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.

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.

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.

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Photo by Rene Asmussen on Pexels.com

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.

Trains and Feeling at Home

As a child, I only moved once. I lived “in” Rogersville, TN until I was 11 (the town was actually 20 minutes away.) We were out in the country, surrounded by mountains, in a small house my dad built. We were far from town, from school, and really far away from family. I remember disliking it and wanting to live in the city near Mamaw and Papaw. I felt so isolated. The neighbors were spread out, none of my friends lived near by. I wanted to live in a neighborhood!

This dream came true when we moved to the city, Kingsport, just before I entered middle school. My school was less than 10 minutes away, I could have sleepovers with friends because we all lived in the city, I could see my grandparents whenever I wanted, and we had real neighbors who we could talk to from our front yard into their front yard. I got a library card and visited at least once a week in the summer time. We ordered pizza and had it delivered right to our front door just like in the movies!! I would wake up early on trash day and watch the city workers come and empty our trash. I was an easily impressed country bumpkin. (Kingsport is a smaller city, by the way. Not a tiny town, but not the dazzling lights of Nashville either.)

Another aspect to living near civilization was that almost directly across the road was a train track. At first, watching the train whiz by right out our front windows was fascinating and exciting. Then it got old and annoying because it was so loud. And then I grew numb to it as it faded into background noise.

When I moved to Johnson City for college, there was a train track right beside campus. When I transferred to King and moved to Bristol, there was a train that cut through town and caused me to learn a number of alternative routes to avoid the track.

While the trains were loud and an inconvenience, I grew to find the sound endearing. I would stay up late studying, and the sound of the train in the distance was a reminder that late in the night, I was not the only one awake and working away. And it reminded me of home.

When I moved to Decatur, GA I was homesick. I had dreamed about leaving the Tri-cities, and to this day I am so glad that I stretched my wings and moved on. But after all the excitement of moving, starting a new life, and discovering a new city died down, I realized how much I missed home. I was trying to find my place and my voice at seminary and I was working so hard at trying to learn Hebrew, that one night I found myself unable to sleep. I got up out of bed, maybe around 1 or 2 in the morning, and wandered out of my apartment and onto campus. I found a bench on the quad, sat down, and cried. About that time, I heard the whistle of a train on tracks about a mile from campus. I sat up and just listened as the horn sounded. I stopped crying and smiled a little. I was awake late at night, but so was the conductor on the train. I wasn’t all alone, and I was reminded of home.

Now, here I am in Florida. As Andy and I were preparing to move, I wondered out loud to him if there would be any train tracks nearby. Sure enough, just a couple miles from our house, a train runs along the tracks several nights a week. It makes me smile each time I hear the horn echoing by. We have been unpacked for a while, and we are loving living here. It’s nice to have the extra touch of a nearby train track to feel at home.

Ordination

I am now Reverend Glory Cumbow. It hardly seems real! After it was declared to me, “You are now officially an ordained minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church” I could not contain my joy. I had heard those words proclaimed to friends, and now it has happened to me! The ordination process is finally complete (of course, the installation is coming.)

It still seems surreal though. I wonder how long it’s going to take to feel like the title truly belongs to me (maybe after my first wedding?)

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While there were, of course, many people I wish could have been in attendance who were out of town, under the weather, or too far away, there were also many there to celebrate with me! I had numerous college friends who were local and some who had to drive a few hours who attended. It did my heart good to see the faces of so many of my friends, knowing that they are still there for me even though I don’t live close by anymore. It was wonderful to have church members there as they had seen me grow up from college to the minister I am now. I had great family support from immediate family to extended family who came into town for this event! And of course, my dear friend Betsy came to represent my CTS family. I also had many encouraging words from friends and family who could not attend, letting me know that they were rejoicing from afar. It’s hard to put into words just how amazing the feeling of support was for that day. I feel so loved! From the bottom of my heart, thank you to all who supported me on my ordination day.

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My husband sang beautifully during the service. Many who were there had never heard him sing before and they were impressed! As they should be 😉 He also placed my stole on me as the “symbol of ministry.” It was a special moment which was affirmed by the sniffles I heard coming from the congregation.

My voice made it! It cracked here and there, but all of my anxieties and fears didn’t stop the service from being beautiful.

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I’m also grateful for little joys along the way. I have seen a number of rainbows recently: walking on the beach a couple weeks ago there was a double rainbow, on Saturday night Andy and I followed a rainbow all the way home from his birthday dinner, and then Betsy sent me a picture of a double rainbow she captured on my ordination day. Also, two nights before graduation back in May, I had a dream about my Papaw. I have rarely dreamed about him in the 5 years since he has passed, but this dream was very clear. He stood in a doorway looking at me. I yelled, “Hi Papaw!” And he gave me an enormous, white, sparkling smile. That was it. Simple, but beautiful and meaningful.

I’m not claiming that these are “signs” or anything. I know some people have strong beliefs about those types of things, but I’m not sure what I believe about that. It’s just nice to find some peace and beauty surrounding me whenever I have anxiety or self-doubt.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you all. This Rev will do her best to make you all proud.

Transitions and Expectations

This blog post may end up being fairly disjointed, so apologies in advance. I just have some weird thoughts that I want to write down.

“Liminal space” is a term used commonly in seminary as we learn about pastoral care. In fact, it’s one we use ad nauseam, but when you find yourself in transition you’re grateful to have a term to give the weird place you’re in a name. Liminal space is known as a threshold, a beginning, a transition, a period of waiting for something to start, and all the complicated feelings that come with it.

You would think I would have dealt with my “liminal space” when I had just graduated and was preparing to move. And in some ways that is true. I felt proud, excited, and accomplished to finally have graduated from seminary. I was nervous and filled with some dread about packing and moving. I was sad to be leaving CTS and my community there. And I felt odd, loose, free floating when I no longer belonged to the CTS community, but hadn’t yet established my new community in my new church.

So here is where I find my emotions to be complex and difficult to articulate. I had a lot of my expectations of this new stage undermined. I didn’t expect to have everything go smoothly or to have my ministry all figured out in a month (HAHAHA no.) But I thought I would be out of the weird space by now. I thought I would be in a new weird space of being in a new place, and that I would have moved on from the transitional feeling by now. So let me try to explain:

My identity was stolen right before I moved. A credit card was opened in my name and someone was making expensive purchases. Apparently I caught it quickly, but it was frustrating especially since I was literally putting boxes into cars to be moved from one state to another.

Then mine and Andy’s furniture came early, which sounds like it would have been a good thing. But the driver arrived at 8pm with our furniture,and he couldn’t find any workers to hire who were willing to come in that late at night. So he unloaded the truck ALL BY HIMSELF. We helped unpack and set everything up, which we shouldn’t have had to do since we were paying for full service moving. But it wasn’t this guy’s fault! I felt so bad for him, and we were glad to help this guy, but we were justifiably aggravated at the company.

We were promised to have our internet and cable set up the day after we moved in. We didn’t get them until a week later.

Our cat, Blinky, had been sick for a few months. He kept sticking his tongue out and drooling. He had a mouth infection that apparently came from home cleaning products. We had always been careful not to get anything in his food and water, but breathing in the chemicals was enough to poison him and rot some of his teeth. Andy took him to the vet and he had 7 teeth removed. He is doing so much better now, but it sucks knowing you made your cat sick just by using every day products.

It’s been a bumpy road and we’ve done well handling it, but you just don’t expect all of these curve balls being thrown your way.

Now Andy and I are home in Tennessee, and being home feels weird. Usually I am thrilled and at peace to be here. But I feel troubled, unsettled. Maybe it’s because we’ve left Florida so soon after moving there; we’re clearly still settling in. It feels like we’ve left something important undone. Also, things are changing. We’ve got parents with some health struggles, and a grandparent on the verge of losing her independence. I expected to be happy here in Tennessee, but I feel like I shouldn’t be here.

I currently have either laryngitis or allergies; I have been hoarse for 3 days. I have no idea what’s going on, and I am getting ordained tomorrow. I am genuinely worried. I have waited for this day and worked so hard to get here. I spent hours planning the service. I have literally dreamed about my ordination day. Whenever I had a difficult time in seminary and felt like giving up, I would think about the hymns I would want to sing on my ordination day or picture the laying-on-of-hands. But now I am afraid that I won’t be able to speak tomorrow. I’ve had such great expectations for this day, and on the eve of such an important day I’m filled with anxiety and dread.

I guess I just expected to have gotten some form of “settled” by now and that I would no longer be in the liminal space. But here I am, still kind of floating and trying to piece things together. I’m navigating all of the undermined expectations, and hoping things work out (while taking Sudafed and drinking TheraFlu.)

There’s no neat “wrap up” to this blog, because, well, I’m still making sense of it all. I’ll let you know when I’m feeling grounded again.

Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. -Ecclesiastes 9:11

2 weeks in

We’re here in Florida, and so far we are loving being here.

We’ve settled into our little house right by the church. It’s smaller than our apartment, but everything fits! And it’s been fixed up. We’ve settled in pretty quickly and made it our own. There are still a couple boxes here and there that need to be unpacked, but we are a functioning household. We have a garage that Blinky LOVES. And I have this little sun room (It used to be a front porch, but now it’s walled in with windows) and I have claimed it as my reading nook. We have a cute front yard, a decent fenced-in backyard that we might fill with a dog soon! Praise the Lord, we have a washer and dryer! We can walk to a few different local restaurants to get brunch, seafood, and pizza. We can also walk to the beach in under 5 minutes which is the biggest perk. We’ve been taking long walks at sunset about 4 times a week. It’s a great way to find some peace, get some exercise, and unwind.

Of course, we live right by the church so the commute is nonexistent.

Peace is a good word for what Andy and I have found here. We feel good about living on the coast and about the church. We feel good about being away from Atlanta. We’ve realized how much living there sucked the life out of us. We have friendly neighbors who have welcomed us, one even brought over a gorgeous handmade cake! One of the congregation members dropped some plants outside our home to brighten up the place. And two Sundays in a row I have gotten flowers dedicated to worship in my name.

Now don’t be fooled: I don’t want to paint a perfect picture. We had some struggles when we first got here. Our furniture got here early, which at first seemed like a good thing. But the driver couldn’t find any workers to hire to help him unload so it was literally ONE PERSON unloading and putting our furniture together. We helped him put things together, because it was impossible to watch him do it all alone. It was frustrating that we hired full service movers and then we had to help do the work. Of course, it wasn’t the driver’s fault! But we were frustrated with the company.

Our internet and cable took a week to get set up. I won’t even go into how angry we got with the terrible customer service.

And of course, there are the normal things young women must face as a leader and minister. I’m having to establish my individual style and identity as a minister while fighting against being compared to the previous minister, and being called the previous minister’s name. But I am smart, capable, and articulate. I can face these challenges head-on.

It’s early on, but we’re happy and peaceful. Ordination is coming soon, a day I have looked forward to for a long time. But first, VBS is coming…

Moving

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. – 1 John 3:17-18

hate moving.

Packing. Lifting. Bubble wrapping. Stacking. Unpacking.

Putting an angry cat in a carrier and having him cry the whole time in the car.

(We tried the sedative thing last time and he fought it the whole time. It only made him angrier and louder.)

Fortunately we are getting reimbursed for hiring full service movers, so putting everything on a truck and then getting it off the truck will not be our responsibility!

We aren’t moving for another week, but the packing has begun.

I rue my love of books when it comes time to box them up.

As much as I hate packing and moving, It’s nice to relive old memories. My mom boxed up my old yearbooks, trophies, and plaques from school. I looked through them and remembered my accomplishments, saw pictures of myself through the years, and read messages written by old friends. I couldn’t help but laugh at my second grade yearbook. At the front it asks about all the “favorites”: favorite TV show, song, sports, etc. I filled them all in, and when it got to “favorite star” I wrote “Dolly” (as in Dolly Parton.) I am a Tennessee girl through and through! Like most Tennesseans I love Dolly, even though I am not a country music fan. I grew up going to Dollywood fairly regularly, so she is very much a part of my childhood.

It is also cathartic to go through my items and get rid of things I no longer need. I am giving away items Andy and I no longer use, donating clothes and furniture, throwing away expired items, and cutting down the clutter. Not only does it feel good to lighten our load, but it also feels good to give away items that may be of use to someone else, especially someone in need.

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Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Andy and I have all of these little piles of change lying around the house. We keep saying that we need to do something with our change, but then never rolling the coins and taking them to the bank. One time I found myself sweeping and found a dime. I was tempted to sweep it up and throw it away, and then it hit me: what a privilege to be able to consider throwing away a piece of money. I also know how guilty I am of not having cash on me. Growing up, I didn’t live in area where there were many people on the streets asking for money. It was a shock to see so many in need here in the Atlanta area, and I have regularly had to turn down someone because I mostly use my card and don’t carry cash. So I bagged up all of our change in small plastic baggies and I plan on keeping one or two on hand to give to whoever needs it. It’s by no means a super-cure-all for those in need, but I realized that this money could really be given to someone who could use it instead of me seeing them as coins that clutter my home.

I hope that all the items we are donating and giving away are helpful to others. While cleaning out clutter isn’t a profound theological endeavor, it is eye-opening to see what a privilege it is to have all of this “stuff”, possessions that sit, go unused, and take up space. I hope to take these moments to address my privilege and find a way to use it to give to others, even if it’s just some change, some gently worn clothes, and a couple cheap pieces of furniture.