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.

macro shot photography of star with lights
Photo by Elias Tigiser on Pexels.com

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.

blue white and gray hanging star decor
Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

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.

Christmas Songs Part One

I have too many favorite Christmas songs, so I am blogging a two-part reflection on my favorite songs. As tough as the year has been, I have felt some hope and peace as the year has wrapped up and Christmas has drawn close. I hope there is a touch of warmth in your heart this season, even if it’s been hard. And if not, if it all hurts, please know that your feelings are valid. Please know that you do not hurt alone.

Here are the Christmas songs that spark joy for me:

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Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

The Holly and the Ivy

My favorite verse:

The holly bears a bark,
As bitter as any gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,
For to redeem us all:

There is something so compelling about the earthy feel of this song. I love how the coming of Christ is compared to all the different parts of the holly: the flower, the berry, the prickle, and the bark. The wintry images are not just for the sake of beauty, but a visual reminder of Christ’s love for us and all that has been created. Christ is God with us, the Creator who has come down to be part of the creation.

In the Bleak Midwinter

My favorite verse:

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

This song doesn’t exactly tell one cohesive story, but I love each verse individually. The first verse talks about how the earth and water turn hard as stone and iron in the bleak midwinter, which makes me think about how a cold, hard earth greeted Jesus. The second verse, printed above, speaks of how mighty Jesus is, but how humble he chose to be. The third verse speaks of the majesty of the heavens, and the simplicity of earth. The fourth verse talks about giving Jesus the gift of our hearts. I love how honest this song is, about how cruel the world can be, and how simplicity and humility foster great love. Christ considered us worthy of his love, even if we created a world of coldness and have very little to offer. Just as the baby Jesus was loved in a hard world, Jesus loves us when we have hardness inside of us. This song reminds us that warmth and kindness, goodness and peace are possible.

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming

My favorite verse:

This Flow’r, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor
The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God,
From sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

This song is in contrast to many of the harsher images of divine judgment. This is a healing song for me, replacing bloodthirsty images of God with something gentle and inviting. Jesus comes as a rose beautiful and fragrant. This is what dispels the evil, not rage, but beauty. Honestly, it speaks for itself. Christ’s love is not condemnation, but a beautiful rose.

Part two coming next week!

Disappointment, Better Headspace

I was going to post an Advent blog series, but my heart is not in it this year. Instead, I am working hard to prepare my heart and mind for healing and a new year. I will have some “New Year” insights on a later date, but for now, I feel myself moving into a better place so I think it’s better to reflect on that.

I have been shocked by how quickly my support from those who checked in on me at the beginning of the year has dried up. When I needed tangible help in spreading the word about Tales of Glory, few people even responded to my cry for help. I also have been getting lots of rejection letters from publishers. I’ve wondered if my ambition has been a dead end. I’ve thought my talents have fizzled out. I’ve contemplated giving up on the dreams that I have worked years and years for. I’ve watched others succeed and cheered them on but wondered if I will ever see the success that they have.

My hope had evaporated.

abstract art background blur
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I posted in an earlier blog about how I have been singing with One Voice Choir. We worked so hard to memorize our music. I had 2 colds, a sinus infection, and laryngitis, but I worked through them all for the concert. I focused on the music. In the meantime, I kept my head down and did very little socializing. My heart has just been closed for business. I just wanted to sing and survive the day.

I went on autopilot to get through the day. I felt like my dreams were dying, so life stopped flowing in me the way it was supposed to.

This weekend our concert finally arrived. I was terrified that I wouldn’t have a voice, but my vocal cords healed in time. Throughout the week I was with the choir several times and I finally began conversing with other people. I didn’t hide in my phone. I was feeling open. I realized how kind the people around me were, and how others had also been hesitant to socialize until now as well. And then we performed our concert three times to audiences who loved our music. Getting to perform again was magical. I had truly missed choir in my life.

Getting to be a part of the Charlotte arts community has done some healing work. I have hope again. I feel like life has started flowing again.

I am disappointed in the way things have been going for me. I have no idea if my hard work will help me truly fulfill my ambitions. But after this weekend I feel like some healing has finally happened and that I am moving into a better headspace. I can get off of autopilot and realign my vision for the future.

Ungrateful is okay.

It’s Thanksgiving. So we give thanks. Supposedly.

Christians, all Christians but especially evangelical Christians, capitalize on this holiday to talk about how bad we are at giving thanks to God and how we need to do better. The church often trumpets about how we’re never praising God enough, heaping guilt on someone receiving chemo and not simultaneously erupting in praise or shaming someone who can’t make ends meet for the month and not bursting out in song when their electricity is cut off. Apparently, an attitude of gratitude gives you the strength to persevere.

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That may work for some, but please, for God’s sake (yes, I mean that literally), stop telling people how they should suffer! If someone wants to weep through physical therapy as they have to relearn to walk and they can’t summon gratitude, then it’s never, ever your responsibility to correct them and direct them to do so!

DO NOT start a sentence with, “Well, at least you…” They don’t need to have a change of perspective to see that “someone always has it worse.” Listen, but don’t give advice. Encourage people when they go to therapy. Stand by people when they have mood swings from their depression medication. Cry with them. That pleases God so much more than demanding they constantly give thanks when they see little to give thanks for.

God doesn’t stand over the stranger, the orphan, and the widow and demand that they forsake their tears and praise God. God gets down on the ground and weeps with them.

So if you’re struggling with gratitude this Thanksgiving, it’s okay. Don’t pile more guilt and shame on yourself because your sighs are too deep for words. If counting your blessings doesn’t cheer you up, then don’t worry about it. Just survive the day, take the next step, and take care of yourself. Don’t wound yourself more by living up to the religious expectation of unabashed praise. It’s okay not to be okay, even on Thanksgiving. God is patient, and God would rather have genuine gratitude over “fake it until you make it” praise.

Titles

“What do you do?”

Ugh.

I’m hating this question these days.

If we are only going based on what I officially do for payment, then I am an after-school teacher. But I know that I have trained for other careers, which bring other titles. I’m an ordained minister, but not pastoring. I want to write and publish more, so am I a writer? I have a degree in theatre and I’m trying very hard to pursue a career in biblical storytelling. Can I call myself an actress? An entrepreneur?

What do I do? What do I call myself? Am I allowed to use a title that I am not being paid for?

We, as a society, are really not comfortable with living in a transitional state. We have to have a title, or a position, or some category to make us “official” in our jobs and careers. When I say that I do theatre, people ask me which theatre and what show I’m working on. When I say that I do ministry, people ask me what church I work at. Then it gets weird and complicated to explain what type of acting and ministry I do…and how tough it is to get something new off the ground. Instead of encouragement and understanding, the other person quickly changes the subject. It’s as if it’s not real if I’m not getting paid yet.

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But I am out here doing the work. I’m hustling hard. I am living my titles.

Is a farmer not a farmer while they are tilling the ground, sowing the seeds, fertilizing the field, and watering the earth? Or can they only be called a farmer when the wheat, fruits, and vegetables are grown, harvested, and sold?

This is a tough season. I have spent almost a full calendar year in transition. I thought things would be a bit more tangible by now. But I keep at it. Every time I want to give up, I take a break. Then I do one good thing for my ministry. Even if it’s just a social media post or an email sent out. I wake up and do the work of a minister and an actress. I am both of those things. Those titles belong to me. I am a writer. I am a practical theologian.

So why is this important? I think we deserve the recognition and the credit for what we do. Titles serve the practical purpose of identifying our professional role, but the reality is that we live in a world where professional doesn’t always equate the paid work we do 40+ hours a week. We get to have these titles to validate our work, even when our work isn’t properly compensated or celebrated.

My work is valid. I must remind myself of this every day. I hope you remind yourself that your work is valid too. You deserve your title.

Pushing Through with Queer Eye

I’m carrying a lot these days; this year has been a tough one. The first third of the year was miserable with leaving my toxic ministry and dealing with panic attacks. The middle has been full of rest, healing, and discovery. But this last third has almost undone all of the healing that I worked so hard for.

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Photo by Emma Bauso on Pexels.com

I am grateful for those who have encouraged me and shared my ministry with others. Starting a new ministry with Tales of Glory means that I need help, and asking for help can be really hard. But I am also disappointed that I haven’t received as much help as I have needed and asked for. It’s discouraging and lonely.

I have made some tough decisions in regards to setting myself free from abusive situations, how to move forward, and realizing how that might (permanently?) affect my future. I am fighting off another cold (I had one just a month ago!) and we’re coming up one month of living in a hotel after our fire.

It’s hard not to be depressed. It’s hard not to lose my faith. It’s hard not to close myself off from others and completely withdraw within myself. Sometimes I feel as if I only have my husband and myself. Part of that is beyond my control. The other part might be my own doing as I retract from the world that seems to really have it out for me.

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On my sick day, I decided to go back and watch Queer Eye from the beginning. 5 gay men, known as the Fab 5, enter a person’s life to make them over on the outside and makeover their home, but also reach deep to boost their confidence and self-image, work on their relationships, work on their professional lives, and truly bring out the beauty in each one of the “heroes” they work with. It never fails to bring joy and light in my life. But it was extra profound to watch these episodes that hit on so many of the things I am experiencing: loneliness, complicated family situations, struggling to connect to others, struggling with faith and theology, and even the grueling struggle of starting a business.

In one of the most recent episodes where they took Queer Eye to Japan, one of the Fab 5 named Antoni, who specializes in food, was watching some of the footage from one of their makeovers. They always watch footage of how their makeover has helped their “hero.” Antoni was openly weeping when he saw the hero and her friend embracing each other for the first time after decades of friendship, which they said was not common in their culture. He cried out, “Why does kindness always make me cry?!” Through my own tears, I laughed and said, “That’s all of us watching this on every episode!”

I have been knocked off my feet so many times just this year alone that I know there is no way to know what the future holds. I don’t really know how this chapter of life is going to work out for me. I keep scanning the horizon for a sign and coming up empty. What I do know is that Queer Eye is the microcosm of what the kingdom of God should look like. I am going to keep gathering these little pockets of joy and kindness to sustain my soul. Maybe my own faith and my own ministry can grow from there. For today, Queer Eye has kept my faith in God and in the goodness of others alive. Each day looks different, and each day I react differently as I stumble through; but at least for today I am pushing through with the small gift of hope given to me by the Fab 5.

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.