Saturday, March 2, 2019

Reflections on turning 40, General Conference, and finding a true home

My heart has been hurting so much this week.

I have gone from moments of hopelessness, to invigorated sticktuitness, to a desire to give up and just be and to do something else with my life and …..then…. I go around again.

I have reminded myself that in grieving, it is best not to make any decisions for a year.

A parishioner asked me, "Why are people so upset if nothing has really changed?"

The Book of Discipline on the matter of LBGBTQIA+ people has not changed, it has strengthened its penalties related to clergy.

My first thought was this process and how we behave and what all this says about us ---This may be, what I am grieving.

Yes, I had hoped for a different outcome.

But I tend to be a person more focused on process than product.

 If a group makes a decision that I do not agree with, I can be okay as long as the process was loving, kind, and contextual to the people and places the decision affects.   

A good friend and I talked about this and she said something helpful for me- that she noted that those for the One Church Plan and those for the Traditional Plan may be defining what is is to be "loving" differently.  

People who were for the One Church Plan felt that the loving thing to do was to be able to be one church to "love alike, even if we think alike."
People who were for the Traditional Plan felt like the loving thing to do was to hold others to their understanding of biblical accountability.  

1 Corinthians 13: 4-7 says:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I had hoped that the church could be a beacon of light to say that we can love one another and have space for different understandings even when we disagree.  
We do not agree or have the same understanding on a number of theological issues.  
We do not understand fully the Holy Mystery of communion, we do not fully understand the Holy Trinity,  we do not agree on how God created the earth.  

I had hoped for the One Church Plan because I hoped that through the church, God could show the world a new way of being.

We do not see that modeled anywhere.

Everywhere we see division, bitterness, slander, malice, and I had hoped we could see one another first as beloved sisters and brothers rather than opponents on differing sides of a theological issue.
But that is only part of what I am grieving.

My heart hurts so much in a personal way-- so why am I grieving?

I am a white, cis-gendered, straight, married, mother of two-- how does General Conference affect me other than the fact that I am a clergy person who followed the rules a week ago and still is following the rules of the church today.

I am a rule follower.  I always have been. 

I used to wonder if I would have been courageous enough, to stand up against Nazi's during the Holocaust,  to march during the Civil Rights Era, to care for refugees if I lived on the border of a war-torn nation.  
I hope that I would.  
I have not had to break any rules to follow my conscience so far in my life. 
I believe that makes me fairly privileged. 

I love people and I love loving ALL people.
I don't like living divided.
And I am by nature not one to antagonize.   
I am not a rebel rouser. 
I may cuss and "Detroit Beth" comes out if I get riled up….

But I am by nature a peace maker, a dialogue creator, a bridge builder. 

I have willingly placed myself in places where I would not be readily accepted because I felt called to serve God and love people. (A Birmingham, AL women's shelter, the streets of Detroit loving the homeless, serving as the chaplain in a mixed income housing community in East Atlanta).  I have served in places where I was harshly judged for being a woman, for being young, and for being a mother.  (Not gonna name those places).
And I have loved them all.  

I have been fully me in all these places, although who I am has not always wanted, accepted, or appreciated.  
And I have loved them all. 

I have served in churches filled with parishioners who were the first to go march in the streets for peace and justice AND in churches where their news channel stays unchanged on FOX news.
And I have loved them all.

I have served churches with people of ages, nations, races, sexual orientations, and gender identities.
And I love them all.

I love being in a room of diversity -of color, gender, age, identity, and opinion.

I do not like being in places where I am told I must agree in order to be included; I had enough of that growing up in the Buckle of the Bible Belt. 

Growing up there, the sometimes outspoken, but always underlying attitude was Catholics weren't really Christians, People of any religion other than fundamentalist Christian were to be eyed with suspicion, People of color were second class, women were not allowed to speak in church, Science didn't matter, Higher Education was for only the rich, etc…

Everything felt segmented and segregated growing up.
There was nothing that eased feeling fractured and broken in this culture, including my family, who were broken and fractured in their own right. 
It felt like we were Broken and Broken and broken and broken and broken over and over again.
It felt like I was never enough to fit in or belong.
There was never enough time to just be.
I was never worthy enough.
And there was never enough capacity of love to be given.
I was always yearning and searching for what home felt like.
The place that felt safe and worthy.
The place where love lived even when opposition arose.
The place where you didn't have to be only one thing to matter or make a difference.

I found that place.
By a cross at Lake Shalom, singing how "It Only Takes a Spark to Get a Fire Going" every summer at Camp Hat Creek.
And I found that place.
In the streaming light of Yielding Chapel at Birmingham-Southern College while holding a red hymnal in my hands and reading about this grace of Jesus Christ that loves me no matter what and will never let me go. 
I said Yes to a Call in that chapel and thirteen years later as I kneeled before my Bishop with her hands laid on me telling me to "Take Thou Authority of the Word of God." 

What am I grieving?
I thought I had found my home.
Found my family.
The safe place to fully be me and who God called me to be.
To fully serve and make a difference.
To be part of something that was connected all over the world.
To really feel and witness the power of the Holy Spirit.
And now….

That home is fractured.   
That home feels like a place that says, I am not welcome and I am not worthy to be here.
Why does it feel like that now and not a week ago?
Because it says, to me, if my call and my faith call me to welcome my LGBTAI+ sisters and brothers into full inclusion as part of the Body of Christ that I am unchristian, unfaithful, and unwelcome.
This home, that used to feel like a big tent where all were wanted and welcome.
Now feels like a box that where I may no longer fit.  

I've been praying. 
And I realized...  I was wrong about what the home was. 
The home I found, wasn't Camp Hat Creek, or Yielding Chapel at Birmingham-Southern College, or even The United Methodist Church. 
These places have lived out glimpses of my home, but they are ultimately not my home. 

The home I have found is in the Kingdom of God. 
Some  refer to it as the Kin-Dom of God-- because it is a place where we are kin, where we are truly all family, no matter what. 
United by the love of Jesus Christ. 
The Kingdom of God is bigger than any institution we can create. 
And Jesus Christ and His Kingdom will never forsake me. 

I turn 40 tomorrow.  
And I I've been reflecting on  what I am done doing.
I struggle with self-care and people pleasing and working too much (too often at the expense of my family and my own well-being).

I decided I don't want to spend the second half of my life doing those things.

I don't want to be stuck in a box or to fight to make one bigger.
That doesn't mean I don’t care or I don't want justice.
It doesn't mean the church isn't worth fighting for.
It especially doesn't mean that those who have been harmed by the church aren't worth fighting for.

I don't really know what it means.
Maybe I don’t think I'm a good fighter.
Maybe I just want to use my energy to work for rather than against.
I want to focus on sharing the good news of Jesus and loving people.
I want to focus on equipping the saints for the building up of the body of Christ.

In some ways.... I'm not sure how to do that here anymore.
Because it's looking like I need to make a choice.
I can't stay where the walls are closing in.
And I don't want have the desire fight about an institution anymore.

But I will listen and keep praying. 

For now, I will keep loving. 
I will keep serving.
I will remember who I am and why God called me.

I will keep listening and praying. 
God called me to ministry. 
And God has not released me from this call. 

So tomorrow, on the day I turn 40. 
I will get up, I will praise God. 
I will lead my church. 
I will preach God's word. 
I will love like Jesus. 
I will preside at the table of our Lord. 
I will serve communion.  
I will pray with and for my congregation. 
I will hold on to hope. 
I will cling to Jesus.  

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. - Hebrews 10: 23-25

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

After the 8th Day of School

We have had our 8th day of school.
We had 4 days and then one day and then we waited for the Hurricane.

After the Hurricane, we send the relief help and prayers to those who are suffering in the Carolinas as we send our children back to school seeking rhythm and routine.

And today is the the 8th day of school.

We've been figuring out the middle school schedule.
Grace typically takes a small dose of her ADHD medicine at 3pm....but school doesn't start to dismiss until after 4 and she's home by 4:30pm.
Yesterday we talked with her doctor about this and he said, "We'll just see if she needs it or not."

Well- she does.
We saw that clearly today.
A person with ADHD uses a huge amount of energy and focus just to get through the day.

Add to that anxiety-- and it can be even harder.

Every ounce of energy and self control is harnessed in order to navigate what other folks may see as simple tasks.

Simply figuring out the most logical order to do tasks can be difficult for someone who has ADHD and anxiety.

This also can open them to see things in surprising and creative ways...

Tonight Grace was exhausted.
And she had nothing left- no energy to be with people, no energy to navigate and function even when given clear instructions and expectations.
We had moments when I thought I was asking her to do something simple- ( you may watch a show after homework is completed) but given her reserves and resources (or lack of) it was like asking her to climb a mountain.

And she melted down.

She could not process it all.

She was zooming in to obsess over this one thing she had to do. And I was not letting her have it. At least, that's how she saw it.

Then she was embarrassed because we were at church and other people saw her.

Wednesdays for us mean --church dinner and small groups.

I had a small group to lead, my husband had a group to lead, her sister was in bible study too....

She wanted to go home.
She had never taken her plate from dinner to the window, so it never got scraped or cleaned.
So-- I made her clean it up.
Again--- mean mom.

It's hard to find the places where you give in and where you maintain a semblance of structure and personal responsibility.
So on this-- I said she couldn't just leave the dirty plate and I wasn't going to do it for her.
I would be with her and help her. She did the washing and I helped squirt the soap and rinse.

She went to the car, I went to pack up my things....

We began to process it on our way home...but she really wasn't even in a place to be able to process.

But we were able to get one thing clear.

She said, "Everyone saw me. Everyone will think I am a maniac or that there is something wrong with me."

I said, "No- there is nothing wrong with you. You were not able to be your best self tonight because you were not medicated. This is not about you-- this is about not having the resources you needed to be your best self. Do you see the difference?"

I am more productive when I've had coffee.
I'm really productive when I've had a full night's rest.
I have been known to be snappy when I am hungry.

I tried really hard tonight to be generous.
To be filled with a generous amount of empathy when she said repeatedly, " I hate you" or "You are the worst."
Because I know she is not able to be her best self right now.

On my best day I will never be "the best" mom/pastor/wife/person and on my worst days I won't be "the worst." I'll just be me doing the best I can with what I have at that moment.

Most of us are just doing the best we can with what we have at any given moment.

Whenever I see people struggling, I want to be able to be generous.
I want to be able to be filled with the kind of empathy that leads me to simply meet them where they are and acknowledge that they may be doing the best they can with what they have available at that given moment.

That is not ever an excuse....

We can grow our capacity and our ability to deal with difficult situations.

We can expand our resources and reserves so that we are ready to be resilient through challenges.

But we will also never be ready to perfectly handle everything that comes.

But That is what I want to do.

I want to know the exact right thing to do and say at every moment.

I want to be able to do the right thing that won't set my child off.
But I can't operate that way.

I want to be able to never have to hold her while she cries and calls herself names.
But I know this will happen again.

I want to never hear her say, "I hate myself and I want to die."
But these words have become ingrained her her system and it will continue to take work to remove them.

I want to make it through this November without her spiraling into depression.
Because I have done that the last two years, and I don't want to go there again.

I mostly want a guarantee that she will live a full, happy, and fruitful life being able to always access the best of herself.

But the world whispers to me, "There are no guarantees."

And faith says back, "Yes there are."

I know God will always love us.
I know Jesus will always walk with us (often carrying us).
I know the Holy Spirit breathes deep breathes in me and through me.

And I know the same is true for Grace.

I'm going to hear "You're the worst mom ever" and "I hate you" again.

But for tonight I am thankful I have a two girls who are asleep in their beds and they know they are loved.

After hearing Sophia share the daily "Tell me 5 things about school today" I said, 'Why do you think I want to hear about your day so much?" She laughed and in a non-sassy/ more silly way-- rolled her eyes and said, "I know! Because you love me!"

After finishing her homework tonight with the TV off- Grace said, "That was so much easier!"
So much easier than what?
Easier than her trying to do it with the TV on!
i said, 'Yeah- now you can enjoy your show... because the work is done."

There is always an "after"

After we get more sleep.
After we have taken the medication we need.
After we have had food.
After we are calm, collected and ready to be kind....
After we have exchanged our warring hearts for hearts of peace.....

Jesus showed us this....

After the storm.
After the tables were turned over.
After a lot of prayer.
After denial and desertion.
After pain and sacrifice.
After forgiveness and grace.
After 3 days.

After.. . always comes resurrection.

Praying for all those who struggle tonight.
All those wishing they could skip to the after, but who are right now in the messy middle.
Praying they can feel God loving them in it,
praying they can see Jesus walking beside and leading them through it,
and praying they can access the Holy Spirit power to breathe in the midst of it.


Friday, June 29, 2018

Nights Like This

On the nights when the anxiety rages and roars
On the nights when she hits and kicks and punches
               The walls, Herself, Us
On the nights she screams
             Words of hate and harm

On these nights 
I just breathe.
I pray.
I tell him to take her sister out of the room
I tell her how much we love her.
I tell her we are here.
I try to remind her of who she is.
I get her to her room.

She rages and I pray for rest to come.
I wrap my arms around her, but I am pushed away.

I just sit.
And I stay.
I am here. 
I am not going anywhere.
I love you.
You are not alone.
I whisper and pray these words
Until she is fully asleep.
I lay my hand on her back and thank God for her breaths.

Keep breathing in her Lord.
We are on a journey we did not ask for.
But this is where we are.
And we are All in.
Nothing will separate us from God's love.
We will be sustained.
Nothing will stop our love for our girl.
And we believe
That not even this monster that rages
            A monster that thrives and triggers
            A monster that tries to steal our child
This monster of mental illness will not win.
She is stronger.
We are stronger.
Our faith is stronger. 
Her faith is stronger.
God is here.

Monday, November 28, 2016

When the Dam Breaks

Recently, I've asked for prayers for our daughter Grace.

Our daughter has struggled with anxiety for the past two years.

At the time, I resigned from serving on Conference Boards and committees, so I could be more available to help her.

We had many nights, where we prayed and prayed for God to lead us and help us comfort her, guide her, calm her and give her all she needed to be happy and successful.

We found a great counselor and learned tools for our toolbox and triggers of her anxiety.

We had her evaluated by teachers and her pediatrician for ADD/ ADHD knowing my husband struggled with ADHD throughout his childhood.

At that time ADD was ruled out and the Dr said he saw anxiety and suggested we could begin medication, or simply continue with counseling.  We chose to continue with counseling.

Then, this summer we moved.

The tools in our tool box didn't always work.

By October, we saw clearly that we needed more help- more tools, and a bigger toolbox.

We began to seek the help of doctors and therapists.

Looking back, the best description I can have is that for the past few years, there has been a dam that was leaking-- and the leaks were the anxiety we saw and sought to manage.

Shortly after Halloween, the dam burst.

And all kinds of things that had never been present, were now present.

A journey we started a few years ago has become more clear and more complex all at once.

Over the last month, doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, pediatricians and soon to be more doctors, occupational therapists, and who knows who else will help us learn more of how we can help our daughter navigate all that we now are dealing with.

In addition to anxiety, she has now been diagnosed with ADHD and depression.

We have been so thankful for so much love and support from friends, family, our church.

We share about what's going on freely and without stigma.

Our daughter has learned that anxiety, depression, ADHD are all medical, neurological, biological conditions that are not unlike other health conditions.

We have so appreciated the many people who have offered meals, presence, and support.

When I've shared the metaphor of the dam that leaked and has now broken-- some kind and caring folks have responded by saying, "Well, you all will help her rebuild the dam."  I wasn't offended.... trust me-- genuine care and concern will never offend me.

                                                                  The dam isn't coming back.

But we are no longer sinking, drowning, or treading water... although there are days it can feel like that.

We've been holding on to the life rafts.

We have sought to find what was the trigger or triggers that led to this bursting dam. There isn't one.... and perhaps it is just that it held together for awhile and then... no longer could.

                                                       No, we won't be rebuilding the dam.

But we will be building a ship - indeed, an aircraft carrier would do nicely.
One that can help her launch into the world knowing that she has everything she needs to be successful, joyful, and her best self.

We often talk about how it takes a village - it isn't just a saying, it is true

It take the Body of Christ.

It takes every single one of us.

I cannot stop thanking God for the kindness and love everyone has given us.

I cannot stop praising God for the love, grace, comfort, and light God steadfastly gives to lead through each day, sometimes it is each hour....

I called one of my best friends yesterday and said, "Please tell me its going to get easier."

She said, "It may not get easier.... But I can promise you I'm here with you."

I have felt this love and support from so many.

We are not alone.

This year, I need Advent more than ever.

This year, I know so fully the Incarnation-- I know God is with us and has come for us.

This year,  we clamor for the light more expectant than ever-- for we have been walking in deeper darkness than we've ever faced.

But Christ has come and will come again.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not and will never overcome it.

Thanks be to God for the light that shines,
the hope that conquers fear,
the peace that calms our restlessness,
the joy that sustains all,
and the love of Christ which binds us together.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Long View

This prayer was posted in a clergywomen's group I'm in tonight and it gave me great peace.  

It's called the Romero prayer, but written by Bishop Ken Untener. 

 I pray that it will remind you of who you are and fill you with grace as it has for me today. 

Tomorrow my sermon is "Who We Are" and this prayer was a great way to ground me as I prepared for tomorrow. 

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. 

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church's mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

--------Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw 

Lord, Have Mercy. Christ, Have Mercy.

This week began as my first full week serving a church filled with amazing people.

  I've been doing a lot of listening.  I've been doing a lot of praying.  I've been trying to get my office organized, catch up on sermon planning, meet tons of new people, provide opportunities for fun for 2 girls, and keep everything--everything up.  

Every day I have no idea how the day finished already.  
Each day has been full and usually 12-14 hours of non stop work.  
God is in it all.  But I've been tired at the end of each day.  Exhausted. 

I am barely getting "it all done" (really-- not at all)  and I have not kept up with the world.  
I see updates on my phone and I breathe and pray and keep going and later... I lay in bed at 1 and 2 am after the day's work is done(or at least stopped) I read about the atrocities in the world with my heart breaking.  
And I fall asleep praying.  
  Knowing God is real and here in the world. 
   Knowing God doesn't get exhausted like I do.
And I pray. Lord, Have Mercy. Christ, Have Mercy.

That's all I've got. For now.  And I just have to let it be enough. 
My prayers are enough.,.for now.   
I haven't been making speeches or writing great blogs - I have amazing friends who are doing this needed and prophetic work.  But all I could do in this week was pray-- and keep being there for my church in this new time. 

I pray. 

I pray about what I know and I pray about all I don't know. 

I haven't cried this week about the injustices of this world because I haven't let myself feel it all. 
I'm not trying to be numb.... I have just felt so much already. 

In a new appointment - I feel like a sponge- and I am soaking it all in..... and I just have no more room.  

But.... I can't not know--- I can't not care.  I can't not feel. 

But I just can't respond to it all right now. 

It doesn't mean I don't care. 
It doesn't mean my silence is a condoning of injustice. 
It just means- I'm doing all I can right now.  

My prayers are not any less real when they aren't posted on Facebook. 

And yet- as a pastor- as a public theologian- I have a responsibility to lead, to bear witness, to equip, to encourage, to speak out, to call out injustice, to comfort the broken, and to always, always, always share the good news. 

So today- finally on the first Sabbath day I've had-- I let my focus be on uninterrupted time time with my husband.  I really needed it.  I am so thankful for him.  We caught up on the week and on what we've been feeling and thinking.  And together we caught up on the world and the news.  And then I gave myself some silence from the world.  

And now I have the energy to respond publicly-- rather than in the late night silence after my exhaustion, but now from a place of Sabbath renewal. 

And now.... now I weep. 

With my newfound energy from this day-- I weep. 

Tears and prayers and anger and fear and sadness and hope and worry and tears and prayers and no words—no words—and no words are adequate.

I pray for Alton Sterling.
I pray for Philando Castile.
I pray for the five officers who lost their lives in senseless violence protecting their community:
Brent Thompson
Patrick Zamarripa
Michael Krol
Michael Smith
Lorne Ahrens

I pray and I pray and I pray.
And often my prayers are wordless-because I have no words and I need no words—for the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

I pray.
I am praying for a day when fear no longer rules.
           For the day when peace reigns.
           For the day when love is our primary response.

  I am praying for an end to violence,
      For hope to invade.
      For compassion to lead.
      For love to ignite every heart.

I am praying for our prayers to turn into changed hearts, opened minds, and a transformed world. 
I am praying for our prayers to create conversations where there is now chaos. 
I am praying for our prayers to turn confusion into clarity. 
I am praying for our prayers to turn prejudice into peace. 

Please pray with me and for me.
Pray I can be present for all the people I need and want to be present for.
Pray I will rest when I need to rest.
Pray I will do what I need to do when I need to do it.
Pray I will listen when I need to listen and speak when I need to speak.
Pray that this Sunday I will have the courage to lead as God is calling me to lead.