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.

Advent 2: Peace

Baruch 5:1-9
Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. Put on the robe of the righteousness that comes from God; put on your head the diadem of the glory of the Everlasting; for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven. For God will give you evermore the name, “Righteous Peace, Godly Glory.” Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height; look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that God has remembered them. For they went out from you on foot, led away by their enemies; but God will bring them back to you, carried in glory, as on a royal throne. For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God. The woods and every fragrant tree have shaded Israel at God’s command. For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.

We have a group called “Caring Friends” which is for widows and widowers to gather a couple times a month for fellowship and support. We held a “Blue Christmas” service for them and anyone else in our community who wanted to come and lament their lost loved ones they were missing this holiday season. Afterwards we met to talk over coffee and pie about grieving during the holidays.

I can’t share specifics for the sake of confidentiality, but it was a time of kindness, support, and understanding. While the grief and pain are very real for many people in the holiday season, there is peace among the support of friends. There is peace in the community of the church. There is peace when a small tealight is lit for the loved one they remember. There is peace in the decisions made after the death of a loved one for self-care purposes.

Instead of abiding, overwhelming peace for those who are grieving, there a moments of peace. These moments give life and breath to continue on to the next moment and the next day.  These moments provide clarity and make a pathway for joy and healing. When grief strikes, one can only go minute to minute, day by day since grief is unpredictable in nature. And that’s how peace sneaks in, between the moments and the breaths taken to provide some grace in the chaos.

Luke 3:1-6
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

The Girl I Was

“Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” -C.S. Lewis

As an avid reader I have always had a vivid imagination. I loved reading fantasy and horror, any type of fiction that took me to a different world or a different time.

As a kid, I wrote short stories, plays, and poems. I would read my writings aloud in class and sometimes to other classes during their library time. I performed my little plays, which ended up getting me scholarships to acting camps and began my love for theatre.

The majority of my poems were about dolphins, the sea, stars, and the moon. I was obsessed with the ocean at night. Throughout middle school my bedroom was under water themed. This was my magical world.

I remembering strongly identifying with Anne of Green Gables. I loved that she was a redhead like me, that she had a wild imagination, that she was a reader and writer, and that she was emotional and dramatic. I read about Anne as a child, and then she sort of faded in my memory.

I watched the LOTR movies throughout middle school and high school. I lost count after watching them all the way through 20 times. I just couldn’t keep up anymore. I wanted a grand adventure in Middle Earth more than anything!

Like most adults, I have lost a lot of the magic I had as a kid. Even though I’ve kept some of my wonder and glee for beautiful things, I lost the mystery and the slight hope other worlds exist somewhere over the rainbow, in a time wrinkle, or through a wardrobe. I’ve hated that I have lost this about myself. Not that I want to believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy as a grown woman, but that I can use my imagination to make reality a little more magical.

In January I began watching “Anne with an E” on Netflix. A number of people had complained that it was “too dark” when the book series had been comedic and lighthearted, but I had experienced it completely differently. I was re-introduced to Anne who used her imagination to tell wild stories, was too verbose for her own good, and embraced the wonder of the world around her. I cried while watching the series, remembering the parts of myself that had long been forgotten.

Not long after, I interviewed at my current church. I remember sitting outside, overwhelmed with the job offer in front of me. I had a life-changing, weighty choice sitting in my lap. While I processed what was happening and where my future was headed, I sat on a balcony in the dark that overlooked the ocean. I could see the stars and the white caps of the breaking waves. I remembered the part of me that was entranced by the sea at night. I couldn’t help but smile, as a faint heartbeat as my former self came to life. A cloud floated into view that looked very much like a dragon in flight. I was glad to know that my imagination wasn’t completely dead after all.

Tonight Andy and I walked under the full moon by the ocean. Ever since we moved here to Florida I have called jokingly called myself “pastor mermaid.” I told Andy that tonight was the night: under the full moon I would finally transform into the mermaid I was meant to be, and that he should come with me so we could rule the ocean together. We chased each other in the waves and giggled together. Andy told me that he only believes I am half joking when I talk about going to be a mermaid in the sea, and that he believes there’s a part of me that believes in the fantasy.

I’ve had a lot of hope, joy, peace, and imagination beaten out of me by life. I struggle with anxiety and depression. Life is hard. There is so much evil. It is such a dark place here. And I am supposed to preach about the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But imagination gives me hope. If I can recover parts of the girl I was, maybe some of the magic can return to my reality. Fantasy reflects the hope of the reality of a just and peaceful world, full of wonder and delight, with endless joy. This renews my hope in the Kingdom here, and Kingdom come.

The Only Way to Heal

I saw a quote on Facebook that deeply resonated with me by Christian writer Liezel Graham, “Sometimes the only way to heal, is by undoing the way you were put together by others.”

A year ago, beginning my final year of seminary, I knew that as a leader and a pastor I would have to figure out who I was apart from who I had been trained to be. As I entered this final year, I knew it was going to be a little different. I was going to be doing my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) which would be a full-time (unpaid) chaplaincy internship. Instead of spending 5 days a week in the classroom at CTS, I would be spending 5 days a week at my CPE site which was the Outreach and Advocacy Center. Each day I would help a number of guests who were experiencing homelessness get the Georgia state ID cards which could help them get medical care, employment, food stamps, and housing. Some needed their birth certificates or social security cards. Other people didn’t need documentation, but needed food, clothing, and medical vouchers to meet their daily needs. There were a few other services that we offered as well. This job took a lot of knowledge and quick thinking, but also patience, listening, and understanding. It was a very hard job, but one that taught me how powerful it is to slow and down and listen to someone who often goes ignored or silenced by society.

red and green tree leaves on a sunny day
Photo by le vy on Pexels.com

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.

2 weeks in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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