Being Heard

Tonight I went to our city's local art museum. The new exhibit was opening. I drooled. Literally. There were Hoppers and an O'Keefe. There were two whole rooms of Homer. It was inspiring. Each brush stroke. Each splash of color. It made me want to paint. Oh, how I want to paint. Of course, ironies of ironies, I'm not painting. I'm blogging.

I went with a new friend to this exhibit. She's a member so she gets to be there for these fabulous openings before the rest of the city gets to see this work. I was honored to be her guest. In general, I'm honored to be in her presence -- but the relationship is a little complicated. We met when I hosted a dinner party and invited friends to bring friends because I wanted new friends. She was one of those guests. And yet, when she walked through the door, we both recognized each other. I knew her. I had done her grandmother's funeral only a few months prior. It was one of those moments where the reality of the small city I call home loomed true.

And yet, we're friends. We're in that wonderful dance of getting to know each other as friends. We both share a passion for the arts and a curiosity about life. It's a boundary violation maybe but I want to be her friend. It doesn't mean it's not complicated. Our conversation often returns to the moment we met when I sat holding tissues for her family and listened to their stories. It did again tonight when she asked me about my family -- but it didn't feel weird. It didn't feel strange. It didn't feel like that creepy feeling you get from church members that really want to be your friend and know all your inner-most thoughts. (It's not just me that has those church members, right?)

She listened to me. She heard me. I listen all of the time in my ministry. It's why I do what I do. I love stories. I love how stories form people. I love the sacred space of allowing someone to tell their story in its full truth -- but I have to say, it's been a long time since that space was made for me. Tonight, I found that space. She asked me questions and she let me speak. She let me tell my story in a way that others have let me do for them so many times. Maybe it's because I don't really have a pastor now that I'm a pastor. I have wonderful friends who listen to me -- but it's been some time since I've told this part of my story and had it be truly heard. It just felt so good. And so, tonight, I go to sleep grateful for strange things I don't understand and the wonderful sacred space in so many places in my life.


Heavy Hearted

Today, I've been working on my book proposal for The Young Clergy Women Project Book Series. I asked for intentional time this summer to work on this project from the Church Council. Their response was a concern for pastoral coverage -- which slapped me in the face as my colleague almost always fields the calls for direct need. I'm the one that actually visits but they all reach out to him because he's the Senior Pastor. Double standards aside, they "allowed" me to use this time over the slower summer.

As I sit here writing, I'm aware how my heart is racing. It's not only that I'm excited about what I'm writing -- and terrifically nervous about how it will be received having just sent it off to a series of friends and editors to read. It's also that I ran into Musicman on Sunday. I didn't actually talk to him. I ran away when I saw that he was holding the hand of another girl. Months ago, I had seen something on Facebook that indicated he might be dating someone. I knew her name. They were friends. The comment on Facebook inferred more than friendship. I tried to dismiss it though I promptly defriended him. On Sunday, I saw him holding her hand. He didn't see me. He didn't see my reaction. He didn't see how much I wanted to vomit. And yet, two days later, my heart is still racing. I'm angry. I'm really fucking angry. At him. At myself. At the whole world. Let me have my drama. I know it's over the top.

I just don't feel like my ground is all that firm right now. My home has been in various states of disrepair. My first blip with homeownership exploded a few months ago and it just seems to be constant in its affects. That's another reason why I'm home writing today. There's been a rotating door of repair people. Lots of checks written. I'm overwhelmed.

In a few moments, I have to pry myself away from the computer to drive to have my annual mammogram. This is didn't go well last year. Let's be honest there. I fall apart a little bit every year. I have flashbacks of my mother's hospital visits. I try to grit my teeth and even smile when the radiologist interrogates me about why someone so young should be having a mammogram at all. My heart is on my sleeve on these visits so I usually start crying somewhere in the middle of the ordeal. Today, it might happen earlier. I sent a text to my stepmother this morning to ask for her update. She's off to see a surgeon and an oncologist today. Seriously, this thing seems to be coming at all angles. So, my heart is heavy --really, really heavy. 


Silver Linings

Last night, I had picked up on a Twitter conversation about this article. I hadn't read it myself. Not yet. Still, I knew that I wanted to read it as so many preachers seemed to have been working these pearls of wisdom in their sermons. I would still like to read these sermons -- though I really couldn't finish the article.

I still have a wee bit of insomnia. Last week, after I'd heard that my stepmother had made it out of surgery just fine, my best friend told me I should acquire a good prescription for sleeping pills but that still seems too severe to me. I had the news about the pathology report. I knew that they had "gotten it" and that the damn cancer hadn't oozed its way into the lymph nodes. (I'm saying damn a lot lately. Sorry about that.) We also found out that it's one of the most aggressive forms of cancer there is. They gave a name with letters and numbers. I don't recall and I'm not the type that goes to the internet to find every little bit of information out. Well, at least, I'm not about this. So, there will be radiation. There may be chemotherapy. There will definitely be a third and fourth opinion from what I can only gather to be the best oncologists my stepmother can find. Still, I'm unsettled.

I don't really believe it.  Tell me about science.  Tell me all you want.  There's something about this particular disease that makes me shut down. I knew this in CPE. In fact, it was sung to me over and over again so that I had to deal with the fact. The first issue I had in CPE was not having a panic attack every time I stepped into the hospital. (Um, yes, it was that bad.) Then, I had to deal with the supervisor (whom I didn't enjoy at all) insisting that I deal with the reality that not everyone dies when they come to the hospital. Yes, I got over that so that I can know walk in and out of the hospital with ease. I can stay there at the bedside. I can be the non-anxious presence I was told was the pastoral ideal.

Still, I don't believe this. The word cancer halts all reality. It whips me back into some place where logic never really existed. Not for me. That word sucks me into place where I assume it -- the damn cancer -- will win. Eventually. It always wins. There are hands that I have held that haven't shattered this place. There are tears that I've shed while driving to the burial to say prayers for those that heard this diagnosis too. There people even now in our church that struggle with the reality that the damn cancer keeps coming back. For those people, there is no silver lining. Or at least, it's really not that easy to find.

I know that my stepmother would strongly resonate with the words that appeared in this Sunday column. I'm grateful. I hope she always finds that silver lining but there is part of me that is too broken to find a silver lining in this. Definitely not in this. Except that this is exactly what I pushed the confirmands on yesterday.

They were planning worship centered around Psalm 5 for the day of their Confirmation. (The Lectionary left with them with some crappy texts, but that's not the irony here.) One of the girls planning the children's sermon wanted to ask the children about their fears.  She wanted to point to those things that scare us -- like thunderstorms -- and remind the children that God's presence comes when the sun shines again. It's the silver lining that makes God visible, she seemed to say. Of course, I wouldn't let that slide. I pushed her. I asked her if God could also be in the thunderstorm too. She was shy about her answer, but ultimately told me that God wasn't in the bad stuff. God was waiting for you when it was over. Though I tried really, really, really, really hard not to roll my eyes at her horribly trite theology, I wish I had that kind of faith right now. I wish I could simply be content with the silver linings.



The New York Times Well Blog has recently found a lot of fodder in the topic of insomnia. I've noticed these posts appear on the homepage -- but I've never actually read them. I didn't think it applied to me. I sleep like a baby. Usually, that is. Except tonight. Tonight, I can't sleep. I've been tossing and turning until I decided to do the only sensible thing that I could think to do: pull my computer into bed with me. Logical, right? (I did think to read first but I'm find this Stieg Larsson book to be a lot more work that the hype.) I would rather blog.

Last week, I learned some news that I don't know how to process. It's the sort of news that requires the big girl pastor pants -- where I don't dare share too much for fear that I'll totally fall apart. Indeed, ministry goes in circles but I'm a freakin' mess. Last week, while sitting in a meeting on ordination expectations, I got an email from my father that my step-mother has breast cancer. That's right. Breast cancer. The whole story unraveled over the weekend when she had surgery -- along with my ability to have any logical perspective. The surgery was fine. They didn't need to remove much of the lymph nodes. Good sign. They discovered that it's one of the more rare, aggressive cancers. Bad sign.

Now, it's probably obvious to you that this is my worst fear. Actually, in my worst fear, I have breast cancer. I die the same death that my mother died. Painfully. Awfully. Tragically. While I know that my step-mother is not dying, my heart is totally broken. How could this happen? Why isn't there a cure yet? Dear God, in all that is holy, how could you let this happen? I mean, I know you're rather busy with the oil spill on the Gulf Coast and the forest fires in Canada. I know that you're pretty pissed about the sins we've committed to this natural world -- but really? How could this happen too?

Of course, I'm not really praying right now. I'm not really talking to God at all. I'm mad at her. I know it's not her fault. I know she didn't cause these things to happen -- but I don't feel her tender caress. Instead, I feel the hard lump in my stomach that is so familiar to my grief. I feel the brimming of tears. All of this scares me. It scares me that my step-mother is going through this awful ordeal that may or may not result in chemotherapy, radiation or even a mastectomy. It scares me because I'll have my own mammogram next week. It scares me because my prayers have started to look like breasts -- which has given me pause to wonder if this image could be a symbol of my own salvation. And then, the lump aches again. The tears brim and I can't sleep.

It's hard to know how to deal with one horrible reality -- like the diagnosis of an aggressive cancer -- when it keeps bumping into the other horrible realities that have made life challenging for so long. My prayer has always been that this disease never, ever, ever strike someone I love again. My prayer has been that there would be a cure. I've walked, donated and lobbied for that cure. It's not so simple that I can be angry because there is so much sadness too. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross doesn't have a stage for that. She doesn't offer an adequate explanation for my confused grief characterized by insomnia, sadness, anger and tears. It wouldn't matter if she did. I would reject it. I don't want it explained. I just wish it wasn't happening. Obviously. Who wouldn't wish that?

And so, I'm trying to figure out how to get out of bed in the morning. I'm hoping that I actually get some sleep before getting out of bed -- but as that damn psalmist insists, joy always comes in the morning. Bullshit. I'm attempting to brave the pastoral life of loving people when I can't let them know how much I'm hurting. I'm trying to figure out what I'm supposed to do -- and how I can possibly begin to speak to God again without yelling and shaking my fist.