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 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):

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).

Being a Sanctuary for my children (or why I won't be sharing as many cute stories on Facebook); #31 Days to Sanctuary day 17

I often get the comment, "I just love reading your Facebook posts!"  I consider myself a bit of a social media guru, using Facebook, Twitter, and my blog to share about ministry events and as my own creative outlet.  Writing for me is a spiritual discipline as it helps me, an introvert, to process and reflect on my experiences and thoughts.  My blog has been like a therapist, helping me to relieve my parenting angst.  When I felt most alone, I was encouraged by my online community that responded, “Me too!”  Facebook serves as my online journal.  As a busy mom, I don't have time to scrapbook, so it becomes a collection of pictures, a log of our family activities, and a repository of cute kid stories and sayings that I can look back on and remember.  The latter is usually the source of people's delight in my Facebook posts.  My children are 5 and 7, and due to their strong-willed and precocious nature, they provide great story material.  

Although I have read blog posts about the dangers of oversharing and have friends that won't even use the real names of their children online, I haven't been concerned.  Something about the removed nature of this form of sharing gives me a false sense of security.  But unfortunately, I have learned a difficult lesson...

Read more at the Ministry and Motherhood blog:

How NOT to find sanctuary (#31 days to Sanctuary day 19)

It's somewhat ironic that I write about finding sanctuary as if I'm some sort of expert.  It would be more probable for me to write from the perspective of how NOT to go about it.  I'm a type-A recovering perfectionist with two children who don't cooperate with my OCD tendencies.  I want everything to match the plans and pictures I have in my brain, but reality rarely plays along.  I should be more understanding when my kids can't handle deviations from routines because I'm made of the same stuff.

I think I seek sanctuary because it's so antithetical to my makeup.  I crave it because it's not part of my frantic mind.  I know what it takes to find it (slowing down, caring for my soul, and making space for activities that connect me to God and others), but it goes against what I feel like I SHOULD be doing (people like me really "should" themselves to death).  It's also so counter to what others expect of me.  Just in the last few minutes, I've been interrupted from writing to be notified of when my son's milk expires, to view my daughter's writing of the word "one", and to debate over exactly how many shrimp must be eaten before the promised trip to Dairy Queen.  I know it's really my issue for thinking I could squeeze in a few minutes of "me" time in a day completely devoted to their needs and interests (and yes, my self-indulgent snarkiness is very anti-sanctuary).

These "interruptions" are the source of my greatest frustration, and yet, this is life.  It's  also par for the course in ministry, where interruptions are often true crises that must be dealt with NOW, never mind my to-do list.  I realized today, though, after intermittent bouts of impatience with my kids that I was erroneously thinking that it's all about me.  I was irritated that they wouldn't allow me a moment to think my own thoughts or indulge in my own wants.  I remind my children that life is not all about them and they must take others' needs into consideration, and it hit me that this is also true for me.  Their interruptions are not (always) an attempt to drive me batty, but a way of sharing their needs and a way of drawing me closer to them.

When I structure my day in my head, I'm thinking about what I want.  When that gets altered, I get annoyed.  But what if I changed my perspective?  If I put the phone down, put off the writing until I truly have time for myself, and focus on what's in front of me, I have a much better chance of finding sanctuary.  Living in the "now" and being present in the moment are big components of contentment, and when I'm more content, I'm better able to listen and connect with others.  I may even be more open to listening to a report of what is happening in the sixth Harry Potter book from the boy who likes to update me page.  I can hold my girl close and work on reading word, realizing there will be a time that they won't want to monopolize my time (and I will probably be saddened by that).  And maybe I'll start to realize it's truly not MY time after all.  Sanctuary is about connecting, and that involves reaching out beyond myself.  God commanded God's people to observe Sabbath as a reminder of their connection to God...a relationship that is best acknowledged when we stop doing all the meaningless stuff that zaps our attention and energy.

If admitting you have a problem is the first step, perhaps I'm on the road to sanctuary after all.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sabbath and sanctuary (#31 days to Sanctuary day 16)

I tend to think of Sabbath and sanctuary interchangeably.  God's command to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy is a reminder that God rested on the seventh day, and we, too, need rest.  So much of our world and culture denies this fact as we work longer hours and can't truly stop even after the work day ends.  There are errands and tasks, and enough electronic stimuli to keep us wired for hours.  It is so very hard to stop, and yet I've learned that if I don't, my body does it for me.

I found a Sabbath Manifesto online that offers suggestions for how to observe a true and healthy break:

  • Avoid technology
  • connect with loved ones
  • nurture your health
  • get outside
  • avoid commerce
  • light candles
  • drink wine
  • eat bread
  • find silence
  •  give back

Other suggestions from The Blue Room Blog are:

  • Get outside : smell, feel, look at the earth
  • Feel alive/passionate about something: Laugh, Cry, Think
  • Share with someone: happy or other feelings
  • Rest in Quiet: pray & prepare by expanding awareness of others around me
  • Find sanctuary in community: sabbath is about more than ourselves
  • “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary”
  • Do something creative to elicit/use the brain
  • Repetitive family/personal Patterns & pathways change our life
  • Use car time to talk/connect with those on the journey with you-put yourself in another’s shoes/

My Sabbath/Sanctuary list looks a lot like this:

  • read a lot
  • take naps
  • play with the kids
  • go for a walk
  • write
  • exercise
  • pedicure
  • talk with my husband
  • quiet time alone

What would you add to the list?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What you might discover on a prayer walk (#31 days to Sanctuary day 15)

I've written before about how walking is a spiritual discipline to me.  It frees up my mind from all the chaos, to be still.  I find new thoughts coming to me, less frantic and more rational.  In the unhurried motion, I find my equilibrium again.  It's also a way of prayer for me as people and issues come to mind.  As I come across certain markers, I reflect on their spiritual meaning:

an uncertain path

gratitude for the beauty of creation

a sign to stop...before it becomes an emergency

a reminder of death

a symbol of resurrection

a gateway to new possibilities

a mark of changing seasons

an invitation to Sanctuary

What will you discover today?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Shine (#31 days to Sanctuary day 14)

I love my job, and yet there are days when I feel so drained.  I know that I have been called and am blessed to be in a place that matches my gifts and passion, that challenges and inspires me.  But sometimes I feel that I have lost all energy and spark, and wonder if I am enough to succeed in a ministry that demands so much.  This usually happens at the end of the day when I look at the stack of unfinished papers on my desk and the unfinished to-do list and sigh in frustration.  I forget about the moments of connection and inspiration and just wish my phone would stop beeping with incoming messages and more tasks awaiting my attention.
Why is it that we spend so much time trudging through life, lost in the monotonous details?  Often we don't have a choice, caught up in jobs and tasks that we don't enjoy and yet must get done.  I grumble about meetings and reports that take me away from the parts of my calling that I love (connecting, counseling, teaching), but it's those tedious assignments that make it possible for me to do my job.  When I spend more time exhausted by the burdens than energized by my vocation, I know that something must change.  I can't always change my responsibilities but often I must alter my attitude and schedule.  
I like the verses where Jesus talks about having the "eyes to see and ears to hear".  God is always with us, and our spiritual nature is always accessible if we just take the time to be aware of it.  We have to open our eyes to what surrounds us, and hear that still small voice that whispers from the chaos of our lives.  Where can I find beauty in my day?  How can I stop to hear what God is speaking through my experiences?  What can I change to make more space for the functions I love?  While much of work is often mind-numbing (as my seven-year-old son complained about his "boring" homework tonight), there are other tasks that make our spirit and mind come to life.  Certain projects ignite our passion, and we lose all track of time when we are immersed in them (positive psychologists refer to this state as "flow").  Although we can't spend all of our days on these pleasurable tasks, when we figure our schedules such that we can indulge in some of these on a regular basis, we will find that we have extra energy to face even the most mundane of chores.  When we take time to nourish our spirit and use our God-given gifts, we discover that our souls can shine, giving meaning and purpose to all the work we do.  This is another gift of sanctuary to me, finding home in ourselves and our God-given personalities and gifts.
What nurtures your spirit?  What is your passion?  How will you use your gifts to make your soul shine this week? 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

More and less (#31 days to Sanctuary day 13)

What do you need more of in your life?  

          What can you have less of in order to make it happen?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Being a sanctuary for others (#31 days of Sanctuary day 11)

Today is National Coming Out Day.  As chaplain of a women's liberal arts university, I am privileged to many conversations in which students are seeking the courage to be authentic as they struggle with issues of identity, particularly sexual identity.  It is an honor to be trusted with these stories of intense vulnerability and pain.  I am empathetic as an ally, and also as a Christian minister, particularly when I witness the scars that are inflicted on others in the name of God's love.

I grew up in a conservative, fundamentalist tradition.  The only time I was confronted with "gay" was when it was being used as a derogative slur.  I was a college graduate before I knew someone that publicly identified as gay, and was a graduate student before I had friends that were gay.  I never had to wrestle with the theological or personal issue of homosexuality until it involved relationships with real people instead of just a constructed rational argument.  When I began to get to know people on the LGTBQ spectrum, I realized that they weren't the "other" that all the rhetoric positioned them to be; they were people with the same needs and feelings as me.

It was an interesting time to be in seminary as the "issue" started receiving national attention, and ministry organizations started making statements.  Our moderate seminary seemed caught in the middle, trying to protect students' interests while also relying on money from outside religious sources.  There were conversations, meetings, and debates.  It was discussed in classrooms.  I remember one professor trying to take the middle line, using the "love the sinner, hate the sin" argument, saying that while it is okay to identify as homosexual (as it possibly might have a biological basis), it is wrong to live a homosexual lifestyle (i.e. homosexuals must remain celibate).  Instead of relieving the tension for me, this only exacerbated it.  It seems horribly unjust that this white male heterosexual could be making rules for another group that didn't affect him.  It didn't seem fair that I could choose to marry and have a sexual relationship without anyone judging, while my gay friends could not have that opportunity.  It seemed cruel to imply that there was a "choice" in this while also admitting that it could be something that we're born into.  Who would willingly choose an identity and lifestyle that brings such stigma and persecution these days?  Why is there so much pain for those that go against their innate urges and try to be straight?

And I know what the Bible says...and the Bible also says to love our neighbors.  The Bible says not to judge.  The Bible says that I shouldn't be a preacher.  The Bible says that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (not for who they are, but for what they do).  My sins are many, and yet I can mainly hide them and people won't (often) bring them to light to scrutinize them.  There are so many verses that have been thrown like missiles when it seems that the overarching theme of God's Word is love.  God is love, and in Jesus, God reached out to those who were excluded, to those called "sinners" by the people of Jesus' time.  I don't have to make the difficult choice of who to love and what that will look like as I fall within what is considered the "social norm" of heterosexual relationships.  I don't have to struggle with wondering if I'm wrong or different or broken as so many of my friends have (at least in the sexual identity area...I certainly have those fears in different areas).  But what I can do is be that sanctuary for someone who is questioning.  I can hear them in love and hold their story as sacred.  I can remind them that they were created by God in love and that they are beloved, just as they are.  There is so much debate and rhetoric and hatred, and so little of the love we claim to profess.  We need more Christian allies that are willing to be the voice of love, to be sanctuaries of trust and healing.

Recently, I organized an event that brought Christian recording artist Jennifer Knapp to the Hollins University Chapel to present her Inside Out Faith event, in which she shares her music and her story of being a gay person of faith.  I hoped that it would be an opportunity to start a dialogue and bridge the divide between the LGTBQ and Christian communities on our campus and in our community (understanding that there are many who straddle the divide).  Just as I was opened to new understandings as I begin to hear others' stories, I hoped the same for our community.  But even as a devoted ally, I had my fears that it might create more dissension and worried that there could be people who would come just to start a fight.  Selfishly, I worried about my own reputation.  But with many prayers and lots of outreach, the event was scheduled to take place during Roanoke Pride Weekend.  It was an awful rainy day.  Our campus tends to flood with just a little rain, and it had rained all day.  It moved an outdoor wedding inside, so we were in a rush to get the wedding guests and decorations out in order to set up for the concert.  I was stressed and worried that many would not brave the weather.  People started arriving eventually, and they shared anxious stories about how there had been angry protesters at the Pride event downtown, yelling hateful words at the participants, telling them they were going to hell.  I worried that they would come to our event as well, as it was on the schedule and free and open to the public.  I alerted our security to be on watch, and I went outside to check on the weather.  I noticed a crowd gathered outside, pointing at the sky.  The rain had stopped right at the time for the doors to open and there was a beautiful rainbow stretching out over the chapel to the bell tower--a reminder of God's covenant of protection and love.  It was a comforting sign for me, and all my friends who had gathered who see the rainbow as their sign of connection and community.

I am a person of faith, and as such, I believe that my motivating goal should be love.  To me, that means reaching out to truly hear and connect with someone.  We don't have to agree on everything, and it's not my job to change anyone.  Only God working in someone's heart can do that.  But I think people of faith can change the perceptions of us being hateful people by listening more than we speak, by reaching out more than we push away, and by sharing words of love instead of hate.  I may have a lot of things wrong (including theology), but I don't think God will judge me for offering a sanctuary of love and grace to all of God's people.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Healthy rules (#31 days to Sanctuary day 12)

A little more "Pinspiration" to inspire a healthy lifestyle:

Sanctuary as self-care (#31 days of Sanctuary day 10)

I'm taking some time for myself over the next few days, so I thought I would share some "Pinspiration" for you in hopes that you will find ways to do the same:

How will you care for yourself today?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Sophrosyne (#31 days of Sanctuary day 9)

I came across the image above on Pinterest.  I had never heard of the term "sophrosyne", but it seems to fit in with the way "sanctuary" feels to me internally.  When I am taking time to care for myself and nurture my spiritual nature, connecting with God, I experience sophrosyne, a healthy state of my that brings self-awareness, balance, and contentment (if not happiness).  

According to my Wikipedia "research", Sophrosyne was the Greek goddess known for moderation, prudence, and self-control.  She was a good spirit that perhaps influenced the Oracle at Delphi's wisdom "Know thyself".  In Christian theology, the term has often related to virginity and purity, although it seems that integrity may be a better fit for us in these times when we have a love/hate relationship with the body and the Christian faith, in particular, doesn't seem to know how to address it in healthy ways.

It's so easy for our minds to become cluttered with negative messages and we begin to hear other's opinions louder than our own thoughts.  It's hard to tune out the self critic and the noise of society and culture that aims to tell us what we should be and feel.  But a healthy mind is able to sort through all the junk and hear the still small voice inside, the voice that calls to us reminding us that we are Beloved.  We are challenged to exert self control in our actions, balancing work and rest, praise and criticism, self and others to find a place of equilibrium, a sense of sanctuary in ourselves and within our busy world.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Breathing space (#31 days to Sanctuary day 8)

I used to read Oprah's "O Magazine" primarily for one feature.  She would always have a lovely photograph that inspired meditation and reflection and it was called "Breathing Space".  In days when I'm rushing around from task to task, I often realize that my breathing has become shallow and tense.  It helps to stop and take a deep breath, and it always surprises me how renewing that is.  In looking through my own photographs, I've been inspired by the personal and family moments of "breathing space" that have been captured:

My kids are rarely this still; it's kind of amazing.

Brady took this photo of me without me even realizing it.  Sometimes driving puts me in that meditative zone (I'm not sure if that's a good thing).

How will you find your breathing space today?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Running as sanctuary (#31 days to Sanctuary day 7)

In sixth grade, I was the very last person in my class to finish the mile, a dreaded source of torture each year.  That year, I think I clocked in at around 25 minutes when my teacher gave up on me.  I was even passed by my friend with asthma who ended up having an asthma attack (all the more reason to move slowly, I figured, after making sure she would be okay).  I have never seen the purpose in running.  Why would I choose to do something that involves sweating, heavy breathing, and pain?  Something has switched in me, though, over the past few years.  Aging has been an interesting process.  You spend much of your early life just waiting to get older, and then one day you wake up and don't really recognize yourself and can't get a handle on how quickly time is passing.  Your body doesn't move as easily as it once did, and there are now random pains from mysterious sources.  Habits must change as it's not as easy to bounce back from bad behavior (late night cheese fries, years of skipping out on exercise and the dentist) as it once was.

Two years ago, my workplace hosted a couch to 5k program.  I'm not sure what prompted me to enter, but I think it might have been my desire to challenge myself and rediscover a new identity after finding myself in a new job.  It was not easy or pretty, but I was proud of my ability to stick with it and to see incremental progress over the weeks.  I found that I liked pushing myself and gained confidence in what my body could do physically for the first time.  I appreciated that I could spend a little over half an hour pushing myself and accomplish a task that would give me energy and strength for the rest of the day.

Unfortunately, good habits are easy to break.  Over the past year, I've spent more time on the couch than in the gym, and have used the "too busy" excuse too often to avoid exercise.  Although I still enjoyed walking as a spiritual and stress-relieving practice, running once again began to intimidate me as I attempted to jump back in too fast, overdid it, and had to recover from pain.  Then I was a little afraid to get back in the game, and it was all too easy just to become a slacker once again.

On the invitation of a friend, I joined a group of women from my church in signing up for a local 5k.  I had planned on training for the month leading up to it, but time snuck up on me, and other than walking a mile or two each day, I wasn't prepared.  As we gathered at the starting line, I was pretty nervous, but when the gun sounded I was caught up in the energy of the crowd and my own adrenaline kicked in.  I told myself that I could at least run the first mile and it would take that long to warm up.  With my 80s music in my ears, I was able to keep pace and wondered if I might be able to run the entire thing.  I started to remember the part I find helpful about running--I have to concentrate so hard to just survive that I can't think of much else!  The music gave me a rhythm for my feet, and my head just reminded me over and over to keep breathing.  I tried not to look ahead, and in looking down I saw by my shadow that I was alone.  I had pulled ahead of my group but had been left behind by the true runners.  It was a comfortable place to be for this introvert with little time to myself in recent days.

As I faced hills, I had to gather all my resolve and strength not to give up, but keep plodding along, step by slow step.  There's something inspiring about race culture, the way random strangers lined up along the route to cheer us on.  The volunteers who marked our turns would give encouraging words, "You're almost there!" Runners cheered each other on as we passed one another on the path and set the pace for those behind us.  I could hardly believe it when I saw the finish line, and it was a source of pride that I had run the entire way.  It's not something I would do every day, but it's good to know that I could do it...with the support of several hundred friends and strangers.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sanctuary spaces (#31 days of sanctuary day 6)


Sanctuary can be a feeling, our sense of internal peace.  It can also be a physical place, a holy space of connection and transcendence.  My sanctuary today is found at my church, Calvary Baptist in Roanoke, Virginia.  This has been a healing place and community for me after being scarred by churches in the past.  It reminds me of the power of community, broken and imperfect, but moving together towards wholeness as we share vulnerability, strength, and love.

What are your sacred spaces?  In what places do you experience the peace of sanctuary?

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Letting go (#31 days to Sanctuary day 5)

I've always had this vision in my head of the mother I would be.  Included in this dream was the lovely family portraits we would take to document all of our bonding family traditions.  From the time Brady was a baby, I was adamant that we would take a family trip to the pumpkin patch every October.  That's just what good families do in my little dream world.  So we would bundle him up for the trip, drive out to the farm, and wrestle him on to the hayride.  We would make encouraging comments like "Look at all the pumpkins!  Isn't this fun?"  The only response we would get would be a grumpy faced little boy not at all interested in the pumpkins.  Once Maryn entered the picture, it was double the "fun" (and struggle).  We were now  carrying and crying baby as we chased a toddler who was running and tripping through the rows of pumpkins.  At the end of the trip, when we were tired, dirty, and grumpy, I would convince some unsuspecting stranger to take a picture for us to remember the moment.  For every one that came out like this,

There would be ten more that showed a more truthful reality (note my fake smile, Maryn not paying attention, and Brady being grumpy):

At some point I began compromising and gave up on the big family picture for individual shots of the kids:

They might start out cute, but there was always a point when it would start to break down:


Real life is rarely an Instagram shot, all lovely and filtered.  It's gritty and moody and often surprisingly beautiful if we are willing to give up our expectations of how it "should" be.

I spent seven years forcing my family into a tradition that no one seemed to enjoy (even me).  The image in my head of my little pumpkins in the fields doesn't match reality and I had to let it go.  A day of family fighting for the shot at one decent picture to document a false reality was no longer worth it.

 Sometimes sanctuary is found in freeing ourselves from expectations that have instead become unreasonable burdens.  Today, instead of the pumpkin patch, we went to a country store that has our favorite ice cream.  Even better, they also sell pumpkins.  Our kids were much happier selecting two little pumpkins, eating ice cream, and then monkeying around in a tree outside than they ever were on a hayride search for the great pumpkin.  And what do you know, I even got a cute picture in the deal.