Monday, December 30, 2013

Episode 20: (Still) Waiting...

The waiting is over. Joy to the World has been sung, the purple, pink, and white candles blown out, and perhaps (though definitely not at our house) the Advent wreath has already been wrapped up and tucked away until next year.

It has been confirmed my friends: The little Lord Jesus has, indeed, laid down his sweet head. End of story. Hello new year.

There's only one problem in the "Klaskins" household: We're still waiting.

Advent worked for me, for our family, in our hoping-to-be-adoptive parents anticipation. As we lit the candles, sang "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," and sipped eggnog by a crackling fire (provided by Hulu's "Christmas Yule Log" channel of course, not an actual fireplace), the waiting made sense. The whole world was waiting after all--waiting for a savior, waiting for the in-breaking of love into our world, waiting for the crash of a dove and the gentle whisper of the spirit all wrapped up in the birth of one tiny baby boy.

I'm not particularly good at waiting. Patience isn't my strongest virtue. I can feel the energy, the expectation, the anticipation building up inside of me as we continue to await the birth of our own infant, our own one-day baby boy or baby girl.

It was easier when the world was waiting with us--bated breath and full hearts, easier when the narrative of our faith fell into succinct step with the story of our family.

As the liturgical calendar unfolds, as our journey brings us to the synagogue, to Jerusalem, and to all that awaits our newborn savior, we will still have a foot in the stable, an eye on the manger, waiting for another birth, an additional in-breaking.

May it be so.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Episode 19: On Partners

Nothing reminds me of the complex, ambiguous nature of same-sex relationship language quite like a two hour flight from St. Louis to Tampa:

before the plane's wheels had even left the ground, the kind, gentle, presumptuous woman in the seat next to me turned and asked "tell me honey, what does your husband do?"...Cue my first deep sigh of the flight.

Response option #1: "well, my significant other is a..."
There's something about significant other that just feels cold, lacking least for me and for us.

Response option #2: "well, my wife is a..."
Wife language feels a bit off.  It doesn't fit for Sarah or for me. 

Response option #3: "well, my spouse is a..."
Again, a bit distant, a bit cold....spouse just isn't quite it, not in the "Klaskins" household anyway.

Response option #4: "well, my partner is a..."

Oh partner--I have struggled with this word for such a long time. We do not own a law firm. Sarah is not my business partner. She's not my tennis partner. She's not my partner in crime (well, hardly ever) and she's not my partner on a school project (thank the Lord). This word, partner, has felt cold and distant to me in the past, a little aloof, and still not quite right.

It used to, that is, until we took our first winter hike this past week.  The day was perfect--snow on the ground, newly warm temperatures, no ice to be found. All was well and we were content in our warm and snug waterproof hiking boots as we crunch, crunch, crunched our way over the trails at Rock Bridge State Park. 

For awhile it was picturesque; I'm talking made-for-TV-movie, happy-family-montage, winter perfection... until the moment we realized the bridge across the creek had been closed.  The handy "detour" set up by park officials was a detour through the creek-- a detour through the still-kind-of-icy, definitely-full-of-slippery-rocks,  I-grew-up-in-FLORIDA-and-I-didn't-even-know-water-got-this-cold-outside-of-the-freezer creek. Our crunching stopped; I pouted, and then, as Sarah often does, she just kept moving forward.  Putting her fancy boot on the first slippery rock in the creek, and then the next, she started to make her way across. I was (of course) still pouting. I began to wonder just how I was going to "caulk my wagon and forge the river" (Oregon Trail reference anyone?) when Sarah did the most wonderful thing: she turned back around and held out her hand. She held out her hand and said "watch my feet; just step on the rocks I step on and you'll be fine. We've got this." And, sure enough, with her leading the way from rock to rock, we made our way across. 

In that moment, somehow, partner felt just right; it fit as snug and as comfy as our Smart Wool socks.

Because, after all, Sarah is my we-can-do-this (no matter what "this" is), advent-hymn-singing, soon-to-raise-a-family, gardening, painting, laughing, crying, arguing, silly, sad, through-every-season-and-semester-of-this-life partner. 

And so, on my recent flight from my Missouri home to my Florida home, when the sweet old lady asked what my husband did for a living, I paused for a moment, reviewed my options and then replied: 

"Well, my partner Sarah, she's a community organizer and is called to ministry in all of its vast and varied forms." 

"Oh, that's nice honey" the woman replied. 

Yep. It is. It's pretty darn out-of-this-world fantastic. I have a partner and, for that, I am so very thankful. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Episode 18: Thanksgiving: Klaskins-Style (aka in celebration of the abnormal)

I never wanted to be different.

Growing up I was a bit on the "stocky" side and I had a few early run-ins with bullies who made fun of me for my less-than-slender, childhood frame.  From these encounters, the message was clear: don't be different. Look like everyone else. It's easier that way.

And so for awhile, I tried my best to "blend in," to find "normal," to be someone unworthy of observation.

Praise God adolescence is only a phase; thank the Lord that the sting of a bully's taunt grows faint with time. Because now different seems pretty darn great. 

Yesterday, I gathered at a Thanksgiving table with my partner of many years, Sarah Nichole Klaassen. We're a same sex family within a world that sometimes feels so very heteronormative...

Different? Yep. 
 Hard to blend in? Absolutely. 
 Just where I want to be?  100 %, hands down, without a doubt, for sure. 

The meal we shared with two members of our wonderful family--Hannah Klaassen and Jason Gerig--was meat free and made from scratch.  No Butterball, no Pillsbury, no birds.

We won't go shopping today, won't make a purchase. But we will gather with friends, sing carols, be together. Give thanks.

Different? Yep. 
Hard to blend in? Absolutely. 
Just where I want to be?  100 %, hands down, without a doubt, for sure.
If I could offer a message to my 13-year-old self, it would be this: don't try so hard to fit-in kiddo.

Because In the end, it's the different ones, the crazy ones, the a-little-less-than-all-there ones, who will bring you joy, laugh with you at holiday tables, who will be your heroes. 


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Episode 17: A Lament (Who will give us wings?)

Recently, I found myself face-to-face with someone who had a problem with me.  Those are his words, not mine--he had a "problem" with my "lifestyle."

Sometimes it's hard to be gay y'all.  That's pretty much all there is to it.

Most days I don't even think about it--the fact that my family makes some folks uncomfortable. No, normally I get up, I pick out a sassy dress and a pair of empowering, make-this-world-a-better-place shoes, and I live a startlingly beautiful, sacred, simple life.  On any given Tuesday, the odds are that I won't even think about the fact that my existence, my mere presence in the world, makes some folks uncomfortable. 

But then there are days like today--days when someone says something harsh, something mean, something unexpected--and I am reminded that sometimes, sometimes it's hard to be gay; it's hard to be different; it's so incredibly difficult to be the person others blame for their discomfort, their hatred, their anxiety.

This blog is often a place for rejoicing, for celebrating, for giving thanks and praise but luckily, thank the Lord, there is also room in this life we lead for lament. Praise our sweet Jesus that I walk within a tradition, I follow in the footsteps, of those who knew what it was to weep, to cry, to feel that physical ache from deep within your chest and wreck yourself with the world's brokenness.

And so tonight, my friends, I lament. My heart aches for the places in our world that are filled with fear; my tears fall for those who have no space in their world for me and for those whose families look even a little bit like mine.

Tomorrow morning I will once again offer this world a genuine, from the heart, show-my-dimples-in-all-their-glory, smile. My heart will mend itself.  I will put on a pair of leather boots that, and I truly mean this y'all, will remind me, with every single step, that I am capable of taking over this world with nothing but love, affirmation, and an open, transparent heart. But tonight, on this night, my heart breaks for our world that is oh-so-broken sometimes, that is so far away from where it could be. Tonight, my loves, I lament.

My insides are turned inside out...I shudder from head to foot...“Who will give me wings,” I ask—“wings like a dove?”
-from Psalm 55 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Episode 16: God bless the souls that shook up mine...

Two weeks ago, six college students piled into a Chevy Tahoe (a vehicle we would affectionately name Patsy), and with me--their trusty college chaplain--as their driver, made their way to Nashville.

My mission was simple: help these students answer their call, nudge them in the direction of a divine "yes."

You see, each of these young men and women--they feel called to be teachers and preachers and healers, bringers of the good news and repairers of the breach.  They are beginning to think about their vocation, about their mission and they're drawn toward theological education.

The Spirit is pulling them toward ministry in its many forms and so I did what anybody would do in this amazing, awe-inspiring situation...

I took them to the place and introduced them to the people who taught me what ministry means, who helped me discern my own call, the place that gave me roots in prophetic witness and nurtured my growth as pastor and teacher, servant and partner.

It was good to be back at Vanderbilt Divinity School.  New faces are there, different coffee hour treats, but the energy, the drive, the promise of making this world better, the commitment to seeking change, loving God, and doing justice.....well, some things never change.

On the way home from Nashville, in between the kind of sharing and laughter that only happens on long car trips with incredible 18 to 22 year olds, a song by the Milk Carton Kids came on the radio and a string of lyrics attached themselves to my heart.

God bless the souls that shook up mine they sang.


God bless Vanderbilt Divinity School.  God bless the Disciples Divinity House. God bless the incredible Westminster College students who feel called to give and love and serve, to shake up this world.

God bless the souls that shook up mine. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Episode 15: to our one-day-baby at the end of the shutdown

Hello Dear One, My Sweet One-Day-Child,

You might not exist at this moment or perhaps (and I write this with bated breath and a hopeful heart) perhaps you are growing, somewhere, right now. If this is the case, keep it up my love. Grow strong.

The man on TV reported that the shutdown ended tonight. You don't know what the shutdown is, I know, but in the end, it doesn't really matter. The only important thing to share with you about all of this government craziness is this: the shutdown is what happens when folks are consumed by their need for control and their desire for Truth (with a capital "T"). But you, my lovely one-day-child, you are invited to be and do and live for so much more.

Be bold and courageous in all you do, "risking" your beliefs for the sake of genuine engagement, radical hospitality and audacious truths.

Do what gives you great joy--pursuing passion, making love and making peace, doing what needs doing and loving who needs loving.

Live with the knowledge that this world of ours is always moving toward redemption, that God is always doing a new thing, that you and I, and the politicians and the capital "T" truth seekers...all of us are immersed in God's redemptive goodness.

Be bold sweet child. Do what gives you joy. Live with the knowledge that you are enough; you are beloved; you are redeemed.   Because, in the end, it is these things (not the shutdown, or the fighting, or the endless stalemates) but these things--love, joy, redemption, being, doing, living--it is these things that matter most.

All my love,
Your One Day Mama

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Episode 14: In Celebration of Ordination Day Dresses

I got a new haircut on Monday evening. As has been known to happen, I woke up Tuesday morning with a mild case of haircut anxiety (also known as the what-if-everyone-hates-it-and-makes-an-awkward-face-when-they-see-me syndrome). In an attempt to bolster my wavering confidence regarding the altered appearance of my head, I chose an outfit that made me feel bold. My strategy was simple: if my dress is cute enough, maybe folks won't even notice my newly shorn state.

It was only later that day, when a student complimented my dress (you see, my plan worked after all) and asked where it was from that I remembered just when this dress had made its appearance in my was the dress I wore for my ordination.

In a moment of connection, what I do believe one of my lovely mentors and friends Rev.Viki Matson would call an "aha moment," I realized why this dress has always made me feel confident, sassy, competent, and ready to take on the world (and do battle with my own haircut anxiety demons).  This dress is not just any dress.  This dress is not your average buy-at-the-store, stick-in-your-closet, take-out-and-wear, wash-and-repeat garment.  No, not even close.

This dress is your classic called-to serve-God, sent-to-love-God's-people, empowered, named and sent ensemble.  While it might appear to be "green"--it's actually the color of a whole congregation laying hands on you, affirming your call, and watching you rise up from your knees after this laying on of hands with tears in your eyes because you never thought it would happen.

The extra sass and spirit of this dress, the way it "swishes" a bit more than expected--Calvin Klein had very little to do with it.  Stitched into its fabric is the movement of beloved clergy colleagues processing down the sanctuary's aisle, looking sharp, serious and joyful in their beautiful robes and vibrant red stoles. Pressed into each pleat of its skirt is the deep, contented sigh that comes with breaking bread and holding the cup as a "Reverend" for the very first time as well as the tears shed in between congratulatory hugs from parents, friends, elders, and colleagues.

I love the dress. I am honored, humbled and awed by my call. I'm still not quite so sure about the haircut.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Episode 13: Walnuts and Jesus' Drop Kick

This week's episode of this Missourian Life comes from the amazing Sarah Nichole Klaassen.  Follow her blog here: Living and Other Mysteries.

A couple of years ago I decided to harvest walnuts.
I’d forgotten about one magical early October afternoon until Dr. Emilie Townes reminded me with a comment from her formal installation as the new dean of Vanderbilt University Divinity School: “After all we’re in Nashville where the song ‘Drop Kick Me Jesus Through the Goal Posts of Life’ has deep theological meaning.”
How a phrase can spark a memory.
We’d just moved to Missouri. I was unemployed and looking to expand my domestic skill set, and (more importantly) walnuts were free.
I did just enough internet research to be dangerous and then I started picking up the green-hulled specimens in our yard. It grew from there. On my walks around the neighborhood I would keep an eye out for walnut trees, which it turns out are everywhere.
I tried to be subtle, but to Jamie’s embarrassment, I walked a few steps into many a yard to glean.
In retrospect, perhaps it had gone too far when we pulled over by the side of the road on an apple-picking trip to north central Missouri. In my defense, without my single-minded pursuit of free nuts, this never would have happened:
We parked on a gravel road turn-off, crossed the highway, waded through the ditch to the walnut jackpot, and began to fill our bucket. As time passed, we became more bold and ventured from the ditch into the plowed under field. Not long after, an elderly man from the house next door headed our way.
I thought: Crap. We’re trespassing. We’re in trouble.
Turns out not. He’d noticed our peculiar quest and invited us to head over to his place next. He had two trees and a ground full of nuts.
We crossed back over the ditch, got the car, parked in his driveway. Not always being good at small-talk, I sometimes feel a bit awkward in these kinds of social encounters with strangers. Fortunately he spared us the trouble and headed inside. We started to gather and a few moments later heard music. Our hospitable stranger had brought out his cigarettes, a lawn chair, and a guitar.
I almost laughed out loud. My first thought: is this really happening? Why yes, yes it is.
The genre was classic country, and the one song I remember:
Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life
End over end neither left nor to right
Straight through the heart of them righteous uprights
Drop kick me Jesus through the goal posts of life
The deep theological meaning that day was less about football metaphors and the Christian life and more about hospitality and the divine power of saying yes.
I have to admit that the walnuts didn’t turn out so well, but that’s another story, because that day we left fully satisfied.
Ah the tales we can tell of this Missourian life.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Episode Twelve: On Theme Songs (or how the Avett Brothers Helped Name My Call)

I am constantly in search of a soundtrack for life. This is not news to those of y’all who know me.  I often think in song lyric snippets, categorizing life under appropriate song titles (i.e. this is a Patty Griffin’s Heavenly Day kind of afternoon, or a David Wilcox Everything is Holy Now sort of moment). Life, at least for me, is best lived when set to music.

I have been getting to know the Avett Brothers lately. We have been spending a lot of quality time together during my 60 miles of daily driving between the cozy house on Ripley Street in Columbia and good old Westminster College.  My daily drive is quite lovely--winding roads, country landscapes, old barns, grazing horses.  It’s the kind of drive that prompts you to think and reflect. There is space during these drives to truly listen--listen for the subtle thoughts you’ve been unaware of all day because of your busy running from meeting to meeting, listen for an instinct or impulse that’s been working its way to your conscious awareness, listen for wisdom, listen for something outside of yourself.

It was in the midst of my listening, while driving to work on a Tuesday morning--the sun streaming through the car windows, the green of late Missouri summer dominating my view-- that I first heard my vocational theme song. The song that with every word says yes, this is why I do what I do.

It was brought to me courtesy of my new friends and commute companions, the Avett Brothers.

“If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected/decide what to be and go be it/

There was a dream and one day I could see it/like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it/and there was a kid with a head full of doubt/so I’ll scream ‘till I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out/

There’s a darkness upon you that’s flooded in light/and in the fine print they tell you what’s wrong and what’s right/and it flies by day and it flies by night/and I’m frightened by those who don’t see it.”

I am called to serve the church, I am called to lead God’s people, I am called to ministry, because I believe, with my whole heart, there is enough love, enough light, enough hope for us all.

I believe there are those in desperate need of this love, this light, and this hope.
I know, with all of my being, that it’s my call, my privilege, my gift, to take part in the work of sharing the love of a deeply compassionate, fiercely welcoming, inherently redemptive God.

Most days I still cannot believe it is actually my job to find those places of “darkness,” those "kids" with “heads full of doubt” about their own worth, their own beauty, their own value and to “scream (or preach, or teach, or affirm) ‘till I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out.”

So thank you Avett Brothers--thank you for keeping me company each and every day and thank you for gifting me with a long awaited, ever elusive, vocational theme song, for reminding me just why I do what I do.

Now my loves, I pass their wise charge on to you: “decide what to be and go be it” (and then find the vocational theme song that goes along with it).

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Episode Eleven: Grown-Up Pastor Tears

Tomorrow I will preside over the memorial service of a 20 year old student of mine.  It will not be my first funeral.  I have had the honor of leading several services that celebrate the life and mourn the loss of our loved ones.

However, it is the first time I have said goodbye to a young person. A 20 year old man with his whole, beautiful, beloved-child-of-God, life in front of him.  And it's the first time I have prepared a sermon text, knowing the whole time--as I wrote it, proof-read it, and printed it out--that I will most likely weep as I stand behind the pulpit and seek to proclaim the word of God.

Somewhere along the line I convinced myself that grown-up pastors don't cry; real pastors shouldn't shed tears. Perhaps it is the subliminal messages of a larger culture that doesn't always celebrate emotion, or maybe it is the internalized, deeply sexist expectation I feel to be a "real pastor" (aka to be something that resembles the male pastor figures I knew as a child and a young adult).

Last night, anxious that I might cry as I offered my sermon, I posted a message on the Facebook wall of The Young Clergy Women Project.  It's an organization I'm proud to serve as a member of its board.  It connects women who are ordained and under the age of 40 and is over 900 members strong.

I posted a message asking for techniques: how do you handle tears, how can you stop them, when you're preaching?  Real pastors don't cry after all.

Within an hour, over 20 women, from all across this world of ours, responded to my Facebook post and offered me their wise, wise words.  I did get the tips and techniques for managing tears I was hoping for (stop for a minute, think of yourself as a third person who is watching it all happen, clear your throat or cough).  More importantly though, I was reminded that grown-up pastors, real pastors, do, in fact, cry:

from the incredible, oh-so-rooted, Rev. Maria Bergius Krämer
"Sweetie, cry away. Now, and if you have to, then. It's ok. Death stinks and should be mourned. If it gets too much, take a short break. It's ok."

and words from another CC(DOC) sister, Rev. Katherine Willis Pershey
"I let go of my anxiety about it, and my fear that it will somehow make people think less of me...I trust that for most people, the pastor crying is a freeing thing - an affirmation of the depth of sadness we experience as human beings, even as we are also the ones who proclaim hope."

Tomorrow evening I may very well weep behind the pulpit.  Make no mistake, I will use the tips and techniques so generously offered and pull myself together. I will make it through my sermon.  But, because of these strong, generous, called, dedicated, loving colleagues of mine,  because of this organization I am privileged to be a part of and privileged to serve, I will know that even in the tears, even with (and I do hope not) the snot, I am-in fact-a real, true blue, grown-up pastor. 

Because sometimes real pastors, grown-up pastors, cry. 

All quotes cited with permission.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Episode Ten: (Unexpectedly) Sacred Space

Sacred space.

The sanctuary? Yep, usually. 
Camp? Pretty much always. 

A 1923 bungalow with peeling front porch steps? All the time, without fail, hands down, most sacred space I know. 

I was in a relationship once--a long, long time ago--that wasn't so great.  There were times when I didn't feel like I had a place of my own, a place to be still, a place to just breathe.  There was a season in my life when I longed for something other than shifting sand, tension filled instability, and the sensation of waiting for the ground to crumble beneath me. 

During dinner with a friend tonight, she shared that she's longing for something stable, something that is hers, something she can stand on without fearing it will dissolve right there under her feet. 

It has been a long time since that feeling of lost-ness, of chaotic displacement, rose within me. But this evening as I heard her speak, I remembered it.  My heart expanded within my chest as I listened; I could feel the pressure of it, because I knew-with all of my being, deep in my bones-I knew this feeling she was describing.  I was all too familiar with her craving for something solid, her desire for stability, her need for dependable, definitely-hers, can't-take-it-away-if-you-tried, sacred, space. 

I didn't expect my-something-solid, my sacred space, to be a humble home with 40 year old linoleum in the kitchen, an oddly placed toilet on a raised platform in the middle of the basement (really, y'all, it's there--and it works), and a funny smell (akin to the sewer) that rises from its depths from time to time.

But it is. 

It's all that and it's a home base, the soil for my roots, the soft place for my fall, the holder of our someday nursery, the keeper of our recent yesterdays and the site of at least our soon-to-be tomorrows. 

It's home. It's not going anywhere. It's mine. It's ours. It's sacred. 

I am so very thankful. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Episode Nine: Embodiment

I'm not sure why it happens--but there are seasons in my life when my soul is porous, my heart available, and every conversation, every song, every exchange, seeps through my skin and into my bones.

During these seasons, I'm poised to hear poetry and truly take-in its significance (rather than simply nod and pretend I understand it as I usually do). In these open and vulnerable days, I really listen to music--hearing the complexity of the notes, noticing the nuances of the lyrics, feeling its internal reverberations in my cells.

Yes, every once in awhile it feels as though I am literally inhaling life and memories and love into my being.

I'm not sure why these seasons of embodied joy are often fleeting though I imagine stress and (overly glorified) busyness are quick to out-maneuver them most of the time.  But, in the rare moments when I am inhabiting a space of radical receptivity to the world around me, when I am my "best self," it is a time of soaking it all in and storing it all up, a series of moments when I feel as though the goodness and beauty of this life we lead becomes startlingly clear. For a few seconds I am lucky enough to notice, pick some of the beauty up, and take it in as a part of myself.

The past few weeks have been such a season.  

I've stored up the thousands of hugs and life-updates I exchanged with those who make up my denominational home in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at our General Assembly just a few weeks ago. In the long winter months to come, when isolation and loneliness knock at the door from time to time, it is my hope that one of these conversations will emerge from my full, full heart and I will be comforted and connected yet again.

I've stashed away unexpected, deeply meaningful, early morning and late night chats with old and new friends, beloved mentors, and random passers-by during my time in Nashville for The Young Clergy Women Project conference. Whether it was a hug in front of the Vanderbilt dumpsters from Maxine (one of the janitorial staff I was privileged enough to walk along side during the living wage campaign) or an unexpected theological debate about the meaning of "justice," hashed out with a then-stranger, now-friend, on the well-worn couches of the Disciples Divinity House: these words, hugs, and moments of meaning-making are packed deep within my soul, ready to go with me through the stress and chaos of the coming semesters.

My hand closed tightly around a re-reading of Wendell Berry's The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, my heart stuffed to the brim with new music, my belly full of new jokes and moments of laughing so hard it hurts, I am thankful for the embodiment of joy, the overwhelming sense of community, the beauty of this life. I am thankful for seasons of radical receptivity and unbounded, embodied, goodness. Thanks be to God.
Spirit by Linda Allen-submitted to the Kress Project of the Georgia Museum of Art

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Episode Seven: Blessing (roadkill and other major life transitions)

I hate roadkill. Can't stand it. There I am, driving down a lovely, scenic stretch of road (picture it: fall foliage, a winding blacktop, the perfect road-trip song on the radio) when, out of nowhere, there it is: a dead animal on the side of the road.

My "driver's high" is immediately gone and I'm sad for the rest of my trip.  I begin to imagine a whole life for the now dead animal that I just saw on the side of the road.  Maybe she was a mama deer and there are three baby deers cold, hungry and alone at this very moment, with tiny deer tears streaming down their little deer cheeks.  Maybe it was a well loved possum that will certainly be missed by the whole possum get the picture.  Roadkill hurts my heart and it brings me down.

Now that I drive 60 miles round trip every day to work and back, I had to come up with a coping strategy because, as you might imagine, I see a lot of roadkill. A lot. It was time to get a grip. If I let my overly sensitive soul get caught up in the tragedy of each animal life lost, I'd never have time to do anything else.  And so, at my partner Sarah's suggestion, I turned toward ritual.

Now, when I see a dead animal on the side of the road--rather than imagine that animal's sad and desolate animal family and slowly lose myself in mournful, existential thoughts about life and love and death, I instead offer a blessing over the animal's life.  With each possum, cat, dog, squirrel or deer I see, I say something along the lines of "God, I offer this animal's life up to you, witnessing that it is no longer here, and marking the end of its life.  Its death did not go unnoticed. Today, I notice it. I bless it. I offer it up to you."

You know what y'all?  It works.

In the act of blessing, in the act of naming and claiming the twinges of sadness I feel at the sight of a dead animal on the side of the road, in the act of holding it up before God and saying "yep, here it is," I find a bit of release.  This ritual of mine, the witnessing of this animal's life, the blessing of its passing, the offering of it up to God, it doesn't change anything.  It doesn't "fix" anything.  The animal is still, after all, definitely dead.  It doesn't have any tangible "effect" on this life what-so-ever.

But, in this act of blessing, of witnessing, of letting go, I am changed.

I am changed.

So here's my thinking--if it works with the roadkill, why not the rest of life?

I'm wondering if there might be something powerful in acknowledging our utter lack of control to change or alter patterns of life, loss, love and death.  My guess is that perhaps in the witnessing and the blessing of the passings in our own lives, both the little and large occurrences and situations beyond our control that tug and pull and weigh on our hearts, perhaps there just might be something sacred.  In throwing our hands up, acknowledging our helplessness, and offering it to God, in saying "yep, here it is," we just might meet the divine and somehow be changed in the encounter.

I don't really have anything deep or profound to write here...just the observation that the act of blessing roadkill seems to have changed my life. Yep, that's right.

So here's to blessing it all--the good, the bad, the ugly--offering it up to God (whatever it is), letting it go (as best we can), and then driving on by.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Episode Six: Vulnerability

Recently, I declared this summer to be my "summer of vulnerability."

"Why, Jamie, would you have to declare something like that" you might ask. "Why would one have to declare a season for being vulnerable?  Isn't it just a natural part of the human experience?"

Perhaps, for some, being vulnerable is a part of the everyday, the coming and going of life, a part of what they inherently do. 

Perhaps for some, but not for me.

Because, dear friends, it's time for some truth telling on my part, time to share what I spend approximately 89.7% of my life trying to hide (the other 10.3% of the time, I'm probably thinking about good beer or quality chocolate).

The truth (please note the radical vulnerability that's happening here and congratulate me when appropriate) is that I am deeply insecure.  My biggest fear is that I am simply not enough.  My second biggest fear is that when people see me--when they really see me--they will somehow observe my not-enoughness and instantly translate that as unloveableness, as a lack of worth. This fear of not-enoughness makes vulnerability difficult.  What If I reveal something about myself to you and you decide you don't like it? What if I offer you a piece of me and it's rejected? I can't think of anything more terrifying.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not the only one among us who suffers from this fear of not-enoughness, this fear of inadequacy, this fear that somehow, if people saw us, they would find us inherently lacking.  And so, the "summer of vulnerability" was born.

My goal this summer: "to let myself be deeply seen, to love with my whole heart (even though there's no guarantee), to practice joy and gratitude in moments of terror and to remember," (see amazing TED talk from Brene Brown below), to remember that in those moments when I am feeling most excruciatingly vulnerable, that the aching in my chest, the sweatiness of my palms, the anxious racing of my heart, simply means that I am alive--100% alive and engaged in the practice of living with great intentionality.

Because surely there are more of us out there--more folks who are slow to open themselves up, hesitant to make themselves vulnerable, because deep in their core they doubt their own worthiness.  They fear rejection.  Surely I am not the only one.

So will you join me dear ones? Join me in a summer of radical discomfort and awkward pauses?  Weeks of opening yourself up and risking rejection? Days of expressing love and appreciation without any guarantee that it will be returned?

Try a "vulnerability experiment" on for size today. A few of your options:
  • tell someone you hardly know that you think they're pretty great, complimenting an aspect of that person that you deeply admire but are perhaps afraid to share
  • share a deep insecurity you've always tried to hide with a friend (not a particularly close friend, just someone you know and like), 
  • offer a genuine compliment to a co-worker or colleague without any expectation that they will offer you affirmation in return
And if, in your vulnerability experiment, the sharing or revealing feels dangerous and invigorating and chilling all at the same time, if you're scared out of your mind but also incredibly excited to be living with a little more boldness, sign up for this summer of vulnerability with me. Let's risk it all and go for broke.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Episode Five: Thin Space

Thin space.

It's a divinity-school-type term--theological jargon you're likely to hear thrown around at church conferences and other such settings where ecclesiastically-minded folk gather.

Thin space. 

A few weeks ago a colleague serving a small country church as interim pastor shared his recent experience sitting with a parishioner, an elderly woman, and holding her hand as he listened to the stories of her life.  He was with her just days before she died, in those translucent moments between life and death.  As he recalled his time with this woman later, over a shared meal with friends, he cried.  He shed fresh tears because those in-between-moments, moments when we are neither here nor there, alive nor dead, they are overwhelming, sacred, humbling, awe-inspiring space.

Thin space. 

A friend is preparing to move from Columbia--packing up boxes, hugging goodbye, turning toward a new, exciting job and a different life gradually taking shape in her soon-to-be hometown. Caught between the life she has been living here and the new existence she's carving out for herself, one foot behind her, one foot ahead--she waits in the transient, fluid, ambiguous space of change and transition--neither here nor there.

Thin space. 

I'm 29 years old.  It seems important somehow.  Not because I fear getting older or am worried about what's to come but because it's different. No longer a 20-something, not a thirty-something quite yet.  It's the space in the middle, stuck in between what was and what will be. Scary, exhilarating, happy, sad, space.  Space full of things I didn't get around to and tasks I might accomplish one day.  Space for all that I have become.  Space for all that I one day hope to be.

Thin space. 

We're done with our home study.  We've created our online adoption profile.  Our "dear birth mother" letter has been printed and is being sent to the adoption agency at this very moment.  So now we wait.  Not yet parents, not yet even in relationship with the young woman who will bring this one-day-child, this-one-day-child who will be both fully hers and fully ours, into the world.  But we're already thinking about cribs and changing tables, first steps and late night tears.  Neither here nor there, somehow lingering between the "what-was" of a life for two and the "what-will-be" of a life built around three.

Thin space. 

Life and death; here and there; young and not-so-young-anymore; a family of two and a family of three.

The dusk. The dawn. The twilight. The translucent membrane of the already-not yet.

Terrifying, beautiful, holy, sacred, mundane, spectacular, thin space. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Episode Four: How do you wear your brokenness?

Recently, during a shared meal with friends and colleagues, we began discussing the link that's been found between Facebook and depression.  You can read a bit about it here. While the research has since been disputed and is currently up for debate, the main premise makes sense to me.  When we look at Facebook, we see the "highlights" of people's lives--the gatherings of friends, the happy moments, the good times filled with joy and laughter.  But what if you're not in a joyful, exuberant state when you log in? What if you've had a crappy day?  Some researchers are suggesting that looking at everyone else's "highlights" during a "low" time in your own life may lead to discouragement and perhaps depression.

I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to selectively sharing more "highs" than "lows" via Facebook.  In fact, the day after we had this conversation and I vowed to be more transparent with my posts, I posted the following status update without thinking: 

Listening to the new Patty Griffin album (thanks to Jason Gerig), putting up mint leaves picked from our herb garden, and planning what to do with all the beautiful swiss chard I picked today for supper....I'm in a sweet spot y'all. Life is good.

Now, it was true, life really was good. Patty Griffin rocks my world and our fresh mint and swiss chard was quite lovely.  But just a few minutes after I posted this, the conversation from the day before came back to me and for at least ten minutes I debated whether I should add a disclaimer to my post, something along the lines of "life is good right now but I have plenty of areas of brokenness--I worry about nothing and everything all at the same time; I think too much; I have a huge pimple on my chin and my right ankle kind of hurts from my jog earlier today."  Ultimately, I didn't add the addendum but I wondered if I should.  Would it have somehow been more honest?  

So now I find myself with a question: how do we wear our brokenness?  

I know brokenness is a dangerous word theologically and I'm not using it to refer to any type of inherent wrong within us, I don't think we are inherently flawed. We are not inherently broken. No,  I'm using the term to refer to the "stuff" of life--the heart breaks and the failures, the awkward conversations, fights between spouses, mistakes at work, and the list could go on forever.  How do we wear this? How do we share it? How do we have real conversations that involve both our highs and our lows, our places of great joy and our spaces of real sadness?

In another conversation with a new friend just a few days ago, I was asked how open I was in friendships--how much did I share?  Did I allow folks to see the hard, rough spots as well as the beautiful, joyful patches or did I "protect" my "lows" and hide them as somehow secret?  Essentially, he was asking me, how do you wear your brokenness? I wasn't able to answer the question well in the moment but I know how I would like to answer it someday.  Someday, I'd like to be able to say, I wear my brokenness proudly, boldly and courageously.  I share the highs and the lows with those I love.  I am my whole self--good day self and crappy day self, best self and worst self--all the time.  

I'm not there yet but I think it's an important thing to strive for if we want to be in authentic, meaningful relationship with those around us. 

And so, my dear friends, I pose the same question to you that I was lucky enough to be asked a few days ago: how do you wear your brokenness? 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Episode Three: Coming Home Again

A few weeks ago I was with a group of friends--a monthly gathering of the Columbia Mennonite Fellowship Group.

Columbia Mennonite Fellowship Group is made up of about 16 folks--individuals who, in one capacity or another, identify as Mennonite.  Some are "ethnic Mennonites," meaning they were born into a Mennonite family.  Others, like myself, stumbled into the Anabaptist tradition through relationships with friends or partners.

We gather in one another's homes for potlucks, shared song, and deep fellowship.  Each month it's incredibly life-giving--a rich time of connection and laughter.

This past month while we were sharing supper, I found myself talking about what it means to me to ever-so-slowly locate myself within the Mennonite tradition-first, through my relationship with Sarah and now, as a part of my own multi-faceted theological identity, an identity that continues to grow and take root.

"Discovering the Mennonites was like coming home," I said, "to a home I didn't even know I had."

I am an ordained minister within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  This denomination is my foundation, providing the nourishment and community for much of my theological journey.  But, in the almost six years I have known Sarah, the pacifism, the simplicity, and the sacrament of four part harmony have all begun to seep into my theological soil--laying the foundation, creating space, for home.  A theological home that feels so comfortable, so right, that once I arrived, I realized I had been missing it all along.  The CC(DOC) is still my place of residence.  But that residence continues to be changed, transformed, and made new through constant dialogue with the beautiful, complex, grace-filled theological strains of Anabaptist ethics, tradition, and thought.

So maybe we don't have just one home after all--maybe there are many places, several groups, multiple folks, waiting for us to come home again, perhaps to a home we didn't even know we had.

Thanks be to God.

A few of the youngest Mennonite Fellowship-ers.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Episode Two: "Happy Future Mother's Day"

Like any good daughter would do, I called my Mom for Mother's Day this morning. We talked about the beautiful Florida weather, her plans for the day, how much she missed me and is looking forward to seeing me in July--all the usual things...and then, as we were about to hang up, she said something that stopped me in my tracks, something I wasn't expecting...

"Jamie," my mom said, "I want to wish you and Sarah a happy future Mother's Day."


That's right.

This time next year, Sarah and I could be Moms.

Happy future Mother's Day indeed.

Those of us who were formed by theological folks talk often about the already/not yet of God's kingdom.  It's here among us, present in all we do, in every part of our world, but it's also on its way, still to come, a mystery.

And so it is this Mother's Day.  Sarah and I are about six weeks away from being officially done with "our end" of the adoption process--the home study is almost complete; we've written our letter to the birth mother and are in the process of selecting our photographs to go with the letter, and then we'll be done. Just like that. With nothing left to do but wait.

Wait for 4 weeks...wait for two years....though the wait time is yet to be determined (it all depends upon when a birth mother discerns that we're the right family for her child), the average wait time is 14 months....but it could be 14 days, or 14 weeks, there's just no way to know.

Happy future Mother's Day.

Happy future Mother's Day to all those future moms, future dads, future families,
those who find themselves in the liminal space between figuring out maternity leave policies (just in case, you never know when it might happen) but not wanting to buy a crib just yet (we wouldn't want to look at it empty for months at a time),
those who have already secured insurance for their future child (it's required as a part of the home study) but have no sense of when they'll actually need to use it,
those who have no idea if the call will come in seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, or (alas) even years....
those who are existing in the already/not yet of parenthood...

Happy future Mother's Day.
Happy future Mother's Day indeed.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Episode One: This is it.

I've had lots of "this is it" moments in my life, moments when I, with great conviction and hopefulness, decide that everything will be different from this point on.  This is it--the moment I completely give up eating mini candy bars off random desks at work.  This is it--the turning point when I promise myself that I'll go jogging everyday for the rest of my life, rain or shine, sleet or snow. This is it--I'll never slouch again, ever. This is it--today is the day I begin meditating every morning before I do anything else.

The thing is, this is never actually it.

I still eat Hershey Dark Chocolate minis out of candy bowls at work every chance I get.
If I jog more than four days in a row, it's a miracle.
My posture is still horrible 98% of the time.
and I haven't meditated in God knows how long.

So, now that you've been warned, take this for what it's worth--this is it, the moment when I begin blogging regularly.  The day when I decide to start sharing snippets of my life on this blog with loved ones, friends and perhaps a few strangers on a somewhat regular basis.

This is it.  No really, it is.