Redeeming All Saints’ Day

From my bad experiences last year I have some negative memories on church holidays. One of those was World Communion (the first Sunday in October), which was a pretty ugly day last year. This year I had a fever and had to stay home on that day, so I couldn’t replace the bad memory with a good one. But All Saints’ is one of my absolute favorite church holidays, and I wanted this year to redeem last year’s experience. I was able to really live into that today.

tealight candle on human palms
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On All Saints’ in the protestant church, we celebrate all who died in Christ the past year. We light candles for them, sometimes reading names or ringing a bell as well. It’s a beautiful reminder that death is not truly the end, and Christ has the last word on all things eternal. It’s a day of sweet memories of departed loved ones and hope in the resurrection.

I began the day at my husband’s church where he got to perform the requiem that he composed. The choir worked so hard, and the music was beautiful. It was a gift to hear my husband’s music be sung aloud. It was reverent, worshipful, and hopeful.

Then I attended my regular church where we could all come forward and light candles in memory of loved ones. Typically we only light candles for those who have died within the last year, but since my previous church didn’t practice this I was robbed of the opportunity to light candles for a couple friends last year. So I lit candles for them this year. I think God was fine with me “breaking the rules” (especially since they’re our rules, not God’s.) I lit a candle for Cindy, a friend from seminary who had to pause her studies because of health issues and ended up passing away last year. I lit a candle for Dinah, another seminary friend who died just weeks after we had graduated and just a few weeks before she was to be ordained. I also lit a third candle for author Rachel Held Evans. Although she wasn’t my friend, she was important to me and her death impacted me. All three of these women ministered until they literally, physically could not anymore.  What a witness to leave behind: ministering until your last breath. All three died very suddenly and untimely as well. None of them from old age.

When All Saints’ was taken from me by bad experiences last year, it stole the necessary grieving and worship process I had needed and had longed for. Redeeming the holiday this year has helped heal my heart in many ways. I am strong and getting stronger every day. I am stronger than those who tried so hard to break me, and I am rising above them.  Today I worshipped as an act of defiance and resistance. I truly felt the communion of the saints and the great cloud of witnesses surrounding me and giving me the strength to heal and be better.

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.

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.

Lent Week 4

2 Corinthians 5:16-21
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

 

I now live in a new city in a new state. In this state (unlike my previous one) Spring is happening, so there are blooms, pollen, little bunnies in my backyard, and signs of new life everywhere. These cutesy little “new” experiences are often what we associate with newness and Christ. But I believe Lent invites us to think about it differently.

While I’m celebrating the new around me, I’m also carrying deep seated pain and anger. My life has been a mess for 9 months, and I’m finally, finally, finally leaving behind the oppression that sucked the life out of me. I have a new beginning, but I’m going to have to wade through the pain that has attached itself to my soul. Becoming new means that I have to get my hands really dirty to rip away the resentment that crushes my spirit so that I can breathe new air and be alive again in Christ. I have to die to this old way that no longer benefits me; and that requires the hard work of taking a good, long look at my pain, feeling it, working through it, and healing from it.

This week let’s think about the old ways in our lives that we have to die to: bitterness, pain, rage, resentment, unforgiveness, and everything that stops the heart of our soul from beating. We are called to live abundantly. While we think of newness being sweet and cute, sometimes becoming a new creation means taking on difficult and ugly tasks to separate us from evil and save our souls. Enter into the hard work of addressing, feeling, working through, and healing from all that suffocates us so that we can be a new creation in Jesus Christ.

Lent Week 3

Psalm 63:1-8
O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name. My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

 

 

It’s interesting seeing lectionary texts this week that talk about refreshment, food, satisfaction, and being filled, considering that it is the third week of Lent and we should be in the middle of our disciplines, practices, fasting, and abstaining (see also Isaiah 55.)  However these passages come from a Lenten space, a place of lack and desire. The Psalmist’s soul thirsts and his flesh faints for God and the rich, satisfying provision of God’s steadfast love. The Psalmist is reaching out from a place of scarcity to be filled with nourishment and praise.

Sometimes we go into Lent with ambitious intentions of taking on or giving up something, but we’re not always sure what our end goal will be. How are we hoping to grow? Where do we need healing? While we are in our Lenten season, let us learn from the Psalmist to identify where in our lives we find ourselves thirsting and fainting. Where are we aching, parched, and empty? If we take a moment to assess ourselves spiritually, emotionally, physically, relationally, and mentally we can see where in our lives we can invite God to satisfy those places that lack the care we need.

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.

Bones

“Bones” is a TV show that I highly enjoy, and I was frustrated when I couldn’t find a way to watch the final season when it was on television. I had watched it for years and I needed to see the conclusion! Now, a year later, I found the series on Amazon Prime. I love when a good TV show has a satisfying ending, and this one did not disappoint. While watching the series finale today, I had a startling realization that put my life in perspective.

This time 5 years ago, I was preparing for my final Sunday at my first church job. I was leaving the church with immense pain and bitterness. I was planning to give up my aspirations to go to seminary. I was about to start a miserable four months working in a call center.

Working at the call center, I went to a dark place. I felt like I had wasted my college degree. I thought my dream to go into ministry was over. I was still freshly grieving the loss of my grandfather. There were other pains and disappointments that piled up on top of each other as friends decided not to be there for me when I needed them. I was depressed for the first time in my life.

To numb the pain, I would come home and watch hours of Netflix. I desperately needed an escape from my everyday life. (I am not endorsing television as a replacement for therapy. At the time I couldn’t afford it, and that’s a real thing. Everyone deserves a right to healthcare, mental healthcare included!) While there were other shows I watched, I distinctly remember watching hours and hours of Bones. The stories were entertaining, the characters endearing, the relationships heart warming, and most importantly of all, these people made enormous sacrifices in their personal lives to work the careers they were passionate about. This show distracted me from my grief, my defeat, my failure, my miserable job. It gave me hope that I would one day have a career I cared deeply about like they did.

As we know, I got a new job a local nonprofit, came out of depression, applied to seminary, and I’m now on the other side of all of that.

I didn’t go through a “honeymoon” phase with my new church. I have had my rose colored glasses shattered a long time ago. I know the church can be both a beautiful, yet broken place. I had rough week last week, and instead of it being a sobering “reality check”  I began questioning things as I have on this entire journey. I have had to fight harder than many of my other colleagues to get where I am today (and I know that due to my status as a white, straight, cis-gendered woman, there are others who’ve had to work harder than me.) I have been through the ringer to get to this place, and my instinct is to question and doubt because this is what these forces have wanted me to do.

But things were settled and I had a couple successes to re-energize me in my ministry. I also had strong words of encouragement from friends. I am called, I am here.

So as I watched the finale of Bones, I have realized that I am where I desperately wanted to be. I watched this show end as someone who accomplished what she set out to do. I watched the show with completely different eyes, as a source of entertainment, not as an escape. With my rose colored glasses being destroyed long before seminary, I know I haven’t “arrived.” My career is not perfect and will never be. But I am where I am supposed to be. Life’s not perfect, but it is so much better now than when I was at my lowest point. I am grateful to have been given this new perspective to reaffirm my place and my calling.