Friday, April 8, 2016

Evening Walks

For the past month or so, I’ve taken up the practice of going for an evening walk. I head out my door any time after 10:30pm, and I go for one or two trips around the little suburban neighborhood across the street. I live in a fairly safe and secure town, and all the streets are well lit by either street lamps or outdoor lights owned by the homeowners. Even when it’s cold, windy, rainy, or snowy, I make it a point to get out and walk. I’m usually only out for fifteen to thirty minutes (depending upon how many laps I do through the community), but it has become a Holy practice for me.

Sabbath has been a difficult undertaking in seminary. I always felt pulled in so many different directions that taking time to do something for myself seemed selfish; I needed to finish that one paper or get caught up on that reading! But this time each evening has helped to me to refocus upon what’s important, and it helps me to unwind after long and busy days. I think my connection to God has suffered while I’ve been in seminary, it became harder at times to hear God above the din of the academia. I sometimes fear that I sacrificed too much in the name of academic success and as a result potentially missed out on some transformative community events which would have allowed me to commune with God more frequently. I can’t do anything now to change what I’ve done, but I can work on being better for the future. Ministry has many long and demanding days, and I will need to be intentional about carving time out for myself. So, I walk. Even when I feel tired and really don’t want to. Even when I still have too much academic work to complete. Even when it means I have to leave a group gathering a bit early. I walk.

As I walk I sometimes sing, and I use the time to pray. I talk to God, and I listen for her response. I’ve had a particularly trying several months (I referenced this in my last blog post, 10 letters), and I’m working on a rebuilding phase for myself. It’s slow, and painstakingly difficult at times, and I will be a decidedly different person than I was before I had this experience. And as I reflect on these past few months of trial, I believe that God has been with me the entire way, even when I couldn’t feel God. I think God comes to us in the faces of those we love, in the voice on the other end of the phone asking, “How are you today?”

When I walk and talk with God, I contemplate the pieces of my life which have made me who I am, the pieces which have brought me to this place. Sometimes I get angry and have no reasonable place to apply blame, so I get angry with God (because God can handle it when we get angry, and I think it’s better to be authentic in emotion and express anger with God than it is to allow that anger to fester inwardly and cause you to yell and scream at your housemate or tell that annoying person at work to get lost), and when I’m done I know God is still with me and loves me.

I recently had a talk with someone about forgiveness and how I wanted to one day forgive someone who had done something harmful to me. As we pressed in conversation, I admitted that I didn’t know if I would ever be able to truly forgive that person, but I never wanted to give up trying. I’m not ready yet to forgive in this instance, but every day I think about that person and I attach the declaration, “Child of God,” to the end of their name. My hope is that as much as I recognize from a theological level that they are a child of God, I need to get to the point at my emotional level where I see they are indeed a Child of God. It’s not an easy task. But I continue trying. Because it is through trying that we experience growth and change.

Speaking of, my life is about to change again. I started this blog in preparation for commencing my seminary education. I moved from Upstate New York to Boston, MA never having lived more than an hour away from family. I remember being so homesick those first weeks that it was excruciating. But Boston eventually became home. It has left an indelible mark upon my heart, and I will forever look to these years as ones in which I did the most growing into my own that I ever have. As the weeks and days draw closer to the end (three weeks of regular classes left, three weeks of CPE placement left, five weeks until graduation), it is startling to me how much I’ve experienced which I wasn’t able to chronicle here. Part of that is due to my very inconsistent ability to write regularly, and yet it is also due to trying to live in the moment. I tried to be present in ways which didn’t allow me to be buried in my phone instead of interacting with those around me. Seminary is an amazing journey, and I am experiencing the bitter-sweet emotions that come with it ending. As I prepare to step from one journey, I know that I embark upon another exciting phase in my life. The journey isn’t ending, it’s just taking on a different shape.

As I walk with God on these evenings, I share my concerns for the future, my joys for the present, and my pains of the past. People can debate the power and works of prayer all they want, but that I take the time to share something with the cosmos, that I can share something of myself with something bigger than we can comprehend, is important. I know that I am not on this journey or any journey alone.

New and exciting things await me. I can’t wait to see where God calls me to next.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

10 letters

Full Disclosure: This blog post will delve into the very personal. It will also have the occasional four-letter-word in it.

I haven’t truly shared a deep blog post in a while, there are a few reasons for that;
I’ve always struggled with the practice of regular writing, it’s never something I’ve been particularly good at. So, it often falls by the wayside to other opportunities for engagement.
Seminary is busy and demanding. Sometimes I need to focus my energies on my assignments and living into the very life before me. This means that sometimes, writing doesn’t get done.
But the predominant reason I haven’t taken the time to write in a while is due to this: Depression. Ten letters.

Due to a series of events in my life, course content interacting in particularly triggering ways, and demands of my internship, I spiraled into depression. For those who haven’t experienced the dark wolf, let me simply say this, depression is fucking brutal. It is a constant exhaustion coupled with not being able to sleep. It’s isolating yourself from those around you while wishing someone would just give you a hug and tell you they love you. It’s needing to do laundry but finding yourself still sprawled across your bed three hours later, unable to move and unable to care. You feel like you’re listening to the world through a straw and viewing the landscape through the sides of a dirty pint glass, your brain is covered in cheesecloth which slows down the reception and processing of information. It hurts to breathe. It is exhausting and painful to do the very things which are meant to sustain you.

Gratefully, I had people in my life who I was able to reach out to. I had the people who took me to lunch and tried to encourage me to eat. I had the people who made it okay for me to sit in a nearly catatonic state or held silence as tears streamed silently down my face. I had the people who made me carry a card of names and phone numbers for three people I would call in an emergency. I had the people who sent text messages every day just to check in. People invited me into their homes and guest rooms simply so I didn’t have to spend the night alone. I called people and cried, they loved me from afar, suggested scripture to read, and prayed with me. I took medical incompletes in two classes so as not to be a detriment to myself academically and professionally.

Some might suggest that this platform, a blog, is not the place to share such information. It’s airing dirty laundry for everyone to see. While I can understand their concern, I respond with the question, “What about depression and concerns for mental health make them particularly ‘dirty’ to society?” I choose to share this information because I believe that the more we are transparent about mental health issues the stronger we become as people and a society. When we talk about it and acknowledge it, we remove some of the shame and guilt which keeps people in the closet. When we talk about mental health in everyday life without whispering in hushed tones behind closed doors, we make the prospect of seeking help attainable. When we don’t talk about mental health, those who do have experiences with mood disorders just continue to feel like isolated, fucked up freaks. We don’t need that. So, I choose to name my depression. I choose to do so because it is healthy for me in my own growth and awareness, and I choose to do so with the knowledge that someone else may be experiencing depression and they should know that they are not alone. There is a vulnerability to naming and claiming our needs in this world, it is a vulnerability which invites the sacred in to work in new and exciting ways.

Some people suggest that mental illness is a sign of weakness, that God never gives us more than we can handle. I think that’s bullshit. If you really believe that God never gives each of us more than we can handle, I call upon you to look into the eyes of a family grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide and say that. Because sometimes, for some people, life truly shovels more shit on us than we can handle.

I know some people who believe strongly in redemptive suffering and believe that all suffering serves a purpose. I don’t agree with them. I believe that this experience will better equip me to be a stronger pastor, but I’d rather it not have happened.

We talk frequently in theological circles about the concepts of wholeness and brokenness.  I cringe to when these terms are used because brokenness implies wrongness or defect. Wholeness implies that any brokenness we’ve ever experienced is erased from the slate and never leaves a mark; I think we can all agree that such an idea is bullshit. Perhaps I’m thinking in too literal or linear a framework; but I think we’re all simultaneously broken and whole. It is the beauty in our brokenness which allows us to see ourselves as whole human beings despite our faults. It is the duct tape over the crack which tells of the ability of the wounded heart. Challenges with mental illness does not mean that a person is broken and not whole, it merely means one is experiencing a level of identity which not everyone knows.

Where am I now? I’m still in the midst of my depression. Medication and therapy are helping me to regain a degree of normalcy over my emotional and mental state, I’m feeling more in control. But there are still days where it’s extremely hard to get out of bed and do anything “productive.” There are days I feel like a robot incapable of emotion, and there are days I’m a basket-case of tears or anger. It’s all part of the ride I guess.

I don’t know if this has a point beyond naming depression for the sake of transparency, I don’t know if anyone will find comfort or shared experience in what I’ve laid out. I know that for some, depression ends only when life ends. I know for some, medication and therapy are a lifelong necessity. For some, intentional treatment may be a short-term reality. We all walk our own journey with life, it’s not a one-size fits-all world. That’s part of the reason talking about mental health is necessary, we don’t all fit into a cookie cutter shape for living.

So love each other. If you know someone who is depressed or suicidal, be present for them in any way that you can. Know your own limits in helping, but be available to the degree that you can. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Initial thoughts on India

My thoughts are disorganized. But I am enthralled in this experience!
We learned how to write our names in Tamil. 
Pg 1 of reflection on 1/2/16 at 6:15pm
Pg 2

Monday, November 2, 2015

Registration for my final semester...WHAT?!?!

I'm preparing to register for my final semester of seminary.
To date, I have earned 64 credits and am working on earning another 15 to grant me 79 credits. I need 96 for my degree.
My cumulative GPA at the end of last Spring was a 3.65, no grades from this semester have come in yet.

My final semester includes:
--A two week trip to India in January! I'll be studying conflict transformation in South India.  Our first session together is this Thursday morning!
--Introduction to Preaching - An introduction to the theology and practice of preaching within the context of Christian ministry and worship. Students develop skills necessary for preparation, composition, delivery, and critique of sermons. Required of all M.Div. students in the Pastoral Ministry track.
--Constructive Theology - This course introduces students to the major themes of Christian theology with the aim of providing them with a framework for effective and faithful theological reflection. Beginning with revelation and ending with eschatology, we follow a familiar progression in the study of systematic theology, examining modern and postmodern theological perspectives on God, creation, human nature, sin, Christology, ecclesiology and other doctrinal loci. The methodological approach is constructive, in that emphasis is placed on helping students integrate central issues of faith in response to contemporary issues.
--CPE continuing to work with residents exhibiting dementia symptoms related to Alzheimer's and other cognitive diseases.
--Seminary Singers (for credit, Singers is something I've always done as extracurricular). The Seminary Singers rehearse on Tuesday evenings and sing during our Wednesday Chapel service.  In May we're singing at the United Methodist General Conference!

I want to know what happened with the last 2+ years. It was a blur. I want it back!
I can't believe it's all coming to a close.

May 14, 2016.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Just a thought for the night

Today is October 26, 2015.
In fewer than seven months I will graduate from Boston University School of Theology with a Master of Divinity. 
I don't know what to think about this. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

On going to her wedding.

On going to her wedding.

The invitation came in the mail, I didn’t know how to respond.  We hadn’t exactly parted under the best of terms.  When our relationship ended we were both hurting, living over 300 miles apart, and quickly losing control of everything around us.  For myself, I was in my first year of seminary and was trying to make sense of my life and grasp at the remaining “truths” of my theology. 

I held the invitation, not knowing what I thought.  Did I really want to go? Did she really want me to come? Can I watch her marry someone I’m not totally convinced is right for her?  I sought counsel from a few trusted confidants.  Most actually told me I shouldn’t go, that it didn’t seem like I was certain I needed to be there.  I thought, I prayed, I prayed, I prayed some more.  In the end, I determined that I would go.  I RSVP’d “Yes” and entered my third and final year of seminary. 

As the weeks drew closer to the wedding, I still didn’t know if I was truly prepared to go.  I’d sorted through my feelings and knew that although I would always love her, that love had changed; I knew that she wasn’t the person I was meant to spend my life in partnership with.  When an internship looked like it might prevent my attending, I simultaneously breathed a sigh of relief and lamented possibly missing the event.  Clearly, I was conflicted.

In the week leading up to the wedding, I made the final determination to go and began working my schedule around the necessary departure time.  It was a several hour drive, so planning for traffic was necessary.  I awoke before the sun and was out the door before many other residents in my 18-member house were awake. 

As I arrived at the location, it became clear to me how much I really did want to be there.  It was an outdoor wedding at a state park, parking was in a lower lot and the pavilion sat up under and behind a grove of trees.  I talked briefly on the phone with the person who had been our campus chaplain in college; she asked, “Are you okay with this?”  She understood what it could mean to watch someone I had dated marry someone else.  I assured her of my resolve and departed from my car. 

I took a wrong turn when walking and ended up in the wrong direction.  I glanced hastily at my watch, it was seven minutes before the ceremony was to start and people were nowhere in sight.  I looked around me in a bit of panic and found myself thinking, “If I miss this event, I’ll never forgive myself.”  I ran back the way I’d come as fast as I could, I ran up the hill without stopping, I made it to the pavilion with three minutes to spare. 

The first person I saw was the groom.  He smiled and said, “She’s going to be so happy you’re here.  She’s getting ready in that RV.  I can’t go in, but you need to go and see her.  Just knock on the door.”  I walked to the RV and knocked.  As any good Maid of Honor would do just minutes before a wedding, the MOH tried to usher me away.  The groom hollered from 20 paces off, “She can go in, she’s okay.”  The MOH looked at me, “Okay, but she’s getting into her gown.”

I walked up the stairs of the RV and looked to the left.  Her back was to me, she didn’t know I was there.  She turned around, saw me, and her face lit up.  I burst into tears.  She looked beautiful.  Not just beautiful because she was in a wedding dress.  Not just beautiful because it was her wedding day.  She looked beautiful from the depths of her soul.  She radiated joy, it originated from her core.  She was the happiest I had ever seen her, ever.  We hugged and I said through the tears, “You Are Beautiful!”  She said, “Don’t start crying on me already.”

As we hugged, I felt a weight lift from my soul.  She and I used to talk every day; we’d had a constant connection of friendship and/or romance for nearly six years.  When our relationship ended, that connection had been severed.  We hardly talked anymore, and even if we did it was nowhere near what we used to have.  I had been carrying that loss with me.  I knew on some level it was there, but I hadn’t registered the gravity to which it had impacted me.  When we embraced in that RV, I felt the weight of that loss flow off me and pool onto the floor.  Roughly two years of pain and heartache were simply washed away.
I was shooed off by the MOH (who did a VERY fine job, let me tell you) and exited the RV.  I regained composure in time for the ceremony to start, only to promptly lose my composure again as she entered the pavilion during the processional.  It was as though I was truly seeing her for the first time; which in a way I was.  She was a new person, unlike the person I had previously known.  Certainly there were parts of her former identity which I could recognize, but now she was truly whole, she held nothing back. 

As far as I am aware, I was the only person from our college days who was able to make it to the wedding.  There was a core group of us those years ago, and we were very tight.  I watched the ceremony and snapped a few pictures with my phone.  I watched both the bride and groom express deep tears of joy at the new life they were embarking upon together.  I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place.  After the ceremony was over, I sent a picture to the others who were unable to be there.  “She’s married! :)” accompanied the image.  I received texts back almost instantly with exclamations of joy. 

I waited to go through the receiving line.  I had been asked to express love and congratulations on behalf of others who couldn’t be there.  One hug for one person, a second hug for another, and then a third for myself.  “I’ve missed you so much, I’m so happy for you!” I whispered to her.  The photographer offered to take a photo of us which had my face rather than the back of my head.  I can’t wait to see how we look with tears of healing and joy on our faces. 

I hugged the groom and we made a decision to get to know each other better.  I want to know the person who can make her as happy as she is; she deserves that happiness and he made it happen.  Any misgivings I had about him had disappeared the instant I saw her in the RV, and I look forward to a lifelong friendship with him as well as her. 

 So I went to the wedding.  I’m glad I did.  I know now that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it for the world.  She gave me a gift in inviting me, and I believe it was a gift to both of us that I went.  I texted her that evening after the wedding with some photos and shared my experience about the weight being lifted; she responded that she knew exactly what I meant.  I don’t know what will happen next, but I’ll be honest in saying that I hope she and I can work toward rebuilding a solid friendship.  I believe that we are meant to be in each other’s lives. 

My soul feels lighter.  It feels like I’m taking a deep breath without pain for the first time in a long time.  I’ve been granted freedom from something which was holding me down.  I can’t exactly explain everything that happened, I don’t know if I really understand it.  I believe that attending the wedding was some kind of balm for me; it brought to the fore a realization of what had been suppressed, and it remove the damaged parts of me and replenished them anew. 

I am still processing and trying to wrap my limited brain around the magnificence of how God works in this world.  I am a firm believer that God uses us to call each other to life, and I believe that God was at work this weekend in a big way.  That I’ve cried three times while reflecting and writing this speaks to the magnitude of that truth.

If you have the type of relationship where you are invited to a former lover’s nuptials, my experience would suggest that you should go.  Definitely don’t just show up if you aren’t invited, there’s probably a reason for that.  But if you are invited, consider allowing yourself to be open to God’s transformative ways in this world.  I went to my ex’s wedding and I learned things about myself I didn’t know.  I went to my ex’s wedding and came away a changed person.  I went to my ex’s wedding and celebrated as she married the love of her life.  I went.