Monday, July 29, 2013

(not so) Ordinary Time

Time's a funny thing.  Either we're bemoaning the lack of it, or like parents in the summertime, wondering how to fill the excess hours of it.  We lean forward to wonder what is next, or wander through past memories wearing our rose-colored glasses.  It is so very hard to live in the present, and isn't that what time itself is measured by...this present moment?

Today my mind is on my sister-in-law as she will be admitted to the hospital this evening to be induced.  Tomorrow, we will anxiously await news of the arrival of our new nephew, and then we'll journey as a family on Wednesday to meet him and celebrate in person.  Our lives are marked by these transitions, and yet, before them come the real moments of change that go unnoticed.  I'm remembering my last day before children.  John and I had lunch with others to celebrate a friend's birthday, and planned to go out for ice cream after a routine doctor's visit.  We were not expecting the early birth of our son, and so our last day as a childless couple passed by in a flurry of appointments, work, and errands.  I wonder how we would have marked it differently if we had known what was to come.  We were eagerly anticipating becoming parents, but the thing they never tell you (because you wouldn't fully understand) is how pivotal that change is.  You are never the same people again.  Your time is not your own, and your focus is not on you as an individual or a couple.  You will think and feel differently.  You will be forever tied to this tiny stranger who has captured your heart.

We have emerged from those bleary early years of sleepless nights, helplessness, and tears (and the babies grew out of it, too).  What threatened to break us at times has made us stronger together.  There are times that we despair at the relentless nature of the work of raising thoughtful humans, and we are still exhausted much of the time, missing time for ourselves.  And yet, we wouldn't wish away these precious gifts, even though they come at an often painful price.  I read somewhere a father describing the "unrequited love" we have for our children, and I agree, bearing the scars from hateful words carelessly thrown at me in anger.  I am bruised by legs kicking in anger and frustration.  I am often frustrated, fearing that we are not getting through to them.

There are moments that make it worth it, when I can see their God-given potential shine through, when they are wrapped around me in love, and I am grateful for these fleeting gifts.  When I hold her as I once held her infant self, and her arms and legs dangle beyond my arms and I have to stop and freeze the image, knowing a time will come when she will no longer allow me to snuggle her like this.  These are the moments I want to mark; these are the transitions that matter.  She wants "Momaw"-Maryn dates and loves to make art.  He is learning to ride his bike without training wheels and has a new-found love for Harry Potter.  They are eager to share the events of their day with me when I get home.  These are not momentous events, but the stuff of daily life that is always changing.  But, for now, this is what holds us together.  This is the love, always present within us, that opens our eyes to all the wonder and blessing in this ordinary time.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

More than words

There is something about art that speaks more deeply than words.

It's said that a photograph that speaks a thousand words, and this one speaks volumes to me.  It tells of inside jokes and stories, the feeling of being away from home for the first time, and yet finding your place.  It's the experience of being apart for years, and then coming back together and feeling like no time has been lost at all.

freshman hallmates Jessica Lin Lenkong, Amy Shelley Olson, and Jenny Frazier Call at Amy's wedding in May

I spent time yesterday wandering through the "Papercuts" exhibit at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum of art on the campus of Hollins University.  It was exquisite, and again, words can't convey the depth and the wonder it invoked.  Through the common medium of paper, the artists had created entire communities and worlds of both beauty and destruction.  One piece involved making circles of colored strips of paper and arranging them on the floor in a flower-like pattern that was actually a reconstruction of the pattern of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  Another took beloved paperback Harlequin romance novels from her childhood, stitched the pages together with gold thread as one large sheet, and then cut out the "naughty" parts, revealing beautiful designs in their place.  With each display, there was a story, and a person making meaning of his or her experiences, creating beauty from a life that is not always lovely.  It was fascinating to talk with the museum's director as we shared our own connections with the pieces and I learned how others had related to the art during the exhibit.

We connect over the different layers of meaning beyond the surface, if we're willing to go deep enough to explore it.

I think this desire to find meaning and create beauty, even in the ugliest circumstances, is what draws me to religion.  There is so much in life that can't be captured in mere words.  There is too much pain to be explained, and too much joy to describe.  When I was a "scientist" (and I use that in the loosest possible since as I was a miserable and fumbling one), I wanted to seek answers and draw connections.  And yet in my experience, it was more about classifying and categorizing.  Things were broken apart instead of joined together.  I longed for community, for a shared story that would allow me to explore, even if I never found all the answers.

As a minister, I've discovered the joy of mystery, and the power of stories.  I will never have all the answers, nor would I want to.  Instead, I am a privileged witness to individual stories, that, if I'm really paying attention, I understand to be not individual at all, but part of a larger communal story.  We are all seeking our place in the story, and my great joy as a minister is sharing the message that every story matters, and every one is welcome.  As we join our stories, we begin a journey full of wonder, beauty, and mystery, that goes on forever...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Storms without and within

It has been a stormy summer.  Not the gentle storms that draw you to bed with a good book and the promise of lulling you to sleep, but ones of house-shaking thunder, and wind that uproots trees.  It has rained so thoroughly for so many consecutive days that areas that rarely see floodwaters are buried beneath the deluge.  Our yard was a swimming pool for days, and now the swampy smell persists.  Others have not been so lucky and have been bailing out basements, discarding soggy carpets and rugs, and mourning the loss of stored memories.  We clean up and move on, but all around us, images of destruction persist.  I pass by roads that are pitted, and hear of sinkholes that have closed down others.  The boards on the bridges of my lovely garden at work were bowed up from the force of the water beneath.  The shoulder of the road that takes me to Hollins is misshapened, the asphalt bubbled up from the force of the storm.  It boggles my mind that an element as light as rain can create such damage.

I think of the elements that sneak into my life, seemingly harmless, and yet wreck havoc with my mind and soul.  There is jealousy and guilt, revenge and regret.  I harbor anger and resentment against others that only breaks me down.  There are things of which I can't let go, even though the weight drags me down to the ground.  My mind and my heart are cluttered, even though the outside surfaces are spotless.  I am selfish and self-centered, and feel betrayed when I'm a victim of others' thoughtlessness.  There are so many storms within that uproot the good seeds I plant, and tear holes in the foundations of the life I try to build.

Each day I must continue the work of cleaning up the messes.  I pray for wisdom and peace, and for a spirit to live and work in peace with those around me.  I work to forgive others and also myself, grateful for a new chance in each new day.  I clean out the muck of the past, and seek out restoration and hope in new beginnings.  It is not easy, and the job is never complete as new means of destruction always find their way back in.  But I hold out hope for redemption, that each day is a new gift from God to accept who I am and continue working on who I will be.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, 
his mercies never come to an end; 
they are new every morning; 
great is your faitfulness.  
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him."  
(Lamentations 3:22-24)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I am enough...and so are you

images from Tumblr

I'm reposting this from July 2013 as it resonates with my One Word choice for 2014: enough.

I hear the sound of little footsteps padding down the stairs (again), and I sigh, because it's not the first time this night.  Getting both kids in bed has always been an Olympic sport for us, but even more so these days.  A cute blue-eyed blond pokes her head around the corner, grins, blows me a kiss, and says, "I love you!" before jetting back upstairs.  At least she's sweet and cute.

Other times, though, the bedtime routine is punctuated by wails and yelling and "You don't even LOOOVVVEEE MEEE!" or tearful sniffles and a quiet, "Do you love me?"  And I begin to realize that this is the central question we all carry.  Are we loved?  Are we enough, just as we are?  Are we accepted, even when we're not behaving as others expect us to?

I seem to teeter between excesses of love and fear, and it's hard to find my balancing point on this see-saw.  Although I have so much to be grateful for, I live in a culture and a time where fear and scarcity reign.  It's much easier to focus on the negative, to worry about what I don't have and what might go wrong.  I look at my comfortable life and wonder if it should be more exciting, and how I could be accomplishing more.  There are moments that I'm caught up in the wonder and awe of how beautiful life is, and see God shining through the details, only to be robbed in a moment by the fear that it will all be lost, that I am not living out my calling.

Fear is a lonely animal, and when it engulfs me, I can only cry out into the darkness, "Do you love me?  Am I enough?"  I know that these voices of fear, of alienation and doubt are only shadows; they are not truth.  I believe that's why the Bible so often implores us to "Fear not!" and reminds us that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and self-control (1 Timothy 1:7).

I'm clinging to the promise of "enough"...that I am enough, that God has given me enough resources to live out my calling, and when it gets to feel like too much, I can simply say "enough" and retreat back to the love of God and my family, who fill me.  And when I truly am able to embrace this, I'm also teaching my sweet little ones that there is always more than enough love for them, just as they are.

Monday, July 15, 2013


There are times when it seems like the entire house will cave in on us.  Such are the joys of living in an older home, where you hedge your bets about which appliance will give out first.  The sinks, tub, toilet, washing machine, and dishwater are a not-so-lovely orange hue from the iron in the well water, and no amount of scrubbing seems to defeat it.  With each deluge of rain, our yard becomes a swamp.  Yesterday, the swing set came crashing down as the kids were playing, but fortunately, they were able to jump off in time to not go down with it.  This morning, I went to open the blinds, at they broke and fell, missing my head by inches, and instead putting a whole through our trash can.  And now two more items are added to the shopping list.

It's always something...and then it's something else.  I feel fatigue and defeat sinking in and until I realize that I can't change the circumstances, but I can change my perspective.  It's time for a little gratitude, a way of remembering the gifts I have been given.

-Our house may be old and small, but it is charming and cozy, and mostly perfect for us.  It still lifts my spirits to drive around the bend in the road and see the cheery blue cape cod and know I am really home.

-Yes, the swing set is broken, but it has given the kids more than three years of joy.  And the neighbors are excited about helping us rebuild it to be better and stronger.  Plus, it broke when I was there to witness it, and could warn the kids to "GET OFF!!!", saving us all from injury.

-There is always an unexpected expense that seems to suck up any amount of cash we manage to stash away (a new air conditioner for my car, dental work for Brady), but we are blessed to be able to pay our bills (planned and unplanned), give to charity, and have enough to plan for some well-needed vacations.

-While I'm definitely starting to feel my body in different ways as I age, I'm so grateful for my health and that of my family.  After sharing in the journey of others and a brief hospital stay for Maryn recently, I know what a tenuous balance health can be.

-I'm happy to be at this stage of life where the major things seem pretty much settled and stable.  Our family feels complete, our jobs are fulfilling, and we have roots in our community.  After many years of exciting and stressful changes, it's a gift to just be.  Normal and boring suits me just fine!  We also get to celebrate the births and changes of friends and family around us.

I need to make a regular practice of counting my blessings, and sharing them with those around me.  For what are you grateful, and how will you share that today?

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Monster

A monster lives within me, one that feeds on the chaos of overstimulation.  I feel it stirring when the noises have reverberated off the walls of my brain for so long that even the sound of someone biting into a chip in the next room feels like a little earthquake within my head.  The slam, slam, SLAM, BANG of kids parading in and out of the house, or attempting again and again to close the bathroom door without the courtesy of turning the doorknob becomes the soundtrack of my life.  And the questions, the endless questions, and the stories that go on and on but lead nowhere except for the interruptions from someone else chiming in with a different story or an URGENT NEED for a Band-aid or a piece of gum...until I think I might collapse from the weight of it.  The worst is the sound of my own voice, repeating the same instructions and rules again and again..."Do you HEAR me??"

I ask for one moment of peace, some quiet in which to think (but in reality to silence the voices and thoughts bouncing around in there and just be still), only to be asked repeatedly, "Are you done yet?" as if my request had been an inconvenience instead of a necessity.

And the monster roars, ugly, mean, indignant, and leaves tears and shouting and fear in its wake, until I'm reduced to a nasty pile of regret and guilt and failure.  It's out of control, and I wonder if I'll ever patch back together the broken pieces.  I see the brokenness in their faces, hurt masked by defiance, angry words to match mine.  I'm crushed by reprimands from tiny figures that seem to tower over me in my lowness.  It takes tears and time and heartfelt apologizes to win them back, along with promises it won't happen again. And I pray, again and again, that I will be able to keep that promise.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What this introvert wants you to know

image from

I may be quiet, but don't assume I have a voice.  I'm slow to speak, but quick to think and to feel.

I may be kind and gentle, but don't mistake me for a doormat to step on.  I will not lay there and take abuse.

I may not react like you expect, but understand I will respond in time and in my own way.

I may show flashes of anger and irritation, but once I am heard, you will find deep caring at the root of it.

I may tire easily with lots of interaction, but I am also renewed by deep one on one conversation.

I may seem awkward at times in social situations, but I truly long to connect.

I may not hold up my end of the conversation, but know it's because I'm truly listening to you.

I may not contribute well in group work, but that doesn't mean I don't have ideas.  I process internally before I speak, so allow me the time and the space to think and speak without being talked over.

I may be sitting alone, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm lonely.

I may be an introvert, but that doesn't mean I can't also be a leader.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Sometimes the rain

Sometimes the rain is like providence, washing away all that is old and stale, and bringing reminders of renewal.  It takes me back to my baptism, and times when I've been caught in a sudden shower and have run through it, exhilarated.  I'm drawn into the warmth and comfort of my home, my mind, where I can curl up with a book and my thoughts.

Sometimes the rain is like my fear, relentless, pursuing, a deluge that makes me worry about floods and cancelled plans.  It reminds me that I'm not prepared, not ready, not in control.  The insecurity, watered, grows and takes charge. The rain is like tears, and I'm torn by my own grief and that of others.  How can I be happy without the light of the sunshine, when I am stuck, rooted, and flailing?

The rain falls on the just and the unjust, and there are times that I don't know which group I belong to.  The answer is likely both.  We are mixtures of saint and sinner, redeemed and fallen.  We are, each day, choosing to live with grace or refuse it.

The rain hits the sidewalk in a soothing rhythm and gives it a sheen like shellac.  There is so much beauty if you have the eyes to see it.  And I'm trying to keep my eyes and heart open.

art by Brady Call, 2012

Friday, July 5, 2013

Theology of Place

Sometimes we recognize a place as holy ground from our very first step.  I remember discovering my dream school, The College of William and Mary, through a course catalog that became scuffed and dog-eared as I read it eagerly each night like a novel.  Visiting campus for the first time was like coming home.  And now, all it takes is a certain temperature in the fall to take me back to the crunch of leaves on the cobblestone roads and the sound of the fife and drum corps off in the distance.

There are places that call us, where we feel a connection and a sense of purpose.  My first job at the Science Museum of Virginia was like that, and later my ministry at HopeTree Family Services (aka Virginia Baptist Children's Home and Family Services).  I found excitement and passion in going to work, a gift that I later realized that not all share.  When we find the place where "our deep gladness and the worlds' deep hunger meet" (in Frederick Buechner's definition of vocation), work is life-giving and meaningful instead of draining.

Other places join us into community, which I experienced in my first visit to Baptist Theological Seminary.  Not only would it become a place of academic growth, but also of emotional and spiritual growth.  It is also the birthplace of my own family, as I met and married my husband on that same campus.  I grieve the loss of place as the seminary prepares to relocate.  Although it is a positive move for their future, I will miss visits to the quad, where we entered from separate walkways to be joined together under a small tree bordered by bushes, surrounded by the holy joy of our friends, professors, and family.  Our first home together was a small campus apartment with a kitchen too tiny for us to share at one time, and yet the love that it contained was larger than the square footage should have allowed.

My current calling seems like revelation, as the events unfolded in a God-ordained way.  Through the process of finding, longing for, and answering the call, I have learned much about myself and the providence of God.  It is fitting that I first spied the chapel's steeple as I drove onto campus, and the sight of the chapel up close stopped me in my tracks.  From my first week on campus as an excited and nervous interim chaplain, I walked through the sanctuary on my way to my office, pausing as I faced the altar to give thanks for this incredible ministry and my place in it.

I am one who is apt to go with my instinct, to be moved by a strong sense of feeling.  I connect easily with places and people.  So what does it mean for me to not feel strongly about a place?  I recently visited a seminary that could be my next academic home.  On paper, it's the strongest option for me, a way to grow in my current ministry.  The details (timing, price, location, reputation) all seem to fit.  I enjoyed the class I visited and the students and faculty I met.  And yet...there were no burning bushes, no tugging of my heart.  It was fine, really...just ordinary.  There was the sense that I could do it, that it would all work out.  And perhaps that is acceptable at this point in my life.  I'm more stable, coasting through the mid part of my journey, looking for what will maintain the status quo of my comfortable family life, while helping me to grow spiritually and professionally.  Is my numbness a sign of a potential problem, or just a recognition that I have found my home (or homes) already?  Is it fear of starting something new at the point where I am just beginning to reach equilibrium?

I keep running across the phrase "theology of place" in my readings.  Although I'm not sure I completely understand it, the phrase itself seems to resonate within me.  We are people called to community, and we are drawn to different places to work that out.  In our ever transitioning world, it is unlikely to stay in one place for long, and yet, there is much to be said about creating continuity by building roots in one place.  And then there are the places of our heart that are separate from where we reside physically, the "thin places" in our lives where we were able to gain a new glimpse of God and ourselves.  These root our souls while allowing us to grow and explore in new dimensions.  Home looks differently as we journey through the different stages of our lives, as new places call to us, and as take a detour and move into temporary dwellings.  I'm blessed to have found home with those I love, and know that wherever I go, I take my home with me.