I believe in transparency and openness. I pray for inclusiveness and integration. I'm a rebel with strong organizing skills advocating for all of us on the periphery.
I find cooking, cleaning, and gardening extremely rewarding. I know, right? Such a feminist! I like reading horror and Southern Gothic, enjoy crocheting, and revel in people watching. Laughing is my favorite, just after thinking. I am trying to live my life with purpose, intent, gratitude, genuine kindness, and radical hospitality. I search the world, other people, and myself for answers, inspiration, and motivation. I have faith in the good of humanity, and hope for authentic peace. I struggle, but try, to live according to my priorities rather than my obligations.
It’s the middle of summer and I’m happy to be with my mama before school starts back. Today we’re at her friend Walter’s house and I’m playing with his son. This boy has Castle Grayskull and all the people to go with it. But he doesn’t want to let me into his room. He says no girls are allowed in there. I try telling my mama that he won’t let me play in his room, and he’s in there playing with He Man toys without me. She doesn’t understand the severity of the situation. I decide to take actions into my own little hands. I knock on the door and tell this brat that his daddy said he wants to talk to him in the backyard. Walter isn’t even at home.
The boy falls for it and runs into the kitchen towards the back door, leaving his bedroom open. I rush in and quickly close the door, fumbling for a lock. I’ll show him. Turns out the door doesn’t have a lock so I push a chair under the door knob like I’ve seen on TV. I have all the characters to myself, and all of Castle Grayskull. I hear him run inside and ask my mama where his daddy is. She tells him that his daddy ran out and will be back soon. I laugh to myself when he tries to open the door and it sticks. I don’t even say a word. I just keep playing with She Ra.
After a long day of showing this kid who’s boss, I climb onto a brown couch and Mama covers me with a blanket. She walks away and returns with a flattened pillow in a green case. She tucks the pillow under my head. I close my eyes. She kisses my forehead and says she loves me. I love her too. I hear the lamp switch click and the bright light on the other side of my eye lids fades. The room is empty and dark and quiet. I feel safe here in Walter’s house. I quickly begin to fall asleep.
Just when I start to dream, I feel my mama’s warm hand on mine. She stands over me and holds my hand in hers. I don’t open my eyes. I don’t want her to know she woke me up. I feel her kneel down on the floor in front of me. I wonder if she’s OK. She begins to whisper and her words are heavy as they float over me.
She asks God to know me and keep me forever. She says that I’m precious and sweet and smart and beautiful. My mama tells God that she’s sorry for all the time we are away from each other, and she begs Him to keep me safe while we are apart. She asks God to help me understand her and forgive her. She kisses my hand and holds it to her face as hot tears slide down her cheeks.
This is the first time I’ve ever heard anybody in my family pray. I want to open my eyes and tell her everything is alright. But I’m scared and unsure in this unfamiliar moment. And the whole thing feels sacred, somehow. So I stay still and quiet. I fall back to sleep under a soft euphoria of my mama’s love and sacrifice.
So many times I’ve learned to pray. I’m told that we don’t pray for things we want, but we should ask for understanding, awareness of our needs, peace in our hearts, that sort of thing. So I wake up and say Shalom to my face in the mirror. I say a prayer before I pull out of my driveway and I say little prayers throughout the day. I recently read in Found by Micha Boyett that Saint Benedict asked his monk brothers to make prayer the first step in anything worthwhile that they would attempt. Micha says raising her child must be most worthwhile, so she writes this down and tapes it up so she’ll see it often and remember. I write it down in my journal so I see it everyday. I want to remember, too.
Agere Contra, friends
This post is part of the #WholeMama movement. You can Link Up to this wonderful collection of writers, and find my previous posts in the series below.
I don’t know when my daddy is coming home. He’s been locked up for a few months. We girls dress real nice in church clothes and make the ninety minute drive with my stepmama to see him in the work prison. He spends the whole Sunday afternoon talking to her about how to get home faster. We drag our feet around in the sand and wait. We try to play a game but it ends quickly when we realize we can’t get too far away from our reserved visiting area.
During the week I can’t focus on my teachers. I can’t make myself care about equations or the capital cities of foreign countries. Band class is fun and I quickly understand the circle of fifths and basic scales. My social studies teacher makes me sit in the hall everyday after lunch. She doesn’t want my smart ass comments disrupting class anymore. I never do my homework.
My pre-algebra teacher sends home a note stapled to a final exam at the end of the year. She tells my stepmama that I’m brilliantly gifted, but lazy. She says if I just did my homework I would have an A in her class. I have a 68 instead. The woman says she believes in me and suggests that I advance to Algebra 1 next year.
I write my daddy a letter and tell him that things are not the same without him here. I tell him about the algebra class. I tell him I think about him all the time. I tell him I worry about things. I tell him I can’t focus in school. I tell him things are a mess at home. He writes me back and says I better get my shit together. He also reminds me that I’m not allowed to have black boys callin’ the house.
I wake up late with a hangover to a mess on the floor. It’s my green messenger bag. It’s in shreds, along with a wet dry mix of papers and cardboard. Is it pee or slobber? The dog is napping in the middle of this mess. I realize quickly that I need to grab a bag and get out of here. My math exam is in 30 minutes. My phone rings and I answer it before I think about it. Now I’m trying to understand my little sister, but she’s crying too much. I throw everything in another bag and run out the door. I speed up I-75 to Central Avenue. All I get from this conversation is that my stepmama has thrown a bunch of stuff in the backyard and is threatening to set it on fire.
I tell her I’ll call her back after my exam. I walk into the small classroom and everyone is already faces down with pencils scribbling. I grab a blank test from the front and take a seat in the back. I get my pencil and rummage through the sack for my calculator. The entire exam depends on the functions of that small piece of technology. We were never taught any other way to solve these problems. I don’t have the calculator. It’s at home under the sleeping dog upon his throne of mess. I return the blank exam with my name on the top to the desk and leave. I don’t care that I just failed this class.
I withdraw from school later in the next semester. I move back to my hometown to be closer to my baby sister.
My older sister tells me that my stepmama is moving in with Granny. She’s too sick to stay by herself. She also has no money. I say that’s a good idea and to keep me posted on things. I’m one thousand miles away trying to live a new life. I’m taking online classes so I can stay home with my baby girl.
A few months pass and I get several sister to sister phone calls. We cry and we admit we cannot do anything else but wait. She’s in the hospital again and the doctor says it won’t be long. It’s Christmas time when we visit and she looks awful. Granny tells me she still goes out with her friends. She’s still using.
We visit again the next summer and she’s lost even more weight. She can’t remember things from one conversation to the next. We have a small birthday celebration for my daughter and her cousin and we set up an inflatable pool in the front yard of my sister’s house. We don’t let her hold the babies on account of the Hepatitis C, not to mention the things we’re not sure of. She smiles a lot and laughs and tells us how pretty we all are. We drive back to Pennsylvania from Georgia and my heart is heavy. I don’t know this is the last time I will see her alive.
A week after we return from our summer visit down south I get an early phone call. I see it’s my older sister and I know. I’m already crying when I say hello. We load up the car and drive the thousand miles home. I call my daddy and his new wife answers. I hate her. I say it’s Rose and I need my daddy. I can’t stop crying when I tell him she’s dead. He says he’s sorry and gets off the phone. I call my school advisor and tell him I will not be registering for fall classes. My life is too messy right now.
If I think real hard about it, I know I’ve had this calling for most of my life. I’ve gotten good at ignoring it. Until now when it’s the only thing I can think of. I keep telling God that I’m not the right person. I say I don’t even want to do this. I say this is a terrible idea and not what I want for my life. But, I’m agnostic I say. He reminds me that none of that matters. He says that becoming a minister is my purpose in life and I have to do it to feel whole. The narcissist in me thinks this might be right.
Some denominations require their ministers to be formally educated. They need a Master of Divinity from a proper school. The denomination I’ve paired up with is one such. I find out that I can apply for the MDiv without having an undergraduate degree. My seminary of choice admits a select few students under these conditions, following strict federal guidelines.
So I answer the short essay questions and write a three page personal statement. I complete all the required paperwork and send it in the mail. I call the school and schedule an interview with the Director of Vocations. During the face to face chat in her office, I blow her away. She makes lots of notes. I drive home feeling elated.
Later that day I get a phone call from Misses Director of Vocations. She wants to talk about why I started college twice and didn’t finish. She wants to talk about those AP classes I took in high school and how I got three’s on the exams earning college credit, but F’s in the classes. She wants to talk about ugly things that I don’t really want to talk about.
I decide to tell her the truth. I have to prove that I’m worth the investment of their time and resources. I talk simply and quickly about slowly losing my stepmama to beer and crack cocaine. I talk about raising my little sister. I talk about my daddy and his profession. I tell her that it took me a long long time to put these things in their places. To reduce the power they had over me. I tell her about the support system I have now and I talk about all the things I’ve learned from the Sanctuary Model of Care. I tell her that I ask for help now. She likes hearing that. Three weeks later I get an acceptance letter.
I put all those messes into a pretty little box and tuck that box away. I take it out and rummage through the contents now and then. Mostly when one of those messes can help me mother someone.
It’s July 1992 in South Georgia. To say it’s hot is the understatement of the decade. But we don’t care about the heat. We’re smearing foundation on our clean skin and carefully applying teal eyeliner and heavy black mascara; copying the open mouth mascara face we’ve seen our mothers make. We’re debating the best shade of hot-pink lipstick. We have pulled out a salon’s variety of brushes, combs, hair dryers, curling irons, and a family size purple can of Super Hold Aqua Net. When I’m finally pleased with my face and teased hair we turn around to look at the pile of clothes on the bed. I choose a turquoise and black leopard print mini skirt and solid black t-shirt. I gather the waist of the shirt over my left hip and knot it so it fits tighter. Before we run out the front door of the single-wide, I slip my red toenails into black jelly shoes. I’m 9 years old.
We walk the dirt paths of the trailer park like we’re on a mission. Our heads are high and we’re smiling. We’re not going anywhere in particular. We’re just making the rounds and showing off our excellent fashion sense. When the grandma sitting on her front porch on a milk crate says how pretty we look, we are validated. Nevermind the sweat gathering on our hair lines. We have small wads of toilet paper to blot the sweat away, so it doesn’t mess up our faces.
Later in the day we pile into the back of a station wagon to get Icees. The windows are down and we’re in the way back where there are no seats. We’re looking out the back window and making up stories about the people we pass. The sweet scent of a burning joint drifts into the back. We smile at each other. Our hair is coming undone under the wind that is whipping around in the back of the car. But we don’t care anymore. We are reminded that we’re still just girls, and the grown women in the front don’t care about their own beautiful locks flying in the wind – so why should we? There’s no music playing and the car is quiet, except for the rushing air twirling around our sweaty bodies. This is a peaceful, reassuring quiet.
A quiet that tells me we’re all part of each other and our souls are old friends – my mother and aunt and cousin and me.
When the sun is setting we decide to go for one last stroll. I’m wondering if we’ll see the cute boy that lives a few trailers down the road. He’s probably off with his brother. I decide if he asks about my messy hair I’ll tell him this is my evening look. But I freshen up the pink lipstick, just in case. And I’m glad when I see his blond hair around the corner. He’s on his bike and he begins to circle around us as we’re walking. So we straighten up and suck in our small bellies and begin to giggle. He asks where we’re going. We tell him we’re going to see a man about a dog. That’s what my mama always says. And we giggle some more and we think this is cute.
Later, in the bed with the air conditioner going and the lights out, I stare at the ceiling. I am glad to be part of this tribe of bohemian fiercely independent women. In this quiet time, laying next to my beautiful mama, I think this life ain’t so bad, and I never want to return to my daddy’s house. I pray God will help me find a way to stay with my mama in this cocoon of feminine power that she weaves around us.
It’s July 2015 in Southeastern Pennsylvania. A lazy cool breeze goes by. We’re wearing baggy dresses and no shoes. I have a tube of Burt’s Bees in my dress pocket. I’m 32.
We sit on the front lawn, glad to have nothing to do. We watch the clouds bump into each other. We lay next to each other on the grass and hold our hands above our faces. We look at each other, then she places her right hand to my left. Her’s is a fraction of the size, and she knows the story of how we both have her grandmother’s hands. We think of this at the same time and smile. We don’t say much because we don’t have to.
We’re part of each other – my daughter and me.
She grabs the chalk from the porch and draws pretty pictures on the walkway. I enjoy the childishness of this activity. I am comforted by our closeness, especially in the sweet silence. I am thankful that girls like my 9 year old self can grow into women like me. I mother my daughter a little closer, in a cocoon of feminine power that is tightly woven, borrowing silver strands of thread from my foremothers. In these quiet spaces, we don’t need words to know each other.
Agere Contra, friends
This post is part of #wholemama, week three, in which we’re writing about Quiet. Link Up with us here.
“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.
To have at least one parent at home with our children during these crucial years.
To meet my husband with open communication, with trust, and with grace.
To allow space and time and resources for each of us to grow.
To have faith in life’s process.
To teach our children grace, humility, humor, friendship, and equality.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
Sitting 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.
A few months ago, I shared with my family and close friends that I was going back to school.
This had been on my heart for a long time, years actually. But, I couldn’t figure out what I was going back to school to accomplish. I could never decide on an area of study, and had no clearly defined goals for such a huge undertaking as dragging my grown ass back to college. In more recent years, I began to see the writing on the wall.
I saw tediously detailed goals. I saw a specific field to study. I saw clear images of job prospects. I saw people and places and heard songs. The problem was, I didn’t particularly or immediately agree with what I was seeing.
I decided my brain and my heart were confused. I decided the universe was drunk and needed to go home.
These goals were regal. They were breathed by the spirit of all of us, the interconnected love that wakes us and carries us and puts us to sleep at night. The images I saw were painted by the masters and set up for the most humble of us to appreciate. These goals were magical. They were beautiful.
And I was certainly the wrong person for them. We were ill-fitted. A mismatched pair.
I got pretty good, or so I thought, of ignoring this loud and annoying – yet gracious and sweet- voice that was telling me the exact steps to take in order to have the life I dreamed of having.
When I told my family and friends that I was applying for a master’s program, I struggled to get the words out loud enough. My throat was tight and I kept reminding myself to breath.
“I’m applying for the Masters of Divinity program at Lancaster Theological Seminary.”
It’s still hard to say out loud. But I’m here to share that I’ve completed the application and I’m putting it in the mail today.
One step at a time.
I shared this as a ‘dare’ to myself in an online group of women who have amazed and inspired me. One said I should celebrate every step of the way, regardless of any outcome. And I liked that advise, so today I will #celebrate. And then wait.
Fighting against untruths is always hard, it’s painful and just not always fun. Fighting against the untruths we tell ourselves is a whole other beast.
Alvernia University in Reading, PA is blessed with a most serene campus. I’ve had a handful of opportunities to attend events at the school since we moved to the area, nearly eight years ago now. Each time I’ve been there, a sense of peace and calm has come over me. Yesterday, I attended a social media marketing seminar in one of their buildings, actually the McGlinn Conference Center and Spirituality Center, a ministry of the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters.
One of the sisters welcomed us into the center and provided a short introduction, including an extremely brief idea about who the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters are and what they do. She told us that the sisters live in this building and hold spiritual services there. She said that she has asked her sisters worldwide to pray for everyone who enters the building. From the U.S. to Brazil to Liberia to Mozambique, women were praying for us. I had to let my mind linger on this idea for a few minutes while other introductions took place.
I imagined the women in their simple dresses and sandals, across the globe, asking the universe to take care of me.
In that tiny moment, I felt exceptionally loved.
I’ve never asked a group of people to pray for me. That doesn’t mean they haven’t, but I have never personally asked for it, so I’m not often faced with an awareness that it’s happening. I do remember being at a week long youth retreat in high school and some girls I barely knew approached me after a card-carrying-Jesus-lover-jam-band concert to say that Jesus was telling them to pray for me to be saved. YIKES! Freaked me right out.
I remember thinking, “Maybe you’re misunderstanding, because my soul is actually pretty safe.” I also remember wondering, “Why would you think it’s okay to tell me that?” Those girls were making a lot of assumptions about me, and yes, they were definitely misunderstanding whatever message they thought they were receiving from the other side. As genuine as they thought they were, I was left with the impression that those girls were actually the ones in need of some prayer. So, I was 17 – and a little cocky – but I was fairly certain that my intuition was right.
You see, I have to admit, I don’t believe prayer works the way we often assume it does.
Maybe I’m like the Unitarian Universalists this way – sometimes I’m more certain of what I don’t believe than what I do.
I don’t believe prayer prevents people from dying before we’re ready to let them go. I don’t believe prayer brings sobriety to addicts. I don’t believe prayer will increase the size of our paychecks. I don’t believe prayer alone will rescue us.
What I do know, is that prayer connects us. If we’re all made of the same physical stuff as the stars and everything else, which is something I do believe, then it makes simple sense to me that our spirits might all be made of the same stuff and come from the same place; and praying together might provide an avenue for our spiritual selves to reconnect with their missing pieces.
I’m not going to pretend to have it all figured out. My ego isn’t that big.
I think a deep meditation can connect me with my inner self, to help me understand things and make decisions with more clarity. A good, genuine prayer group can uplift us. It can help us feel important, validated, cared for, and loved. Praying to a higher power, if you should believe in one, is in its most basic form, asking for help.
Because we were never meant to do all of this alone.
In the Sanctuary Model of Trauma Informed Care, Sandra Bloom and her partners present us with three questions we should ask each other anytime our community gathers. The beauty of these questions, is the impact they have on organizations and families and an assortment of groups from prisons to churches. We ask each other:
1. How are you feeling? – This question should be answered with emotion words but without explanation, that can come later in a one-on-one setting rather than in the group.
2. What are your goals for today? – A person can list as few or as many goals as they need, with the understood hope that people will be specific.
3. Who will you ask for help? – We should choose individuals and again, be specific. Maybe it’s a friend or sister or that higher power.
And it all comes together. Who will you ask for help? How many times have I been in a bad situation without answers, without a plan, without hope? And I stewed in that horrifying confusion, alone. How many of those trials could have been eased if I had just asked for help? It’s one of the most difficult things for some of us to do, yet so vital to our survival.
Today, I am fighting against a very strong desire to check out and be alone with my thoughts for a few hours. Instead, I am going to be honest with people about where I am, and I’m going to ask for help. 1. I am feeling worn out and stressed. 2. I have to attend a funeral for a man who, during his tenure, made great contributions to our organization. My goal is to stay mentally present at the service. 3. I am going to ask my director for help. Then I’m going to go home and enjoy my family.
Sometimes, if we’re open to it, it’s just that simple.