Friday, January 30, 2015

Where sanctuary is found

Art by Abigail L. Dela Cruz of Abby Draws (used with permission)

I desire sanctuary in my life, spaces where peace pushes out the anxiety that tends to lodge in my heart.  Instead of the press of obligations to prove my worth, I long to feel at home where I am, embracing the reality of my life as it is.

Sanctuary, for me, is often about the holy places outside of church, although I have experienced it there as well.  But more often I have found it in the coziness of a coffee shop with a pot of tea and a fireplace, during a solitary walk through the woods,  or while sitting by moving water.  I find it in my warm bed with a book and time that demands nothing more of me.  I feel it in the process of writing as a spiritual practice of theological reflection and self-understanding.  These moments feel like Sabbath: holy, protected, renewing, transforming rest.

These days I'm looking ahead to our December cruise vacation, knowing from experience that this sort of getaway (without access to phones and the internet or household responsibilities) is the only way to truly entice me to stop and rest.  But on the other hand, I'm trying to embrace my word for this year, wholehearted, and find ways to live gratefully in the moment.

It's difficult, when I wake to the sound of my two children fighting and feel the dread of another day that feels the same as the one before.  My husband and I are getting by these days by alternating "days off" when one of us is free to leave the house alone.  I don't want to just get by, though.  I worry that I'm missing out on the joys of these days when our children are still young and want to be with us.  Even though that want feels like a ball and chain; though it feels like every last ounce of my energy is being drained away as they fight for our attention.

I write and reflect on the sacredness of parenthood and my journey to embrace the messy beauty of it all (as Glennon Melton speaks of the brutiful life that is brutal as it is beautiful).  Yet it is difficult moving this truth from my brain to my heart to my actions.  My kids like to protest that things aren't fair when they don't get what they want.  Perhaps they have learned this from me as I protest even when I get exactly what I have been seeking.

The truth is that this is the life of my dreams.  I am married to my love who supports me and truly makes me better than I could be on my own.  We have two bright, creative, and relatively healthy children.  I have a calling and a job that provides gratification and pushes me towards new growth.  Why is it that my quest for sanctuary pushes me to retreat from all of this?

Maybe it is the introvert within me.  Perhaps it is an ongoing struggle to reconcile my unrealistic expectations with reality.  I think it takes stepping away to get the bigger perspective I need instead of focusing in on all that seems wrong.  I need breathing space to release my frustration and clear the clutter from my mind.  It is only then that I can see things for how they truly are, and that it is good.

In the sanctuary moments I am reminded that all is well enough.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Leaving church

My family never moved when I was a child, so I have always been fascinated by the stories of people who have uprooted.  But I think instead of tracing my family’s journey on a map, we could mark our path in the church homes we have been a part of and the churches we have left.  There was my childhood church where I was baptized and had my first crush on our pastor.  My family left there in a church split over a pastor vote and went to start a new church.  This was the church where I learned to be a leader and a servant, the place where I found a second home and family.  It was also where I learned that women are not supposed to be called to ministry. 

There was the church where I explored my calling and found a passion for working with youth and young adults, the one I loved so much that I lied on the membership form where they asked me to sign stating I believed in a literal seven-day creation.  There were transitional churches during seminary where we worked for the paycheck and the experience but found that they gave something more in return.  They accepted our youthful idealism and the foolishness of our newfound “wisdom” and gently showed us that there was much to learn and unlearn.  There are churches that make you, and those that break you, and some that are a bittersweet in-between.

As our family leaves our current church, I wonder how I will share the story with our children in the future.  “This was the church where you were dedicated, and this was the church where I baptized you.  This is where you shared in communion for the first time and read scripture standing on a stepstool from the pulpit.  This is where you sang with the children’s choir and everyone remarked on how they loved to watch you sing.  This is the church you first attended in my womb.  After our first visit, it would take a few weeks for our return, but then you were beside me in the pew in your infant carrier, or in my arms.  The music and liturgy became part of your baby dreams.  We watched you move up from the nursery and run off to your Sunday School classes.  I loved watching you skip into the sanctuary before worship, excited to tell me stories from your lesson.  We made friends here.” 
But how do we explain the leaving?

I don’t know the answer yet.  The wounds and the grief are still fresh.  Sometimes we stay out of habit, like in a bad relationship that we just can’t break.  Sometimes the leaving is easy.  But sometimes there is a breaking even though it feels like what must be done.  We want to know what will last, to trust that God can restore what has been broken.  I want to put my commitment into a place where we can serve and worship, knowing that it will not be perfect, but believing that it will be good again.  I want that for my old church, the Church universal, and for the future church that will receive us in all our hopefulness and fear.  It is not the first time we have been on this path, but faith means stepping out, even though we are not sure where the journey will take us, trusting that God is leading us home again.

For more of my blog posts about path in and out of the church, click here.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Wholehearted Parenting

Image from Brené Brown

My word for this year is wholehearted, and in no area of my life do I need this idea more than in parenting.  I've always known that I wanted to have children one day.  My husband and I talked about kids on one of our very first dates.  I had pretty much figured out how to parent before we ever conceived.  I knew what I wanted to keep from my own family of origin and what I wanted to heal and transcend.  As a voracious reader of parenting books and blogs, I'm also a critic compiling my lists of how things shouldn't be done.

And then I had children.  And it was amazing, and holy, and terrifying.  Not only did I have no idea what to do, but these tiny creatures surprised me by having their own personalities, needs, and wills that I had not taken into consideration.  Nor did I realize how much the act of becoming a parent would change me and have me grieving over my own loss of self and my own inherent selfishness.

I echo the lament of many parents that "the years are short but the days are long."  It is simultaneously scary that there are twelve more years to get our youngest to college...and that there are only twelve more years until our youngest goes to college.  There is so much to pack into each day between the superficial demands of homework and general upkeep, to the deeper values and lessons we hope to instill.  I easily become frustrated at the "one step forward, two steps back" nature of little human development.

As I wrote in in my "Parts of the Whole" post, 

"My struggles (particularly with parenting) often come when I am unable to see the bigger picture.  Stuck in the frustration of a single moment (or daily reality), it's easy to fall into the faulty reasoning that things will always be hopeless and impossible.  Sometimes I think things will never change for the better.  Then some moments I turn around and wonder at how an often-taught lesson has finally clicked.  I can catch a brief glimpse at the big picture that is slowly being created and I find hope once more."

I have seen parenthood as a sacrifice--of my time, myself, the way I think things should be.  I realize the self-centered nature of this and how it sets me up to feel defeated.  But I heard something that has the power to change that.  In the audiobook The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting, Brené Brown speaks of her priest sharing that the word sacrifice comes from a Latin root that means "to make sacred."

What would happen if I viewed parenthood as sacred?  I think back to that first moment we held our firstborn, and in spite of the fear, there was an overwhelming sense of holiness.  There was grace; evidence of God's very real presence in our lives.  Sometimes I let that sense of wonder and mystery become overshadowed by the messy reality in front of me.  But then there are moments when our kids point right back to the Creator and I'm aware once again of the miracle of it all.

As I created my vision board for this year, I knew that I wanted to incorporate a vision for how I can embrace the messy reality of my life and be able to see the beauty in it.  My goal is to be more mindful in my interactions with my children.  I want to have the eyes to see each moment as an opportunity to model and receive God's love.  May my connection with them be a lifeline for all of us, a sacrament that points to God's grace.  May I begin to see the sacrifice as sacred, and parenting as holy work and play.   

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Parts of the Whole

I am finding it hard to get back into a regular writing routine.  There is so much on my mind, but it is in bits and pieces that are hard to process.  This is the way of our world these days. Our news comes in endless sound bites and headlines.  We don't have the time to invest in reading and understanding the deluge of information that floods our senses on a minute by minute basis.  It can feel like we're drowning under the weight of cues to which we've lost the meaning and aren't sure how to respond.

There has been much discussion over whether the art of blogging is dying as readers don't connect as the community they once did through comments and dialogues.  Writers are urged to divide their essays up into smaller chunks of information and to provide "tweetable" quotes.  It begins to feel like a set of strategies instead of authentic communication.

It makes me think of how much of our world is fragmented...

We have been taught to analyze, categorize, and find meaning in the separate parts.  We study a specific field of knowledge by breaking it down into concrete learning objectives.  We separate ourselves into groups of like cultures, faiths, and interests.  We are taught to be suspicious of what is different and to fear what we don't understand.  Our boundaries create disconnects.

Yet we instinctively know that it all should be integrated as we long for

I remember learning about the German word "gestalt" sometime in my education and it stuck with me.   In my understanding, it refers to the whole nature of something and is sometimes explained in the phrase "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."  More and more, I see the truth of this.  I want to see the bigger picture.  I am most energized when I hear a story and find connections with my own life.  I am intrigued that much of what I am reading now (even in different genres) points back to these same themes; that we have lost our way (in life, in education, and in faith) and need to find our way back to connectivity, to mystery, wonder, and the things that are greater than us.

My struggles (particularly with parenting) often come when I am unable to see the bigger picture. Stuck in the frustration of a single moment (or daily reality), it's easy to fall into the faulty reasoning that things will always be hopeless and impossible.  Sometimes I think things will never change for the better.  Then some moments I turn around and wonder at how an often-taught lesson has finally clicked.  I can catch a brief glimpse at the big picture that is slowly being created and I find hope once more.

Sarah Bessey's post  on "Chasing Wonder" ignited my imagination.  I, too, want to dream and wonder, to see possibility instead of being reduced and categorized.  I was a scientist before I was a minister, and I see God in the mysteries we try to comprehend through science.  I believe the two can complement one another, just as I believe there is a place for spirituality in higher education as Parker Palmer and Arthur Zajonc wrote about in The Heart of Higher Education: A Call to Renewal.

These ponderings connect with my desire to live a more wholehearted life this year.  I want to live more from my heart, from a place of love and hope instead of fear.  This includes:

-the freedom to be authentically me, and embrace imperfection and vulnerability

-the ability to also accept the imperfect beauty of others

-being a curator of stories that point to something greater, a meaning that is more than any individual experience of truth

-wondering and dreaming in the hopes of inspiring others to do the same.

Perhaps in these goals I will be able to live wholly, fully, instead of in part.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

One Word 2015: Wholehearted

Workbooks and art by Susannah Conway

It is the fourth day of the New Year, and I finally made the time to sit down and reflect on 2014 and plan for 2015.  I had been hoping to do this for some time, but life has a way of interrupting my plans.  The holidays were full, and although I had a long break from work, being at home with the kids does not provide many opportunities for quiet reflection.  Then our son started the year with his first ever case of strep throat, which meant a couple days of caring solely for him.

But these are excuses, as part of me didn't want to think much about the year that had passed, although as an INFJ, I usually enjoy this sort of exercise.  It was a good year overall, but it was also demanding and draining.  I started a doctoral program that seems to be a good fit, and it's encouraging to be challenged by classes again and discover that I still love school.  I have benefited from the support of my cohort and know that we have much to learn from one another in our different experiences, gifts, and perspectives.

We had lots of good family time including a vacation to Disney World and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  But there were many parenting challenges, mainly in learning that I can't change my children, but need to focus instead on why their behavior triggers me so much.  Learning more about Family Systems Theory has been a good start.

I continue to love my work as a university chaplain, but it had its difficulties as well.  It was a hard semester with increased stress and tension.  Even though I did my best to meet the needs, I felt as if I were going through the motions and not really working from my gifts and passion.  It was exhausting, and I cared for myself by withdrawing more than engaging.  When I set "enough" as my word for 2014, my intention was to remind myself that I have enough (resources, strengths) and I am enough (with God's help) to handle what comes my way, but more often, it seemed a word of surrender when I had had enough.

When I think about what I want most for 2015, a vacation is the first thing that comes to mind.  Unfortunately, our next vacation isn't until December, and there is much work to be done before then.

I realize that what I really need is to be more engaged.  I want to live from a place that is more than just surviving.  I want to thrive, living out of my calling and passions.  I want to truly be grateful for the gifts in my life and appreciate them by living fully from my whole heart.  I want to be mindful of the moments so that I can teach my kids to appreciate them as well.  To keep me centered, I have chosen "wholehearted" as my One Word 365 for 2015.

I have been greatly inspired by the work of Brené Brown, who researches shame and vulnerability.  I first came across the concept of wholehearted living in her books.  She lists 10 guideposts for wholehearted living in her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage To Be Vulnerable Changes the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead:

1. Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think
2. Cultivating Self‐Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism
3. Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
4. Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
5. Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
6. Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
7. Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self‐Worth
8. Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle
9. Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self‐Doubt and “Supposed To”
10.Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control”

(the list was found here)

I know it will be a most difficult challenge for me as my instinct is to withdraw in the best of times, and to ruminate and hold on to the negative in the worst of times.  It will push me to see my life in new ways and to live into the hope that I so often proclaim and yet fail to grasp in my own daily struggles.  It will mean letting go of the petty annoyances so that I can see the greater beauty in the moments that I often overlook.  It is a reminder to live from a faith that is greater than the reality I can see and grasp.

To inspire me, I created a fold-out vision board that can stand up on my desk and travel home with me as well.  The words and pictures point to the fact that while I can't always control what happens, I can be in control of how I respond.

May I respond with my whole heart in 2015.