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.

Teaching

While working on Tales of Glory, I am working as a teacher with an after school program. When I was a pastor and youth director, teaching involved writing curriculum and teaching lessons on a weekly basis, as well as games, food, projects, and service work.  In the after school program, I do a little homework help, but we mostly play games until parents have picked everyone up. It’s a little different than what I am used to, but I am realizing that I am still teaching in different ways.

I teach the kids not to interrupt, to be polite and let others speak. I teach them to wash their hands, follow the rules, ask permission, and apologize when they’re wrong. I listen to them tell me about their day, their friends, and their families. I make jokes with them. I ask them about what’s going on when they’re having a tough day. I read and play with them, and teach them how to be fair and kind to each other. I teach through my actions, instead of through written lessons.

I’m learning too. I’m learning patience and understanding. I am learning that changes don’t happen overnight. I am learning how to speak intentionally, calmly, firmly, and kindly. We are all learning and teaching together. We make mistakes. Then we try again the next day.

I have to think on my feet, and I know I’ve got eyes on me when I handle situations as they arise. All of my actions teach. Their actions teach me too. I am watching how they interact with each other, how they handle long days and complicated emotions. I’m always wondering about how I may be impacting them, how my presence may be influencing them, and what they’ll be like when they grow up.

I think about the state of the world and how adults discriminate, war, rage, harm, consume, hate, enable, provoke, steal, cheat, abuse, use, and lie. If I am teaching with my actions, I want to do the opposite of these things. I want to be fair, truthful, forgiving, loving, good, understanding, listening, helping, and giving. I’m not perfect at it, and they’ll see me make mistakes. Plenty of them. I have no idea who and what is influencing these kids, but I hope to represent a better way to live and be in the world. And I try to apologize when I fail to do so. It’s not up to me to force my ideas for them and the world onto them, but I hope they can take some good from me.

I hope I can learn some good from them too. The way they laugh and make friends, start each new day fresh without the weight of yesterday on their shoulders. They believe people have goodness in them and they trust others to love, support, and take care of them. They dream about the future. This dose of innocence can help combat the cynicism that creeps up inside. This is a new path for me, and I’m ready to learn about good and maybe do some good.

Escaping

I debated posting this because I like posting thought-provoking blogs, and I thought this might come off as silly. But I think this is a worthwhile share that could be meaningful to someone, which is why I do what I do.

When life is tough, we often look for an escape. There are unhealthy escapes such as excessive eating, heavy drinking, oversleeping, and addictive drugs. There are times when someone is depressed they binge hours of TV or Netflix to distract them from the pain. But then there are the healthy, necessary escapes. They may seem silly on the surface, but sometimes indulging child-like hobbies can help us find light and joy in our lives when everything around us is shrouded in shadow.

 

I started playing Pokemon Go around this time last year. I had played some in 2016 and then quit.  Then last September things in my life that had already been precarious and troublesome had begun sliding downhill. So I redownloaded the app and began spending some of my free time entering another world where I hunted Pokemon. This got me out of the house, where I was tempted to stay because depression was setting in, and gave me something fun to focus on instead of spiraling into panic attacks. This may sound dramatic, but it’s true. An escape was necessary. It was by no means an all-consuming escape that was an unhealthy obsession but provided a much-needed break from the reality that threatened to crush me.

Now, I want to pause here and say that the hobbies that help us escape are coping mechanisms but are by no means a cure or answer to depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses. Fun and positivity can help us endure day to day, but therapy and medication are what truly treat us to promote mental wellness. Please, do not see this as a promotion of fun and games over professional help.

 

I hit my lowest point in December. This low point lasted through March. It was so ugly and so painful. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go to therapy until I moved to another state in April, so I just had to get to the next day. I started really delving into Pokemon go. I would wear a hoodie and take long walks at night while playing the game. Again, this may sound silly, but hear me out. There was something about obscuring myself in my clothing and in the dark from the people around me that gave me some of the power back that had been taken away from me. I was invisible. No one could find me and bully me. I was playing a fun game. No one could interrupt a good moment and attack me. It felt sneaky and exciting. I was still depressed. I had panic attacks when I least expected them. But I had these moments where I escaped, I did something that uplifted my soul so that I could face another day.  Then, as soon as it was available to me (just 2 weeks after I moved) I began therapy.

There were other escapes. I wrote a book (I am looking for a publisher!) My husband and I took a number of day trips on my days off to explore Florida (where we were living at the time). These were productive escapes, and much less childish. But sometimes you have to remember the child inside of you to keep you from becoming cold, hard, and bitter.

Dreaming Again

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.

Down in Your Bones

At this point, we are all well aware that life is unpredictable and that we can’t know the future. And yet, when life surprises us as it is prone to do, we’re still caught off guard and left spiraling. If you’re a planner like I am, it can be especially frustrating when you feel like you took precautions for these pitfalls NOT to happen, and still, they can swallow us up.

photo of cave rock formation
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Then we cope with the pain. We are angry and we grieve when our lives take turns that bring suffering. We think about all of our life lessons, reflect on our experiences, and try to learn from our mistakes. But I think we often forget to listen to our intuition. I think if we trust our gut, then we may be a bit more prepared and equipped than we realize to navigate life’s changes and challenges.

When I was preparing for seminary and for a life of ministry, I knew deep down in my bones that I would probably have to start my own ministry and blaze my own trail to use my gifts. Somehow my theatre training and love for the arts would become an integral part of my ministry, and that doesn’t always fit what the traditional church looks like. I didn’t know what that meant or what that would look like. God didn’t give me a clear vision but did give me a hint, an intuition. So I held onto this and banked it away as I began my education. I intentionally took a class during my time in seminary about church planting, developing new ministries, and nonprofit ministries. I knew that if I didn’t take that class then I would regret it down the road.

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And then, another hint appeared: ministers are increasingly becoming “bi-vocational.” This just means that someone’s ministry doesn’t always pay the bills, so the minister takes on another job while also being a minister. I knew this was a likely outcome at some point in my ministry, and in some ways, I felt attracted to it. I had some nonprofit experience before coming to seminary, and I felt, down in my bones, that would come back to benefit me. I deliberately chose to do my chaplaincy internship in a nonprofit setting instead of a hospital setting. I wanted to equip myself for the nonprofit world in case I ever needed to be bi-vocational in the future.

However, somewhere in my second year of seminary when I began preparing for my ordination exams, I got swept up in the “traditional” idea of ministry: becoming a pastor. So I kept my intuitions in my back pocket for the future, thinking that I would have to use them “someday”, but for right now I wouldn’t need them.

The thing about intuitions is that we have them to help navigate us, but it can surprise us how soon and unexpectedly we will need to rely on them.

My first job out of seminary as a pastor didn’t work out. I thought I would be there for at least 2-3 years and then move on to something else, but that wasn’t the story. There were some things that happened that were not okay and shouldn’t happen to anyone. However, it is okay that being a pastor felt like it didn’t fit. Those feelings that I had down in my bones were coming to fruition much sooner than expected, but I was glad that I had trusted my gut and prepared myself. It didn’t prevent the pitfall, but it gave me the tools to climb out on the other side.

Now, as I am beginning my ministry with Tales of Glory, I am also preparing to enter into the nonprofit world again. I am becoming bi-vocational and I am starting a new, trail-blazing ministry.

So, are there some things you know down in your bones? Is there a hint or an intuition that is drawing your attention? Trust your gut. Follow it. If you don’t need it now, bank it away. You never know when you’ll need it and how it might reappear to help you later on. The Holy Spirit plants those seeds, and she waters them for you when you’re not even looking.

A New Beginning: Tales of Glory

It’s been almost three months since I have posted a blog. I have been in a season of healing, traveling, and soul searching. The Holy Spirit has been moving, and something new is happening in my ministry.

With my bachelor’s in theatre, Master of Divinity, and Master of Arts in Practical Theology, I have been discerning how I might use my creative arts in my ministry. I had spent the last several months listening to storytelling podcasts and looking into local storytelling events. I went back to theatre work and served as a stage manager in a local production. And then I realized the answer was right under my nose: Biblical Storytelling.

Tales of Glory (9)

Through my biblical storytelling called “Tales of Glory” I want to uplift the voices and stories of the marginalized in scripture to bring the Bible to life! Biblical storytelling is a great way to connect people to the stories and people of the Bible through the shared human experience. It’s easy to romanticize stories, idolize “heroes”, and gloss over the stories that make us uncomfortable. However, storyteller brings the stories to life to show us that we are the same, imperfect, messy people we have always been who fight to rise above evil and take the world by surprise through subversive acts. This helps us to be more compassionate to one another. If we can see how human the people in the Bible are, then we relate to them better. This helps us to see the humanness in our neighbors today: our LGBTQ+ neighbors, immigrant neighbors, women neighbors, abused neighbors, neighbors of color, poor neighbors, and so on.

Bringing the Bible to life shows us how God has been at work in the world long before, now in the moment, and in the future long after we have passed on. I would love to bring “Tales of Glory” to your church or community. I want the arts to be accessible to all, and I want us to be connected to one another as God’s family. This is a new journey, a bit of a risk, but one I am very excited about.

Feed Your Soul

I am in a place of discovery right now.

I almost abandoned my love of writing and theatre for the sake of ministry. I have loved both of these artistic elements since I was a child, and I was given opportunities to grow my talents. As a teenager I felt a call to ministry and thought that maybe I could use my creativity in ministry. In college I double majored in theatre and religious studies, and I minored youth ministry. I dreamed about what I could do with my passion and my calling together. I thought that when I went to seminary my vision would come into focus, and I would be inspired to forge a new path for myself.

Unfortunately, this isn’t what happened. My studies were academically rigorous, and while I had a class or two that was focused on creativity, it was within the traditional ministry model that leads to parish ministry as a pastor through which the arts could be used; these classes did not necessarily lend themselves to new ministry ideas. I also had numerous tasks, exams, meetings, and steps to complete for ordination. It was four years of one giant checklist (literally, I had a giant checklist that I checked off my fridge for four years.) After following the traditional model of seminary with little to no creative outlets to feed my soul, I thought my arts days were behind me and that those would be hobbies that would take second place to my “true” calling of being a pastor.

Part of my soul withered because it was starved of creativity. I thought it was a sacrifice I had to make for the greater good. What I learned is that I cannot serve the greater good if my soul is not being nourished. I cannot serve when I am not whole.

And then I realized that I don’t have a separate calling from my passion, my passions were given to me by God as part of my calling. If my calling lacks passion, I cannot serve with joy and energy. If my soul lacks passion, it suffers.

 

I have now published my first book, looking for a publisher for the second one, and writing my third. I am working as a stage manager for a local theatre, and  I hope this is the beginning of being involved with the local theatre circuit. I am on the pulpit supply list for the local presbytery to preach when needed. While this is not how I will be able to sustain career-wise in the long term, it is fertile ground to discover what God is calling me to next. I will need room for creativity, whatever that means, however it looks. I do not know what’s next, but for now I have the freedom to dream, to try, to experiment, to hope, and to grow. I hope something beautiful comes from this.

Sometimes we sacrifice certain things to answer our callings, to do what is good in the world. But we do not have talents so that they might be wasted. If our souls die for lack of what feeds them, what we are able to do for the greater good is limited. We were created unique and gifted for the greater good, not in spite of it. Sometimes we have to blaze our own trails. We have to be brave and navigate uncharted territory. Trying something new, even if it’s scary, can save our souls.

Living Easter Influentially

Any change we wish to see in the world begins in our own hearts and lives. And of course, the only people we can change is ourselves. If we are faithful to our own beliefs, ethics, and morals, then that is what influences the people and the world around us. This is one of the ways that we live Easter, by enacting our faith with compassion and humility. Jesus lived his life by enacting his teaching through healing and standing up for those in the margins. This is how he gained followers and why the message of the Gospel was accepted far and wide as “good news.” Living like Jesus by showing our beliefs through our works influences people more than Bible-thumping ever has.

When we live with great compassion and love, when we stand up against injustice, when we forgive and seek to be forgiven, when we exhibit patience, when we listen, when we hold those who weep, when we serve without string attached, and others see these actions, we have influence. Our friends, family, people at work and school, the people at church see how we conduct our lives and interact with others. How we treat the people on the street who ask for money means something. How we treat our waiters and waitresses means something. How we treat the employees we supervise means something. How treat people in traffic, at the gym, at the grocery store, at the drive-thru all mean something. How we treat children means something. How we treat animals means something. How we treat the earth means something. How we treat prisoners means something. How we treat the elderly means something. How we treat people with disabilities means something. How we treat people who don’t speak English in America means something. How we treat people with a different skin tone means something. How we treat people who express gender and sexuality differently than us means something. It’s an opportunity to be kind and to do good. It shows what’s in our heart, and what our character is made of. Even if it doesn’t seem like much change is happening around us, we should be relentless in our love. Other people, those in our circle of influence, take notice.

Briefly, I want to speak about one of my favorite authors, Rachel Held Evans. She passed away on May 4, 2019 at the age of 37. Too young. She left behind a husband, a 3 year old, and a 1 year old. Her writing has influenced me, healed me, taught me, and made me laugh. She used her voice to influence those around her, and then gained a platform to influence thousands of others. She enacted her words by using her platform to stand up against racism, sexism, abuse, sexual assault, homophobia, transphobia, healthcare, child care, poverty, and all forms of injustice. She promoted other women, LGBTQ+ people, and people of color by attracting audiences, stepping back, and letting them speak. She used her privilege to share their work so that their voices could gain attraction. She truly lived Easter influentially, as Christ did. I have grieved her passing, although I didn’t know her personally, and I remain so grateful for her writing and her example.

As Eastertide comes to an end and we look forward to ascension and Pentecost, I hope we will continue living in victory, in hope, and in resilience. Easter is more than just a day. It is a calling, it is our life commitment.

Acts 16:9-15
During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.