Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Five: Firsts

Marybeth, over the RevGals, posts a Friday Five about Firsts. In part it is a reminder that the RevGal's blog is moving to a new site, from Blogger to Wordpress. But also, there are other first's to consider:

1. Your first "place" - whether it was an apartment, dorm room, or home with a new spouse, the first place where you really felt like a grown-up: I graduated from high school a year early and headed off to college just about this same time of year when I was 17. Oh I felt so ready to be on my own. I lived in a two-person dorm room and shared a bathroom with another pair of women. The four of us managed well enough. I remember my room was orange. It was 1974. The next year two girlfriend's and I rented a house near campus. It was a typical run-down, ignored by the owner, college house.  The furnace was old and  burned oil during the time when oil was very pricey and hard to come by. We were cold a lot. BUT we were truly on our own and making due well enough.

2. Your first time away from home. Construe this any way you want. College? Girl Scout Camp? Study Abroad?: I spent two weeks at girl scout camp when I was twelve. It was fabulous. I remember how I admired my camp counselor who was a college student at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was smart and kind and I think I kind of wanted to be like her when I grew up.

3. Your first job in your field of endeavor (so, not babysitting, unless you are A Professional Babysitter today): My first real field of endeavor was lighting design for dance for a small dance theater in Chicago called MoMing
. I acquired a special major from Columbia College in Chicago which I called "Technical Direction for Dance." I was essentially a dance major and took lots of dance classes, but instead of performing on stage I ran the shows. I lit them, was the stage manager ensuring that everyone was on stage and ready on time, I ran the light board and the sound board. However it was also the early 1980's and funding for the arts was at an all time low. A regular paycheck was hard to come by, although I always got paid eventually. The job was hard and after four years I quit, exhausted from long hours and low pay. But still, I am always grateful I had that job and that experience, it has served me well as a priest in charge of liturgy for Sunday mornings, funerals, weddings, baptisms.....

4. Your first time hosting. Again, construed broadly, this could be a dinner for the in-laws, your first time to have guests for a holiday meal, etc. I have no idea when my first time hosting some event was. I have hosted many events over my life time. But I guess one of the memorable firsts was the baptism party for our daughter. She was born twenty-five years ago TODAY. My husband, being a former Roman Catholic, insisted on a quick baptism. I was not a church-goer and so we had no church family. Nonetheless I enrolled us in the local RC baptism prep class and we had her baptized on a Saturday with about fifty other little babies. Following the baptism we had a celebration at our home. It was a small place but we managed to have a good meal and fun party. My husband and I have pulled off a lot of parties and always think of them as successful - good food, good company, a good time. Tonight we will have another small family party celebrating our daughter's birthday. I will make bbq'd ribs, homemade potato salad, a salad of chopped tomato/cucumber/celery in a vinaigrette, corn on the cob, and for dessert - a made from scratch triple layer chocolate zucchini cake with cream cheese icing. 

5. Your first love.That can be a person or something else!! I'm married to my first real love. Sure, I dated before I met this man and thought that maybe I was in love. But I really wasn't. I was too young and really had no sense of myself. How can you love another when you don't even know how to properly love yourself. By this I mean, love one's own integrity, one's own self-worth, one's own true nature (instead of what society tells you to be or what parents project onto you?)...So, this is my first real, mature love. It has grown stronger and better over the twenty-eight years of marriage and thirty years we have known one another. We are a team, partners in life. And, yeah, it has not always been easy. We have traveled a rough road together, each of us being a challenge to live with from time to time. Now, as we enter the phase of being partners in life with grown children, our marriage is taking some new turns. It's a good place to be in.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Living Life Fully

“Listen--are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?"
 (Mary Oliver quote found on "Goodreads"). 

I was working at my dream job. Naive, with stars in my eyes, I was a mere twenty-eight years old and part of a design team at a high profile interior design firm.  The clientele included the wealthiest people in Chicago. I traveled around the country assisting the designer as he created second, third, and fourth homes for his clients.

 I had my sights on making it big - and making big money  - all the while being creative too! (I did say I was naive, right?).

Before taking this "dream" job I was working at Eddie Bauer on Wabash Avenue in Chicago, selling hiking boots. Now that WAS a fun job. I knew all the stats for the boots and could do a proper fit ensuring my customers had a good hiking experience. But then this opportunity arose. A friend of mine from my first career in the dance world wondered if I'd like to interview for his entry level job at the design firm. (I think I might have told him once that if he ever left that job I wanted, call me, maybe?). I interviewed for it and was offered the job. Eddie Bauer countered with an offer to move up into a better position in the store, assistant management or something or other. I remember sitting with the man who became my husband and going over the pro's and con's of each job. I ended up leaving Eddie B's and going with the design firm. Through that job the man who became my husband got a job too - working for the computer company who supplied the design firm with their computers. Now we both imagined a life of luxury and ease. It was after all the mid 1980's and "everyone" was making money. (Well, not everyone. Those who were in the arts, as I had been in the early 1980's, were NOT making money....thank you Reaganomics for slashing funding to the arts...).

Well anyway. As you might imagine, this dream job was not. Definitely not. But I did learn a lot about the lives of the really wealthy, the 1% who hold most of the wealth in this country (maybe the world? no probably not THAT wealthy)....I learned a lot about the behavior of people who feel entitled. Two memories remain with me to this day. One, the realization that one client bought a dining table for her fourth home that cost more than I made in an entire year. Just the dining table, antique French country, $35,000.00. (I think I made about $26,000.00 plus benefits and that was a pretty good income in those days). The other memory is of a client who called me irate, yelling at me because his sofa was back-ordered. It was a custom made sofa whose fabric was back ordered. I got the impression that the client thought I should call the manufacturer of the sofa and order them to produce his fabric sooner so he could have his sofa when he wanted it. Right. That didn't happen. But honestly, the idea of it.

And then there was the staff dynamic stress. Seriously awful  angry behavior.

My survival mechanism for this crazy-totally-NOT my dream job job was to practice yoga. Every morning I'd get up early and practice yoga and meditate. It helped. Through out the day I would practice the deep breathing of yoga, encouraging my body to relax even as I was being yelled at by a crazy-man.

Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?

(My therapist wondered why I stayed...)

Four years into my dream job I quit. Turns out they had a rotten maternity leave policy and I wanted more time with my newborn baby. So I quit and stayed home with my precious daughter. And I learned to really breath and to really appreciate life.

Turns out, taking care of my infant daughter, being able to stay home with my kids, was my dream job. Now my kids are grown and I have another job that I love. But I am still a mom (and a wife - we just celebrated 28 years of marriage)..... I look forward to celebrating my daughter's twenty-fifth birthday this Friday, being her mom, making her a birthday cake.

Because it's still the dream job of my life. So take a deep breath, there will be candles to blow out, and a lifetime of love to celebrate.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Five: Packing, no rats thank you very much.....

 Deb, over at the RevGals, offers this Friday Five in response to a week of packing college bound and otherwise moving daughters:

1. Are you a sorter or a pack rat? What I mean by that is, do you select what you are taking with you (on a trip, a new assignment, a vacation), or do you pack with abandon (overweight suitcases be damned!)  I sort. I usually take a lot but I still sort, eliminate, make a list, double check, and try to plan for weather variables. I also always take my pillow and yoga mat - so that means a bigger than otherwise necessary suitcase.

2. Who first helped you learn how to pack? Or did you just come into it by osmosis or natural gifting  (and need)? My family moved a lot when I was kid. Usually we had a moving company come in and pack us up and move us. I learned a lot from watching them. I've moved a lot as an adult too...and much as I don't like to move, I am pretty good at it. The real test was moving ourselves back to the Midwest from the Southwest. We packed up the entire house, including all of our art, my husband's grandmother's china, etc. and loaded it on the biggest truck we could rent, then ended up putting it all in storage for a year. Then a moving company loaded it all up and moved it here. I was worried about our art work and few other items, certain that something got crushed. When we unpacked, nothing was broken.

3. What's your favorite kind of suitcase? Duffle? Soft-side? Wheels? (I am personally a fan of my "expanding zipper" wheelie suitcases. Saved my bacon on many a return trip home!) I always use a wheelie suitcase. As a birthday present last year I got a matching three set: gigantic, large carry-on (too large for some of the smaller planes); and a satchel that attaches to the wheelies.

4. Do you have that "packing gene" -- or do you pack and cram what you need into every available space? I am not as methodical as some when it comes to precise rolling and organizing in the suitcase, but I do manage to get a lot in a bag....of course having a kindle helps with the weight and the volume by reducing the number of books I take.

5. What's one thing you've learned in traveling, packing or storing your belongings that you think everyone should know? Life is an adventure that often times requires fortitude, make sure you know where to get a good cup of coffee to sustain you along the way.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Be Ready to Receive a Blessing.

 A reflection on the readings for Proper 14C: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40*

It was a warm spring night, we had just finished a board meeting and were heading out for dinner. I was the “community member at large” for a home health nursing company where I also served as a volunteer providing massages to the hospice patients. Another board member and I were talking about my resignation from the board as I prepared to go to seminary in the fall. This board member said to me that she no longer believed in God. Her faith died after she prayed long and hard for something and did not get it. She wondered how there could be a God if God does not answer our prayers and give us what we pray for.

I admit, at the time, I had no good answer for her.

Over the years I have come to wonder if maybe that board member’s question was off the mark? We have no idea if God says no, nor do we know if God intentionally does not answer our prayers. It’s possible that we are unable to perceive the way God responds to us.

Are we able to see within our lives the way that God acts, guides, informs, and forms us?

The author of the letter to the Hebrews and our Gospel reading this morning both offer some insight into this question.

Hebrews aims to assure us that in and through the life of Jesus we can come to understand that God’s presence in our lives is real. The love of God that manifests in and through the life of Jesus is intended to inform and sustain within us a sense of hope. This God inspired hope guides, forms and informs us. God’s presence is known to us in and through our sense of hope. Hope that causes us to take that one small step when we would rather just stay put. Hope that tomorrow will be a better day. Hope is both a thing of grace and a daily decision. God offers us hope, we have to decide to let it live within us.

Two centuries ago most people lived on farms, made their own clothes, and raised their own food. People lived further apart and were less dependent on the people around them. Today we have to have faith in the people around us. We have to trust the food prepared at the restaurant, trust the pilot of the airplane, and trust the caregiver at the day care.

All around us are messages reminding us that we much to fear. We are encouraged to be afraid of the weather, the stranger, our neighbor, schools, movie theaters, churches, even our own homes may not be safe. Our vulnerability is always before us, if we choose to focus on it.

The letter to the Hebrews offers us the reassurance that what is seen is not all that is. The Letter to Hebrews speaks of faith as having “the conviction of things not seen.” It is a reminder that our fears of need not have the last word in defining our lives. This requires some intentionality on our part, choosing how we will live and what we will focus on.

I like to start my mornings early, walking to yoga class. The sun is barely up and the light is soft in tones of pink and lavender. One day, a few months ago, when the leaves were still unfolding something caught my eye from the bridge over the Rouge River. There, not far from me, was a blue heron. It was magnificent. I was close enough to see the markings on its beak and its feathers. It sat perfectly still, looking more like a branch of a tree than a bird resting from its morning meal. I stood and watched for a long time.

I don’t need to walk to yoga. I could drive or ride my bike. Walking is intentional. It slows me down and in slowing down invites me to be more attentive. Slowing down enabled me to see that heron.  

Our Gospel reading suggests that slowing down is a good way to know God’s presence and be filled with hope. This reading asks us to “Be ready so that we can receive blessing.”

Receiving God’s blessing does not mean we will get what we want. God’s blessing of hope means we come to trust that somehow all will be well. This is not some na├»ve expectation, but a reality of God’s presence conveyed by people of faith down through the ages. From Abraham and Sarah, who followed God to an “unknown land,” to the Hebrew’s who came to know God’s presence in the face of persecution, to us, living today in a world that tries to dominate our emotions with fear.

Our readings this morning call us out of fear and into trust and hope.  Do not be afraid, Luke tells us, for it is God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. We can choose how we want to live, what fills our lives. Our readings ask us to choose hope. To be ready and to anticipate a blessing from God, even perhaps a blessing that reveals itself in a beautiful lavender sky, a tree-lined river, and a bird, that sits unafraid, held safe in God’s creation.

Surely there is hope in that and an answer to prayer.

 * thanks to Feasting on the Word for influencing how this reflection unfolded....

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Love: Broken perhaps, but ever fierce

 A reflection on the readings for Proper 13C:( Hosea 11:1-11; Luke 12:13-21)              

My recent trip to Salt Lake City included several days attending a stewardship conference called TENS, The Episcopal Network for Stewardship. If you have spent much time at conferences you know that there is no guarantee that the conference will be good or that it will satisfy your needs. This one was a mixed bag of information, some very good, other parts not so much.

After the conference I spent about a week with my family. I was born in Salt Lake City and still have many family members who live there. My family gathered to celebrate the life of my brother David, who died in April. 

We buried him in a cemetery on the side of the mountain in Salt Lake City, where my grandparents, an aunt, and my mother are buried. Elsewhere in that cemetery many ancestors are buried. 

Returning to the place of one’s birth, to one’s roots, to one’s extended family, is always a curious event. My family is comprised of some who are devout Mormon’s and some who are atheists, and some who are spiritual but not religious having rejected the Mormon church but not replaced it with another faith tradition. 

What made this trip different from previous ones was the absence of my kids and husband. It was just me and my extended family. I stayed with my aunt, my dad’s sister, who happens to be only six years older than me. In my lifetime we have been more like sisters than aunt and niece. For a time she even lived with us. It has probably been forty years since I spent as much time with her as I did on this trip. Every night found us in long conversations over dinner and a glass of wine. We talked about the broken places in our family. We remembered funny stories. We shared our memories, often with very different understandings of what happened. We talked about pain and hurt feelings, about disease and illness and death.

There is a lot of brokenness in my family. The same is probably true in your families as well. We humans are like that; we have a tendency to hurt one another. True we also love one another and care deeply but life is a mixed bag of joy and sorrow, hope and despair, love and loss, birth and death.

Our readings this morning all point to this idea, that life is a mixed bag. In Hosea we hear this week, once again, about God’s dismay over the actions of God’s people. Last week Hosea was God and Gomer, the unfaithful wife, was us, the people of God. This time God is a mother and the people are portrayed as an ungrateful son.  Hosea tells a complicated family story, told from God’s perspective, filled with hurt and loss and the persistent, ever present, unrelenting love of God for God’s people. But God’s love is not sappy or sentimental. God struggles to love God’s people, to love God’s own creation. But in and through the struggle God’s love is fierce, like a parent’s love for a wayward child, a love that wants the best for the child and will do everything to see that child through to a better, healthier place. Hosea beckons us to consider our role in this relationship. How are we loving God in return?[i]

Paul’s letter to the Colossians points to the ways we may or may not be living as God desires, loving God, self, and others. Through a list of possible grievances: greed, lying, self-absorption, indignation, racism, sexism, classism, the author of the letter to the Colossians lists some of the ways we humans break God’s heart and each other’s.[ii]

The Gospel picks up on a similar theme of greed and broken relationships. Here Jesus offers a parable as a response to a question about individual wealth. How much is enough? In the parable Jesus reveals that an appropriate concern for the future is balanced when we remember to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  

The Gospel asks if our desires and standards for what is enough are driven by a determination to store up treasures for our own pleasure, or by our understanding that all that we have and all that we are is a gift from God, and gift that God intends for us to share with others?

And so, in a curious way, the workshops at the TENS conference, my time with my family, and our readings today all connect at the same juncture by asking us to consider what is important in our relationship with God and others. We are to consider these relationship and we are to work at them, striving to keep them whole, healthy, invigorated. In the words of Hosea we are to engage them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. We are to be like one who lifts an infant to one’s cheek, to be like a loving mother feeding her infant, to remember the fierceness of that maternal love, and never let it go.

[i] Feasting on the Word
[ii] ibid

Friday, August 02, 2013

RevGals Friday Five: Self-care

Our Friday Five is very simple today. Share five ways you've learned to care for yourself when life becomes overwhelming. What does the pastor do after a rough day in the office, or at meetings, or at a bedside, or even, in the pulpit? Share your best five self-care strategies, and, with any luck, we all will learn at least one or two new ones.

1. Yoga. I walk to a local yoga studio and take a yoga class four or five times a week. Yoga has for many years been one of my primary go-to's for self care.The classes I am taking now can be really strenuous but I feel amazing afterward: stronger, more centered, focused, peaceful. A few weeks ago I practiced yoga while on vacation in the Uinta's (mountains east of Salt Lake City, Utah), looking out over trees, a river, and the mountains. (See photo above).

2. Walking. I walk for exercise. I am blessed to live in a town where I can walk most any place I need or want to go - and I do. I walk to process life and think. I walk to clear my head when I am stuck in sermon writing or meeting blech or some complicated parish dynamic. I walk my dogs and laugh at their silliness. I walk as often as I am able. I try to get in 10,000 steps three or four times a week, and it's harder than I thought it would be!

3. Meditation. I meditate every day for thirty minutes in the afternoon, usually around 3pm. It's a curious practice. I learned to do TM (Transcendental Meditation when I was 19, back in 1976...while at college). I still occasionally use the mantra the TM trainer gave me, but mostly just to center my busy mind. Usually I don't need to use anything, I just fall right into it and come out thirty minutes later. But some days I really struggle to sit still, focus, breath, and meditate. Now my intent with meditation is to quiet myself and open myself up to God and what God might be saying to me in my life. I continue to try and be a better listener and hope that meditation assists with that. But mostly meditation is a daily practice of relaxation and self care. I always feel better afterward, more clear headed, more peaceful.

4. Knitting. I go through phases when I knit more or less, depending on how busy I am and how tired I am. Recently I finished knitting my first sweater for my five year old goddaughter. I am godmother to twins, so now I am working on the second one, a little larger and in a different color way.

5. Gardening. This year I over-planted and my garden is a jungle. Too much rain hasn't helped....but gardening is one of my joys and I look forward to it every summer. It is relaxing to spend time in the sun, weeding, planting, and harvesting. It is also great fun to know that my meal is comprised of many items I grew, organic, healthy, delicious.

In addition to all of the above I also see a chiropractor and a massage therapist once a month. And I go with a two of my local clergy gal-pals to get manicures about every other week. We laugh, drink tea or coffee, and spend time together just pampering ourselves and being women.

I'm a big believer in self-care as a means to fill my own well, nourish my interior self, in order that I can then care for others.

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...