Singing

A few weeks ago I joined a local choir. I started singing in choir in third grade and sang all the way through college. The challenge of learning new music, the excitement of making new friends, and the thrill of performing after working so hard to prepare the music were important aspects of my education and development as a person. There was joy in singing, frustration in learning and working on the music, and triumph in the concert. While music was never my path for professional purposes, it certainly was a huge part of my life that helped mold me.

 

My husband is a choir director, and singing in choir has been a special bond for both of us. He has helped keep music in my life.

I sang off and on in seminary, but it was difficult for me to stay involved. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I didn’t have the creative outlets I needed while in seminary.

But now I am singing with One Voice choir, and my heart is so glad to be making music again. I was handed my music on the first day, and I was excited to have new music to learn. I loved singing next to people again and laughing in between music changes. I enjoyed the challenge of reading the music. I left the first rehearsal a little emotional because I had missed music in my life. And after all the pain I had experienced in the last year, it was amazing to be surrounded by the warmth of a new, supportive, loving community and to have the familiarity of choir again.

When you have been a loner and a stranger, familiarity can be powerful and healing.

woman in black playing cello on whitfield
Photo by saeed khosravi on Pexels.com

 

This choir is also for LGBTQ+ people and for affirming allies (I’m a straight, cisgender person striving to be an ally.) I chose this choir because I thought why not use the art of music, which has been so healing and formative for me, to take a stand for something I believe in? What could be more beautiful than activism in the arts? My singing doesn’t just mean something for me, my soul, and my well-being, but it means something to my community too.

With the coming recession and the zeitgeist of discrimination and rejection in our nation, we’re all struggling. But I believe the arts can be a uniting and healing force. I have worried about starting Tales of Glory (which of course is not bringing any income starting out) with our economy on the brink of falling apart. However, people often turn to the arts when society is suffering. I hope that my ministry as a storyteller brings hope and change to the world. Just as the choir is bringing healing to my soul, I hope it brings healing to the community too. When our pleas to care for LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, women, people of color, and the climate of our planet go unheard, maybe our art will move people to compassion once again.

Teaching

While working on Tales of Glory, I am working as a teacher with an after school program. When I was a pastor and youth director, teaching involved writing curriculum and teaching lessons on a weekly basis, as well as games, food, projects, and service work.  In the after school program, I do a little homework help, but we mostly play games until parents have picked everyone up. It’s a little different than what I am used to, but I am realizing that I am still teaching in different ways.

I teach the kids not to interrupt, to be polite and let others speak. I teach them to wash their hands, follow the rules, ask permission, and apologize when they’re wrong. I listen to them tell me about their day, their friends, and their families. I make jokes with them. I ask them about what’s going on when they’re having a tough day. I read and play with them, and teach them how to be fair and kind to each other. I teach through my actions, instead of through written lessons.

I’m learning too. I’m learning patience and understanding. I am learning that changes don’t happen overnight. I am learning how to speak intentionally, calmly, firmly, and kindly. We are all learning and teaching together. We make mistakes. Then we try again the next day.

I have to think on my feet, and I know I’ve got eyes on me when I handle situations as they arise. All of my actions teach. Their actions teach me too. I am watching how they interact with each other, how they handle long days and complicated emotions. I’m always wondering about how I may be impacting them, how my presence may be influencing them, and what they’ll be like when they grow up.

I think about the state of the world and how adults discriminate, war, rage, harm, consume, hate, enable, provoke, steal, cheat, abuse, use, and lie. If I am teaching with my actions, I want to do the opposite of these things. I want to be fair, truthful, forgiving, loving, good, understanding, listening, helping, and giving. I’m not perfect at it, and they’ll see me make mistakes. Plenty of them. I have no idea who and what is influencing these kids, but I hope to represent a better way to live and be in the world. And I try to apologize when I fail to do so. It’s not up to me to force my ideas for them and the world onto them, but I hope they can take some good from me.

I hope I can learn some good from them too. The way they laugh and make friends, start each new day fresh without the weight of yesterday on their shoulders. They believe people have goodness in them and they trust others to love, support, and take care of them. They dream about the future. This dose of innocence can help combat the cynicism that creeps up inside. This is a new path for me, and I’m ready to learn about good and maybe do some good.

Escaping

I debated posting this because I like posting thought-provoking blogs, and I thought this might come off as silly. But I think this is a worthwhile share that could be meaningful to someone, which is why I do what I do.

When life is tough, we often look for an escape. There are unhealthy escapes such as excessive eating, heavy drinking, oversleeping, and addictive drugs. There are times when someone is depressed they binge hours of TV or Netflix to distract them from the pain. But then there are the healthy, necessary escapes. They may seem silly on the surface, but sometimes indulging child-like hobbies can help us find light and joy in our lives when everything around us is shrouded in shadow.

 

I started playing Pokemon Go around this time last year. I had played some in 2016 and then quit.  Then last September things in my life that had already been precarious and troublesome had begun sliding downhill. So I redownloaded the app and began spending some of my free time entering another world where I hunted Pokemon. This got me out of the house, where I was tempted to stay because depression was setting in, and gave me something fun to focus on instead of spiraling into panic attacks. This may sound dramatic, but it’s true. An escape was necessary. It was by no means an all-consuming escape that was an unhealthy obsession but provided a much-needed break from the reality that threatened to crush me.

Now, I want to pause here and say that the hobbies that help us escape are coping mechanisms but are by no means a cure or answer to depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses. Fun and positivity can help us endure day to day, but therapy and medication are what truly treat us to promote mental wellness. Please, do not see this as a promotion of fun and games over professional help.

 

I hit my lowest point in December. This low point lasted through March. It was so ugly and so painful. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go to therapy until I moved to another state in April, so I just had to get to the next day. I started really delving into Pokemon go. I would wear a hoodie and take long walks at night while playing the game. Again, this may sound silly, but hear me out. There was something about obscuring myself in my clothing and in the dark from the people around me that gave me some of the power back that had been taken away from me. I was invisible. No one could find me and bully me. I was playing a fun game. No one could interrupt a good moment and attack me. It felt sneaky and exciting. I was still depressed. I had panic attacks when I least expected them. But I had these moments where I escaped, I did something that uplifted my soul so that I could face another day.  Then, as soon as it was available to me (just 2 weeks after I moved) I began therapy.

There were other escapes. I wrote a book (I am looking for a publisher!) My husband and I took a number of day trips on my days off to explore Florida (where we were living at the time). These were productive escapes, and much less childish. But sometimes you have to remember the child inside of you to keep you from becoming cold, hard, and bitter.

Take a Breath

Getting a new enterprise going is tough. You have to go all-in because you know it’s all on you to succeed. I have been working on Tales of Glory since July, and I am starting to get traction with my work. However, I am hitting a bit of a wall. Burn out is real, especially after leaving trauma behind. But I am learning how to balance the time when I need to pause, take a breath, lean into healing, and start again.

 

I have had wonderful people reach out and encourage me. This encouragement has seemingly come out of the blue, but I believe that the Holy Spirit works behind the scenes when we are struggling. These messages people send me give me peace, and they soothe the pain and anger I have felt toward God, myself, and those who’ve hurt me. I have taken time to meditate, pray, and cry over these kind words. They heal me. But, the time I spend in prayer and meditation is time away from my work, and then I don’t accomplish what I had hoped for the day.

But I need these moments to heal. Healing is not linear and takes time. Also, I cannot minister if I refuse to talk to God out of anger and if I hold onto the suffering. Rage creates self-inflicted wounds. So I choose to pause, to heal. Instead of scolding myself for not meeting all of my goals for the day, I lean into the peace. I work through my anger or sadness. Then I take a breath. I let the love others show me and the love God is sending wash over me. I sit in the light shining on me. I can’t move forward in my work, at least not to its full potential, if I am not also on a path to healing. I cannot heal if I do not allow the space for it to happen.

 

When the weight of your work is bearing down on you, and your mind or your soul needs a break, then take a breath. You may not cross everything off your to-do list for the day, but you and your work will be better for it. And if someone crosses your mind, reach out to them. Encourage them. The Holy Spirit may be working through you; you just may be an essential part of their healing.

Dreaming Again

I struggled for a while. I kept my head down. I had to just find a way to survive from one moment to the next.

Then came a time when I was healing and doing better, but since so many unexpected things had happened, I was untethered. I was so very lost. I was aimless, and I had no idea if I would ever recover to a point of feeling like I was going somewhere in my life. So while I was doing better, I thought I had failed to launch and didn’t know if I would get the chance again. I couldn’t think about the future, because I didn’t know if I had a future.

Now I am moving forward with a new job and a new enterprise. I have no idea if this is going anywhere, or if this is a detour that leads me to something else. I don’t have a plan, but I have to take a chance on new things. I won’t go anywhere if I don’t try moving a little.

In some ways, I’m still a little lost, since I don’t have a long term plan. But, I’m dreaming again. I now feel as if I have a future again, even if the trajectory isn’t clear. Will Tales of Glory take off and turn into something great? Will I get another Master’s degree in another field? Will I get a doctorate? Will I get my writing published? Will I write some good works people will want to read? I don’t know the answer, but the simple fact that I can even dream about the future and ponder what is to come is a huge step forward from I was just a few short months ago.

I’m not going into this season of life unafraid. I am afraid things with Tales of Glory won’t work out and I’ll be left without any ideas. I am afraid of a possible economic recession, especially with taking a risk on a new financial venture. But I am hopeful, and I choose courage in the face of fear. I am dreaming again, not just fighting to survive the day. I am moving forward, taking risks, and trying something new. I don’t want to live a life where I regretted allowing my fear stop me from trying new things; nor do I want to live a life where I remained stuck and let fear stop me from dreaming.

Down in Your Bones

At this point, we are all well aware that life is unpredictable and that we can’t know the future. And yet, when life surprises us as it is prone to do, we’re still caught off guard and left spiraling. If you’re a planner like I am, it can be especially frustrating when you feel like you took precautions for these pitfalls NOT to happen, and still, they can swallow us up.

photo of cave rock formation
Photo by Vlad Cheu021ban on Pexels.com

Then we cope with the pain. We are angry and we grieve when our lives take turns that bring suffering. We think about all of our life lessons, reflect on our experiences, and try to learn from our mistakes. But I think we often forget to listen to our intuition. I think if we trust our gut, then we may be a bit more prepared and equipped than we realize to navigate life’s changes and challenges.

When I was preparing for seminary and for a life of ministry, I knew deep down in my bones that I would probably have to start my own ministry and blaze my own trail to use my gifts. Somehow my theatre training and love for the arts would become an integral part of my ministry, and that doesn’t always fit what the traditional church looks like. I didn’t know what that meant or what that would look like. God didn’t give me a clear vision but did give me a hint, an intuition. So I held onto this and banked it away as I began my education. I intentionally took a class during my time in seminary about church planting, developing new ministries, and nonprofit ministries. I knew that if I didn’t take that class then I would regret it down the road.

neon signage
Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

And then, another hint appeared: ministers are increasingly becoming “bi-vocational.” This just means that someone’s ministry doesn’t always pay the bills, so the minister takes on another job while also being a minister. I knew this was a likely outcome at some point in my ministry, and in some ways, I felt attracted to it. I had some nonprofit experience before coming to seminary, and I felt, down in my bones, that would come back to benefit me. I deliberately chose to do my chaplaincy internship in a nonprofit setting instead of a hospital setting. I wanted to equip myself for the nonprofit world in case I ever needed to be bi-vocational in the future.

However, somewhere in my second year of seminary when I began preparing for my ordination exams, I got swept up in the “traditional” idea of ministry: becoming a pastor. So I kept my intuitions in my back pocket for the future, thinking that I would have to use them “someday”, but for right now I wouldn’t need them.

The thing about intuitions is that we have them to help navigate us, but it can surprise us how soon and unexpectedly we will need to rely on them.

My first job out of seminary as a pastor didn’t work out. I thought I would be there for at least 2-3 years and then move on to something else, but that wasn’t the story. There were some things that happened that were not okay and shouldn’t happen to anyone. However, it is okay that being a pastor felt like it didn’t fit. Those feelings that I had down in my bones were coming to fruition much sooner than expected, but I was glad that I had trusted my gut and prepared myself. It didn’t prevent the pitfall, but it gave me the tools to climb out on the other side.

Now, as I am beginning my ministry with Tales of Glory, I am also preparing to enter into the nonprofit world again. I am becoming bi-vocational and I am starting a new, trail-blazing ministry.

So, are there some things you know down in your bones? Is there a hint or an intuition that is drawing your attention? Trust your gut. Follow it. If you don’t need it now, bank it away. You never know when you’ll need it and how it might reappear to help you later on. The Holy Spirit plants those seeds, and she waters them for you when you’re not even looking.

A New Beginning: Tales of Glory

It’s been almost three months since I have posted a blog. I have been in a season of healing, traveling, and soul searching. The Holy Spirit has been moving, and something new is happening in my ministry.

With my bachelor’s in theatre, Master of Divinity, and Master of Arts in Practical Theology, I have been discerning how I might use my creative arts in my ministry. I had spent the last several months listening to storytelling podcasts and looking into local storytelling events. I went back to theatre work and served as a stage manager in a local production. And then I realized the answer was right under my nose: Biblical Storytelling.

Tales of Glory (9)

Through my biblical storytelling called “Tales of Glory” I want to uplift the voices and stories of the marginalized in scripture to bring the Bible to life! Biblical storytelling is a great way to connect people to the stories and people of the Bible through the shared human experience. It’s easy to romanticize stories, idolize “heroes”, and gloss over the stories that make us uncomfortable. However, storyteller brings the stories to life to show us that we are the same, imperfect, messy people we have always been who fight to rise above evil and take the world by surprise through subversive acts. This helps us to be more compassionate to one another. If we can see how human the people in the Bible are, then we relate to them better. This helps us to see the humanness in our neighbors today: our LGBTQ+ neighbors, immigrant neighbors, women neighbors, abused neighbors, neighbors of color, poor neighbors, and so on.

Bringing the Bible to life shows us how God has been at work in the world long before, now in the moment, and in the future long after we have passed on. I would love to bring “Tales of Glory” to your church or community. I want the arts to be accessible to all, and I want us to be connected to one another as God’s family. This is a new journey, a bit of a risk, but one I am very excited about.

Feed Your Soul

I am in a place of discovery right now.

I almost abandoned my love of writing and theatre for the sake of ministry. I have loved both of these artistic elements since I was a child, and I was given opportunities to grow my talents. As a teenager I felt a call to ministry and thought that maybe I could use my creativity in ministry. In college I double majored in theatre and religious studies, and I minored youth ministry. I dreamed about what I could do with my passion and my calling together. I thought that when I went to seminary my vision would come into focus, and I would be inspired to forge a new path for myself.

Unfortunately, this isn’t what happened. My studies were academically rigorous, and while I had a class or two that was focused on creativity, it was within the traditional ministry model that leads to parish ministry as a pastor through which the arts could be used; these classes did not necessarily lend themselves to new ministry ideas. I also had numerous tasks, exams, meetings, and steps to complete for ordination. It was four years of one giant checklist (literally, I had a giant checklist that I checked off my fridge for four years.) After following the traditional model of seminary with little to no creative outlets to feed my soul, I thought my arts days were behind me and that those would be hobbies that would take second place to my “true” calling of being a pastor.

Part of my soul withered because it was starved of creativity. I thought it was a sacrifice I had to make for the greater good. What I learned is that I cannot serve the greater good if my soul is not being nourished. I cannot serve when I am not whole.

And then I realized that I don’t have a separate calling from my passion, my passions were given to me by God as part of my calling. If my calling lacks passion, I cannot serve with joy and energy. If my soul lacks passion, it suffers.

 

I have now published my first book, looking for a publisher for the second one, and writing my third. I am working as a stage manager for a local theatre, and  I hope this is the beginning of being involved with the local theatre circuit. I am on the pulpit supply list for the local presbytery to preach when needed. While this is not how I will be able to sustain career-wise in the long term, it is fertile ground to discover what God is calling me to next. I will need room for creativity, whatever that means, however it looks. I do not know what’s next, but for now I have the freedom to dream, to try, to experiment, to hope, and to grow. I hope something beautiful comes from this.

Sometimes we sacrifice certain things to answer our callings, to do what is good in the world. But we do not have talents so that they might be wasted. If our souls die for lack of what feeds them, what we are able to do for the greater good is limited. We were created unique and gifted for the greater good, not in spite of it. Sometimes we have to blaze our own trails. We have to be brave and navigate uncharted territory. Trying something new, even if it’s scary, can save our souls.

Care-full Compliments

When I was a kid I was pretty motivated to try to new things, to take on leadership roles, and to have the favor and approval of the teachers. Yes, I wanted to be praised by my teachers. I was that kid. I wanted the adults that I admired to be proud of me. I wanted their validation.

I think as children, we all want that to some degree. We want someone older and wiser to see our talent and potential and for them to approve of us. Maybe even be impressed.

 

As an adult in my late twenties I have had a difficult time putting my finger on why being showered with compliments by older adults has not set well with me. A “great job” or a congratulatory remark are wonderful and needed to make us feel like we are doing well and our work or contributions are appreciated. But an over selling of compliments feels belittling.

When people are in leadership roles it is so important to lift others up, letting them know that we see and appreciate their gifts. And if we have a platform and the power to provide opportunities to help our people share their skills, then we should certainly step aside and share the limelight. And then tell them they’re doing great.

That being said we need to be aware of the danger of falling into two pitfalls:

  1. Constantly complimenting or showering with compliments gets awkward really quickly. It can be hard enough to learn how to graciously accept a compliment, but several in a row can be uncomfortable. Why? Because sometimes it can feel disingenuous, and even condescending. Go back to when you were a child and wanted validation from the adults and leaders around you. It felt good and helped you develop your strengths. Now, as an adult, not only have you gained more confidence, the fact that you have a job pertaining to your skills or a degree (or multiple degrees) is more than enough validation of your talents. Who are we to assume that we are so important that their confidence and self-worth hinges on our validation of their talents? Now let me pause here and say that I know as a well-intentioned leader who falls into this trap too often that this is not the mindset. I find myself over-doing it with compliments all the time, because I want to be someone’s cheerleader. I want that person to keep up the good work. We want those around us to feel supported (because we want support too, and we know how important it is.) And we should support them! But let’s be careful that we aren’t overdoing it. The people around us don’t need our approval to be amazing; they already are. And it’s okay if they know it. They shouldn’t have to feign ignorance or being embarrassed just so that we feel like they need us to help them feel confident. One can be confident and also humble and grateful for support. Don’t over sell it. Just show up and congratulate. They’re not helpless.

 

2. Taking credit for someone else’s success as if we “discovered” them is stealing what doesn’t belong to us. If we’re constantly talking about how we “gave” someone an opportunity while disguising it under how thrilled we are to see their talents shine, we need to stop and assess what’s going on. Why are we telling others about this story? Is it to brag on that person? Why are we including the detail about how we “noticed” that person? What does that add to the story? Why do we want our listener to know that we were the ones who acknowledged that person’s talent? Why are we inserting ourselves into a story that supposedly isn’t about us? Often times, we don’t even realize we’re doing it. We’re talking about a great experience within our lives where someone shared their gifts and talents when maybe they had never had an opportunity to do so before. That’s a great story to tell! But then we slip in details here and there about how we were the ones who noticed them, then we asked them, then we spent hours working with them, then we found the perfect opportunity for them… And suddenly the story is not about the other person, but about us. Sometimes minor details are necessary to get the whole picture. So here’s an example of a self-centered version of the story, and a more selfless version:

Option A:

“Our company needed someone to take on a presentation for a big client. We had a small group of people on our team that always did the presentations, and they do a great job. But some of our talented people fly under the radar who might have some strengths they could bring to the table. I noticed Haley always takes good notes when I speak at our meetings, she asks me great questions, and she shares great research with me. I thought she had a lot of potential, so why don’t I ask her? She was very excited to that I gave her this opportunity, and she knocked it out of the park! I’m very impressed, she exceeded all of my expectations.”

Option B:

“Our company needed someone… Haley always takes good notes, asks great questions, and she does her research. She had so much potential, so I asked her to do the presentation. She was very excited, and of course she knocked it out of the park! It was great to have her skills be recognized by so many people in our company and with our clients.”

In the second narrative the word “I” was only used once, and it was just to share an essential detail of the story. Otherwise, the story was focused on Haley’s competence and not on the boss’s discovery and validation of her. While we may not be purposefully looking to take credit for someone else’s success, this could be a hidden motivation in inserting ourselves in the story. If we’re getting notoriety for helping someone, we’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

ground group growth hands
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

When we are supporting others, let’s be careful and care-full with our compliments. The people around us aren’t some sad baby bird who are just waiting for us to swoop in, save them, and help them fly. Typically, we don’t think of them in that way; at least not consciously. But we have to caution ourselves that our leadership habits reflect that we see these people as our peers and colleagues, not our good little students who need a gold star or pat on the head. Let’s support them without being condescending and let’s help them without taking any credit. There’s so much talent out there and enough room for all of us to share and enjoy it.

Waiting on My Real Life to Begin

Scrubs is my favorite show (at least I think so…The Office is an extremely close second.) One of those heart-string-pulling episodes is when one of the patients named Elaine comes in needing a heart transplant. The main character, JD, is caring for her as her doctor. He likes her company, her pluck, and her zest for life. Unfortunately, Elaine doesn’t survive as her heart gives out. As they are trying to resuscitate her, JD, who is known for a vivid imagination, envisions her singing “Waiting for My Real Life to Begin” by Colin Hays in a ball gown.

“Any minute now, my ship is coming in
I’ll keep checking the horizon
I’ll stand on the bow, feel the waves come crashing
Come crashing down down down, on me
And you say, be still my love
Open up your heart
Let the light shine in
But don’t you understand
I already have a plan
I’m waiting for my real life to begin”

At the end of the song, she disappears and her body reappears on the bed as the doctors stop life-saving efforts and the sound of her flat line cuts into the silence.

woman wearing blue denim jacket putting her right arm on her cheek
Photo by Juan Pablo Arenas on Pexels.com

Scrubs can make me laugh and cry in the same episode. And this happens in almost every episode. That show makes me feel like I can face anything, so it makes sense that this song would come to mind when I need some strength.

I’m at the edge of everything changing, and my future is unknown. I always feel like I’m waiting for something to click in my life, to feel settled and right. I’m used to having a plan about what’s coming next; right now I have no plan.

I posted a while ago about continually feeling like I was in a liminal space (a place of transition, uncertainty, and waiting), even though I was supposed to be getting settled. Now that I find myself in a place of transition again, that makes perfect sense; I was never meant to be settled where I am now. I was in a liminal space that was always meant to be just that.

I just don’t know what that means now. I don’t know what it’s meant to lead to. I’m stepping off the edge of solid ground, and I sure hope that something catches me. Maybe I’ll settle there? I’d like to think so. But we’ll see. I’m waiting on my real life to begin. I’ve been waiting for a long time now. It’s time.