that if I did all the "right" things then I would find happiness.  It's still a battle I fight daily, balancing my Pinterest ideals with a lovely (but not perfect) reality.  I struggle with my inner critic and the voices of a culture that sells me the idea that I must buy more and do more to be more.  There are the societal norms that regulate what I "should" say and how I should act as a woman, and religious dogma that sometimes narrowly defines (and denies) my role and call as a woman in ministry. 

I've hidden behind my "good girl" persona, doing what I can to please others, be nice, and do what is expected of me.  I've hidden and apologized for my anger and have not spoken up when I should have.  I've relied too much on myself, as Emily Freeman describes the good girl in her book, "Hiding behind that good-looking mask, her arms are folded too tightly to give and receive grace, or to fall into an embrace from a God who sees beyond her good reputation" (Grace for the Good Girl, p. 45).  It has caused me to keep others (and sometimes God) at a distance, and has allowed fear to make too many of my decisions.

This is where I most connected with the movie "Frozen".  The story centers around two sisters, who being Disney main characters are, of course, princesses.  The elder sister, Elsa, has a special gift of creating snow and ice just from her touch.  This provides magical snowy playscape for the sisters until Elsa accidentally hurts Anna with her powers.  Elsa feels guilty and afraid and vows to hide what she now sees as a curse.  When she is unable to control it, she ends up hiding herself away, putting distance between the sisters.  After their parents die in a shipwreck (why do parents so often meet an unfortunate end in Disney movies??) and Elsa is preparing for her coronation as queen, her magic is unintentionally revealed.  In fear, and for others' protection, she runs away from her home, creating a new castle for herself out of ice (there's a strong metaphor).  She is alone, but finds freedom in finally being able to be who she truly is without hiding.  She is surprised by the beauty that results.

At this point in the movie, Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel of Wicked fame), sings "Let it Go".  Here are some of the powerful lyrics:

Don't let them in, don't let them see,
Be the good girl you always had to be.
Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know.
Well now they know.

Let it go, let it go
Can't hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn my back and slam the door
And here I stand and here I'll stay
Let it go, let it go
The cold never bothered me anyway

It's funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me, can't get to me at all.
Up here in the cold thin air, I finally can breathe.
I know I left a life behind, but I'm too relieved to grieve.

There are twists in the plot that keep the movie from being a traditional Disney story. In fact, the movie pokes fun at the idea that the females need to be rescued, or that all is made right with "true love's kiss".  In the end, it's the bonds of sisterhood that are the evidence of true love, and the strength of the female characters save the day.  Love is the cure for the power that has become destructive, and it restores everything to wholeness and beauty.  Elsa learns that there is power and freedom in letting go of the walls she has built and seeking connection with others.  Her strength comes in learning to embrace and use her gift, viewing it through a lens of art instead of fear.

What if we could all do the same?  What if we could break through the places where fear has frozen us and find the empowerment to be who we were created to be? 

Perhaps I should take my tea bag wisdom seriously.

Check out the soundtrack version of "Let it Go" in the Demi Lovato video below: 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Art and Vulnerability

"Vulnerability" seems to be the buzz word these days.  Most notable in the work of BrenĂ© Brown, it's also popping up in many of the books and blogs I read.  Recently I enjoyed a getaway to an event hosted by Emily Freeman of Chatting at the Sky, based on her wonderful new book Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live.  Emily shared that we are all made for art; after all, we were created in the image of the great Artist.  

Our art may take different forms (writing, music, parenting, or work in any field that springs from our passion), but we each have an unique artistry to offer the world.  Even though this art is at the foundation of who we are, creating it is not simple or easy.  It takes courage to offer our gifts, particularly as we deal with inner and outer critics.  Sharing our true selves and deepest desires is vulnerable stuff...what if others don't accept it?  What if we give all we have and find that it's not enough?  Do we have anything uniquely special to give?

Vulnerability comes with great risks, and yet, I'm learning that the ways we live without it can cause even more damage.  I believe that the swing we're seeing away from the "I'm just fine, thank you, and I can do this myself" mindset to the longing for authenticity and community comes from the pain of wearing masks for too long.  It's hard keeping up an image and pretending things are okay when we feel broken inside.  It's difficult managing appearances, controlling our situations, environment, and those around us so that we can have the semblance of perfection that we crave.  We can work so hard to keep it together and just feel empty inside.

I started this blog as a way to be vulnerable, to force myself to peel back the facade a little and come to terms with a life, that while beautiful and full of blessings, does not always match the picture I have in my head.  I spend far too much time bemoaning how my children won't listen and too much energy trying to force everyone into submission.  I grew up in a very loving but unstable household, and I developed controlling tendencies as a way to compensate.  I want to be the perfect mother and wife, and I have unrealistic expectations of what that means.  When I inevitably fail, I feel guilty and am convinced I will always be a failure.  I have a hard time expressing what I need, and then grumble when I don't get my unspoken wants.  It's been an exhausting way to live (for me, and my family, too, I'm sure).  I'm slowly learning, though, that through the power of sharing how I feel, I'm more likely to get what I need.  Others are accepting of the "real" me as it frees them to be authentic as well.  They are not looking for perfection in me, and they are relieved to know I'm not expecting it from them either.

This retreat weekend came about when I told my husband I wanted to attend, and that I wanted a night in a hotel to relax and process the experience.  He was happy to oblige as he is always encouraging me to take better care of myself (and stepping in to rescue me when I don't).  I'm still working on not feeling guilty as I know the time away makes me a happier mom and wife, and I'm even excited to return home and spend a few solo days with the kids as John leaves to go hunting, and then we enjoy the chaos of the holidays together with our extended families.  "At the Barn" was a lovely time of listening and connecting.  Many shared dreams from their heart, and shared their honest struggle through tears.  Others offered encouragement through their on journey of having been there before.  As an introvert, I sat and took it all in. 

As I listened and appreciated the openeness, I realized that it is often missing in the larger world.  While we live in a culture of oversharing (instagramming every meal, tweeting every thought), there is a fine line between authentic vulnerability and a plea for attention.  The former leads to empathy and intimacy (I feel with you, "me too"), while the latter screams "see me".  Do we reach out in connection and community, or as a way to market and promote ourselves?  I have struggled with that line due to my engagement with social media (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram, blog).  Am I sharing to join in with others or to create and maintain an image?  Will my "friends" feel encouraged or overshadowed?  As it's more difficult to generate true community these days, it's also harder to know how to reach out without oversharing  and without being pushy or disingenuous.    

It was a message for me to ponder, seeking how I share myself.  Am I sharing who I really am or crafting an image or brand?  What is my art and how will I offer it to others?  It forced me to confront the demon of comparison that often blocks me from sharing my art.  It's easy to give up and think that I will never be there, and maybe that's okay.  For now, I'm grateful for the time to explore these questions and tend to the seeds of dreams planted within me, and nurturing those who share the garden with me.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

When Life is Like "Breaking Bad"

It's been two weeks since Sarah Bessey commented on my "When Baptist Women Go Wild" blog post, and I've been too terrified to write until now.  Sometimes the things you dream about actually happen, and instead of giving you courage, it just intensifies the voice of the inner critic.  I've always wanted to be known for my writing, to have a voice that can connect with and encourage others.  I love the power of story, as a listener and a writer.  But my doubts whisper that I have nothing meaningful to say, that the affirmation I've received is a fluke, unmerited, or a dangerous precursor to pride.  When I began writing, it was for me, yet I felt alone.  Now that others read my thoughts, I struggle with the temptation to become something I'm not, to lose myself to gain the appreciation of others.

When I get overly stressed, I tend to get sick and lose my voice.  It has always seemed to be my body's (or God's) way of getting my attention when all else fails.  As a minister, I need my voice, but the loss of it forces me to stop working and care for myself.  There are times when fear results in me losing my writing voice, a sickness called writer's block.  And so I have forced myself to sit and put the words on a page, returning to the practice, the spiritual discipline of writing as the creative urge was initially born in me.

It's been a dark couple of weeks, filled with news of violence and death.  It's not out of the ordinary these days, sadly; but these incidents have hit closer to home.  My students have recently lost family members, a student at a nearby university was killed, our church community has suffered through loss and tension, and the local news is filled with senseless acts of brutality and pain.  We are surrounded by reminders of gratitude and thanksgiving, but our hearts are heavy.

I recently finished watching the TV series "Breaking Bad" with my husband.  We went through the five seasons in about a month and a half, riveted to the premise that a "good guy" could turn so bad.  I kept searching for signs of redemption.  I connected with the characters early on and wanted to know there was hope for them.  Sometimes it was realized, and other times I had to live in the tension.  It's a lot like life (not the meth part, but the tension between good and evil, light and dark).  We walk through dark times, searching for the light.  The greatest tragedy is when we lose all sense of hope and get sucked into the darkness.  But I'm realizing more and more that the light is always within us.  As a Christian, we claim the calling that we are to be people of light.  We are reminded that the "light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).  Jesus is that light and is the source of our hope, the example that resurrection is real.  The very desire to seek the good and lament the bad is evidence that there is a greater hope that calls to us.  So shine brighter, you lights; recognize the light within and set the world ablaze with the promise that the darkness will not win.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Things you learn in June (synchroblog)

This post is part of a synchroblog at Chatting at the Sky:

I've dreamed of becoming a writer my whole life.  My pride was somewhat deflated in seminary when a professor returned a paper with the comment, "You could be a good writer." It seemed more like pointing out my failure than praise.  After struggling with fear, doubt, procrastination, and downplaying my own work while uplifting others', I'm finally claiming the title writer after having a few things published over the past months, the latest being an essay in this fantastic compilation:

I also had an essay included in this book, released in November:

In spite of these and writing on this blog for several years now, I was hesitant to label myself as a writer.  I don't know what I was waiting for (the worldwide acclaim is unlikely to happen).  I suspect it's that inner voice of fear that I'm not good enough or won't be taken seriously.  But the message I keep receiving time and time again from different venues is that fear doesn't win; love does.  I need to start listening and living like I believe that.

I saw something on Pinterest that said "too many people undervalue what they are, and overvalue what they are not."  I compare myself to others and feel defeated, and yet the only one I should be comparing myself to is me.  Am I reaching my goals and God-given potential?  Am I serving authentically in love?  Am I engaging my passion?

Writing for me is about expression and connection.  It is a release that helps me to find meaning (and God) in the chaotic messiness of real life.  It is a need, and much as rest and sustenance.  I write because it is part of who I am...a writer.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

When Baptist Women Go Wild

I am an ordained Baptist minister, chaplain at a women's college, mother of two, and I am a Jesus Feminist
(a community sourced Facebook project of Sarah Bessey )

I've been a pretty committed rule follower for most of my life.  I loved school with its structure and predictability, and the rewards that came with doing what was required.  My mom would tell you that I never gave her any trouble as a child, and although this isn't quite true, she did try to encourage me to rebel, telling me that I had earned a little fun.  But I found comfort in meeting expectations (mine and those of others), and liked the accolades that came with it (it was the consolation prize for not earning the popularity I truly desired).

It's no surprise that I grew up in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist church where rules and roles meant so much.  Going to church, learning my memory verses, and helping out earned me gold stars and praise.  Church was a place of connection for me, so I was there often and fell naturally into leadership roles--teaching, singing in the choir, and leading Bible studies.  My volunteering was encouraged, especially as women did most of the work of the church, but without receiving much acknowledgement.  Men were the ones in the official positions of power and leadership (pastor, committee chairs, and deacons). I never thought much about it as it was the only thing I knew, but my mom would tease me about how I would have to learn to be a submissive wife one day.  

Who would have thought that my big act of rebellion would come in going off to college and studying science?  My church had a slight anti-intellectual bent (being Bible based and Spirit-led) and science was posed as being anti-God.  Although my research career didn't pan out, I discovered something even better: ministry.  My call to ministry was the first thing that truly made sense, a connection to my passion and my background of church service.  My family was thrilled...my church, not so much.  It seems that women can't be called to true leadership roles in the church based a literal reading of 1 Timothy 2:12--"I [Paul] permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent."

This affected me about as much as my mom's comments about how a man should be the head of a family: I ignored it.  I had not yet learned about the context of the scriptures that were being thrown at me in rebuttal of my calling, but I knew deep down that the still small voice had called me to something greater.  That calling had clicked in my head and my heart, bringing a sense of peace and contentment that I had not felt before.  With each step towards my new vocation (seminary, ordination, internships), my gifts were affirmed and my faith grew even through the challenges.  I began to lean instead on verses like Galatians 3:28--"There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."

Fast forward 14 years and I am an ordained minister (in the tradition that tried to deny me), the wife of an ordained minister turned coin dealer and stay at home dad, the mother of two (a feisty little girl and a strong-willed boy), and the chaplain at a women's liberal arts university.  The feminism that excluded me in my home church is now practically a job requirement as I mentor young women and prepare them for the challenges ahead.  I am a member at a Baptist church that has a female senior pastor and many women deacons, and yet I know there is still much work that needs to be done.  The reminder comes every time I share my occupation and there is a moment of shock or disbelief.  It is having to explain that I am not "that kind" of Baptist.  But sometimes, I revel a little in the rebellion of doing something I'm not "supposed" to be doing and still feeling God's gentle acceptance and affirmation.

I look forward to reading Sarah Bessey's new book Jesus Feminist because I believe that the all-inclusive love of Jesus looks beyond gender, bringing us all into acceptance and service in the family of God.

This post is part of a synchroblog at http://sarahbessey.com/jesus-feminists-synchroblog-giveaway/.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Taking off the masks (#31 days to Sanctuary day 31)

Today is the last day of my 31 day blogging challenge, and I have to say I'm a bit relieved.  As much as I love writing, and as much as I need it as a creative and therapeutic outlet, thinking I HAD to write every day felt a little like being in school and having to write papers.  I've suffered from more writer's block and heard too much from the internal critic who chides that I have nothing important to say.  But I do think the practice has been helpful at keeping me open to inspiration all around me, and pushing me to go beyond my comfort zone.

Today is also Halloween, which is not my favorite holiday.  There's too much arguing with the kids over how much candy they can eat (and too much of me sneaking their candy).  I've never been a fan of dressing up, and it always seems too cold to be walking around in the outfits my kids choose.  But it's nice to see their excitement, to live in the belief that you can magically become someone else (while staying true to yourself on the inside).  Brady has been in Harry Potter mode for months now, since he read a lot of the books this summer.  He enjoys casting spells on us and having dueling battles.  I'm afraid he uses the killing curses on us far too often.

I was talking to a friend the other day who doesn't like dressing up either.  But she said, "You know, we really wear masks much of the time.  What if we were really ourselves on Halloween?  Could we do that for one day?"

It's a scary suggestion, but a worthy one.  I've been exploring authenticity, wholehearted living, and vulnerability through BrenĂ© Brown's work for a while now, and I realize that it is the way to find real joy and peace in life.  I'm willing to give it a try...will you join me?

"I'm imperfect and I'm enough"

To explore the entire #31 Days to Sanctuary series, check out all the links here.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tinker Day (#31 days to Sanctuary day 30)

The university where I work is a pretty magical place.  In addition to providing an excellent liberal arts education for women and offering award-winning graduate programs for men and women, the sidewalks literally shimmer.  No, really, it's from all the glitter.  They joke that you automatically pick up a minor in crafting as you graduate.  Hollins University is also known for the close bonds of sisterhood and for the individual attention that each student receives.

It doesn't hurt that the campus is gorgeous and the faculty, staff, and administration are incredibly caring and involved.  But without a doubt one of the greatest perks is the traditions.  There's First Step (when seniors step onto the quad for the first time), Ring Night (when junior girls are given zany tasks to complete to "earn" their class rings), but the favorite is Tinker Day.  Every person on campus eagerly anticipates Tinker Day.  The date is uncertain, but it occurs sometime after the first frost.  The president chooses a day to declare a surprise holiday from classes.  On Tinker Day, students are awakened by the seniors banging pots and pans through the residence halls at midnight and 6 A.M., and the chapel bells ring at 7 A.M. to summon everyone to the dining hall for doughnuts.  After a sugary breakfast, many don costumes and gather in front of the steps of the Main building, where the president issues her proclamation (also in costume and with a feather duster "scepter").  Then the group heads off to climb nearby Tinker Mountain for skits, songs, and a picnic of fried chicken and Tinker Cake.

It's such a lovely reminder of the importance of silliness, of taking a break, and bonding as a community.  Even on a rainy day like today, there is so much spirit and joy.  We are all celebrating the character that makes us unique, and reveling in the opportunity to be together.

It's too bad that life in the "real world" doesn't offer Tinker Day, but perhaps we could start such traditions in our own lives.  We all need a mental health day for rest and play.  I'm going to go have mine.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Boundaries (#31 days to Sanctuary day 29)

Thinking about sanctuary generally puts me in a peaceful state of mind.  Seeking sanctuary is working towards that elusive balance where my thoughts and actions move toward rest and healing.

I'm not there right now.

In fact, I threatened earlier to drop the "nice Jenny" attitude and turn on my inner meanness to get things done.

Yes, that attitude is still hiding within.  This is me at a BIRTHDAY party.  You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

 I'm frustrated, tired of feeling stepped on and disregarded, taken advantage of because I usually remain pretty even-tempered and demand little (those living within my household may tell a different story, however).  As a nurturer, I focus on encouraging and caring for others.  But the disadvantage is that it is hard for me to keep others accountable, maintain my boundaries, and speak my truth.  In the past couple of months, I have been reprimanded at work for things that were not my fault, yet I was unwilling to confront the guilty party or throw someone else under the bus.  I have cleaned up for others, picked up others' dropped commitments, and reassured those who did not follow through on what they had promised.  When I finally decided to address a reoccurring conflict, I ended up apologizing and taking the blame on myself, and unsurprisingly, nothing has changed except for my growing resentment.

Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabees, spoke at Hollins last night about how women have been socialized to express their anger in "appropriate" ways.  We either bottle it up, turn it on ourselves, deny it, explode, or apologize for it.  She encourages us all to "speak truth to power", seeing how these social constructs are harmful for all of us.  We can only experience freedom and change when we are willing to speak our truth and own our feelings.

Brene Brown echoed the same message today in an e-course I'm taking, challenging us to "choose discomfort over resentment."  More often than not, I find it easier (not productive or healthy, mind you) to stew in my own resentment than deal with conflict.  As a result, I usually bottle it up until I explode on some unsuspecting person.  It's not pretty, and it's not who I want to be.

In the coming weeks, I will work on my own boundaries, saying "no" when I need to without guilt.  I challenge myself to set reasonable expectations for those I mentor and keep them accountable for reaching them.  I will own my feelings and speak my truth...in love.  I will seek sanctuary, caring for my physical and spiritual needs, and  find peace in articulating what I need and accepting it from a position of worthiness.  Hopefully I won't have to break out the angry face.

How do you manage your own internal and external conflicts?  How will you challenge yourself this week?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Rituals (#31 days to Sanctuary day 28)

We were married 11 years ago on sacred ground.  There was not much there to show the holiness--a scrubby bush, a lamppost, and a patch of summer-scorched grass, but we could feel it.  This was our home and there could be no better place to start a new chapter in our lives together.  We had met while at seminary and had shared classes together and walks across this very quad.  Our first apartment was yards away and we would find our way there on our way back down the aisle.  We were poor students and couldn't afford much more than a couple dozen chairs and the help of our friends, but we didn't want it any other way.  It was perfectly beautiful.  The dean of the school played our guitar processional as we started from separate walkways and met in the middle to finish our walk together.  At our makeshift altar, our preaching professor officiated, and friends shared in scripture and prayers.  Our small group of family and friends joined in singing "Dona Nobis Pacem" (Grant Us Peace), and we felt it, mixed with our nervous excitement.

Recently, our seminary relocated, and the grounds and buildings are being sold to new owners.  I feel a little sad the physical connection to this place will be lost, but the memory is as fresh in my mind as that June 1st evening years ago.  We took a trip back to reminisce and share the story with our kids, marking a ritual that was just the beginning of many happy journeys together.  

Maryn always likes to come between us!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Rest (#31 days to Sanctuary day 27)

Where is day 26, you ask?  Well, we all need a break sometimes.  I'm finding the discipline of daily blogging to be both helpful and tedious, depending on the day.  I don't feel I have enough insights to share something profound each day (or perhaps even each week), although the practice does motivate me to stop and reflect. Sometimes, though, what I need most is a nap.

So on this day, I encourage you to find rest.  Find time to stop your busy mind, your endless to-do list, and the ceaselss motion that keeps you on the go.  Curl up with a book, or curl up and nap.  Take time to breathe deeply and let the noise inside quiet.  Take a walk in the woods and be surrounded by a different kind of noise, silence punctuated by reminders of life.  Stop and listen for that still small voice of God.

1 Kings 19:1-13
Elijah Flees from Jezebel
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ 3Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ 5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ 6He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of theLord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. 9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 10He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’
Elijah Meets God at Horeb

11 He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for theLord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

One Who is Not Busy (repost), (#31 days to Sanctuary day 24)

For today, a repost from October 1, 2012; still very relevant (except, unfortunately, no beach trip or weekly yoga): http://hopecalls.blogspot.com/2012/10/one-who-is-not-busy.html

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...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Slowing down (#31 days to Sanctuary day 23)

I'm going through a country music phase right now.  I love how the songs are narratives that often connect with our own story.  This morning on the way to work, I heard Rascal Flatts' song, "Mayberry".  Although the chorus is a somewhat cheesy and nostalgic wish to return to the good old days of what seemed to be a simpler life through the TV show of the same name, I thought the verses had meaning.  Sometimes it does seem that the world is shouting, and often we moan that we wish it would slow down.  While we can't slow the world or change the course of the natural (and unnatural) disasters that plague us, we can pause in our own busyness to rest and reflect.  Maybe you'll find your own little bit of Mayberry today.

Sometimes it feels like this world is spinning faster
Than it did in the old days
So naturally we have more natural disasters
From the strain of a fast pace

Sunday was the day of rest
Now its one more day for progress
And we can't slow down
Cause more is best
It's all an endless process

Sometimes I can hear this old earth shouting
Through the trees as the wind blows
Thats when I climb up here on this mountain
To look through God's window

Now I can't fly
But I've got two feet
To get me high up here
Above the noise and city streets
My worries disappear

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Church Sanctuary (#31 days to Sanctuary day 22)

Last night, I sat with a group of friends who have been part of my ministry journey.  One is a seminary friend who is working outside of the church, and the others (besides myself) are serving in local churches.  We talked about the reasons people give for not attending church these days, along with the reasons why we haven't always been a part of the church (or sometimes wish we weren't).  So many people are busy, and often Sundays are filled with sports, errands, or sleeping in.  There's an entire generation that is becoming more removed and doesn't understand the value of an hour (or more) sitting in pews passively listening to a sermon.  Others have been hurt or excluded by things said and done in the name of God. A lot is said these days about how the church is either dying or being reborn into something new.  There are statistics about fewer people in the pews, and also inspirational stories about how "church" is being done in new ways, outside the walls of a building.  We all have dreams of what it could look like, and hurts from times it hasn't lived up to the ideal.

Something keeps drawing me back, though, time after time.  I may grumble and complain, and I've been known to bad-mouth particular congregations due to bad experiences, but Sunday usually finds me in church.  For me, church has truly been about sanctuary.  My dad died when I was young, and it was the church that gathered around and supported us.  Church people brought casseroles and sat with me during the funeral.  Church men filled that missing male role in my life.  I gained leadership experience through opportunities within my congregation, and it was the church who sent me off to college and sent me notes to let me know I was missed.

Yes, it is broken, as any human institution.  Community is always messy, but the things that involve the most hard work are usually the things that earn our pride.  I've learned about grief and joy standing beside others as we share our concerns and celebrations with God and one another.  I've been reminded that it's not all about me as we work together to help others in our community.  It has been a safe place for my children to find other loving adults, ones who have publicly pledged to help raise them in faith.  When we are worn down by the stresses of parenting, we take advantage of our church's Parents Night Out program and thank God for a break.  When there is good news, there is a place where it will be shared and affirmed.

Church is not the only place in which we find community, but for me, it has been a sanctuary in which I find my place in the larger story of God's work in the world.  I am reminded of my calling to share the good news and to continue the work of restoring a broken creation through love.  Through the inevitable failures and frustrations, I try to rely on grace, understanding that it has been extended to me so many times.  I focus inward as I move outward, always seeking sanctuary wherever the journey takes me.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Home (#31 days of Sanctuary day 21)

They say that you can't go home again, but sometimes you have to.  I spent most of my life trying to work myself out of a hometown that felt too small, too closed-minded to truly be a sanctuary for someone who wanted freedom, who wanted something different.  And now I'm pulled back, caught in the tension between caring for my children and caring for my mom and grandmother.  I'm no hero, and I have a pretty poor sense of responsibility and connection.  If anything, I might be a lousy martyr for complaining about what I have to take care of.  But I know in my heart that it was my original family's love, support, and pride that allowed me to leave the nest and soar.  It's the same love and devotion that calls me back.

The town still feels the same, if not even more desolate as the remaining businesses start to shut down.  There are more "check into cash" quick fix loan shops and stores selling disability equipment.  The only places that seem bustling are the doctors offices and social services vendors that we visit.  My family's gratitude shames me.  I'm doing little more than a quick visit, something that should be commonplace, but sadly is not.  There are just too many walls that have been built between us, too many boundaries to keep me from moving closer.

My grandmother has made us lunch for the first time in forever.  She, once our family cook, gatherer of family meals and holder of traditions, has been too unwell for too long.  But she has made an effort for me and has spread the table.  I don't have time (don't make time) to stay, but she fixes me a plate for the road.  I take a bite on the way back and it tastes like love and the memory of so many times around the table.

I rush back to my now home, just in time for a yoga class.  We are outdoors on a lovely fall day, and the instructor tells us to ground our feet in the earth, to feel at home.  As we plant ourselves on the soil, she says, "Be okay with where you've landed instead of wishing you could be another way."  I think of the truth of that, and wish I had had that wisdom years ago, and am still trying to grasp it as I lean forward, faltering to find my balance.  I'm still caught in the tension of finding my home, one foot grounded in the present, with another toe in the past.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Say "No" to Say "Yes" (#31 days to Sanctuary day 20)

Sometimes having a "don't do" list is just as important as having a "to do" list.  What can you say "no" to so that you can say " yes" to what is truly important?

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Beyond the now (#31 days to Sanctuary day 18)

Art by Lori Portka

For my busy friends....

In the chaos of stress, deadlines, and pressure, the cacophony of noise assaults us.  Everything is too loud, too bright, too busy.  We carry the burden in our shoulders, our backs, the pain wearing us down to weariness.  It all feels too heavy, too much, impossible, insurmountable.

Into that heaviness, if we listen, we can hear the voice of Peace, reminding us to rest for awhile, to breathe, to play.  The sun and the gentle breeze beckon us to sit for a minute and see that life continues all around us.

Our stress is temporary and life is so much bigger than the narrow "now" that we see.

So, in your haste, remember to stop, breathe, drink in the beauty around you, feel the pulse of life around and within you.  Take a moment in gratitude to thank the Holy One that continues to write the pages of our life stories.  Know that beyond the "now" is the forevermore, which calls us into new life.

 "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well" (Juliana of Norwich).