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.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.