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Thursday, May 9, 2019

That’s a Wrap (with a bow on top)

At present, I am sitting at Starbucks in my pajamas.  I mean, it’s possible that no one here recognizes this.  It could just be sweatpants and a T-shirt.  But I know I slept in these clothes.  I feel slightly less than human, but that’s probably to be expected.  I just finished my first year of PhD coursework.  No one claimed it would be easy, but it doesn’t matter.  I don’t generally do things the easy way, anyway.

As I was submitting my final papers and exams, I thought back to a conversation I had with a friend, in the fall of 2017, as I was preparing to apply to PhD programs.  Sitting in Boston, I said, “I think I’m going to apply to the University of Boston.”

He looked confused and responded with something like, “L…  I don’t think that’s a thing.”[i]

Just in case you’re wondering, it’s not.  That’s how fully unaware I was about this venture.  The following days, weeks, and months led to multiple applications and acceptances with a final decision to sign on the dotted line at Boston University (I was sort of close), which I discovered is an R1 Doctoral University while sitting at orientation with my cohort full of Ivy League graduates.  I had to Google what “R1” meant.  I swallowed hard and introduced myself and proudly proclaimed my affiliation with Northwest Nazarene University, the small school in Idaho that I love.  I fluffed it up with words about publications and conferences, but I also realized I had either hit the PhD program jackpot or somehow slipped in by mistake.  I proceeded to spend much of the school year vacillating between greeting the day with exuberant energy as I burst through the doors at Back Bay station, shouting, “GOOD MORNING, BOSTON!” and defeating exhaustion as I crawled back onto the subway at night hoping to find a seat where no one would be touching me... or at least to remain upright.  There was really only one day when I collapsed in a puddle of tears in a library study carrel, but there were several when I wondered if I might actually be someone’s case study… “Let’s throw a middle aged, Midwestern mama of five into the big city on the East Coast, at a tier one research institute, and see if she makes it…”

As a fairly serious daydreamer, I want to take just a moment for an aside.  Leading up to this particular leg of the journey, there were some frustrating disappointments.[ii] Maybe you read about all of them.  But there was always this vision… this hope… that one day I would “arrive.”  I would post a selfie and stick it to the world, announcing, “Here I am!  See!  This is where I was going to end up all along!” 

Except it wasn’t!  This is just dumb!  I was never going to end up here.  I didn’t even know “here” was a place, remember?  And maybe that is exactly the point.  I’ve been lamenting Catherine Keller’s “cloud of missed possibilities” for a ridiculously long time.[iii]  I’m not sorry about that.  I do lament well, and since it’s something of a lost practice, I’m OK with bearing it.  But there’s something else, too.  Sometimes we risk missed possibilities not because we have already made choices that exclude them but because we just don’t know what’s possible.  I didn’t know.  Now I do.  And it’s not what I expected.  And it’s good.  But I probably still don’t know everything!  Year one… that’s a wrap.

Now here’s that “bow.”  As I left for the train station on Tuesday (the last day I had to go into Boston for the semester), a quick stop at the mailbox produced a 5 x 7 envelope from Northwest Indiana, which contained my District Minister’s License from the Church of the Nazarene.  If I’m honest, I’m struggling a little bit with how to celebrate this.  I was beyond thrilled to hold this piece of paper (dare I say an outward sign of the inward grace that is vocational calling to ministry) in my hands.  I don’t really want to hear people say things like, “What?  I thought you were already ordained!” or, “Wait!  How are you not already ordained?” or even, “Well, it’s about time,” even though I know the intense support and compassion with which these words would be (have been) uttered.  Y’all, the honest truth is my licensing process just fell through the cracks while I raised a family and ministered alongside my spouse and pursued the necessary education to eventually fulfill this calling on my life. 

What most people don’t know is that I drove over a thousand miles to meet with the good people of NWIN for my district licensing interview… that I slept in my van at a rest stop for several hours with my two oldest kids, because the sleet was so intense… that I spilled a gas station coffee all over the gas station (and myself) right ahead of the interview, because I was shaking so badly… that I got pulled over on the drive afterward… that friends drove several hours to meet me for lunch expecting that they would find me in tears, either way.

Sometimes, it has been extremely difficult to articulately verbalize this itinerant life and the unusual ways in which I have fought to live into the call to preach and to administer the sacraments as fully as possible.  Yet, one of the interviewers looked at me and said (and I paraphrase, because it’s been months), “We know you now.  You don’t have to transfer and explain this to another district.  And, can I just tell you what I appreciate about you?”  I think that might be the point at which I resumed breathing.  Even I could not have imagined how beautifully this would come together, not in my wildest dreams.[iv]   

Alright, that’s a lot.  Here I sit, 20% of the way through my PhD, a district licensed minister in the church I love, and rather spent.  One of those super smart cohort members of mine gave me about the greatest compliment I could receive the other day when she said, “You’re the real thing.”  Well, I’m trying to be less self-deprecating, so alright.  Maybe it’s time to kick imposter syndrome to the curb (although I’m not done writing about it, stay tuned and send publishers).  If this life it anything, it’s real.  Next.


[i] On a second reading, I’m actually sure this is not at all what he said.  This is how I would have said it.  He just admitted that he hadn’t heard of the University of Boston (which does not exist).
[ii] Ok, years of frustrating disappointments.  Years. 
[iii] See Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming.
[iv] I fully recognize that it is hysterical that my wildest dreams are of licensing interviews and ordination and PhD regalia (wait, did I admit that out loud), but I’m rolling with it.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Birthing Adults

What a weird era of life.  Perhaps it is because I am currently taking a course on rites of passage, but as I drove over 3,000 miles last week, carting my two oldest children to a very official college visit and music scholarship audition at their school of choice that was once relatively close to home but is now incredibly far away, I kept thinking to myself, “I feel like I am pregnant all over again.”

Stay with me.  I understand how very bizarre that sounds.

There I was, in this closely confined space, when out of nowhere it suddenly felt like all of their hopes and dreams for the future that have been wrapped up inside of me were about to come spilling out in a graphic and violent manner.  I didn’t tell them this.  I was driving.  It would do none of us any good if I became a puddle of tears on the side of the road.  And that is pretty much par for the course on how this Mama does life.  I feel very deeply (uncharacteristically so of most humans), but I can stuff it (believe it or not).

I have given (literal) birth to five children.  Each one of their stories is different, and if you have read me for long, you are probably familiar with them.  I’m not going to take the time to give you the full versions here, today, but there are, indeed, some odd parallels to this new ‘birthing’ experience.  Let us start with ‘the boy.’

After 2 ½ years of trying, it was hard to believe he was coming into existence at all.  I waited a long time to tell anyone.  It was easier to grasp the reality of him when I began to feel him kick, and I knew he was OK when I could see him moving in my body.  There was a certain degree of panic that accompanied any span of time without movement.  It was a difficult pregnancy.  The boy came into the world with a security guard posted at my hospital room door.  You can’t make this stuff up.  It felt like an easy delivery, even though his little body ripped mine all the way through.  I couldn’t hold him for an hour, because there were so many stitches.  It took the medical staff some time to convince me that I could accept pain medication during that process, because I had been so adamant about not taking anything during delivery that I struggled to recognize he was now separated from me, and it would be OK to dull the pain of this after birth experience.  He was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen, and my fierce protection of him grew exponentially the moment I saw him, even though I had already been keeping him safe… sometimes at my own expense… for nine months.  Even though the cord was cut, it was as if I was still carrying him inside of me.  I didn’t realize it until last week, but eighteen years later I still feel this.  It’s hard to believe he is leaving home.  I haven’t made an announcement, because the acceptance process isn’t quite complete.  I had moments of panic over these days when I could not see his movement, but there was peace when I caught a glimpse of him across campus doing all the things an incoming college Freshman should be doing.  In some ways, it has been a difficult childhood, and in other ways it felt easy.  I still want to post a guard around this one.  I cannot bear the thought of him being hurt, and as I am typing these words, they are ripping my spirit… all the way through.  But I have kept him as safe as I could (spoiler alert: the world is not safe)… sometimes… still… at my own expense (I have a bit of a reputation for being a Mama bear, and I can be really ugly if you mess with my babies) for these eighteen years.  When I was pregnant with this first child of mine, I had a few months to think about what my life was going to look like when the baby arrived and changed everything.  Now I have a few months to think about what my life will look like when he leaves and changes everything again.  And I just hope he flies (even though I am now that aforementioned puddle of tears).

And then, there’s ‘the girl.’  In some ways, there is something cruel about having to launch two pieces of your heart at once, but I can’t slow her down.  I have never been able to.  She came to us completely unexpectedly.  No one plans for a little pink line with a four month old in their arms… but certainly not anyone who knows what it is to pee on those sticks month after month.   I have always called her “the best surprise of my life,” and she is.  Her entry into the world was frightening in its own right, because she was conceived while I was on medication that is not conducive to pregnancy but was necessary for dealing with the postpartum condition of my body.  Coumadin.  Category X.  The literature warned that this medication, when taken during pregnancy, may (although I think what I was told sounded much more like ‘should’… and ‘will’…) result in central nervous system defects, deformed limbs, and developmental retardation.  The girl was born singing.  It was really more of a low, guttural, mournful humming sound, and as medical staff and visiting friends and family expressed concern, I shut them out.  I was twenty-two years old.  Maybe I was exhausted because of the longer labor than the one before, or maybe I was preoccupied with the toddler in the pack-in-play, whom I would not allow to be taken home by his grandparents, or maybe I was trying to wrap my mind around why this baby really wasn’t as beautiful as the first and was going to need me in her corner.  Whatever the reason, my line over the next 24 hours became, “I think she just loves music.”  Cue the continued pitiful glances… and the failed hearing test… and walking out of the hospital the second they would let us go.  None of that really matters, because I was right, and she has been stickin’ it to the world ever since.  Most everyone had all but forgotten how her life began by the time she taught herself to read at age four… and was published in a magazine… and started winning essay contests and talent shows and quiz scholarships.  So please excuse me when I post indiscriminately about my girl with perfect pitch who is going to college for free to major in music composition!  As a baby, she was either crying or eating.  She had to be touching me to be happy.  This week I realized that I had to be touching her, too.  I spent most of the week following her around.  It is helpful that she has promised to always text me at the end of the day, so I know she is alive.  I received the first of these texts on Friday night.  It literally said, “I’m alive!”  And I laughed.  Cliché as it might be, I just hope she dances.

Even though I had worked in early childhood for years before having my own kids, there was something far more terrifying about keeping my own little person alive.  Even though I spent many years working with teenagers and their families as they transitioned to adulthood, there is something entirely different about experiencing this for myself.  But this is also exactly what parents are supposed to do.  It is our job to transform slimy, wrinkly, needy little things into loving, responsible people who will make their mark on the world.  Giving birth to adults is hard.  In some ways, I think it’s harder and more painful work than giving birth to babies (maybe I’m just far enough removed from this to have forgotten), because we’ve had them for a long time when we reach this stage, and we like them.  Their being is interconnected with ours, and even a gentle ripping away will leave some raw spaces.  And so… over the next few months, I prepare to push them out into the world, measured breathing all the way…


Thursday, February 7, 2019

What About Us, Book Launch Day!

This morning, I am excited to announce the release of my new book, "What About Us: Stories of Uncontrolling Love."

This collection of essays, written by twelve brilliant and vulnerable contributors, explores the question of human responsibility in the midst of pain, suffering, and tragedy, through the sharing of personal narrative.

You can order your copy today at the following Amazon link (a Kindle version is also available)."

Get Your Copy Here!!!

For more details and teasers in the following days, please like Flip Fliops, Glitter, and Theology on Facebook:


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Necessary Possibilities

For a variety of reasons that would be difficult to explain (since I’m not entirely sure how to explain it even to myself), I have had two concepts/phrases competing for my attention this week.  They are, “what counts as necessary,” and, “as much as possible.”  Weirdly, these thoughts were at war within me until I sat down to write, at which point I realized they might be synonymous.  Perhaps what is necessary is for us to engage in doing things in such a way that they are done as well (or as much) as possible.

Often, I think the word necessary contains connotations that lead toward doing the bare minimum to get by, but if you think long and hard about how we use this word in real life, it is usually attached to radical, uncomfortable situations.  We use it apologetically.  “I’m so sorry, but this is necessary.”  I can over think for weeks at a time about what counts as necessary, to the extent that it would have been better to just risk it in the first place, because it would be less consuming.  But most of the time, the “necessary” is painful in some way.  It is used to describe things we would not otherwise choose.  We are doing this… saying this… being this… because for some reason or another, we have to. 

I have recently been reading James K.A. Smith’s book, “Imagining the Kingdom,” which does not undermine the concept of free will but also presents a realistic understanding of what it is to be inclined toward one choice or another, to be persuaded by the very world we conceptualize as the real world, to act habitually and without deep thought in the vast majority of circumstances.  He articulates things I have agreed with, without knowing it (probably thus proving his point) for a very long time… maybe even my entire life.  Attention is given to the importance of living into regular ritual and routine which forms and transforms us into the people we desire to be, given our understanding of what is good in the world.  I appreciate this considerably (see: liturgist), but I also believe we will still encounter extraordinary circumstances that cause us to take pause, sometimes veering from our culturally ingrained habits as we meticulously consider whether or not we must resist the norm in order to take necessary action.

But again, what is necessary if not “as much as possible”?  And perhaps the question that follows on the heels of this one is: What is possible?  I’m not sure it means merely what can be done.  In fact, I’m pretty sure our desires play into this in more ways than we would often like to admit (sometimes for good, and sometimes… well… not).  For, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, and just because you should do something doesn’t mean you will.

I’ve come to realize that the most difficult decisions require us to rank our loves.  They are the decisions that will benefit someone… or something… or some circumstance while taking away from another.  They are the decisions that must be made and that have no win-win outcome.  I should be clear that I don’t think most decisions fall into this category.  I think most of the time we can do things that (at the very least) cause no harm and much of the time we can even find creative solutions in which all parties are (again, at least minimally) satisfied.  But sometimes… rarely… we just can’t.  And when that’s the case, the words “as much as possible” don’t bring any comfort at all to hurting people.  Sometimes, “as much as possible” isn’t enough.  And that sucks.

Smith would argue that what we love defines us.  I think he’s right.  And most of the time, I think that works out pretty well.  But sometimes it hurts.  Still… may we love things (people… places… experiences…) that matter and may we love things that love us back.  I’m not sure that’s solid theology, but I don’t mean that we should only do what’s right or good to those who love us…  of course I don’t mean that!  But may we have enough requited love in our lives that we can make the hard choices and be (at our core) the very most good we are capable of being.