What I am Doing with My Year

I know people go back and forth with resolutions for the new year. Some years I do, some I don’t. This year I am really focusing on the person I want to be after a year of deconstruction. In many ways, this is very exciting. I can really shape who I am, and that will tell me more about where I am going. At first, I was bitter about feeling like I had to start over with so much of my life after working so hard, but I have accepted that this is where I am in my life. I am excited to rediscover parts of myself and reinvent who I am. So here are my goals and resolutions for 2020.

  1. Read more fiction and poetry: Most of my reading for the past… 6? 7? 8? years has been theology and Christian nonfiction. From academic reading to more mainstream authors like Nadia Bolz-Weber and Anne Lamott, I have imbibed literature that centers on my faith and ministry career. I am very tired of the jargon, buzzwords, and church-talk. Eventually, it gets stale and repetitive even with the “new” and “progressive” ideas. So I am going back to fiction and poetry, my first loves, to stimulate my imagination and reframe my view of the world. Speaking of poetry…
  2. 2020 is the year of poetry: I have been writing poetry since I was a child, and now I am going to get serious about it. I am writing poetry and submitting it to literary magazines. I am also collecting some for a book to publish (maybe before the end of the year? Before I turn 30?) I am proud of publishing a book of sermons and 2 articles in 2019, but creative, poetic writing is my heart. I am returning to my heart.
  3. A new career direction: I don’t know where I am headed in ministry. I am not going to try to force anything to happen. I am going to let things unfold the way they need to. I felt pushed and pulled throughout my entire ministry career. I have never had time to just think, heal, discern, and just be. I want my faith to have space to breathe for a minute. This means I cannot wait around for ministry to be my full-time income. I have loans to pay. I want to travel. Ministry may be on hold, or floating, or slowly unfolding, or whatever, but my life must keep moving forward. So I am going to be getting a certification from the University of South Carolina in grant writing. I want to use my research and writing skills with my experience in nonprofit work to take my career in a new direction. This is worthy work and something I will be thrilled to spend my days doing, proposing grants for nonprofits and other organizations that need funding to help others.

So much can change in a year. I am a completely different person now than I was in January 2019. I can’t wait to see who I become at the end of the year as we enter a new decade (and I will be entering a new decade in November!) I wish you well as you embark on a new year full of changes.

My Two Takeaways from 2019

I am not going to focus on the difficulties of this year going into 2020. I’ve spoken at great length about them, and I am ready to move on. Instead, I am going to talk about my two takeaways from this year and how they will be my mantras for the next year. It’s a little heavy, but stay tuned for the end when I talk about the good things that helped me through this year. If you’re not feeling the “serious” lessons I learned, you can skip to the bottom and read about the good things that happened to me in 2019.

 

  1. “Accept what is.” This is something that I have been working on for years but had no choice but to learn this year. The world is unjust. My past pain happened and can never be undone. I cannot force people to be who I want them to be. God is who God is. Suffering happens even when you make the right choices, even when you work hard to avoid it. I have wished, prayed, and worked for things to be different, from my circumstances to the people in my life. But I can only change myself and my response to the world around me. This sounds like a basic thing that most people already understand, but my word, is it almost impossible to truly accept reality. I think this is in large part based on my faith. My faith informs me that the world is not as it ought to be, that I am tasked to work for the Kingdom of God, and that one day God’s Kingdom will be fully realized and all will be made right. I do not have to sacrifice these beliefs to accept the reality of the world. Denying how things are only hurts me in the long run, and hinders my mission. If I accept what is, accept my pain and my past, accept who people truly are, accept that God will be who God is, accept who I am and who I am not, then I can find peace in that while also holding hope for a better world and doing my part in being a force of good.

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  2. “Be not afraid.” This is a tough one because it’s not as comforting as it sounds. In the past when I would think of angels or messengers in the Bible greeting people with “Fear not!” or “Do not be afraid” I took it as a message of, “It’s all going to okay.” I think of the Julian of Norwich quote that gets passed around, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” Or the hymn It is Well with My Soul. These phrases are used to soothe the anxious soul, but the truth is really terrible stuff happens. And it’s scary to think about when those times come. It’s not always “going to be okay.” It won’t always “work itself out.” I have had experiences completely consume me and change the very core of who I am. And I have come out of the other side. I have been down to rock bottom, and I found a new path out of it. Whatever comes next, I have seen some pretty ugly things, and I am no longer afraid of them. Also, I am no longer afraid of an angry God who is eager to punish, as I was taught to believe. I am not afraid anymore because I have descended into hell so many times, and here I am. So I will not be afraid, not because I know it will all be okay, but because I know that there are many times it will not be okay but I am still here. I can be consumed, survive, and find a new way to move forward.
man with fireworks
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So now let’s take a breather and hear about the fun things that happened in 2019! I am so grateful for a wonderful husband who makes life an adventure. We can survive so much together.

In January and February we knew we wouldn’t be spending much more time living in Florida, (where we never wanted to live in the first place) so we took several day trips around the state to Orlando, St. Augustine, Gainesville, Mount Dora, Deland, New Smyrna Beach, and Tampa.

We had been dying to move to North Carolina, and we were able to here in March. My baby nephew was born and I have gotten to love all over him!

I got to go back to the theatre world and stage-manage a production with a local theatre. We took a day trip to Winston-Salem. I began attending a nice church. For our 6th anniversary, Andy and I enjoyed a nice dinner and the Charlotte Symphony. Then we spent a few days in Charleston.

In July we visited historic Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown. We celebrated Andy’s birthday. We got to see author John Pavlovitz at a PFLAG event. For Halloween, we saw “Then There Were None” at Theatre Charlotte, we enjoyed the two Mint Museum locations to see art, and we spent my birthday at Biltmore in Asheville.

In December I had my holiday concerts with One Voice, we enjoyed Christmas lights in Mount Holly, and saw the Christmas lights in Christmas Town USA (McAdenville, NC).

No matter how difficult things get, Andy and I make time for us and we do special things together.

Here’s to living into the wisdom I have gleaned this year while leaving room for adventures.

 

Christmas Songs Part Two

As the Christmas season continues and the year draws to a close, here are my other three favorite Christmas songs. My very favorite is the last piece.

Infant Holy, Infant Lowly

My favorite verse:

Flocks are sleeping, shepherds keeping
Vigil till the morning new;
Saw the glory, heard the story,
Tidings of a gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow;
Praises voicing, greet the morrow:
Christ the babe was born for you.
Christ the babe was born for you.

This song gives me the same warm fuzzies as “Away in a Manger” but isn’t as over-played/sung. There’s nothing terribly profound, just a simple nativity song. It’s sweet and familiar, but that’s often what we want on Christmas. Preachers are reminded not to get too theological or too cerebral for the Christmas sermon. Just tell the story, preach the Gospel. That’s why the church is packed out; people just want to hear the story of Jesus. This song is an excellent example of sticking to the story and preaching the Gospel.

macro shot photography of star with lights
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Still, Still, Still

My favorite verse:

Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come.
While guardian angels without number,
Watch you as you sweetly slumber.
Dream, dream, dream,
Of the joyous day to come.

It’s a lullaby for baby Jesus and a lullaby for us. Sometimes as an adult, we long to be comforted like when we were children. The world hurts, we hurt. We have to be strong and face it. We can’t hide. We are no longer kids. But this song gives us permission to rest in the peace of Christ. It soothes and comforts, making us feel safe and warm, even if just for a moment.

blue white and gray hanging star decor
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Before the final song, here are the honorable mentions. Give them a listen, and maybe you’ll fall in love too:

Coventry Carol

Once in Royal David’s City

The Dream Isaiah Saw

 

Finally, we have to round out my favorites:

Child of the Stable’s Secret Birth

My favorite verse:

Child of the stable’s secret birth,
The Father’s gift to a wayward earth,
To drain the cup in a few short years
Of all our sorrows, our sins and tears –
Ours the prize for the road he trod:
Risen with Christ; at peace with God.

Every word of the song is gorgeous. The poetry brings me to tears. This is my absolute very favorite Christmas song. I was introduced to it in my junior year of college while singing in choir, and it has remained with me since. It is a very humanizing song to characterize Jesus, reminding us that Jesus decided not to be in a far off place to observe our suffering, but came down and became one of us. Also, the song’s implication of the “second Advent” that we are in now are profound. We are in the second Advent, awaiting the second coming. This song reminds us that one day all will be reconciled in God, and this first coming of Christ has set in motion the realization of God’s kingdom on earth. Christmas is all about God’s promise fulfilled, and the promise of yet to come. This song is a declaration of faith in what has happened, and what will happen; it is a poetic narrative and creedal statement enrobed in a gorgeous musical arrangement.

A blessed Christmas season to you. I wish you light and love as we approach Epiphany.

Disappointment, Better Headspace

I was going to post an Advent blog series, but my heart is not in it this year. Instead, I am working hard to prepare my heart and mind for healing and a new year. I will have some “New Year” insights on a later date, but for now, I feel myself moving into a better place so I think it’s better to reflect on that.

I have been shocked by how quickly my support from those who checked in on me at the beginning of the year has dried up. When I needed tangible help in spreading the word about Tales of Glory, few people even responded to my cry for help. I also have been getting lots of rejection letters from publishers. I’ve wondered if my ambition has been a dead end. I’ve thought my talents have fizzled out. I’ve contemplated giving up on the dreams that I have worked years and years for. I’ve watched others succeed and cheered them on but wondered if I will ever see the success that they have.

My hope had evaporated.

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I posted in an earlier blog about how I have been singing with One Voice Choir. We worked so hard to memorize our music. I had 2 colds, a sinus infection, and laryngitis, but I worked through them all for the concert. I focused on the music. In the meantime, I kept my head down and did very little socializing. My heart has just been closed for business. I just wanted to sing and survive the day.

I went on autopilot to get through the day. I felt like my dreams were dying, so life stopped flowing in me the way it was supposed to.

This weekend our concert finally arrived. I was terrified that I wouldn’t have a voice, but my vocal cords healed in time. Throughout the week I was with the choir several times and I finally began conversing with other people. I didn’t hide in my phone. I was feeling open. I realized how kind the people around me were, and how others had also been hesitant to socialize until now as well. And then we performed our concert three times to audiences who loved our music. Getting to perform again was magical. I had truly missed choir in my life.

Getting to be a part of the Charlotte arts community has done some healing work. I have hope again. I feel like life has started flowing again.

I am disappointed in the way things have been going for me. I have no idea if my hard work will help me truly fulfill my ambitions. But after this weekend I feel like some healing has finally happened and that I am moving into a better headspace. I can get off of autopilot and realign my vision for the future.

Ungrateful is okay.

It’s Thanksgiving. So we give thanks. Supposedly.

Christians, all Christians but especially evangelical Christians, capitalize on this holiday to talk about how bad we are at giving thanks to God and how we need to do better. The church often trumpets about how we’re never praising God enough, heaping guilt on someone receiving chemo and not simultaneously erupting in praise or shaming someone who can’t make ends meet for the month and not bursting out in song when their electricity is cut off. Apparently, an attitude of gratitude gives you the strength to persevere.

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That may work for some, but please, for God’s sake (yes, I mean that literally), stop telling people how they should suffer! If someone wants to weep through physical therapy as they have to relearn to walk and they can’t summon gratitude, then it’s never, ever your responsibility to correct them and direct them to do so!

DO NOT start a sentence with, “Well, at least you…” They don’t need to have a change of perspective to see that “someone always has it worse.” Listen, but don’t give advice. Encourage people when they go to therapy. Stand by people when they have mood swings from their depression medication. Cry with them. That pleases God so much more than demanding they constantly give thanks when they see little to give thanks for.

God doesn’t stand over the stranger, the orphan, and the widow and demand that they forsake their tears and praise God. God gets down on the ground and weeps with them.

So if you’re struggling with gratitude this Thanksgiving, it’s okay. Don’t pile more guilt and shame on yourself because your sighs are too deep for words. If counting your blessings doesn’t cheer you up, then don’t worry about it. Just survive the day, take the next step, and take care of yourself. Don’t wound yourself more by living up to the religious expectation of unabashed praise. It’s okay not to be okay, even on Thanksgiving. God is patient, and God would rather have genuine gratitude over “fake it until you make it” praise.

Titles

“What do you do?”

Ugh.

I’m hating this question these days.

If we are only going based on what I officially do for payment, then I am an after-school teacher. But I know that I have trained for other careers, which bring other titles. I’m an ordained minister, but not pastoring. I want to write and publish more, so am I a writer? I have a degree in theatre and I’m trying very hard to pursue a career in biblical storytelling. Can I call myself an actress? An entrepreneur?

What do I do? What do I call myself? Am I allowed to use a title that I am not being paid for?

We, as a society, are really not comfortable with living in a transitional state. We have to have a title, or a position, or some category to make us “official” in our jobs and careers. When I say that I do theatre, people ask me which theatre and what show I’m working on. When I say that I do ministry, people ask me what church I work at. Then it gets weird and complicated to explain what type of acting and ministry I do…and how tough it is to get something new off the ground. Instead of encouragement and understanding, the other person quickly changes the subject. It’s as if it’s not real if I’m not getting paid yet.

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But I am out here doing the work. I’m hustling hard. I am living my titles.

Is a farmer not a farmer while they are tilling the ground, sowing the seeds, fertilizing the field, and watering the earth? Or can they only be called a farmer when the wheat, fruits, and vegetables are grown, harvested, and sold?

This is a tough season. I have spent almost a full calendar year in transition. I thought things would be a bit more tangible by now. But I keep at it. Every time I want to give up, I take a break. Then I do one good thing for my ministry. Even if it’s just a social media post or an email sent out. I wake up and do the work of a minister and an actress. I am both of those things. Those titles belong to me. I am a writer. I am a practical theologian.

So why is this important? I think we deserve the recognition and the credit for what we do. Titles serve the practical purpose of identifying our professional role, but the reality is that we live in a world where professional doesn’t always equate the paid work we do 40+ hours a week. We get to have these titles to validate our work, even when our work isn’t properly compensated or celebrated.

My work is valid. I must remind myself of this every day. I hope you remind yourself that your work is valid too. You deserve your title.

Pushing Through with Queer Eye

I’m carrying a lot these days; this year has been a tough one. The first third of the year was miserable with leaving my toxic ministry and dealing with panic attacks. The middle has been full of rest, healing, and discovery. But this last third has almost undone all of the healing that I worked so hard for.

man carrying black and gold briefcase
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I am grateful for those who have encouraged me and shared my ministry with others. Starting a new ministry with Tales of Glory means that I need help, and asking for help can be really hard. But I am also disappointed that I haven’t received as much help as I have needed and asked for. It’s discouraging and lonely.

I have made some tough decisions in regards to setting myself free from abusive situations, how to move forward, and realizing how that might (permanently?) affect my future. I am fighting off another cold (I had one just a month ago!) and we’re coming up one month of living in a hotel after our fire.

It’s hard not to be depressed. It’s hard not to lose my faith. It’s hard not to close myself off from others and completely withdraw within myself. Sometimes I feel as if I only have my husband and myself. Part of that is beyond my control. The other part might be my own doing as I retract from the world that seems to really have it out for me.

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On my sick day, I decided to go back and watch Queer Eye from the beginning. 5 gay men, known as the Fab 5, enter a person’s life to make them over on the outside and makeover their home, but also reach deep to boost their confidence and self-image, work on their relationships, work on their professional lives, and truly bring out the beauty in each one of the “heroes” they work with. It never fails to bring joy and light in my life. But it was extra profound to watch these episodes that hit on so many of the things I am experiencing: loneliness, complicated family situations, struggling to connect to others, struggling with faith and theology, and even the grueling struggle of starting a business.

In one of the most recent episodes where they took Queer Eye to Japan, one of the Fab 5 named Antoni, who specializes in food, was watching some of the footage from one of their makeovers. They always watch footage of how their makeover has helped their “hero.” Antoni was openly weeping when he saw the hero and her friend embracing each other for the first time after decades of friendship, which they said was not common in their culture. He cried out, “Why does kindness always make me cry?!” Through my own tears, I laughed and said, “That’s all of us watching this on every episode!”

I have been knocked off my feet so many times just this year alone that I know there is no way to know what the future holds. I don’t really know how this chapter of life is going to work out for me. I keep scanning the horizon for a sign and coming up empty. What I do know is that Queer Eye is the microcosm of what the kingdom of God should look like. I am going to keep gathering these little pockets of joy and kindness to sustain my soul. Maybe my own faith and my own ministry can grow from there. For today, Queer Eye has kept my faith in God and in the goodness of others alive. Each day looks different, and each day I react differently as I stumble through; but at least for today I am pushing through with the small gift of hope given to me by the Fab 5.

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.

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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.

Hard Seasons: Mortality

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.