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.

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“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 ...

Closure

Don’t tell my fellow seminarians, but two days ago I turned in my last final. And for about 3 minutes, I was stoked! I finished my finals earlier than I ever have! I finished seminary! But then it hit me. Now what? Besides a virtual senior banquet next week, my formal educational career is over for the foreseeable future. And it ended with a click of a submit button. On top of that, school work was one singular thing that felt normal in this weird time of sitting at home day after day. This morning I have been pondering what closure might look like for me. So I threw down some ideas in a poetic/prayer-like style. Maybe you have your own to add.

My classes will soon be over
My papers are all turned in
Closing this almost 21 year long journey means
Reflecting on all of the books I read, subjects I’ve studied, countless words I have written
It also means reflecting on the friends I’ve made, the places I’ve been, the ways I have grown
Openness to the future means
Embracing that my learning is never truly be over

In 68 days, my work as Pastor at Titusville United Methodist Church will be over
While grateful for online worship and fellowship, I might not get to say goodbye in person
Closing this wild 2 year long journey means
Considering all of the ways I’ve grown as a pastor – in worship, in preaching, in leading, in dreaming
It also means considering all of the ways I have grown as a person – through conflict, through deep care, through treacherously down times, through bravery
Openness to the future means
My love for this people and this work will never truly be over

37 days from now I’m getting married
It will not look like plan A, and it might not get to look like plan B or even plan C
Closing the familiarity of singleness and closing the expectation of what my wedding day would look like means
Reflecting on the purpose behind this event
It also means I do not have to do life alone
Openness to the future means
Who I am truly will never be over – instead I have the blessing of growing together with this incredible woman by my side

And there are so many more endings coming my way and yours. Leaving the East Coast, leaving friends, leaving normal (because we cannot go back to normal after this pandemic is over). But my recommendation to myself and possibly you, too, is to spend some time on the last 2 lines. We might not get the closure we hope for or expected or needed. However, our openness to the future is ours for the taking. And it depends on the day – because this time is hard and exhausting and full of grief. But as we find energy and life in this time, openness to the future is ours. May we take our time, reflecting, hoping, lamenting, waiting, dreaming. For seasons may be closing, but God is not finished with us yet.

9 Signs That God Is Opening a Door

Bless the Lord (even in this time)

Bless the Lord, O my soul
And all that is within me, bless God’s holy name
Bless the Lord, O my soul
And forget not God’s character in this time of isolation

For God forgives my iniquities – my selfishness, my forgetfulness, my frustration
And God heals all our diseases – though it may not always look like the healing we thought we needed
God redeems our lives from the pit – from quarantine, from grief, from missed experiences and missed celebrations
God crowns each and every one of us with steadfast love and mercy
And God satisfies us with goodness – through good books and time for walks and cozy blankets and FaceTime –
So that our youth, our freedom, our fullness of living will be renewed like the eagle’s

For even in this time of Lent, this time of social distancing, this time of uncertainty upon uncertainty, God knows how we were made; God remembers that we are dust
So, too, may we remember
As for mortals, our days are like grass
Time is simultaneously passing too quickly and with painstaking slowness
As we change classes and workspaces and living situations and graduations and weddings and hopes and dreams,
We flourish like a flower of the field
For the wind passes over it and it is gone
And its place knows it no more

But

But

The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
God’s righteousness is for all children’s children, those who keep covenant and remember the commandment of love
The Lord has established a throne in the heavens and God’s kingdom rules over all
It rules over viruses and separation and life in public and life at home
It rules over hospitals and schools and huge corporations and local businesses
It rules over our grief and our expectation and our worry and our loneliness

Bless the Lord, O you God’s angels
You mighty ones who are leading and struggling and living in this time
Bless the Lord, all hosts of God, ministers that do God’s will
Bless the Lord, all God’s works, in all places of God’s dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.

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Ministry Together

Every Sunday my co-pastor (also my best friend) and I pick a spot around the church to pray. We pray for the service, for the people, for visitors, for boundaries, for distractions, for guidance, for action. And every week we are sure to thank God that we do not do this work alone. Almost every time this comes up in the prayer, both of us chuckle to ourselves because it is just so true. We cannot do this work alone. We cannot do life alone. Nor were we meant to.

This strikes me as I am home sick today, attempting to rest, dreaming up ideas about next Sunday’s sermon and my wedding liturgy and summer plans and job interviews that are filling my calendar. It strikes me because it’s not something I have to worry about in whatever my next steps happen to be. No matter what I know that God is going to provide people to work with me, to encourage me, to wrestle with me, to imagine with me, to help me. So amidst a storm of uncertainty and imposter syndrome symptoms and overplanning potential outcomes, I have this small (but increasingly growing) sense of peace.

Luckily enough, last night was a beautiful, tangible moment of that peace. Last night I got to hear my brilliant fiancé preach. I feel obligated to admit my bias though I believe she is undeniably wonderful and talented and remarkable (not to mention kind, genuine, and stunning). However, there was a truth about the peace she presented last night, a peace for all of us in the congregation but also a special peace for me as her life partner, that was so real and so deep it brought tears to my eyes. She spoke of resistance, of redemption, of hope in God even when God is not mentioned. She wove together powerful stories that in turn empower us to work towards justice and love in this world. And I sit here today smiling as I reflect because no matter what I do next, I get to do life, I get to do ministry, with this amazing person. Our lives and our ministries will be fused together in covenant with God and that is something absolutely no one, no job offer, no negative self-talk, no uncertain housing situation can take away from me.

So I might be rambling a bit here today, but I am just overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to do ministry as my life’s calling. I am just overjoyed that I never have to do this work alone. And I am just overcome with excitement that I will always get to do life and ministry with the love of my life (who will be my wife in 110 days). Thanks be to God!

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