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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
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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
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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.

Knowing Who I Am

I just read an article entitled “I’m 40 Years Old, and I Don’t Know Who I Am”

I realize that at 28, I can relate to this quandary. In this article Michelle Matthews answers questions she found on Google to help her figure out who she was: what are her values, interests, temperament, activities, life mission, and strengths. I appreciated reading and hearing her unique voice come through in this piece. By the end she seems to feel a bit more oriented about herself. So I am going to attempt this exercise to see if I feel a bit more clued in to who I am and where I’m at.

Values

I value good, strong, deep conversation over delicious food and drinks. Now, this might sound like an “interest”, but hear me out. I value this because this is how I have made deep, lasting friendships, have felt the safest and warmest in my life, and have broken down barriers with people who I thought I didn’t like and couldn’t be friends with. I value the vulnerable heart to hearts that happen over fellowship.

That being said, I realize that over time I am less of a social butterfly. Socially, I thrive in small groups and shrivel up in crowds. I have also pared down large friend circles into a smaller crowd of people that I can count on. I say all of that to say that I value mutual friendships, friendships where both parties are willing to rise up and meet one another. I value the friendships where I can be a safe place, and they can be mine. We can share without judgment, apologize when we mess up, and show our ugly side and still find a way to nurture a friendship. These are rare, but I find them and hold onto them.

I value learning from others, being pushed out of my comfort zone, hearing an opinion that makes me take a good hard look in the mirror, and hearing perspectives from cultures and worldviews that aren’t my own. Human relationships that cross barriers and help us become better people are what changes the world. I value this, and still have much to grow in this area.

These values are all the tangled human relationships that point us to God. I value a relationship with God, even if that relationship gets complicated and messy some (all) times.

 

Interests

Books all day, everyday. One of my selfish desires in life is to be well-read. I’d like to think I’m getting there.

The arts. I miss acting and choir. I miss performing and being part of an artistic group where I can make friends, feel connected, and create something beautiful to give to the wider community. I ache for this. Maybe one day I can be a part of another creative outlet.

Writing. I have always been a writer. Here’s hoping publishing is just around the corner.

Travel. I am not well-traveled yet, but it’s my other selfish desire. Andy and I take short day trips and weekend trips locally pretty often. We can usually only afford a bigger trip once a year. Maybe once we’re both in our 30’s and have established our careers a bit more we’ll see some more of the world.

 

Temperament

Oof. I struggle here. I used to be outgoing and optimistic. I used to be positive and hopeful and trusting and a wide-eyed dreamer. Now I feel reserved, sometimes struggling with hope in the world, yet ambitious. I don’t know if I like that about myself. I don’t want to go back to the naive individual I was. I want to retain some of the wisdom and street smarts I have. Maintaining hope, while being realistic is something I think we all struggle with. I’m still navigating this one.

But I still have an explorer part of me who finds some wonder in discovery. So I’ll hold onto that.

 

Activities

I think some of those things have been addressed in interests? Getting out of the house on the weekends, even if it’s just to the lighthouse 5 miles away or visiting a new city an hour or two away. I’ve started different types of journaling, which has been helpful. I’ve needed to find ways of journaling that works for me, and daily entries aren’t cutting it. So I journal when I travel, I reflect on the month, I write down books I read and places I see, and I do some art. Kind of journal free-styling. I go for walks on the beach about 5 times a week. Sometimes I walk on the side walk down the street if it’s dark since there aren’t any lights on the beach. I see concerts and plays and go to art museums. So I try to get my body moving and take in some sort of small travel or cultural thing weekly.

 

Life Mission

We’re supposed to have one of these?! Well, I’m behind. I mean I could default as a pastor and say that it’s to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, but that’s not just for a pastor right? That’s for all Christians.

I think my life mission might be to learn and share the perspectives of others so that the world feels a little smaller and we feel more connected. I want my writing and my life’s work to foster healthy conversation, uplift silenced voices, and tell stories that show just how human we all are. It’s so easy to “other” people, and then they seem less like people. I want to try to combat that and create some empathy. Again, I have some room to grow here myself.

 

Strengths

I think I’m pretty good at empathetic listening. I have practiced this a lot. I try to stay away from giving unsolicited advice (but you know…it still slips out once in a while.) I want to hear people and share in whatever it is they’re feeling.

I think I’m a good speaker and storyteller. I’m pretty comfortable speaking in front of others and feel pretty natural doing it. But I like crafting a sermon or presentation and delivering it. And I weave in narratives as well.

I think I’m a good teacher. I love sharing information, asking the probing questions, re-framing a question or concept for someone to understand better, watching the “aha!” moments, and having the people I’m teaching surprise me with a response and teach me something.

 

 

I encourage you to do this exercise. It really is orienting and eye-opening. If you’re feeling a bit lost, maybe this will help you find some pieces of yourself again. You’re someone worth knowing and loving, even, and especially, by yourself.

When You’re Stuck

I am waiting on news. And decisions. And opportunities. And emails. And phone calls. And for this cough to go away.

In the mean time, my mind is tapped out. I’m struggling to journal, to read, to write, to create. I have projects in the works that have come to a stand still.

I can’t move forward. I am stuck.

I have had all these plans that I do not have the mental capacity to complete at the moment. I have a stack of books that I don’t have the energy to read.

To take a scripture out of context:

Isaiah 40:31

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
    they shall walk and not faint. 

 

In Sunday school this past Sunday we talked about the word “hope” in scripture. Yakhal “to wait”, or Qavah “to wait with tension” in Hebrew. Waiting or tense expectations. Elpis in Greek. Hoping in scripture means waiting for God, sometimes expectation with tension and anticipation, and waiting with hope based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Often this means there’s nothing to indicate that things will get better, but choosing to wait for God to act and move anyway. We learned this from a great resource:  The Bible Project “Hope”

Hope is waiting for God to act without any evidence that circumstances will improve. Now to put the scripture back into context:

Isaiah 40:1-2, 6-11, 21-23, 28-31

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!”
See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in;
who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

God’s people had been exiled by Babylon, and this is the first message of hope in what is known as Second Isaiah. This is the transitional portion of the book of Isaiah when the end of the exile is near and the prophetic message is one of a brighter future. After such misery and suffering in exile, the people of Israel felt defeated and perhaps forgotten. But the prophet’s job was to speak God’s words of judgement, followed by renewal, forgiveness and restoration. They had endured the judgment, but restoration was coming. There was a political shift occurring, and this created unease as it always does. There’s no way to know if things would get worse, or if things could possibly be worse than they were. But the prophet was bringing a message of hope, of waiting with tense expectation, that the everlasting God was moving and had not forgotten them. It didn’t look good right then in that moment, but the prophet was inviting them to just wait and see what God would do.

round analog clock
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There are no revelations happening to me right now to help inspire me, move me forward, and break out of my slump. I keep looking, praying, and waiting.

Maybe you’re waiting for something, too. Maybe you need a word or a message, but there aren’t any prophets appearing in your wilderness. I’m right there with you.

I will choose to hope and to wait. There’s no evidence pointing toward a clear path to a brighter future. But I’ll lean into the expectation that God renews those that wait.

A Place Where I Belong

Coming home for Thanksgiving is always a welcomed breath of fresh air. Escaping on vacation time to just enjoy family, cool temperatures, bright leaves, good food, good books, reuniting with friends, and peaceful naps renews my soul.

Sometimes skirting around family tensions and disagreements can be tough. We can’t talk politics. Sometimes there’s some sadness when family members grow older and decline in health. Sometimes it’s hard talking about struggles when everyone wants to hear good news.

Despite any of the complications that come with being at home, I know I belong here. I am loved here. I have a place here.

Old memories from childhood and high school come flooding back when driving down roads that are forever ingrained in my mind. I pass streets where I don’t drive down, but I know them well. They are where I used to hang out or where friends used to live. When I was a kid, I was angsty and searching for an identity, and love, and self-worth. With all of the teenage anxiety aside, things were much simpler back then. My heart was a little sweeter, a little lighter in those days.

Endearing memories from college flash in my mind. I remember being young and free, exploring newfound agency and quality education. I remember late nights with friends, laughing until the wee hours of the morning, spending hours solving all of the world’s problems, not getting enough sleep, feeling safe, invincible, and accepted, and having time to do the things I loved, like singing in choir and acting in plays. I remember dreaming big, and I take some pride in achieving many of those dreams already. I remember the friends who I still hold dear in my heart, even if there are some I haven’t seen in four or five years.

I smile at the colorful leaves on the ground and some that are still clinging to the trees. I love the hay bales, cows, tractors, barns, and rolling Appalachian hills. I am warmed by neighbors and grocery cashiers who know people by name.

I probably won’t ever move back to the Tri-Cities again; at least not for a very long time. But this is still my home, and I still belong here.

Knowing that there is somewhere I belong helps me know my worth. I should feel like I belong wherever I live; I should always feel like I have a place and a voice. Who I am as a person, as an individual, should always matter much more than what I do and how I function. I am worth being loved for who I am, not what I can do for others, not what I can offer, and not how I perform tasks. I am not a means to an end, but I am an end in and of myself.

I am all the more determined to belong and make my own home.

Vocation and Spirituality

You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. -John 15:16

I spent the last several years of my life thinking, “Just get through this season and you’ll be one step closer to being a pastor.”

When I was trying to squeeze in all the rest of my college credits, I kept telling myself that it’s just what I needed to get to seminary. But my spiritual development was through the roof. I had grown and changed so much during college when I was doing my studies, being a part of theatrical productions, going to chapel, hearing impressive lecturers…I wasn’t a minister yet, but it all felt like holy work. I felt like everyday I was learning so much about God, faith, the Bible, and my Christian vocation. I was also attending what became my home church. I felt so loved and welcomed. I loved singing in choir and being a part of worship each week. My faith was flourishing, even though I wasn’t ordained yet.

My first job as a youth director was toxic, and I missed my home church so badly. I really struggled, and it almost stopped me from applying to seminary. I quit this job for an even worse one, but it saved my faith.

When I was taking my year off from school and I was working in the miserable call-center position, I kept telling myself that life would be better soon. I would be applying to seminary, and then I could leave everything behind to pursue my career. I was fighting depression for the first time and I had no idea how to navigate it. But I had a small book of devotionals that had been published by a local church written by the church members. I clung to them, reading them on my work breaks. They stopped me from breaking down at work each day and helped sustain my faith. I was amazed at how beautiful and theological insightful these devotions were. None of the people writing them were pastors, just Sunday church goers. These brief daily devotions felt personal and loving. I also went back to singing in the choir at my home church. I was so excited for Sundays. They truly felt like a worshipful sabbath.

When I began working for nonprofits I was awaiting my acceptance letter from seminary. I was looking forward to the future. But in the mean time, I loved my job. I worked with children in after school programs. It paid very little, but I genuinely loved it. I had a fun, fulfilling job and I was attending my home church where my spirit was refreshed.

people standing inside church
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The acceptance letter came, and it felt like all my dreams were going to come true. Andy and I whisked away to Atlanta. I’ve waxed long about my seminary experiences before, so I will only hit one highlight:

After years of serving as a youth director and loving the work, my own spiritual development halted. And then it fell to pieces after a bad experience with a church that had given up on their youth group and many of their outreach ministries. I almost gave up on pastoring, which meant I would have no idea what was coming next. Maybe campus ministry.

Healing occurred when doing CPE and attending church for worship purposes. I could find satisfaction in my work while feeding my soul.

Now, as I have become the pastor I had longed to be, it has finally sunk in that my spiritual life and my Christian vocation are not the same as my profession. Ordained ministry is my job, my career, my calling. But my calling as a Christian to love and serve the Lord goes beyond what job I have, and it is what I choose to do in my time away from work. I am applying to volunteer my time to crisis hotlines. I send monthly offerings to causes I believe in. I write and call leaders to fight for what I believe in. I find other outlets to hear sermons, read books, study scripture, and read devotionals to foster my own spiritual life. What I do in my job to preach the Gospel, promote service and justice, teach the Bible, and love people are an important part of my Christian ministry. But what I do outside of my job are what are going to sustain me spiritually.

Like the church members who wrote the devotional I read, or sang in the choir where I attended church, or the church members at my current congregation who show up at church to learn and to minister, I must also seek spiritual renewal and devotion to God outside of my job. My job can’t be what I rely on to feed my soul, that has to be intentional from an outside source. My job situation may shift and change over the years, but I can learn to rely on God and my faith to hold and keep me. My ministry and my vocation go together, but I must also respect their separate needs as well.

Pastoral Identity

I am learning as I go when it comes to pastoring. I love people, but I am an introvert. I have to fight my hermit tendencies so that I am spending time getting to know congregants and ministering with my presence. I’m learning how to balance accepting constructive criticism, and standing up for myself when people are unkind. I’m learning about how to share about myself so that others get to know me, but also draw lines about what are appropriate and inappropriate questions. I am learning how to be gracious but firm when people are saying hurtful things. I’m learning how to contribute during meetings and encouraging others who speak up. I find myself connecting with some of the quieter congregation members who show up and support the church, and are finding their voice. I love hearing what they have to say from their perspective, and when they apologize for going on “too long” I tell them not to apologize. I love hearing from the quiet people. They observe so much more than most.

I’m learning. It’s challenging, but I am also enjoying the little improvements and victories along the way.

island during golden hour and upcoming storm
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I am learning that outreach and mission is relied more heavily on me than I realized it would be. I’m used to churches having a sizable group in place that runs of lay members and is interconnected with other community outreach events. Now I am one of the leaders (not the main leader of our committee, but a leader in the group nonetheless.) While it is daunting, it is also exciting to dream up what can come from the church. There are some awesome ministries in place, and I am impressed with the way our church contributes. But now it’s time to motivate others to get involved. I’m grateful for our committed, compassionate group.

It’s amazing how “new” I still feel. But I feel like little by little I am getting more established.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying living on the coast. I walk on the beach to calm myself. I let the waves crash on me and get my clothes wet. The bottoms of my shorts drip, I track sand in the house, my hair gets tangled and wind blown, but I don’t mind at all. I’ve never been the beach bum type, but I’ve always loved the ocean. I don’t even panic when seaweed gets wrapped around my ankle! And the pelicans, the herons, the seagulls, the egrets, and the cute little piping plovers are  giving me so much life.

I’m living into this vocation and finding my pastoral identity. I’m praying and trusting God to guide me.

The Girl I Was

“Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” -C.S. Lewis

As an avid reader I have always had a vivid imagination. I loved reading fantasy and horror, any type of fiction that took me to a different world or a different time.

As a kid, I wrote short stories, plays, and poems. I would read my writings aloud in class and sometimes to other classes during their library time. I performed my little plays, which ended up getting me scholarships to acting camps and began my love for theatre.

The majority of my poems were about dolphins, the sea, stars, and the moon. I was obsessed with the ocean at night. Throughout middle school my bedroom was under water themed. This was my magical world.

I remembering strongly identifying with Anne of Green Gables. I loved that she was a redhead like me, that she had a wild imagination, that she was a reader and writer, and that she was emotional and dramatic. I read about Anne as a child, and then she sort of faded in my memory.

I watched the LOTR movies throughout middle school and high school. I lost count after watching them all the way through 20 times. I just couldn’t keep up anymore. I wanted a grand adventure in Middle Earth more than anything!

Like most adults, I have lost a lot of the magic I had as a kid. Even though I’ve kept some of my wonder and glee for beautiful things, I lost the mystery and the slight hope other worlds exist somewhere over the rainbow, in a time wrinkle, or through a wardrobe. I’ve hated that I have lost this about myself. Not that I want to believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy as a grown woman, but that I can use my imagination to make reality a little more magical.

In January I began watching “Anne with an E” on Netflix. A number of people had complained that it was “too dark” when the book series had been comedic and lighthearted, but I had experienced it completely differently. I was re-introduced to Anne who used her imagination to tell wild stories, was too verbose for her own good, and embraced the wonder of the world around her. I cried while watching the series, remembering the parts of myself that had long been forgotten.

Not long after, I interviewed at my current church. I remember sitting outside, overwhelmed with the job offer in front of me. I had a life-changing, weighty choice sitting in my lap. While I processed what was happening and where my future was headed, I sat on a balcony in the dark that overlooked the ocean. I could see the stars and the white caps of the breaking waves. I remembered the part of me that was entranced by the sea at night. I couldn’t help but smile, as a faint heartbeat as my former self came to life. A cloud floated into view that looked very much like a dragon in flight. I was glad to know that my imagination wasn’t completely dead after all.

Tonight Andy and I walked under the full moon by the ocean. Ever since we moved here to Florida I have called jokingly called myself “pastor mermaid.” I told Andy that tonight was the night: under the full moon I would finally transform into the mermaid I was meant to be, and that he should come with me so we could rule the ocean together. We chased each other in the waves and giggled together. Andy told me that he only believes I am half joking when I talk about going to be a mermaid in the sea, and that he believes there’s a part of me that believes in the fantasy.

I’ve had a lot of hope, joy, peace, and imagination beaten out of me by life. I struggle with anxiety and depression. Life is hard. There is so much evil. It is such a dark place here. And I am supposed to preach about the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But imagination gives me hope. If I can recover parts of the girl I was, maybe some of the magic can return to my reality. Fantasy reflects the hope of the reality of a just and peaceful world, full of wonder and delight, with endless joy. This renews my hope in the Kingdom here, and Kingdom come.

The Only Way to Heal

I saw a quote on Facebook that deeply resonated with me by Christian writer Liezel Graham, “Sometimes the only way to heal, is by undoing the way you were put together by others.”

A year ago, beginning my final year of seminary, I knew that as a leader and a pastor I would have to figure out who I was apart from who I had been trained to be. As I entered this final year, I knew it was going to be a little different. I was going to be doing my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) which would be a full-time (unpaid) chaplaincy internship. Instead of spending 5 days a week in the classroom at CTS, I would be spending 5 days a week at my CPE site which was the Outreach and Advocacy Center. Each day I would help a number of guests who were experiencing homelessness get the Georgia state ID cards which could help them get medical care, employment, food stamps, and housing. Some needed their birth certificates or social security cards. Other people didn’t need documentation, but needed food, clothing, and medical vouchers to meet their daily needs. There were a few other services that we offered as well. This job took a lot of knowledge and quick thinking, but also patience, listening, and understanding. It was a very hard job, but one that taught me how powerful it is to slow and down and listen to someone who often goes ignored or silenced by society.

red and green tree leaves on a sunny day
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Learning who I was in this environment taught me the positives of the things I was taught to be throughout my life, and the negatives. A major part of CPE is being part of a cohort of other chaplains who are at different sites. We would come together twice a week to learn more about each other, to learn about ministering to people who are facing mental illness, trauma, and major conflicts, and how to communicate and manage conflicts within our own group. We learned about our strengths, our weaknesses or “growing edges”, our blind spots, and how to offer criticism without being abrasive, and how to receive it without being defensive. It was really difficult and tense, but it was also enlightening, healing, and usually happened successfully (meaning that we came to an amicable understanding, not that there wasn’t bumps in the road along the way.) This was a training ground for self-reflection and living in a loving community.

One of the aspects of CPE was to have learning goals. One of mine was to learn how to be “appropriately assertive.” This is where who I am is in conflict with who I was taught to be. From a young age, I was taught not to be intrusive: do not ask for food and or drink at at someone’s house, even if they offer, because it’s rude for them to have to go out of their way for you. I was taught to do all the work: no one else is going to do it, so we have to be the ones who show up hours early to set up, and we have to stay late to clean it all up ourselves and do.not.ask.for.help. Just suck it up and do it. I was taught that saying “no” is rude and lazy. I was taught that I should never stick up for myself in order to “keep the peace.” I was told to “get over it” far too much growing up.

I was groomed to be a door mat. And for years, I was. I let people walk all over me, take advantage of my kindness, not show up for me when I had showed up for them, blame me for things that were their fault, make fun of me, and so much more.

But then I started standing up for myself, and I wanted to use CPE to learn how to be firm in standing up for myself, but also compassionate and gentle. I especially valued this goal when we took the Enneagram test. (For more information go here: https://www.integrative9.com/enneagram/introduction/) I tested as a 2, and immediately felt wrong. I knew that wasn’t who I was in my core. A 2 is a “helper” who are helpful to the point of being self-sacrificial; they are warm, caring, and they want to make the world a better place. But their identity is often caught up in being the servant and for some “the need to be needed.” I know this is not the case for all people who are 2’s, but this felt like the identity that was being imposed onto me. While I think some of these aspects are good and part of who I am, I didn’t feel like the working definition fit who I really was, but who I had been taught to be. I then learned that women frequently test “false positive” for a 2, because we are often socialized to be the servants, the self-sacrificial individuals who make the world go round. If we as women won’t do it, then who will? It has been “our place” and expected of us to do the work without the credit for thousands of years. I knew that a 2 was a false positive.

My CPE supervisor said to check the other numbers and see if there is one I might identify with. I felt strongly drawn to 4, the “intense creative.” Individualistic, deeply emotional and empathetic, drawn to the arts. However, sometimes our strong emotions can come off as moody or temperamental or dramatic, when to us it seems normal. We can be both social and withdrawn. We’re ambitious, but also envious and feeling like something is missing. I felt like this was me, who Glory really was at her core. Flaws and all. So I’ve claimed a four: emotional, empathetic, caring, but also firm in who she is as an individual. To learn about myself, I had to unlearn who I had been made to be.

I’m still practicing my “assertiveness.” What I’ve learned is that it’s a lose-lose situation for women. There’s still an expectation of being a submissive servant, so if we act in this way we are forced to do all the work with no credit or forced to do work that is expected of women: cooking, cleaning, child care. If we act against this manner, we are “too assertive” or “too hard-lined” or “inflexible” even if we have politely said, “Hey, I’m sure you didn’t intend this in this way, so I am not angry or anything, but what you said felt hurtful..” Giving someone the benefit of the doubt, coming across in a nice way, and going out of your way to use “I” statements so you’re not accusing them, doesn’t mean there still won’t be backlash against the fact that you’re speaking up for yourself. If you say something people don’t want to hear, no matter how understanding you may try to be, there are just people who will be convinced that you’re the bad guy. Somehow, women still get painted as the villain, even when the wrong has been done to them.

It doesn’t mean I am planning to stop anytime soon. I want to keep practicing so that I can be compassionate and graceful. I never want to be unkind. But I am going to be myself, unapologetically. I can always improve myself, but I will not stop being myself. I will not be a doormat; it’s not who I am.

I took the enneagram test again, a year later. I answered honestly, and this time I came out as a strong 4. I am learning to become who I am apart from who I have been made to be.

Small Comforts

Living in Kingsport at home with my family, I remember the habits I had, the spaces I claimed to make a household of four have space for my own habitation. I had a number of small comforts that expressed myself and helped me develop into the person I am today. We had a swing in the backyard that had a cover over it. I would take books out there in the summer and read for hours. Eventually I would drift off to sleep, warm and safe from sunburn. In the cooler weather, the living room (one of the only rooms without a TV) became my reading and napping place.

gazebo against trees
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As I got older, staying up until 3 am while watching rock music videos and chatting with friends online was an escape from my angst. While I was ready to move out and get ready for college, I had these spaces and habits to make my own “home” space while living with three other people.

I loved libraries and movie rental stores. Libraries felt secretive and magical. Somehow the quiet and the whispers made the space more exciting. It felt like something was waiting around the corner. Typically,these things were hidden in the books, and the hunt was on to find them. Maybe that’s why I would reach my maximum check-out limit of 25 books on most of my visits there. At movie rental stores there was a thrill in the air as my love for horror movies grew. Mom and I would rent scary movies to watch on school breaks, and my interest has only evolved from there.

My small comforts shifted when I moved out of the house and into college. My love for coffee began at this time. I drank so much of it to stay up late for studying and writing that I realized I could drink it black (I still like it plenty sweet though!) I would also spend the weekends at Andy’s house watching hours of Criminal Minds, Ghost Adventures, and other spooky shows. I realized how much I loved walking when Andy and I would walk around his friendly, hilly neighborhood every weekend, even when the weather turned cold. It had become such a habit that this is how Andy decided to propose to me: in the middle of our Sunday walk. I fell in love with my home church, Glade Springs Pres where I sang in choir and made friends with the choir members. And, of course, King itself had places where I was comforted and felt at home: Tadlock, the FAB, Hyde, and the chapel.

When Andy and I moved into our first apartment, we had a magical back porch, which became the focal point of my small comfort. I would sit with books, coffee, and music as I watched the dozens of hummingbirds flit to and fro and listen to the creek babble at the edge of the backyard. It was a very sweet place where I could hide from the world.

At seminary, my small comforts were the library and the “couch” room. Both offered a place to study. The library is where I would hunker down with commentaries and music in my earphones. It’s where I really got a lot of work done. The couch room was my home away from home. I would nap here, study here, eat lunch here, and sometimes even watch television here. When I had a few hours in between classes, this is where I would get settled. It became such a special place that when last year’s tropical storm hit and our apartment was without electricity for 3 days, Andy and I holed up in the couch room where we could have internet and watch TV. While in seminary I realized how much I loved scented candles. I always had one burning, reflecting the season of the year. I wanted my home to smell lovely. Andy and I continued our walking tradition around the neighborhood surrounding Columbia. We especially enjoyed the decorations on these homes during Halloween and Christmas.

Now I have the small comforts transported to our home here in Florida. The sun room is my space, where I keep my art supplies and read my books. On Saturdays I watch horror movies, light scented candles (soy candles that are safe for our cat; the others that I had been burning ended up making him sick), drinking coffee, and leisure reading. Andy and I walk on the beach 4-5 times a week. It’s amazing how little habits, small comforts develop over a period of time. It’s easy to forget who you are and lose yourself to your work and to the stress of the day to day. But I’m glad to have retained my propensity to find home-y space to read and nap, find places to enjoy my coffee and scented candles, find time to watch horror movies, and find routes to enjoy walking with my husband. These small comforts are just little parts of what define me, knowing that what I do and who I am are two different things.