Midweek Prayers: Sequels Stink

I'm convinced that it's generally new versions of the same old crap that bite me in the butt, rather than new stuff.

When my sweet friends found out I was pregnant, many of them said, "you're going to be such a cute pregnant lady!"  And since I think pretty much all pregnant ladies are cute, I agreed.

Because I totally forgot about my fucking boobs.  Which are outpacing my tiny belly at a horrific rate*, and succeeding (once again) in making me dumpy instead of darling.  Now, 6 months in, when no one can tell I'm expecting unless they're told (well, and Dave, who's lovely, but doesn't count), I realize that the same body stuff that stank 20 years ago pretty much still stinks.

I feel 13 again (because I'm still the middle schooler being told she looked like a whore for wearing a shirt unbuttoned over a tank top).  Or 19 (because I'm still the college girl whose boobs were the only thing anyone suggested as a reason a man would be interested in her).  Or any of the other ages where my body was fair game for public discourse, and assumptions were made about who I was based on my shape.  (I do not feel at all like 21 or 30, where I figured out how to turn lemons into lemonade.  Melons into some sort of daiquiri, I guess.)  I feel conspicuous, not in the warm, maternal, hoped-for way, but in the "these are all anyone sees of me... AGAIN" way.  I had a lovely two weeks in the first trimester where I thought, "I don't have to hide these-- they're pregnancy boobs!  It's finally acceptable!"  But that was 3 cup sizes ago.

I wanted to look like a mom, and instead I look like more of a caricature than I did to start with.  I wanted to embody something joyful; instead I look even more like the same old ugly jokes and jibes.  Same old stuff.  New version.

I know in my head that the trick is to shut out the voices around me (and the echoes of old voices that I let bounce around), and try to hear the voice of the One who designed me.  My heart just wants to sit on the floor and wail, though.  I need prayers beyond my own to get my head and heart on the same page.

*This is, incidently, not the time for the "miracle of life, and accepting your changing body" speech.  I love watching the baby move every night when I go to bed.  The kicks are sometimes uncomfortable, but I'm always happy to think that wiggling means the little cheeseburger is doing OK.  This is not about that. That is not helpful.


A Diverting Interlude

There's so much that's too private to be bloggable right now, so...

Instead I give you recent animal babies born at the DC Zoo.

I could kiss every single one of them on their tiny heads.


Wednesday Prayers: It's a Leadership Issue

Jackson Katz (in a very good, but somewhat long TED talk) addresses the responsibility of those in power to prevent abuse.  He's talking about men, but makes the point that women in power have the same obligation.  Keeping people safe and preventing abuse isn't a sensitivity issue:  it's a leadership issue.  It's the responsibility of people in power.  It's about courage and integrity.

Over the last couple of years, I've become uncomfortably aware of how often Christian communities call people to gentleness and softness, while rejecting courage and toughness as things that might also be from God.  Love your neighbor, love your enemy-- yes.  But don't surrender your power to them.  Don't equip tyrants to destroy that which is sacred.  In many Christian circles, I've found that "power" is a dirty word.  I think it's only dirty when we let it run amok, when we turn our backs on its misuse and hope it will go away.

This week, I'm praying for the clarity to use my own power well, and to honor it as a gift, a blessing, a calling.

Have there been Christians in your life who have used power in holy ways?  Have there been times that you've longed for someone to step up with courage and integrity?

 PS: Hawks, Wayne.


Wednesday Prayers: Surprise Me

One of my better qualities is resourcefulness.  (I suspect that's related to my less attractive quality of stubbornness.)  

I'm resourceful, but I'm not miraculous.  I can't make wine from water, or get that water from a dry stone.  That means that sometimes I have to throw my hands in the air and just pray, "surprise me."  

For the upcoming year, Oh Lord:  surprise me.

Has God surprised you?  Would you tell me about it, so that I can remember God's creativity and be encouraged by it?

Family of Choice

A gorgeous friend (maybe my oldest friendship) sent me Shauna Neiquist's Bread and Wine (remember how much I loved Bittersweet?).  I keep crying when I read about Neiquist's weekly dinners with her small church group in Michigan, and her monthly supper club in Chicago.  

Growing up as a military brat, there was a built-in cultural net, and family-of-choice (or of necessity) was common and strong.  I remember holiday dinners with Marines in Frankfurt (still West Germany then), and the hostess whose hospitality formed the foundation of my idea of ministry.  12-Step groups entered my life in middle school, and family-of-choice was part of that system, too.  I've lost count of the number of caring adults who nurtured me there, but some of them I treasure as those who (through the preventive medicine of compassion and truth-telling) surely saved my life.  

Where I live now, people's social lives often center (sometimes nearly exclusively) around their extended families. For a lot of reasons, that's not an option for my household.  We have friends here, but we don't have a group of friends.  Rather than a net, we have a number of separate ropes.  (In fact, we have ropes all over the country, which is marvelous... but it's not a net.)  Living here, both being Not From Here (and worse:  not being from anywhere, which is next to impossible for many to imagine), and not being part of a family feels precarious.  It can be lonely, but I can work around that-- lunch with one friend, coffee with another.  What's trickier is that when there's Big Stuff, being held by totally separate threads doesn't seem to work as well as when they're interlaced.  

As Dave and I think about where we might be next, I'm wondering how you all experience family-of-choice vs. family-by-blood in your particular geographic region.  It feels like the emphasis on family-by-blood is especially strong here, but I want a reality check.  Do you have a group of local friends who support each other well? A workout group?  An especially close Bible study?  Anybody willing to tell me about their experience?


Wednesday Prayer: On the Road Again

I'm heading off on a teeny road trip today, an act which almost always Restoreth My Soul.  Feeling free is a wordless prayer to me, and alone on the highway is where God most often encourages me, and reminds me of who I am.  I'm hopeful that will be true this week, but even if it's not, I'm grateful for the opportunity to remember where God has been with me on other trips.

Is there a particular place where you feel particularly known and loved by God?  Will you be there soon?


Wednesday Prayers: Discipline

One of the ways my (slight) extroversion shows up is in discipline.  If I'm around other people, I can get anything done.  More than a dozen other people combined.  Energy of a hummingbird.  

When I'm alone, though, I'm bored, distractable, lonely.  Very little gets done. Right now, after graduation and before Whatever's Next, I'm alone a lot.  And not productive.  I don't mean that in a lovely spacious, happy way, but in a dull, dragging way.  I'm trying to see loved ones often enough to make a dent in the torpor, but I also need to discipline to use this open space well.

That's my prayer for this week:  motivation, and the satisfaction of productivity.  Solo service, instead of communal.

How about you?  Is there an area where you're dragging?  Can I hold it in prayer for you?


Wednesday Prayers: For Purity of Heart

I've still got John Irving's Owen Meany on the brain.  Considering the beatitudes, he asked of the pure in heart, "BUT WILL IT HELP THEM-- TO SEE GOD?"

It's a serious question.  In the Hebrew bible, the face of God was a terrifying thing to even think about seeing.  And when Job met with God, what satisfaction really came from it?

I would love for God to make everything tidy and secure, and I simply don't for a second believe that happens in this life.  But I'd like to see God, anyway.  That's my prayer this week-- to let platitudes and easy answers slide off of me, and instead be able to see God in chaos and strife.


Wednesday Prayers: A Starting Place

Graduation is on Saturday, and I have literally no idea what my next step after that will be.


There are a few possible next steps, but none of them can start immediately.  (We're talking about a year of lag time.)

My prayer today is just a simple, "What's next?"

I suspect I'm not alone in this one.


Week's End with Thanks

  • I know I say this all the time, but I won the friend jackpot in a pretty extraordinary way.  (I did NOT win the friend/geography jackpot, but I can live with that.)  As I was dealing with stuff this week, loved ones were not shy about letting me know that they cared.  It really made all the difference in the world.
  • My other half has been on my case about how I talk to myself, and as snarky as I can get about it:  he's right.  And moreover, I'm starting to hear it, and noticing progress.  (Slow progress.)  So again, hurrah for being loved.
  • Loud 80s music doesn't cure what ails me, but it's an excellent comfort care measure.
  • I get to write about my favorite book of all time, EVER, for my Christology final.  I'm so excited, I can hardly stand it.  Talking about John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, for credit, for someone who wants me to be talking about it.  (Instead of to the scores of people who wish I'd stop talking about this damn book after 15 years...)
  • Finally, the loveliness of spring, and the blossom-confetti it leaves on my car.


Wednesday Prayers: There is No Quiet Car on the Train to Crazytown

Yesterday, I told friends that I was having A Day, and they delighted me with all kind of funny, silly distractions that brightened things considerably.  Even better: they clearly knew their audience.  Few things are nicer to me than feeling known.  (Well, known and liked is good, come to think of it.)

There are situations I manage far better at 33 than I did at 13, but to tell the truth:  that doesn't make them hurt less.  This week, some of that old mess flared back up.  Loudly, and dramatically.  I can choose not to get entangled, but (despite ample appearances to the contrary), I can't effectively barricade my heart.  I want to scream and cry and throw things, but it would be useless, and it's hugely not my style.  Still, it's hard for me to accept that certain things will always hurt.  My own crazy is my belief that if I were just tough enough, if I had enough willpower and resolve, I could be impervious-- at least to old hurts (anyone can get blindsided by new stuff, of course).  It's weak and foolish to be hurt more than once by the same thing, yes?  

Sadly, no.  Stuff keeps hurting, and worse:  it's now painful AND boring.  Sometimes, there is just no acceptable solution.

And, look:  if anyone could fix things through sheer willpower, it would be me.  Can't be done, my friend.

So, my prayers this week are a mixed bag:  gratitude for the delightful people in my life, and a plea for solace in the midst of some Old Ick.  (Full disclosure:  I may also be praying for a source of Ick to get smote.)

How about your prayers?  Gratitude?  Divine assistance?  Smiting?


Wednesday Prayers: In Struggle and Disappointment

My life is pretty calm lately.  So much so, in fact, that when friends ask how things are, I'm at a loss for news.  It's quiet, and it's sure boring to talk about, but it's happy.

However, it's not a peaceful time for everyone.  One friend is touched by the sorrowful side of ministry.  Another friend is adapting to disappointing news.  One waits with hope and fear.  Another makes brave decisions, but experiences loneliness in the process.  And we're all still flinching from national tragedies.

This week, my prayers are about love.  That those who weep are comforted, and that joy will come in the morning.  It's a simple prayer, but I like to sit down and spend time picturing each precious person, melting my love for them together with God's, praying that they feel both.

Are you having a gentle week, or do kindness and tenderness feel scarce?  Let me know, and I'll hold you in that warm glow, too.



Week's End with Thanks

This week:

- Dave! His birthday was on Wednesday. I'm glad for him every day, but it was fun to celebrate him this week.

- Sunshine! It's colder than heck, but it's sunny, so hooray.

- A Weekend Guest! A very fun high school friend will be occupying our guest room tonight. I love having houseguests.

- Doctrine! Our tiny doctrine class is so much fun, and this week, it was exactly the balm I needed after a rough day at the hospital.

- Nuptials! My friend M is being wed TODAY!!!

- Weekend flowers! This week, I'm loving the little wild daisies.


Wednesday Prayers: Delusions of Omniscience

I have some ugly know-it-all tendencies.  Among them is the pervading frequent occasional conviction that I know what the future will bring.

I rarely assume that the future will bring puppies (I've been pleading with Dave for years now) or rainbows (although rain is always assumed).  Rather, I'm certain that whatever idiocy I've concocted will bring the sky crashing down around my ears.  This usually involves my mouth getting thirty yards ahead of my brain.  (I used to know a miniature dachshund who was hugely incontinent when overexcited.  He was the best metaphor I can give you for my speech proclivities.)

Over the summer, I started a Negative Prediction Notebook.  It looks like this:

This is partly because I buy more perfect tiny notebooks than I know what to do with, but mostly because over time, it's useful to me to see that I'm wrong a lot.  Absolutely, I say and do stupid things, but the earth doesn't start spinning in the opposite direction when that happens.  

My little book is a useful technique, but my ongoing prayer is that I need it less.  I'm praying that I grow to rest in grace a bit better than I do now.  It's important to me to have high standards, but I want to learn that I often get more than one chance to meet those standards.  Sometimes, it's better not to believe I know everything.

Are you praying to know more this week, or to "know" less?  Let me know, and I'll be praying with you.


Ending the Week with Thanks: Holy Week Edition

I read Kari Patterson's blog regularly, and she regularly wraps up her blogging week with gratitude.  (Look: I get nervous when people talk about gratitude.  I understand if it makes you twitchy, too.  Joyfully receiving is marvelous, provided we're not pressuring one another to ignore hard feelings and cover them up with nice ones.)  Gratitude is a both/and for me-- life is hard, and there's beauty.  Here's the beauty from my week:
  • Sunshine for the first time in eons. It was perfect.  And I kept finding myself outside during my favorite part of the day, the hour before sunset when the light is soft and golden.
  • Epistolary friendships, in email and on paper.  (I'm way, way more reliable on paper, by the way.)  I'm charmed by good writers, and delighted by those who share their hearts in print.
  • Daffodils.  Tiny yellow ones that Dave bought from a fundraiser at work.  They're blooming their little heads off on the bright grape-kool-aide-colored shelf on our back porch.
  • Caring supervision.  I know I've mentioned this a lot lately, but I think Proverbs has it wrong:  it's a good boss who's worth their weight in rubies.
  • Deer!  14 of them in one field while I was out driving this week.  They were splendid.
  • Abraham Verghese.  I read Cutting for Stone a couple of weeks ago, then The Tennis Partner this week.  Perfect prose.
  • Snuggling.  Dave's been working around the clock, for many, many days straight, but he hasn't been out of town.  When he finally crawls under the covers in the wee hours, it's so good to be able to reach out and rest a hand on him.  I don't love his long days, but I'll take them over travel.
  • Healing.  Last weekend, Dave did have to travel for work at the last minute, but this time (first time ever!), I went with him.  While he... did something with a server? I talked to the women behind the desk.  When I told her I'm a chaplain, she told me her own story.  Once again, I remembered that healing is far more common than it seems.
  • Kindness.  This week, I was called to a very difficult, very distressed patient.  I watched how firm, kind, and respectful her Patient Care Assistant was, and I marveled at his character.  I love watching anyone do a job well, and he did his beautifully.
  • Jesus.  It's not like me (in a big way) to give a Sunday School response.  Despite that, as I've been stomping and crying at some significant NoFairs!, I paused when I realized that Holy Week is exactly the time to remember that life isn't fair, that ugly things happen, and that if Jesus didn't have a beautiful, easy life, maybe that's not the goal here.  


Wednesday Prayers: Laughter in Disaster

My friend M is getting married next month, and I told her what I tell every engaged person: something will go wrong. Count on it. That's normal. It's OK.

Our wedding was so simple (translated: we were so poor) that there wasn't a whole lot to go wrong. You can't break it if you don't have it! Our darling friends did decorate the wrong car, though-- garlands streamed from a guest's rental. (In my opinion, that was less a mistake and more a dodged bullet.)

I'm holding M and her fiancé D in my prayers today, but I'm also praying for the ability to laugh through chaos, to separate the window-dressing from the substance. There's SO MUCH that's just for show, and it's very loud. The grace to hear the quiet things of value beneath the din of our gorgeous shows is a real gift of God.


Wednesday Prayers: God-Images

My hospital supervisor is, as usual, trying to kill me with his insightfulness and compassion.  Swords or pistols?  No, he duels with gentleness and clarity.  I'll take poniards, any day.

He sent me a link to a TED talk on shame from BrenĂ© Brown, found here, and then I watched her previous one on vulnerability, found here.  I watched it in the middle of writing a paper for my Doctrine class, and the overlay was perfect.  Now, I'm thinking quite a bit about how my perceptions of God have sometimes inoculated me against shame, and  at other times have robbed me of a sense of worth.

I think a lot of people have observed that there's a connection between shame/worth and who they understand God to be, but I noticed yet again that the God-image who comforts others is painful to me, and the God-image that brings me freedom is a prison to others.  When I was in my 20s, I let authority figures dictate my God-images, and they didn't see me when they chose for me.

Today, I'm praying my gratitude for beginning to leave unhelpful images behind, and for finding freedom.

Which God-images are you praying with?  Are they bringing you shame or grounding you in worth?

Now, I'm off to find a good Pantocrator icon...


Daily-ness in Friendship

I've been part of a number of conversations lately about how hard keeping up friendships can be, and I keep thinking that part of it must be the way friend time (originally, and maybe more accurately, typed "fiend time") is separate from daily life.  I'm suspicious of the whitewashing that goes along with nostalgia, but I wonder if friendships really were easier to maintain when people gathered to complete tasks together.  If we chattered over laundry (which we all have to do), instead of Going Out, would it be easier to fit one another into our days?  Sewing circles and quilting bees were practical before anything else, but they glued women together.

A few weeks ago, a seminary buddy hopped in the car with me to run errands-- he needed to talk, and I needed to pick up packages.  Years ago, I spent more fun time with one couple painting their nursery than I have before or since. One of my favorite college memories (well over a decade ago now) is of a friend playing DJ while I packed up my dorm room, as he chatted with me and made my oxfords dance with my strappy sandals.

How can we make friendship about Companionship, rather than Entertainment?  I like throwing the occasional party, but I don't think isolated events successfully make us part of each other's lives.  How can we start letting our mundane details overlap?  I want to figure out how to live our lives together, instead of interrupting them for each other.


Wednesday Prayers: TBD

This week, I'm too tired for words. I've got prayers running around my head, but not the energy to get them further than that.

How about you? Prayers simmering below the surface, or are they out and about?


Family Systems Theory and Multigenerational Curses

There are genuinely hideous creatures among the skeletons clattering in my own family's closets (often brazenly striding into the light of day).  I struggle to sort out how they are and are not part of me. When hopelessness creeps into my peripheral vision, this is what it looks like:  Fear that it is not possible to inherit peace and goodness from a system bulging with violence (and acceptance of violence).  Fear that nurture and love is missing from my genetic code.

In both church and broader culture, the family (biological, not the brothers-and-sisters-in-Christ kind) defines us.  My name itself reveals which family I belong to.  In my seminary experience, pastoral care instruction has been mostly about the Bowen Family Systems model.  Some Bowen experts claim that, even with a great deal of work, we can only become a step or two healthier (more differentiated) than the rest of our family of origin.  We either stand on our forefathers' shoulders, or they clutch at our ankles.

I'm puzzled by the theological choice to (almost exclusively) use family systems theory as the basis of pastoral care.  It has its place, but in a setting where we celebrate diverse theologies, can't we acknowledge diverse models of pastoral care, too?  We need grounding in current psycho-therapeutic concepts, but I can think of several situations where a strong correlation between emotional/spiritual potential and a person's family of origin sounds just like a multigenerational curse.  It's the sins of the fathers, visited on their sons for a thousand generations.

What does the family systems model say, from a spiritual perspective?  As ministers, our care always communicates ideas of who God is and how God engages with humanity, so we'd better pay attention to what we're communicating.  Can God move in this world?  Does God heal?  Can we be transformed in this world, or only in the next?  Can we become better through our own efforts?  How much better?  Where will my help come from?  How do I know what's important about who I am?

When I hear the skeletons knocking about, whispering about my desecrated foundations, I long for some sort of sign from God.  "Is this who You are?  Are You saving me from all this? Or did You sign off on it?"  

It is utterly unhelpful to have these questions answered for me, and I think these are some of the real questions of pastoral care.



Wednesday Prayers: Breathing In, and Breathing Out

My grandma was batpoop crazy, which had both up and down sides.  (Note:  I'm not talking about mental illness here, although I'm not ruling that out as a contributing factor.  I'm talking good, old-fashioned unchecked eccentricity.)  She used to get a huge kick out of the memory of her older sister sitting in a rocking chair in the dark.  When Gram asked her sister what she was doing, the response was simple: "Just breathing in, and breathing out."

Over the last couple of months, my yoga practice has finally gotten consistent, and I notice that those few hours seep into other parts of the week.  I let my heels sink down and feel grounded when I stand in line.  My attention starts to wander in Doctrine or Christology, and I refocus on where I am.  Most helpful, though, are the moments throughout my week when I pause to feel myself breathe.

I'm amazed by the autonomic nervous system.  In healthy bodies, our blood circulates, our lungs expand and contract, and our food gets digested all without any thought or intention on our parts.  Major stuff is going on, and I don't need to direct it in any way.  I can (if I choose to) notice my breathing and my heartbeat, but I don't have to wrestle those functions into place.  I am being sustained, without any effort or skill of my own.

This week, I'm praying without ceasing, just by breathing in, and breathing out.  I'm receiving constant grace, so quiet and steady that it rarely calls attention to itself.

Are you feeling sustained this week?  Does grace feel easy, or are you gasping today?  


Wednesday Prayers: Thank God for Terry Pratchett

In the midst of having Some Mild Unpleasantness, I'm delighted to have author Terry Pratchett. Laughter and a little truth in my escapism is very welcome today.

What's lightening your load?


Wednesday Prayers: the Necessity of Beauty

When I realized this summer that novels were giving me better guidance for pastoral care than textbooks were, I let myself soak in gorgeous books. Joy started to seep into parts of my heart that hadn't seen warmth in a long time.

I've been spending regular time at Longwood Gardens, and it is (to use Peaebang's preferred term for self-care) helping me keep my shit together.

There was a point when I became so constantly aware of struggle and sorrow that indulging in beauty felt unjust. Having let a little beauty slip back in, I'm starting to think that we're to consider the lilies, not just as an object lesson in God's provision, but because we need beauty. We need delight so that our hearts can open.

This week, I'm giving thanks that God is meeting my need for beauty. How about you? Are you getting enough?


Wednesday Prayers: Cowboys

My favorite girlfriend and I have both loved cowboys (which I Freudian Typed "cowbodys") for a long time.  There was a rodeo a million years ago, and we bought hats, and leered at men with excellent rear ends in faded jeans.

I realized a few years into marriage that when an attractive person caught my eye, it was inevitably because there was a quality in them that I was missing in myself.  Cowboys are no different.  I've been listening to classic country lately, and brooding about big skies.

I like the way freedom feels.  January chills have me (and everyone else) cooped up, and the next semester is about to start.  It's hard to feel like myself.  I'm praying for joy and spaciousness this week.

How about you?  Is there a part of yourself that's hibernating?  Can I join you in those prayers?


Live Each Day As If You Have Another 60 Years

Pope Gregory I is my favorite pope ever.  Yes, we all loved John Paul II, but Gregory is my pope.  He wrote a wonderful book on pastoral care, one of the main premises of which is that different people need different kinds of pastoral care.  Exhorting one another in faith isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of job.  Gregory comes to mind often when someone gives advice, and I think, "boy, that's the last thing I need."  I have a beautiful friend with a tattoo that says "WORK HARDER."  When I think about how depressed I'd get if I saw that every day, I want to go curl up in bed forever.  It inspires her, though.

I was lying awake one night this week, when it occurred to me that (for me) the old saw about "live each day as if it might be your last" is total bullshit.  I talked a while ago about how I grew up learning to be prepared for death at any time.  The other side of that is that on some deep-down level, I never expect my loved ones (or maybe me, it could go either way) to live long lives.  I genuinely expect that everything could shatter any day.  I spent all of summer CPE marveling at the things that people survive, at how often people don't die.  I need to learn that maybe, Dave and I will hold hands as octogenarians.  I need to let go of the fear that if I erase a voice mail, I might be deleting the last thing he said to me.

This year, one of my goals is to try to live each day as if we've all got another 60 years.  To breathe deeply, and imagine future decades.  Those golden years might or might not come, but there's something precious, something fundamentally necessary, about the dream of them.