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.

Knowing Who I Am

I just read an article entitled “I’m 40 Years Old, and I Don’t Know Who I Am”

I realize that at 28, I can relate to this quandary. In this article Michelle Matthews answers questions she found on Google to help her figure out who she was: what are her values, interests, temperament, activities, life mission, and strengths. I appreciated reading and hearing her unique voice come through in this piece. By the end she seems to feel a bit more oriented about herself. So I am going to attempt this exercise to see if I feel a bit more clued in to who I am and where I’m at.

Values

I value good, strong, deep conversation over delicious food and drinks. Now, this might sound like an “interest”, but hear me out. I value this because this is how I have made deep, lasting friendships, have felt the safest and warmest in my life, and have broken down barriers with people who I thought I didn’t like and couldn’t be friends with. I value the vulnerable heart to hearts that happen over fellowship.

That being said, I realize that over time I am less of a social butterfly. Socially, I thrive in small groups and shrivel up in crowds. I have also pared down large friend circles into a smaller crowd of people that I can count on. I say all of that to say that I value mutual friendships, friendships where both parties are willing to rise up and meet one another. I value the friendships where I can be a safe place, and they can be mine. We can share without judgment, apologize when we mess up, and show our ugly side and still find a way to nurture a friendship. These are rare, but I find them and hold onto them.

I value learning from others, being pushed out of my comfort zone, hearing an opinion that makes me take a good hard look in the mirror, and hearing perspectives from cultures and worldviews that aren’t my own. Human relationships that cross barriers and help us become better people are what changes the world. I value this, and still have much to grow in this area.

These values are all the tangled human relationships that point us to God. I value a relationship with God, even if that relationship gets complicated and messy some (all) times.

 

Interests

Books all day, everyday. One of my selfish desires in life is to be well-read. I’d like to think I’m getting there.

The arts. I miss acting and choir. I miss performing and being part of an artistic group where I can make friends, feel connected, and create something beautiful to give to the wider community. I ache for this. Maybe one day I can be a part of another creative outlet.

Writing. I have always been a writer. Here’s hoping publishing is just around the corner.

Travel. I am not well-traveled yet, but it’s my other selfish desire. Andy and I take short day trips and weekend trips locally pretty often. We can usually only afford a bigger trip once a year. Maybe once we’re both in our 30’s and have established our careers a bit more we’ll see some more of the world.

 

Temperament

Oof. I struggle here. I used to be outgoing and optimistic. I used to be positive and hopeful and trusting and a wide-eyed dreamer. Now I feel reserved, sometimes struggling with hope in the world, yet ambitious. I don’t know if I like that about myself. I don’t want to go back to the naive individual I was. I want to retain some of the wisdom and street smarts I have. Maintaining hope, while being realistic is something I think we all struggle with. I’m still navigating this one.

But I still have an explorer part of me who finds some wonder in discovery. So I’ll hold onto that.

 

Activities

I think some of those things have been addressed in interests? Getting out of the house on the weekends, even if it’s just to the lighthouse 5 miles away or visiting a new city an hour or two away. I’ve started different types of journaling, which has been helpful. I’ve needed to find ways of journaling that works for me, and daily entries aren’t cutting it. So I journal when I travel, I reflect on the month, I write down books I read and places I see, and I do some art. Kind of journal free-styling. I go for walks on the beach about 5 times a week. Sometimes I walk on the side walk down the street if it’s dark since there aren’t any lights on the beach. I see concerts and plays and go to art museums. So I try to get my body moving and take in some sort of small travel or cultural thing weekly.

 

Life Mission

We’re supposed to have one of these?! Well, I’m behind. I mean I could default as a pastor and say that it’s to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, but that’s not just for a pastor right? That’s for all Christians.

I think my life mission might be to learn and share the perspectives of others so that the world feels a little smaller and we feel more connected. I want my writing and my life’s work to foster healthy conversation, uplift silenced voices, and tell stories that show just how human we all are. It’s so easy to “other” people, and then they seem less like people. I want to try to combat that and create some empathy. Again, I have some room to grow here myself.

 

Strengths

I think I’m pretty good at empathetic listening. I have practiced this a lot. I try to stay away from giving unsolicited advice (but you know…it still slips out once in a while.) I want to hear people and share in whatever it is they’re feeling.

I think I’m a good speaker and storyteller. I’m pretty comfortable speaking in front of others and feel pretty natural doing it. But I like crafting a sermon or presentation and delivering it. And I weave in narratives as well.

I think I’m a good teacher. I love sharing information, asking the probing questions, re-framing a question or concept for someone to understand better, watching the “aha!” moments, and having the people I’m teaching surprise me with a response and teach me something.

 

 

I encourage you to do this exercise. It really is orienting and eye-opening. If you’re feeling a bit lost, maybe this will help you find some pieces of yourself again. You’re someone worth knowing and loving, even, and especially, by yourself.

A Place Where I Belong

Coming home for Thanksgiving is always a welcomed breath of fresh air. Escaping on vacation time to just enjoy family, cool temperatures, bright leaves, good food, good books, reuniting with friends, and peaceful naps renews my soul.

Sometimes skirting around family tensions and disagreements can be tough. We can’t talk politics. Sometimes there’s some sadness when family members grow older and decline in health. Sometimes it’s hard talking about struggles when everyone wants to hear good news.

Despite any of the complications that come with being at home, I know I belong here. I am loved here. I have a place here.

Old memories from childhood and high school come flooding back when driving down roads that are forever ingrained in my mind. I pass streets where I don’t drive down, but I know them well. They are where I used to hang out or where friends used to live. When I was a kid, I was angsty and searching for an identity, and love, and self-worth. With all of the teenage anxiety aside, things were much simpler back then. My heart was a little sweeter, a little lighter in those days.

Endearing memories from college flash in my mind. I remember being young and free, exploring newfound agency and quality education. I remember late nights with friends, laughing until the wee hours of the morning, spending hours solving all of the world’s problems, not getting enough sleep, feeling safe, invincible, and accepted, and having time to do the things I loved, like singing in choir and acting in plays. I remember dreaming big, and I take some pride in achieving many of those dreams already. I remember the friends who I still hold dear in my heart, even if there are some I haven’t seen in four or five years.

I smile at the colorful leaves on the ground and some that are still clinging to the trees. I love the hay bales, cows, tractors, barns, and rolling Appalachian hills. I am warmed by neighbors and grocery cashiers who know people by name.

I probably won’t ever move back to the Tri-Cities again; at least not for a very long time. But this is still my home, and I still belong here.

Knowing that there is somewhere I belong helps me know my worth. I should feel like I belong wherever I live; I should always feel like I have a place and a voice. Who I am as a person, as an individual, should always matter much more than what I do and how I function. I am worth being loved for who I am, not what I can do for others, not what I can offer, and not how I perform tasks. I am not a means to an end, but I am an end in and of myself.

I am all the more determined to belong and make my own home.

St. Augustine

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Growing up, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, TN were the “go-to” places for a family getaway or a day trip. It was only 2 hours away and it’s full of fun family activities and over-the-top hillbilly hokey-ness. Pancakes, black bears, Dolly Parton, apple butter, old timey photo booths, arcades, and ridiculous attractions make for a cheesy, yet memorable good time.

Living in Decatur and Clarkston while spending time in Georgia meant just a 20 minute drive into Atlanta and accessing the theatres, concerts, food, and attractions that were all downtown. If you needed out of the city, there were mountains to the north, Stone Mountain for a close by adventure, and a monastery in Conyers.

Now, living in Daytona Andy and I needed a getaway place. Enter St. Augustine. Just a short 1 hour drive makes this the perfect place to escape without having to travel very far away. (Orlando is an hour away and will probably be an escape for us too, but only when we can afford it!)

Andy and I LOVE coastal, historic towns: Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans… learning about pirates, settlers, the Civil War, all the crazy ghost stories, southern aristocracy, the Civil Rights movement are extremely interesting to us. Non-coastal towns with great history such as Memphis and Birmingham are fun for us too, but we have a soft spot for the coastal cities. St. Augustine satisfied all of our desires!

We learned about the history of the Spanish settlers, fighting the pirates on the Gulf Stream, and about Flagler’s riches and humanitarian acts. We heard about all the ghosts in the old jail, the graveyards, and the old pharmacy. We had great seafood, incredible authentic Spanish food, and lots of ice cream to keep us cool.

Shrimp and grits at the Florida Cracker Cafe were simple, yet yummy. The chicken and shrimp with sherry sauce and yellow rice at “Columbia” were incredible, but their slow roasted sliced pork with black beans, yellow rice, yuca, plantains, and chorizo were out of this world. Who knew Andy and I loved Spanish cuisine so much?

We took the history bus tour and their nighttime ghosts and gravestone tour. We visited the Castilla de San Marco Fort and spent hours in the colonial quarter. We visited the small history museum and the old jail. We also visited a number of religious sites, such as the Basilica, Memorial Presbyterian Church, and the Greek Orthodox Shrine.

That’s not even half of what is around St. Augustine! Since this is our new getaway, we plan to go again and again. Next time we hope to see the lighthouse, go on a ghost walking tour, and learn more about pirates! This will be our new home away from home when we need a day to escape from work and stress.

Ordination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transitions and Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Montreal

Andy and I will be celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary on June 15, but we will likely be preparing our move to Florida during that time. So we had decided to celebrate early! We have had our Montreal trip in the works for 2 years. We wanted to go international, but we had never planned an international trip on our own before. I had gone to France with a group from college and to South Korea with a group from Seminary. Andy went with a college group to Greece. And on our honeymoon we spent time in Charleston, Isle of Palms, and took a cruise from the Charleston port to the Bahamas. All of our international travel had been pretty well planned for us. We thought Quebec would give us the feeling of traveling far without going to far away and having English friendly places in a French speaking country would be helpful.

 

The flight was only about 2 hours and 10 minutes (much shorter than the 14 hour flight to S. Korea!) We checked into out condo that we rented through AirBnb. It was the perfect location to easily walk to Old Montreal and two of the major metro stops. There were also some great restaurants just blocks away. Of course the first thing we tried was poutine! It was as delicious as we had hoped.

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I will give a brief overview of each day:

Day 1: We went to Little Italy and explored their shops, the beautiful farmer’s market, the architecture, and had some authentic Italian pizza (thin crust topped with a layer of mozzarella, with shrimp, clams, and marinara on top.) The Italian folks who owned the shop had a great sense of humor! We then headed over to the Fine Arts Museum which was downtown. Again, great architecture downtown with tall buildings alongside old-world looking churches and businesses. The museum was enormous! They had a special Picasso exhibit alongside of an exhibit that showed various styles of art from all over Africa and contemporary African-Canadian art. It showed how Picasso had been inspired by (or maybe had taken from…) these art styles. There was renaissance art (my favorite!), various other styles through the centuries, and a large section of contemporary art.

Day 2: We walked over to Old Montreal and explored the Old Port, various statues, old-world architecture, visited shops, and looked in multiple churches. The stand out for this day was the Notre-Dame Basillica! We stopped by early in the day to see inside and attend noon mass in their smaller (though still fairly sizable and extremely ornate) chapel. Mass was in all French, but it was nice to listen to the liturgy, scriptures, and prayer being spoken while meditating on the art. We came back to the Basillica that night to see their light show “Aura.” The show was created using lights, lasers, projections, mirrors, and orchestral music to show the beauty of the Basillica and celebrate the 375th anniversary of Montreal. The anniversary was last year, but the show was so popular that they kept it going for this year! We were lucky to catch it!

 

Day 3: We went to go visit the “Underground City.” It was hard to find what we were looking for, but we learned that the Underground City refers to the tunnel system. One must follow the tunnels to find the shopping and restaurants. So we wandered around until we found some! In the future one might want a map or a specific location in mind before they find themselves wandering from tunnel to tunnel. Then we visited the McCord Museum of History, which focused on the difficult history Canada has faced with First Nations people and Jewish people. The museum attempts to honor their stories while owning up to the fact that they haven’t always treated these groups of people well. That night we visited the Comedy Nest and heard some awesome stand up!

Day 4: We visited the Botanical Gardens. There were so many flowers (every color of iris, my favorite!), a First Nations garden full of plants and trees, a beautiful pond, an Alpine garden with a waterfall and rock formations, a Japanese garden with a koi pond, and an insectarium with beetles, ants, moths, butterflies, bees, spiders, and tons of exotic bugs. Then we went up in the Montreal Tower to get a 360 view of the city.

 

We wore ourselves out! We walked all day for 4 days. But we saw so much of the city and used the most of our time. We figured out the Metro system pretty easily and could walk around without the GPS to the local spots. We could speak English pretty easily; in fact there were many conversations happening around us in English! We had some great food, and the weather was sunny every day. In fact, Montreal was having a heat wave while we were there.

It was interesting seeing so many homeless people in such a progressive country. I wrongly assumed that since Canada’s government is ahead of us in so many ways that they didn’t have as many homeless people as we do. But there are always people who are oppressed and who fall through the cracks. We all have such a long way to go in helping others.

All in all, it was a good trip! We were tired out, but it was so much fun to figure out a new city, and a new country on our own.

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After 5 years, Andy and I have been through so much together. We’ve moved states (and we are moving again soon!), we’ve gotten masters’ degrees, we’ve traveled together and apart, we’ve become better communicators, we’ve been through family illnesses and family deaths, we’ve been to weddings, we’ve seen plays, concerts, and eaten good meals, we’ve struggled with life’s tragedies and changes, and we’ve taken care of each other through it all. It’s not been easy. But I wouldn’t want to change a thing. Here’s to many more years of growth, changes, striving, and loving.