Monday, December 31, 2007

A Reflection on Time Passing


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.