Needed Distractions

Today, I've been thinking about a Radiolab podcast I listened to a week or to ago. In this particular episode, a nurse relays her own story of working with dementia patients. She worked for this particular facility where someone had the grand idea of putting a bus stop at the entrance. The logic being that this bus stop would act as a momentary blockade for those patients that were trying to "escape" back into their old lives. Not only is it brilliant. It's sweet and loving.

When I first listened to this episode, I thought it had tremendous analogies for the life of faith simply because we're all so determined to get where we're supposed to be. We rarely stop and just wait. This  has crept into my prayer life. I'm trying to wait more. I'm trying to leave more space instead of just trudging ahead with the images, thoughts and ideas on my own heart. I'm trying to listen -- like these patients at a bus stop that goes nowhere, I'm trying to let those little moments surprise me with unexpected stories that needed to be told.

Mostly, I just feel distracted. I feel like I'm not paying attention when the entire point is that I'm supposed to be present to the distractions. Yes, well, I didn't say it would make sense. My prayer life rarely does -- but today, it's not just my prayer life. (Yes, I realize I can't really separate my prayers from the rest of my life.) However, this whole break up thing seems to have reappeared.

It may be because I went on a date on Sunday night. I liked him. I wanted the connection to be there -- but he hasn't called and I feel rejected. I feel unlovable. I didn't realize that point until I heard it voiced by a friend yesterday. She's discovered she can be loved. Love can be unconditional for her -- not just for the love that she gives out. In her words, I heard myself. Minus the clarity. I'm not sure it's just this particular boy that hasn't called. I'm aware of something else that's pulling at me. I'm afraid to name it, but I know it's there. It's been there even though I'm trying to distract myself from it.

Honestly, it's the only way I know how to survive. I need distractions. I'm hunting for them. I need something that will pull me back into life and way from this broken, hurt, unlovable feeling that I can't seem to shake today. I refuse to think that this is a bad thing. No matter how stubborn my insistence on distractions may be, I can only pray that they are what keep me safe. Like the men and women that wander back into the nursing facility having totally forgotten what was so urgent, I'm trying to allow myself to be so distracted that I find the embrace I need.  


Bless Our Hearts

Bless her heart. My stepmother called twice today. She's eager to book my would-be trip to France this summer in which I'll watch a dear friend say her vows in wine country. I appreciate her generosity and attentiveness without any allusions to Southern snideness. It's actually her mother that taught me this phrase. Bless her heart, she says with all sincerity and love. Bless her heart, she says through spits of laughter. She means it and so do I. Bless her heart.

While I managed to rush her off the phone in the first phone call, she didn't let me hang up the phone this time without asking how I am. She's worried about me. I can hear it in the way that she asks -- tentatively, eagerly, lovingly. She really wants to know that I'm going to be OK.

My reply isn't what she wants to hear. Although, I'm not really sure what anyone wants to hear from me right now. On Thursday, I had coffee with a dear church member whom I invited to "talk" after the two year anniversary of his wife's suicide. To all outward appearances, he seems like he's doing just fine. I know that grief is private. Trust me. I know what it's like to put on a brave face and pretend like everything is peachy keen. I know what it's like to present that facade in order to avoid the frustrating comments from people that have never experienced grief of their own -- and certainly have never met my own particular form of grief. I know all of these things, but I was not certain that he would want talk to me. He did. Over half a cup of coffee, he poured his heart out. He told me all of the things that he's been holding in his heart that he doesn't know how to tell a soul. And then, he sighed. "This must be hard on you," he said. I looked perplexed. "It must cause you to relive your own grief."

He would never let me touch him but I wanted to hold his hand. I told him not to worry. My own story of grief has pulled me into this work. I told him that I know what it's like to not be able to really say how much it hurts. I told him that it's my deep honor to sip coffee with him and hear these stories. "Bless your heart," he said. He can hear it in the way that I ask -- tentatively, eagerly, lovingly. I really want to know that he's going to be OK.

Of course, the truth is that we're both broken. We're both hurting. There will be things that happen in both of our lives from now on that will heighten that sense of loss -- silly things like wondering if we can ever love again. His story is different than mine. I'm a young lady, in his words. He'll start receiving social security on Monday. And yet, the story is familiar. Another church member asked this debonair widower on a date. They're going to dinner, but it's not just a casual meal. It's loaded. It's filled with emotion that she can't possibly understand. Only he can know that array of emotion that explode with a simple dinner invitation. (I want to rip her to shreds, but that's another matter.) He cried into his coffee when he said this. He wiped away tears that a veteran of his age doesn't ever get to show and turned to his "young lady" pastor to ask if this meal was a betrayal to the woman that he couldn't save. Bless his heart.

This is what always surprises me about ministry because I heard my own story in this story. I heard that story of lost love. The story that reeks of rejection. The one that insists that you didn't love that person enough in the way that they needed to be loved -- even though there never would have been enough. I heard it. Clearly. And yet, even though I heard myself in his story, I told him something I wouldn't ever tell myself. I told him about the love of God. (Simple enough concept, right?) I told him that if we really believe that our knowledge of God is revealed in love, shouldn't we always seek more love in our lives? Isn't that what God would want for us? The monologue was longer than that, but you get the gist. When I was done, and finally caught my breath, he avoided my eye contact. "I guess," he muttered.

Damn it. I don't want to hear it either. God may be love but I don't feel very loved. Theology doesn't matter when the heart insists upon its own wisdom. Well, maybe the heart isn't wise but it certainly is stubborn. It doesn't want to be happy as I'm grateful to read in others words. It just wants to figure out a way to heal. Or at least, that's the best that I can really figure out about my broken heart.


Change Agent

I seem to have lost the notes that I took at the meeting on Thursday night when my least favorite committee (and ironically the one that is supposed to be my advocate) sat down with me to review the goals that I'd set six months ago. Perhaps it's the hand of God that they are missing -- but I'm going to dinner tonight with the committee chair. He couldn't make the meeting so I offered to reach out to him. I'm super nice like that. I believe it's what that dove did after the flood. Going where no one should ever go to find the impossible. 

So, I'm trying to wrap my head around what happened at that meeting. There were a couple things that were really frustrating. Essentially, this is a group of people that can't reflect with me in my problems. They want to solve it. I explained that I'm worried about the youth program and the various reasons that I'm worried about it. I wanted them to tell me that it'll all be well. (I do like Julian of Norwich.) Instead, they wanted to solve the problem. There are other committees for that purpose. There are other people working on that very problem -- but these are members of the church that don't really know how to do anything but solve problems. I don't want them to do that. I just want them to listen. They did the same thing when I tried to articulate my frustration in the shift that we've made in our governance. I feel like I'm carrying a burden that this congregation started before I even arrived -- but I can't solve this problem for them. I can only be the prophet that points to the problem. (I'm a United Church of Christ pastor after all. I'm not running the show.) They may not know enough about Scripture to understand this. They might not even really want the church to be any different than the places of business that employ them. I don't really know. I wanted them to listen and tell them it wasn't for me to hold. Not alone anyway. They didn't. Instead, they swept in and tried to solve the problem.

Then, the meeting ended before this particular church member offered the wisdom that I'm a change agent. "Pastor Peters," she said. "You should see yourself that way. That's why we called you. We expect you to make change." (She was on the search committee but this is a broad statement that I don't think she fully understands.) I joked back. "I'm going to be remembered as the pastor that came in and changed everything." She insisted that wasn't a bad thing, but I just read the series of responses from the survey that will eventually lead to our vision. We are a congregation struggling with change. For many church members, I represent that change. It's my youth. I hate that fact but it's true. I live and breathe change because I'm a young person. Oddly, I'm fairly traditional. I don't read the Bible literally and I certainly don't believe in substitutionary atonement, but I like older forms of worship. I'm really an old lady trapped in the body of a 31 year old. I don't really know what I'm going to share with this committee chair tonight. Maybe I'll just tell him about the change thing and let it be at that. Sigh.


Seeing Blue

I did it.  I added color to my prayers this morning. It was the weirdest reading ever. I mean, I don't really know what to do with passages where the lesson is embedded in whether or not to fight. I suppose I could relate to that if it weren't that the word army appeared. Somehow, when I see that word, my mind checks out. That's exactly what happened when I read I Samuel 17:1-23 this morning.

I read it again because certainly I must be able to find something to relate to in this passage. After all, I was the one that asked the snarky question to the author at my friend's stage reading last night. This particular author wrote a book that's loosely based on the Book of Esther. The inspiration came when she had tried to introduce faith to her son. They were going to attend a Purim party, so this author did her homework. I wanted to know how this retelling had helped her claim her faith. Her answer? I don't have any. I don't want be that chick that's so insistent upon not being able to find something holy in strange words. So, I read this strange narrative with David again. That's when I tripped over this phrase: "And David heard him" (I Samuel 17:23).

God's a freakin' riot. I get it. I'm listening. So, I drew an ear. I drew wavy lines. I drew another ear and another. Just the ear. That's what I needed to focus on. Don't be bothered that there's no body attached. I'm not. I kept drawing. I drew curved lines arching from the lobes. My pen stopped. What am I listening for? Not a clue. I drew more wavy lines. They got more intense. I decided these lines were the God speak that I needed to hear. I wrote words that I needed to remember from God. Ya know, the average stuff like love, justice and peace. And then, I turned my attention back to those arcs. I thought of those church members that didn't really hear my Easter sermon. I thought of the "helpful" email I had just received from a church member that weekend. I thought of myself and I colored those lines blue. So, today when I see the color blue, I thinking about my stubborn insistence that I don't need to listen. I'm thinking about how I rely on my own knowledge and how I put information out there in little spurts without really listening to what I'm saying to myself. Today, I'm seeing blue.


Dressed for Success

Tonight, I will be spending the night on a hard concrete floor of the church with two other chaperones and ten confirmands. Scratch that. Nine confirmands. One just dropped out of the entire program by email. Sweet. The mere thought of this exhausts me. I know it's important to these teenagers. I know it's an important part of their journey but... ugh.

It's things like this that further articulate to me that I'm not called to youth ministry. I fully respect the people that are called to youth ministry -- some of whom are good friends. I think you're amazing people to push these bratty, snotty teenagers in their faith and their personhood. But, I'm not one of you. I feel like a bad person every time I say this. I firmly believe that people look nervously at me when I saw that I don't like teenagers, but so be it. It's true.

I'm not sure I ever really was a teenager. But, really, the problem is that I still look like one. People always think I'm 12. I'm not sure why I can't seem to mature past 12 but I try really damn hard. It's symptomatic of so many of my young female clergy friends chopping their hair short. It makes us appear older. I'm that girl. Now, as I'm trying to anticipate how I want to present myself tonight, I'm looking at my attire and thinking about how little I want these teens to see me in pajamas. It feels so raw. So vulnerable. So personal. I'll bring my ratty hoodie sweatshirt from college, but I'm still squirming in my own discomfort. It's silly, but it's what's racing through my head right now.


Coloring in the Lines

Over a year ago, I started to really consider what my own spiritual practice would look like. Did I have a clue? No. No, I did not. Thankfully, something changed. Amazingly, this happened while I was on the Women's Retreat with the church. This is one of those weekend work commitments that I actually detest as it halts every feminist inclination as I have. These blessed women that I love and minister to just want to talk about being Martha when they feel like they should be Mary. It kills me. I don't think of the world as that narrow so the fact that I have to choose between Martha or Mary is only the beginning.

Anyhow, somewhere in the midst of this retreat, we were asked to make a collage in response to something. I don't remember what it was. I only recall that I didn't want to make a collage. I wanted to draw. So, I took a big felt tip pen and started to draw. Lo and behold, a spiritual practice was born. Praise be to God.

It emerged from that point. Of course, it required supplies so that now I own several prayer pens. I purchased a copy of Between Sundays: Daily Bible Readings Based on the Revised Common Lectionary because I like love the Bible. It was part of what needed to happen for me. I needed to find a way to relate to the text that made sense for me. So, now, I read, I sit and I draw. It's working so well that I want to share. This particular image was going to be my Christmas card as I thought that something was literally coming together in my life. I thought I was pregnant with possibility. No. I was not with child. Christ Jesus, have mercy. Let's hope that doesn't happen. But, then, the break up happened and I felt like I had miscarried. I don't actually know what that's like but it's the closest thing that I can imagine to how I felt. Um. Still feel.

Well, maybe not. I'm gazing at this image this morning and thinking it might be speaking to me again. Again. Not. Pregnant. But, I feel ready for something new particularly after picking up a copy of Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God (Active Prayer Series).  Now, I feel ready for color.  I love color. I love the idea that is posited in this book that every time I see purple during my day, I'll be reminded of that particular prayer that I colored purple that morning. I love this idea so much but I'm nervous. I can't bring myself to do it. Not yet. I still feel a little bit like Harold (obviously from the fame of The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon). I still want to be able to draw that world that is inspired by the Scripture I'm reading, so maybe my prayer pen should just change but that seems so boring. It seems to limit my prayers and now that I'm finally getting a spiritual practice, I don't wanna limit myself. But, I think I might be ready to color in the lines. Like anything, it just takes courage. I've got that, right? Right.



A few weeks ago, I got a series of emails from an anonymous person that decided to rip apart one of my old posts. This one, if you're curious. (I know. What a jackass! Of all things!) Anyway, this particular individual thinks I'm crazy for believing in God. I have nothing to say to this person. Forgive me. I have nothing nice to say to this particular person.

However, as I rejected these particular comments, I realized that I missed blogging here. Mostly, I missed the connection that it has offered to my beloved sisters in The Young Clergy Women Project. I know that lots of us have become less frequent bloggers, but it was through blogging that I found this connection to this group of women. By reading your stories, I found a connection that just doesn't seem quite as intimate as reading the wonderful articles on Fidelia's Sisters. And so, I'm back. Maybe. For now. Um. I'm not committing. Not totally.

I haven't stopped blogging actually. I've just been blogging publicly as a church pastor of a particular church focusing on the particular ministries we offer. It's been a good medium of communication with the church -- but it hasn't allowed for the confessions that were allowed in this space. And so, I miss being here. I miss this space where I can be me in a way that my public ministry doesn't fully allow. I can talk up and down about theology. I can blog about justice and trends in the church -- but I haven't had a space to write about my broken heart. I gotta say. It's sucked. Oh yeah, remember Musicman? Yeah. He was nice until he broke up with me. It's been three months now -- quickly approaching four months -- but I'm still picking up the pieces. Let's face it. I thought he was it. I really thought I wasn't going to have to ever date again. And now, I am. Fuck.

See? I can't say that to my church members -- but I can say that to you. You won't shun me. You even know the back story. Well, maybe you do. Maybe you don't. It doesn't really matter. I stopped blogging here because I didn't want to have a secret life anymore. I wanted to be more integrated so that my public life was more integrated with my personal life. Yeah, I know. Who was I kidding? I don't know what I was thinking. Damn it. I maintain two Facebook accounts. I can have a blog that's just for me. That's not too much to ask at all. Sigh. I missed you.