Saturday, June 16, 2012

Moving Into the Unknown

I am in the midst of packing and preparing for an unknown future.  I am in the last phases of the end of one of the chapters in the book of my life.  As much as I felt called to be a pastor I now feel called to do something else.  The problem is that I don't know what I will be doing.

I think that it would be so much easier to say that I knew: how I was going to pay the bills; how I will spend my time;  and how I will make something significant of my life.  When I answer people's questions about where I am going I tell them the physical location of where we are moving and they want to know more.  I don't have the answers they are looking for or the answers my heart longs to answer.

When I was young, I made a life plan.  I followed that life plan intentionally and proceeded to do everything I promised myself and others that I would do.  I got my bachelors degree in Education.  I was a dedicated teacher, won awards, wrote curriculum and led training events.  Yet, I knew there was more to my life plan.  I started out on a greater adventure and took my family with me.  We went to be House Parents at a children's home.  We did serious work that molded us and the people we helped.  Then, we went to Duke University so that I could get my graduate degree.  It was a huge challenge but we met it head on.  We then came back and I spent the last 10 years serving as a pastor.  I lived my plan.

There was another stage of my life plan.  The plan was to get my degree in counseling or pastoral care.  I almost got my doctorate before coming back from Duke but the bills had piled up and I was ready to make a stable pay check.

Twenty years later, I have finally decided that my life plan might have been a little misguided.  I don't regret what I did, I regret the rigidity with which I lived out this plan.  As uncomfortable as I feel about living without a plan, I think this is reality I must face.  I believe I have outgrown a plan that I developed as a young person.

I don't think rigidity breeds success, happiness, freedom of expression or any aspects of embracing my whole heart so I long to leave that way of life behind.  Yet, straying from my life plan means living with uncertainty.  It means not having answers that make others feel more comfortable.  It means not knowing how I will pay the bills.  Currently, the biggest threat to my personal growth is the need to either learn how to live on very little or find a vocation that will allow me to more fully be myself.

So, as I pack up my household and juggle the entire process of making this transition I am asking myself... how does one pack for the unknown?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Powerful Amen

In my first appointment as a pastor I was an Associate Pastor serving under a Senior Pastor and beside a Visitation Pastor.  I was happily navigating the process of stepping into the roles that were determined by my job description when a crisis developed.
It was Thanksgiving and the tradition at the church was to have a Thanksgiving Lunch for those who did not have family in the area.  As all of the pastors had family obligations, this was primarily a lay driven activity.  The problem became that as time went on the people who were making the Thanksgiving Lunch  aged and new more able bodied people did not step up to help.  The elderly folks felt a great need to have the lunch so it went on even though it was beyond the leaders physical capabilities.  
One of the wonderful men of the church who was from that stoic WWII generation kept the Thanksgiving Lunch going and worked very strenuously.  Apparently, something at the lunch required that he use a ladder.  He knew he had over exerted himself but he kept quiet and he and his wife went home after everything was cleaned up.
Not long after his return home, he realized he was in some sort of medical crisis.  He thought that if he sat in his chair it would pass.  It didn’t.  His wife called the ambulance and they headed off to the nearby hospital.
As I was relatively new to the congregation and certainly new to being a pastor I was the last person the church people thought to call in the crisis.  First, they called the Senior Pastor and they didn’t get a response.  They tried all of his numbers, left messages and checked in with his friends but they couldn’t reach him.  Next, they went through the same process with the Visitation Pastor and they desperately hoped to reach him as they were close friends.  But, alas, no one knew how to reach him.  Finally, late into the crisis, someone called the committee chair who oversees the pastors and he realized that their last hope was to call me.  When I got the call I immediately gathered up my 2nd grade daughter and we rushed to the hospital. 
I was preparing her for her first emergency run to the hospital while my seminary training was scrolling through my mind.  I had already purchased a Book of Worship for my car and a small Bible so I knew I had those resources with me.  I mentally flipped through services for crisis situations. I was as prepared as I could be.
When we arrived at the hospital, I saw a little cluster of folks huddled together so tightly it looked like they were in danger of falling to the ground if they separated from each other.  I searched out a waiting room for my daughter and approached the group gently and in hushed tones concerned that I might be invading a space in which I wasn’t wanted or welcome.  The group broke apart as they told me that there wasn’t any hope.  He had experienced a major heart episode and they were going to take him off of life support immediately. 
I quickly told his wife that we have a Service with the Dying that I could lead if she was interested.  I was tentative but serious in my desire to be of help in the situation.  My heart was pounding.  Would I find the words?  Would I know what to do?  The wife was stoic and yet very fragile.  She almost whispered that she would like the service.  To be sure I heard her correctly I asked her again and then we headed off to complete the task.
I had no time to prepare and had never done or seen anyone else do the service.  We went into the room and the wife almost fell to the ground immediately upon seeing her husband.  One of their male friends stood at the feet of the bed and seemed to will us all to “keep it together.”  The two women stood quietly and tentatively beside the wife understanding that we were walking in a very fragile space.
The friends tried to decide if they wanted to take off his wedding ring.  His hands were swollen and the gentleman struggled to try to take off the ring.  These are the absurd types of choices one has to make in such moments.  Does he die with his wedding ring off or on?  Finally, the wife said, “He has had that ring on for more than 50 years; it isn’t going to come off now!”  The strength and resolve of that statement bolstered us all.
The nurses came in and unplugged the equipment and took him off of life support.  I don’t know why there was a rush to do this but for some reason everything seemed to be happening at a frantic pace.  I began the short service.  It was only a few paragraphs long.  When I said the last line of the last prayer which was: “May you rest in peace and dwell forever with the Lord, Amen.” he took his last breath.
We were all stunned.  It was that fast and that simple.  We couldn’t quite believe that his life was over in one breath that perfectly coincided with the last sentence and the completion of the service.  His last breath was his Amen to life on earth.  His wife checked his pulse and his breath.  She told herself as she told us, “He is really gone.”
After his release, there wasn’t anything frightening in the room.  The frantic rush was over.  The terror had ended.  There was purity and holiness in the midst of the shock and loss of a lifetime partner, lover, and friend…but there was also peace.  The air in the room seemed to blow around us and we were all able to breath.  Faith embraced us in that powerful moment.
The wife, now widow, was never able to express with words the power of that moment.  We looked at each other over the years and I could see that she knew what I knew and that was that God was with us.  Our small little gathering that day became the church and together with the movement of God we experienced the gift of her husband leaving us as faithfully as he had served us. 
The other gift of that incredible moment was that when I said, “Amen.” I became a pastor.  Everything else in my life that lead up to that moment was simply a prelude.  In that brief pause I stepped into holy space.  Getting my graduate degree from Duke did not make me a pastor.  The special ceremony that was held at Annual Conference did not make me a pastor.  Getting my first appointment did not make me a pastor.  The day I was called to be present with this man and his beloved was the day I was invited into the Holy of Holies, experienced the movement of the Holy Spirit and became a pastor.  It was a powerful, Amen.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Delayed Gratification

Learning to delay gratification is an important part of becoming a fully functional human being.  As Judith Wright points out, learning to delay gratification leaves us the space we need to discover our true selves and the truths of the universe.

As we get past our superficial material wants and instant gratification we connect to a deeper part of ourselves, as well as to others, and the universe.

We are aware that products can’t fill our hearts and yet to fight against our culture we must be very mindful of this truth and live intentional lives.  It is so easy to slip into the ideology that if we just have “enough” of the things of life our hearts will be full.  It isn’t true; of course, it is one of the great lies.  Therefore, another important aspect of delayed gratification is the need to slow the tide of rampant consumerism.

By continually pushing the message that we have the right to gratification now, consumerism at its most expansive encouraged a demand for fulfillment that could not so easily be contained by products.

At the same time, I want to sound a warning bell for those of us who have taken this notion of delayed gratification to heights beyond anything that is healthy.  “Delayed” means that gratification will eventually come.  Some of us take the idea of delayed and turn it into “never” or “seldom.” 

Part of embracing the whole heart is learning to experience the joys of life.  We aren't called to buy into rampant consumerism or focus on superficial things that will never bring our hearts joy.  However we do need to break down the walls that keep us from experiencing the joys of life. 

In what ways do you delay or refuse to experience gratification in your life?  When you hear a compliment, do you allow it to seep into your heart or do you brush it away like a fly that buzzes by your face annoyingly?  What joy does your heart need to experience today?  Why delay?

Tell Them Anything You Want a Portrait of Maurice Sendak

Yesterday, I found: Tell Then Anything You Want a Portrait of Maurice Sendak on Hulu it is a wonderful portrait of the author of  Where the Wild Things Are.  I found it refreshingly real.  Hulu says this film is only available for a short time.  I hope you get a chance to watch it.

Here are some discussion questions:

  1. Notice the ladder in the story of his mother's pregnancy and then again in the kidnapping story. What does a ladder come to symbolize for him?
  2. From an early age his parents explained to him that he was another mouth to feed, that he was a burden to care for. He says that in the book Outside Over There he explains how he sees his relationship with his sister. (Notice also the ladder.) How does his relationship with his sister compare to his current companion and caretaker? He describes her as, "The person who thinks I am worth the trouble of being cared for."  Do you find him to be worthy of being cared for?  Are you worthy of being cared for?
  3. How did his father describe his childhood laughter? What do you think happened to the bell?
  4. Why do you think he stays within the genre of children's literature? He says that when he is in his studio he feels sublime and talks about purity. At the same time he says that he doesn't think that children have to be sheltered from the truth. He believes he has been more truthful than other children's authors. He says, "you can tell them anything you want if it is true, if it is true, you tell them." Do you find any synthesis between the sublime he experiences while creating and the truth he faces in his work?  Why do you think he longs for purity?
  5. He found great vindication when he met the author who had a copy of the newspaper article he had seen at 2 years old. Do you think that Sendak's work vindicates the truth of his reader's experience, especially children, or is he simply honoring his own truth?
  6. Do you think Sendak is embracing his whole heart?  Why or why not?

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Life is a Verb

I am currently working through Life is a Verb By Patti Digh.  I discovered her work after reading her powerful Commencement Address to Guilford College.  Here is one of my favorite quotes from the address:

"The verbs we live – that is, the actions we take – create the landscape of our lives. The verbs we live, the actions we take, the story we frame over those actions – all those things together create the structure of our land – those valleys and mountains of our atlas of experience. And like any hike up any mountain or through any landscape, the process is messy while you’re in it, and there is just no way you can see a clear path, not until you’re finished. So it is okay to be lost. That is what I’m telling you. It’s okay to be lost and not know – because that’s what learning is, that’s what life is."

I have found Life as a Verb to be very helpful in my quest to live wholeheartedly.  It is designed as a 37 Day Retreat with writing prompts and actions to take.  Patti Digh's work is insightful, creative and inspiring.  She expresses poignantly her urgency to focus on the important things in life and helps the reader clarify for themselves how to live wholeheartedly.  

She expresses it this way, "What does it take to fully inhabit your life?  It takes realizing how important the I that is you is to the equation.  This is not about other people, its not about changing the world in big ways, it's not even about doing great things-rather, it is about doing small things that give you life, bring you joy, help you inhabit the stories of your days-and, by extension, help change the world and the lives of others around you.  To fully live, you must be present in the biggest way possible.

From time to time I would like to share with you a book or product that I have used or am using that is helping me along my path.  I have become an affiliate of Amazon which means that if you click through a  link to Amazon on my blog and purchase the product I will receive 4% of qualifying purchases. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Claiming Our Own Beauty

By Jurii (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
I have been joyfully amazed that my daughter is able to claim and proclaim her own beauty.  This is a counter-cultural proclamation!

I realize how controversial this is.  We have accepted the notion that embracing our beauty is egotistical.  We might even think that embracing beauty will turn females into "mean girls."  I believe that it may be, in part, the pain of not embracing one's beauty that contributes to the "mean girl" phenomena.  It is possible that if girls actually understood and accepted their own beauty there would be less need to prey on those who others see as "less than" the ideal.

Some feminist parents would chastise the notion of focusing on beauty in the first place.  It has been a long standing ideal that we should be telling our daughters how intelligent they are rather than focusing on their beauty.  Must there be an either/or?  Why do we buy into the notion that a woman can either be intelligent or beautiful?  Are we afraid of the fully empowered female who knows she is beautiful and intelligent?  I am a feminist and I celebrate my daughter's intelligence.  I also refuse to deny her the delight of knowing that she is a beautiful creation.

How did we get to where we are today?  My daughter faced a rude awakening when she was four years old.  In the social politics of preschool she discovered that " are either in or you are out."  She was out.

It took a long time for her to have the courage to divulge the pain she was experiencing.  I started noticing that she was denying herself food.  I was desperately alarmed.  My daughter didn’t have any weight to lose.  Every year, I had to take her for more medical tests to make sure she did not have something terribly wrong with her because she was so thin. 

As she was dealing with her preschool class I started to wonder if she was developing an eating disorder.  Unfortunately,  I was not far from grasping the truth.  I will never forget the day when she shared with me why she was only allowed one friend in the four year old class.  There was only one other child whose parent was (as determined by her classmates) "fat" and that meant that they were only allowed to be friends with each other.  In preschool, she felt doomed.  

The impact of that rude awakening stayed with her as do many childhood wounds.  It also motivated me to be an advocate for a more whole understanding of beauty.  It is beautiful when one embodies their gifts of music, art, science, math, etc.  It is beautiful when someone stands up to a bully.  It is beautiful when someone shares their dreams.  It is beautiful when my daughter can look at a photo of herself and say, "Oh, mom!  I look pretty!"

Recognizing your own beauty is countercultural.  Be a rebel with a cause.  Please, take some time to look at yourself and discover the beauty that is you.  Look for ways to express that beauty today.  You will bless us all and I will be grateful.  

You are Beautiful!

Yesterday, I was dismayed when a High School student posted a photo of a girl and called her disgusting because she was heavy.  It made me long for everyone to hear and embrace the message of this song.

Embracing the Whole Heart

I am in the midst of a major life transition.  I am leaving that which has been binding my heart as traumatically as the ancient Chinese tradition of  foot binding.  My heart hurts.  It is going to take awhile to allow my heart the safety of unfolding into its beautiful fullness.  It will take time and gentleness to recover and to discover all the longings that have been crushed and misshapen.    I am stretching and reaching forward.  I will experience life more fully.  I vow to embrace all of who I am and to encourage you to do the same.  I invite you to join me in Embracing the Whole Heart.