Monday, December 31, 2007

A Reflection on Time Passing


flickrfoto

As 2007 winds down I find myself in the midst of a familiar feeling. It's an existential awareness of the end of my life approaching. That sounds like a real downer, doesn't it? But it's not. Not really.

My birthday falls between Christmas and New Year's, so I get a double-dose of this each year...the passing of time, and my own personal passing of time. Buy a new calendar. Remember I can no longer say "I'm 51."

This existential awareness began after my mother died in 1994. Being the oldest generation in my immediate family of origin makes a huge difference, I think. No longer is there that 'buffer' between me and death ~ plus, as friends correctly predicted, once past 50 my body just feels older.

Several people I trust have told me that I have a gift for knowing, for recognizing, what is constructive and what is destructive in life. I can often intuit that kind of thing, which at times is complicated or hidden, fairly well. So, I don't know, it occurs to me to try to think through my existential awareness from within that context. At this moment in my life it seems that, yes, while the end of my life is out there, threatening as always in its non-being, there are also, in tension with this destructive force, constructive aspects that are as strong as they have ever been in my life.

Constructive is my potent and heartfelt yearning to see my three children-by-marriage continue becoming adults. I can see certain challenges ahead for each of them and sometimes that frightens me, but each of them also has many gifts and talents to sustain them. I wonder intensely how my relationship with them will blossom, what form it will take, and what kind of sacrificial work will be asked of me for them. Perhaps not much. Perhaps the relational-way forward will be mostly smooth and easy, as it has been so far.

Constructive is my marriage. I post about all the good things in my relationship with D, but we have our share of challenges, too. Our spirituality is quite different and that often tempts me to want him to change, and change in specific "Katherine-directed" ways, as if I actually know who God intends for him to become! Well, after dreaming of "Mr. Right" for so many decades (!!), I often forget the absolute necessity of allowing him to be who he is, and celebrating who he is as the man I love with all my heart. During the last few years of my life as a single person, my fervent prayer always involved a yearning to share my life and a longing for that sharing to help me grow and become the person God intends for me to be. I had a deep desire for my marriage, if it ever happened, to be a spiritual discipline for me. As is the case with spiritual disciplines in general, the powerful blessing that my marriage is has taken shape through pain as well as true joy. I'm learning so much about the nature ~ the depth, the utter complexity, the mystery ~ of love.

D and the kids are gone for a short while, off to visit his parents while I remain here to work. I'm okay with them being gone. There's something good about having the house to myelf for a bit, and I'm looking forward to some long overdue lunches and dinners with friends around town. And yet there are moments--just moments, but oh, such powerful openings--when I feel the horror of: what if they don't return? It feels important to let myself experience such horror for these fleeting moments. Somehow it provides a potent sprinkle of fuel in the constructive aspects of living my life, and my life together with my family.

Vocationally, constructive is my change in churches. This is difficult for me to acknowledge here while I'm still in the midst of grieving, but preaching yesterday did help me feel more connected to the new congregation, as I thought it might. It's possible, perhaps even probable, that my continued presence at my previous church might have become an 'enabling' kind of thing. And there is much to eagerly anticipate in my vocation in 2008 ~ coming quickly to mind are two things: becoming a better pastoral counselor and spiritual director, and contributing to some growth in my new church. Plus, I received a call last week that might lead to some part-time hospice work, a prospect that really excites me. Hope that works out.

Death awaits. But in the meantime there is LIFE!, and for that I am truly truly grateful. Thank you, gracious God.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A grateful witness to love

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope it's been a beautiful day for you all.

Christmas Eve service at my new church was interesting for me. In the middle of it all I became aware once again of how much I miss my previous church ~ I'm definitely grieving the fact that the conflict became so awful that I decided to leave. When we got home last night I said as much to D, and his comment was that I had done the right thing. Then he said, "You took one for the team." I do hope that my leaving there has stirred up some Spirit-filled energy, but I wish I could have been with all the wonderful people there I love so much. I miss them.

I hope my feelings don't interfere with my ability to make connections at the new church. I'm feeling disconnected, but thinking that's because it's too soon for anyone to really feel connected in any meaningful way there. Yet there's also a detached feeling, and that's not good. I preach the next two Sundays, though, and that will probably help a lot. I cannot preach and remain detached; that's for sure.

D and I attended the 11 pm Christmas Eve service at the church where we were married. D still attends there about half the time. It was amazingly beautiful. I was bone tired, but ended up so thankful that I decided to attend. Lynda Poston-Smith sang three solos. Ohhh, her voice ... well, it is one of those soprano voices that you just have to hear to believe. Like a crystal bell, but powerful. The sermon was good...he spoke about the meaning of "home." Communion was by intinction, definitely my favorite way to receive. Lovely. Lovely. Lovely. (She has some beautiful CD's by the way, if you want to Google her.)

And then we awoke ~ well, D woke me up ~ at 7:30. The five of us opened presents and then enjoyed a hearty breakfast of Belgian waffles, D-style.

All three children are on a flight now, as I write, to the east coast. They're visiting relatives on their mother's side and are pretty excited about the trip. D and I took them to the airport to see them off. After about a twenty minute wait through the security line, we hugged them goodbye, and they entered the inner part of the terminal. We waved another goodbye to them through the throng of people. But then D walked down to where he could see them through a glass wall, and we watched the three of them get settled in some seats to wait for their flight. After a couple of minutes, and murmuring something about not wanting to embarrass them, he said it was time for us to go.

It makes me smile to think about how much D loves his children, and how easy it is for him to show them that he loves them. He shows that love by teasing them, sharing his wisdom (which is not always the same as giving them advice), putting them first when it comes to issues with their mom, making himself available to them, cooking for them, etc. And he also shows his love by this kind of presence. Although it's a 90 minute drive one way, D attended his children's highschool events and award shows, even in the middle of the week. And he never misses one of Beautiful Genuine Drummer Girls' Saturday piano recitals. He went to the college football games two hours before they started so that he could watch Young Man with Integrity march through campus with the band. And whenever Lovely Passionate Feminist leaves home to return to her dorm, D stands outside on the sidewalk, waving, and watching her drive away until she crests the hill.

These children have no doubt that they are loved. What a gift he has given them.




Saturday, December 22, 2007

Grateful for the light

6:00 a.m. Up early on this Saturday morning to enjoy the lights in the living room against a background of darkness. We have a regular Christmas tree and two smaller tabletop trees, plus the lighted "snow village" that someone gave me as a going-away present three weeks ago. In the dark, the living room is magically aglow with the light.

In three days we will celebrate the light of God entering the world.

A few years ago I was on vacation in Albuquerque. Having breakfast out on the back porch one morning, I noticed the sun’s light through the tall trees. I could see the beams, and I imagined the individual particles. Sparkly. Smoky-looking. Breathtaking.

I don’t know how long I sat there, mesmerized by seeing light itself.

And I remembered this story by Scott Peck. He was in another city on a several-day speaking engagement. His host was an older woman, an artist. On their last night together she commented, “Perhaps it’s because I’m an artist, but lately I’ve begun to think that God is light.” And he says, rather pompously, “Light has always been one of the synonyms for God…”
But she interrupts him. “No. I’m not sure you understand. I think that perhaps God really is light."

The light through those trees that morning in Albuquerque…Ah, so this is God.


(lpn2rn40, flicker)

Unimaginable peace. And profound insight as well. Suffusing me in that moment was the knowledge that if God is light, then in some greater-than-mere-metaphor-way, so are we.Today would have been my mother's 89th birthday. Growing up, I took delight in the fact that she was born three days before Christmas, and I was born three days after ~ the symmetry of it somehow bringing us closer and making me special.

While her unique light in this world no longer shines visible to the human eye, my faith tells me that the light she brought, the light she was, yet exists. It continues, I know, in my own yearning for beauty. My Depression-era mother's concern with saving money lay in tension with her desire for beauty. She bought one set of truly fine living room furniture and simply recovered it through the years ~ the quality so high that my sister enjoys it still. I have a clear memory of once being in her bedroom as she was decorating, hanging a mirror on the wall above a small dresser. This was in San Antonio, so I was about 11 years old. To my shock, she was not placing the mirror in the center. "Mom, what are you doing?" I exclaimed. "Just watch," she replied. By placing the mirror to one side, my mother created something different. That was the day I learned how "off-center" can be beautiful.

My mother's light continues also in its influence for justice in me. The date was April 4, 1968. I was 12. I came home from school talking about Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination and no doubt mimicking some of the less-than-loving remarks about him from my schoolmates. My mother's response was swift and strong and clear: "Oh, NO, Katy. No. HE WAS A GOOD MAN." That was the day I learned something crucial about race and oppression and the cost of justice.

And four years later in 1972. Glued to the television as the events unfolded at Munich's Olympic Village, I expressed my outrage at the Palestinian terrorists' actions against the Israeli athletes. Seared into my memory is my mother's response, educating me about the injustice the Palestinian people were suffering. That was the day I learned to stop and look much more deeply at the complexity involved in justice.

Yes, my mother's light continues in this world. In these, and so many other ways.

Well, the sun is up now. The lovely glow from the Christmas trees and my little "snow village" are no longer quite as brilliant. But the light from the sun through the windows provides another way of seeing beauty. The old elm tree in our back yard is just about bare now, its naked branches still towering about the house. The lawn is strewn with leaves, but D says today is "yard day," so they will be gone soon enough. Our little "forest" beyond the back fence, while more brown than green this December morning, still leads to the creek. It's a lovely view for which I am grateful.

And all made possible from the light.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Overwhelmed, but not sure why

So much for a commitment to blog every day...

Oh, the last few days have been tough, although nothing terrible. I called the doctor on Monday when I felt like the bronchitis was returning, but by Tuesday when the appointment came, surprisingly I already felt much better. I have a prescription for an antiobiotic in hand, though, in case I get worse while the doc's gone over Christmas.

I feel overwhelmed. One evening I just sat on the bed, staring into nothing. I think the radio was playing.

My new job is going well. At first I felt cramped in my new office which is maybe 1/4 the size of my previous space. But the window is beautiful ~ gothic style, floor to ceiling ~ and it looks out on the park-like grounds of the church. Every so often when I turn to look I'll see leaves falling. Lovely. The office is cozy, not at all cramped...My colleague in ministry is thoughtful and easy-going. The administrator is also easy going and has been a real help to me in setting things up and feeling welcomed. She's going to be a joy to work with as well...I've been to three committee meetings, and each one was just over an hour, accomplished much, and the people love to laugh. I appreciate them!

It's a good place to do ministry. I am grateful for it.

And I have a wonderful second job as well. Doing clerical work two mornings a week has proven to be a blessing. Dear friend Seeker Executive told me that this branch office of her company might have need for some help; that's how I came to find this opportunity. From the first time I met Seeker Executive she spoke about the culture of her company ~ it's a commercial real estate firm, privately held, with a culture in which people work together as a team. It's amazing. Doing this work, which is NO stress, in an atmosphere of friendliness and quiet~~like I said, it's a blessing.

And I am grateful for it.

My third job, so to speak, is to build up my pastoral counseling and spiritual direction practice. I need to figure out some marketing strategies.

So, why am I so overwhelmed? I'm sure the grief I feel at leaving my previous church is contributing. Other than that, I'm not sure. It's not like my new jobs are asking anything huge of me~nothing "new" I have to learn and wonder whether I'll be successful. It's a matter of allocating my time, really.

Well, I'm grateful for the days coming up. D and I are taking a couple of days at a B&B after Christmas, and we're both very much looking forward to that. Hopefully the spirit of Christmas will be part of that for me...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Grateful for fresh bread!

Tonight I am grateful for fresh bread~and the smell of fresh bread baking.

I'm at home. Worked until 3 pm. Our service this morning was all music, so I'm easing into my new position without anything to do during worship on my first Sunday. The morning was spent meeting people, trying to learn names, having FUN with the kiddos in Adventure Village (our Sunday School for K-5, nicknamed AdVill), attending a Christian Ed meeting, and attending the end of the Youth Party upstairs.

First impression: These folks are friendly, easy-going, inclusive, and progressive. I like 'em.

I came home, though, and went straight to bed~~oh, I was exhausted. And when I got horizontal, I started having coughing fits. Like I did earlier this year. So I'm calling my allergist tomorrow and making an appointment, just to be safe. I do NOT want to get sick again.

I finally got up about an hour ago. D and I are watching the Giants and Redskins game with our computers in our laps. He's playing Free Cell and not doing as well as I would be if I were playing, no doubt.

And I'm smelling the heavenly homemade bread that he started baking while I was trying to sleep.

I tell ya, LIFE IS GOOD when fresh bread is baking, isn't it? Wow!
(After he reads my comment about Free Cell, he might not let me have any, though, so tell him to be good to me, OK?)

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Grateful for a reminder of ordination

We had a beautiful ordination service at my new church this morning. At one point the drama group, with six or seven people all dressed in black, went to the chancel and presented quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr., Sojourner Truth, and Rumi, among others. All were presented as prophets, with words to the candidate about the awesome and beautiful responsibility of speaking God's truth as he will come to know it.

Very moving.

I am grateful for this reminder of my own awesome and beautiful responsibility.

Friday, December 14, 2007

RevGals Friday Five

Mother Laura asks, Can you believe that in two days we'll be halfway through Advent? Gaudete Sunday: pink candle on the advent wreath, rose vestments for those who have them, concerts and pageants in many congregations. Time to rejoice! Rejoice in the nearness of Christ's coming, yes, but also in the many gifts of the pregnant waiting time when the world (in the northern hemisphere, at least) spins ever deeper into sweet, fertile darkness. What makes you rejoice about:

1. Waiting?

At this point in my spiritual journey, waiting is such a gift. Slowing down is what I need right now~It's been 90-to-nothing for about a month now. Of course, spiritual waiting is not passive resting. It's an active listening for God, an active anticipating the birth of the Christ child in the world and in me. I haven't been doing much of that this week, although I did have the spiritual eyes to see the Spirit at work in my previous church a couple of weeks ago. What JOY that was to behold! Now, I wait for the Spirit to come alive in me in my work at this new church. How will the Christ be born in me anew among these people?

2. Darkness?
Have I ever rejoiced in the darkness? Hmmm....
Oh, yes, of course I have. In retrospect, the darkness of my growing up years has brought me the joy of adult compassion. The darkness of loneliness refined my movement into more authenticity. And it's in the darkness that I can see the stars. The last time D and I went to our favorite B&B we sat out in the lounge chairs on the balcony and watched the stars. Oh, what a sense of the Holy One's awesome grandeur came to me then. Thanks to the darkness.

3. Winter?
I've always lived in the south. When winter came my mother called it "sweater-weather," and we would rejoice in the much needed respite from the harrowing heat. And the problems of winter are never too bad around here in Texas...We'll have maybe two or three days of icy conditions, but then the ice melts and "sweater-weather" appears again--even in the depths of January. Spiritually, I rejoice in winter as a necessary part of the natural ebb and flow of the spiritual life. I've decided that those times in my life when God seems to hibernate are okay. I know She'll return in the spring...

4. Advent?
Purple comes to mind. ha! Yes, in Advent I rejoice that we wear purple stoles and change the paraments to the beautiful purple ones! After months and months of green, purple adds spice to our liturgical lives, doesn't it? :-)

5. Jesus' coming?
Ah, the birth of the Christ child. Yes. I rejoice that Jesus always comes, is always coming. I pray for the eyes to see the Christ everywhere I look.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gratitude for connections

Tonight I am grateful that I have a place where I can come home and find my husband here to help me feel safe and wanted and loved. I was a little late getting home, and D called to check on me. What an amazing thing, that there's another human being on this planet who cares enough to call to make sure I'm okay. When I came in, he stood up to give me a kiss and asked how I'm doing. I am truly grateful. Tonight I hold the reality of this gift with gentle care, like you'd hold a baby chick in the palm of your hand, stroking it tenderly and aware of its fragile life. How utterly remarkable that this gift of love and care between two people exists and is actually here for me.

So many years alone and lonely. Oh yes, I am grateful.

Being in a new job--all is well, I have no reason to think that this won't be a wonderful place to serve God in ministry--but it takes time to establish relationships, to connect and feel accepted. G took the time to call me this morning on my cell phone. She's a delightful woman from my previous church who was in the last Companions in Christ group that I led. She just wanted to wish me well and let me to know that I am missed. And S, who emailed me to say that I had touched her life and that I would never, ever be forgotten. Those were her words: touched her life and I would never, ever be forgotten. I just...I mean, ... words fail me. I do not know how to express how much that means to me.

I miss them. Oh, I do; I miss them. And while it's fine, being at the new church, settling in my office, getting to know my co-workers, making appointments, etc.~it's all just fine. But the truth is, I feel utterly alone there.

It occurs to me, here, just now, that this is a familiar feeling for me. That's why it has such power to hurt and is, at some deep level, unacceptable to me. I do not want to feel alone and cut-off anymore.

I know it's not the same...because I'm not the same. When I felt this way in years past, the feeling included an element of fear, desperation--after all, who knew that I didn't have to feel this way, who knew that it wouldn't feel like this for the rest of my life?

Now I am confident that I know how to connect to others out of my authentic self--not the needy, clinging self who was so desperate to be loved and accepted.

I'm not afraid that I'll never connect with people at the new church. It's simply a matter of time and patience. In the meantime, yes, I miss my dear parishioners at my previous church, and, yes, I am so very grateful for my dear D who has offered such profound comfort for me this week.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sometimes gratitude is not easy

What am I grateful for today?

Well, not much ~
...It's still raining.
...I've struggled with a migraine much of the day.
...I can't find a comfortable office chair to use at my new church. Consequently my back is killing me.
...I'm aware that I needed some time to emotionally make the break from my old church. That was a mistake. I should have taken a few days off.
...I have countless little things I need to do, but 'big' stuff takes precedence during the day and in the evening I'm so exhausted that I just sit here and read blogs.
...I'm biting my nails. Which is a pretty neat trick, since they're the fake silk ones.
...I feel separated from my friends. Kinda lonely, really.
...I miss my old church. Even with all its problems, I was/am invested in it. I care about everyone there so much.

Great way to write about gratitude, huh?

Ugh. Let's see~
...Well, it's nice to be alone in the house tonight. Young Man with Integrity is out with friends, and D is auditioning for a play tonight at a community theater. Amazing. Wish I had the gumption to do something like that. I hope he gets it.
...
...
...

Sorry, folks. I know God is good. I know that abundant life is ours. I know that I am loved.

But I just don't feel any of that tonight. Guess I'll be content to just know it in my head, OK?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Grateful for feminism

My new job is going to be a wonderful one, I'm sure. The senior minister and church administrator are very easy going, and I'm looking forward to continuing to have the freedom to do the ministry that I love doing. I'm grateful for that.

And I'm grateful for feminist thought. I stopped by the book store on the way home from my new job today and picked up three books on feminism for my children-by-marriage. Young Man with Integrity has already read The Second Sex by Simone Beauvoir, so I think he'll enjoy the subject. I hope the two girls do. Chances are good~they are already well on their way.

My own experience is that the world opened up when I first began to see how patriarchy had indeed determined so much of our American cultural worldview and how that same patriarchy was at the root of so much sin, systemic and individual. Everything changed for me ~ Power inside relationships began to be something I could see. See and appreciate in many ways, but see and evaluate, always evaluate.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Sunday evening gratitude

I cried a lot today. I was holding it together pretty well until Marilyn, one of the 'saints' of the church, stepped up during the good-bye reception. She was all choked up and couldn't get any words out. As we embraced I lost it. She's one of about three older women in the church who have been wonderful "mothers" to me. So loving, so accepting, so encouraging, and in Marilyn's case, soooo funny. What a great sense of humor she has, so to see her crying and unable to speak at all just sent me over the edge. I had to go to my office and compose myself a bit.

Lovely reception. The church gave me a museum copy beautiful red etched glass vase. Really breathtaking. I love it.

So many hugs, tears, smiles, laughs, gifts and cards. I am so very grateful.

Tomorrow...a new job...a new congregation...a new beginning.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Grateful for stimulating conversations

I'm grateful for good friends. Tonight D and I and the girls spent a lovely evening at a dinner party at the home of some friends. Wonderful time. Conversation went from plans for Christmas to the topic of institutional racism. A seminary nearby is in the midst of controversy, and the complexity of what's going on is fascinating and so important. D has been reading a great book on difference in gender and race, and several of us have an intense interest in this subject. Stimulating dialogue that I think we all enjoyed.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Gratitude for the almost-nightly ritual (and so much more)

I am grateful for my husband.

He drives me crazy. Absolutely nuts. I married a man who...well, let me give an example. This happens frequently as we are going to bed.

K: Honey, will you turn that radio off?
D: I'm listening to it. (This not 2 minutes after I ask "Who's that?" Some senator is talking about Bush and I'm curious who it is. D tells me he didn't hear who was talking because he's reading his book.)
K: D, will you please turn the radio off?
D: Why?
K: Because I'm about to post to my blog and I can't write when the radio's on.
D: What are you posting about?
K: I'm writing about things I'm grateful for.
D: You're writing about me.
K: I'm NOT writing about you. [He always thinks this.] Now, will you turn that OFF?!
D: I'm listening to it.
K: You're not listening to it and we both know it.
D: What if I don't want to?
K: Arrrrgh!!!! Will you JUST turn the radio off?!
D: [he exaggerates a belch]
K: D!
D: What will you do if I don't turn it off?
K: [pause; I can't think] I don't know. I guess I'd get mad. And we both know you can handle that.
D: Yes, I can. I'll just read my book.
K: Uh huh.

He turns the radio off. And I can't remember a single thing for which I'm grateful.

Finally, I think of this exchange.

He thinks he's funny. He really does. He thinks he's entertaining me with conversations like this ALL the time. Many nights of my married life I have gone through some dialogue similar to this.

When it gets really bad and I'm about to explode, he'll often get in my face with this HUGE smile and say, "AND YOU WAITED 48 YEARS FOR THIS!" And I laugh.

Inevitably, I laugh at that line.

Because it's true. I did wait 48 years...just for this.

And so much more.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Talking to chaplain interns

I am grateful for CPE programs where such an emphasis is placed on self awareness.

For the second year in a row now I've made a little presentation to the chaplain interns at one of our local hospitals. I talk about spiritual vitality and how important it is to continue a practice of self-examination beyond the CPE experience. It's gratifying for me to talk to these young people. They are amazingly self-aware and eager to share.

I give them a whole page of quotes from famous Christians talking about self-knowledge and how critical it is to the spiritual life. One woman today focused on Augustine's famous "our hearts are restless until the rest in Thee, O God," and she put that together with a quote from Frederick Buechner talking about our "original selves." In tears, she commented that she had never really told the CPE supervisor, who was in the room, the amazing sense of restoration she felt when she first talked to him about being in the program. When we experience even a little of those original selves we do indeed know what it is to rest in God.

It helps me have confidence in the future of ministry to talk to young people like this. And I am grateful for the opportunity.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Enchanted


If you have EVER in your ENTIRE life loved a Disney movie, go see Enchanted.

D and Young Man with Integrity and I just came from seeing this movie, and all three of us LOVED IT.

(Now, that's a recommendation!)

The Five Gifts Meme

Jan tagged me for the Favorite Gifts meme. Hmmm, this one's not easy for me, but I'll give it a go.

Name five of your favorite all time gifts, either given or gotten. In no particular order...

1. A container of dirt.
Sounds funny, I know. I was in group therapy for two years. It was through that group that my sense of self strengthened tremendously. Anyway, when you leave a group like that there's a leaving ritual that takes place and the group members all say goodbye, etc. etc. Some people gave me a going-away gift, and the gift from my therapist (the one I still see, MR) was a little container of dirt. It was the "earth" from a very special place for her, a place in New Mexico that is said to have special healing properties. She said, "Katherine, this gift is meant to remind you that you are a healer."

Wow.

2. Two gifts from my sister: a plate inlaid with beautiful mother of pearl and a diamond and sapphire ring.
The plate is really soooo beautiful. My sister Beautiful Blue Eyes Laughing brought it back from Mexico for me. It sits on our mantel and reminds me of her love and generosity. And the ring...oh, the ring. My sister bought it for me as a going-away gift when she and her family, and our mother, moved to South Carolina. It was a sad and difficult time for all of us; Blonde Beauty and Handsome Boy were only 10 and 7 at the time; losing them felt like losing my own children. My sister's astounding generosity was an acknowledgement that she knew, she understood what it was like for me to see most of my family move halfway across the country. My sister has a huge heart.

3. The wedding gifts.
D and I had to have an economical wedding. But it was so lovely because of how my friends volunteered to provide things...Runner CPA bought my wedding outfit, a turquoise silk suit. And she hired a personal shopper to find it for me. The whole experience was totally amazing. Seeker Executive paid for the reception, if you can believe that. Plus the fabulous wedding cake. Life Giving and her mother paid for and arranged all the flowers. Oh, they were all just so unbelievably generous. And there were so many other wonderful gifts, including the gift of family and friends from all over the country traveling so far to be here to share it all with me.

4. The china I gave my sister.
This was so much fun. Back when I worked at ARCO I once traveled to Hong Kong where, of course, the shopping is incredible. I bought my sister an entire set of dishes, Royal Doulton I think it was. Had them shipped back home. It took six months to arrive, but it was fun to give them to her. My sister really knows how to receive a gift...no matter what it is, she shrieks to high heaven! laughes and carries on! and just makes the whole event amazingly FUN. Oh, I smile now just to think of it.

5. I can't choose.
I'm thinking of several other gifts that mean so much to me...

  • The flowers D frequently brings me...
  • The little fan Genuine Beautiful Drummer Girl brought back from New York City...
  • The coffee and cup that Lovely Passionate Feminist gave me last Christmas. The cup says "just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly"...
  • How Booming Bass repaired my eyeglasses for me during the week that my mother died...
  • The multicolored cross necklace from Seeker Executive that has the line from Isaiah: "I have called you by name."...
  • How Runner CPA did my taxes for free for years and years...
  • The hug I received from my Uncle Weldon when my grandfather died when I was 11....
  • The trip to Canada from a couple at the church I served in 2004. It was a free week at their timeshare condo for me and D...
  • D's love...
My heart goes tender at the thought of these and so many other gifts. People are so loving and generous and kind.

The Friday Five: Holiday Traditions We Don't Like

My first time to play Friday Five ~~ here we go...

Will Smama asks: Please tell us your least favorite/most annoying seasonal....

1) dessert/cookie/family food.
Oh, easy one: Fruit cake. Gag.
Hey, you know mobsters use it to make sure bodies sink to the bottom of lakes, don't you?

2) beverage.
Eggnog, I guess. I have a powerful memory of my mother going "Yuck" and making a face every time my dad and uncle made eggnog at Christmas when we went to my grandmother's for the traditional get-together. Of course, my dad and uncle were putting a fifth of whiskey in there, and that's really the reason she didn't like it. Truth to tell, I've never actually tried eggnog.

3) tradition (church, family, other).
It's not fun to have to share the kids at holidays, but other than that, I can't really think of one I don't like.

4) decoration.
Oh, man, all these huge blow-up figures people are putting in their yards. There's one house down the streets with about SIX of them, and it's not a big yard. Come on, people, use some imagination!! (this from one who has no outside decorations at all)

5) gift (received or given)
Again, fruit cake.

BONUS: SONG/CD that makes you want to tell the elves where to stick it.
"Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer"--enough's enough.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Freefall into the grace of God

Denise Levertov is a wonderful poet, isn't she?

The Avowal

As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit's deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.
~Denise Levertov ~

Ohhhh, what lovely memories this poem evokes in me.
Freefalling into the arms of God.

Leaving the false security of ARCO. Strangely easy .... Preaching to the seminary community, professors and all. Valerie telling me to LIVE, LIVE in THIS moment .... Group therapy where I was Levertov's soaring hawk, the bravest I've ever been when it comes to a potential relationship .... And marriage. Risking it all, although somehow it didn't feel like the cost could be death, sustained no doubt by God and by a confidence in D's 'earnestness.'

So it seems that Life ~real Life~ is a series of freefalls.

Learning to trust.
....................Failing to learn, time and time and time again.

Staying open, though. Listening for the still small voice and its nudgings.

Becoming more conscious of Fear, but its sister Courage as well.

Holy One, nudge me to freefall.

Friday, November 23, 2007

They add such delight to my life

My niece, Blonde Beauty, called yesterday to say hello on Thanksgiving and to wish me well in my new position. I wished her well, too--she has a new job! (No more temporary assignments! yes!) She has the most delightful personality: fun and friendly and at-ease in any situation. She's a great writer and I love to hear her sing. What is Blonde Beauty now?--hmmm, I guess she's 26 with a birthday coming soon on January 12. Her new job is in the accounting area, and my sister tells me she's enrolling in night school at the college in her town.

I have the warmest memories of spending time with her and my nephew Handsome Boy before they moved to South Carolina. On the weekends I took them all over. We went to San Antonio via Amtrack. It was a great trip to the RiverWalk, swimming and room service in a fancy hotel~I have a picture of them jumping on the beds. [Discipline has never been my long suit.] On the way home the train died. Yep, just died on the tracks and what should have taken five hours took thirteen. They probably got tired and misbehaved, but I don't remember that. I just remember how I loved being with them.

We went to the Arbuckle Wilderness in Oklahoma. Spent the night in a cabin near Turner Falls, I think. (Is that right? can't remember). Anyway, we drove through the animal park, windows down, food purchased, and fed every animal that came to us, including a HUGE HUGE HUGE buffalo.

I used to live in City to the East near the newly-built Galleria shopping mall. I'd take them there early on Sunday mornings when it was closed and they could run and jump and yell to their hearts content. They called me "KK." "KK, come see!" "KK, look, look!"

I am so grateful for my niece and nephew. They add such delight to my life. How I wish they lived closer.
______
Oh, and let me wish Booming Bass, my brother-in-law, HAPPY BIRTHDAY today! He's 59, but as I told him on the phone this morning, he certainly doesn't look it!

my grandmother's recipe for dressing

Mompriest asked for the recipe. Here goes!
The name is "Country Cornbread Dressing w/ Sausage," according to my mother, who was careful to get the recipe from her mother-in-law and very thoughtfully wrote this out for me and Beautiful Blue Eyes Laughing years before she died.

2 cups diced celery
1 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup melted butter
1 pan (8-9 inch) cornbread, cooked and crumbled
2 cups bread crumbs
1 pound sausage, fried, drained, and crumbled
1 regular can chicken broth
3/4 cup water
2 beaten eggs

Saute the celery and onions until tender.

In large bowl combine celery mixture, corn bread, bread crumbs, and sausage. Mix well.

Add broth, butter, eggs, and water. Toss until thoroughly moist.

Use 13x9 baking dish. Bake 30 or 40 minutes at 350.
Makes about 3 quarts. For a 12-16 pound turkey.

Note: Yesterday I used only 1 cup of bread crumbs and more butter. Much better.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

a peaceful Thanksgiving morning

The cornbread's baking, the sausage (for the cornbread--southern style, my grandmother's recipe) is frying, D's still asleep, the cat's up and misbehaving, but otherwise it's an incredibly quiet, peaceful Thanksgiving morning. All three children are at their mother's house in City to the South. I wish they were here, but Christmas will be a joyous time all together.

So different from the years and years I spent going to Thanksgiving at the home of some extended family member. They were always gracious to me, but I felt an undercurrent of "poor Katy." Perhaps that was my own stuff. The first Thanksgiving that D and I were married, though, we received no invitation, much to my painful surprise. It took me a while to adjust to that, given all my issues around "family," but now I see it as much better. I'd rather be here with D, just the two of us, than anywhere else.

I'm afraid D might be getting sick. He said last night that his body has taken on all the stress of the last week or so. He's been busy at work, but he mainly means all the hullabaloo at my church. I know it wasn't easy for him to have me come home last Wednesday and cry in his arms for an hour. Sheesh!

I pray he'll wake up feeling much better this morning. (If he's not up to cooking, then I guess I'll have to deal with turkey myself. Which I've done once in my 51 years and as I recall I learned a lot about the strangeness of turkeys that come with their own innards stuffed inside. Weird.)

Best wishes to you all -- I hope it's a wonderful Holiday, full of a special awareness of God's loving presence.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

D and I worshiped at the Thanksgiving Service at his church tonight. What a blessing! To be able to sit in that beautiful sanctuary (this is the church where we were married) and listen to a beautiful sermon, full of God's truth as I understand it, share a meal with good folks, oh! I felt God's presence and am grateful.

I do want to remember just a few of the many things for which I am grateful tonight:
  • my husband and my children-by-marriage, for my sister, niece, nephew and brother-in-law in South Carolina, for my brother and sister-in-law in Thailand, for my dear friends and other family members.

  • my church where, although it's been so tough lately, I have nevertheless been privileged to serve, where I have loved the people and the work of ministry, where I have had wonderful opportunities to do some creative programming, where the beauty of the building's sanctuary has nurtured me...and so much more.

  • technology and how it has allowed me to connect with some amazingly wise people via blogging.

  • the promise of First Congregational, UCC, to be a healthy place where God is worshiped and people are served, where confiict is handled creatively, where I can continue to grow spiritually.

  • prayer that connects us to God and to each other.

  • wise spiritual directors and counselors who work through love, and who help me see what is authentic about myself.

  • for D taking my hand as we prayed tonight at the Thanksgiving service.

  • for Hobbes, our cat ~ D adopted him as a kitten and loves him a lot.

  • so many other things, to numerous to mention here...
Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Declaring God's glory

Oh, Monday, Monday. The Mamas and the Papas plaintive singing is part of my reality this morning. Do I really have to go back to work?

This helps. From Thomas Merton:

The forms and individual characters of living and growing things,
of inanimate beings, of animals and flowers and all nature,
constitute their holiness in the sight of God.
Their inscape is their sanctity.
It is the imprint of God's wisdom and God's reality in them.
The special clumsy beauty of this particular colt on this day in the field under these clouds
is a holiness consecrated to God by God's own creative wisdom,
and it declares the glory of God.

Such a lovely combining of the inner and the outer in this Psalm to remind me that ALL creation should declare the glory of God. And I am part of that creation. And so is my church. And so is my vocation. May my soul today not forget....

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Idealism

I am thoroughly enjoying this weekend~~it still feels like vacation. I guess that's because it IS still vacation! WooHoo! Yesterday around noon D said "Let's see if we can get tickets to the matinee performance of Man of LaMancha downtown." I was at that moment deeply involved in straightening and organizing my home office (I love doing that!), but am VERY glad that I agreed. I hadn't seen this musical since I was a teenager. I can sing parts of "The Impossible Dream" and "I am I, Don Quixote, the Man of LaMancha!" (who can't?), but I had forgotten the story. This particular production had its problems, but overall I just loved it!

I'm such an idealist. The sermon I heard this morning has something to say about that, actually. The title was "Stewards of Life in the Realm of Death." Idealism, if it does not deny reality, is a good thing, I think. It's hope. If reality is denied, of course, idealism is only an empty exercise in positive thinking. The sermon reminded me of why the Church is important and why my calling to ministry continues to feel important and alive to me.

The interesting thing about idealism and seeing reality, to me, is how "seeing reality" is such a slippery concept to begin with. The woman Aldonza is no "lady." Yet when the 'mad' knight Don Quixote cannot see her in any other way, no matter how urgently and angrily she begs him to see her for what she is, she then becomes a lady, Dulcinea. Ah, beautiful! So, is this knight insane, or simply better than the rest of us at actually seeing?

I wrote a paper once on Carl Rogers and his humanistic psychology. Rogers believed that his patients improved because of his unconditional positive regard for them, his own congruence (authenticity), and the safe and empathic environment he created for them. In my paper I wrote admiringly of many aspects of his approach, but critiqued him for failing to take the power of evil seriously. I still believe my critique was on target, but even so, many people experienced powerful healing under Rogers' approach of offering unconditional positive regard. And Aldonza became the lady she is and always had been through one other person's steadfast recognition of her essential goodness.

I realize that I'm equating idealism with a very high anthropology. They aren't the same thing, but they do feel that way at times in this world where millions of human beings are "trafficked" daily for sex and for slave labor...where children learn they are valuable only if they make their parents look good in some way...where holy listening is so terrifyingly rare...where baby girls are still automatically destroyed at birth...Oh, there are so many ways we callously blind ourselves to the ultimate value, the absolute preciousness, of our fellow human beings.

"You see things, and you say 'Why?' But I dream things that never were, and I say 'Why not?'" ~George Bernard Shaw~
(Robert F. Kennedy was quoting Shaw, as D informed me yesterday)

Friday, November 9, 2007

An Unexpected Ending

Well, we're home. I've posted some pictures to my first post about the vacation below.

Wonderful vacation, still it's nice to be home and in surroundings I love. We stopped in Sherman, only a couple of hours from here last night, just to extend our time away from home--one of those spontaneous, kind of playful decisions. We've had very good luck staying at Hampton Inns when we travel, and last night was no exception.

This morning we stopped at the house in Denison where Pres. Dwight Eisenhower was born. Bought the tickets, took the tour--the whole thing. On the tour with us were a woman in her 70's from Pennsylvania and her daughter. Just the four of us on this tour. Very nice.

When the tour ended, we said our polite goodbyes and D and I headed home. After about 90 minutes in the car we stopped at Cracker Barrel for lunch. For the first time all week our conversation turned to work issues, thinking of the upcoming week. The bill came, we paid and headed out the door. A few steps later, in the parking lot, we see two women waving at us. Unbelievably, it's the woman in her 70s from Pennsylvania and her daughter. From the Eisenhower house tour. Talk about BIZARRE! Of the million different directions, and the millions of choices for lunch, our lives intersect once again with these two women at the Cracker Barrel in Denton, Tx. All four of us were stunned.

Ah well, The Unexpected. A good way to end vacation.

Unfortunately, we didn't get a photo of the woman and her daughter, but this is D and me in front of Eisenhower's house:


Thursday, November 8, 2007

10 Random Things

Jan tagged me for the 10 Random Things meme. Thanks, Jan! Here we go!

1. I love to play Free Cell. At the moment my percentage is 98% won. Yeah, I'm good.

2. I know all the words to "Harper Valley P.T.A." and I sing it with feeling.

3. When I'm startled, I usually scream.

4. I've been to a wrestling match...at the Sportatorium in City to the East. Weird experience. I went with a bunch of women when I first started working at the oil company in 1981.

5. I've also been to a Tractor Pull. Also in City to the East when I worked at the oil company and also a weird experience. A woman I worked with and her husband wanted to 'broaden my horizons.' They also offered to teach me how to shoot a gun. I declined that one.

6. Since I married D, I've been to many (I've lost count) Friday night high school football games. Both of my daughters-by-marriage were/are in their h.s. band, so we travel an hour or two to get to these games, in various parts of central Texas. If the weather isn't hotter than hell, it's actually kind of fun. I like football, and it's fun to watch the people, of course.

7. I once typed 106 wpm with two errors. And I won a contest in high school for speed on the 10-key adding machine. Yeah, I'm good. My sister has always been better, though. She's blazing fast.

8. Always wanted a solo voice. I can blend OK with my voice, but I love to sing and wish I sounded better! My sister and I spent countless hours growing up, with me doing the best I could (which wasn't great) at the piano and both of us singing our hearts out. Oh, that was fun!

9. I'm a terrible cook. What's the secret to keeping cookies from burning on the bottom? My chocolate pies are lumpy--how come? I finally figured out how to cook chicken 'n' dumplings like my mother used to make~major accomplishment, but that's about it.

10. Love to play ping-pong. Wish we had a ping-pong table.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Courage and Renewal, the Church, and me

I glimpsed what the Church should be during the five Courage to Lead retreats 2006-2007. (Thanks to Jan, once again, for the amazing image of Courage, below.)

At these retreats we were invited to practice being the people God is calling us to become, and as I think about it, what better purpose for the Church than that?

The Courage to Lead series of five retreats for clergy and lay leaders provided:

* a time and a place designed to enhance our opening to the movement/voice of the Spirit
* an emotionally safe environment
* silence
* opportunities that challenged us to move out of our false-ego's comfort zone
* beauty
* a context of both solitude and community, both of which are often required for courage to emerge
* the patience to give over a year for all five retreats, an acknowledgement of the difficulty of this process
* a pattern of "real world"/retreat/"real world" that also took the difficulty of this process into account
* competent, inspiring, and commited facilitators who shared the path with us

The purpose of the Church is viewed, variously, as service to the world, transformation of the world, being sent as disciples of Jesus Christ "to bear witness to God's reconciliation and healing" of creation, to be Christ's body now on the earth. It seems to me that all of these purposes begin with transformed individuals who, as transformed, now see the truth of themselves as an integral part of community. At the heart of our transformation is becoming increasingly more like Jesus the Christ--a process that entails removing the obstacles to that becoming. It's not that God's purposes are denied until we reach a certain likeness--no, at any point in our lives God's purposes can be accomplished through us. But the more conscious we are of this process of becoming authentic and real, the more effective we are and the richer and more beautiful life is.

The process of becoming is so very difficult, so counter-cultural, so painful. It takes courage and deep commitment. The Courage to Lead work provides a powerful opportunity to practice this courage and commitment in a community of like-minded people. What a rare and wonderful blessing.

Oh, if only the Church could see the power of God at work like this. To see it in action is to be confronted, I think, with the many ways we trivialize the Church, its work, and who we are as Christians. We forget that we are in the world to change the world, not to buy into its greed, its fear, and the many ways it strives to remain unconscious. This work of cooperating with God to change the world begins by cooperating with God to do the powerful, painful inner work of allowing ourselves to be changed.

I have so many obstacles still taking up space within me, obstacles to becoming more authentic, obstacles to the shining forth of the imago Christi within me. One of these obstacles is how I have rejected my own embodiment. I'm 51 and it's been a rare day in my life when I have been able to love and celebrate my own body. I can look back at all the work I've done on becoming more authentic--I've been at it for about 20 years now, I guess. I look back and can say with real integrity that I've learned to love and like who I am. But, really, is that even possible when I do not include in this loving and liking the very body in which my self resides? Oh, it's possible--I am my body, and yet am I also more. That's the idea upon which I have based this separation, anyway. But the Incarnation affirms God's love for the world, for material reality, and for the human body. It is not right for me to continue to believe the lies that tell me my body should not be celebrated because it fails to meet certain cultural standards. That is a trivialization of who I am as a Daughter of God. God calls me to wholeness, to a oneness of self and embodiment in this life.

With more time to slow down and reflect, taking vacation so soon after our last Courage to Lead retreat is helping me understand and experience this truth more fully. It's painful for me, but I must change my beliefs, align them more with what I understand God affirms. This rejection of my embodiment is an obstacle to the abundant life that is mine through Christ. I know what loving and celebrating my body would look like--I already have a powerful and FUN image of it, an image that has helped me before and that I know is right there, available for me to live into more fully.

...Now for the courage I need to do that more often.

Arkansas, Wednesday morning

Arkansas is VERY pretty, just as I remembered. We stayed one night in Hot Springs but didn't really see much of the town, electing instead to drive on here to Eureka Springs--all told, it's taken us about 12 hours of driving. (The back roads we're taking aren't busy at all, and we're stopping at places called "Alom Cove" just to see what it looks like!)

Eureka Springs is different than I imagined. The B&B, pictured below, didn't have directions on its website, so D looked at a Google map Monday night and memorized it (the man is amazing). We drove into Eureka Springs, with me at the wheel, and were greeted with narrow streets very much like those I've driven in Europe. With my automated speaking MAP sitting beside me, I was directed to "turn left here," which led us UP a series of teeny, tiny roads--Up, Up, Up the mountain we drove, hoping we would not meet another vehicle coming down! "Turn here," he tells me, then "Turn right." At several points it seems we're going straight up! How EXHILARATING! It's like riding a roller coaster! I start to laugh--hysterically, he would say, but that's not true. Finally, we turn onto an unnamed street, and D says this should be it, but he can't be sure without a street sign. We come to an intersection, and yes! Fairmont. And the B&B is right here, on our left. And that's the proprietor, Chris, standing there in the front yard watching, ready to welcome us.

As Chris is showing us our room, he says "You must have got your directions from the internet." Apparently, directions from another source would have meant we'd arrive from another direction. He can tell. Well, if there was an easier way to get here I don't want to know it. That was way too much fun to have missed!

We relaxed for a bit and then walked to dinner (Italian). After dinner, we took another walk to the Crescent Hotel, pictured here, built in 1886, and apparently, full of ghosts. Yikes. Glad we're not staying there!

Today, I think D, historian that he is, might drive about 30 miles to visit a Civil War site, but I'm going to stay here. One day without getting in the car sounds good. I'm looking forward to just relaxing here in this lovely place.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

It's vacation time!

Oh, it's been too long since I've posted. Thanks, Jan, for the "I miss you" -- same here, my friend.

The Courage to Lead retreat was wonderful. They have a good program, and Cindy Johnson and Estrus Tucker are excellent facilitators. I'm taking all my books and my journal with me on vacation (which starts tomorrow! yes!), and I'm going to read through everything and do some processing.

Wow, I finally have some real time in front of me to just process what I want. Oh, I'm grateful. All summer I tried to use any extra time to work on the lecture (the 200 minute one)--glad that's done. Home from Courage on Thursday, but Friday and this weekend were spent working on our concert series and the additional worship service I do at church. Now, finally, I have some glorious free time in front of me.

D and I leave tomorrow morning for a driving trip through Arkansas. I hope the leaves are turning--it's a pretty state, I've been there before, but it was a long time ago. We have reservations at a hotel in Hot Springs on Monday, and then two nights at a B&B in Eureka Springs. After that, we'll just play it by ear and see what happens.

Life is good.

Best wishes to you all!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Courage to Lead

I'm off this morning to the last of our Courage to Lead retreats/workshops. It's been a series of five, although I missed our summer gathering. Courage and Renewal comes from the work of Parker Palmer. If you haven't read "The Courage to Teach" or "Let Your Life Speak," please do; they are wonderful. He's all about authenticity. In fact, the tagline for Courage to Lead is "Reconnecting What You Do with Who You Are."

I'm looking forward to this time away. I'm coming down now from a very hectic couple of weeks in which time has seemed so very compressed. I preached yesterday, and it was good, but after the handshaking at the door at the conclusion of the service, I went to my office and found myself suddenly crying. No reason. Just tension-relief, I guess. Anyway, this time away will be good. Not only are the retreats well done and the participants congenial and interesting, but the retreat center itself is first-class. I'll be able to relax, and hopefully, do some good reflection and learning.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Friday night

Friday night. A full day, and good. Up at 4:45 to get D to the airport for his business trip; he's chairing a conference on the east coast. The evening without him is strange. After only three-and-a-half years of marriage, you'd think I'd still be able to fall back into the feeling of it being normal to be alone on a Friday night, but no. Down to the marrow, I like sharing my life with him--that's definitely my new normal and I wish he were here.

Ah well, soon enough, and it does help to have Young Man with Integrity and Lovely Passionate Feminist here tonight. The three of us went to dinner at Cheddar's. The talk was of marching bands, Saturday Night Live, dorm life, which local high schools have good reputations (for teachers), the Dalai Lama, and the Supreme Court. My children-by-marriage never fail to interest and delight me.

Lunch was with my favorite two-year-old in the world, little Julia, and her sweet mother, my friend W. After we finished eating and were at the cashier's stand in the front, Julia proceeded to run off and make her way throughout the entire restaurant, showing all the folks at all the tables her new sunglasses, which she was wearing in the very latest fashion--upside down.

Before lunch I made a pastoral visit, and found my parishioner to be feeling much better than when we had spoken on the phone yesterday. I was so happy and relieved to see that.

Before my pastoral visit, I had my nails done by V, a lovely woman who never fails to make me laugh. Ended up having a meaningful pastoral conversation with her today. She remains in my prayers.

Before my nail appointment, I met my friend C for breakfast. We used to meet for breakfast every Friday, but that tradition has become maybe once a quarter now--a casualty of Life at Warp Speed, I'm afraid. Well, it does make our visits more special, so I'll choose to look at it that way.

Before meeting C for breakfast, I was kissing D goodbye at the airport and not looking forward to this moment--right now--without him.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Freshness of the future

I saw four clients today for pastoral counseling or spiritual direction. One after another this afternoon, and then an amazing conversation with a parishioner at dinner. What a day. What incredible gifts I received from each of them.

The parishioner at dinner tonight spoke of what being a Christian means to her--an aspect of it, that is. She was raised in the church, can quote Scripture with the best of 'em, was baptized and followed all the rules (well, most of them, anyway, she says). But one day she opened herself to a relationship with God, and suddenly everything was fresh. New and fresh. She said she comes out of a worship service and is so alive, so grateful for the amazing message and the deep meaning of the Lord's Supper, still singing the last hymn in her heart. (This made me laugh--She remarked that she comes out of this worship service and into the narthex and is always SO surprised when she hears someone else make some inane, negative, stupid remark, as she puts it. Where have they been the last hour? she wonders.)

It occurs to me that it takes courage to open yourself to a relationship with God such that life is experienced as new and fresh. The status quo is always safer, after all.

But the Spirit is the enemy of the status quo, I think. The Spirit is always nudging us toward--I love the way she put this: toward what is fresh and new. Fresh! And, importantly, when we are open to what is novel we are also putting our trust in God, for not everything fresh and new is good. We trust that whatever newness we encounter we can handle, with God's grace and love at our side.

These four clients, as well as my parishioner dinner companion, have all encountered some terrible pain and heartache as they journeyed forward. But they are all making a courageous decision to stay open to life, open to what is fresh and new, open to learning to trust that God wants them to flourish and will always be there to sustain them with the courage and grace they need.

What an amazing thing it is to be a minister.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Odds and Ends this October Evening

Just some odds and ends:
  • It's finally cool here in North Texas. I love it! And the rain this morning cleaned my car--it's nice and shiny for a change!
  • If you haven't checked out Linda's newest post called "A Turtle in the Sun" at Against a Brick Wall, please do. Give yourself the incredible GIFT of letting her words just wash over you. Oh, what a remarkable talent, and exceptionally courageous human being, she is.
  • I'm sorry to say that our local NPR station seems to be having an unusually difficult time meeting its goal for the pledge drive. Very sorry...I get so tired of the same-old endless pleas for money. I'd increase my monthly giving if I could, just to get "my" programs back on the air fulltime. I love Diane Rehm, Fresh Air, Morning Edition, and All Things Considered, and so many more! Why doesn't some fabulously wealthy and progressive person just fund whatever's left after, say, three-day-pledge drives twice a year, tops? That's my idea. Lemme give George Soros (sp?) a call and suggest that!
  • I realized this morning that I do NOT have two weeks before I leave for the Courage to Lead retreat. Yikes! it's next week! Got a lot done today, though, so maybe I'll make it.
  • I loved my conversation with Young Man With Integrity this evening when I came home. He's earning real money these days. What a great feeling that is! I actually remember the invigorating sense of freedom that comes with those first big paychecks. Wow. He's going to a Renaissance Fair this weekend and is going to treat himself to buying something "big" there, something he's always wanted. Go, man, go! Celebrate!
  • I can't wait for vacation! We're going to take a driving trip through Arkansas, see the beautiful Fall colors, stay in a B&B in Eureka Springs, rest and relax, just the two of us.
  • I encountered someone recently who seems to fit Hannah Arendt's definition of the "banality of evil" pretty well. Closed in on himself. If his actions didn't effect others, it wouldn't be so bad, but then, our actions always effect others, don't they? ~sigh~

Odds and ends. Fragments of a life lived.

God is good.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The lecture, the week

Well, the 200 minute lecture is history. Yippee!!!!

I took three days last week as vacation to finish writing it. Glad I did, too. I needed every bit of it. Overall, I think it went fine; I had good feedback, and I felt good in the moment. I was "me," which was pretty important since the topic was authenticity! :-) If they succeed in getting the audio posted on the website for the Series, I'll post a link.

RevDrKate had a beautiful post the day before the lecture, which, with her permission, I used as an example of growth toward 'the authentic self' and how self-reflection can be such a wonderful aid in that process. Thank you, Kate!

After the lecture ended at 1:00 yesterday, a friend took me to lunch--my friend is the mother of Julia, the precious 2-year-old we're all in love with here at my house. My friend brought Julia over that evening, so we got to babysit again. Thank goodness Beautiful Genuine Drummer Girl was here--she and D helped play with Julia for the two hours she was at our house. I was extremely tired. As I told my colleague in ministry this morning, I wish these kinds of things didn't wear me out, but they really do. I was pretty much a zombie this morning at church.

The week ahead of me promises to be especially busy. I don't normally see more than two or three counselees or spiritual directees per week, but I've been postponing some folks in order to work on the lecture. That means that this week I have six counseling appointments...I'm preaching next Sunday...It's the final week for the current Companions in Christ group I'm leading, plus we have a retreat on Saturday for that same group...I have a Courage to Lead retreat coming up in just two weeks, after which D and I leave on a much-needed vacation together (can't wait for that!)...Right before all that, though, my two BIG monthly events at the church take place (a concert series and an emerging-church style worship service), so I'll have to spend some time this week doing all the marketing for them. Whew!

I'm stressed and really tired. In the midst of finalizing the lecture, I've been working through a big decision (more on that in a future post), which I ended up actually having to make last week. The timing wasn't great; I wish I'd had some time to think it through without the pressure of the lecture on me, but ... Oh well. I trust that I've done the right thing. God is with me, always there and so eager to help me turn fear into courage, ennui into excitement, pain into joy. When I remember that, I am only grateful.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Freedom in Christ

An artist friend of mine gave me a present today—a relief sculpture. Mounted on a beautiful wood piece is an abstract sculpture of a dancing woman. Her right arm is thrown over her head and there's movement along the bottom of her long dress. You can tell she's dancing with joy. These words from Psalm 30 adorn the top of the piece: You have turned my mourning into dancing. You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.

I used to believe that this kind of joy—the kind that compels us to jump up and dance!—was only known after some big event, some mountaintop experience of God. I've had a few of those amazing experiences in my life. When I decided to leave ARCO and go to seminary. When I preached at the Academy for Spiritual Formation. When I married D. When I sat on the beach, on the Jersey shore actually, looking out at the overwhelming infinity of the ocean and suddenly felt myself one with all creation. In each of those experiences pure joy pulsed out from the center of my heart. And yet, as I've reflected on it over the years, I've concluded that something even deeper was animating me.

Freedom.

And the kind of freedom I'm talking about isn't known only as part of some huge and unusual event. No, I think we're meant to live from within this kind of freedom all the time. I met with my spiritual director last week. As we spoke, the concern that had been weighing on me suddenly evaporated. She reminded me of the freedom that always awaits me when I let go, when I no longer cling to particular outcomes, when my only desire is to do what is mine to do, the best I can, and then trust that God is always working to bring about what is best. Being reminded of that truth, I was able to relax and smile again. Ah, what freedom!

My artist friend talks about freedom as an ever-increasing opening to life and all it brings. I love that. No doubt there will be pain—pain is part and parcel of what it means to be alive. But as we decide to let go and trust in God for everything, then the courage needed to open ourselves in freedom like that simply appears. In my experience, once the decision to trust is made, courage never fails. Oh! how I want to live my life always in such freedom, such joy.

I'd love for that freedom and joy to be constant, but of course, it isn't. Learning to live so freely is a process, a journey down a road full of potholes and circles and curves that seem to move me back, not forward! It often takes the perspective born of years to see that the journey is forever leading me toward God and slowly transforming me into the image of Christ.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

apologies

Someone indicated to me that he thought the cartoon I posted recently was "male bashing." I didn't intend that. As I commented to him, I laughed out loud when I saw it, but my husband didn't. My husband didn't care for the cartoon, and obviously neither did this reader. I'm taking the cartoon down, with my apologies.

I did want to copy something I read by more cows than people. She really stated VERY well my views of what it means to be a feminist: "I'm a feminist. When we got into a discussion ... about what that means, I begin with the quote "Feminism is the radical notion that women are people." And move to-- essentially a feminist is anyone who believes in (and I might add, is willing to work for) the full equality of men and women. I do not think that one needs to bash men in order to be a feminist."

Yes exactly.
Many thanks to the reader who honestly shared his feelings, and many thanks to blogger more cows.

Congrats to Al

Wow. Al Gore's mom would've been proud, huh? The guy now has:

The Nobel Prize for Peace,
An Oscar, and
The Popular Vote for President of the United States!


(as heard on NPR)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

"Leaving Church"

A couple of people asked me what I thought of Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church.

I bought the book after I heard her interviewed on Fresh Air on NPR. During that interview Terry Gross asked her about being a liberal in a very conservative congregation. Because I respect Taylor so much, her response really intrigued me. She said she tried to keep her liberal views to herself and be "neutral" because "I'm the shepherd of all." Words to that effect. If certain people in her "flock" knew how liberal she was then being their shepherd would be very difficult. She's right. It would be very difficult because some people can't see past their political/social views, and they would forever see her as "a liberal" and not feel they could trust her. I know because that's something that I have to consciously work on myself--always attempting to see the whole person.

That whole issue has always bothered me. It just feels so phony sometimes to be neutral. Especially when my views arise and form within me as my spirit grows and forms; they are part of me, an important part. Yet, stating them would, at times, just about automatically cause conflict of some sort. On the other hand, conflict can be good and healthy. Creativity is born from conflict and tension. What I've come to lately, if someone verbalizes some political or social view that is offensive to me, is to simply say that I disagree and then move on. No one, so far, has turned the conversation back to the disagreement, although I'm sure that will happen at some point. Neutral has started to feel so inauthentic that I can't be completely silent.

Anyway, that's why I bought the book (I don't think she addresses that question in the book, however). In general, I love reading anything she writes. I took the book from the shelf this morning; I read books with pencil in hand, and it turns out that I underlined only one part--what she said about the Bible. Her last chapter is "Keeping," and it's about what she will keep from her experience in the church--"In the twenty-first year of my priesthood, I empty the bag of my old convictions on the kitchen table to decide what I will keep" is how she starts the chapter. Here's what she said about the Bible:

"I will keep the Bible, which remains the Word of God for me, but always the Word as heard by generations of human beings as flawed as I. As beautifully as these witnesses write, their divine inspiration can never be separated from their ardent desires; their genuine wish to serve God cannot be divorced from their self-interest. That God should use such blemished creatures to communicate God's reality so well makes the Bible its own kind of miracle, but I hope never to put the book ahead of the people whom the book calls me to love and serve. I will keep the Bible as a field guide, which was never intended to be a substitute for the field. With the expert notes kept by those who have gone before me, I will keep hunting the Divine Presence in the world, helped as much by the notes they wrote in the margins while they were waiting for God to appear as by their astonished descriptions of what they saw when God did. I know that nine times out of ten, the truth scripture tells is the truth about the human search for God. Still, with the help of the guide, there is always the hope of glimpsing the bright dove that splits the sky, fluttering in full view before turning with a whirr and a cry to make its clean getaway."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The will to courage



I've never felt particularly called to prophetic ministry, but maybe we all are. I do so want to be a person willing to be courageous.


Thanks to Jan for the amazing image. (Double click to enlarge.)

Monday, October 8, 2007

What Kind of Nation Are We? NYT, Pres. Carter

When I was in college I was introduced to Amnesty International. Since then I have valued this organization and supported its work in many ways. In my early 30's I started and was a co-leader a local group in my neighborhood. I've always supported AI financially. Why? For many reasons, but perhaps most of all because torture is wrong. Sinful. Evil. It always wounds the body, of course, but it also always wounds the soul. --The soul of the one who tortures as well as the one tortured.

I was on the streets of City to the East in February and again in March of 2003, demonstrating against the invasion of Iraq. It was wrong, wrong, wrong and I knew this administration was making a huge mistake. I felt anger down to my bones. But I'm a child of Watergate and Vietnam, so administrations making huge mistakes wasn't new. I've never known an American administration that made torture a matter of policy, acknowledged or not. When the photophaphs from Abu Ghraib were published, I felt shame at being an American. Real, deep, tortuous shame.

Abu Ghraib, secret renditions, Guantanamo Bay.

The Bush Administration has announced to the world that we lack the courage of our best convictions. We've become bullies, preemptively invading weaker countries and torturing people held prisoner. At their core, bullies are always weak. And terribly, dreadfully frightened. Panelists on the Diane Rehm show today were talking about the NYT's article that revealed yet more secret memos justifying torture. A man called in who said something like "Look, the bottom line is we've got to do whatever it takes. Bush is right. If torturing some terrorist means we stay safe, then that's exactly what we should do." That's the attitude of a coward--a coward and a very small and horribly ignorant person. From reading the many fine publications from Amnesty International over the years, I know that torture degrades. One's humanity simply cannot be maintained. And I'm talking about the torturer, the one who tortures. We have become a nation that tortures human beings. As an American, it is in my name that this is happening. Oh, the shame, the shame.

Here's an editorial from the New York Times yesterday:

Torture and American Values
Published: October 7, 2007--Editorial, New York Times

Once upon a time, it was the United States that urged all nations to obey the letter and the spirit of international treaties and protect human rights and liberties. American leaders denounced secret prisons where people were held without charges, tortured and killed. And the people in much of the world, if anot their governments, respected the United States for its values.

The Bush administration has dishonored that history and squandered that respect. As an article on this newspaper’s front page last week laid out in disturbing detail, President Bush and his aides have not only condoned torture and abuse at secret prisons, but they have conducted a systematic campaign to mislead Congress, the American people and the world about those policies.

After the attacks of 9/11, Mr. Bush authorized the creation of extralegal detention camps where Central Intelligence Agency operatives were told to extract information from prisoners who were captured and held in secret. Some of their methods — simulated drownings, extreme ranges of heat and cold, prolonged stress positions and isolation — had been classified as torture for decades by civilized nations. The administration clearly knew this; the C.I.A. modeled its techniques on the dungeons of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union.

The White House could never acknowledge that. So its lawyers concocted documents that redefined “torture” to neatly exclude the things American jailers were doing and hid the papers from Congress and the American people. Under Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Mr. Bush’s loyal enabler, the Justice Department even declared that those acts did not violate the lower standard of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

That allowed the White House to claim that it did not condone torture, and to stampede Congress into passing laws that shielded the interrogators who abused prisoners, and the men who ordered them to do it, from any kind of legal accountability.

Mr. Bush and his aides were still clinging to their rationalizations at the end of last week. The president declared that Americans do not torture prisoners and that Congress had been fully briefed on his detention policies.

Neither statement was true — at least in what the White House once scorned as the “reality-based community” — and Senator John Rockefeller, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, was right to be furious. He demanded all of the “opinions of the Justice Department analyzing the legality” of detention and interrogation policies. Lawmakers, who for too long have been bullied and intimidated by the White House, should rewrite the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act to conform with actual American laws and values.

For the rest of the nation, there is an immediate question: Is this really who we are?

Is this the country whose president declared, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” and then managed the collapse of Communism with minimum bloodshed and maximum dignity in the twilight of the 20th century? Or is this a nation that tortures human beings and then concocts legal sophistries to confuse the world and avoid accountability before American voters?

Truly banning the use of torture would not jeopardize American lives; experts in these matters generally agree that torture produces false confessions. Restoring the rule of law to Guantánamo Bay would not set terrorists free; the truly guilty could be tried for their crimes in a way that does not mock American values.

Clinging to the administration’s policies will only cause further harm to America’s global image and to our legal system. It also will add immeasurably to the risk facing any man or woman captured while wearing America’s uniform or serving in its intelligence forces.

This is an easy choice.

And here is a report about former President Jimmy Carter's statement.

Pres. Carter: US tortures prisoners, 'I know it'
by David Edwards and Jason RhynePublished: Wednesday October 10, 2007


Former president Jimmy Carter isn't just suspicious that the US is using torture to extract intelligence from detainees -- he's absolutely convinced. Asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer if, by Carter's definition of the word, the United States had used torture during the Bush administration, the Nobel Peace Prize winner was adamant: "I don't think it, I know it," he said. "Certainly."

Pressed by Blitzer on whether that meant that President Bush was lying, Carter was equally clear. "The president is self-defining what we have done and authorized in the torture of prisoners," said Carter."Yes."

Earlier in the interview, Carter said Bush's denial this week that the US did not in fact torture detainees was "not an accurate statement if you use the international norms of torture as has always been honored in the last 60 years, since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated. But you can make your own definition of human rights and say we don't violate them," he added, "and you can make your own defintion of torture and say we don't violate them."

Carter was equally outspoken in a Wednesday interview with the BBC, calling Vice President Dick Cheney a "disaster," according to Reuters. "He's a militant who avoided any service of his own in the military," he said of Cheney, adding that the vice president "has been most forceful in the last 10 years or more in fulfilling some of his more ancient commitments that the United States has a right to inject its power through military means in other parts of the world."

"You know he's been a disaster for our country," Carter continued. "I think he's been overly persuasive on President George Bush and quite often he's prevailed."

His frankness is just so appealing, so refreshing.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Book Meme

Jan has tagged me for a great Book Meme!

Total number of books?
Whoa! Not sure. When I married D, he said that together we had about 4,000 books, most of which are his, but I'm sure that if not half, then 1,500 or more were mine.

Last book read?
Hmmm, well, I'm currently re-reading a biography of Heinz Kohut for my lecture this month, but maybe that doesn't really count. I'm carrying A Book of Hours, Thomas Merton, around in my backpack with me and am reading it in spurts. I devoured Somerset Maugham's The Painted Veil recently. Also Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church.

Last book bought?
That would be the Thomas Merton book.

Five meaningful books?
Off the top of my head, The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck, which started me on the path of self-awareness. I am forever grateful to Mr. Peck!

Henri Nouwen's Life of the Beloved. I was actually, truly transformed by reading this book. I loved myself more. Amazing.

Christ in a Pluralistic Age by John Cobb. As I wrote here previously, this book gave me a way to think about the divinity of Jesus, to believe with integrity.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin. I read this when I was 19 years old. I did not understand it, not really, but something in my soul fluttered, and shifted slightly, encountering the tragic fate of Edna Pontellier. Over the years I returned to it time and again and, in fact, used it in an article in The Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling regarding "Courage in the Development of Self in Women."

Ruben Habito's Healing Breath: Zen Spirituality for a Wounded Earth. This is the book--I felt that every word was written just for me--this is the book that eventually led me to jump off that proverbial cliff, leave my corporate job and enter seminary in the mid-1990's. I am forever grateful to Ruben.

How about favorite children's books?
I loved Jane Eyre--read it in 4th grade and have read it probably a dozen more times since then. Like Jan, I also loved Little Women.

Now I'll ask these friends to share about their books: PS @ Purpletologicallyspeaking, Linda @ Against a Brick Wall, Kate @ PrairieLight, and Diane @ Faith in Community.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Four Meme

Tagged by PS @ Purpletologically Speaking

Four jobs I've held:
Store clerk
Technical writer
Administrative supervisor
Pastor

Four films I could watch over and over:
Dead Poets Society
Good Will Hunting
Saved
Sense and Sensibility

Four TV shows I watch:
The Office
Ugly Betty (every episode, I LOL at least once!)
News Hour
Hmm...can't think of another one!

Four places I've lived:
Fort Worth
San Antonio
Houston
Dallas

Four favorite foods: (assuming there are no fat grams or calories...right?)
Grilled salmon
Chicken & dumplings
Chocolate
Mashed potatoes

Four websites I visit every day:
My favorite blogs
My email accounts
...that's it...

Four favorite colors:
Teal
Purple
Navy blue
Hot pink

Four places I would love to be right now: with D--
Some luxurious hotel in New York City
New England, touring the Fall leaves
Lake Louise, Banff
Pacific Northwest, in a B&B near the water

Four names I love but would/could not use for my children:
Shannon
Emma
Diana
Julia

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Free Burma


Free Burma!


Thanks to Jan for the headsup

International bloggers are preparing an action to support the peaceful revolution in Burma. We want to set a sign for freedom and show our sympathy for these people who are fighting their cruel regime without weapons. These Bloggers are planning to refrain from posting to their blogs on October 4 and just put up one Banner then, underlined with the words „Free Burma!“.

Show your sympathy for the Free Burma! action and sign our list of participants, whether or not you're a blogger, website owner or someone who wants to point the way to democracy and freedom in Burma!




Free Burma! Petition Widget


Name: (required)


Email:


Web:


Country:





Free Burma!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Trying to be "good girls"


During last week's Companions in Christ small group meeting someone said something that reminded me of a childhood experience.

We lived in a town near Beaumont Texas. I must've been about 6 and my sister 5. As I've written here before, we didn't really go to church (and when we did, after I was older, it was to the Christian Science church). At 6, I had no experience of church at all.

Carol was a little friend who lived down the street from us. I still have her picture in one of my scrapbooks. She invited me and my sister to her Baptist church one day, and my mother obviously said OK. I suppose we went to Sunday School first, although I have no memory of that. What I do remember is sitting in the sanctuary, on the end of a pew, with my sister next to me during the new and quite alarming experience.

The minister began to preach, and whoa...! My sister and I had no idea what was happening. Hellfire! Damnation! What in the world was this? What did he mean? Toward the end of the sermon he was screaming for us to save our lives! Come down this aisle NOW and be saved! I got SO upset, and I remember looking over at my sister, and seeing that she was crying and scared, too. Be saved in the name of Jesus! We're waiting for you! Just come down this aisle and save your lives! What else to do? my sister and I took each other's hands, moved out of the pew and walked down the aisle, crying and frightened.

I called my sister a few days ago to ask whether she remembered any of this. "YES!" she said. She even remembered going to the minister's office after the service was over, and "it was like we were going to the principle's office!"

I'm sure Carol's mother was embarrassed...I sort of remember that feeling from her when she took us home. We were all at the front door of our house and my mother was there. Carol's mom probably felt she should have warned us, or at least not have allowed us to sit at the end of the pew out of her reach!

I have no idea what that minister felt that morning when he saw two tiny, little, scared and crying girls, holding on to each other for dear life, coming haltingly toward him down that aisle, having no earthly idea what awaited them but trying to be "good girls" and do what they were told.

My sister and I laughed the other day when we remembered this together.

That was 45 years ago now. My gosh, is that right? 45 years. Wow.