Dirty/Dusty Hands

Ash Wednesday in the hospital is a humbling experience. Touching the face of a dying person and telling them they are dust.   Smudging ash on the hand of someone waiting to see if their loved one will ever wake up again. Reminding nurses and doctors and custodians that their presence is sacred. Watching the ash cover my hands and bury under my fingernails with every encounter.  Remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. 

Ash Wednesday in our world is a humbling balance. On the one hand, God made Adam out of the dust and breathed into him the breath of life to be a steward of creation. As Rachel Held Evans beautifully wrote, this season celebrates reality and tells us we are not alone. On the other hand, our world reminds us of our mortality and brokenness. 685 million Covid deaths around the world, 71 mass shootings in the US in 2023, at least 853 deaths of migrants at US borders in 2022, a record 6542 guns confiscated in US airport security, 22 states targeting gender-affirming healthcare – the list goes on. Even social media feeds, phone calls with friends, conversations with check out clerks, passing moments with strangers affirm things are not as they ought to be. Remember that we are dust (stunning creation) and to dust we shall return (scary reality). 

Ash Wednesday in every time and place is a humbling opportunity. In this time where I am surrounded by death, grief, and pain every day as I show up to the hospital, I’ve been leaning heavily on Mr. Rogers’s famous advice to look for the helpers. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news,” Rogers said to his television neighbors, “my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Notice how he doesn’t say hide your emotions or pretend like nothing’s wrong. When we see scary things (and we will see scary things), look for the helpers. It can be trite and sometimes outright frustrating, but I also believe it’s true. Yes, we are dust and to dust we will return. And in the meantime, between that beginning and that end, we have an ability to help. Hold the door. Say hello. See if they need help with those groceries. Play peek-a-boo with the kid on the other side of the fish tank in the waiting room. Check in on the folks who are always checking in on others. By this, I believe and I hope that we can hold together the lightness of God’s delightful creation of and intention for humanity and the heaviness of the reality of death, too – this day and all days. In our helping, in our wandering, in our wrestling, remember friends: we are dust, and to dust we shall return. Perhaps that is enough.

When titles and words are hard…

Katie and I have started a ridiculously funny and painfully valid holiday tradition for our family. It started the year we got married (2020). Between canceled graduations, delayed wedding plans, goodbye-less moves, and the start of a global pandemic, we were inspired by a Facebook ad to get a dumpster fire ornament for 2020. A funny, one-off nod to the crazy start of our “official” life together as a married couple. However, 2021 brought its own bout of challenge, heartbreak, and sheer absurdity. So we found another ornament: a 2020 dumpster fire in a 2021 dumpster fire. This time a continued sigh of “goodness gracious, this better be the end of this mess.” As our 2022 dumpster fire (containing 2020 and 2021 dumpster fires) ornament arrived last week, this tradition has become more of a family ritual of recognition of all that’s out of our hands, calling us closer to one another and to God, who thankfully holds all of these emotions of confusion, disappointment, joy, loneliness, hope, longing, etc. along with us.

When I chose “offer” for my 2022 word, I had high hopes. After 2021 and its catastrophic disallusionment, I was desperate for something different, something steady, something good. And boy 2022 was not that. Collecting W2s from 7 different jobs along with far too many “you’re a gifted pastor but not the right fit right now” messages, 2022 has been a constant crisis of validation and sustainability. So much so I’m hesitant to even choose a word for 2023, for fear it will take another crazy turn of meaning.

See, “offer” ended up not at all looking like accepting an offer to be a congregation’s pastor or offering cool new perspectives in a cool new place or receiving joyfully what the world had to offer. Instead, it was a lot of offering myself to spaces for which I had no desire or no capacity to share myself. It was a lot of my counselor offering condolences for yet another disappointment. It was a lot of Katie offering to hold things steady for our household as I struggled to get out of bed in the morning. 2022 was not at all what I hoped for and certainly not at all what I needed.

So where does that leave things in this season requesting peace, joy, and hope in the midst of deep darkness and assiduous waiting? Well, things look more like a garbled ball of newspaper and tape than a neatly wrapped present topped with a sparkling bow. But, there is a gift underneath it all nevertheless. The gift of actually wanting to and being able to write – which has not always been present in the last few years. The gift of continued and growing appreciation for my rockstar wife and all that she brings to my life and the world. The gift of change on the horizon as I leave my office manager position with Katie’s church to pursue hospital chaplaincy for the first few months of the new year. The gift of upcoming interviews with excitingly faithful churches that continue the journey of discernment with me.

Therefore, I’m going to try something a little different for 2023. Rather than a word, I’m choosing a question. Where?

Where are things going right?
Where are things moving, growing, changing?
Where is God at play?
Where can I plug in?
Where might I try something new?
Where can I be more generous? More kind? More honest? More hopeful? More loving?

I know better than to project my assumptions on what this question might do for me in 2023. Every year of this journey of words has been completely different than expected – in beautiful and also in challenging ways. So I’m doing my best to lean in to a blessing a read recently from @honestadvent. Maybe you can, too.

“Our assumptions hinder our spiritual journey in all kinds of ways, and the antidote to assumption is surprise. The surprise of Christ’s incarnation is that it happened in Mary’s day as it is happening every day in your lack of resources, your overcrowded lodging, your unlit night sky, your humble surroundings.
It’s a surprise that life can come through barren places.
It’s a surprise that meek nobodies partake in divine plans.
It’s a surprise that messengers are sent all along the hidden journey of life to let you know you are not alone.
It’s a surprise that you will be given everything you need to accomplish what you’ve been asked to do.
It’s a surprise that nothing can separate you from the love of God.
Nothing can separate you from love. Your assumptions believe there must be something that can…but surprise! Nothing can.

May you thank God with joyful surprise at how much you have assumed incorrectly.”

Thank God When Things Don’t Fit

Recently, I’ve had this song stuck in my head. I love and relate so deeply to the lyrics. A significant part of my coming out journey has been more than just acknowledging who and how I love, but also how I understand my identity as a queer lady with more “masculine” gender expression. I’m a whole different girl than when my prom dress fit. I have zero desire to look or be like I was in high school. My body plays my guitar and that’s perfect for me. The bridge in particular is so powerful:

Oh, and nobody turns 95 and wishes that they’d bodychecked
Nobody looks back on life and wishes that they’d been more stressed
And nobody eats birthday cake and wishes they’d enjoyed it less
And nobody gives a shit if you rip up an old prom dress

But more importantly, this song has been a source of comfort and hope as I enter month 13 of searching for a pastoral call. For the sake of my sanity, I have not kept track of churches I’ve reach out to, interviews I’ve had, or sermons I’ve shared. Nevertheless, the number of times I’ve heard you were a strong second choice and we’ll be in touch (but actually we’re ghosting you) adds up as a slowly crushing weight, causing so much self doubt and systemic distrust that I rarely know which way is up anymore.

And then I heard this song. I have so desperately needed this song. I don’t get to control much. But, the agency I have is to thank God when things don’t fit. My trust in God tells me to thank God when things don’t fit. My experience of God tells me to thank God when things don’t fit. My need from God is to be able thank God when things don’t fit. Regardless of if I know why or how much I would’ve liked to have known it wasn’t going to be a fit months before I discovered it wasn’t going to work out, I haven’t found my fit yet. I’ve found many not fits. But no right fit yet.

Of course, I’m hesitant to say the suffering was necessary – for those who are totally different people than they were when they were younger, for those who struggle to find ways to live out their calling, for those who are stuck in the almost but not yet. My personal theology fights against necessary violence and pain. But at least today, I am grateful to be familiar with how it feels when something doesn’t fit. All of the dresses I tried so hard to love for so many years. All of the makeup I could not get myself to use. All of the shame for not knowing the options I have to feel and be my best self. All of the church buildings, committee meetings, conference assemblies, presbytery gatherings where I was not validated or recognized as a human being. All of the times my gifts in life and in ministry were ignored. I know what it’s like for things not to fit.

So while I still wait for answers, wait for direction, wait for fair compensation and recognition of my gifts, I’m doing my best to thank God for what’s not fitting. I’m jamming to this song. I’m loving my wife and walking my dog. I’m applying again and again. And in my waiting, I pray others who are also waiting, struggling, questioning know they’re not alone. I pray we can all worry less and love more. I pray we can hold on until that right fit comes along. Because I do believe it’s coming. And until that day, I’ll thank God when things don’t fit.

Public Restrooms

Without fail, every time I’m at an airport, someone attempts to correct me about the restroom I’m trying to enter. It’s never kind. There’s never a moment for consideration before accusation. Just blatant allegations that I am a predator based on my appearance and my need to use the bathroom. I’ve had this experience with moms waiting in line with their kids, with men waiting for someone to come out, with old women, with young ladies fixing their make up in the mirror. The judgment and discrimination has no bounds. It just hurts. Every time. Even when I know it’s coming. So a little evening layover public service announcement: yes, it is good for you to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior. However, please take a moment before you start staking claims. I’m lucky I am secure in my identity, including my gender expression. But ignorance can do some serious damage.

I don’t use the restroom in airports anymore without Katie with me. I feel like a child, but I don’t want to risk threat just to relieve myself. Remember the humanity in others. Give folkx a chance. Take a breath for yourself and others.

The Bible reminds us to love one another, to forgive time and time again, to dust our feet off when we’re not welcome. Today I’m finding that challenging as all of my mental effort this week was preparing to help our foster kid travel on a plane for the first time, but the only issue we’ve had is people correcting where I go to the bathroom. I pray I can be gracious. But I also pray for the world to get better. If not for me, if not for us, do it for the kids who are watching and learning from everything we do.

An Offering

It’s completely unexpected, but I’m living my best life right now. Carpooling with my wife to work where I help sweet kids with special needs all day, breathing well and breathing deeply for the first time in a long time. Doing what I can to receive what life has to OFFER (2022’s resolution word).

Offering myself even when I feel like I have to contribute. That feeling was a lie from 2021 so I’m leaving it there. To be an offering, I, too, have to be open to what the world is offering back. A new job, a new place, a new friend, a new skill, a new perspective? I’m choosing to be open to the Spirit

Meanwhile, my favorite artist put out a new song. It’s a bop. Plus, I’m quite literally I’m living Ben Rector’s words –

I wake up with the sunrise
It does not look a thing like I thought that it would
I’ve been getting my steps in
And I sleep with my best friend
It’s the best that it has been in a long time
I’m living my best life

Hindsight 2021

*Important announcement at the end 

Every new year I do a resolution word instead of targeted goals. I never know fully what it will mean and every year it challenges me in ways I couldn’t have expected. 

2021 – hold fast. 

January 4, 2021 I wrote:

Hold fast to truth.

Hold fast to joy.

Hold fast to love.

Hold fast to faith.

Hold fast to health.

Hold fast to calling.

Hold fast to gratitude.

Hold fast to goodness.

Hold fast to hope.

343 days later I decided to add some nuance:

Hold fast to truth because gaslighting yourself benefits no one.

Hold fast to joy because joy empowers revolution.

Hold fast to love because it’s what we all need most. 

Hold fast to faith because so much is going on that is bigger than we are.

Hold fast to health because we need our bodies and our bodies need us. 

Hold fast to calling because it often leads us to flourishing, if we only give it a chance.

Hold fast to gratitude because depression is real.

Hold fast to goodness because it is both present and necessary.

Hold fast to hope because “everything that is done in this world is done by hope” – Martin Luther.

*Important Announcement

Holding fast to faith, hope, and love and so much more, I have resigned from the Lake Fellow Residency at Second Presbyterian Church. I’ve learned to value my safety, my family, and my calling too much to stay in a place that’s not right for me. So I believe it’s best for me and for the Church to enter a season of healing away from Second. It’s been a difficult time of discernment and prayer and disappointment and revelation, but in the end, I’m getting a sense of why I needed “hold fast.” Hindsight 2021? Because I listened to my body. I listened to my surroundings. I listened to that still, small voice that outlasts every overbearing noise of self doubt, assumed expectations, and harmful theology. And I chose to hold fast to what is healthy and good and faithful to who I am and the calling God has for my life. 

Much more information to come, but until then, Katie and I are holding fast to joy for our wedding celebration in just 17 days and getting plenty of snuggles from sweet Benedict. 

In my sadness, grief, confidence, impatience, and love, here’s a piece by Tim Okamura that has been speaking to me. Hold fast to believing wild stories of messy grace, seeking the Expected One in unexpected places, and sharing all of who you are so redemption might break into this world. 

**For resources on understanding and supporting queer folkx of faith, I highly suggest you check out http://Wordmadequeer.com

Personal Information Form

The PC(USA) has a helpful job website where you can see churches seeking new pastors and pastors seeking new churches. The system works by each entity submitting information forms – ministry information forms for churches and personal information forms for pastors. You’ve probably noticed I haven’t written anything here since January, so you can probably imagine writing my personal information form has been a struggle.

I’ve been in a rut of feeling like I don’t have anything to contribute. Call it the global pandemic 18-month slump or a I-don’t-make-time-for-writing block or ultimate exhaustion or whatever you’d like. But I’ve stared at blank blog pages at least weekly since January and always end up closing the tab. Thankfully (or terrifyingly), I have an additional push to start writing again as I try to share who I am and where I feel called with new churches as my time at Second begins to wrap.

They really tried to make it easy on us. They list out core competencies and their definitions, and all you have to do is put an “x” in the top 10 boxes that describe you. There are neat charts to lay out where you have served before, how big the congregation was, and your role in your time there. The four essay questions are limited to 1500 characters, including spaces, and “simply” ask you one moment that has felt like success in ministry and one time you’ve led change. Simultaneously, 1500 characters feels way absurdly short and also out-of-my-reach huge. So just sit down at your computer and be fully and authentically yourself, while knowing your 10 core competencies are probably the secondary 10 the church you really want is looking for, and be everything to everyone so that you might (please, dear God) get a job in 9 months. Turns out that kind of pressure does not fill up your information form very quickly.

I don’t end this blog with an overwhelming since of enthusiasm or hope. I have a draft of my PIF, but it doesn’t feel right yet. I have written some words here, but I don’t know that I’ve said anything. However, I am reminded of the words I spoke to my NJ congregation every Sunday for two years, words my best friend repeats to me multiple times each week, words we all need in this seemingly never-ending stagnation of creativity, gratification, and humanity: you are loved and you are enough. No condition, no hesitation, no ifs, ands, or buts. We are loved and we are enough. Whether or not we have words on our pages or joy in our hearts or satisfactory PIFs. It’s just true. Thanks be to God.

Hold Fast, 2021.

Franklin & Marshall - College Events Calendar

“Embrace,” my resolution word for 2020, looked nothing like I expected. I doubt I’m alone in that, whether you had a resolution or a word or any expectations at all for the 365.25 days of madness we just collectively experienced. I was excited and ambitious to embrace change and joy and celebration throughout the entire year. Like so many others, I had no idea that instead I would be stretched to embrace heartbreak and isolation and a looming anxiety about what to do and how to do it safely. With that in mind, I began searching my soul as well as my dictionary/thesaurus for a fitting word for this year’s resolution. Recuperate? Recover? Refresh? Redeem? Rescue? I’m not sure why I was stuck on “r” words, but they all seemed a little strong and a little too stuck in 2020.

Then one night after postponing our fourth wedding celebration attempt, canceling our second honeymoon attempt, Katie working virtually, and my work mostly holed up in my windowless office, I found myself squeezing my beautifully wife tightly in the middle of the night. Everything has twisted and flipped and flat out disappeared. But she’s still here. Everything is slow and charged and distanced. But I am still here. Everything feels broken and disappointing and frustrated. But God’s still here, somewhere. So I need (for my own sanity) to hold on and hold fast.

Hold fast to truth.
Hold fast to joy.
Hold fast to love.
Hold fast to faith.
Hold fast to health.
Hold fast to calling.
Hold fast to gratitude.
Hold fast to goodness.
Hold fast to hope.

Though 12:01am January 1, 2021 did not automatically validate, negate, or overcome what 2020 brought to us, I do believe it was a necessary reminder. We have more hope than we thought. We have more power than we thought. And we have more love than we thought. Therefore, we also have more dreaming to do, more responsibility to own, and more kindness to share. May we be so bold as to hold fast to these good things and so much more, loving God and loving one another, in 2021 and in years to come.

OCD – not an insult, not a joke, not alone

One year ago today I walked out of my counselor’s office with a prescription in my hand and a new understanding of my brain. One year ago today I was diagnosed with OCD. OCD “features a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress. You may try to ignore or stop your obsessions, but that only increases your distress and anxiety” (thanks for the medical definition, Mayo Clinic). This diagnosis was strange because it had always been this joke in my family about how we like to keep things clean and we’re really attached to order. But this was different. I was hit with a ton of bricks that much of how I experience life and experience anxiety is not a joke. This is a disorder. Something is wrong with me. Or so I was telling myself.

Having OCD for me means I have an affinity for order and schedules and routine that impacts my life and those around me. Though it’s grounded in a grasp for control that many of us experience, I experience disorder and uncertainty on a different level. It causes me to freeze up. It causes me to check out. It causes my thumbs or even my entire hands to shake. It causes trichotillomania, or hair pulling. It causes a lack of ability to communicate or articulate what is happening and why it is affecting me so greatly. And after a year, I can safely say I still struggle with all of these symptoms.

Stigma around medication is mind-blowing to me. Whether you take pills and don’t feel like you can tell anyone or you might need pills and you’re too afraid to name it, we can all do better to be honest with ourselves and those around us that it’s okay to not be okay. And that there are a lot ways to get help. My anxiety medication keeps me closer to reality, even when things are hard or constantly changing (because that’s life, right?). My anxiety medication makes my hands shake a little less and helps me sort out my thoughts a little more. Just a small plug to say get help if you need help. And if you need encouragement, I’m here for you.

I chose to share my story about this struggle in my life because I know that I am not alone. I still stumble when when plans or expectations change and I am expected to make a new decision quickly. I still stumble being honest with my counselor about the stress and fear I experience in new and changing circumstances. I still stumble “putting my eyebrows on” in the morning because I’m too embarrassed to let the world tangibly see the internal fight I’m experiencing. And yet I sit here today with a much better understanding of a God who created both order and chaos.

In the first creation story (Genesis 1:1-2:4), God added things to the chaos of the formless void that was earth. God added light and God added land and God added vegetation and plants and fruit and the sun and the moon. All of these things made the earth good. A side note that the earth was not very good until human (adam) had a partner, a helper (eve). However, God was present in both the chaos and the order. In the darkness and the light. In the water and on the dry land. In the things that seem formless and the things that have form. I have learned in my life that God is present in the order as well as in the chaos. Thanks be to God.

In the second creation story (Genesis 2:4-25), God sits in the disorder, the indistinct, the structureless for 2.5 verses. Then slowly God causes things to be added to life on earth. A stream rises up. A human is made from dust. A garden is planted. It feels like God takes intentional time to appreciate both the chaos and the order. So as I learn to sit in the reality of both determinate and in-determinate, shaped and unshaped, harmony and disarray, I know that this is a holy and valuable act. After all, we’re all here trying to be more like our Creator, right?

As I find ways to both relish and reconcile one year of this diagnosis, I wanted to share. Because Creation was designed with purpose. Because we are all overwhelmed in this time of uncertainty and wrecked plans and fear of what the future will be. Because honesty and vulnerability are necessary in this world. Because I am not alone. And neither are you.

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The Office: a reflection tool

If you know anything about me, you probably know I love the TV show, The Office. I can (and do) watch the show over and over again. It’s a lifeline when times are hard and a joy when life is good. I don’t know if it’s the dry humor or the brilliant writing or the incredible detail of the show that makes me love it so much, but I do in fact love this show.

When I graduated from college, I remember I was right at the end of the series. I wrote a blog post about all the things I was feeling and experiencing as I was watching the end of a show I loved so much after a season in a place I loved so much with people I loved so much. You can imagine a lot of tears were shed. As I ended graduate school this May, I found myself in the opposite scenario – the pilot season of The Office. Beautifully, I also discovered The Office Ladies podcast right as I was starting to rewatch the show. If you haven’t checked out this podcast, you should stop reading this right now and go check it out! This podcast walks through every episode of The Office with Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey as they reminisce and highlight behind-the-scenes details “only 2 people who were there could tell you.” Needless to say, I love this podcast almost as much as I love the show.

Last night I was sitting on the porch, listening to the podcast episode about the Christmas Party in season 2. Of course, Jenna and Angela highlighted hilarious moments and fast facts and fun tidbits that brought a smile to my face. But, I sat on the porch with tears welling up in my eyes as they talked about what this episode, this show, these friendships meant to them. I had to take a step back to realize they were inadvertently describing my seminary experience. At the end of the Christmas Party episode, you find the characters playing in the snow in the parking lot and the end of their celebration. Spoiler – this was not a scripted event! The film crew shot this footage as the cast was going home after hours and hours of shooting, but they got caught up in the joy and the magic of manufactured snow in Los Angeles with dear friends. Jenna described this moment as real people living their lives, and it just happened to be on television.

That’s when it hit me. That’s what seminary was for me. Minus the being on television of course. But, I was just living my life – meeting my now wife, making lifelong friends, exploring a city, asking huge life questions. And I just happened to be getting my master’s degree. That is why that place and those people are so special to me. So difficult to leave behind. It was just life. And there were parts that were incredible, parts that were crushing, parts that truly knocked me off my footing. And it all added up to be this amazing experience of everyday things – like meals in Mackay dining hall, walks to the library, daily chapel services, and, yes, lots of class too – that shaped and changed my life and my calling forever.

So I write these thoughts for a couple of reasons:
1) Listen to The Office Ladies podcast and rewatch this incredible series.
2) I pray we can all not only appreciate the arts for the ways in which they form who we are and how we experience the world, but also support the arts in this difficult time and all times. This show is hugely important in my life. And other folks have shows and music and paintings that have been with them through thick and thin. We must not take that for granted.
and finally 3) I’m imagining I’m not the only one who is processing and reflecting and feeling all the feelings in this time as seasons change and our lives are all over the place. I write so you know you’re not alone. So that I know I am not alone. I write because it’s the little things like finding your notes from your first ever intro class or a now old picture from when your haircut was truly horrendous or hearing that person’s voice over the phone – it’s the average, unnoticeable, little things that add up to make us who we are. And that’s pretty darn special.

May we actually take a moment to reflect today – maybe on your favorite show or podcast, maybe on life changes you’re encountering, maybe on big questions you’ve been too afraid or too tired to tackle. But reflection is a gift and we must not take that for granted.

“There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that kind of the point?” – Pamela Beesley Halpert, Season 9 Episode 25

All 'The Office' Filming Locations Addresses (We Found Dunder ...

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