Shifting Times

I hope everyone enjoyed the poetry series I posted over the last few weeks. I will do more in the future. This week I am back to blogging and sharing my personal thoughts.

I think it’s hitting now that we are in July that “normal” isn’t coming back any time soon. And even when the worst of this passes and medicine catches up to help us, “normal” won’t be what it once was.

Oddly, I feel very open and welcoming of this. Of course, my hope is that we as a society progress when it comes to matters of race, immigration, LGBTQ+ rights, healthcare, and income equality. I believe that this pandemic is showing us that there has been an illness infecting and rotting us to the very core when it comes to how we have been “functioning” as a society. So I am open to whatever positive change comes from the exposure of our collapsing economy and social inequality.

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But my personal upheaval began back in 2018 when my career and faith began being challenged. I have been unsettled and transitioning for almost 2 years now, so this pandemic probably hasn’t thrown my life out of whack like it has for millions (billions?) of others. I have had a head start on being accustomed to uncertainty, sudden change, suffering, and being lost.

That being said, I believe that this weird time when many of us are cancelling plans and staying home more has actually led to an inner quietness to settle inside of me.

I have been scared, nervous, and exhausted by the pandemic. I want to sing in choir, go to plays and concerts, travel, go to the beach, go to cities, visit museums, go to church, go eat at restaurants, and even go to the grocery store. I am sick of this, I am scared of this.

But I have had time to mourn the suffering I experienced from my more recent traumas. I have had time to write and create art from that pain. I have had time to be someone who has been seeking and searching spiritually. I have had time to transform and grow in ways I may not have if I hadn’t had this time. Being used to uncertainty has helped me make use of this weird, scary experience because the rug had already been pulled out from under me before the pandemic could do it.

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I am finally cultivating some peace. I am finally healing. I am finally moving forward. Something inside me has finally shifted to a place where I am emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthier than I have been in 2 years. And for that I am grateful.

Let us remain cautious and wary. This illness is terrifying. Let us take care of others. Please wear a mask. Protect your family and your community. Be good to others. Do no harm. Maybe if we all have a shift within ourselves personally, we can have a greater shift in the world around us.

Don’t Pass Up The Moment

I know, this year is pretty awful. I have found myself wanting to hit fast forward to maybe a better life in 2021. For me, personally, life has been kind of rough since late 2018. Maybe you’re like me and you’re wondering, “Is it always going to be this hard? Is life just a struggle to keep your head above the water?”

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I am hoping that help comes soon for those who are struggling financially or suffering with illness.

But for the other hard things that we are experiencing, we can learn and we can be better. It is our privilege that makes us want to avert our eyes until the storm passes. It is time, past time, that we use our privilege to lift others up and dismantle the evils of inequality embedded in our society.

Who do you want to be a year from now? What do we want our nation to look like? What do we want the world to look like? We have an opportunity to change it all, if we want to.

When it comes to quarantine, we can really grasp onto ideas of work-life balance, self-care, our work culture, our educational system, our economic system, climate change, and how all of the ways we have been functioning in the world have been hurting us. We can take this moment to fix our broken systems and mold how the future will look for us.

When it comes to the protests against racism, we have an opportunity to take a long look in the mirror and work on being better, loving, and justice seeking people. We have an opportunity to open our hearts to other people in a way that is truly about love, sacrifice, equality, and peacemaking. What we have been doing hasn’t been working. It has been killing. We have the tools to change it all.

Don’t wish away the year; this is a moment in time that requires our attention, and we cannot pass it up. All the time we have is precious. Instead, take this pivotal moment in a pandemic, in a time of protest for racial equality, in an election year, in an economic recession, to learn, grow, and act. If we latch onto the movement that’s happening right in front of us we may look back a year from now and be proud of how we used the opportunity that we were given.

For My Fellow White People

I don’t have any pretty words or profound thoughts today.

We need justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and the ever growing list of names of people who have been killed for being black.

We need to look in the mirror and make it a task everyday to dismantle the racism inside of us. We need to look around us and dismantle the racism in our circles of influence.

Here are some places to start. There are so many articles here that we can no longer say, “I don’t know what to do” or “I feel helpless”:

https://www.dismantlecollective.org/resources/

Here are some great places to donate:

https://secure.actblue.com/donate/freeblackmamas2020

https://secure.actblue.com/donate/ms_blm_homepage_2019

https://minnesotafreedomfund.org/donate

https://www.blackvisionsmn.org/about

Make sure you vote.

This has to end.

We Are Capable

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We are capable of adapting to unforeseen change. We are capable of navigating uncertainty. We are capable of being flexible and learning.

We are capable of loving ourselves and showing our selves compassion. We are capable of telling ourselves the things we need to hear (even if we wish others would say those things to us.) We are capable of self-soothing.

We are capable of change. We are capable of taking responsibility for our actions, even when it feels awful. We are capable of taking responsibility for our reactions to others, even when others are harmful to us; it is not our job to claim responsibility for the oppression or bullying we have faced, but we are responsible for our own actions in response. We cannot change others, only ourselves.

We are capable of taking responsibility of the harm we have done.

We are capable of healing. Healing is not a straight line; there will be both progress and setbacks. But we are capable to move forward and not be stuck in that misery forever.

We are capable of trying again. We are capable of forging new paths. We are capable of starting over.

We are capable to apologize, to push ourselves more, to do hard and humbling things.

We are capable of self-reflection.

We are capable to listen to our bodies and our intuitions, and be in tune with them. Our bodies have more wisdom than we give them credit for, and we must learn to listen and heed them. We are capable of discerning between the discomfort that helps us to grow and the red flags that warn of danger.

We are capable of loving ourselves the way we deserve to be loved, and taking care of ourselves the way we deserve to be cared for. We are simultaneously capable of being honest about our growing edges and how we are always a beautiful, imperfect work in progress.

Receiving

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Covid-19 has taken so much away from us. People have lost loved ones, celebrations they planned for, jobs and income, and so much more. There is so much grief. We have given up so much of ourselves, especially our essential workers who are risking their health and isolating themselves so as not to expose someone they love to illness.

Please know that there are also things to receive in this time. Maybe some are learning by taking some free classes or conferences online, or we are reading more now. Maybe some are resting, sleeping in, taking naps, watching movies and tv shows. Maybe some are trying new things like gardening, crafting, and new recipes. Maybe some are reconnecting with friends and family members. Maybe some are healthcare workers participating in the free coffee, donuts, and food different services are offering right now. Maybe some are really benefiting from funds, grants, and other sources of money being offered. Maybe some work in local restaurants and are being kept afloat by the community ordering takeout. Maybe some are receiving from charities who offer food and home necessities. Maybe some are receiving accessible worship in their homes. Maybe some are receiving healthcare to defeat the virus.

I am not asking you to count your blessings and be grateful. I am saying that we are all giving of us ourselves, so it is perfectly acceptable to also receive. Let’s help each other. Don’t feel guilty about taking what you need. This isn’t a promotion to be selfish (because we have already seen far too much of that), but it is an affirmation of self-care. Give back in all the ways you can, and receive what you need to survive this scary era in our lives.

We Can’t Force Things to Happen

I know we want “normal” back. I know we just want to go back to work, we want to get our haircut and nails painted, we want to spend time with friends and family, we want to go out for dinner and drinks; I know we really want to reschedule the concerts, the vacations, the graduations, and the weddings. I want to move forward. We all do.

But the truth is, this virus is going to keep acting like a virus regardless of how much we try to force life to be normal again. And unfortunately, we may be paying with the lives of our loved ones by opening too soon. Only time will tell, but there are always consequences for our actions.

Personally, in times past, I have tried to latch onto half-baked ideas and clung to dreams that had the life sucked out of them. I really had to have some goals ripped away from me and then spend some time without any long-term dreams and goals for a while. I tried to force my life to align with a vision that no longer fit me. It just held me back.

Then slowly, organically, new hopes for the future began to form on their own. It took a long time of having nothing to finally have something.

Yes, I am intentionally being vague. I am just going to keep my head down, do the work, and hopefully, the fruits of my labor will come to light. I don’t want to spoil the magic. But some of my new dreams are already coming true. When the time is right, I will share what I have been working on. But I am letting things naturally fall into place while working hard instead of forcing goals, dreams, and plans to happen before they are ready.

While we wait out this virus, it is okay to grieve and to long for better days. But, if we have the capacity to try, let us cultivate patience. If we make peace with the fact that our normality has been taken away, then we can sit with the “nothingness” we’re left with. This leaves space for new hopes to form organically, without us trying to force them into existence.

Takeaways Revisited

It’s been almost two months since my last blog. I had committed 2020 to be a reconstruction year after the deconstruction of 2019. So I have been quietly working on myself personally, professionally, and spiritually. While I have been doing this work, I haven’t had much to say here, though I had hoped to return once I felt ready. I am still not ready to blog regularly, but in light of the coronavirus pandemic, I am reminded of my takeaways from 2019. If you’ll remember they were “be not afraid” and “accept what is.” I am reflecting on these while living through very scary times.

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I am afraid of getting sick. I have been sick 6 times since October. I’m still on a round of antibiotics now. I work with little ones and they pass on their germs pretty easily. I have been so frustrated with myself for not just accepting the state of things and refusing to give in to fear. I have also had old wounds from last year start to burn again. I have made so much progress personally, and all of this has felt like a setback.

But fear and grief are part of being human. Healing, growth, and progress are not always linear. There are ups and downs, falls and rebounds. It’s all natural to being who we are as people. So I am choosing to have compassion for myself. I am allowed to have complex emotions and still move forward in my journey. I encourage you to have compassion for yourself, too. This is a harrowing moment for the entire world! Don’t panic, don’t be selfish, but allow yourself to feel what is going on in the world around you.

black drawing compass
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I truly believe that one of the reasons that we fail each other with compassion and empathy is because we often lack it for ourselves. Self-compassion doesn’t mean we selfishly hoard toilet paper and deny it to others who may need some…

But it does mean we appreciate our whole selves for who we are, acknowledge and validate our emotions and experiences, and give ourselves grace when we need it. When we are full of compassion for ourselves, it overflows to others. I have seen some of this compassion already! Like Italians singing to each other from their windows and Lin-Manuel Miranda releasing a secret Hamilton song to lift our spirits. (For anyone who knows me, Lin-Minuel Miranda is my celebrity crush and I am obsessed with all things Hamilton.)

So be not afraid if you can be, but if you are afraid that’s okay too. Accept the state of things as best you can. Have compassion for yourself and others.

What I am Doing with My Year

I know people go back and forth with resolutions for the new year. Some years I do, some I don’t. This year I am really focusing on the person I want to be after a year of deconstruction. In many ways, this is very exciting. I can really shape who I am, and that will tell me more about where I am going. At first, I was bitter about feeling like I had to start over with so much of my life after working so hard, but I have accepted that this is where I am in my life. I am excited to rediscover parts of myself and reinvent who I am. So here are my goals and resolutions for 2020.

  1. Read more fiction and poetry: Most of my reading for the past… 6? 7? 8? years has been theology and Christian nonfiction. From academic reading to more mainstream authors like Nadia Bolz-Weber and Anne Lamott, I have imbibed literature that centers on my faith and ministry career. I am very tired of the jargon, buzzwords, and church-talk. Eventually, it gets stale and repetitive even with the “new” and “progressive” ideas. So I am going back to fiction and poetry, my first loves, to stimulate my imagination and reframe my view of the world. Speaking of poetry…
  2. 2020 is the year of poetry: I have been writing poetry since I was a child, and now I am going to get serious about it. I am writing poetry and submitting it to literary magazines. I am also collecting some for a book to publish (maybe before the end of the year? Before I turn 30?) I am proud of publishing a book of sermons and 2 articles in 2019, but creative, poetic writing is my heart. I am returning to my heart.
  3. A new career direction: I don’t know where I am headed in ministry. I am not going to try to force anything to happen. I am going to let things unfold the way they need to. I felt pushed and pulled throughout my entire ministry career. I have never had time to just think, heal, discern, and just be. I want my faith to have space to breathe for a minute. This means I cannot wait around for ministry to be my full-time income. I have loans to pay. I want to travel. Ministry may be on hold, or floating, or slowly unfolding, or whatever, but my life must keep moving forward. So I am going to be getting a certification from the University of South Carolina in grant writing. I want to use my research and writing skills with my experience in nonprofit work to take my career in a new direction. This is worthy work and something I will be thrilled to spend my days doing, proposing grants for nonprofits and other organizations that need funding to help others.

So much can change in a year. I am a completely different person now than I was in January 2019. I can’t wait to see who I become at the end of the year as we enter a new decade (and I will be entering a new decade in November!) I wish you well as you embark on a new year full of changes.

My Two Takeaways from 2019

I am not going to focus on the difficulties of this year going into 2020. I’ve spoken at great length about them, and I am ready to move on. Instead, I am going to talk about my two takeaways from this year and how they will be my mantras for the next year. It’s a little heavy, but stay tuned for the end when I talk about the good things that helped me through this year. If you’re not feeling the “serious” lessons I learned, you can skip to the bottom and read about the good things that happened to me in 2019.

 

  1. “Accept what is.” This is something that I have been working on for years but had no choice but to learn this year. The world is unjust. My past pain happened and can never be undone. I cannot force people to be who I want them to be. God is who God is. Suffering happens even when you make the right choices, even when you work hard to avoid it. I have wished, prayed, and worked for things to be different, from my circumstances to the people in my life. But I can only change myself and my response to the world around me. This sounds like a basic thing that most people already understand, but my word, is it almost impossible to truly accept reality. I think this is in large part based on my faith. My faith informs me that the world is not as it ought to be, that I am tasked to work for the Kingdom of God, and that one day God’s Kingdom will be fully realized and all will be made right. I do not have to sacrifice these beliefs to accept the reality of the world. Denying how things are only hurts me in the long run, and hinders my mission. If I accept what is, accept my pain and my past, accept who people truly are, accept that God will be who God is, accept who I am and who I am not, then I can find peace in that while also holding hope for a better world and doing my part in being a force of good.

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  2. “Be not afraid.” This is a tough one because it’s not as comforting as it sounds. In the past when I would think of angels or messengers in the Bible greeting people with “Fear not!” or “Do not be afraid” I took it as a message of, “It’s all going to okay.” I think of the Julian of Norwich quote that gets passed around, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” Or the hymn It is Well with My Soul. These phrases are used to soothe the anxious soul, but the truth is really terrible stuff happens. And it’s scary to think about when those times come. It’s not always “going to be okay.” It won’t always “work itself out.” I have had experiences completely consume me and change the very core of who I am. And I have come out of the other side. I have been down to rock bottom, and I found a new path out of it. Whatever comes next, I have seen some pretty ugly things, and I am no longer afraid of them. Also, I am no longer afraid of an angry God who is eager to punish, as I was taught to believe. I am not afraid anymore because I have descended into hell so many times, and here I am. So I will not be afraid, not because I know it will all be okay, but because I know that there are many times it will not be okay but I am still here. I can be consumed, survive, and find a new way to move forward.

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So now let’s take a breather and hear about the fun things that happened in 2019! I am so grateful for a wonderful husband who makes life an adventure. We can survive so much together.

In January and February we knew we wouldn’t be spending much more time living in Florida, (where we never wanted to live in the first place) so we took several day trips around the state to Orlando, St. Augustine, Gainesville, Mount Dora, Deland, New Smyrna Beach, and Tampa.

We had been dying to move to North Carolina, and we were able to here in March. My baby nephew was born and I have gotten to love all over him!

I got to go back to the theatre world and stage-manage a production with a local theatre. We took a day trip to Winston-Salem. I began attending a nice church. For our 6th anniversary, Andy and I enjoyed a nice dinner and the Charlotte Symphony. Then we spent a few days in Charleston.

In July we visited historic Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown. We celebrated Andy’s birthday. We got to see author John Pavlovitz at a PFLAG event. For Halloween, we saw “Then There Were None” at Theatre Charlotte, we enjoyed the two Mint Museum locations to see art, and we spent my birthday at Biltmore in Asheville.

In December I had my holiday concerts with One Voice, we enjoyed Christmas lights in Mount Holly, and saw the Christmas lights in Christmas Town USA (McAdenville, NC).

No matter how difficult things get, Andy and I make time for us and we do special things together.

Here’s to living into the wisdom I have gleaned this year while leaving room for adventures.

 

Christmas Songs Part Two

As the Christmas season continues and the year draws to a close, here are my other three favorite Christmas songs. My very favorite is the last piece.

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

My favorite verse:

Flocks are sleeping, shepherds keeping
Vigil till the morning new;
Saw the glory, heard the story,
Tidings of a gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow;
Praises voicing, greet the morrow:
Christ the babe was born for you.
Christ the babe was born for you.

This song gives me the same warm fuzzies as “Away in a Manger” but isn’t as over-played/sung. There’s nothing terribly profound, just a simple nativity song. It’s sweet and familiar, but that’s often what we want on Christmas. Preachers are reminded not to get too theological or too cerebral for the Christmas sermon. Just tell the story, preach the Gospel. That’s why the church is packed out; people just want to hear the story of Jesus. This song is an excellent example of sticking to the story and preaching the Gospel.

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Still, Still, Still

My favorite verse:

Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come.
While guardian angels without number,
Watch you as you sweetly slumber.
Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come.

It’s a lullaby for baby Jesus and a lullaby for us. Sometimes as an adult, we long to be comforted like when we were children. The world hurts, we hurt. We have to be strong and face it. We can’t hide. We are no longer kids. But this song gives us permission to rest in the peace of Christ. It soothes and comforts, making us feel safe and warm, even if just for a moment.

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Before the final song, here are the honorable mentions. Give them a listen, and maybe you’ll fall in love too:

Coventry Carol

Once in Royal David’s City

The Dream Isaiah Saw

 

Finally, we have to round out my favorites:

Child of the Stable’s Secret Birth

My favorite verse:

Child of the stable’s secret birth,
The Father’s gift to a wayward earth,
To drain the cup in a few short years
Of all our sorrows, our sins and tears –
Ours the prize for the road he trod:
Risen with Christ; at peace with God.

Every word of the song is gorgeous. The poetry brings me to tears. This is my absolute very favorite Christmas song. I was introduced to it in my junior year of college while singing in choir, and it has remained with me since. It is a very humanizing song to characterize Jesus, reminding us that Jesus decided not to be in a far off place to observe our suffering, but came down and became one of us. Also, the song’s implication of the “second Advent” that we are in now are profound. We are in the second Advent, awaiting the second coming. This song reminds us that one day all will be reconciled in God, and this first coming of Christ has set in motion the realization of God’s kingdom on earth. Christmas is all about God’s promise fulfilled, and the promise of yet to come. This song is a declaration of faith in what has happened, and what will happen; it is a poetic narrative and creedal statement enrobed in a gorgeous musical arrangement.

A blessed Christmas season to you. I wish you light and love as we approach Epiphany.