In the Bleak Midwinter Friday Five

Poor Singing Owl, she's had a rough morning! But despite it, she's given us this fun Friday Five:

Sorry for the late posting! My daughter's car won't start, and I just returned from driving her to work. I think she made need a block heater. Speaking of that...
Here in snow country we are settled in to what is a very long stretch of potentially boring days. The holidays are over. It is a very long time till we will get outside on a regular basis. The snow that seemed so beautiful at first is now dirty and the snow banks are piling up. Our vehicles are all the same shade of brownish grey, but if we go to the car wash our doors will freeze shut. People get grumpy. Of course, not everyone lives in a cold climate, but even in warmer places the days till springtime can get long. Help! Please give us five suggestions for combating cabin fever and staying cheerful in our monochromatic world?

I can sure relate to this-- I've been feeling a little cooped up and grumpy myself. Here are my best fixes:

  1. I go to the gym. I just figured this out last year, actually-- when I go to the gym (or, weather permitting, run outside), I hibernate MUCH less. I don't always want to do it, but I feel better afterwards every single time.
  2. I play with my new sewing machine! Having a project to work on keeps me from getting bored, which keeps me from getting cranky.
  3. I make much more of an effort to get together with friends-- even if I don't feel like it when I'm making the plans.
  4. I try to read less. This might seem odd, but I'm a huge reader, and have a tendancy to hole up with good books. But I get grumpy and bored in winter, so I've discovered that I maintain a nice balance in myself when I enjoy quiet, contemplative time in the summer and social time in the winter.
  5. I snuggle with Mr. M.
  6. Wait, I have an extra one-- I try to make fun spring plans so that I can count down to specific things. This year, it's the Cherry Blossom!

I cannot WAIT to read what other people do to make this blasted season go faster!


Learning from Anger

I've only very recently begun to understand anger as a useful tool. About a year ago, maybe more, I told my spiritual director how upset I'd been feeling with someone who was very important to me. She asked if there was any physical way that I noticed those feelings, and I realized that when I got angry, my arms felt tingly and uncomfortable. That cue became incredibly helpful for recognizing my feelings-- there were times that I didn't realize I was angry until I noticed how uncomfortable my arms were!

Growing up, anger was not something I was allowed to show. Anger was rebellious, disobedient, insubordinate, and not to be tolerated. Anger meant there was something wrong with me. I've finally come to learn that anger is often a tool to show me that something really is wrong with the situation. Instead of fighting my anger, I see it as a flashlight, illuminating the circumstances so that I can see that something needs to change.

Yesterday, someone was very angry, and it felt disproportionate. I didn't feel responsible for that person's anger (that alone was amazing), but I thought about it for most of the day. As I journaled last night, I realized that what's true for me is also true for others: she was angry because something was wrong in her world. It's likely the situation was part of that wrong-ness, but it's just as likely that it was a piece of a larger whole.

This conclusion-- that it wasn't about me, that something she was experiencing felt wrong for her, gave me a really new outlook on other people's anger. I feel more comfortable with it, more patient and more understanding.

It is, of course, distinctly possible that I'm a little slow on the uptake with this realization, and it's stating the obvious for most people. For me, though, it was a long time coming, and a gift from God.


In Defense of Joy

Coffeepastor started a recent post with a quote that ended thus, "Bonhoeffer wondered whether it is possible to embrace God out of love and lightness of heart, out of a seduction that is caught up in the call of God rather than the need of God." - Peter Rollins, The Fidelity of Betrayal

This talk of "love and lightness of heart" reminds me of a meeting I had with a Spiritual Direction group recently, where one person was sharing about newly found joy. The group kept asking questions until finally they came upon something in that person's life that was still painful, and *that's* when they felt like they had identified the part that was spiritual.

We need to start valuing joy. It's not just pain that's real. It seems to be broadly acknowledged that sharing painful experiences is an act of vulnerability, but I believe we have come to a place where sharing our joy also leaves us feeling exposed and uncertain. Our joys abide in the deepest parts of ourselves, and they're tender places. Will you treat my most valued things as precious, or will you dismiss them? Will you rejoice with me, or be threatened by what I've found?

"Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn," writes Paul in his letter to the Romans. Most of us know when to extend a tissue and a gentle word, but thanks be to God for the one who also knows when to join the laughter and dancing.



About a year ago I learned that it wasn't really my knee that was bothering me, it was my iliotibial band (a band that runs from one's hip to right above one's knee). So, I started stretching more, and being more careful about warming up before runs.

What I did NOT do was strengthen some of the surrounding stuff so that my poor IT band didn't have to work so hard. Abs and back and hamstrings and all sorts of other stuff should be strong so that nothing has to overcompensate.

And I'm pretty sure there's a broader self-care and growth lesson here-- that there are areas that we choose not to strengthen, and thereby something else gets injured. What comes to mind for me is that I'm trying to sort out some major life decisions, but I'm not in prayer as often as I was a few months ago (when it felt like a "have to" instead of a "want to").

So, I'm going to try to do some core exercises-- a little ab work, maybe try to get to yoga a little more often. And I'm going to see what I can do about my other core, too.

Kristin Armstrong just typed in a similar vein over at Runner's World. Her blog is absolutely worth reading.


All Your Children

Someone's been talking down to me for months. It's not intended to be unkind, but nonetheless, that's what it is. When I finally figured out (with the help of really loving peers) that I don't actually deserve condescension (how long will it take to really learn that?), I took the situation to God.

As I was praying, the response that I kept hearing was that we are all God's children. This was particularly striking to me, because it's my youth that I feel least confident about. I've lost track of how many times I've accepted people dismissing me because I'm young (exactly what Paul warned Timothy about). But if we're all God's children? We're ALL young in God's time(Chronos vs. Kairos-- our time and God's time). We're ALL inexperienced from God's perspective. The difference of 20 or 30 years is laughable when compared to eternity.

This response was an enormous blessing to me.


How do you use your home?

Mr. M and I are talking about moving. Our apartment has space, tolerance for the kits, and a ton of charm, but alas… dreadful, terrible, takes-months substandard maintenance. We’re going in circles on this topic because we’d love to leave the area, but it’s not quite time yet—and it feels like such a waste to make a cross-town move when you’d really like to make an out-of-town move.

At any rate, we looked at a lovely little complex on Wednesday. The leasing office employees were wonderful, the apartment itself was nice, and the neighborhood was incredibly close to work. BUT, the apartment was also a good bit smaller than our current space.

Mr. M and I went to a little deli afterwards, bought an Orangina, and discussed our options. Which pieces of furniture could we pare down? How could we arrange things so that it would all fit? If we could make things fit, would it still be a livable space?

Finally, we got to the real question: how do we use our home? What does the space need to make possible? We LOVE entertaining together—I can’t imagine our home without dinner parties and Cookie Day. And there has to be space for books (because we’re terrible people who judge those who don’t have books in their homes). And what about space for creativity? It would be so frustrating for me not to be able to sew/quilt/embroider, and for Dave not to be able to make sock creatures (or tasty naan)! (I appreciate that it’s a tremendous luxury to be choosy about a home. Our apartment is simple, but it’s more than many, many people have.)

How we use space is a striking question for me right now, because the single biggest thing I’ve been noticing as we visit new churches is the liturgical space. What was this place designed to do? It’s been a fascinating question, and no two spaces have been the same yet. A little sample of what we’ve seen:

  • Quaker meeting: no altar (no sacraments!), very plain benches all facing inward in concentric squares. Nothing on the walls. Plain linoleum floor.
  • A Presbyterian church with no middle pew. Is this because these Presbies stay seated for communion?
  • The same Presbies have the pulpit in the center of the stage, and the altar down at the same level as the pews. Does this reflect the Presbyterian emphasis on the Word?
  • A UCC sanctuary in a congregation known for being part of the Mercersburg movement (emphasis on liturgy and sacrament) whose altar is against the wall. This against-the-wall/away-from-the-wall debate has been HUGE in some Episcopal churches. Who are we addressing at the Eucharist—God or the congregation? Going with against-the-wall is always interesting to me (though not necessarily my preference).
  • A new, emergent UCC that meets in another church’s fellowship hall sits in folding chairs arranged in a circle. It absolutely makes sense that this particular congregation chooses not to set one person as a focal point.
  • Some congregations have one pulpit-- front and center, others have one to the side, still others have two—one for the reading of scripture, the other for preaching. I understand the two when the readings are done by a layperson, but it feels a little awkward when the pastor does both.
  • Sometimes the choir is in front, other times they’re completely hidden from view in a back balcony (loft). How does the direction of the sound affect the way the congregation receives and participates in the music? I don’t know, but I’m curious.

That’s just a tiny taste of what we’ve seen. Maybe you all can share the parts of your worship space that feel significant to you? I’d love to hear about it.


Giving in to the Meme

This New Year's meme has been floating around out there, and I thought I'd give it a try. It's the first sentence from each month of blogging over the last year. (I was pleasantly surprised to find that the year wasn't as angst-filled as I thought!)

Dear Lord, please make my brain faster than my mouth today.

I've still got a couple of posts floating in my head, but for the moment I wanted to share this great story from the Washington Post about a young Catholic girl.

You know, I could post on something intelligent and edifying.

Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass is beautiful to me. God is all over it.

Holy heck!! That recipe makes a lot of bread!

OK, since I'm tooling around with my layout instead of actually writing posts, I figured I might as well let you know how I'm doing it:

I'm reading Robert Prichard's History of the Episcopal Church.

I have lived in this very Amish county for 6 years now (wow-- how did that happen?! By far the longest I've lived anywhere...), but I've been very unsure about some of the local food.

I've been having frustrating conversations with God lately.

Listen, lady: Drilling to resolve an energy crisis is like making crystal meth to solve the nation's drug problems!

I can be a huge weenie sometimes.

I'm a natural longer and hoper (despite a recent lapse).

Friday Five
Beginnings and Endings

Sally offers us a deceptively simple Friday Five this week (I got a little stuck on this one!):

First list five things that you remember/ treasure from 2008. Then list five things that you are looking forward to in 2009.

Five from 2008:
1. Mr. M and I started a wonderful New Year's Day tradition of visiting a museum, spending time reflecting separately and then talking about each of our visions for the coming year. We did it yesterday, too, and it still feels like a wonderful idea. (Of course, we're nutty enough that there are also regular tuneups in this plan.)

2. Mr. M and I finally went on our honeymoon. It was a very good week-- but I've noticed that it's gotten even better in the retelling! There seems to be some myth-making going on in my house.

3. I resigned postulancy. Parts of that were sad, but more than anything else it was a tremendous relief.

4. Good friends moved closer, and so we've been able to reconnect with really wonderful people. After a few years of not having really kindred spirits nearby, it's nice to finally have these warm, good friends again.

5. I started to learn to trust myself, and to trust my own relationship with God (again).

5 for 2009:
1. I am really looking forward to finishing my spiritual direction class. I've enjoyed it, and it's a wonderful group of people, but I'm looking forward to being done.

2. I'm ready to move. I think it might just be an in-town move, but this is huge for me. It's the first time I'll have moved without having "orders!"

3. The Rev.Dr. Kate used a phrase over at Prairie Light recently, and it's been rattling around in my head ever since: "compassionate curiosity." I'd like to approach other people from this perspective, but I'd also like to use it to be gentler with myself.

4. 1 John 4:18 has been echoing through my thoughts, too: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. I've been awfully anxious/fretful/fidgety for quite a while, and I'd like to try to let love replace fear.

5. A light one-- I'm really looking forward to spending the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler weekend in DC with Mr. M!