The Empowered #WholeMama

“Live according to your priorities instead of your obligations.”

Until recently, I spent a lot of time wondering what I was supposed to be doing. I stressed myself out wondering about things that ultimately never mattered. Questioning the day to day of our lives. Then it hit me. I needed to write down my actual priorities, then build my day to day on those most important pieces of my life. Not priorities like getting to the grocery store when the fridge is empty. But the big ones. The ones that wake me and put a smile on my face. The ones that reassure me of my purpose.

  1. To have at least one parent at home with our children during these crucial years.
  2. To meet my husband with open communication, with trust, and with grace.
  3. To allow space and time and resources for each of us to grow.
  4. To have faith in life’s process.
  5. To teach our children grace, humility, humor, friendship, and equality.
  6. To contemplate more often, “Does this improve the quality of my life?”

The first one is at the very least, difficult. The first year of Stella’s life I was home while Adam worked. Then, we were houseparents at a residential treatment facility. We spent five years living and working under the same roof. Our apartment was on the third floor, but we lived our lives in every corner of that old house. And Stella had two parents with her, all day every day. When I was pregnant with Alistair we knew houseparenting was over for us. It had taxed us beyond our limits. But leaving that job meant two people needed new jobs, and we needed a place to live. I was scared. So, now we see #’s 2-6.

We spent our maternity leave considering other job options. Other living arrangements. We still owned an old farm house in South Georgia. “Should we go back down south?” we wondered. But there weren’t any jobs for us there. This is when number 2 got real important. Being honest and open and trusting during such a vulnerable time, when two people may have wanted different things, created a barrel of mixed emotions for Adam and me. Conversations with Adam instead of thinking it all in my head, asking questions, and meditating, became my new day to day. His ideas scared me. They made me uncomfortable. My ideas were pushy and made him uncomfortable.

When our maternity leave was over we met with our supervisor to go over the plan for our return to the cottage. We quickly learned that the universe had taken care of so many decisions for us. Our cottage was closed while we were out, due to a very low population at the time, and they weren’t going to reopen our cottage anytime soon. They told us we would need to move into another building on campus. It was all wrong. It felt so wrong. We both knew within minutes what we would do. We would move in with Adam’s parents until we could figure everything out. They were ten minutes down the road with an empty basement apartment.

We told our supervisor thanks but no thanks and called the Director of Human Resources. “We’re not returning after our maternity leave is over. Do we have to repay anything because of this?” She hung up the phone and rushed to the cottage. She asked me to apply for a new position in the Development Department. “Do you write?” she asked. Do I write?! “Pretty well, I think. It’s my dream to be a writer.” And here I am, still in that position a year and a half later. Still living in my in-law’s basement. And I feel really good about it. A lot of people in their 30’s might not be so content living this way. So, now we see #’s 3-6.

Knowing that I’m living according to these priorities trumps any judgement – even from myself.

2014-09-13 11.45.31-1

Adam’s pirate face is scarier than mine

My husband is an artist, a writer, and a performer. For so much of his life he wasn’t able to actually be those things. Because we’re living according to our priorities, he’s home everyday with our children. He sees Stelly off to school and spends his days coloring, playing games, and watching the same episodes of Regular Show over and over and over again with Baby Sweeps. He contracts graphic design – and he’s just so stinkin’ good at it. He writes in a way that makes my soul dance. And he’s in the cast of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. For the 2015 season, he’s even in a musical group where he gets to play his guitar and sing Irish drinking songs. Space, Time, Resources

I started a blog. The community I have found in this blogging experience has moved me. I’m still waiting to hear back from admissions – through these priorities I might be in school again this year. I might be studying to become a world changing theologian and minister. It might take four years to finish that MDiv weekend program. Space, Time, Resources 

Alistair learns from all of us how to communicate, how to dance, and how to love. Space, Time, Resources

And Stella grows into her self more and more each day. Would she feel so safe, so loved, and so comforted if things were different? Space, Time, Resources

We’re all growing in this time, and in this space, with what we have. 

#4 teaches me that my family is hugely rewarded through the sacrifices we’re making. We don’t have a lot of extra cash. We don’t travel as much as we used to. We say “no” more often. This lifestyle is not always easy. And it’s untenable – there is an expiration date on our living arrangement. In the meantime, our kids get to hang out with their grandparents all the time. And that’s good for everybody. We’re all learning from each other, supporting each other. Intergenerational living at its best. Oh, and did I mention Auntie Lisa lives there, too? Not in the basement with us, though, she’s upstairs. It’s a big house with a sanctuous back yard with a rushing creek, a playhouse, a large gazebo, a garden, a hot tub, and a golf cart for those fun safaris.

I grew up poor, ya’ll. The little girl Rose, who sometimes shows up, reminds me of the stinky, dirty, strange places she had to sleep when she would visit her mama. She reminds me of the trailer parks, the potted meat, and the scary men. She reminds me of her daddy’s drug dealing and the fights with her stepmama. And my grown up self feels thankful and humbled and undeserving of the beautiful space she gets to call her family’s home, and of the grandparents who support all of us through this time.

Having faith in life’s process makes all of our temporary troubles bearable.

All of this pulls from and contributes to #5.

As for #6, we’re not exactly keeping up with the Joneses. We’re getting ready for a big family vacation. All those people we live with plus more are going to share a house on the beach together for a week. We do this every five years to celebrate the in-law’s wedding anniversary. This year is the big 40th. I can’t wait. I must have spent at least five hours looking at new swimsuits, swim shorts, coverups, swim t-shirts, rashguards, and beyond. Then I asked myself, “Is this new swimsuit going to improve the quality of my life?” and I closed all the store tabs I had opened.

These are choices I’ve made and ways I’ve worked to empower myself to live the life I want to live. This #wholemama empowerment comes from:

  • The power of No. Saying no to things that are not life giving, and are not in line with these priorities. Even when other people don’t understand.
  • Acknowledging that the control I have is limited.

These priorities make me an empowered #wholemama. What makes you empowered and whole?

Agere Contra, friends

This is the second week’s post in the #wholemama project. Click here to learn more and follow the Link Up to join us.

Why Do the Hateful Choose Our Houses of Worship?

Because I couldn’t say better what I’m thinking these past 24 hours, I’m sharing this post from Emily C. Heath.

“They have known pain before. And they know how to survive it, and transform it.”

Emily C. Heath

One day during my first pastorate, back in Vermont, I went to the Post Office to get the church mail. That day there was an envelope with the name of a fake organization on it and no return address. It was addressed to me, and so standing there in the lobby I opened it. For the next five minutes I read about how gays and women like me were destroying both Christianity and the country, and how I was a “pitiful excuse” for a minister and human being.

I had just done work in New York advocating for marriage equality, and I had written some pieces for national outlets that had been widely shared. The letter had been sent from another state and to the church’s box and not my own (a box anyone in the area could have easily known). The postmark was also from Florida, and so I assumed…

View original post 844 more words

Finding Temples Part 3 – For Shalom & the #WholeMama

DSC00181

That damn muse found me in the car again.

She said, “Rose, for this week’s post about temples, you will not write about finding your sanity in the bathroom surrounded by running water and the multiple shades of green on the walls, the floor, towels, and the old pea-green bathtub. You will share with everyone about finding Shalom in an actual church.

I’ve been following a bunch of new blogs in the last 4 months. New to me, not the world. This past weekend I attended the UCC Penn Central Conference Annual Meeting in Selinsgrove, PA; then, on Sunday, we had a birthday party in the afternoon followed by a very exciting trip to the cinema where Adam, Stella, and I supremely enjoyed Jurassic World. So, my usual weekend blog catch up time was used for other purposes. I’m still catching up on the reading, and this morning I read this post from Osheta Moore over at Shalom in the City. Go ahead and check it out, you’ll be glad you did.

In the meantime, I led our worship service on campus last night. We’re searching for a chaplain and in the meantime a few of us have been pitching in to keep worship services running for our youth. I’ve known for weeks that I was supposed to do the service.

Since last week brought us National Best Friend’s Day I considered talking about friendship and the importance of relationships. Jesus said to the disciples, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Surely our little community could benefit from breaking down these words and relating them to our daily lives together. 

But the muse vetoed that idea.

She instead encouraged me to share with our youth my own story of coming to the church, of finding peace and wholeness and truth in God’s love (Shalom, yes?). That muse reminded me of a time in high school when a friend invited me to his youth group and I didn’t want to go (but I really did want to go), and I fought against my desire to say no and went along instead. I later invited other friends to that youth group. It wasn’t easy in those fragile teenage years, when we were all invincible and we knew everything already, to invite some of those friends to worship. But I did. And they liked it.

So, I became the Samaritan Woman at the Well.

During the sermon last night I told our youth about growing up poor without my mama, and with my dad in and out of jail for selling pot. I talked to the kids about being smart but making irresponsible choices. I talked about my own self destructive behaviors. I talked to them about using sarcasm as a defense mechanism, and the hurt it caused my peers.

And I told them about going to that youth group meeting and how it was a major step in changing my life. It was the first time I felt truly forgiven for some of the choices I had made. It was also the first time I heard God calling me to ministry. And like any know-it-all teenager, I ignored it. But in that grace, I was like the woman at the well.

1. I experienced the grace of God.

2. I shared that experience with other people.

3. I invited them to be part of it.

At Jacob’s well in the village of Sychar, the text tells us that there was a woman drawing water from the well and Jesus asked her for a drink. She identified him as a Jew and wondered why he would ask her, a Samaritan woman, for a drink. He said, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” Now, the text also tells us that this woman has already had five husbands and is currently shacked up with some other dude. Not a law-abiding citizen, exactly. And adultery, for women, was not always taken lightly. So when Jesus told her to go get her husband, she had some choices to make. She ended up simply saying, “I don’t have a husband.” And Jesus called her out on it and told her about her five husbands and the guy she was living with. Amazed that anyone could know that about her, the woman recognized Jesus as the Messiah and told everyone in the village about the experience of the grace granted to her, despite her past, and she invited those people to see for themselves.

Exposing our pasts and sharing our secrets is painful and scary. 

It’s also a major part of the healing process. To be whole and experience our time here as life giving, we need to share our stories that make us, us. For so much of my life I’ve depended on this saying, “Fake it until you make it.” And it’s gotten me far. But I think I’ve reached a point where enough is enough, and I’m no longer content to fake it.

To be a #wholemama to my community and to my family, I am getting real with myself. God already knows about it, so why am I running from it? I am being honest with my family about my own needs and feelings. I am asking for help. I am seeking Shalom and spreading Shalom everywhere I go. Osheta reminds me that Shalom is God’s desire for fullness in the world.

I am embracing the call to live a full life in the living waters. 

In front of the community, in our beautiful and comforting chapel, I was uplifted and inspired by the spirit that connects us – the Holy love that ignites us and shows other people the joy we have in our hearts. As plain as it may seem, finding God in a church isn’t as easy as it’s cracked up to be. But last night, that’s where we found each other – in Shalom.

Agere Contra, friends

To learn more about #wholemama go here, and meet Esther Emery, if you haven’t already. 🙂 And if you’d like to, Link up with other writers to read about being Whole and Shalom.

Finding Temples Part 2

2012-10-17 17.42.30

I’ve had some of my best revelations and inspirations while I was alone in my car.

I was driving home from work one night when I was 17, in an ’87 Ford Thunderbird (the year was actually 2000), and hit the scan button on the dash board hoping to find a good song on the radio. I opened the sunroof and let the windows down to enjoy the South Georgia midnight air. It smelled like earth and peanuts. One of the songs that played through the scan was Hero by Enrique Iglesias. I only heard one line before the scan continued to the next song, and my thoughts were consumed with the weight of those words. “Would you save my soul tonight?”

I’m not a fan of this music. I’m more familiar with Jimmy Fallon’s impersonation to be honest. But those were serious words coming through the speakers, and I couldn’t help thinking about the significance of one’s soul and the task of saving the souls of others. This led to my brain making connections between people and their actions and the needs in my own life, and before I knew it I was taking classes and joining a church I had previously considered overbearing and a little…strange. That church and the family I found in it changed my life, truly.

On a cool autumn afternoon some years after this, alone in the same ’87 Thunderbird with the windows down (the sunroof was permanently open at this point in the car’s life) and the music playing, I knew that I would marry Adam Shepley; even though we had really just started spending time together. I knew that I would spend the rest of my life loving him because it simply felt right. I was on the no choice plan and didn’t care that I had no answers, no control, no idea how this would actually play out. I let those worries slip away with the wind rushing in and out of the windows.

On several occasions I have realized my own faults while driving in the car. Road rage, anyone? I have also practiced improving or eliminating those hurtful or negative behaviors from my routine.

I have decided it was time for forgiveness as I worked through a situation or problem. I’m the crazy lady you think is really into the song she’s singing along with, except I’m passionately talking out loud about serious issues or concerns – to myself.

I have envisioned things wonderful and amazing for my family, exciting futures for those I serve, and even some fun things for myself. The name of this blog and the ideas I wanted to write about just came out of my mouth to the empty passenger seat one morning.

I have been humbled while driving my car. By an awesome storm or bouncing clouds or a monstrous urban skyline in the distance or a tiny thought that found its way through.

For all the reasons we gather in temples, I find myself doing so much of this in other places. And I’m not surprised to prefer this method over larger social gatherings. An introvert and an Aquarius who needs time to process…

My car, like my garden, is not an exclusive place where only worthy individuals may visit or gather to feel the presence of love and all that is life. My car has never been blessed by clergy. It is not a sacred space. It is not holy. It is just a Honda that gets me from point A to point B.

I’m not getting lost in prayer or deep meditation while I’m driving, friends. I’m not chanting or otherwise seriously preoccupied. I’m an attentive driver – I really am. I’m not even doing any of this on purpose. I think my muse lives in the car, so I can’t help having wonderful and amazing inspirations while I’m in there. And the spirit of life finds me in the driver’s seat, because this is the only time I am alone.

If we’re honest about everything, isn’t my Honda a temple – A safe space I can share with God, for loving and worshiping the energy of life?

What if, instead of thinking about our to-do lists or talking on the phone during our daily commutes we spent more of this time saying thank you to the universe for all of our blessings? What if we took half of that time practicing behaviors that would promote us, grow us, heal us, or nourish us? If we can work out our bodies in seven minutes using a mobile app for guidance, certainly we can spend five minutes in tune with our morals.

Even if it’s in a moving car.

Agere Contra, friends

Finding Temples

Garden TempleSitting in church on Sunday morning, the minister began his sermon with the above quote. He, like many, misattributed the quote to C.S. Lewis. George MacDonald – Victorian novelist, poet and Christian Fantasy writer who influenced Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Walter de la Mare, and Madeleine L’Engle – is more accurately the owner of the widely circulated quote. Nevertheless, on Trinity Sunday, I stopped to think about the deeper more theological context of the words. So often, in an attempt to make ideas accessible to the masses, I think the richer reflections are lost to those seeking them. I don’t have it all figured out, but I think maybe one doesn’t actually exist without the other.

Maybe they’re both made of particles that disperse back into their respective planes, and are regathered with particles previously unknown to them to recreate life. Maybe heaven really is experienced today in our soul-bodied forms, and at no time after they separate from each other. At a time when more churches and religions are realizing a need for ecuminicality and interfaith services, I have hope that more people can find peace in the right now- and have less fear of the unknown.

For June, I am reflecting on the various temples in my life. Where they are, what they look like, how I use them, or how I could better identify them and make them more useful and purposeful. A dearth of theological expertise you’ll find here, but an abundance of excitement and wonder as I contemplate my own soul-bodied connections with the spirit of life.

I recently began writing a short story about a South Georgian sculptor who uses red clay refined from her own back yard to create small animal scenes in traditional religious settings. She pinches and squishes and rolls and pounds the clay between her fingers, adding water, using tiny sharp tools to define the faces and clumps of hair and fur and nails and tails – and she prays the entire time. This type of active meditation acts to destress and focus her emotions and ideas and goals. She comes out on the other side of the sculpture with clarity and truth.

Our garden club is finally filling our raised beds with soil and planting our tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and herbs this week. We had a long messy winter. Then, our campus journeyed through a series of very unfortunate events. This is a typical planting time for our region, so I don’t feel behind, yet I am anxious to get my hands in the dirt and to stand back in awe of the plants that will give so much to our community this summer.

We need it. We need to see tiny seeds grow into tomatoes that we will turn into salsa or marinara or simply slice and consume. We need the routine to bring us back to the earth, on our knees, digging and pulling weeds. We need to sweat and be tired. We need to do this together, to help heal our hurting community.

As I think of our small community garden and the active meditation I will do there, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity to work through my troubles in this way. I think of the words I might say, the questions I might ask, and the guidance I might receive from the universe during this process.

Like the woman in my short story who finds heaven in sculpting, I am thrilled to find heaven in those plots of soil among the hills of peas and the trellises of cucumbers. The summer growing beds are a tiny request for redemption, an attempt to replace what I take. The garden is one temple I can rely on to awaken the presence of God, to connect my everyday person with the spirit of peace and love and hope.

I’m excited to find and share some of the places where I find worship happening, for myself and others, with the universe and beyond. June is a beautiful month to be alive in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Where ever you are, I hope you can identify an assortment of temples to invite peace and grace into your being.

Agere Contra, friends