I was going to post an Advent blog series, but my heart is not in it this year. Instead, I am working hard to prepare my heart and mind for healing and a new year. I will have some “New Year” insights on a later date, but for now, I feel myself moving into a better place so I think it’s better to reflect on that.
I have been shocked by how quickly my support from those who checked in on me at the beginning of the year has dried up. When I needed tangible help in spreading the word about Tales of Glory, few people even responded to my cry for help. I also have been getting lots of rejection letters from publishers. I’ve wondered if my ambition has been a dead end. I’ve thought my talents have fizzled out. I’ve contemplated giving up on the dreams that I have worked years and years for. I’ve watched others succeed and cheered them on but wondered if I will ever see the success that they have.
My hope had evaporated.
I posted in an earlier blog about how I have been singing with One Voice Choir. We worked so hard to memorize our music. I had 2 colds, a sinus infection, and laryngitis, but I worked through them all for the concert. I focused on the music. In the meantime, I kept my head down and did very little socializing. My heart has just been closed for business. I just wanted to sing and survive the day.
I went on autopilot to get through the day. I felt like my dreams were dying, so life stopped flowing in me the way it was supposed to.
This weekend our concert finally arrived. I was terrified that I wouldn’t have a voice, but my vocal cords healed in time. Throughout the week I was with the choir several times and I finally began conversing with other people. I didn’t hide in my phone. I was feeling open. I realized how kind the people around me were, and how others had also been hesitant to socialize until now as well. And then we performed our concert three times to audiences who loved our music. Getting to perform again was magical. I had truly missed choir in my life.
Getting to be a part of the Charlotte arts community has done some healing work. I have hope again. I feel like life has started flowing again.
I am disappointed in the way things have been going for me. I have no idea if my hard work will help me truly fulfill my ambitions. But after this weekend I feel like some healing has finally happened and that I am moving into a better headspace. I can get off of autopilot and realign my vision for the future.
I’m carrying a lot these days; this year has been a tough one. The first third of the year was miserable with leaving my toxic ministry and dealing with panic attacks. The middle has been full of rest, healing, and discovery. But this last third has almost undone all of the healing that I worked so hard for.
I am grateful for those who have encouraged me and shared my ministry with others. Starting a new ministry with Tales of Glory means that I need help, and asking for help can be really hard. But I am also disappointed that I haven’t received as much help as I have needed and asked for. It’s discouraging and lonely.
I have made some tough decisions in regards to setting myself free from abusive situations, how to move forward, and realizing how that might (permanently?) affect my future. I am fighting off another cold (I had one just a month ago!) and we’re coming up one month of living in a hotel after our fire.
It’s hard not to be depressed. It’s hard not to lose my faith. It’s hard not to close myself off from others and completely withdraw within myself. Sometimes I feel as if I only have my husband and myself. Part of that is beyond my control. The other part might be my own doing as I retract from the world that seems to really have it out for me.
On my sick day, I decided to go back and watch Queer Eye from the beginning. 5 gay men, known as the Fab 5, enter a person’s life to make them over on the outside and makeover their home, but also reach deep to boost their confidence and self-image, work on their relationships, work on their professional lives, and truly bring out the beauty in each one of the “heroes” they work with. It never fails to bring joy and light in my life. But it was extra profound to watch these episodes that hit on so many of the things I am experiencing: loneliness, complicated family situations, struggling to connect to others, struggling with faith and theology, and even the grueling struggle of starting a business.
In one of the most recent episodes where they took Queer Eye to Japan, one of the Fab 5 named Antoni, who specializes in food, was watching some of the footage from one of their makeovers. They always watch footage of how their makeover has helped their “hero.” Antoni was openly weeping when he saw the hero and her friend embracing each other for the first time after decades of friendship, which they said was not common in their culture. He cried out, “Why does kindness always make me cry?!” Through my own tears, I laughed and said, “That’s all of us watching this on every episode!”
I have been knocked off my feet so many times just this year alone that I know there is no way to know what the future holds. I don’t really know how this chapter of life is going to work out for me. I keep scanning the horizon for a sign and coming up empty. What I do know is that Queer Eye is the microcosm of what the kingdom of God should look like. I am going to keep gathering these little pockets of joy and kindness to sustain my soul. Maybe my own faith and my own ministry can grow from there. For today, Queer Eye has kept my faith in God and in the goodness of others alive. Each day looks different, and each day I react differently as I stumble through; but at least for today I am pushing through with the small gift of hope given to me by the Fab 5.
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing. At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Our final blog in the “hard seasons” series is well-timed for the holidays: Halloween, All Souls, and All Saints. This week we focus on mortality.
Here in this scripture passage we focus on Paul’s mortality. He has lived a long, hard, fulfilling life of creating community and sharing the Good News of the Gospel. Like every human being in the world, Paul shows mixed emotions to his situation. He has been abandoned, imprisoned, and persecuted. He’s hurting and grieving. But he finds healing in his faith, purpose in his mission, and comfort in his community. He’s striving to make peace with what he foresees to be his death, but also has some hope that maybe he will survive this. It’s heartbreaking and complicated. There is fear. There is hope. There is pain. There is acceptance. It’s a good picture of what we all go through when facing mortality.
I wish I could say that I don’t fear death, but I very much do. I am afraid of the pain and suffering. We all want to die painlessly in our sleep, don’t we? One of the comforts we have, when we have physical pain and suffering, is that it will pass. What happens when you are suffering so much that you know it will consume you? What a horrifying thought.
This probably doesn’t sound very hopeful, and you might be wondering why I am being so morbid. I’m sharing this because I want you to know it’s okay to be afraid. It was always preached to me that no “good” or “true” Christian should be afraid of dying. That’s not true. You don’t lack faith for having fear. While the passage above doesn’t show Paul’s fear, if you read the whole chapter you can see it. Paul was urging his friends and community to come be with him, quickly before it was too late. He was afraid.
Fear can be simultaneous with faith and acceptance. Anytime we suffer, whether or not we are facing mortality, we do not have to put on a brave face for anyone. People often compliment others when they “never complain” through their cancer treatments, or when they “never lost their sense of humor” when the doctors said there was nothing else they could do. These things are great if they help the individual who is facing their mortality: if humor and positivity help us cope, then do it! But don’t feel like you have to keep everyone else positive, laughing, and smiling when you are the one suffering. Your responsibility is to yourself; you shouldn’t have to comfort others when you are the one who should be comforted.
And then, this turns to us as well. When others suffer, don’t turn away. If we are uncomfortable with the suffering of others, that is our problem, not theirs. They shouldn’t have to make us feel better about our secondhand trauma, when they’re the ones dealing with it firsthand. We shouldn’t expect them to hold our hand; we need to hold theirs (if they want us to.)
Let’s leave space for fear in our faith. If someone is at peace and is unafraid of death, it’s because they have learned how to cope with fear in a healthy way. If we suppress it, then it eats at us from the inside and robs us of the possibility of the peace we desire when facing mortality. Paul expresses his fear, but by doing so he made a path for peace and acceptance of his death. He knew that God would abide in his final hours, and Paul longed to see the face of the Lord. Just like Paul’s story, facing mortality is heartbreaking and complicated, but naming our fears takes away their power. Once we accept that it’s okay to be afraid, the peace of God can find its way in our hearts to comfort and guide.
I struggled for a while. I kept my head down. I had to just find a way to survive from one moment to the next.
Then came a time when I was healing and doing better, but since so many unexpected things had happened, I was untethered. I was so very lost. I was aimless, and I had no idea if I would ever recover to a point of feeling like I was going somewhere in my life. So while I was doing better, I thought I had failed to launch and didn’t know if I would get the chance again. I couldn’t think about the future, because I didn’t know if I had a future.
Now I am moving forward with a new job and a new enterprise. I have no idea if this is going anywhere, or if this is a detour that leads me to something else. I don’t have a plan, but I have to take a chance on new things. I won’t go anywhere if I don’t try moving a little.
In some ways, I’m still a little lost, since I don’t have a long term plan. But, I’m dreaming again. I now feel as if I have a future again, even if the trajectory isn’t clear. Will Tales of Glory take off and turn into something great? Will I get another Master’s degree in another field? Will I get a doctorate? Will I get my writing published? Will I write some good works people will want to read? I don’t know the answer, but the simple fact that I can even dream about the future and ponder what is to come is a huge step forward from I was just a few short months ago.
I’m not going into this season of life unafraid. I am afraid things with Tales of Glory won’t work out and I’ll be left without any ideas. I am afraid of a possible economic recession, especially with taking a risk on a new financial venture. But I am hopeful, and I choose courage in the face of fear. I am dreaming again, not just fighting to survive the day. I am moving forward, taking risks, and trying something new. I don’t want to live a life where I regretted allowing my fear stop me from trying new things; nor do I want to live a life where I remained stuck and let fear stop me from dreaming.
I am sharing to let everyone know that I have published a book of sermons! “Who May Dwell on Your Holy Hill?” is the first in what I hope to be a long, fruitful, life-giving career in writing and publishing. For anyone who has enjoyed my blogs, I think you will enjoy my sermons as well. They can be used for devotionals (they aren’t too long!) or for other preachers looking for sermon illustrations or for anyone who simply enjoys scripture, theological reflection, and stories. And please feel free to share with your friends! You can order my book here:
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.
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.
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD! Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
Even when horrible things are happening in the world, I can typically tap into the mindset of Advent. This year I’m struggling.
I read a story about the California wildfires where burned remains were found. They were thought to be from a single person. Results showed the the DNA came from two people. It’s believed that they were holding each other when they died. I spent the morning sick to my stomach and in tears.
And I’m supposed to summon hope for Advent?
I’ve been working on sermons and Advent readings, but I just couldn’t write anymore. We are supposed to be talking about our hope in Christ who came to earth to overcome evil, sin, and death. And we’re waiting for Christ’s return. But where’s Jesus now? Can he see what’s happening here? Is he watching? Burnt remains sure don’t feel like death has been overcome. Tear gas thrown at the border feels evil. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen where people are starving to death feel like the result of sinful leaders.
How am I supposed to write hopeful readings for my congregation to read aloud as they light candles? How am I supposed to pray when the people who are fleeing from fires, seeking asylum, and hungering for food are praying and their suffering is not being relieved? What can I preach from scripture that hasn’t been said? Is anyone going to change their hearts towards compassion, or are they going to sit in church and leave the same person they came in as?
Jesus, we clearly can’t do this on our own. We’re freely admitting it. We’re confessing our dependency on you, so why aren’t you showing up?
I don’t know. I don’t have any answers. Pastors don’t have the theological answers to these problems. I’ll show up. Light the candles. Say the prayers. Read the scriptures. Maybe it’s not up to me to instill hope. I’ll do my part in church and in my own personal life, and maybe hope will find a way. I’ll keep being faithful and maybe Jesus will show up. There aren’t any guarantees here. Is that the point? I’m not sure. I guess we’ll have to keep trying as we wait and see.
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith. Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
“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.
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.
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.